You Need an Enemy to Stay Happy and Strong (A Self-Help Book)

Without an arch-enemy, we can only live half a life, with half the motivation to conquer and succeed.

You'll need to find a doppelganger.... and soon.

Novelist John Irving says that author Thomas Mann once wrote, "Enemies are the necessary concomitant to any robust life ... often the very proof of our strength".

[I'll finish this essay up at some later date. Hopefully, it'll be amazingly funny, so keep an eye out for it.... Update: I just saw a Fellini documentary where the Italian master of cinema says something exactly along these lines... I'm trying to find a transcript, and will add a quote here and more details when available]

Transcendence of Space in Von Trier's “Breaking the Waves”

A while back I was invited to act as the guest editor of a magazine, which shall remain nameless. I was working under a different pseudonym at the time, and I’d come up with some unusual ideas about not only the content I wanted to include in my issue of the mag, but also how that content would be created.

One of those ideas was to have a series of writers create articles immediately, at their own homes, while I plied them with liquor and odd anecdotes and opinions. It was an experiment to see if a certain spontaneity and vigor couldn’t be added to the usually dull and predictable proceedings of so many mainstream periodicals.

Among the writers chosen was a friend of mine of the pen-name Darius Ebert, an expert in the finer points of cinema. I gave him the following mission: “Write a 2,000-word article based on one of three subjects, which I will think of and jot down on a napkin in a couple of minutes. You will have exactly five hours to complete the essay, and you can only use reference works you have available right here, in your apartment. I’ll edit and polish the piece tomorrow, when I’m sober. And then I’ll include it in this magazine.”

Regrettably, the article Chris wrote was deemed too “ridiculously difficult to understand, and completely dated” by the publisher. Subsequently, it was cut from the final line-up of the magazine. So, now, in another Celebrity Cola exclusive, I’m going to publish it for the first time, here, online.

Following are the three topics from which Chris was asked to choose, followed by the completed essay and a list of the sources he frantically yanked from his bookshelves. (Personally, I thought the third and final subject listed below would be the toughest and least fun to scribe under these conditions, and had guessed that Chris would go with the second topic, but he confounded my prediction.)

“Bill Murray: Magnificent Actor/Comedian, Inferior Roles (especially in the 1990s)”


“Mickey Rourke: The New Marlon Brando (but highly underappreciated and completely washed up)”


“The Transcendence of Space in Lars Von Trier's Breaking the Waves

Lars Von Trier's “Breaking the Waves” may very well be the most important film of the 1990s. Moreover, it is one of the most beautiful and powerful films in all of film history. The film's power derives from the uniqueness of its style. Though many of its techniques and devices are not unprecedented, and have, indeed, become quite common in the many years since the groundbreaking films of Jean-Luc Godard and John Cassavetes used them, “Breaking the Waves” is nonetheless a radical work of representation. The editing and photography of the film is both primitive and yet completely groundbreaking. It owes a debt to the work of another Danish director, Carl Theodore Dreyer, in such films as “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” and, especially, “Ordet.” Yet it also expands on the possibilities of cinematic syntax in a wholly original way, thus creating a completely transcendent work of art.

By avoiding the dull, static naturalism that characterizes traditional filmmaking, Von Trier restores the utter complexity of life as it is actually lived through the use of shaky, hand-held camera work, jump cuts, and an open, seemingly haphazard approach to composition. It is shot almost entirely in close-up without a single orthodox establishing shot, and cinematographer Robby Muller's camerawork achieves a new intimacy with the actors. The pure expressiveness of their faces and gestures is remarkable. Nevertheless, life in all its abundance simply cannot be completely reproduced on screen. Instead, Von Trier hints at it with loose compositions that suggest an infinite world beyond the simple confines of a rectangular frame. Likewise, the elliptical cutting results in a rapid accumulation of disparate details, which cannot be easily processed. All of this creates a sort of mystery, forcing the audience to acknowledge a world existing beyond the confines of the material represented.

The events of “Breaking the Waves” are condensed mostly into single and two character scenes. The film concerns human instincts of love, faith, and sexual yearning and their repression by society, which is represented in the film by a strict religious sect. The film revolves around Bess, an updated version of the archetype of the Holy Fool. In response to the patriarchal Protestant system, which will not even allow women to speak in church or attend funeral services, she has sought a direct communication with God. Her introverted way of life is complicated by her love for Jan (her new, rugged, oil-rigger husband) and her awakening sensuality. This dichotomy leads to many hardships for Bess and, ultimately, her death. The film depicts a story that is both very specific and exquisitely universal as Bess’s torments and faith unfold.

But a mere description of the film's theme and characters is not the focus of this essay. “Breaking the Waves” is about life. It is the film's style, in its adherence to the unfathomable scope of life, which is its content. This style is wholly at odds with that of classical a Hollywood film. The so-called invisible style of those films reduces life to an easily assimilated series of bits in which everything flows through a simple logic of conflict, action, and resolution. The careful compositions exclude that which is not seen as obviously necessary to the storyline. Thus, all life is given a structure of simple meaning at the service of plot. These films are merely escapist fantasy; mass-produced entertainments promoting and servicing the cult of the star.

“Breaking the Waves” carefully avoids these formulaic and formalistic approaches to its material. At first glance, the movie, with its documentary-like style, seems connected to the films of the French New Wave and, especially, the work of its most influential member, Jean-Luc Godard. But while “Breaking the Waves” raises the specter of Godard’s greatest works (particularly “Breathless”) in its techniques, the effect is quite different.

With Godard, the purpose was to deconstruct the narrative. It was an attempt to empower the audience by giving them a glimpse at the processes used to create specific reactions (as explained by J. Dudley Andrew in “The Major Film Theories”). The editing and camerawork were meant to call attention to themselves, as opposed to “Breaking the Waves,” where they transcend their individual powers by no longer being mere tools in an attempt to prove a theory. Instead, they are simply used to present life in its truest state. It becomes impossible for the audience to situate itself or to view the characters from a detached perspective. While the spiraling camera movement and the disorienting editing may reflect the interior world of Bess, it also demonstrates an unwillingness on Von Trier's part to provide the viewer with a simple, constructed presentation of reality which has been taken and used as a convention ever since the days of the proscenium arch.

The situations facing the characters of “Breaking the Waves” are bleak and claustrophobic, but Von Trier's style expressly refuses to reinforce a sense of impotence and doom. The style is consistently one of new perspectives: The 180-degree rule is often violated. Stasis is explicitly rejected. The continuously panning camera movement, exaggerated by the very closeness of the frame, does not permit prediction or simple logic. And this alone seems to open up new possibilities of freedom in the film's isolated and morally constrained setting. This movement also echoes that of the ocean bordering Bess’s hamlet, which is an important detail that expands on the larger theme. It seems to suggest that the hope that exists in the world of the film comes from the natural world. Consequently, this linking of the filmic technique and the natural world seems to give the latter a holy significance, and it is this that allows one to see that, in the moral scope of the film, "Religion is accused, but not God,” as Von Trier notes to Stig Bjorkman in Sight and Sound.

This last statement connects “Breaking the Waves” with the work of Dreyer. In fact, on close examination, the film shows many affinities with a couple of Dreyer's films. The abundance of close-ups in “Breaking the Waves,” as well as their impact, is quite similar to Dreyer's “The Passion of Joan of Arc.” The close-up is a device common in classical Hollywood filmmaking as well, but in those films, it is much more an aesthetic effect than a revelatory one. The perfect faces of the glamorous stars are given a full showcase by the close-up: The lighting of a Hollywood close-up can be much more elaborate and flattering than any other star-glorifying shot in a film due to it being easier to position and control lights around such a small frame. However, both Dreyer and Von Trier dispense with stars. In “Arc” and “Breaking,” both their lead actresses are film newcomers. They prefer to focus on the expressive quality rather than the beauty of the face. Accordingly, Dreyer dispensed with make-up. Von Trier goes a step further, using neither make-up nor artificial lighting.

But as much as “Breaking the Waves” can be compared to “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” it seems to owe a far greater debt to another Dreyer film, “Ordet.” In fact, the character Mikkel's remark at his wife's deathbed near the end of “Ordet” that he "loved her body, too," seems to be the inspiration for the melding of faith and sensuality in “Breaking the Waves.” But more importantly, in “Ordet” Dreyer worked with the tracking shot and the long take in much the same way as Von Trier uses his techniques in “Breaking the Waves.” The shots in “Ordet” thus achieve a quality of constant movement and surprise similar to “Breaking.”

Both directors avoid the use of the establishing shot because a shot fixing the characters in their environment (their society) would indicate that life only exists within the borders of what is outlined by their oppressors (i.e., the world being limited by the initial frame). It would offer no hope and would establish precisely what Dreyer and Von Trier are trying to disestablish. The establishing shot could thus be seen as a metaphor for The Establishment -- the hypocritical religious orders that attempt to constrain the characters within a closed universe, disregarding the interior world of the individuals.

That said, it is important to note that Von Trier goes beyond Dreyer's initial experiment. Though “Ordet” is both a stylistic breakthrough and an extraordinary film, when compared to “Breaking the Waves” it can be seen as a much more contained and austere work. This is probably according to Dreyer's intentions; Comparatively, Von Trier's film achieves a sense of joy and wonder that is almost pagan.

The most striking similarity that both “Ordet” and “Breaking the Waves” share, however, is a miraculous end. In “Ordet,” it is the character Inger's resurrection from the dead. In “Breaking the Waves,” bells appear in the sky to mourn the death of Bess. For obvious reasons these are both quite cathartic and, yet, perplexing conclusions. However, considering the radical techniques, the final miracle is better understood.

The final scene of “Breaking the Waves” is certainly transcendent, but it cannot be detached from the rest of the film. It is not simply a moment of Holy Grace in a movie about worldliness. As has been previously noted, Von Trier's technique unifies the God and the world. The final shot is thus: the summary and effect of the editing and photography of the entire film.

In even the simplest scenes of the film Von Trier's manipulation of space creates the possibility of growth and change in the very shadow of repression. Accordingly, the idea of life in the midst of death seems completely comprehensible, a testament to the workings of a holy entity within the greater context of the film. The openness of the framing, the acknowledgement that what is seen is only a small part of what exists, the continuous changes caused by the narrative and the technique, the refusal to grant the audience any single, ultimate perspective -- these are part of Von Trier's presentation of (and preservation of) the unpredictability and possibility of life.

Life in “Breaking the Waves” is never hopeless despite the bareness of the characters' situation and environment. Miracles are seen not as mystical exceptions to physical laws, but simply as part of the utter mystery of life as we know it. “Breaking the Waves” seems to say that the very point of living is that of constant exploration, discovery, and adjustment. Faith must not be just maintained but renewed. In his book “Sculpting in Time,” Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, another truly transcendental artist, wrote that great art must produce a catharsis leaving its audience open to new potential. Similarly, the cathartic end of “Breaking the Waves” leaves its viewers with a sense of hope.

Perhaps because of the very ambiguity that is its subject, the film has confused many critics, even those who are generally supportive of it (as witnessed by Kathleen Murphy’s arguments in Film Comment against a fellow critic’s opinions of the film). Much of the confusion stems from Von Trier's own comments. He often seems to contradict himself, insisting in a single interview with Stig Bjorkman, for instance, that he’d wanted to do "a completely naturalistic film," while later remarking that he’d purposely “chosen a style that works against the story."

Stanley Kauffmann once wrote, "There seem to be two concurrent but separate professions -- filmmaking and interview giving." Von Trier's case is particularly sensitive given the extreme formalism of his past efforts. Those films, while evidence of a remarkable talent, are in both theme and form 180 degrees away from anything in “Breaking the Waves.” Even in this masterpiece, Von Trier seems to struggle with his new expressiveness: The lush chapter headings that divide the film are a glance back at his abstraction. This indicates perhaps a lack of trust in the audience's understanding of the implications present in the film's otherwise primitive style. However, like life, no work of art can be perfect, and no one would want it to be. “Breaking the Waves” succeeds brilliantly despite its minor flaws. In fact, the film is so great that it may be beyond its creator's comprehension. After all, the film deals with the transcendent -- that which is invisible and ineffable. It is something that is hard enough to achieve. It is understandable that even Von Trier may not be able to explain it in words.

As has been consistently noted, “Breaking the Waves” is a film about life. No other art form is as capable of representing life as the cinema. In “Breaking the Waves” life has been represented as never before. Through the manipulation of inherently cinematic space, Lars Von Trier has brought us a vision that cannot merely be described. “Breaking the Waves” is a film that has to be experienced rather than explained. It is not about meaning; it is about faith.


Works Cited:

J. Dudley Andrew, "The Major Film Theories." New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Stig Bjorkman, "Breaking the Waves," Sight and Sound. (October 1996).

Stanley Kauffmann, "Living Images." New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1975.

Kathleen Murphy, "Frames," Film Comment. (July - August 1997).

Adrei Tarkovsky, "Sculpting in Time." Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986.

Where can I find the greatest cheese in the entire world (for, you know, really cheap)?

Well, I really shouldn't tell you....

That's one of my greatest mysteries ...

And if everyone knows my secret, no one will be impressed with my cheese, eh?

When I arrive at parties with the grandest, most extravagant chevre imaginable, people will just shrug and say "Ah, I just had the quadruple cream Brie yesterday on a toasted sandwich, mate. No big deal. I know you're buying this stuff for pennies."

But if I'm going to die of clogged arteries before I turn 30 due to Cheese Overdose, well, hell... I might as well let the rest of the world join me. So here's the scoop:

East Village Cheese, 40 Third Ave., between 9th and 10th Streets, New York City. (If you don't live in New York, fly here for the cheese. Now. It'll be worth the trip.)

Rightly named the Best Gourmet Food Emporium by the Village Voice in 2000, East Village Cheese not only has stockpiles of gourmet cheese rinds, but also the best fresh pesto, ricotta, bread, chicken liver, pate, taramasalata, and baked goods around -- and amazing imported olives, spreads, breads, crackers, dips, oils, and more. And it's all packed into a shop that's as small as my bedroom, in a cool and convenient neighborhood, at rates that will beat out most cheese vendors in the U.S.

Best of all, this curd outlet is conveniently located near the East Village's fine Warehouse Wines & Spirits (735 Broadway, between 8th Street and Waverly Place), where the sublime vinos, quality ports, and good liquors are always sold at a steep discount (and the staff is highly knowledgeable).

Trust me -- you're life will be much improved by visiting the above locations frequently.

Plus, if you buy Franco-based booze and cheeses, you'll be supporting the French economy ... possibly our best defense against G.W. Bush & Co.'s anti-cheese, anti-wine ways.


Do you prefer your cheese melted on a brick-oven baked slice of pizza? Then leave the East Village and jump on the L Train -- five minutes later you'll be confronted with a free personal pizza every time you buy a drink at the Alligator Lounge or Capone's. I haven't tried Alligator Lounge yet, but Capone's is convenient (near the Bedford L stop) and it's got a smoking patio (cigarettes!), very cheap drinks, and the pizza is, as I mentioned, free and, in IMHO, it's an EXCELLENT slice.


~ A quick guide to saying cheese in foreign tongues: Spanish = queso; Latin = caseus; Italian = formaggio; French = fromage (the Latin root being formaticum, meaning "that which is made into a shape.")

~ Cheesy Side Note: Celebrity Cola was recently reviewed at the Space Coast Web Blog.

~ Extra-Super-Cheesy Logan News Article: "Don'cha just hate those liberals?"

A Map of Voter Subtlety (city folk/country folk faultlines made clear)

In the U.S.A., circa 2004, the Electoral College map looks like this:

All right, so the above image has been circulated ad nauseam to the point where even five-year-olds must know that the red states represent the "moral majority," those interested in being fiscally and socially conservative, the so-called Christian right, the homophobes, and people who find Bush's constant smirk endearing. And the blue states denote the crazy liberals that prefer French cheese to American Velveeta, drink fine wine as often as beer, favor welfare and peace to starvation and war, and think they're better than everybody else because they respect intellectuals and read a bit of philosophy (uppity pricks!).

According to the above map, however, most of the U.S. is entirely Republican... with only a few states in the north and the great swath of California leaning left. Many commentators have pointed out that, in truth, this is incorrect -- the nation is pretty evenly divided 50-50 in most states (or, at worst, around 60-40), with only slight margins determining whether the states votes get dumped into the laps of the Dems or Repubs. Thus, the electoral map paints a red U.S. that in reality is quite purple. It shows an overwhelming Republican victory in a country where a Democratic "mandate" could be achieved by a simple 1 or 2% change-of-mind by the populace.

However, the "50-50" concept implies that everything is equal... everyone probably knows just as many Democrats at their work as Republicans, has just as many friendly conservative neighbors as liberal neighbors, etc. But this, also, is disingenuous.

By ignoring our nation's antiquated and much-abused electoral system, and concentrating instead on the voting habits of the general population, we arrive at a map that more accurately reflects the mentality of the nation:

Yes, the country is no longer bright red or bright blue in giant chunks anymore. And, yes, the blueish and redish patches are mixed together in ways that the simplistic electoral map does not designate. However, the dominant color is still red.... in fact, it actually reveals that, geographically, even MORE of the country is conservatively inclined than indicated by the electoral map. The old blue-blooded liberal stalwart California is even slathered in red.

How can this be, when the popular vote is always so close to being 50-50, yea after year? Simple: Those little blue patches you see above are the densely populated cities.

So the United States is even less hospitable for liberals than most Democrats assume. The left wing gathers together tightly in large metropolitan centers while the conservatives spread out across the land. And the culture wars and political wars find themselves not just battling across old Civil War lines -- not just Founding-Father Yankees versus Confederate Dixie Rebels -- and not just metro-state versus rural-state, but, county-by-county the city folk and country folk are in a heated political battle against each other, whether they know it or not.

The argument could be made that the rural population should belong to the Democratic Party --the Democrats favor farm subsidies and bringing better education to the masses and sticking up for the little guy and the labor class. And the city folk should favor the Republicans -- the Repubs protect big businesses (which are usually based out of the big cities) and cut the taxes of the wealthy (and people living in big cities are usually perceived as making more money than the average rural citizen, so they have more personal income tax to protect).

The fact that the opposite is true seems illogical, except for the skill with which the Republicans have been able to sway rural and Christian voters by championing vague ideas about "moral values, attacking abortion and homosexuality and name-dropping Jesus. The Republicans have convinced half a nation that lower corporate taxes, larger monopoly-like companies, high federal debt, and a lack of federal health-care are all okay (even great!) because, gosh golly, why would the anti-abortion party want to pick your pockets, eh? As long as they keep talking about moral values and continue to fall on the majority side of the wedge issues, they can get away with anything they want -- even war and no-bid contracts to Halliburton.

But what about the city kids? Why are so many metropolis dwellers so liberal? I could present the argument that when people have to live together in close proximity, when they're constantly interacting with dozens of people of varying cultures and ethnicities, when they're surrounded by museums and music and libraries and colleges and diversity, when they know just how ploddingly and boringly evil the corporations are (because they're working right there, in the belly of the beast) -- when all these factors come into play, people's minds simply open up. They no longer feel intimidated by intellectuals or Middle Eastern Men or fey fellows kissing. They know an essential piece of the truth. They know they're not alone.

But if I made that argument, I'm sure I'd be accused of being a stuck-up egocentric namby-pamby. So I won't go there, sister, no sirree.

{Note: The images of the maps above were borrowed from The Stranger article "THE URBAN ARCHIPELAGO: It's the Cities, Stupid."}


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MSNBC & Newsweek Declare Nader Possibly Sane; Demand for Recount Continues; Democrats Whimper and Regroup

Even some in the mainstream press are admitting that "Nader Was Right." In an online-exclusive article for MSNBC/Newsweek, Eleanor Clift writes:

Amidst the rubble of what was the Democratic Party, Nader doesn't sound like a voice in the wilderness. He's saying what a lot of Democrats are coming to grips with, that they will be a permanent minority party for the next 20 years if they don't come up with some compelling ideas....

"Leave Kerry alone--make no demands on him," that was the mantra, says Nader. The party's various factions--labor, liberals, women, environmentalists--took a holiday. "They allowed Kerry to adopt ambiguous wishy-washy positions and they deprived him of the key to victory, which is bright lines," says Nader....

The court's May ruling in favor of gay marriage put the issue in play, and Bush's support for a constitutional ban allowed him to draw a bright line between himself and Kerry. It was the clearest difference voters could see.

Nader's ill-advised presidential bid in 2004 had everyone declaring the man insane earlier in the year, but now his criticisms of the Democratic Party seem almost prophetic, even if his campaign verged on the wee bit megalomaniacal (on the other hand, the Democrats and Republicans have both taken so many turns smearing Nader, it's no wonder he can be a little paranoid and standoffish).

And he's the only big-name guy willing to fight for a recount for himself and the Dems, even though a recount would do little for Nader himself but could throw the entire election to Kerry.

Then again, I wonder if he wasn't slapped back into reality by the paltry number of votes he received -- and the fact that John F. Kerry lost so soundly to Bush, even with many of Nader's followers selling Nader out in favor of JFK II.

Following Nader's example, various independent parties and candidates are also agitating for recounts in multiple states, with the Green Party's David Cobb and Libertarian Michael Badnarikand trying to raise the necessary funds for an Ohio recount. And tens of thousands of voters have signed a petition at Downtown Magazine "requesting an investigation into the Presidential Election of 2004."

However, Kerry, Edwards, and the Democrats -- not to mention the Republicans -- could initiate a recount with much greater speed, if they so choose. Even if it's impossible for Kerry to win the race, the two major parties owe it to the general public to prove that voter fraud will not be tolerated in this day and age, that every vote truly is counted correctly, and that problems with the new hard drive-based voting machines will be corrected.

Glitches abound: Some voting software in Florida began "counting backwards" at one point (i.e., subtracting instead of adding votes), which might indicate undetected problems elsewhere with counting systems. And let's not discount the ongoing punch-card/chad problems and now the odd optical scan voting trends.

But so far the Dems and Repubs have skirted the issue, and the no-longer-presidential Kerry is more concerned with keeping the likes of Nader and Howard Dean from pushing the Democratic Party in a progressive direction (by, for instance, quietly blocking a Dean bid for DNC Chair).

Hell, love 'im or hate 'im, you've gotta admit that Ralph Nader and Noam Chomsky have not only managed to keep up their status as intellectual boat-rocking liberal rabble-rousers for decades, but they've also ascended to that fabled land of celebrity where they can be referred to by a single name -- Nader and Chomsky. Even Michael Moore, Dennis Kucinich, and Al Franken can't touch that.

However, for Nader to shed the air of egotist and self-aggrandizing political spoiler, he'll need to spend the next few years wisely. Not only continuing the corporate-watchdog pursuits he's famous for, but also finding protégé's to replace him and young politicians he can mentor (for the sake of the future, and also to show whether or not Nader truly believes in the causes he represents, or if he mostly just believes in himself as a champion of said causes).

He needs to rejoin the Green Party and help them fine-tune their organization, or else try to push the Reform Party in a more liberal/labor direction (the U.S. needs a serious labor-oriented third-party one way or the other); and he must try and mend fences with the Democrats, helping to shape the Democratic Party while it's still in a state of weakness and transition.

(Perhaps with the help of his old nemesis, the newly liberalized Al Gore? One shudders to think of Nader working with the bland Gore of 2000; but after getting unfairly battered by Bush, Gore did look bad-ass during his brief flirtation with wearing a beard, and he certainly has a Republican ax to grind. We'll see...)

Name Droppings (a movie and screening review of “After the Sunset”)

I didn't make it into any of these wire/Getty images.... shunned by the press once again, I am.

And normally I wouldn’t devote this much space to picking on a movie that’s already getting a proper spanking from so many other critics as it is, but since I was lucky enough to attend the New York premiere of “After the Sunset” at the premier NYC location for such events -- the Ziegfeld -- on Tuesday night, I thought, “Hey, what the hell, let’s kick this flick while it’s down.”

Despite being stuck between hyper-happy, super-friendly, ADD puppy-dog director Brett Ratner, hip-hop and clothing mogul Russell Simmons, and Russell's super-tall, super-hot model/designer wife while I road the escalator out of the theatre to the New Line Cinema SUV's that were waiting to take us to the big premiere party at the NYC Warner Brothers building, I couldn't bring myself to talk to Brett, because the only appropriate way to start a chat would have been congratulating him on his film, but I find his films to be so second-rate that I began choking when I thought about kissing ass.... and I also couldn't say anything snippy or sarcastic, 'cause I wanted to drink the man's top-shelf free booze.

(All the while, Russell’s wife, the once-arrested Kimora Lee Simmons -- creative director of the Baby Phat clothing company -- kept popping what appeared to be breath mints, candies, or pills into Russell’s mouth, without Russell ever asking for or refusing the mystery objects periodically placed between his lips. In fact he never even looked in her direction, yet she always seemed to know when he might need his, uh, vitamin. When not feeding hubby, Kimora is a flirt, flirt, FLIRT wit da boys! With lots of behind-the-back-and- away-from-the-spouse hand-grabbing with chubby little Ratner, the man who attracts super-models and sports stars like rotting beef attracts coyotes.)

"After the Sunset"

So off to the after party I went, and drink I did – shoulder-to-shoulder with Alan Cumming and his boy toy. After getting good and hammered, I later wandered into the director's private after-after-party, where I spilled a drink on the coats of some celebrities (I’ll likely be barred from celebrity bashes in the future) and kept not seeing Salma Hayek every time she passed by -- I never even saw her once, although I’m told that she and Penelope Cruz walked right by me multiple times -- I must have been too boozed to notice the short-statured, well-endowed starlets (back to hard-drugs for me, then, ‘cause the John Barleycorn is making me near-sited). I also never spotted Don “Devil in a Blue Dress” Cheadle.

But I did see Reverend Run and various other celebs.

Saw: Brosnan and his legion of pandering followers. Saw: Woody Harrelson, who seemed cool, relaxed, and left early. Saw: people whose names I should probably know, but don’t. Saw: a drunken lady who claimed to be the ex-manager of the Ramones (I should have talked to this grizzled, punkish woman more, as she was stylishly smoking a cigarette in a no-smoking room in the midst of a bunch of high-powered non-smokers, which is wonderful -- especially considering that the infamously anti-cigarette Mayor Bloomberg did the honors of introducing the film beforehand -- but the music was so loud I couldn’t make out a word of what she was saying).

Regrettably, I also didn't have a decent finished screenplay to try selling to any of these wankers . . . so my time to sell-out and stop being a cynic has not yet come.

But I’m so grateful to Brett Ratner for allowing me into his screening and parties that I’ve decided to give his film a thorough and honest review. I’m going to take an original approach here and break the film down by actor:

Pierce Brosnan: limited range and no chemistry with women. I always felt like he was an emasculated Bond, but since the Bond character's wimpiness is usually blamed on the Bond producers, one would expect Brosnan to have more verve and vitality when acting in a non-Bond film. But he doesn't. He's just a pretty boy playing the same basic character here has in the past, with James Bond or Thomas Crown. If he’s hoping to have a respectable post-Bond career, this pay-me-now-and-ask-questions-latter dreck was not the vehicle to drive out onto the world-cinema freeway.

Don Cheadle: severely under-utilized. He's given one funny little speech, but otherwise he's a one-dimensional bad-guy that flits in and out of the film only when the plot needs some momentum. He sleepwalks through the entire role.

Salma Hayek: looks amazing. But her character is so flat, any Playmate or model (with or without acting talent) could have played the part. Actually, "flat" may be the wrong term, because her primary character trait consists of wearing low-cut tops and Wonderbras and leaning over cars, countertops, and other objects in an attempt to distract filmgoers from the flick’s lack of originality by consistently dangling her bosoms like Liberty Bells ringing for freedom in the center of the screen. We know Hayek has more acting skill than this, but she's does little to elevate herself beyond a Maxim magazine pin-up spread.

Woody Harrelson: perhaps the flick's saving grace. At times, Woody projects a strange, captivating intensity. Although his character is written nearly as one-dimensionally as the others, Woody's eyes glare and his brow flinches and furrows and his body twitches as he visibly sinks into character and dredges up motivation. Self-loathing, disappointment, and jealousy are all palpable whenever the script gives him the chance. And his comedic timing is grand. However, the ham-handed direction sledgehammers the jokes so relentlessly that by the end of the film Harrelson's performance has collapse in upon itself, becoming a cartoon parody. He's the hapless Wile E. Coyote, chewing up the sunny scenery.

Naomie Harris: a sexy bad-ass, looking and sounding so different from her sexy-badass character in "28 Days later" that most people won't notice it's the same young talent (look for her next in Michael Winterbottom's "Tristram Shandy" in 2005). As the only native of the Bahamian island on which the majority of the film takes place, her character has the benefit of possessing the most realistic past (i.e., one that includes an ex-husband and real crime cases, and not robotic-super cars and bumbling FBI agents inexplicably driving diamonds to Laker games). We see hints of her history on the island as she interacts with her fellow police officers and local criminals. She and Woody have real chemistry, and she mostly nails the local accent and cheap gags.

(Note: I've been informed that Harris' accent is actually more Jamaican than the intended Bahamian, a mistake probably due to her having previous experiences with Jamaican accents—much of her family is based in Jamaica, and she used a Jamaican inflection in the film "White Teeth." However, to an untrained ear like my own, she sounded superb, creating a character that looked and sounded unique in comparison to her past roles. Her chameleon-like efforts have been reworded with choice roles in the upcoming blockbuster-sequel "Pirates of the Caribbean 2" and Michael Winterbottom’s "Tristram Shandy.")

Naomie Harris

The most interesting and original aspects of the film occur when the cartoon cat-and-mouse game between Woody and Pierce subsides and is replaced by an odd-couple-of-couples comedy -- the criminals played by Brosnan and Hayek surprisingly become friends with the cops played by Harrelson and Harris. They double-date, drink, work out their romantic pitfalls, and have a good time.

However, after this brief genre switch, the jewel-heist plot kicks back in, Woody becomes Pierce’s slapstick enemy again, and Hayek's weak, movie-long protests against Brosnan's continuing criminal lifestyle disappear as soon as he pops the question of marriage. Naomie Harris all but vanishes from the film, Woody's abandonment of her not even mentioned. The final scene of the film might better belong in a bad National Lampoon parody of Brosnan's verison of The Thomas Crown Affair (which itself was merely a lush remake of a far more inventive Steve McQueen epic).

"After the Sunset"
does have some genuine laughs and thrills, but they're few and far between. The best humor involves juvenile homophobia jokes -- Harrelson and Brosnan being found in bed together by the FBI, Harrelson and Brosnan awkwardly rubbing suntan lotion on each other's bodies, etc. That may not being saying much, but the only other positive comment I can think of would be to mention that the film moves along at a very quick pace; but a fast-moving bad movie does not a good movie make.

At the screening, director Brett Ratner mentioned that a top production executive at New Line Cinema came over to his house late one night with the "After the Sunset" script. He insisted on reading the entire film to Ratner out loud. By the times he was done reading, Brett was convinced that they had a work of genius in their possession. Brosnan had already signed on, so with big-name director and star attached, the film was ready to go.

After listening to this story and then seeing the finished product, I couldn’t help but wonder if the New Line exec wasn't actually reading Ratner the screenplay to "Before Sunset", the superior Richard Linklater/Ethan Hawke film from earlier this year. Or maybe Ratner and New Line got confused by the script's frequent references to the classic "To Catch a Thief" (Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant, Grace Kelly) and thought that mentioning a grand jewel-heist comedy-thriller repeatedly was just as good as making a grand jewel-heist comedy-thriller.

Regrettably, they were wrong. But despite this sugary, soulless confection Ratner will continue as a top dog in Hollywood because his films -- including the syrupy “The Family Man,” the plodding “Red Dragon,” and the “Rush Hour” trilogy (“Rush Hour III” is due in 2005, so fasten your seatbelts!) – have reportedly grossed a combined sum of around one billion dollars. In Hollywood terms, “one billion dollars” = “genius.” And maybe they’re right: He’s young, he’s hip, and the unwashed massed love his flicks . . . fabulous!

But Ratner’s films still give me the cold shakes, regardless. As did the long, pretentious, self-congratulatory speeches that Ratner and the New Line execs regaled the audience with before the premiere. Give these guys a chance, and they’d all give themselves Oscars.


Related posts:

"The Aviator" Review, DiCaprio Q&A, "Kill Bill," and Aussie Lamb All Taste A-OK

Movie Reviews and News (December 2004)

F*ck The South (but love their chicken wings and biscuits)

Having grown up in the South (Florida, in particular) and having so many good Southern friends and relatives, I shouldn't be laughing so hard at this new website:

But I am laughing. Oh, yes, I am.


If it wasn't so scatological, it'd make for a great concession speech for just about any losing Democrat I can think of.

Still, let's not forget that at least 40% of the population in the southern states voted Democrat -- and the South has the best food (Soul, Cajun, BBQ, etc.). So they're not completely evil, the bastards.

And it's not just the Damn Yankees fuming with fear and indignation over the voting habits and moral snobbishness of the bible-thumping Southerners -- "Oh, Lord. Not you again," says Martin Samuel at the UK Times.

United States of JesusLand; Time's Black Tuesday; Images from the FWD Void; E-Voter Fraud Abundant

A friend just forwarded this to me. I don't know where these images came from or if they've spread across the internet/email world yet or not, but I think they certainly represent a common feeling among 49% of Americans right now. A feeling of "Isn't it ha-ha laugh-out-loud-funny that we're gonna be screwed this bad for at least four more years?"

(Actually, I think the "Jesusland" graphic is old -- at least, I remember seeing something similar after the 2000 elections. And a couple of other websites have also posted this uncredited image since I first posted this here, including

Lately I've been feeling such personal schadenfreude -- a strange delight not just in the misfortune of others, but in the misfortune experienced by the entire country. Because you get what you vote for. And as we sink deeper into debt, eventually people are going to realize exactly what it is their vote got 'em, and it ain't good. (When the debt collectors come calling, will Bush simply blow them up? Is that his true plan for erasing the national debt?)

Unlike the images above, the Daily Mirror cover below is very real:

Of course, not everyone believes that this many Americans voted for Bush. Wired Magazine has set up a special E-Vote news section to report the various malfunctions and potential (and proven) problems associated with the new computer-voting technology. The latest news is that at least 4,500 votes were lost in North Carolina thanks to UniLect overestimating (lying about?) the storage capacity of their machines.

And (the Bev Harris site) is trying to uncover what it believes to be massive fraud in the 2004 elections: "We are working now to compile the proof, based not on soft evidence -- red flags, exit polls -- but core documents obtained by Black Box Voting in the most massive Freedom of Information action in history."

And Greg Palast at has written a captivating piece about why he believes Kerry won Ohio, New Mexico, and the presidency itself.

Some of this may simply be sour grapes, but many of the facts are frightening. It's curious that Kerry and Edwards didn't stick to their promise to "fight for every vote," and instead conceded the race and wandered off into the sunset, leaving faulty voting machines free to damage future races. Once more, the Democratic establishment fails to live up to expectations, and limps lamely away from the battle -- it may be 2000 and poor, pathetic Al Gore all over again.

And this just in from the Associated Press:

"An error with an electronic voting system gave President Bush 3,893 extra votes in suburban Columbus [Ohio], elections officials said. Franklin County's unofficial results had Bush receiving 4,258 votes to Democrat John Kerry's 260 votes in a precinct in Gahanna.

Records show only 638 voters cast ballots in that precinct. Bush's total should have been recorded as 365. "

This may have been nothing more than an innocent technical error that was quickly corrected. But one can't help but be suspicious when this took place in a state where Wally O'Dell -- the CEO of the Diebold touch-screen voting system -- infamously promised last year (in writing) that "I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president..."

And the list of Vote Fraud Links keeps growing with every passing day, despite the media staying mostly timid about the issue. Even Ralph "the Spoiler" Nader has jumped into the fray, asking for a recount in (at the very least) New Hampshire because "reports of irregularities in the vote reported on the AccuVote Diebold Machines in comparison to exit polls and trends in voting in New Hampshire. These irregularities favor President George W. Bush by 5% to 15% over what was expected."

Although Kerry won N.H., a recount would presumably give both Kerry and Nader a larger portion of the popular vote, while also exposing the more vital problem of how ridiculously inaccurate the current vote-count systems truly are. Nader is also taking issue with the electronic-voting-machines' lack of a paper trail. Now, there's little chance of a recount helping Bush, since he's already won the presidency -- and Nader obviously can't win the election -- so it looks like Nader is once again taking a stand for the liberal half of America (and not secretly working for the Repubs, as some Dems have suggested) while the Democratic establishment hides in a bunker, waiting for 2008.

Still, it's doubtful that Nader will ever again have the following he once had, as he burned so many bridges this time around.

In the long run, there's almost no chance of a full recount in Ohio and Florida or any other state, and some liberals will continue to accuse Bush of stealing this election for the next four years, while both Democrats and Republicans accuse each other of voter fraud on the local level (some county-wide recounts around the U.S. may actually have an impact on the winners of local posts). But what's really important here -- and the reason why the mainstream media and the general public need to pay attention to the voter-fraud issue -- is the idea that greater oversight and accuracy are needed.

I've heard a few Republicans imply that even though Bush may have accidentally gotten a few thousand extra (illegal) votes here and there, it's perfectly copacetic because they believe old-school Democrats JFK and LBJ rigged votes in the 1960s and may have had dead people voting for them, so, hey, all is fair in love and war.... As if the sins of the past instantly atone for the sins of the present.

After the 2000 debacle, the hanging-chad, absentee ballot, and provisional ballot problems should no longer have been issues -- but once again thousands of votes didn't get counted or may have been counted incorrectly for exactly the same reasons as last time. And paperless electronic machines (proven to be hackable and prone to frequent malfunctions) should not have been used without all the kinks and security issues being worked out. But they were.... oh, they were.

Kerry Can't Carry; Bush Can't Be Beat; Edwards Is Awkward; Cheney Steals the Show Election

New York City is in literal mourning today. The city is dead quite and a lot of people are threatening to move to Canada, Australia, or Ireland. I've overheard some making scary death threats that I won't mention in detail because they'd be federal crimes (nothing I'd take too seriously -- just the anger and anguish of a city and a people scorned).

You hear the whispers on the subways and the buses, on the streets and between the thin cubicle walls.

The charming John Edwards was supposed to save the day, but in the end he brought NONE of the South, the wanker. We should have run Screamin’ Dean. Dean-Clark. Dean-Kerry. Dean-McCain. Dean-Powell. Dean-Kucinich. Dean-Nader. At least it would have been an interesting race. Kerry-Edwards never had the verve.

The dirty tricks, the electronic voting machines (that just happen to be owned by Republican-funding companies), the missing absentee ballots, the registrations that went lost or were destroyed, the votes that were somehow placed in ballot boxes before the elections even began... and these are just the cases that were discovered, so there's certainly more that went undetected... so, yes, perhaps parts of the election were stolen.

But not all of it. If you look at the electoral map, you see a United States that may vote 47% Democratic in the popular vote, but you also see a country that by state and (most especially) by land-mass votes Republican by more than 2 to 1.

So what's really frightening is not the prospect of George Bush being in office for four more years, but instead the implications of the overall election. The Republicans took the presidential race by nearly four-million popular votes, swept the House of Reps, gained even more ground in the Repub-controlled Senate, snatched up the majority of governorships, and seem to be dominating local races.

And 11 states voted against gay marriage; some even voted against civil unions and partner-benefits. If homosexuality itself had been up for a vote, those same states probably would have voted against the right to be gay altogether.

Seriously: The 2004 election turned out to be a mandate for war (anywhere, at any time), for Christianity as a government-funded institution, for fossil-fuel, for the outsourcing of jobs in exchange for cheap goods, for the invasion of privacy (a vote for Bush was a vote for the euphemistically named Patriot Act and the moral crusader John Ashcroft), for a corrupt and controlling FCC, for rich men and corporate crooks and Halliburton gobbling up our tax money, for partisan Fox news and the Murdoch empire, for corporate and monopolistic domination, and for the damnation of the environment and the melting polar caps and the ozone layer.

It was a mandate against all homosexuals (even the nice, funny gay men in popular sitcoms, reality TV shows, and Julia Roberts films that Americans seemingly embraced in the last few years), against France and Canada and socialism and universal health care and fine wine and smelly cheese, against gun control (even automatic weapons should be handed out to the public, despite Columbine and the high rate of gun deaths and the ease with which terrorists, pissed of teenagers, angry husbands, criminals, psychotics, drug dealers, and the rest are able to acquire weapons on the secondary market with every loosening of the gun laws), against Michael Moore and the entire Democratic party, against Ralph Nader and the third-party system.

This was a vote for a government that has wildly spent our tax dollars, ran up record federal debts, plunged us into multiple wars (which they've been unable to satisfactorily win), tapped our phones, hacked our computers, spit on the late Superman's and President Regan's graves (severely limited stem-cell research!), done nothing about rising health care costs or the failing social security system (Canadians and Australians have full health coverage and great dole systems without having to pay out significantly more taxes than Americans).

The Bush Administration, hand-in-hand with the Republican houses of Congress, has savaged our economy by redistributing even more of the common-man's wealth to the rich (bringing back trickle-down economics!), and this is a government that the majority of voting Americans want (even around 10% of registered Democrats voted for Bush in this election, with Republican’s keeping their turncoats down to a lower percentage).

With a record turnout of people at the polls and tens of thousands of newly registered voters -- what many thought was a clear sign of a country looking for change, of a sure-win for Kerry -- the Democrats were swamped by Bush lovers. Of course, the latest reports say that many young voters simply didn’t turn up to vote...

Every state in the heartland of the U.S. and every southern state chose George W. Bush. It didn't matter that he'd lost the popular election in 2000. It didn't matter that our faulty Electoral College voting system had put the less popular man in charge of the country for four years (with the help of the Supreme Court and George's brother's trickery in Florida). It didn't matter that New York City was violently attacked during Bush's watch, or that the people of NYC and Los Angeles (the cities most likely to suffer in any subsequent terrorists attacks) voted overwhelmingly Democrat.

Shouldn't the country have looked to NYC for guidance regarding who would be the best president during our War on Terror? It was, after all, the city that actually suffered and still stands the most vulnerable. NYC voted against Bush, and yet somehow Bush won the country on a platform that hyped his terrorist-fighting abilities. Why? And why -- despite the "liberal" media -- do so many hard-working people in the South and Midwest not realize that the Democrat and Green and Reform parties are the LABOR parties, while the Republicans are the RICH MAN'S party? Even a cursory glance at the party platforms (and accomplishments) shows that this is not just a cliché.

The Democrats have many failures, but in the end they do represent the needs of the common man far more than the Republicans. But somehow (because the Republican politicians make a big show of wearing cowboy boots and going to church?) they're perceived as being fellow BBQ & Beer Lovers who the common folk can relate to. This method of voting would have resulted in the political heroes of yesteryear -- the likes of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin -- being spurned today for their high IQ's.

The military draft will come. Higher taxes (or bankruptcy) will come. More homophobia will come. Federally mandated morality will come. We can only hope that a reactionary element will also rise, and transform the blubbering, moderate Democratic Party into a stronger bastion of labor and union causes. That the third parties will rise in power. That proportional representation and the end of the Electoral College will come to pass. But it could very easily go the opposite way.

Tread lightly on this snake. It's got fangs.


~ If you're thinking about moving to Australia, you should learn some Aussie slang first, mate. Ya dill whacka.

Election Coverage: Why Not "National Martin Luther King Election Day?" ('cause we need a holiday...)

I get the impression that half the people at my work aren't voting... most of them using the excuse that since they work in Manhattan, they can't get out to Queens or Brooklyn or Jersey or Upstate in time to vote since the lines are really long and it takes a couple of hours to vote.... of course, they could have done absentee ballots, but I guess they didn't get around to setting that up, either....

These are all people who would have voted against Bush. Even the right-leaning pro-Israel Jewish ad exec is anti Bush, because he abhors the budget deficits Bush & co. have run up... but he lives 30 minutes away, so he's not going to get around to voting, he says.

And the cool 40-year-old hippy guy that sits next me is also using the "I'd have to vote upstate so I guess I can't vote at all since I work in Manhattan” excuse, even pcpthough he follows politics closely and knows damn well that he could have used an absentee ballot or could vote late at night or early in the morning, before or after work. ("I don't have the energy to stand in long lines after a 12-hour deadline day at work. Especially when I know Kerry is going to win in NY anyway. Besides, I don’t really like Kerry,” he says. “I might have voted for Nader if he had a chance of winning, but since he doesn’t I figured it wouldn’t be worth my time. If I had the day off or it was easier to vote, then maybe I’d place a protest vote, but otherwise I don’t think it matters much").

If the rest of the country is like this, I wonder if any Democrats are showing up to vote at all.... if Kerry loses the election, it’ll be because so many people are just too lazy to get out the vote. However, the anti-abortion and prayer-in-schools people are rarely this lazy (they’ve got the fires of Hell motivating them, after all), so perhaps Bush will win again.

Many in the country must be wondering: If Kerry weren’t such a wet-rag, perhaps he could have pulled farther ahead of the anti-intellectual Bush camp.

At least this year we have the option of voting for a political party that names itself after a dangerous drug... the PCP party (Personal Choice Party). I like the fact that their presidential candidate openly admits that he didn't ask her to be a running mate because of her intelligence or political skill or great ideas, but simply because she's a great publicity tool and symbol (his running mate is adult-star and former gun-shop-owner Marilyn Chambers). That's honesty in politics!

(Why is it that third-parties always run for the impossibly-to-win presidential spot but rarely run for more realistic city, county, and state-level positions? Why doesn’t Nader run as governor or senator instead of spending 20 years of his life as a losing presidential candidate? I love Nader, but he’d do more good as an elective congressman at this point.)

Seriously, though: They should really give everyone the day off to vote... it's a far more important national holiday (from a utilitarian perspective) than Labor Day or Easter or Martin Luther King Day or whatever. (Maybe they could place President's Day or MLK Day on election day, because MLK would have wanted people to get out and vote. By making Election Day his national day off, we could have a federally mandated holiday, "National Martin Luther King Election Day," whereby we could honor MLK by making it easier for the dienfranchised to attend the voting polls instead of just having another national shopping day.)

If people need to stay in their local neighborhood and stand in line for two hours, how can they also be forced to got to work that day? In Australia, they get a day off to vote and there are monetary fines for those who don't vote ... and it's proportional representation instead of this all-or-nothing system that we have. So stick that in your kangaroo and think about it, mate.

Bush and Kerry Related to Vlad the Impaler and Royal Family (Did the Vampire Bite the Prez & Prince?)

After 500 years, the ruling class is still the ruling class. We can try to ignore it, or sugar coat it with elections, but the rich and powerful have retained much of their wealth and power.

Think about it: Despite hundreds of wars, millions or births and deaths, the Holocaust of WWII, the invention of the nuclear bomb, the development of modern democracy and communism, the rise and fall of the U.S.S.R., the colonization and revolution and independence and civil war and rise to power of the U.S. -- despite all of this – the aristocracy of yesteryear still retains an enormous amount of control.

Case in point: Bush and Kerry, both sons of wealth and power, both graduates of Yale and members of the secret Skull & Bones society, are also both descendants of the Cooke/Reade family. Bush and Kerry: distant cousins. Our only real option in November 2004 is to vote for one member of the ruling class or another.

In turn, the Bush family is related to the late Princess Diana (Spencer/Windsor) thanks to the Dryden/Cope families. The family trees of each of these families entangling back to 1500's.

Now, Bush and Kerry aren’t actually blood relatives of the neck-biting Count Dracula of Rumania/Transylvania fame (a.k.a. Vlad the Impaler a.k.a. Vlad III aka Voivode Vlad), but through Princess Diana they are connected to the British Royal Family, a.k.a. The House of Windsor, which shares a bloodline with Vlad himself (most of the European monarchies share common bloodlines).

So the two big U.S. presidential nominees in 2004 are both related to Dracula by marriage:

"Evil Seed: Bush and Kerry are Related to Dracula (Vlad the Impaler) ."

So much for the common people ruling their own destiny in America… when will the real revoluton take place?