Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Not even during the winter holidays can Obama catch a break from conservatives

In this increasingly political and ideological divided American landscape, one of the few things we can find common ground in is the decency to leave partisanship to side during the winter holidays, and wish each other a safe and Merry Christmas (or Happy Hanukkah if your Jewish), and a Happy New Year, and we'll resume our ongoing clash of ideologies in 2010. Since this year town hall meetings and Addresses to the Congress have become popular venues for people to yell, shout, and bitch without regard for basic forms of respect for other people, one would believe that even the spirit of the holiday season can't get tarred and feathered with partisanship.

Enter conservative columnist Tony Blankley and his piece on the Huffington Post about his hope for the holiday season. And if you think it's the standard peace on earth and goodwill towards man sentiment, you're nuts.

Taking stock this second Christmas after the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, as a conservative Republican (with growing tea-party tendencies) I'm filled with a thrilling, unexpected hopefulness that the president may be well on his way to losing his battle for the hearts and minds of the American people -- tempered by a shocked disbelief that so much long-term damage could have been perpetrated on the American economy, national security and way of life in just 11 months of ill-judged governance.

Mr. Blankley: The same rule that's applied to someone's death should be applied to the holidays - if you don't have anything kind to say about someone, then it's best to keep your thoughts to yourself.

Remarkably, this view could apply equally to the left and to the right. Mr. Obama first thrilled, then disappointed and now enrages the left with his policies of (as they now see it): (1) giving the banks, health insurance companies, drug companies, for-profit hospitals and Washington lobbyists everything they want; (2) doing nothing for middle-class homeowners; and (3) escalating the war in Afghanistan.

Yeah, we're disappointed that for all of the president's talk on creating a public option for the middle class and getting tougher on Wall Street, he has continued down the same path as president's have before him (except in the case of escalating the war in Afghanistan, we should have known Obama would stay true on finishing the job in the Afghan region). But I do recall having Obama say that there would be setbacks and false starts along the way, and no doubt, i'm going to disagree with the president more issues to come. But this is one liberal who isn't going to do what so many pissed-off liberals and progressives are threatening to do or have already done: say 'fuck it, time for a third party candidate in 2012,' which will make us feel better in the short term, but it won't change jack shit in the long haul.

Of course, conservatives are appalled at (among other things) the trillions of dollars in new deficits, the nationalizations, the trillion-dollar partisan slush fund (i.e., stimulus packages), the attempted federal government takeover of the private economy via carbon taxing and regulating, the weakening of our anti-terrorism efforts, the never-ending worldwide apology tour, the undercutting of allies while appeasing enemies, and the ongoing effort to destroy our health care system and replace it with a socialized, rationing Euro-system.

So tell me, exactly where was the conservative outrage when Bush Jr. handed out billions of dollars in tax breaks to the wealthiest 1% of Americans? Why didn't the so-called fiscal conservatives call out the Bush administration when they were ballooning the federal deficit to the point where Wall Street almost went under last year?
Also, your fake outrage over the Obama White House's approach to foreign policy is pathetic. Remind me: which party was it that staunchly defended and acted as the pit bull when Bush and Cheney lied an entire nation into a war of choice? Exactly which president thought that tough talk and acting like we were the biggest, baddest bully on the world's playground would help us in winning the War on Terrorism? And while the previous administration presided over torturing enemy combatants, who defended such barbaric, medieval, and illegal techniques vehemently? Oh, that's right: when a Republican president starts an illegal war, tortures enemy combatants, and violates the Constitution, then all that means is that he's protecting the nation from terrorist attacks. When a Democratic president engages in diplomacy to solve foreign affairs, he's weakening national security by not calling in air strikes!

There's a reason why I don't plan on ever voting for your party, Mr. Blankley. The current crop of stuck-in-the-mud Reaganites in Congress, coupled with big business first fiscal conservatism, radical Christian fundamentalists, and the bat-shit simpleton TEA-Party movement further remind me why the GOP cannot be entrusted with political power in this country until they return to some form of functioning normalcy. I just just hope p.o.'d progressives can find that same sentiment again. We can choose to let setback after setback make us stay home on 2010 and 2012 and allow a (shudder) Sarah Palin to run the Oval Office and get her hands on the nuclear codes. Or we can fight for what we believe in and be ready to swallow our pride and make tough compromises when we don't get our way.

President Obama must also understand that although that we are still on his side, that if doesn't dig deep and find a pair of cajones and fight for his base, his eloquent speaking abilities might not sway us in the 2012 Presidential elections. We understand (or at least I hope some liberals do) that in order to bring about meaningful change and reform to America, sometimes you have to pragmatic about what you can get, and what's just a pipe dream at the moment. But Obama must quickly learn that compromise can only go so far until it's just a piece of legislation that looks like it was written by the other side, word for word. He will eventually have to learn to draw a distinct line in the sane and risk pissing people off. Right now, he has to show that he's fighting for his base, and for middle America, and not just bowing to Wall Street and Big Pharma.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ladies and gentlemen, the AFC West Champions

The San Diego Chargers....if you're keeping score, it's San Diego's fourth consecutive title since Philip Rivers assumed the QB position after releasing Drew Brees to the New Orleans Saints in 2006, the third under Norv Turner, and their fifth title in six years (2004, 2006-2009). After the Bolts got spanked by the Denver Donkeys on Oct. 23, If you would have told any Chargers fan that we'd go on a nine game win streak, win the West, and potentiality fight for the no.2 seed in the AFC playoff picture and the first-round bye week, we all would have had a nice laugh, and continue to sulk. Not Norv, or Philip, or the rest of this Chargers team. Despite injuries to Center Nick Hardwicke, Nose Tackle Jamal Williams, among others, and a mediocre 2-3 start, big props for this team not to hit the panic button and win the games they needed to win to be placed in this position.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The 100 Best Films of the Decade, Part 4

70. Shrek (2001) - Sure, Shrek 2 was flat-out hilarious, and Shrek the Third was a rehash of left-over pop-culture gags and crude jokes, but the original still stays with me. I loved how this sweet and funny-as-hell spoof took every fantasy fable from The Three Pigs to Rapunzel, used every universal, cliched and worn-out trick from said stories and made this kid's story about a isolated ogre and his ever-chattering ass trying to rescue a princess for the short-stature prick of a king, adult friendly as well. Mike Myers and Cameron Diaz bring the funny and touching romance in Shrek and Fiona, but Eddie Murphey is the side-splitting standout of the bunch as Donkey, and is easily the best comic sidekick this decade.

69. Superbad (2007) - It's the moment when Seth (Jonah Hill) is pointed out that the girl he was dancing with at a house party just used his pants leg as a tampon, when I realized what this raunchy high school flick was: my generation's version of American Pie. Two best buds Seth and Evan (Michael Cera) attempt to buy booze and score with their dream girls Jules (Emma Stone) and Becca (Martha MacIssac) on the last night of their high school lives. Add in a nerd even Napoleon Dynamite wouldn't hang with in Fogel (the brilliant Christopher Mintz-Plasse) tagging along as under the now-infamous McLovin', two incompetent cops (Seth Rogen and SNL funnyman Bill Hader), and artful dick drawings, and you get a vulgar, crude, hilarious and honest look at teenage boys being teenage boys.

68. Punch-Drunk Love (2002) - The only thing stranger than this oddball romantic comedy from Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) about a salesman and the Brit executive (the charming Emily Watson) who sees something deeper, past his shy and sometimes pent-up violent nature, is the fact that Adam Sandler shows his acting chops. Yes, the same person who starred in Billy Madison and The Waterboy, brings more than just his regular idiot-boy shtick. Sandler bristles with insecurity, isolation, humor and inconsolable rage - sometimes, all at once in Barry Egan. He's a knockout.

67. Traffic (2000) - Of all the films Steven Soderbergh has done this decade (Erin Brockovich, the Oceans 11 trilogy, The Informant!, Che, to name a few), his no-bull look at the drug war is my favorite from him. Interlocking stories - the segment about the newly-appointed anti-narcotics czar (Michael Douglas) fighting two wars, America's War on Drugs and the one at home with her daughter's decent into freebasing addict status (Erika Christensen in a heart-wrenching performance); the San Diego-based drug lord (Stephen Bauer) and his wife (an excellent Catherine Zeta-Jones), oblivious as to how hubby makes his money; and a Tijuana narc officer (Benicio Del Toro) caught in a trap between his duties and the corrupt officials who work for the drug cartels - all serve their purposes without preaching to anyone, except weaving a story in which the characters affect everyone without meeting face to face.

66. Ray (2004) - Much like with Adam Sandler in P.T. Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love, who here thought comedian Jamie Foxx could give a brilliant performance as the late and great Ray Charles, much less act? Those who didn't raise your hands, look to his breakout role as a cab driver in Collateral, but I digress. Foxx doesn't just play Charles, but so much as nail every nuance and gesture. Watching him struggle through blindness and drug addiction is harrowing and haunting, and Foxx completes the journey with one of the most powerful performances this decade.

65. WALL-E (2008) - Common sense wold dictate that after making animation landmarks with Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille, that Pixar Animation Studios would finally run out of gas and release a mediocre, cliched animation flick. 30 wordless minutes into writer-director Andrew Stanton's WALL-E, in which a robot is programmed to clean up after Earth becomes uninhabitable for human life to continue on living, the wizards at Pixar show no signs of letting up or slowing down anytime soon. WALL-E is a gorgeous, and heartfelt, and haunting picture that stays with you long after the credits roll. Gorgeous, because it's what Pixar does best with their animation; heartfelt, for the romance between WALL-E and EVE (the dance outside the Axiom spaceship is one of the most moving scenes i've seen a film since Maya talking about her love of wine in Sideways); haunting, because of the film's vision of planet Earth as a garbage wasteland after both corporate greed coupled with humanity's ignorance nearly destroying their home.

64. Batman Begins (2005) - In the hands of Christopher Nolan, he breathes life into a franchise that looked like it had nothing left. As haunted, playboy billionaire Bruce Wayne, Christian Bale gives him and his alter ego Batman, the film's grieving heart and battered soul. Nolan doens't head straight for the Batsuit or the Batmobile. We go to the source of Wayne's troubles: his traumatic childhood - from the fall in the well full of bats to the moment he witnesses his parents shot in cold blood - and his search to find justice and himself in the Himalayan mountains.

63. School of Rock (2003) - Probably the coolest, most kick-ass (though fictional) rock band i've seen....and they're only in grade school! The lead singer? A 30-something deadbeat faking it as a teacher for a private school academy for a chance to play in Battle of the Bands. It screams idiocy and borders on near-pedophilia, but kudos to screenwriter Mike White, and director Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise) by keeping the story between the young characters and their teacher, (an off-the-walls comedic performance by Jack Black) about them, and the sick music they play. Rock on, kids.

62. The Last Samurai (2003) - Say what you will about Tom Cruise (an ego-driven dick who's part of a crazy, brainwashing cult), but as Capt. Nathan Algren, an alcoholic soldier ashamed of the sins he's committed against an indigenous tribe, it's his finest hour as an actor. His job now is to wipe out the samurai, led by the rebel Katsumoto (an excellent Ken Wantanabe) in order to modernize Japan with the West, only to become captured and end up joining Katsumoto's cause. Critics say Edward Zwick's moive was nothing more than a romanticizing of federal Japan. That's the point. The Last Samurai is a sweeping, romanticized tale of the waning days of a world we now only remember in history textbooks, and to that regard, it's one powerful period piece with stunning cinematography work and a mesmerizing score by Hans Zimmer.

61. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) - Confession: up to seeing Woody Allen's funny, sexy, and heartbreaking comedy, I have never seen anything by Allen. Afterwords, I snatched up all the work he's done this decade (Match Point, Scoop, Whatever Works, Cassandra's Dream). This is easily my favorite. I love the sexual tension between Scarlet Johannson, Javier Bardem, and Penelope Cruz, and I loved the dialogue between all of Woody Allen's characters. What I loved most of all was Cruz as Maria Elena, who is literally, lightning in a bottle. She's funny, wildly seductive, and quietly heartbreaking.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The 100 Best Films of the Decade, Part 3

80. Chicago (2002) - Confession: I couldn't stand this movie when it was received all the praise that it did. I still think The Pianist (another movie that's on my list) was far superior than this re-telling of Bob Fosse's 1920's hit play. I really didn't like how Queen Latifa got screwed by the Academy by taking Catherine Zeta-Jones over her for Supporting Actress. Years lather, though, this exciting and sassy movie grew on me. I fell in love with the musical no's, including the kick-in-the-jams opener "All That Jazz," the seductiveness of Latifa's "You Be Good to Mamma," and the heartbreaking ballad from John C. Reilly's Amos Hart singing, "Mr. Cellophane." And watching Richard Gere's dynamic performance as Billy Flynn and his tap dance solo, "Razzle Dazzle," is nothing less than fucking magic. I loved how Zeta-Jones' Velma Kelly and Renee Zelwegger's Roxy Hart doe their damned hardest to one-up one another for fame - ironic, considering how their catfights for the limelight would become a metaphor how today's starlets sink to any degrading low for their 15 minutes - and to buy their way out of prison. And I loved the movie's irresistible swagger it displayed. Simply put, it's a grand old time.

79. The Wrestler (2008) - From the moment Mickey Rourke appears on the screen as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a self-described "broken down piece of meat," wrestler and estranged father, he immediately has our undivided attention. By film's end, it's a harrowing and haunting performance where Rourke, like The Ram, leaves everything - his love for the sport, and his life - in the ring. Rourke's performance is something you won't soon forget. The same goes with Darren Aronofsky's gritty and soul-bearing direction.

78. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) - The best Potter movie since Alfonso Cuaron's Prisoner of Azkaban, the sixth installment of J.K. Rowing's masterful children's literature series, is also the most beautifully shot (cinematographer Bruno Debonnel deserves to have Academy voters singing his praises) and mature of the set. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson are all aces, but it's the supporting crew that shocks and wows you, particularly the dynamic Alan Rickman as Snape, who's mere scowls and expressions do more acting than the lines he sinks into; Helena Bonham Carter is sexiness villainy personified as the mad Bellatrix Lestrang; the suprising and haunting Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy, Harry's arch-rival given a job by the evil Lord Voldemort that could break his soul in two; and the magnificent Sir Michael Gambon as the clever and wise Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore.

77. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) - Once a project that the late Stanley Kubrick passed on to Steven Speilberg a few years before his death, Kubrick's vision of a crumbling world in the near future and the story of a android child programmed to love comes to breathtakingly, vivid life in Speilberg's hands. Haley Joel Osmet's touching and haunting performance as David, the young android who wants to be a real boy, proved that his breakout hit as the kid who could see dead people in The Sixth Sense was no fluke.

76. Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) - Controversial is an understatement. Michael Moore's blistering, mad-as-hell documentary slamming the Bush administration's actions after the wake of the 9/11 attacks, started a firestorm of debate about the War in Iraq, our approach to the War on Terrorism, and about the Commander-in-Chief himself. Moore fudged facts, divided audiences and made movie history as his documentary became the highest-grossing documentary of all time. A must watch for anyone who wants to capture the intensity of debate dealing with the Iraq War, and the Bush presidency.

75. Chocolat (2000) - Like Chicago, this one eventually grew on me over time. A comic fable about a mother (Juliette Binoche) and her daughter (Victoire Thivisol) who set up the chocolate shop in a small French village and causes a sensual commotion during the forty days of Lent. Maybe I was too young to feel giddy and warm about the film's humorous and sensual nature, but as I grew older, I've come to love this irresistible and delicious fable from director Lasse Hallstrom (The Cider House Rules).

74. Open Range (2003) - It's no Unforgiven, but this western is a classic nonetheless, thanks in part to someone who's made this kind of movie before: Kevin Costner shoots the vast, American West with a sweeping passion. Charley (Costner) and Boss Spearman (the great Robert Duvall) are two cowboys seeking justice as one of their on is murdered by a corrupt rancher (Sir Michael Gambon) and his cronies. Of course, there's a love interest (Annette Bening as the town nurse) and there's a climatic standoff (it's a perfectly shot action piece) but the driving force is between Costner and Duvall as two weary cowboys living in a country that has little need for cowboys.

73. Maria Full Of Grace (2004) - Knockout performances don't get any better than watching Catalina Sandino Moreno play Maria Alverz, a 17 year-old from Colombia leaving her job at a rose factory for a life as a drug mule. Watching Moreno's Maria swallow pellets of heroin is just as hard as watching an example of the consequences of what could happen if a pellet should leak out during the flight to New York. Give credit to first-time director Joshua Martson for the no-bull look at the human element of drug traffiking, and the lengths of which Maria - and many immigrants - are willing to undertake to pursue the American Dream.

72. Crash (2005) - Between a film centering around race relations in America and two gay cowboys, Oscar voters went with the safer pick in Paul Haggis' multi-layered drama about the connections several people will share with one another in the span of 36 hrs, which isn't saying much. This movie and it's characters confront their racially-held stereotypes about others, and become victims themselves. All the actors excell, but the standouts are Matt Dillon as a racist cop tending to his ailing father; Sandra Bullock as the wife of a D.A. who's car was hijacked at gunpoint; rapper Ludacris as a car thief who ponders with his partner (Larenz Tate) about race, class and life; and Thandie Newton, the wife of a black TV director (Terrance Howard) who was sexually molested by Matt Dillon's character.

71. Juno (2007) - I can't remember the last time i've seen any actor or actress burst forth with as much biting wit and aching vulnerability than Ellen Page as Juno McGruff. It's a joy to watch Page sink into Juno - a high school student who winds up pregnant to her boyfriend Pauly Pleaker (Michael Cera) who decides to give the baby away to two hopeful parents (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) - and let her rip into some of the best lines i've heard in a while. Of course, the credit also goes into first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody for pouring sharp humor and unflinching honesty into Juno's world - a world that's all to familiar for anyone who remembers growing up in their teenage years.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The 100 Best Films of the Decade, Part 2

90. Casino Royale (2006) - Daniel Craig might not look like 007 in some of the eyes of the fanboys our there, but to me, he is the embodiment of the James Bond psyche: an emotionally detached, arrogant, narcissistic killing machine. Here, in this reboot of the Bond franchise, Craig nails Bond's world to the letter. Let's not forget that after the awful The World Is Not Enough, and the disappointing Die Another Day, Casino Royale is the best-looking - and most exciting - Bond picture since Goldeneye.

89. Thirteen (2003) - If Mean Girls was a satirical look on the pressures of emerging womanhood in high school, Catherine Hardwicke's '03 debut about a straight-lace good girl gone off the deep end bad is the in-your face realism of growing up through the eyes of a teenage girl. Evan Rachel Wood is stunning as Tracy, the protagonist transformed into every parent's nightmare: an out-of-control, drug fueled wild-child that's slowing deteriorating on the inside.

88. Team America: World Police (2004) It's probably the most outrageous puppet film ever made. It figures that South Park bad boys Trey Parker and Matt Stone would somehow take a satirical approach of America's destructive need to police the world after 9/11 and infuse puppet sex, lampoon Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn (among others) for taking themselves way too seriously, and have North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il singing a heartfelt ballad, "I'm So Ronley."

87. Gangs Of New York (2002) - Before watching this stunning period drama from Martin Scorsese, I have never watched any of his films, and I hated Leonardo DiCaprio with a burning passion. Almost three hours later, I walked out as a fan of Scorsese's splendid mastery of his craft, and of DiCaprio's emergence as an actor, and not some pretty-boy hack who gets boned in almost every role he's in. The triumph is in how Marty's vision of the immigrant experience in 19th century America is presented: production designer Dante Feretti, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus,and actors DiCaprio, Daniel-Day Lewis, Cameron Diaz, John C.Reilly, etc) all paint this visually striking and unforgettable story of people carving out their piece of America by whatever means necessary.

86. Ratatouille (2007) - The story of a rat named Remy (voiced by Patton Oswald) with a passion to set the Paris restaurant scene ablaze with his cooking skills sounds like a shitty, cliche-riddled after school special on Playhouse Disney. If you're writer-director Brad Bird and the wizards at Pixar Animation Studios, it's a gorgeous, funny and touching love letter to Paris, France that's sealed with a kiss, and yet one of five movies from the studio that takes it's place upon my list.

85. My Big, Fat Greek Wedding (2002) - The movie that opened my eyes to the independent movie scene. And what a way to do it: Star and screenwriter Nina Vardalos shows us the insanity of a family during the lead up to Toula Portokalos'(Vardalos) wedding to non-Greek vegan Ian Miller (a charming John Corbett). Sure, the jokes are corny and repetitive, but the love between Nina and John's character's is genuinely real and touching.

84. Where The Wild Things Are (2009) - Maurice Sendak's short tale of childhood imagination is a beloved children's story that stays with both parent and child who read it. In director Spike Jonze's hands, its a thrilling and emotional powerhouse story of Max (a hellva performance from 12 year-old Max Records) and his imagination escaping to an island where Wild Things rule without rules of boundaries after a fight with his divorced mother (a terrific Catherine Keener) and new beau (Mark Ruffalo). Jonze, along with co-writer Dave Eggers, and cinematographer Lance Acord capture Max's wild world and the creatures who inhabit it the same as the entire movie: like a boy filled with emotions that he can't explain.

83. Training Day (2001) - For the longest time, I've always seen Denzel Washington as playing the protagonist. Boy was it thrilling to watch Washington play a dirty cop in Alonzo Harris, teeter-totting between training Jake Hoyt (a great Ethan Hawke) and collecting money for the Russian Mafia to pin a murder on someone. The standoff between Hawke and Washington towards the film's end is as explosive as any gunfight director Antoine Fuqua delivers in this tale of crime and consequences, the narc officer who doesn't know up from down, and doesn't much care anymore.

82. 28 Days Later (2003) - In Danny Boyle's post-apocalyptic London, a virus unleashed onto the citizens doesn't make the infected traditionally slow, monotone, and devour brains. These fuckers are fast, they go for the arteries, and make noises like diseased dogs released from hell. Unlike most horror films, 28 Days Later sets a new watermark in taking you on a wild and frighting ride through the end of civilization by pummeling the viewer with danger lurking in ever empty corner and hitting you hard, fast, and often with zombie-shredding violence. Have fun going to sleep afterwords.

81. Spider-Man (2002) - It was the superhero movie that could be campy, but have a soul and a solid storyline also. Kudos to director Sam Rami and screenwriter David Koepp for displaying to everyone how to make an enjoyable summer popcorn film that doesn't sacrifice outstanding action pieces and excellent visual effects for story and character development.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Worst. Vampire. Movie. Ever.

A little story about how tonight was supposed to go: mother and I wanted to go to the local movie theater. What to see?

Up In The Air?, In limited release (L.A., New York, etc.).

Fantastic Mr. Fox? Loved it, didn't start until 7:10. Mom didn't want to wait that long.

Precious? Wasn't playing there, and I'm not in the mood for a downer film at this time of year.

My suggestion to our dilemma? Watch, for the third time, Quentin Tarantino's excellent Inglorious Basterds. Easily one of -- if not -- my favorite film of 2009.

There we are, standing in line, and i'm about to watch Brad Pitt butcher the Italian language in front of the movie's real bastard, Col. Hans "the Jew Hunter" Lander (Christoeph Waltz, in a deliciously evil performance that will earn him a Best Supporting Actor statuette in March)...not to mention, Tarantino's own ultimate butcher job - the outcome of World War 2, where instead of Hitler and his floozy hiding out in a bunker while the Allied troops begin their march on Berlin, du fuhrer gets a hailstorm of bullets to the face (along with the higher-ups in the Nazi high command) while watching a propaganda picture.

"Welcome to the Regal, what movie would you like to see?" says the employee working the box office.

"Two military for New Moon, at 6:35."

I stared at my mother, at a loss for words.

In a heartbeat, she decides to drag me into a two plus hour teen/emo/vampire soap opera that I hated the first go around with Twilight. Now, here I am, again, about to enter a world where vampires glitter in the sunlight, where moping is a national pastime in the sleepy town of Forks, Washington, and where annoying middle-school girls blatantly ignore the commercials that ask the audience to silence their cell phones and scream at the sight of two, wooden Abercrombie & Fitch models as they're about to engage in the movie's many money shots.

Somewhere in The Twilight Saga: New Moon, as Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) goes through the motions of losing her beloved vampire lover Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) - and, when I mean going through the motions, I mean the stuff most normal teenage girls would do when they get dumped: dive off a cliff into the ocean, take a ride home from a slimy biker looking to get some barely teenage pussy, and squeal like a pig that's about to become someone's Christmas dinner - I had a burning desire to stand up and tell the young, female audience the inconvenient truth about Ms. Swan: that's she's a crazy, clingy woman who needs to get some psychiatric help and find better taste in men!

Consider the evidence: In Twilight she dates a 109 year-old vampire who's relatives and beau want to feast on her flesh. In the second installment to Stephanie Meyer's worldwide best selling books, she's hanging out with a pack of werewolves that could take half her face off if she gets them angry! Speaking of getting angry, there's a scene where Taylor Lautner's Jacob Black tells Alice Cullen, (Ashley Greene), in his "serious" tone, "Don't...make me angry!" Somewhere, Lou Ferrigno is wishing he could have gotten copy rights to his signature line on the TV version of The Incredible Hulk.

For all the talk about the Twilight series being the modern-day epic romance about two star-crossed lovers, New Moon is easily one of the most heartless romantic pictures to come along in a while. Take how Ed and Jacob face off towards the end, both ready to fight for Bella's affections. Who does Bella choose to be with? Surely it would be Jacob, the werewolf who brings her back from her severe bout of depression to a brighter form of melancholy, and all-around good chum, over Edward, the immortal 17 year-old vegan vampire who dumped Bella in the forest and left her there in the fetal position crying her eyes out, right?

Another example is how Bella continues to use Jacob like he's her personal tampon. Knowing that Jacob is good with repairing bikes, she brings him a beat-down motorcycle for him to repair. One might see this sequence as the two bonding. In reality, she just used him to see Edward's phantom pop up when she's acting like an adrenaline junkie, believing that seeing him like this is better than nothing at all. Except the new guy who's beginning to take a liking to you. And Meyer's Bella is supposed to be a positive role model for young girls? I'd rather them emulate Sarah Palin.

In the end, New Moon somehow manages to pull a double-whammy: its as boring and lifeless than the last installment, and damn-near reaches the idiot shallows of this summer's atrocious box-office champion, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. The only reason this product-placement of a film avoids that dishonor is that it's unintentionally the funniest piece of filmmaking this year since The Hangover.

Did I forget to mention New Moon has made over $230 million at the box office, and the studio is set to release the next chapter of the Twilight franchise, Eclipse, next summer? God help us all.

1/2 stars out of ****

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Week 12 observations in the NFL

* The Saints are the real McCoy. Any team that can fluster Tom Brady and lay out a convincing ass-kicking on national television must be taken seriously. The irony watching this game became profound to me: Had A.J. Smith stuck it out with Drew Brees, instead of dumping him because his arm injury he suffered at the end of the 2005 season, there would be Super Bowls XLI and XLII titles in San Diego...and possibly rival Belichick's Patriots as the team of the decade. Yes, I said XLII, because watching the way Brees played against the Pats when he was a Charger, and how he played them on Monday night, add to it the endless amounts of firepower San Diego has, from LT to Antonio Gates to Vincent Jackson, Brady would have gone down in the Championship game.

* The Patriots will win the AFC East. They'll probably take the 3rd or 4th seed in the playoff picture. They'll probably embarrass whichever Wild-Card team comes to Foxbrough in January. The praise will be on full blast: the team that no one wants to play in the postseason is back and we'll have the Rivalry of the Decade, Part 2 between Manning and Brady. Yada, yada, yada. Guess what? Not gonna happen. Why? The young, inexperienced secondary will be eaten alive by either the tandems of Carson Palmer/Chad "Ochocinco" or Phillip Rivers/whichever 6-foot wide receiver is open down-field in the Divisional round. Unless Belichick can get the Secondary up to snuff, New England will face an early exit from the playoffs.

* As we pick up our collective jaws off the floor with Vince Young's last-minute heroics against the Arizona Cardinals, the team that went from a shocking 0-6 start under Kerry Collins (the same Kerry Collins that took Young's spot last year and led the Titans to a NFL-best 13-3 record and homeland advantage through the playoffs), to an equally shocking 5-game dream run of a winning streak, and with it, talks of being a contender for the 6th seed in the postseason. As much as I love the story of football's comeback kid and his growing maturity we see in each game, Tennessee won't make the playoffs for two reasons: the Indianapolis Colts and the San Diego Chargers.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The 100 Best Films of the Decade, Part 1

Here we (almost) are. In 29 days, we're going to celebrate the first passing decade of the new millennium. As I said in September, I am going to part-take in a big endeavor: create my list of the 100 best films of the decade. And I have, with some debate on which movie should be placed where with the top 1-20. Anyways, here's part one of the top 100 films of the decade. Enjoy.

100. Mean Girls (2004) - Before Lindsay Lohan got involved with shots of vodka and blow, she was both a mega-babe and, talented to boot. Probably the best teen satire since Heathers and Clueless, this comedy takes us into the hellish jungle called high school and into the trenches of the warzone between Cady (Lohan), the new girl and the leader of the Plastics, Regina (the deliciously-evil Rachel McAdams). The verbal barbs, confrontations, and catfights bring a whole new meaning to the term, "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." It also helps that SNL alumni Tina Fey penned the script with ferocious wit that hits with pin-point accuracy.

99. Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004) - In Kill Bill Vol.1, Quentin Tarantino proved he could make an ultra-violent action epic with amazing style. What would he have in store for this time for The Bride (Uma Thurman) as she carries out her quest to kill the DIVAs (the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad) and head honcho Bill (the late and great David Carradine) who gunned her down and left her for dead? A return to Tarantino's bread-and-butter: wickedly delicious dialogue, outrageous humor, and a moving storyline hidden beneath the director's blood-splattering wake. Tarantino's Vol. 2 hits a new watermark in his amazingly short career of ten years (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Vol.1, and Grindhouse: Death Proof) where he takes ever B-level spaghetti western film, and every 1970's exploitation flick and combines it into one exciting time at the movies.

98. 8 Mile (2002) - When we think of Eminem, we see a controversial white rapper who spits lyrics like a machine gun turret. Fast, ferocious, and shoots everything and anything that dare moves, he's up there with Jay-Z, Tupac, Biggie, and Nas (to name a few) as of the best MC's in rap. Who would have thought we say this about Slim Shady: an acting powerhouse? In 8 Mile, Eminem's Jimmy "Rabbit" Smith holds the screen with the look of a man strapped with explosives, rigged to blow at a moment's notice. The same can be said about this rags-to-riches drama, minus the riches.

97. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) - It's Johnny Depp as the willy, charming, and cunning Captain, Captain Jack Sparrow, savy. What more needs to be said?

96. Collateral (2004) - Jamie Foxx wowed audiences as Ray Charles in the biopic, Ray, but in Michael Mann's stylish and fast-paced thriller about a cold, calculating contract killer (Tom Cruise) making five stops in the sleek and haunting Los Angles nightlife, tagging with him an unsuspecting cab driver named Max, Foxx's performance is nothing short of a revelation, matching step-for-step with Cruise's electrifying Vincent. Using mostly digital cameras to film the City of Angels at dusk, Mann shoots it like the devil and his minions are lurking around every dark alley and every light-gleaming street.

95. Pride and Prejudice (2005) - To quote Mr. Darcy himself, "You have bewitched me, body and soul." By the end of this wonderful and soulful Jane Austin adaptation, you'll fall in love with Keria Knightley's strong-willed presence (and her sharper tongue) as Elizabeth Bennet, Matthew MacFadyen's arrogant and longing Mr. Darcy, and director Joe Wright's keen detail to bring 18th century British romance and playful eroticism to a 21st century female audience.

94. The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005) - Before Judd Apatow and company took over movie comedy, his claim to fame was the underrated comedy series, Freaks and Geeks. Apatow's Andy Stitzer(the ever-funny Steve Carrel), is a big time geek. He's 40, single, doesn't drink, and has never had intercourse with another woman. His new buddies -- Romney Falco, Paul Rudd, and Seth Rogen make you laugh til it hurts -- spend the rest of the time trying to get him laid, with disastrous results (see a drunken Leslie Mann giving Andy a car-ride from hell). Virgin is drop-dead hilarious and has something few crude guy flicks have: heart and a smart screenplay which fully understands that making a relationship work is much harder that pleasing someone sexually.

93. Doubt (2008) - Watching Oscar winners Philip Seymore Hoffman and Merely Streep trade insults and verbal blows over Sister Aloysius's (Streep) feelings about a song being sung in a school play, to an accusation of Father Flynn (Hoffman) conducting in a suspicious manner with one of the students, is like watching two prize fighters slug it out for 15 rounds without a clear indication of a winner. Without giving the motives of both Flynn and Aloysius away, Doubt leaves you thinking and leaves both characters doubting their own faith.

92. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) - If Homer's The Odyssey took place in the 1930's Depression-era South, had three dumb, but earnest criminals led by George Clooney, trying to return home to his wife, Penny (Holly Hunter), included three Southern bells with a knack for attracting traveling men, a Warren hunting em down and always wearing sunglasses, and discovering a amazing treasure (i'll never tell what it is), it would look something like Joel and Ethan Coen's darkly humorous tale of faith, friendship, and endless amounts of Dapper Dan hair products.

91. Star Trek (2009) - Or: How T.V. genius J.J. Abrams (Lost) resurrected a franchise that was picked bone dry by the buzzards. It's hard not to praise all the actors involved, mainly because all of them had a chance to shine, so I'll point out a few: first to Zachary Quinto for being the best damn Spock since Lenord Nimoy donned the pointy ears; Chris Pine for never losing the swagger and my-way-or-the-highway attitude that made James T. Kirk an awesome U.S.S. Enterprise captain; Karl Urban for being the entertaining medical officer Bones; and Simon Pegg for stealing the show as Scotty. The real hero is Abrams, for bringing excitement, feeling, and a sense of endless wonder back to a franchise drifting into the far reaches of space.