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Friday, May 23, 2008
AM - Old Song

You gotta hand it to LA-based songwriter AM, he chose his unfortunate stage name before the internet was a major concern and has stuck to it even though it has rendered him all but invisible to Google.  Here are some of the places you’d have been more likely to end up if it hadn’t been for us:

You’re welcome.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008
Is it wrong to be a little bit uneasy about the use of Metacritic as part of the criteria with which to cleanse Xbox Live?

I love Metacritic.  Really, when you want to read about a game, where else can you go to find five, ten, 15 articles on that game, all offering an evaluation and some insight into what it has to offer?  I mean, Wikipedia, maybe, but not for obscure games that nobody knows about.  So please, don’t misunderstand.

The problem I have is this:  When you see rumblings, you see message board postings, you see off-handed comments on websites, but you can ignore those.  It’s no secret that there’s an uncomfortable relationship between those assigned to promote video games and those assigned to review them.  Sometimes, PR will go to great lengths to convince the critic that a game is worthwhile, offering swag, big packs of press releases espousing the virtues of the game, and even the occasional big exclusive to a big outlet (see: the hubbub over IGN’s exclusive GTA IV review).  Why do PR companies care so much what the critics think?

Because Metacritic numbers matter.  Apparently.

Gyruss, a personal favorite, is at risk for the axe.

Gyruss, a personal favorite, is at risk for the axe.

The rumblings (and if these rumblings have been confirmed somewhere and I don’t know about it, please tell me) are that PR people get bonuses if the Metacritic numbers stay at a certain level.  If this is the case, it’s not entirely fair that a PR person should be responsible for the review scores of a product that they had no part in creating, but it certainly explains why the packages we get when we get games tend to be bigger than the size of, well, games.

Microsoft made an announcement yesterday that confirms the sheer presence that Metacritic currently holds in the industry.  Microsoft is cleaning Xbox Live Arcade, removing the chaff from it, the things that nobody’s downloading, the things that were ridiculed when they came out and simply never took off.  The criteria for removing those games from the service?  A title must be six months old, it must have a 6% or less conversion rate (that is, less than 6% of those who downloaded it as a demo purchased the full version), and it must score below 65 on Metacritic.

Perhaps it’s benign, perhaps it’s just numbers and I shouldn’t make a big deal about it, but what Metacritic doesn’t reflect is the “cult classic”, Metacritic doesn’t take into account personal preference, Metacritic doesn’t take into account those games dismissed by the masses that, against all odds, develop a small, devoted, loyal following.  Metacritic is a series of numbers that adds up to one number, a number that allows for no subtlety, for no understanding of how people really feel about it.  Sometimes the most interesting games are the most polarizing, and you can’t express polarizing in a number.  And Microsoft has legitimized that number, by allowing the criteria for their Xbox Live Arcade cleaning algorithm to include it.

And, hell, where else am I going to get Triggerheart Exelica?

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

In the introduction to their new book, co-creators Jessica Morgan and Heather Cocks refer to themselves as “a couple of snarky bitches”. Spend some time over at their blog, though, and you’ll discover quite the opposite. Morgan and Cocks might sound like catty wenches when they chide Tara Reid for her wonky breast implants or offer advice to flat-chested Kirsten Dunst to wear a push-up bra (“Love your girls,” they write, “and they’ll love you back”).

But indeed these are the kinds of friends any woman could use—especially those women who spend so much time in the spotlight. If Tara’d had these girls on staff perhaps she wouldn’t have ventured out to the 2003 MTV Movie Awards in a dress resembling a “very unreliable-looking drawstring purse”.

Cocks and Morgan have built their careers on judging celebrity fashion. From Cate Blanchett to Britney Spears, no celebrity passes beneath their fug-radar, and every day on their blog, a new fashion disaster is posted, full-colour, just begging for the GFY treatment. At the time of writing, new reality TV star Denise Richards is in the hotbox at GFY wearing a light Autumn-y dress, dark-coloured shoes, and a suede sunhat. The Fug Girls comment:

I don’t know about you, but every time I see an ad for Denise Richards: It’s Complicated, I fly into a foaming rage. It’s NOT complicated. You had a brutally wretched and acrimonious divorce during which both you and the MaSheen said incredibly disturbing things about each other, and then you hopped into the sack with your best friend’s husband before either of you were even legally single ... Don’t pretend your life is gloriously and fascinatingly complex in a way that wasn’t totally engineered by your own actions, and I won’t pretend I don’t hate your hat.

It’s that sort of up-to-the-minute pop culture knowledge and Epilady-sharp wit that has raised GFY above other blogs of its kind. Nobody slams a poorly-dressed celeb like the Fug Girls. And they admit, too, it’s all in good fun.

The Fug Awardsby Jessica Morgan and Hetaher CocksSimon & SchusterFebruary 2008, 272 pages, $19.95

The Fug Awards
by Jessica Morgan and Hetaher Cocks
Simon & Schuster
February 2008, 272 pages, $19.95

Now, the snark arrives in book-form. Go Fug Yourself Presents: The Fug Awards is the first release from the bloggers, and features a greatest hits of fashion disasters designed as a makeshift awards ceremony. It’s the perfect setting for a GFY book—after all, so many Fug moments are created at just such events. Awards here include the “Girl, Please” for the Most Inexplicable Style Icon, the “Put It Away” for the Most Underclad and Overexposed, the “Errstyle” for the Most Vexing Coiffure Catastrophes, and the “Fug of all Fugs” for the Fugliest Fughound that Ever Fugged. Britney Spears is in the running for that one, so is Blu Cantrell, Sienna Miller, and Olympic ice-skater Oksana Baiul, who the girls note often looks as if “she’s trying to make it hip to dress like a washed-up lady wrestler angling for a comeback.”

GFY translates well as a book, especially one this big and glossy. It’s the coffee-table book for fashion-fiends and celeb-watchers, easily flip-through-able, and a great conversation piece. Best of all, the snark is fresh. PopMatters spoke to Cocks and Morgan about the book, the snark, and whether or not it’s cruel to laugh so heartily at Courtney Peldon.

How did the Fug Awards get from blog to book?
Jessica Morgan: We’d gotten some emails from people suggesting we write a book, but it wasn’t until the man who became our agent came to town and took us for cocktails and talked it out with us that we really decided it was something we should try. Like so many babies, it was conceived over cocktails.

Heather Cocks: It hadn’t really occurred to us in a serious way until then, but suddenly, we realized it did make sense to try and create something tangible—something for people who are mystified by celebrity fashion but don’t necessarily enjoy reading blogs, for instance, or for people who would like to read Go Fug Yourself (GFY) in the bathroom but don’t want to mess with bringing their laptops into the john. You know. And also, frankly, it just sounded incredibly fun.

Were there any doubts the site would translate to book form?
JM: Definitely. Lots of doubts! It was really challenging, because a blog, by nature, and especially our blog, is very much of the moment. It was hard to figure out how to write the book so that it wasn’t automatically dated, and we also needed to figure out how to write something that was different enough from the blog itself that people wouldn’t feel like we were asking them to buy something they had already read for free. We discarded a ton of random ideas trying to figure it out.

HC: That’s how we came up with the faux-awards format—who doesn’t love a cheesy awards spectacular, for one thing, and for another, we’d always been toying with the idea of doing year-end “worst of the worst” posts, and bringing that concept to book form turned that into something bigger and prettier and glossier than anything we could’ve done on the blog itself.

Have you been happy with the response?
JM: Definitely. We mostly just wanted our regular readers to enjoy it—we wrote it for them—and it seems like they have, so we’re thrilled.

HC: Everyone’s been great. The one thing we’ve struggled with is getting the message out that it’s not reprinted material—it’s all new. None of the text has appeared on the blog before. But we have superb readers. They’re so supportive, and have welcomed the book with very open arms. That’s really all we could ask for; when we were writing it, that was our chief concern. We didn’t want any of our loyal readers to come away feeling like they’d gotten gypped out of their money by buying the book.

You mention in the book’s introduction, that it’s a snapshot of a time. What is up with now? Are we in some media dark age where celebrity and person to celebrate are getting too confused to ever go back? Or do you think it’s always been like this, we just get to see more of it because of the Internet? I don’t know if I can think of a Paris-type in the pre-Internet age ...?
JM: It’s hard to say. I think there has always been a sector of celebrity that isn’t really based on talent. But with the advent of the celebrity blog, obviously, I think we’re seeing far more of many
more people than we used to. Part of me thinks that this is only temporary, but then I think about the intense need that everyone has to procrastinate at work and I’m pretty sure that the media attention given to even sort of marginal celebrities is here to stay. People need celebrity gossip to read when they’re supposed to be working!

HC: Yeah, and despite what people say, reality TV isn’t going away. I mean, the Kardashians have a show, Denise Richards is filming one, the Lohan matriarch is doing one ... there will always be low-level celebrities who are desperate to get noticed, and outlandish and/or barely-there clothes will always be one of the things they turn to in order to get that fame. The Internet certainly helps that along.

“The Fug Queen…”

Who are some of your favourite, actual style icons and why? Who could the Peldons really take a few tips from?
JM: It changes, you know? Fergie used to be a total mess and now she looks consistently adorable. There’s hope for everyone! I think right now, I am really loving Rachel Bilson. She always looks great. As far as actual icons go, I have to admit that I have a great fondness for Sharon Stone—who looks amazing half the time and REALLY CRAZY the other half. I would never advise that anyone emulate her, but she is a favorite. And personally, I’d love to grow up like Helen Mirren. She always looks sexy AND age-appropriate.

HC: Oh, sweet Peldons. In terms of people they would realistically take tips from, I’d say Lauren Conrad of The Hills, who is about their age—well, a bit younger, but whatever—and who generally stays away from grossly overexposing her flesh (if not her image). Of course, I’m not saying Lauren Conrad is a style icon. Just that if the Peldons were to decide to learn from Cate Blanchett, they’d need a REALLY big clothing budget, because she wears off-the-runway stuff like the rest of us wear Banana Republic. I actually think Cate Blanchett is a good icon—again, a lot of her choices are not things that I would do, but she carries them off with extreme self-assurance and you know her missteps are because she’s playful and not because she’s desperate or blind.

Does Courtney Peldon know how the world views her? I’m of the opinion, for instance, that Chloe Sevigny dresses ridiculously on purpose. Her own special sense of irony and all that (I hope, at least). But Peldon, and we can throw Brown into this as well—do they get it? Can they possibly just not see the world laughing at them?
JM: I don’t know. I think they sort of get it—I mean, Courtney once wore a LOIN CLOTH to a premiere. And they’ve said things in the recent past that acknowledged that they know they used to go out looking totally nuts. I think they were sort of doing it for attention. So I think they get it. I just think they went into the sort of Tacky Mermaid direction, instead of the Ironic Fashionista

HC: I think they get it NOW, but too late. Like, who’s going to take them seriously as actresses at this point? Not that we ever did, but seriously, the level of fug they were putting out into the world with regularity between, say, 2003 and 2006, was guffaw-inducing. I can’t imagine that helped their career, which might be why they’re still best-known to people for a) the fug, or b) acting roles they took when they were tots. If they’d had a bit more savvy and self-awareness early on, I don’t think they’d have gone as far in the direction they did. Unless they never planned to stay in showbiz, but somehow I doubt that.

Is it mean to laugh at them? Why do we laugh at them?
JM: I don’t think it’s too terribly mean. I think we’ve ALL had those days when we wore something crazy and you HAVE to just laugh about it. So I prefer to think that I am laughing WITH them.

HC: Yeah, I have to believe that Courtney Peldon took one look at herself in that loincloth and laughed as hard as we did and thought to herself, “I was DERANGED.” There’s fashion mistakes—the wrong fit, the accidentally see-through top, etc.—and then there’s wearing a bikini and fishnets to a charity event. So there’s a part of our blog that deals with groaning and putting our head in our hands over simple things that could’ve been avoided, where we’re not laughing but rather commiserating, and then there’s the part that deals with the Peldons and Bai Ling, who are SO off their rockers that you have to laugh because how else can you process it? I mean, their wardrobes are not of this planet.

How did you guys come to be so interested in fashion dos and don’ts? Have you been judging celebrity outfits forever?
JM: I think we were definitely always interested in celebrity outfits. Not in an extreme way, but in the way that a lot of people are—we sit around and watch the Oscars with our girlfriends, or
flip through US Weekly, and talk about what everyone was wearing. And I think that kind of chatty girlfriend tone has kind of translated to the site—I hope so, anyway.

HC: It does just come from our relationship as friends, the time we’ve spent hanging out and gossiping. I’ve always been into soap operas—I loved Dynasty and I enjoy all the daytime TV melodrama over here, and I grew up watching EastEnders and Aussie soaps like Neighbours and Home & Away. So in a way, being fascinated by celebs’ real-life drama is just an extension of that love of melodrama, and that parlayed itself into a “What would I have done? Well, certainly not THAT” approach to their wacky clothing choices.

“Oh, sweet Jesus…”

Who’s been a favorite for you guys, and why? The book looks at post-millennial fashion problems, what about pre-? If you could write a whole book about early style disasters, who would it be filled with?
JM: I have a weird obsession with Lindsay Lohan. I love her when she looks heinous and I love her when she looks awesome. I am always interested in her, and I don’t know why. And I think we both always love Posh. As far as early style disasters, we talked about that as far as the book goes, actually, and it turns out that it’s really hard to have the appropriate perspective on that sort of thing. Clearly, in 2008, my plaid stirrup pants with the giant bows on the stirrup would be CRAZY, but in 1985, they were AWESOME.

HC: When Chloe Sevigny came out with that hideous line for Opening Ceremony, I was thrilled. I deeply enjoy how bad her clothes are sometimes. She was one of my original sore spots, if you will, because every magazine was insisting that she was so cerebral about fashion that we couldn’t possible hope to understand her genius—all while she was wearing, like, a satin multi-colored muumuu. It would annoy me that people were implying that my dislike for that getup was because I was too stupid to understand it, and not because it was in fact hideous and unflattering. Chloe does sometimes look like a million bucks—just like anyone out there, she has good days and bad, and since Big Love on HBO she’s looked pretty more often than
not at events. So I always feel a lovely twinge of nostalgia when she turns out something that harkens back to Old Chloe’s insanity.

Can you think of a celeb who has never messed up?
JM: You know, there are a lot of people who are reliably pretty chic—I think Nicole Richie, for instance, usually looks great—but EVERYONE messes up sometimes. Thank god! It’d be so boring otherwise.

HC: Even Nicole Richie blows it, though. She was a mess when they started promoting that first season of The Simple Life. I’m not a fan of her casual style, but on the red carpet she does know how to turn it out much better than she did back then. I can’t think of anyone unimpeachable, either. And as Jess said, that’s just human nature. Even Major League Baseball players don’t have a .500 batting average. Nobody hits it out of the park every time.

What is it about your kind of criticism that has given the site such a leg up? I find Fug to be the most culturally aware, the most spot-on with its ‘80s trivia, and, believe it or not, the nicest. Was that always in the plan, to resist rudeness or cattiness?
JM: Thank you! That is really nice to hear. We DO have a handle on our Sweet Valley High trivia, that is true. I don’t know if our extensive knowledge of that and Melrose Place is the secret to our success, but I certainly like to think so. In all seriousness, though, I’m not sure what’s given us a leg up. I think we were very fortunate to have gotten into the blog thing early in the game, and there aren’t a lot of sites out there that SOLELY cover celebrity fashion the way we do, so that has helped us a lot. As far as niceness goes, we never sat down and had a discussion about editorial tone or whathaveyou, but I think we’ve naturally evolved into ... you know, not being TOTAL raging bitches.

HC: The tone definitely did just grow naturally—we’re not all love and pancakes, or anything, but we just don’t want to get into ragging on people’s DNA. I’m sure in the early going we weren’t as certain of that goal, but once we started doing it enough, we just realized we wanted to keep it about what these people are doing to themselves—the self-inflicted state of fug. Some of it also comes from the fact that we are giant softies at heart, though. Fergie is a prime example. We never really got her at all, but then she developed some chicness and came off really sweet in interviews, and suddenly an affection for her grew up almost out of nowhere. It’s like that with almost all of them now—we have these soft spots or inexplicable affinities for so many people and we just want them to keep it together.

What are the most interesting things you’ve learned about people (celebrities or non) since starting Go Fug?
JM: Oh, good question. I have learned that people who write hate mail tend to have considerably worse spelling and grammar than people who write non-hate mail. Also, I’ve learned that the more I fug someone, the more I start to secretly love them.

HC: Same here. And I have learned that Jessica is one hell of a business partner.

What do you like most about your site?
JM: I love when Heather writes as George Clooney—aka Intern George. That never fails to make me laugh.

HC: Aw, thanks! I used to love Jess’s Britney letters, but alas, we don’t do those any more because she’s too tragic. Her Lindsay Lohan LeggingsWatch stuff cracked me up. Mostly, though, my favorite thing about the site is how much fun we still have doing it, and getting to work together. We were pals before we were colleagues, so it’s been such a pleasure to have grown a career we both love out of a friendship we value.

What’s the future look like for Go Fug?
JM: We are not big plan makers—we tend to take things as they come with the site. So we’ll see what happens. We are planning on writing some more books—maybe fiction!—and keeping an eye on the scourge of leggings, of course.

HC: I would like to say the future looks like a closet full of Louboutin shoes and designer dresses, but I keep forgetting to buy lottery tickets so I’m guessing that will never come to pass.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Summer onslaught continues, and for the weekend beginning 23 May, here are the films in focus:

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull [rating: 8]

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is clearly a movie geared toward anyone under the age of 30 who memorized every moment of their Raiders VHS.

Icons earn their status by never changing. What they represented the moment they gained said mythos remains steadfast and sturdy, with only occasional minor alterations along the way. This is why it’s never wise to revisit a symbol, cinematic or otherwise. The moment you do, the carefully constructed barriers you built around the legend start to shatter. Unless you’re out to really revise (or even implode) the idol, what was once beloved is never quite the same. For many, this is exactly what happened when George Lucas decided to go back to his Star Wars universe. Well established - and beloved - characters like Darth Vader and Yoda were systematically reconfigured to fit a new, and not necessarily complimentary, ideal.
read full review…

For another view on the latest Indiana Jones film, read Chris Barsanti’s Short Take:
read full review… 

Postal [rating: 4]

Indeed, Postal is THAT kind of movie, one that substitutes rancor for real wit, that utilizes splatter when a few script rewrites would have worked much better.

Uwe Boll is no longer just a filmmaker. He’s become a cultural icon of the whipping boy variety. Granted, he’s earned every inch of his horrid hack status. Anyone who has sat through Bloodrayne, Alone in the Dark, House of the Dead, or his recent In the Name of the King understands this. But to totally dismiss him as Ed Wood’s Teutonic twin does both men a massive disservice. After all, Mr. Glen or Glenda was working with a no budget handicap. Boll makes his cinematic affronts with the full faith and credit of his homeland’s moneysaving tax laws. Postal is his latest videogame based endeavor. As a motion picture, it’s garbage. But as a statement of the rest of the film loving world, it’s a gloriously tasteless middle finger. read full review…

War, Inc. [rating: 5]

The politics of War, Inc. are not problematic so much as pedestrian. There’s nothing new in embracing the anti-conservative screed to show how off kilter the country really is.

Quick - name the last really successful political satire? Was it Wag the Dog? Man of the Year? American Dreamz? Primary Colors? Perhaps you have to go back as far as the Watergate among nuns fun known as Nasty Habits. Whatever the case, the War in Iraq and the Bush Administration’s policies toward same should be rife for some rib-tickling ridicule. Of course, some of the decisions and resulting failures are sad/funny enough to be their own pragmatic parodies. Yet instead of taking on the Commander in Chief and his wayward conservatism, most films about the current situation in the Middle East have focused on the military, and how it turns dedicated voluntaries into outright, detestable full review…


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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Quick - name the last really successful political satire? Was it Wag the Dog? Man of the Year? American Dreamz? Primary Colors? Perhaps you have to go back as far as the Watergate among nuns fun known as Nasty Habits. Whatever the case, the War in Iraq and the Bush Administration’s policies toward same should be rife for some rib-tickling ridicule. Of course, some of the decisions and resulting failures are sad/funny enough to be their own pragmatic parodies. Yet instead of taking on the Commander in Chief and his wayward conservatism, most films about the current situation in the Middle East have focused on the military, and how it turns dedicated voluntaries into outright, detestable villains.

Now comes John Cusack (himself the star of last year’s homeland drama Grace is Gone) and his self-scribed effort War, Inc. His focus isn’t the military machine or the misguided application of same by the government. Nor is he really interested in taking on the whole WMD/selling of the conflict to an easily brainwashed American people. Instead, this obvious lampoon has Halliburton, and one of its former officers, Vice President Dick Cheney, in its sites. Sometimes, the targets are so ripe and readily set up that the laughs come often and organically. At other instances, Cusack and his fellow screenwriters Mark Leyner and Jeremy Pikser miss the mark completely.

After a particularly tough assignment, professional hitman Brand Houser is mandated by the President’s Second in Command to travel to the fictional foreign country of Turagistan. There, he will hook up with a fellow female operative and together they will try to assassinate the CEO of an international competitor. Seems the evil Tamerlane conglomerate wants all the juicy defense/rebuilding contracts for themselves, and needs Omar Shariff out of the way. Houser will accomplish this via a combination trade show and wedding. The convention will showcase Tamerlane’s “Brand America” wares. The nuptials find foreign pop sensation Yonica Babyyeah getting hitched. All the while, the hired killer must avoid the demons from this past, as well as the probing questions of investigative reporter Natalie Hegalhuzen.

It is often said that the key to a really good send-up is an innate knowledge of the subject matter being spoofed, followed by an even keener insight into how to formally deconstruct it. Somewhere between its ambition and its actuality, War, Inc. forgot this formula. Instead of offering a Dr. Strangelove-like look at how Iraq has become a morass of misguided and laughable decisions, Cusack and clan go for the easy joke - the constipated VP, the oversexed pop ingénue, the tough as nails journalist, the slightly ditzy yet very effective personal assistant. That War, Inc. casts competent actors like Dan Aykroyd, Hilary Duff, Marisa Tomei, and the star’s sister Joan argues for its would-be success.

But then documentarian Joshua Seftel steps behind the lens and shows absolutely no gift for comedy. His idea of wit is to overwork a gag until we can no longer stand the sentiment. Cusack’s hitman uses hot sauce as kind of a calming curative. It helps him focus, as well as shut out the constant voices thrashing in his head. We are supposed to view these scenes as comically insightful. While they hint at horrors, the interaction in these flashbacks suggests humor. They’re not funny. Similarly, every time the Cusacks interact, there’s a spark of screwball goofiness to what they accomplish. Yet Seftel isn’t secure enough to explore all avenues of this idea. Instead, he makes do with little flashes of brilliance here and there.

The rest of the time, War, Inc. wades through ideas that are more than self-evident. Is it really surprising that foreign men mimic hip-hop and rap in their goofy ‘gansta’ attitudes, or that Turgistan’s so-called Emerald City (standing in for Baghdad’s Green Zone) is the site of more bombings and violence than in the rest of the nation? One moment, we see a terrifically tasteless chorus line featuring recent amputees. The next, a pro-Peace, Love and Understanding platform is being forced down our throats. The politics of War, Inc. are not problematic so much as pedestrian. There’s nothing new in embracing the anti-conservative screed to show how off kilter the country really is. Yet this is the narrative’s main selling point - and very few will be buying.

Still, there is stuff in War, Inc. that one can enjoy. It’s fun to see Popeye’s Chicken as the foreign franchise du jour, complete with orders for ‘extra spicy all white meat’, and Ms. Duff, a long way away from her own Hannah Montana moment in the sun, is superb as the ethnically unclear (and ambiguously accented) Yonica. Granted, her song parodies are as lame as the actual tunes that brought her into the limelight in the first place, but it’s a hoot to hear Lizzie McGuire swearing like a sailor. In fact, it seems like a great deal of this movie is a mere one or two steps away from being masterful. That those strides are occasionally a million mirth miles away is a sad commentary on all involved.

It seems that, somewhere along the line, John Cusack has gone from accomplished actor with a high degree of industry cred to a descending, desperate star trying anything to realign his passing power. Even with the success of last year’s 1408, his career arc has definitely taken a downturn. War, Inc. won’t help. Sure, it will sell to a chosen few audience members who don’t mind their humor ladled out in oversized doses of blatancy. The rest, however, will wonder if the situation in Iraq is all but entertainment-proof, incapable of sustaining any movie, be it drama or comedy. Of course, War, Inc. doesn’t give the humor side of the dispute a fighting chance. It’s a pretty one sided argument - just like the film itself. 

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