Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Terminator 4: The Farminator

Hello again...it is I, the environmental watchdog alter-ego of one Josh Ruffin. My apologies for not introducing myself in more detail, but that lazy bastard is apparently too busy to even give me a name. Anyway--

For the past few months, Arnold, aka the Governator, aka FLAGNSPMATGUHM!, has surprisingly, sometimes weirdly, endeared himself to avid greeners. With plans to reduce California's carbon emissions by 25% in the next few years, and a law having already been passed doing away with plastic bags, Schwarzy has become the posterboy for the refreshing, new enlightened Republican faction.

It is thus dishearteningly noteworthy to read of his latest ambition, overturning the Williamson Act of the 1960s, a law that "helps preserve farms and ranches by allowing those who enroll in the program to have their land taxed at a rate based on actual use, not potential use. The state then compensates cities and counties for the revenue loss."

Here's the problem, in lay terms:

Say a big box store establishes a location near some privately-owned and operated farmland. As we value cheaply manufactured, Third World-produced crap more than the inherent and actual value of something like, I don't know, growing food to FEED PEOPLE, the taxes on that privately-owned land would go up, due to "potential value."

Some of the potentially affected counties house some of California's most celebrated and productive farmland.

No word yet on whether or not SkyNet is involved, but the move is just a petty scheme to try and save the state a few bucks, as the state is responsible for recompensating cities and counties for the revenue loss due to lower taxes on the land.

Credit: grist.org/

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Spiderman 3: An overlong review of an overlong movie

So Spider-Man 3's opening weekend has come and gone, to the tune of over $150 million in the United States alone (that's just ticket sales, not including merchandise). There was, however, another tune playing in the background of the swirling cash vortex that is that franchise, a tune played at such a high frequency that only true fans could hear it.

[A disclaimer: though I am included, by "true fan," I am referring to those who read much more into a comic book movie than they probably should.]

That tune was the Symphony of Suck, played by a lackluster orchestra at that. Allow me to backtrack just a bit...

The first two Spidey films were nothing short of breathtaking, specifically the second. The casting of Tobey Maguire, though not my personal first choice, was at least inspired, the personal relationships were poignant and believable, and the big-screen realization of larger-than-life villains was flawless. While not an iconic moment in film history, the sight of Alfred Molina's Dr. Octopus breaking out of the hospital after realizing what kind of monster he has become, and instantaneously suffering an emotional and mental breakdown right before our eyes, was simultaneously heartbreaking and chilling.

Fast forward to Spiderman 3. I had high hopes for this one, and I wanted desperately to like it...after all, we finally have VENOM! Gonna be sweet, right? Eh...not so much. There are three main problems that plagued the film:

1. The recurring stars' lack of enthusiasm. Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst have carried this franchise through two stellar films, and their chemistry (while awkward at times, due mostly to Dunst's deadpan-12-year-old-girl delivery) has been better than passable. Not so here. The relationship seems forced, and at times feels like a cold reading at an audition. The two are really just going through the motions at this point, and we're fortunate that this is the last film in the series for both of them.

2. Too many villains. Here's the primary issue: most of the supervillains in the Spiderman canon are extremely tragic. We feel for them, because they did not ask to be what they are. Perhaps they eventually fell in love with their power (Goblin, Venom), but they are all at least somewhat sympathetic. The backstory is key in understanding this concept. Granted, we had two films to lead up to Harry's transformation into Goblin. Thanks, Sam. But we get a measley ten minutes of exposition on Flint Marko, perhaps the most reluctant villain of all.

Most importantly, I have serious beef with the handling of Venom, arguably the most recognizable and loved/hated rival of Spiderman's. Raimi and friends had been teasing the unveiling of this character since the release of the last film, and that perhaps is where they shot themselves in the foot: all of the buildup occurred in the media blitz, not in the film. When it happens in the actual movie, all we are excited about is getting see Venom...we don't give a damn by this point WHY this happens to him, or the true depth of hatred he has for Peter Parker. On top of all that, he gets 20 minutes of screen time, tops, and is destroyed at the end, thus killing any further potential use for the series' most fascinating baddie.

If Raimi wanted to pack a bunch of villains in this one, he needed a better idea. How about using the opening sequences documenting the city's growing affection for Spiderman to show a montage of him defeating a number of somewhat lesser villains in quick succession? Rhino, Vulture, Electro would have all been fun to see for a few minutes, and we wouldn't be made to believe that we have to care about them at all...we'd just have to enjoy the beatdown, and watch them go to jail.

3. Too long, like this review so far.

High points? Thomas Hayden Church turns in a stellar performance as Flint Marko. The poor guy isn't given a lot to work with, but the depth of tragedy and despair that Church is able to evoke, both because of his character's daughter and reluctance to resort to criminal means, is quite astounding.

As always, the action sequences are perfect, and this installment honestly features the best of the series. The effects-laden Sandman is truly a thing to behold, and the initial battle between Goblin and Parker is riveting.

And Bruce Campbell...did I mention Bruce Campbell? Raimi has thrown him a bone in every film thus far, and he has his funniest cameo yet. If rumors are true, we could see Campbell finally get a chance to flex some serious chops as supervillain Kraven in the next film.

All in all, Spiderman 3 is nothing if not fun to watch. But we expected more...and we should have gotten it.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Paris Hilton, Mormons, and three kinds of stupid

I'm not usually one to get involved in petty celebrity news--and let's face it, saying "celebrity news" is like saying "fishnet condom" (it just doesn't matter)--but every great once in a while some prominent personality does or says something so unbelievably thick-headed, that I just have to cast my beanie into a ring that I know is already chock full of other bloggers' hats.

Paris Hilton...that name will either rivet you to the computer screen like Gary Glitter to Sesame Street, or will send you running screaming into the night. As most of you already know, the heiress (read "bony-ass zombie skank") has been sentenced by a California judge to 45 days in jail for driving on two occasions with a suspended license. Now, I can deal with that...that's just "wave at Stevie Wonder-stupid;" everyone makes absentminded mistakes.

It wasn't long, however, before she moved into the realm of desperation, asking her fans (read "short bus") to pass around a petition to relieve her of her sentence. Desperate, but understandable...no one wants to go to prison.

As more and more details come out regarding the petition, though, I get the feeling that Paris ate about three buckets a day of flaming Elmer's Glue when she was a child.

The petition states that Paris should not go to prison because of, and I quote: "the beauty and excitement that she brings to our otherwise mundane lives," and because she is "notable for her roles in...The Simple Life, and the remake of Vincent Price classic House of Wax."

No one even bothers to point out that those last two things are reasons that she, along with her executive producers, should have been sent to prison.

In any case, I should probably just act in accordance with my own verdict here and conclude by saying that Paris Hilton is like a Jehovah's Witness at 6 in the morning...ignore her, and she'll go away.

If not, release the hounds.