Monday, January 29, 2007

The Whole Bloody Affair in 120 seconds

There are more than just a few of us still waiting patiently for Quentin Tarantino's re-edit of the Kill Bill saga, parts 1 and 2 tenderly stitched together into a glorious, four-hour revenge fest titled Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair. Almost three years after the DVD release of the original two movies, and the promise of a re-edited Bill, nothing.

But in the meantime, some kind soul has squished the Beatrix Kiddo story down into a two-minute video to tide us over until Tarantino finally gets his act together. This is not to be missed.

What you won't see on FOX News...

Thanks, Butler Shaffer, for sharing this link with me.

Please don't hate me. I watch "24"

My biggest challenge on Monday nights is that I’m usually not home and need to record two TV programs simultaneously at 9:00 — NBC’s Heroes, of course, and...gulp...Fox’s 24. I’m relatively low-tech (i.e., no Tivo), so I’ve got my old VCR hooked up to the living room TV and a DVD recorder plugged into the bedroom cable outlet. Now, I know I don’t have to rationalize my adoration of Heroes. But as a radical libertarian, my fascination for and addiction to 24 over the past five years is much harder to defend.

Matt McCaffrey writes about his guilty enjoyment of 24 this morning at (“The Orwellian Ideology of 24”). And he’s spot-on. As McCaffrey points out, the series does glamorize the more hideous actions of the State, including illegal searches, theft, kidnapping, torture, and the destruction of property. “As enjoyable as 24 is on the surface,” he writes, “a more than cursory glance makes it obvious that the show is attempting to justify and even celebrate an ever-expanding Orwellian state.”

In defense of the folks behind 24, I’ll say that they were also responsible for two earlier series — Nowhere Man (1995-96) and La Femme Nikita (1997-2001) — that refreshingly and uniquely dramatized the struggle of the individual against authority. But philosophically, 24 is impossible for me to defend.

Still, these guys can tell a compelling story. And 24 remains on my "must watch" TV list. Sometimes, I don't know how I can live with myself.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Marlowe returns from a long, big sleep

After listening to a very dull list of Oscar nominees this morning, I needed some good Hollywood news. And I got it. Variety reports that actor Clive Owen (he of Croupier, Sin City, and the recent Children of Men) has convinced Universal Pictures and Strike Entertainment to option all of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe books — and the plan is to set the movies in the novels’ original time period and L.A. setting. This is very cool news, especially to us Chandler and film noir addicts.

I have a fair number of the good Marlowe adaptations on DVD, including Bogart in The Big Sleep, of course, and Dick Powell in Murder, My Sweet. I loved Elliot Gould’s revisionist take on Marlowe in The Long Goodbye, but shuddered when Sleep was remade with Marlowe — Robert Mitchum reprising the role after a very fine Farewell, My Lovely — transplanted to 1970s London. The last Marlowe I can recall was Powers Boothe, who starred in about a dozen excellent TV adaptations of Chandler short stories for HBO in the ’80s.

Owen seems a great fit for Marlowe. Sure, he’s British, but I think his performance as “Dwight” in Sin City, complete with his Chandler-like narration, proved he can fill Philip Marlowe’s wingtips. And since word is that Owen himself is behind this idea to bring Marlowe back to theaters, the actor must have a familiarity with and love for the books. I’m sure we can expect good things.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Monday's plugs and dottles

Sherlock Holmes’ before-breakfast pipe was always made up of “the plugs and dottles left from his smokes of the day before, all carefully dried and collected on the corner of the mantelpiece.” (Wannabe Sherlockians should see “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb” for reference.) Here are a few of my plugs and dottles from this past weekend:

* The parapolitical research crew at Black Op Radio offer for download an interesting if brief speech the late Col. L. Fletcher Prouty made at Yale in 1975 about the CIA and U.S. clandestine operations. Prouty served early on as the liaison officer for the Pentagon with the CIA and later became a famous critic of American foreign policy. He was an advisor to Oliver Stone during filming of the movie JFK and was the inspiration for the film’s “X,” played by Donald Sutherland. Download or listen to the speech here.

* As the number of Democrats running for the presidency in 2008 swells, Michael Donnelly reveals “The Real Reason I Can’t Stand Barack Obama” at CounterPunch.

* The survivalist dudes over at the darkly humorous Destructomundo podcast conduct an entertaining conversation about how we all might survive if “anarchy is loosed upon the world.” Of course, what they mean by “anarchy” isn’t what we mean by “anarchy.”

* On a much more upbeat note, Warren Bluhm digs into his attic once more and finds a bevy of sounds we just don’t hear much anymore — like electric typewriters and steam engines. Check out this week’s amusing Uncle Warren’s Attic right here.

* And finally, Keith Martin convincingly argues that R2D2 is really the secret leader of the Rebellion in his essay “A New Sith, or Revenge of the Hope: Reconsidering Star Wars IV in the Light of I-III.” Listen to this:

“As Star Wars opens, R2 is rushing the Death Star plans to the Rebellion. R2, not Leia. The plans are always in R2. What Leia puts into him in the early scene is only her own holographic message to Kenobi. Leia’s own mission, as she says in the holographic message, is to pick up Obi-Wan and take him to Alderaan — or so she thinks.”

Friday, January 19, 2007 "tops" for 2006

Alrighty then. We’re already three weeks into the new year, and I’ve just pulled together my top 10 list of favorite items from 2006. Now, I'm not simply listing my favorite movies or books of the year. Rather, I'm listing my favorites among everything that passed my way last year. And with that quick explanation, here we go, in ascending order:

10. Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra. After 23 years, an “authorized” limited-edition CD of Paul Kantner’s 1983 follow-up to his classic sci-fi rock opus Blows Against the Empire was finally made available. And it’s never sounded better. Under Kantner’s auspices, the original master tapes — not the vinyl master, with the very top and lowest frequencies chopped — were carefully transferred to CD format, and PERRO now soars again. It’s a “solo album” that, besides Kantner, showcases most of Jefferson Starship’s early ’80s line-up (including Grace Slick), Jefferson Airplane bassist Jack Casady, guitarist Ronnie Montrose, and vocalists Flo & Eddie (the Turtles’ Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan). PERRO can be ordered online only.

9. It’s Superman! If only the Superman Returns movie had been a smidge as good as this wonderful Tom De Haven novel. De Haven’s Superman is the Depression-era Siegel and Shuster original, stripped down to his bare bones. It’s Superman! is a brilliant mix of Steinbeck, gangster noir, and retro sci-fi — a revisionist masterpiece.

8. Doctor Who. The new, reinvigorated Doctor Who series recently finished its second season on the SciFi Channel here in the U.S. and has already launched into its third in the UK. And it’s exhilarating. The standout episode for me in 2006 was a landmark show titled “School Reunion,” which charmingly reunited The Doctor (David Tennant) with his 1970s female companion Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen); the meeting of the now-younger Doctor with the now-older Sarah Jane was absolute magic. Likewise, who could watch the Season Two finale without getting weepy? Not me. This series is a keeper.

7. The Complete Mr. Arkadin (aka Confidential Report). For me, this 3-disc Criterion DVD package is a “film school in a box,” the best DVD release of last year. For more than three decades, some half-dozen different edits of Orson Welles’ 1955 thriller-noir Mr. Arkadin floated around art movie houses and college campuses in horrible disrepair. Criterion fixed the problem by offering this beautifully restored set of the 1955 European release (Confidential Report), the 1962 American release, and a 2006 “comprehensive version” stitched together by experts at the Munich Film Archives. The DVD package leaves no stoned unturned and includes a trade paperback of Welles’ novelization of the movie, audio commentary, an interview with one of the movie’s stars, three half-hour episodes of Welles’ 1951 BBC radio program The Lives of Harry Lime (which included plot components later used in Mr. Arkadin), and lots of other magnificent things. Fans of Welles, cinematic oddities, and film noir should not miss this.

6. Duane Swierczynski. This young guy now sits on my list of “must read” crime novelists, alongside Andrew Vachss, Dennis Lehane, and Richard Stark. I read The Wheelman and The Blonde late last year, and they both twist exciting and unexpected kinks into the old crime genre. Swierczynski rocks. Big time.

5. V for Vendetta. Anything I say here about the movie adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel will be superfluous. But I’ll say something anyway: V for Vendetta, which won a Prometheus Hall of Fame award last summer, set a new standard by which tomorrow’s politically radical films will be measured.

4. Casino Royale. Everything worked in this “back to basics” relaunch of the 007 movie franchise. Every goddamn thing. Even the controversial casting of a blonde Daniel Craig as the new James Bond. Casino Royale is a high-water mark in the film series, the most faithful adaptation of Ian Fleming ever, and is the best movie I saw all last year. It’s not just a great 007 film; it’s a great film...period.

3. Starship Sofa. During the past few months, I’ve been increasingly charmed by the podcasting antics of Tony and Ciaran, two sci-fi geeks from the UK. How can I best describe this podcast? It’s not easy. Each week, these guys focus their show on one of their favorite authors or movies, but the conversation always runs astray and into all sorts of fun topics. I love their accents, their attitudes, everything about these two. And in one (or sometimes more) hours a week, I manage to get more laughs and entertainment than I have any right to expect. I particularly recommend their two-part Christmas Special, which even included some holiday recipes from Ciaran, and their programs on L. Ron Hubbard and James Tiptree, Jr. I can’t praise Starship Sofa highly enough.

2. Uncle Warren’s Attic. Warren Bluhm and I have known each other since junior high, for more than three decades, but we’ve still never met face to face. Nor have we ever spoken with each other on the phone. We began as paper-and-ink pen-pals when I was 13 and Warren was 14, lost touch for some 35 years, then by strange coincidence rekindled our relationship just two years ago via email. Remarkably, we discovered that our lives had followed similar paths professionally, politically, and spiritually during our “lost years.” Kismet? Who cares? My genuine affection for Warren continues to grow, due in no small part to our current email exchanges and his fantastic podcast, Uncle Warren’s Attic. UWA is an eclectic weekly collection of music, jingles, radio advertisements, and home recordings that never fails to put a grin on my face. It’s a delightful tonic for whatever ails you, and lately, it’s helped get me through some pretty rough times. Thanks, pal.

1. Heroes. The second half of Season One begins this coming Monday night, and I’m chomping at the bit. For my money, this is the best series on TV right now. Despite what you may have heard, you don’t even need a nodding acquaintance with comic books and superheroes to like it. And if you do like comic books and superheroes and haven’t yet caught up with Heroes, what the hell’s wrong with you?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


You know, I really don’t need an excuse to run a photo of Angelina Jolie on my own blog. But one’s come along anyway.

Jolie, you’ll recall, is slated to play Dagny Taggart in an upcoming Lions Gate movie adaptation of Atlas Shrugged. And I have movie news! The International Herald Tribune reports that Randall Wallace, who wrote Braveheart and We Were Soldiers for Mel Gibson, is squeezing Ayn Rand’s 1,200-page novel down into a conventional two-hour screenplay. Wallace told the Herald Tribune that he has the material under control and is on course to deliver a first draft this month. But what’ll happen to John Galt’s 60-page speech?

“I can pretty much guarantee you that there won’t be a 30-page speech at the end of the movie,” Wallace said. “I have two hours to try to express what Rand believed to an audience, and my responsibility is not only to Ayn Rand, but to the audience, that this be a compelling movie. More people will see the movie than will read Atlas Shrugged. And the movie has to work.”

Adds producer Howard Baldwin: “We all believe in the book, and will be true to the book.”

Read the whole story here.

Button, button...

Since I first acquired it at a libertarian conference, oh, sometime in the early 1970s, friends have told me that my “Fuck the State” button is, well, kinda off-putting. Well, now Roderick Long and his comrades at the Molinari Institute offer a dandy alternative that reads “Anarchy is the radical notion that other people are not your property.” Extremely cool. Buy one right here and you’ll be doing something nice for the Molinari folks.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The lessons of CHILDREN OF MEN

I thought I was ready for Alfonso Cuaron’s new movie Children of Men. I really did. I’d seen a few trailers. I’d heard it was dark and depressing. I knew about its dystopian global-infertility premise going in. But I wasn’t ready for it. I haven’t felt this run over by a film since I saw Melville’s classic Army of Shadows last summer. Critics have been comparing Children of Men to Blade Runner, to 1984, even to The Road Warrior. OK, fine. Compare away. But I think such comparisons only lead to false expectations about Children of Men. It stands absolutely alone, unlike almost any other movie I’ve ever seen, on a political level, on an action level, and on an emotional level. It is — dare I say it? — epic.

I could ramble about the tremendous performances in this movie by Clive Owen, Michael Caine, Julianne Moore, and especially Claire-Hope Ashitey. I could go on and on about the movie’s brilliant use of humor in the midst of terror. I could talk for hours about several surprising and shocking moments in the film. I could chatter endlessly about Children’s end-times predictions. I could blather about the horrifying, in-your-face combat sequences that rival anything I’ve ever seen on screen. I could even spend a lot of time discussing the movie’s politics and its distrust not only of government but of so-called well-meaning liberation movements.

But I won’t. I just want to stress one particular point about Children of Men: as bleak as it generally is, this film still offers the antidote to despair that most of us radicals need.

Let’s face it, a lot of us are just like Theo, the former activist turned drone that Clive Owen plays in the movie. We’re discouraged. We’re cynical. We feel overwhelmed. And even though we bitch and moan about things as they are, many of us won’t wave a pinky finger to start The Push in the opposite direction.

In Children of Men — and you’ll find no spoilers here — Theo is literally dragged out of his complacency. His face is shoved into the mirror, and because it is the End Times in Theo’s year 2027, he’s forced to come to terms with 20 years wasted as a bureaucrat in London’s Ministry of Energy. Appalling personal circumstances wrench Theo back to his activism and a commitment to his idealism. He learns to “do the right thing” all over again. Theo’s moral and political transformation is powerful stuff. And it’s inspiring.

For chrissakes, see Children of Men. This great film’s lessons for dispirited radicals are difficult to watch, but they’re vital.


Looky what I found while poking through boxes in my garage — my tattered old copy of Roger Zelazny’s Damnation Alley.

Years before Mad Max and Snake Plisskin, Zelazny created Hell Tanner, a criminal biker who’s offered a full pardon by the nation of California if he’ll drive an armor-plated “car” across post-apocalyptic America to deliver antiserum to a dying Boston (an obvious inspiration for Plisskin’s situation in Escape from New York). While rereading this 1968 novel last week, I was struck by the influence it apparently made on both sci-fi books and movies over four decades. Its socio-political message is explicitly antiwar and ecological — a nuclear war results in radioactive craters, giant bats and reptiles, and deadly storms filled with dead fish, boulders, and human debris — and reminded me of ’70s films like Soylent Green, Death Race 2000, and The Omega Man. (In fact, a terrible movie version of Damnation Alley, bearing little resemblance to the book, was made in 1977.) And some 20 years before Gibson and Stephenson, Alley possessed a distinct cyberpunk sensibility.

The late Roger Zelazny came out of sci-fi’s New Wave movement in the ’60s, and that makes Damnation Alley something more than a futuristic action thriller. The novel features some interesting touches during its fast-paced, cross-country journey. In one remarkable Kerouac-like passage, Tanner reflects on his past, future, and life purpose while waiting for repairs to be made on his car. In another scene, set in Boston, Zelazny effectively presents a preacher’s sermon, interrupted by the unremitting clang of church bells that marks the city’s rising death count. One of my favorite moments is a poignant scene where Tanner and a young kid share their philosophies of “how the world works.”

What I enjoyed most about my second tour through Damnation Alley in 30 years was visiting Hell Tanner again. He’s no simple-minded anti-hero. Tanner is a surprisingly complex character, and his journey of personal and spiritual growth is as compelling as his perilous trek through the Alley.

I’m pleased to see Damnation Alley still in print and readily available.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Karl Hess on building alliances

There is so much gold to be found in old issues of Murray Rothbard’s The Libertarian Forum newsletter (1969-1984). Here’s a nugget from Karl Hess, our Left Libertarian granddaddy, on the question of building alliances (“The Real Rebels,” August 1, 1969):

“With whom does an enemy of the state make alliances? There may be a million answers of contentious detail. There is only one answer of overall principle: You do not make alliances with the state itself, you do not make alliances with agents of or supporters of the state — even though you may attempt to change them. The range of alliance, therefore, is restricted to those who also oppose the state.

“Within that range there may be many variations of principle, many different goals. Those differences should and must determine future actions. Present actions, however, should be determined by present needs. No need is greater than opposition to the state and reduction of its power. Without that reduction of power all meaning of other differences must remain purely academic.”

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Father knows best

One of my favorite Christmas gifts last month was the complete fourth and final season of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman on DVD. Last night, I revisited a two-parter that I hadn’t seen since its original airing in 1997. It starred the superb Lane Davies as Tempus, a villain from the far future who several times appeared on the show. In this particular story, Tempus time-traveled to 1997, brainwashed everyone through the telephone lines, seized the U.S. presidency in a landslide election, and immediately squashed the Constitution by keeping the populace hypnotized through the Ma Bell system. Here, punctuated with much cheering and applause, is Tempus’s first speech to the public as president:

“Citizens, voters, and phone owners! Thank-you for the huzzahs! If I could have just an impromptu moment of your time. Everything I have I owe to you, because we are one big family — with me as the papa and you as the kiddies! We will prosper under one big roof, obey one big set of laws, use one big phone company, and you’ll do everything that Papa says! I’m pleased to announce Congress has also unanimously passed the Non-Phone Act, making it treasonous not to use the phone! And we know that for all good girls and boys, all will be well. We also know that if we’re bad, we’ll be punished. Papa must know when to cut back on your allowance and when to shoot you. A papa must be stern.”

Interestingly, the first episode of this two-parter was written by Tim Minear, who served as the executive story editor for Lois & Clark during its last season. Minear, you might recall, was the executive producer in 2002 of Joss Whedon’s very libertarian Firefly TV series. He has also been writing the script for a movie adaptation of Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

Robert Anton Wilson, 1932-2007

Libertarian novelist and humorist Robert Anton Wilson, co-author of the great Illuminatus Trilogy, died this morning after a very long illness. For three decades, I was an enormous fan of his works.

Hail Eris! Hail Discordia!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Colour Out of Space

In the late 19th century, a large meteorite crashed into the Gardner farm outside Arkham, Massachusetts. It was metallic and contained a mysterious toxic substance of an indescribable color that struck the entire Gardner family with insanity, illness...and worse! It drained the five-acre farm of all life. Then, some forty years later, a Boston surveyor came across the farm...

Last summer at DragonCon in Atlanta, Georgia, the Atlanta Radio Theater Company performed an adaptation of this story, H.P. Lovecraft’s classic sci-fi horror tale The Colour Out of Space, first published in 1927. It’s wonderful. And you can listen to or download a full podcast of the 40-minute program right here.

Monday, January 08, 2007

MLL poster: Stop the Draft!

Bush wants a larger military. The Selective Service System is busy testing its draft machinery.

Don’t wait for an official re-launch of the draft. Begin fighting it now. And if you find it useful, feel free to use this poster I’ve created for the Movement of the Libertarian Left. You’ll find a fullsize, downloadable PDF of the poster right here.

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

A shameful confession

Sure, Eliot Ness was a goddamn Fed. But hey, childhood heroes die hard. You can't imagine how thrilled I am to learn that The Untouchables TV series with Robert Stack is finally coming to DVD on April 3. The first package, part one of the first season, will include the original two-hour pilot, narrated by fascist journalist Walter Winchell.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Best wishes for 2007

Here’s wishing you the bluest sky,
And hoping something better comes tomorrow.
Hoping all the verses rhyme,
And the very best of choruses to
Follow all the doubt and sadness.
I know that better things are on their way.

Here’s hoping all the days ahead
Won’t be as bitter as the ones behind you.
Be an optimist instead,
And somehow happiness will find you.
Forget what happened yesterday,
I know that better things are on their way.

I know you’ve got a lot of good things happening up ahead.
The past is gone, it’s all been said.
So here’s to what the future brings,
I know tomorrow you’ll find better things.
I know tomorrow you’ll find better things.

— “Better Things,” Ray Davies (The Kinks)