"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Thursday, July 21, 2005

funny videos
check out Jack Black's exceptionally crude take on Lord of the Rings and assorted beer ads, especially the "My Beer" and "Beer Goggles" ones at Video Humor

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Send in the clones
Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
The Island

2.5 stars out of five

Dir: Michael Bay

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi, Sean Bean

As any movie critic knows, the problem with summer isn't the heat, it's the stupidity. Summer is the season of the big-budget action blockbusters, the special-effects spectaculars and the gross-out teen sex comedies all intended to sell popcorn with a mindless combination of car crashes, comic book violence and cleavage--not that there's anything wrong with that.

So what then should we make of The Island, a high-concept science fiction thriller starring legitimate thespians instead of bodybuilders or martial artists that promises to raise all sorts of interesting philosophical questions about identity and bioethics?

Ewan McGregor attempts an American or at least mid-Atlantic accent as Lincoln Six-Echo, a young man living in a sealed facility surrounded by foreboding crags and stormy seas with other apparent survivors of a biological holocaust that no one but the staff can quite remember.

This is the world of 2019: a utopian lifeboat in an ocean of contamination, where everyone but the security guards wears white, works at inexplicably simple lab jobs, and has every need catered to by the staff.

There's no sex or alcohol, and health and diet are strictly monitored, but there are plenty of cartoons, video games and designer drinks. There are even regular public address announcements assuring the white-clad survivors that they are "special" and reminding them that one day they will win the lottery and be sent to the one place that escaped the bio-contamination, the pristine Eden known simply as the Island.

McGregor does a pretty good job of playing the pampered naif in the brave new world who forms a friendship with the attractive and slightly sassy Jordan Two-Delta played by Scarlett Johansson.

But Lincoln has problems. The doctor running the facility, played by the reliably sinister Sean Bean, is concerned about Lincoln's recent tendency to ask disturbing questions. Lincoln's secret acquaintance, a techie "from another sector" played for laughs by Steve Buscemi, hints that things aren't what they seem.

Before long, Lincoln's world unravels when he discovers the Island is a hospital where lottery winners have their organs harvested and that he and his fellow survivors are surrogate mothers and walking spare parts for the so-called sponsors who have provided the genetic material Lincoln and his peers have been cloned from.

He and the latest lottery-winner, Jordan, make a break for it, emerging from underground into a ruined desert landscape

It's a promising opening 20 minutes. Despite blatantly ripping off science fiction classics Logan's Run, THX 1138, The Prisoner and Coma and subjecting the audience to an endless parade of product placement shots, director Michael Bay has managed to get this far without a single car chase, explosion or gratuitous bikini-clad starlet. Could this be that rarest of Hollywood creations--the summer-movie-with-brains?

Absolutely not.

Bay is still the man who made Bad Boys, The Rock, Armageddon and Pearl Harbor. If he were somehow hired to direct a film version of The Cherry Orchard he'd put three car chases and a shoot-out in it.

Naturally, Lincoln and Jordan's escape poses a host of problems for the people running the secretive facility, and the hired goons are quickly put on the case. After a brief comic interlude and some plot explanation with Buscemi, the film descends into an hour of predictable reality-defying zoom and kaboom as the goon squad pursues the heroes with all the subtlety of the Allied invasion of Normandy. It's the same quick-cutting shaky-camera stuff we have seen plenty of before. Bay even repeats the main highway chase from his own Bad Boys 2.

Johansson, while looking more fetching than ever, goes from a promising start to full damsel-in-distress, can't-even-run-for-her-life-without-holding-the-hero's-hand mode, and after the first 30 minutes is given little to do but look sexy and terrified at the same time.

McGregor has a few amusing scenes playing opposite himself after Lincoln and Jordan track down his sponsor in the hope he can help them expose the clone arrangers, and pronto, so Lincoln can free the slaves.

But for the most part, the final 90 minutes of The Island are typical summer fare. Bay betrays the semi-promising opening by leaving loose ends and holes in the plot that resemble the craters on the moon in both size and number.

If action is all you are after, The Island delivers. If you want interesting characters and a smart script, wait for the studios to wheel out their Oscar hopefuls in November.

The Daily Yomiuri (Jul. 21, 2005)

Monday, July 18, 2005

A two parter
Well, what with the wife and kids out of the apartment this morning, and what with the fact that the humidity in Tokyo is going to be in the 80 to 90 percent range for the next few months I decided I needed something to amuse myself, so I shaved my head. Not right down, but to the 1.2 cm measure on my clippers. If more than a half dozen people post comments requesting it, I will post pics.

peace and quiet
A rare moment of peace and quiet in the Woodshed this morning as the Missus is out with the kids and I'm on the nightshift. At last a chance to blog:

Item the first - Bob Dylan, Super Genius
Just finished reading "Chronicles" Bob Dylan's stab at autobiography - it's well written, but a bit scattered and tragically doesn't deal with the making of any of his early classic albums. He does talk a fair bit about how things were when he first came to New York and his early days in Minnesota. At one point he talks about how important folk songs were to him and how when he started playing the coffee houses he noticed that most singers were trying to put themselves across to the audience, but he was more interested in putting the song across.
This got me to thinking about how much I love early Dylan, so I dug out my copy of "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" and tried to listen to it with a fresh ear. Go thou, and do likewise.

Remember what was on the radio at the time this record was created - Johnny Mathis, Frankie Avalon, Ricky Nelson - this is before the Beatles, Beach Boys and Rolling Stones. This is before Peter, Paul and Mary - Mitch Miller was hip! Forget for a moment the iconic status of "Blowin' in the Wind" and just listen to the song. This was before anyone had heard of Vietnam, a good old Pete Seeger-style anti-war song. Genius.

Now listen to the rest of the songs, from the wistfulness of "Girl from the North Country" to the venomous "Masters of War" the goofiness of "I Shall Be Free" the smooth "Corrina, Corrina" the nostaligia of "Bob Dylan's Dream" the subversive and sly "Talking World War Three Blues" and "Bob Dylan's Blues" - the other instant classics off the record "A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall" and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" (one of my all time desert island must-have favorite songs) . Listen to these songs and tell me that if this record was made today, note for note the same way, that it wouldn't still be an instant million seller. He was 21 when he made this record. Even if he had never recorded again, never made albums like "blood on the tracks" "love and theft" "Highway 61 revisited" or "Blonde on Blonde" this album alone would have made him a legend. I have an old friend who makes a living of sorts from performing classic rock albums more or less note for note and I can't see them doing this one, because it really isn't reproducible- it would be like trying to pick up a handful of mercury. Say it with me now..."We are not worthy"

I'm now listening to the Bob Dylan live official bootleg series #6 the Concert at NYC's Philharmonic Hall from Oct. 1964, with Joan Baez joining him on stage. Dylan complains a bit in his book about being branded the "voice of a generation" and people expecting him to lead them. Listening to this record I'm amazed he wasn't elected world president by 1966.

Item the second - I'm a better harp player than Van Morrison
Based on his harmonica work on his newest album, the extremely good Magic Time, I'd blow Van the Man right off the stage in a blues harp contest. Of course, he is a better singer, songwriter, guitar player, saxophone player and all-around human being than I am by so many orders of magnitude that it would take scientific notation to write it down and I'm not smart enough to figure out how to do that on this computer. But when it comes to the Mississippi saxophone, the chrome biscut, the harpoon - I'm better, me, the Rev. Paperboy, I'm the boss harp player between me and Mr. "Here Comes the Night". And while I'm bragging, I'm a way better driver than Ray Charles.

Item the third - New Asylum Street Spankers stuff
The Spankers have a new web site on line and a new live record coming out soon! go buy it! In fact while you're at it buy everything they have ever done. Twice, and then give the second set as gifts to other people. Apparently they have a new DVD in the pipeline too.

stay tuned to the woodshed for two reviews later this week, first of the summer blockbuster scifi film "The Island" and second, comic book god Will Eisner's debunking of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" in graphic novel form, "The Plot".