Monday, February 28, 2005

The Elusive Oscar

Well, I was pretty bummed for Martin Scorsese, arguably the greatest living American movie director, losing out on his fifth Oscar nomination for Best Director -- especially since he shoulda picked up the Oscar twice already, for Raging Bull in 1980 (when Robert Redford won for Ordinary People) and GoodFellas in 1990 (when Kevin Costner for Dances with Wolves).

So allow me to placate myself with the knowledge that some of the greatest filmmakers of all time also never took home the Best Director Oscar ...

Among them:

Alfred Hitchcock
Orson Welles
Stanley Kubrick
Federico Fellini
Ingmar Bergman
Howard Hawks
Sidney Lumet
Fritz Lang
Ernst Lubitsch
Charlie Chaplin
Otto Preminger
Robert Altman
Richard Brooks

So there. Screw Oscar.

He's just a grouch, anyway.

Cutaways, Take 7

So, let the record reflect that we were only off by two in our Oscar predictions. Not that anyone cares, mind you ...


Halle Berry gets a gold star from us for being enough of a good sport to show up personally for the Razzies and accept her dishonor as worst actress of the year for Catwoman. Despite that sorry movie, however, we hope and pray that she will not be deterred from future roles that also require skintight black leather.


Speaking of awards, Sideways pretty much swept the Independent Spirit Awards held this past weekend: Best picture, screenplay, director, actor, supporting actor and supporting actress. And, yes, Paul Giamatti was among the winners. The only major award that Sideways didn't pick up was Best Actress, which justifiably went to Catalina Sandina Moreno for Maria Full of Grace.


This is one of the funniest things I've come across in a long time. Thank you to Drew and his Blog-a-Rama for bringing this wholesome goodness ... Office Space as performed by the Superfriends
... or Fred Flintstone in Raging Bull
.... or Scarface Dick Cheney ...
We always thought Barney Rubble and Joe Pesci resembled each other a bit.


So, lemme guess: You've been searching high and low for a clearinghouse of information about chess in the movies. Am I right? Am I right?

If so, your prayers have been answered. Chess in the Cinema catalogs movie scenes that feature people playing chess. (Thanks to Bitter Cinema).

All you Yahtzee fanatics just need to keep your chin up and be patient.

Friday, February 25, 2005

If I Ran the Oscars

This is what you've all been waiting for, readers (surely some of you bastards have been waiting for this ... please?). Chase McInerney picks the Oscars:

The Aviator
Finding Neverland
Million Dollar Baby

Who Will Win: We loved the loopy, larger-than-life spectacle of The Aviator, but ultimately the movie boasts more bells and whistles than soul, and that is likely to make Academy voters believe it's just not "serious" enough for the self-important title of Best Picture. And so the Oscar goes to ... Million Dollar Baby, an excellent film in its own right (if a little less serious than it pretends to be).
Who Should Win: Sideways hit all the right notes, a pitch-perfect masterpiece of poignant character study, raucous comedy and wine-drenched tragedy.
Glaring Omission(s): We will go to our deathbed never understanding Ray's inclusion here. OK, that's a little over the top; surely, we will go to our deathbed not understanding how to set the VCR machine, either. That said, if we ran the Oscars (hence the name of this friggin' post!), that fifth nominee slot instead would have been filled by one of the following: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Maria Full of Grace, The Woodsman, The Incredibles, Kinsey or Spider-Man 2.

Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda
Johnny Depp, Finding Neverland
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Aviator
Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby
Jamie Foxx, Ray

Who will win: No contest: Jamie Foxx channeled the spirit of Ray Charles in one of the rare instances that tour-de-force seems an appropriate term.
Who should win: People who weren't even nominated.
Glaring omission(s): Where to begin? Both Eastwood and Depp were customarily great, but both could have been dropped to make room for others. The omission of Sideways' Paul Giamatti is the most obvious travesty. But Javier Bardem for The Sea Inside, Sean Penn for The Assassination of Richard Nixon, Jeff Bridges for The Door in the Floor and Kevin Bacon for The Woodsman are all deserving candidates.

Annette Bening, Being Julia
Catalina Sandino Moreno, Maria Full of Grace
Imelda Staunton, Vera Drake
Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby
Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Who will win: Swank. Her work in Million Dollar Baby is as much of a revelation as she was in Boys Don't Cry. She doesn't work too often, but when she does, it's a doozy.
Who should win: Swank. Although we're big fans of Catalina Sandino Moreno's debut in Maria Full of Grace, Swank's brilliance in Million Dollar Baby is impossible to dispute.
Glaring omission(s): No complaints about the nominees, but personally, we would have selected Helen Mirren in The Clearing above Bening, whose radiance is about the only thing that made Being Julia bearable.

Alan Alda, The Aviator
Thomas Haden Church, Sideways
Jamie Foxx, Collateral
Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby
Clive Owen, Closer

Who will win: The conventional wisdom says Morgan Freeman, although we wouldn't be shocked if Clive Owen wins. Still, our money is on Freeman, who is long-overdue for the award.
Who should win: Heck, we've got no quarrel with Freeman's acting chops. Either we'd award the Oscar to him or go with Clive Owen, who was the best thing in Closer, or Thomas Haden Church, a marvel of comic timing in Sideways.
Glaring omission(s): Foxx's role in Collateral was a lead part, for Pete's sake, and Alan Alda's admissible performance hardly rose to the level of a nomination. That said, we don't think there are any glaring omissions, although Freddie Highmore for Finding Neverland would have been an inspired selection. That is one talented lil' kid.

Cate Blanchett, The Aviator
Laura Linney, Kinsey
Virginia Madsen, Sideways
Sophie Okonedo, Hotel Rwanda
Natalie Portman, Closer

Who will win: Blanchett steals most of her scenes in The Aviator, so we think she's the odds-on favorite. Plus, Katherine Hepburn won a whopping three Oscars during her lifetime, so it's only fair that someone win an Oscar for portraying the actress herself.
Who should win: Well, we're still partial to Madsen solely on the basis of that terrific monologue in Sideways regarding the allure of wine.
Glaring omission(s): Personally, we would've rejected a Linney nomination and added either Meryl Streep in The Manchurian Candidate, Laura Dern in We Don't Live Here Anymore or, yes, even Irma P. Hall for the criminally underrated The Ladykillers.

Martin Scorsese, The Aviator
Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby
Taylor Hackford, Ray
Alexander Payne, Sideways
Mike Leigh, Vera Drake

Who will win: Nail-biter between Scorsese and Eastwood. We suspect that Marty might just eke out the win, simply because as Oscar has eluded him for for far too long.
Who should win: It's a tough call, but we'd give the nod to Scorsese. That said, Payne and Eastwood did amazing work this year.
Glaring omission(s): Hackford's nomination is absurd. More deserving -- by a long shot -- would have been Finding Neverland's Marc Forster, The Sea Inside's Alejandro Amenabar, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind's Michel Gondry, A Very Long Engagement's Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Maria Full of Grace's Joshua Marston or even The Bourne Supremacy's Paul Greengrass.

Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, Before Sunset
David Magee, Finding Neverland
Paul Haggis, Million Dollar Baby
Jose Rivera, The Motorcycle Diaries
Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Sideways

Who will win: We suspect this will be the consolation prize to Payne and Taylor for Sideways getting shafted in other categories.
Who should win: That said, Payne and Taylor deserve this Oscar.
Glaring omission(s): Oh, if we want to nitpick we might say Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Guillaume Laurant for A Very Long Engagement, but all the nominees here are top-notch.

John Logan, The Aviator
Charlie Kaufman, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Keir Pearson and Terry George, Hotel Rwanda
Brad Bird, The Incredibles
Mike Leigh, Vera Drake

Who will win: This one really is a toss-up. John Logan is the likely winner, but the Academy's left-leaning social-consciousness might just gravitate to the writers of Hotel Rwanda. We will gamble here and say Kaufman will win it, especially since the Academy might feel a few pangs of warranted guilt for short-shrifting Eternal Sunshine elsewhere.
Who should win: Charlie Kaufman, Charlie Kaufman, Charlie Kaufman. Hands down, Eternal Sunshine is the most inventive original screenplay for a major motion picture since, well, Pulp Fiction. Oh, and Eternal Sunshine was also responsible for the most thought-provoking experience I had in a movie theater this year (excluding, of course, some decidedly different thoughts that leapt to mind when Natalie Portman performed her lapdance in Closer).
Glaring omission(s): Vera Drake is a good screenplay, but Bill Condon's work in Kinsey is terrific, taking a big, troubling and didactic subject and making it as entertaining as it is ambitious.

The Incredibles
Shark Tale
Shrek 2

Who will win: The Incredibles.
Who should win:
The Incredibles.
Glaring omission(s):
When the Academy is relegated to nominating Shark Tale, you know there were slim pick'ns. Meanwhile, Brad Bird's The Incredibles more than lived up to its name, and is Pixar's finest film to date.

As It Is in Heaven
The Chorus
The Sea Inside

Well, The Sea Inside is the only one of these we saw, but regardless, we can't imagine that anything else out there was better. Even so, how did The Chorus beat out A Very Long Engagement as France's entry?

Born into Brothels
The Story of the Weeping Camel
Super Size Me
Tupac: Resurrection
Twist of Faith

Who will win: Our prediction is Super Size Me.
Who should win: Not Super Size Me. But we haven't seen any of the other nominees, so what the hell do we know?
Glaring omission(s): The really, really, really unconscionable omission is Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, which, in our humble estimation, is the most enduring documentary of 2004.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Stop Yer Dang Rubberneckin'

Well, we here in Red State America don't often give props to Boston for their pop cultural offering, but I love a lot of Boston-based ideas (or I-deers, as they call it): Boston baked beans, Boston terriers, Carl Yastrzemski, independence, etc.

Add another Bostonian idea whose time has come: partitions to shield traffic accidents from rubberneckers.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

A Jury of His Peers

How can legal pundits grouse about the ramifications of there being no African-Americans on the Michael Jackson jury? It's certainly not as if the defendant is African-American.

For Jacko to have a true jury of his peers, you'd need to search a hell of a lot further away than Santa Maria, California.

Red Dirt Returneth

We knew it was just a matter of time before Red Dirt beat the rap and returned to the cool breeze of freedom. We knew he was too smart for them prosecutors.

God help us, he's baaaack ...

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Bitch Is Back, Not

One of my oldest and dearest friends recently received a blast from the past from someone he used to be seriously involved with, a woman who we will heretofore refer to as Evil Monstrous Bitch (EMB). If you'll indulge me for a bit, I simply wanted to share this as a cautionary tale of how not to break up.

The thing is, my friend, whom we will call Buck Nekkid (per his request), is a bit of a hard-drinking, golf-obsessed misogynous prick to begin with -- and I mean that in the best possible sense -- so the guy wasn't exactly predisposed toward romantic idealism in the first place. Still, Buck had put aside such uncharitable views for the sake of the EMB, for whom he had fallen hard and with whom he planned a future of white-picket fences, minivans, ritalin-popping children and the whole domestic-bliss shebang.

But it turned into a long-distance relationship when Buck moved out of state for a better-paying job. It became more difficult for Buck and the EMB to see one another. And then, one day, she just vanished into thin air.

No return phone calls, emails or letters. Nada. Nothing. Zilch. The silence was brutal, the quiet of the condemned waiting for the call that never arrives from the governor. And Buck, whose he-man, woman-hating days of yesteryear had been dormant for so long, let the psychological wounds fester -- thanks, in no small part, to the solicitousness of some fine American distilleries.

A year went by. Then another -- and another. And then a little more than a week ago, the EMB sends Buck the following email:

I should probably continue to leave you alone, as I've always believed it is best for you, but life is short and you should probably tell people how you feel. (I had a major wreck on the highway in the [make and model of car withheld for its own protection] recently and shouldn't be here today to be bugging you so you never know when it's your last chance to say something….)

Any way, I've been working for [nameless company] for a while now in [a city in Texas where the state capitol is located], and having a hard time with the change, but tonight on the way home from work, I heard the [pop rock band] singing [single produced by aforementioned pop rock band] and it made me so happy. It's amazing to me how many times a day I think of you ... You are still the best time of my life.

I hope all is well with you ...

So what is more horrible than freezing out someone with not so much as an explanation? Well, genocide, for one ... oh, and torture with broken light bulbs ... and Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals and .... Hmm. Come to think of it, I guess a lot of things are more horrible, actually...

But I digress.

Q: What comes close to as horrible?

A: The self-serving and short-sighted email out of the blue that is about assuaging one's guilty conscience, not righting previous wrongs.

Hang in there, Buck ... and just to indulge that misogynous sweet-tooth of yours, here are Ten (with apologies to John Lee Hooker) Wimmen who rival the EMB in the mean ol' bee-otch department:

10. Britney Spears
You doubt her inclusion? Check out her punditry in Fahrenheit 9/11. Diva tantrums, two hare-brained marriages, an unquestioned faith in the judgment of one George W. Bush and talents best suited for a truck-stop lapdance.

9. Leona Helmsley
Here's a retro choice. The once-infamous "Queen of Mean" was a billionaire jailbird tyrant long before Martha Stewart made it cool.

8. Ann Coulter
A hateful, venom-drippin' shrew of a human being who, we suspect, went to the Renee Richards' Finishing School.

7. Paris Hilton
Horsey-faecd, snobbish and slutty is no way to go through life, hon.

6. Yoko Ono
How could the woman who broke up the Beatles not be on this list?

5. Anna Nicole Smith
She voluptuous and stoopid... scratch that, she's fat and stoopid ... no, wait, she's thin and stoopid ... I mean, she's thin, flat broke and stoopid ...

4. Courtney Love
America's sweetheart drove her gifted husband to suicide and like the blood-sucking vampire she is, swooped from his grave to launch her own celebrity. Lucky for her, such crass exploitation can buy a lotta smack.

3. Jessica Hahn
The penultimate bimbo. This one-time church secretary managed to parlay an affair with PTL founder Jim Bakker into a full-blown career. Where would Howard Stern be without trailblazers like Jessica having led the way?

2. Lynndie England
Does this really need an explanation? That said, we know that P.F.C. Lynndie is pregnant and due to deliver soon. Does Babies "R" Us carry toy pitchforks?

1. Lorena Bobbitt
Um... she cut off a penis and tossed it out a car window. Nuff' said.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Crumbs and Stuff, Take 6

Ann Coulter is such a sweetie. In her never-ending quest to prove herself the most vitriolic bitch on the planet, she is qupping that Timothy McVeigh only erred by not bombing the New York Times building, too. No, we're not kidding. Check it out via Tom Tomorrow.


No truth in advertising? Think again and explore the dullest blog in the world.


The White House's new attempt to stop all that nasty teen sex stuff: The Sex Is for Fags web site. Oh, we are relatively sure this is a parody.


This is what we love about the possibilities of alternative news weeklies: Minneapolis-St. Paul's City Pages offers this first-person account of a phone sex operator. You don't get this in The Economist, baby!

Social Insecurity Complex: Dubya Tapdances

Is Dubya easing up a little in his Quixotic quest to shape Social Security into his own image? AP reports the clod in chief will conceded during an appearance in New Hampshire that he would consider raising payroll taxes on folks earning more than $90,000.

"Asked directly, Bush said he would not bar raising the $90,000 cap, although he does not want to see the payroll tax rate go up.

"'The one thing I'm not open-minded about is raising the payroll tax rate. And all the other issues go on the table,' Bush said in the interview, according to an account in [the] New Haven (Conn.) Register.

Despite the good sense of such a statement, the usual suspects were freaking out during last week's Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.

"People are quite angry about Bush opening a Pandora's box of tax increases," said Stephen Moore with the Free Enterprise Fund. 'It's almost like `read my lips' all over again."

Anti-tax activist and borderline crazy man Grover Norquist issued similar misgivings, recalling President George H.W. Bush's ill-fated reneging on his "no new taxes" pledge.

"When dad did it, it was bad politics and bad policy. To do it again would be bad politics, bad policy and a lousy memory," said Norquist.

If the White House is indeed sensing the political precariousness of uprooting Social Security, it will be interesting to see whether Dubya can finesse things without pissing off the more rabid sect of his own party.

Dr. Gonzo: One Final Trip

One of the greatest openings of any quasi-fiction I ever read:

"We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like "I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive...." And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: "Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?"

-- From Hunter S. Thompson's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas."

The godfather of gonzo journalism was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 67.

R.I.P., Hunter S. Thompson. You were bold and gutsy and mad as a hatter. And you will be missed.

Oh, and as Wizbang correctly points out, the good doctor's irreverent, audacious, howling-at-the-moon prose might just make him the unchallenged grandfather of bloggers everywhere.

For more about Thompson, check out Blogcritics or Rox Populi.

Cutaways, Take 6

Saw Hitch. ... Aside from Will Smith being criminally miscast as the master of suspense, it's a pleasing enough romantic comedy.
A few brief observations on it:
1. Apparently, there are six people of any real consequence in New York City, and they are inexorably linked somehow.
2. Gossip columnists do not make for innately sympathetic characters.
3. Not to get all feminist-sounding (please, God, not that), but why is it a given in Hollywood movies that unattractive, annoying male schlubs are allowed to salivate over and appreciate a great-looking woman for the sole reason that she is hot, and yet great-looking women are supposed to forgo a guy's appearance in favor of the inner soul?
4. Be wary of movies with voiceover narrative.
5. Kevin James steals the movie -- but that isn't to say anyone was really guarding it in the first place.
6. In romantic comedies, sometimes cute is enough. And Hitch is cute enough.

While The New York Post's Lou Lumenick is a bit harsher than I'd be, I think his review correctly highlights some of the film's more absurd conceits.


The brains behind The Aviator -- Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio and screenwriter John Logan -- are now looking to remake Akira Kurosawa's 1948 cinematic classic, Drunken Angel. Currently, both Scorsese and DiCaprio are slated to remake the Hong Kong film, Infernal Affairs. Martin Scorsese is arguably the greatest American filmmaker currently working, and he has two remakes in the hopper. What's wrong with that picture?


Another potential remake. George Clooney, who is having waaay too much fun channeling the spirit of Ol' Blue Eyes, has bought the rights to another self-congratulatory Rat Pack flick, Robin and the 7 Hoods.

Dear Lord: When will it end?


Let the inner comic book geek come out and play. With thanks to Ain't It Cool News, here's the trailer for The Fantastic Four movie -- and whadd'ya know, it looks promising.


USA Today tracks the treacherous love affair between Hollywood and war. It's an interesting reality balance to the shopworn rap on the movie business that it is hostile to the military. A whole new crop of films and TV programs based on the Iraq War (the latest one, that is) are in the works -- all of them concentrating on the heroism of American soldiers and shunning negative ruminations on U.S. foreign policy.

"Not since World War II has Hollywood so embraced an ongoing conflict. It took years for pop culture to tackle the Korean and Vietnam wars, and it took time before the country was ready to be entertained by those politically charged conflicts.

"With Iraq, however, and after 9/11, 'all bets are off,' says film historian Leonard Maltin. 'Whatever happens in real life inspires and affects our storytellers.'

"With no resolution in sight, Iraq remains a timely backdrop. Audiences are hungry for glimpses of history in the making. March 19 is the war's second anniversary.

"But not any and every angle of war is being depicted. One aspect is glaringly absent from most projects: negativity. The U.S. soldier is the hero; his cause is just. Storylines featuring the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal or war protests are no-nos.

"'That gets you into arenas of policy,' says [TV producer Steven] Bochco, who has written four episodes of 'Over There,' which is filming in Santa Clarita, Calif. 'I've always tried to stay off a soap box. I don't think proselytizing is good storytelling.'"

And if there's one thing you can say for the man who gave the world "Cop Rock," it's good storytelling.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Hollywood Redux: The Best Remakes

So one of my many scarcely found readers has posed an innocent question. In this Hollywood environment of recycled, repackaged, reimagined and reconstiituted fecal matter masquerading as motion pictures, just what would I, Chase McInerney, say are the most impressive remakes of the 20th century?

Here, then, are my dozen favorite remakes ...

12. Cape Fear (1991)
Martin Scorsese's remake of the 1962 Robert Mitchum-Gregory Peck thriller has all the understatement of a steroids-and-Red Bull bender, and Robert DeNiro gives an uncharacteristically scenery-chewing performance as evil convict Max Cady. Still, it's a Scorsese flick, which means it is luridly beautiful and wildly watchable.

11. Ocean's Eleven (2001)
It helps to remake crap, and the 1960 Rat Pack exercise in cinematic masturbation certainly qualifies as crap. Steven Soderbergh transforms the remake into what the original should have been: a fun, stylish, star-studded, exquisitely shot excursion into Hollywood make-believe -- filled with pretty people and pretty locations. It's a shame the sequel reverted back to 1960's cinematic masturbation.

10. The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
Jonathan Demme's remake of the classic 1962 thriller trades in the original's satirical edge in favor of a paranoiac's fantasy. What the new version lacks in subtlety, what with its ideologically based jabs at war profiteering corporations and saintly depiction of the kindly liberal senator (played by Jon Voight), Demme makes up for with a garish and colorful visual scheme and jittery theatrics.

9. The Three Musketeers (1973)
Perhaps the grooviest swashbuckler ever made, director Richard Lester put his indelible stamp on this retelling of the Alexandre Dumas classic. There is plenty of exciting swordplay to satisfy the purists in the audience, but what really makes this Three Musketeers stand apart is its irreverent sense of humor. Definitely a product of the randy and recalcitrant early Seventies -- and damned proud of it.

8. Heaven Can Wait (1978)
Really, what is not to like in this screwball comedy about reincarnation (well, sorta) that, in itself reincarnates 1941's Here Comes Mr. Jordan? I-love-me icon Warren Beatty directs and stars in the story of a pro football quarterback prematurely plucked from life and hastily thrown back into the body of a recently murdered millionaire. The entire cast -- featuring Buck Henry (who co-directed), Dyan Cannon, Julie Christie and Charles Grodin -- is aces and helps provide a glossy polish (not necessarily a bad thing) to the proceedings.

7. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Loved the original, but the difference between this super-caffeinated remake and the George Romero 1978 original is the difference between a Jaguar and a souped-up Chevy Nova; you love 'em both, but for very different reasons. The first 20 minutes of this Dawn might just have you soiling yourself and barricading your lovely little daughter in the attic before she shreds any more of daddy into slaw. This gorefest doesn't believe in taking breathers.

6. The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
Sleek and confident in its technique, this John McTiernan-directed remake improves greatly on the overrated 1968 Steve McQueen-Faye Dunaway caper. Chalk it up to consummate professionalism. McTiernan knows how to spin an exciting thriller, Pierce Brosnan knows not to take himself too seriously and Rene Russo knows how to fog up the big screen.

5. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
No way does this Philip Kaufman-directed retooling approach the heights of the 1956 sci-fi classic, but it's still a damn fine movie in its own right, steeped in the paranoia, cynicism and all-around fatigue of its time. And Kaufman gets to revel in the scenic charms of his native San Francisco, which, we all know, is populated by nothing but pod people. A shrieking Donald Sutherland is particularly memorable.

4. The Fly (1986)
David Cronenberg used his remake of the 1958 B-movie horror flick as a springboard to explore his favorite theme of losing control of one's own physicality. A surprisingly poignant romance to boot, this fascinating and occasionally gruesome film also boasts a career performance from Jeff Goldblum as mad scientist-turned-pest Seth Brundle.

3. The Ring (2002)
Not many horror films know how to do everything right, so give credit to director Gore Verbinski. In this Americanized version of the 1998 Japanese chiller Ringu, rain-choked Seattle is the locale for this story of the world's unfunniest home video. Verbinski must have stuffed himself silly on 1920s' German expressionism and Trent Reznor music videos in preparation for this flick.

2. A Star Is Born (1954)
George Cukor's remake of the 1937 film is not only a far superior work, but a bona fide classic and, perhaps, Cukor's masterpiece. James Mason was never better as fading movie star Norman Maine, an alcoholic who takes Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland) under his wing, only to see her star eclipse his own. It was Garland's crowning moment in cinema, particularly poignant considering her downward spiral began shortly afterwards.

1. His Girl Friday (1940)
Howard Hawks' classic 1940 comedy took the Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur play The Front Page and took a step further the curiously close relationship between hard-nosed newspaper boss Walter Burns and his favorite hotshot reporter, Hildy Johnson. In His Girl Friday, Hawks made Hildy a wisecracking woman (portrayed by Rosalind Russell in a terrific performance), and a perfect foil for Cary Grant's Burns. I never grow tired of this movie. Hawks' signature overlapping dialogue keeps the pace lightning-quick, and it remains one of the great hard-boiled depictions of the newspaper business.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

"Vera Drake," "The Assassination of Richard Nixon": Some Thoughts

Some brief thoughts on two movies I saw recently: Vera Drake and The Assassination of Richard Nixon ...

Both are excellent, but make sure you bring along plenty of Paxil.

In the title role of Vera Drake, Imelda Staunton is affecting as an unassuming, compassionate wife and mother in 1950s-era Britain who earns money as a housekeeper but also "helps out" young women each Friday by performing illegal abortions. With deliberate pacing and painstaking sensitivity, director Mike Leigh does not so much make a pro-choice film as he simply offers an absorbing and focused story of one woman's travails trying to do the right thing.

It is not a perfect movie. Leigh is known for welcoming improvisation on the set, and one suspects that sense of openness resulted in a few errant narrative strands. A subplot regarding a rich young woman who is raped and impregnated simply dissolves into the ether, and a melodramatic musical score occasionally lapses into parody. But the film draws you in, unfolding slowly and featuring top-notch performances. Milk Plus offers an excellent review.


For an even bleaker cinematic experience, there is Niels Mueller's Assassination of Richard Nixon. It tells the real-life story of Samuel Byck (spelled Bicke in the movie, perhaps an homage to another symbol of Seventies-era alienation, Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle), a depressive office-furniture salesman whose downward spiral in 1974 led him to try hijacking an airplane in hopes of crashing it into the White House. In the shadow of 9-11, that seemingly far-fetched scenario is particularly chilling.

But Assassination is chiefly a character study, and Sean Penn is amazing -- amazing -- in the lead role. The film is less about Bicke's pathetic plot to kill Tricky Dick so much as it's about Bicke's own self-assassination. Even as he blames the world for a string of woes -- including a messy divorce and failure at the job -- Bicke sabotages himself little by little in his refusal to accept life's small indignities. The underlying irony of Mueller's film (he co-wrote the script with Kevin Kennedy) is that much of the disgust and resentment Bicke feels seems entirely justified. Roger Ebert offers a characteristically thoughtful review in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Jeff Gannon, Male Prostitute

Joe Conason, writing in the New York Observer, offers a cogent examination of the James Guckert/Jeff Gannon, Male Prostitute scandal and why it is more than just the prurient gossip that right-wing media might want to portray it as being ...

"The intrinsic media interest of the Guckert/Gannon story should be obvious to anyone who has followed his tale, which touches on hot topics from the homosexual underground and the investigation into the outing of C.I.A. agent Valerie Plame to the political power of the Internet.

"Until very recently, Mr. Guckert served as the White House correspondent for Talon News, a Web site owned and operated by a group of Texas Republican activists who also run a highly partisan site called Mr. Guckert resigned from his Talon job after liberal bloggers exposed his ties to Web sites promoting homosexual prostitution. On Valentine's Day, posted new evidence indicating that Mr. Guckert not only constructed those gay-play-for-pay sites, but worked as a male escort himself -- and continued to do so until he got his first White House press pass in 2003."

Guckert/Gannon, in fact, might be the first prostitute since Brit Hume to routinely participate in White House press briefings. As Conason points out, Guckert/Gannon enjoyed extraordinary (ahem) access. The Prez called on him during a rare, nationally televised news conference. And Guckert/Gannon has even figured in the Valerie Plame undercover-outing scandal. In late 2003, the gigolo-turned-journalist referenced a C.I.A. document that presumably proved that Plame had pushed for her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, to embark on a fact-finding mission in Niger regarding rumored Iraqi uranium purchases.

Conason writes:

"What Mr. Guckert seems to have been is not a journalist but a Republican dirty trickster. He was schooled at the Leadership Institute -- an outfit run by veteran right-wing operative and Republican National Committee member Morton Blackwell. (It was Mr. Blackwell who distributed those cute 'purple heart' Band-aids mocking Mr. Kerry's war wounds at the Republican convention last summer.) His former employers at Talon News include leading Republican fund-raisers and former officials of the Texas Republican Party who have been active in partisan affairs for the past two decades.

"How did this character obtain a coveted place in the White House? What did the White House press staff know about him? How does his story fit within the larger scandal of payola punditry, with federal funds subsidizing Republican propagandists in the press corps? Did someone in the Bush administration give him a classified document?"

"Imagine the media explosion if a male escort had been discovered operating as a correspondent in the Clinton White House. Imagine that he was paid by an outfit owned by Arkansas Democrats and had been trained in journalism by James Carville. Imagine that this gentleman had been cultivated and called upon by Mike McCurry or Joe Lockhart -- or by President Clinton himself. Imagine that this 'journalist' had smeared a Republican Presidential candidate and had previously claimed access to classified documents in a national-security scandal."

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

"We'd Go Drink and Pogo" ... The Minutemen Get Their Due

One of the truly monumental bands of the punk rock era gets its celluloid due. Billboard magazine reports on a new documentary chronicling the life and times of the Minutemen. In its all-too-brief career, the hard-charging trio from San Pedro, Ca., fused funk, punk and folk-singer earnestness to roar through the sharpest politically edged rock of the Eighties.

We have high hopes for the film, We Jam Econo -- The Story of the Minutemen, but at the very least it will be wonderful to see the heyday years of drummer George Hurley, bassist Mike Watt and the late great guitarist D. Boon.

Watt tells it was particularly gratifying -- if intense -- to revisit those years before D.Boon's death in a motorcycle accident in 1985. "I wasn't really trying to say that we were more special than other folks, I was trying to show how accessible the whole thing was," Watt says. "Especially the punk movement in those days -- you just went for it."

Except that the Minutemen were more special than other folks. A lot of punk during that time had the attitude and the agitation down cold, but had nothing to sell but boneheaded bluster about anarchy and beer. By contrast, D.Boon was an unabashed leftist who actually followed what was happening in the world around him. And Mike Watt introduced the scene to an invigorating style of bass that paved the way for such pioneers as Primus' Les Claypool. With their decidedly non-pretty boy looks and flannel shirts, the Minutemen made two near-great records -- 1983's Buzz or Howl Under the Influence and 1985's 3-Way Tie for Last -- and one unequivocal masterpiece: 1984's Double Nickels on the Dime. In fact, I still get chills when I hear "History Lesson -- Part 2," a seeming throwaway of a song in which the Minutemen mythologized themselves and could make you feel nostalgic for a life that wasn't even yours.

"We'd cuss more in our songs and cut down the guitar solos..."
-- D.Boon, "Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing," 1984.

For a trailer of the movie and more information, click here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Media Musings, Take 6

"Gee. Governor, your hair smells terrific..."

The San Francisco Chronicle takes a few well-deserved swipes at the fawning treatment California Gov. Schwarzenegger continues to get from the brunt of the California news media.

Reporter Carla Marinucci recaps some of the oh-so-probing (perhaps not the right word to use when discussing the Golden State Groper) questions that Ahnold has weathered from Los Angeles radio stations ...

"You've got the best suits I've ever seen. Are they custom-made or are they off the rack?"

"I've got to ask you, governor. A lot of the guys we talk to ... say their wives turned them on to country music. Does Maria like it, as well?''

"You have done so much in your life. You won what, five Mr. Universe titles, I believe -- is that right?"

"You sound terrific. The energy you have is unbelievable. How do you do that every day?''

"Do you miss the movies?"

That's right. The era of Woodward and Bernstein has been supplanted by the decade of James Lipton.

Marinucci muses:

"More than 16 months into the job he won during an unprecedented recall election, Schwarzenegger's current California media tour to promote his plans for reforming state government looks like a resounding success -- if only because the California media, rather than turning up the heat, often ends up in marshmallow mode with the state's famous governor.

"'It's hard to imagine any world leader getting this type of treatment. All I know is, people who have spent their lives in the media business ought to have tougher questions for the governor,' said Doug Heller of, which is run by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. 'If you're a news reporter, the only time you should be asking about wearing a certain suit is to find out if he's using sweatshop labor.'''

Well, actually, we disagree emphatically with the aforementioned sentiment from Doug Heller. Not that the public needs to know about Ahnold's suits, mind you, but there is a legitimate place for feature stories of public figures -- and a number of reporters do hang on to an unfortunate and misguided notion that the only real journalism is that of the negative, "gotcha" variety.

Nevertheless, the Chronicle piece does make a salient point in blaming some of the "surfeit of sweetness" on the fact that news media outlets increasingly shun the "beat" system in which reporters are assigned specific topics.

"'Part of the reason [Schwarzenegger] is so successful at managing the media is that there are so few reporters who cover state government on a regular basis,' said Barbara O'Connor, a political science professor at California State University Sacramento. 'He has made himself available to the Capitol press corps on a limited basis. But it's clear that this governor wants to set the media agenda in the way we haven't seen in a long time. And because of his celebrity status, he is successful at doing that.'"

O'Connor might not realize how right she is. As a former news reporter (modesty forbids I disclose further details of where I was employed, but suffice it to say I once had lunch with Dan Abrams -- yes, the Dan Abrams -- and broke a really big story about squirrels), I can attest to the value of the "beat" system. It cut down on instances of reportorial ignorance and ensured that a reporter would have enough depth of knowledge of a subject to avoid an overabundance of softball questions.


And more troubling news regarding the world of TV news. A study published in USA Today indicates that the TV news media is growing ever more neglectful of local political news.

"In the month leading up to last Election Day, just 8 percent of the local evening newscasts in 11 of the nation's largest TV markets devoted time to local races and issues ...

"Over the same period, 55 percent of the newscasts included reports about the presidential race. And 'eight times more coverage went to stories about accidental injuries' than to local races and issues, their report concludes."

And all of that would be less worrisome if not for the fact that upwards of 60 percent of the population get most of their news from local TV.

Which might explain, too, why most people are, well, stupid.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Reel Short Reviews, Take 2

More recently seen (or re-seen) movies as of late (ratings from 0 to 4 stars) ...

Band of Outsiders (1964)
Jean-Luc Godard's French New Waves celebration of B-movies, gangster thrillers, romance, comedy, Paris, the Louvre and the melancholy beauty of his then-wife Anna Karina. Band of Outsiders' nominal story centers on two wannabe crooks who coax an innocent girl into helping them rob a lodger in her boarding house. As with any self-respecting example of French New Wave, however, the film is more interested in its examination of cinematic self-reflexiveness, limitations and possibilities. Its many moments of surprise and charm -- the three principle characters dancing the Madison in a cafe, a literal moment of silence, Godard's strange and omniscient voiceover -- will intrigue dedicated movie fanatics, but doesn't exactly translate into the most compelling storytelling.

Festen (1998)
A testament to the raw power and self-conscious pretensions of Dogma 95, the so-called edict in which a band of Dane filmmakers eschew the conventions of the medium in favor of cinema-verite. With its hand-held camerawork, jumpcuts and improvisational feel, Festen tells the story of a particularly dysfunctional family reuniting for the 60th birthday of its wealthy patriarch. Director-writer Thomas Vinterberg has fashioned a consistently intriguing movie, but Festen, which straddles the line between drama and farce, is undermined a bit by its own shrillness.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978)
Long before Robert Zemeckis became a "serious artist" -- hell, long before he was even a Spielberg popcorn-movie acolyte -- he had a bright sense of humor and love for slightly junky, albeit harmless, entertainment. His feature-film debut, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, is an undeniably fun trifle, celebrating the Beatlemania that surrounded the Fab Four's initial "Ed Sullivan Show" appearance in 1964.

Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2004)
Top-notch documentary makers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky had the good fortune of capturing this fascinating glimpse into the private life of arguably the world's greatest heavy metal band -- but this movie is to VH1's "Behind the Music" series what "Moby Dick" is to books about fish. Some Kind of Monster is about nothing less than the dynamics of the myriad ways that people -- especially people who have been friends and colleagues for years -- relate, communicate and manipulate. There are inadvertent moments of Spinal Tap absurdity, of course (Megadeath's Dave Mustaine and Metallica's Lars Ulrich wistfully talk about the halcyon days of smoking hash), but the dysfunctional members of Metallica hardly fit the stereotype of hard-partying rockers (although they obviously were once upon a time). In an effort to save the band, these guys latch on to a sweater-clad therapist, Dr. Phil Towle, and his $40,000-a-month sessions eventually have them all talking in the parlance of touchy-feely analysis. This film is extraordinary on several levels , not the least of which is witnessing the humanity behind icons, especially that of James Hetfield.

Monsieur Verdoux (1947)
The later films of Charlie Chaplin can be tough-going for anyone who has marveled at his genius in the silent comedies where he had to keep quiet. Like 1952's Limelight, Monsieur Verdoux lapses into fits of gross mugging, smugness and hammer-wielding pretentiousness. What saves it is the sheer surprise of what a dark black comedy it truly is, the story of a onetime bank clerk who marries lonely spinsters for the purpose of whacking them for their life savings. Unfortunately, Chaplin's political leanings were too much for him to stifle, and somewhere along the way Monsieur Verdoux turns into an eye-rolling anti-war statement.

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
A big, meaty, lunkheaded seafaring yarn about the taskmaster Capt. Bligh (Charles Laughton) and his second-in-command, Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable) hardly lives up to its reputation. For the record, we find Gable one of the most irritating stars from Hollywood's so-called Golden Era -- unless you have the stomach for actors who can't emote much more than self-satisfied arrogance. Luckily, Laughton and Franchot Tone have enough charisma to make up for Gable.

The Paper Chase (1973)
Timothy Bottoms is the sad-eyed Hart feeling his way through the first year of Harvard law school. Directed by James Bridges, Paper Chase is a deceptively accomplished dramedy, filled with well-drawn characters -- even the minor parts -- and unafraid to show some of its protagonist's more solipsistic tendencies. John Houseman won the Oscar for his role as the intimidating professor, Kingsfield, but poor Lindsay Wagner, as Hart's love interest, is saddled with mighty literary-minded dialogue. All that said, a good time is had by all.

The Uninvited (1944)
This ghost story about a brother and sister who move into a haunted house on a seaside cliff (aren't they all on seaside cliffs?) is fun hokum. Gail Russell is the attractive Stella Meredith at the center of the spooky stuff, and even if she's not the most convincing actress, she has undeniable charisma.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Un-bearably P.C.

What's the world coming to when even a teddy bear smacks of insensitivity. An AP story points to the cautionary tale of the Vermont Teddy Bear Company and its recent creation, the $69.95 "Crazy for You" bear, which comes safely ensconced in its own straitjacket and with commitment papers, to boot.

As you might expect, advocates for the mentally ill -- or, as they're known to the Vermont Teddy Bear Company, crazy fuckers -- decried the troubled bear, which in turn forced the company's head to resign from the board of Vermont's largest hospital. "The recent controversy surrounding one of my company's teddy bears will detract from my ability to serve effectively, and I cannot allow this to occur," Elisabeth Robert said in a written statement released by the Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington.

"Last month, Robert apologized to anyone offended by the bear, but said it would not be taken off the market [before Valentine's Day]," AP reported. "The company sold out of the bears last week and said it did not plan to manufacture more."

In a related development, the Vermont-based firm plans to roll out its This-Porridge-Makes-Me-Feel-Bloated Bear in time for the Thanksgiving holidays, complete with a furry paw shoved down its guilt-ridden mouth.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

This Just In! Jeff Gannon Is Kinda Creepy!

If you haven't followed the latest blogosphere explosion regarding the ersatz Jeff Gannon and the equally ersatz TalonNews -- and the ongoing blurring of the lines between the White House and right-wing news media lackeys -- well, check out the terrific Keith Olbermann story on Gannon courtesy MSNBC.

At the heart of the controversy is not Gannon's apparent operation of gay porn sites (although TalonNews, like any self-respecting far right propaganda arm, has questioned the "homosexual" lifestyle in the past), but rather how a quasi-journalist with credibility as shaky as the San Andreas faultline gets White House press credentials for the purpose of lobbing continual softballs.

The Boston Globe reports that Gannon first drew scrutiny when Dubya called on him during a rare and nationally televised news conference several weeks ago.

"Gannon's question attacked Democrats as having 'divorced themselves from reality' and repeated an allegation against Senate minority leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, that turned out to be a joke by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.

"The unusual question prompted a wave of attention initially led by David Brock, the former right-wing investigative journalist who now operates a left-wing media watchdog group, Media Matters for America.

'''We didn't think it was appropriate for a conservative partisan with no journalism experience asking loaded questions to be included in those briefings,' Brock said.

"The scrutiny was later picked up by the bloggers on sites such as DailyKos and Atrios, which began using public records to look into his private life. Gannon said that he had been 'stalked' by the bloggers.

"Kelly McBride, who teaches media ethics at the Poynter Institute, said the investigation of Gannon's personal life crossed traditional boundaries and was characterized by 'mean-spiritedness and snarkiness.'"

Indeed, Media Matters provides a breakdown on how the fake TalonNews organization has been cited as a credible source by the likes of conservative icons Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

News! On the March!

Medicaid Recant

Medicaid: Your days are numbered.

Gotta hand it to those Bushes: They don't back down from big-balled initiatives. On the federal level, the White House is proposing cutting $60 billion from Medicaid over the next 10 years, striking terror in the hearts of states already in the throes of a Medicaid-funding crisis.

Something's clearly gotta give -- but is crippling the states the answer? Granted, Medicaid costs have ballooned more than 60 percent over the past five years -- more than $300 billion annually.

Although funding for Medicaid falls on both the states and feds, the growing numbers on Medicaid have placed a greater and greater burden on states' budgets. In 1987, Medicaid accounted for roughly 10 percent of states' budget pies. Now, that figure is 22 percent.

As Medicaid takes larger and larger chunks out of states' budgets, an intriguing idea perhaps worth consideration is coming from none other than Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who wants to bring his version of the fabled "ownership society" to Sunshine State Medicaid. Essentially, he is proposing a privatization of Medicaid.

As reported by The New York Times on Jan. 23, Brothah Jeb is pushing for Florida's 2.1 million Medicaid recipients to be allotted a sum of money to purchase their own health care coverage from several offered managed car plans.

"Florida, with the most radical plan so far, would not be the only state to incorporate managed care into its Medicaid program. Most states do. The difference is that other states impose strict conditions about who will be covered and for which services. Under Governor Bush's plan, the private companies would make those important decisions without government interference.

"'It's very radical,' said Joan Alker, senior researcher for the Health Policy Institute at Georgetown University. 'It seems clear that the intent is really based on the notion that the H.M.O.'s and private insurers will have substantial flexibility to make a profit at the expense of the Medicaid beneficiary, who essentially assumes the risk of not getting the services they need. That's unprecedented in Medicaid, really.'"

Maybe so. But hold up, Nellie: Isn't that the case of most HMO plans? Why should Medicaid recipients necessarily get a better plan than paying HMO customers?

"Under his plan, those eligible for Medicaid would qualify for a set amount of money each month - an amount that would rise and fall depending on their particular needs, as in the case of a patient with H.I.V., who would have a higher premium than a healthy child. The money would be used to pay premiums for a person's choice of managed-care, insurance programs, provider-service networks or community-based systems.

"The private programs, then, would be able to set up their own competing programs, some offering fuller coverage and others restricting services but offering a lower premium. The idea is that competition between the companies would hold down costs."

Perhaps. But we suspect that this proposal -- aside from being a sweet little peck on the lips to the insurance industry -- is little more than a Rube Goldbergian way of kicking folks off Medicaid. Otherwise, we don't really see how this lowers costs at all; it just kicks the problem off to the private sector. And the huge numbers of uninsured will still show up at the emergency rooms -- and those exorbitant costs, in turn, will be passed on to insured Floridians.

Meanwhile, it's not at all certain that the White House will get its way with the budget and proposed slashing of Medicaid (cool! I've always wanted to use the word "slashing"!). Congressional Republicans are hardly sold on the idea. Governors from both political parties are imploring the White House not to try cutting the federal deficit by kicking the poor deeper into helplessness.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckebee, a Republican who represents a state where nearly 25 percent of the population are on Medicaid, told The New York Times last month that "to balance the federal budget off the backs of the poorest people in the country is simply unacceptable. You don't pull feeding tubes from people. You don't pull the wheelchair out from under the child with muscular dystrophy."

Well, actually, you do if you're a compassionate conservative, but that's a different story. Huckabee's plea is worth noting, especially in the wake of a president obstinate on tax cuts and a possible $3 trillion "transition" cost for privatizing Social Security.

Then again, the poor don't vote and they sure as heck don't contribute to political campaigns.

That's a fundamental truth that Republican political operatives, by and large, took to heart (well, maybe heart isn't the right word) long ago.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Throwin' the Book at Bush

As might be fairly evident to even the most casual visitor to this blog, I am not the world's biggest fan of our Clod-in-Chief

But even I will have to concede that occasionally the bias of some mainstream news media outlets can border on the stupefying. and so it is with a Feb. 7 New York Times story that muses about why on earth Dubya would profess to enjoy Tom Wolfe's latest novel, "I Am Charlotte Simmons."

Snarky anti-Dubya screeds are fine and dandy with me -- provided they're not masquerading as news. And so it was a little disappointing to see Times writer Elisabeth Bumiller baring her fangs at the prospect of dissing Bush and another favorite target of progressives, the inimitable Tom Wolfe. In recent years, the author of such wondrous works as "The Right Stuff" and "A Man in Full" has incurred the wrath of liberals for his tweaking of their most sacred cows.

How does this tripe pass for an actual news story:

"It is unclear exactly what Mr. Bush liked so much about the book ("I Am Charlotte Simmons"), which is told from the point of view of Charlotte Simmons, a young woman from the God-fearing backwoods of North Carolina who is the first in her family to go to college. Charlotte, who is at first shocked by the booze and debauchery she encounters at Mr. Wolfe's Dupont University, modeled on Duke among others, eventually succumbs in a chapter-long deflowering scene at the hands of a drunken fraternity rat. Then she sinks into depression.

"Mr. Bush, who was the hard-drinking, hard-partying president of Delta Kappa Epsilon, the jock fraternity at Yale, is also the father of two partying daughters, Jenna and Barbara. Jenna graduated last year from the University of Texas and Barbara from Yale, and on neither campus is the milieu of Charlotte Simmons entirely foreign.

"Does Mr. Bush like the book because it is a journey back to his keg nights at Deke, or because it offers a glimpse into the world of his daughters' generation? Or does he like the writing? Or is it all of the above? The White House won't say. Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, did not respond to phone calls or e-mail messages last week asking about Mr. Bush's interest in Mr. Wolfe's book.

"So perhaps Mr. Wolfe had some thoughts. In relatively short order he was located last Friday at a conference at his alma mater in Lexington, Va., Washington and Lee University. He was asked if he thought it unusual that a 58-year-old man, that is, the president, had so embraced his book.

"'Well, a 74-year-old man wrote it,' Mr. Wolfe replied. He said he had no idea why Mr. Bush liked it. 'I imagine he responded to the blinding talent,' Mr. Wolfe added, chuckling, 'but beyond that, I'm just not sure.'"

Hmm... could it be because Wolfe is a good writer? Could it be because Bush secretly wishes he were a woman? Could it be that this is emblematic of sorry journalism? Like I said, put this on the editorial page. This isn't news.

Y-y-y-yessir, Mr. Rove ...

Quote of the day ...

From USA Today, in a story about puppetmaster Karl Rove being promoted to White House deputy chief of staff ....

"Put me down saying positive things, because he's obviously the most powerful man in Washington. He very clearly is not a man you want to be on the wrong side of."
-- Mike McCurry, former spokesman for President Clinton

Movie Mulligans

So I came across this trailer for the upcoming The Amityville Horror, a remake of one of the crappiest horror movies to emerge from the 1970s.

Also on the remake horizon, from Disney, will be a new version of Tron, a landmark (and under-appreciated) 1982 sci-fi flick that predated computer wizardry now taken for granted. Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal have been tapped to crank out the screenplay. Disney, following up its litany of great business moves -- letting Pixar go, letting Miramax go, not letting Michael Eisner go like a wet sack of potatoes off the top of Cinderella's Castle (magic taters, of course) -- notes that the gussied-up Tron will factor in the Internet. Gosh, that's clever. It'll be like ... like a whole new ... Tron!

Currently in the theaters, of course, is Assault on Precinct 13. For those not familiar with the original, Assault was a low-budget John Carpenter thriller that, for its part, was a slight remake of the great 1959 western Rio Bravo. In other words, Hollywood is now remaking remakes. And a remake of a movie by a director whose career (The Thing, The Village of the Damned) included its fair share of reconstituted celluloid.

And that's not all -- not by a long shot. Other remakes on the horizon include The Longest Yard, Fun with Dick and Jane, The Bad News Bears, The 39 Steps and Steve Martin (whose apparent pact with the devil includes an annual number of remakes) in The Pink Panther. And let's not even get into the whole cottage industry of recycling TV shows into cinema.

As my Uncle Morris once said through a mouthful of dirt while being buried alive (long story - don't ask): Enough already.

Consider that over only the past few years, we've seen remakes of Alfie, Around the World in 80 Days, Charade (remade as The Truth About Charlie), Cheaper by the Dozen, Dawn of the Dead, Father of the Bride, The Flight of the Phoenix, Freaky Friday, Get Carter, The In-Laws, The Italian Job, The Ladykillers, Manhunter (remade as Red Dragon), Ocean's Eleven, Rollerball, The Stepford Wives, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Walking Tall and Willard, to name a few. There is even a growing glut of Hollywood remakes of foreign films scarcely more than a few years old, with The Grudge (2003's Ju-on) and The Ring (1998's Ringu) being the two most celebrated examples as of late.

Not that I have any particular gripe against remakes, mind you. I don't believe in many things, but I do believe there is a finite number of general storylines -- a screenwriting guru by the name of Jeff Kitchens claims there really are no more than 40 -- and that each successive generation of storytellers finds slight variations in which to tell them.

But this latest onslaught of remakes smacks of laziness, cynicism and ... well ... brutishness: You liked it once, you'll like it again ... only this time with fast cars, or horses, or a cool glass of lemonade. Just buy the goddamn ticket.

There are good remakes, of course, and plenty of them. But the whole mindset that spurs an undertaking as massive, exhausting and expensive as a movie remake bespeaks to smug quasi-sophistication. Manners and cultural touchstones change, but it's debatable whether they change enough over the span of a single generation to justify a paint-by-numbers remake.

For instance, we very much enjoyed the 2004 version of The Manchurian Candidate. But did it really have to be redone simply to replace Korea with the First Persian Gulf War, or to make big business the bogeyman instead of the Communists? Was there not another avenue for exploring the Persian Gulf War? Was there not another way to lambaste the connections between multinational corporations and war profiteering? The original Manchurian Candidate remains a blistering political satire and edgy exercise in paranoia. Had some studio bonehead deemed it irrelevant for modern-day appreciation simply because it was in black-and-white?

To borrow from a movie that has yet to be remade (give it time, of course): The fundamental things still apply.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Downsize Osama

Well, I don't often suggest contacting the White House (unless it's to ask 'em if they have Prince Albert in a can) but OKPartisan over on Blue Dot Blog makes a strong case for getting rid of the reward on Osama bin Laden's head. OKPartisan says she's all festered up with a recent Thomas Friedman column in The New York Times regarding the bin Laden reward and how it actually helps his reputation in the Arab world. We think both Friedman and OKPartisan make good sense on this count (not that we don't think they always make good sense, mind you).

Monday, February 07, 2005

Partisan Blather

In The Washington Post, the typically reliable Howard Kurtz highlights a growing irritant about political punditry: the polarizing partisanship of the so-called opinion-makers.

"The world of opinion now resembles a choose-up-sides playground, with the players rarely straying from their assigned spots," Kurtz writes. "The only real motion is when they jump back and forth between politics and journalism, or demonstrate agility by keeping a foot in both camps.

Indeed, the extremist nature of punditry has made the truly independent-thinking exceptions -- such as Andrew Sullivan or Christopher Hitchens -- all the more of a rare commodity.

Kurtz goes on:

"Although some columnists retain the capacity to surprise, you don't often find Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd or Bob Herbert saying a nice word about Bush on the [New York] Times's op-ed page any more than George Will, Charles Krauthammer and [Robert] Novak had much good to say in The Washington Post about John Kerry. And the cable pugilists -- Donna Brazile vs. Bay Buchanan, National Review's Rich Lowry vs. the Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel -- are booked to ensure constant disagreement."

And so continues the cycle of shrill, contentious partisan hackery. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world ...

Sunday, February 06, 2005

"Million Dollar Baby": Some Thoughts

Clint Eastwood's latest magnum opus, Million Dollar Baby, has much to admire: terrific acting, a deliberate and engrossing pace, a real rooting interest for its characters, dollops of moral ambiguity and the powerfully brooding cinematography of Tom Stern.

It's an excellent film for what it is, yet I have to admit I don't share some of the critical zeal surrounding it.

OK Partisan, I think, makes some salient points in Blue Dot Blog. As she points out, Million Dollar Baby, at its heart, is a skillfully done -- albeit conventional (not that there's anything wrong with that) -- boxing movie.

While Eastwood and screenwriter Paul Haggis get plenty right, there's no denying that the movie trades in the currency of motion picture stereotypes: the crusty, psycholohgically wounded trainer with a heart of gold; the noble and wise old black man who's been around the block a few times (a character Morgan Freeman must have trademarked by now); the tough and scrappy gal determined rise above her modest origins; the white trash family (right down to the no-good jailbird brother) and the stupid Texan (OK, maybe some stereotypes actually are warranted) who thinks nothing of using the "N" word in a gym full of black boxers.

Although the film's third act takes a sharp turn, a few plot points up to that point are fairly routine -- at least, for anyone who has seen more than their fair share of flicks from Hollywood's Golden Age. All it takes is some quick sage advice from Frankie (Eastwood) for Maggie (Hilary Swank) to become the queen of first-round knockouts.

None of that obscures that very real triumph of Million Dollar Baby. All its performances are top notch, but Hilary Swank is particularly tremendous. And Eastwood lends the film a quiet, meditative tone that achieves the level of poetry.

As far as the creeping controversy over the eventual direction that the movie takes, you might check out Maureen Dowd's cutting -- and on-target -- views on the matter in The New York Times. MoDo disappoints more than she dazzles these days, so we'll be more than happy to give her props for this column. (Warning: Don't read if you haven't seen the film yet).


"I guess Shakespeare is pretty much out from now on. Ophelia drowns herself; Cleopatra kills herself with an assist from two asps; Lear's wretched daughter Goneril does herself in, as does Lady Macbeth. Brutus kills himself by running onto a sword held by his servant Strato (another assisted suicide), and his wife, Portia, dies by swallowing a burning coal; Othello stabs himself. And don't even start with the lurid family values in Greek drama and myth, rife with patricide, matricide, fratricide and incest."

For more on that topic, you also might consider Roger Ebert's recent commentary.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Deuce Bigalow, Male Crybaby

We're catching up a bit late on this, but we can't resist weighing in on what an insecure, snotty ... umm, what's the word we're searching for? ... oh, yeah: asshole Rob Schneider is.

Defamer provides a snippet of an article by Los Angeles Times writer Patrick Goldstein that took a swipe (and hardly the first) at Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo, in which Goldstein snarkily observed that film was overlooked at Oscar time when it came out several years ago "because apparently nobody had the foresight to invent a category for Best Running Penis Joke Delivered by a Third-Rate Comic."

Ouch. But Schneider, who has built a serviceable career from a long-ago Saturday Night Live character apparently will not abide such mockery. Taking out a full-page get-those-claws-out-ladies Variety ad, Schneider let the hack writer know the what's what:

"Well Mr. Goldstein, as far as your snide comments about me and my film not being nominated for an Academy Award, I decided to do some research to find what awards you have won.

"I went online and found that you have won nothing. Absolutely nothing. No journalistic awards of any kind, Disappointed, I went to the Pulitzer Prize database of past winners and nominees. I though, surely, there must be an omission. I typed in the name Patrick Goldstein and again, zippo -- nada. No Pulitzer Prizes or nominations for a 'Mr. Patrick Goldstein.' There was, however, a nomination for an Amy Goldstein. I contacted Ms. Goldstein in Rhode Island, she assured me she was not an alias of yours and in fact like most of the World had no idea of your existence.

"Frankly, I am surprised the LA Times would hire someone like you with so few or, actually, no accolades to work on their front page. Surely there must be a larger talent pool for the LA Times to draw from. Perhaps, someone who has at least won a 'Cable Ace Award.'

"Maybe, Mr. Goldstein, you didn't win a Pulitzer Prize because they haven't invented a category for 'Best Third-Rate, Unfunny Pompous Reporter, Who's Never Been Acknowledged By His Peers!'"

Perhaps in the end, Schneider's rant reveals not only a sadly fragile movie star ego, but the limits of Internet-based research. After all, Defamer culled this from a February, 2004, Variety article:

"Press awards went to Patrick Goldstein of the L.A. Times [emphasis ours] and Italian journalist Alessandra Venezia; Disney studio toppertopper Dick Cook received the motion picture showmanship award from Julie Andrews, and former Fox TV Entertainment Group head Sandy Grushow received the TV showmanship award from Kiefer Sutherland."


Lord of the Quiznos

If this isn't fodder for a teen-oriented comedy, I don't know what is. In Seattle, a Quiznos Sub shop remained open for several months after the owners just upped and disappeared, leaving a lovable band of acne-faced ragtags (Ok, so I'm embellishing a bit; so sue me) to keep the beleaguered eatery afloat.

The Seattle Times chronicles the Lord of the Flies-meets-Rosemary Parmesan bread tale. At the story's heart is scrappy 25-year-old Dawna Lentz. With nowhere else to go ...


"I've got nowhere else to go!" our gutsy gal wails, a la An Officer and Gentleman's Richard Gere, tears streaming down Dawna's condiment-soaked cheeks as she faces her befuddled betrothed outside the store in the cold Seattle rain, the neon-framed windows of Quiznos revealing the comforting splash of Formica countertops and chrome piping that wait inside, as inviting as a pre-heated oven.

The Seattle Times reports:

"'Due to bad owners we are out of a lot of things, please do not get mad at the employees & manager,' explained the cardboard sign on the door. Inside, the dessert section was empty, the chip shelves were mostly bare (except for jalapeño chips) and the soda machine was fringed with little white 'out of order' signs (except for Vanilla Coke)."

For the past several weeks, Lentz had sharpened the bows and arrows, taken stock of the perishable items and kept the place running -- even after the weak-kneed and weak-minded skipped off for lesser jobs that could afford more luxury items like payroll departments and running water.

But Lentz persevered, purchasing lunchmeat at groceries, using money from the previous night's till at the cash register. She bought Quiznos bread from other, more conventionally operated franchise stores and rationed out the amount, knowing she had to preserve every crumb of Quiznos Gold if her dream -- a rubberless Quiznos -- was going to survive in the Emerald City.

"'I've been called stupid, incompetent,' Lentz said.

"So she posted signs on the door listing the items they'd run out of. When the list reached three pages, she replaced it with the catch-all apology and plea for mercy.

"On Tuesday, customers offered more sympathy than complaints.

"'You're doing good for what you have to work with,' said one, pouring some of the water out of her cup to avoid spilling. The store had run out of lids.

"After being contacted by reporters, Quiznos representatives inspected the Seattle shop and removed Lentz's handmade signs. Yesterday, the company replenished the food supply and brought in support staff.

"Lentz and others were paid the wages they were due, Quiznos spokeswoman Stacie Lange said yesterday. Lange added that the store is being transferred to new owners."

"Lentz worried that she'd lose her job over the mess. But so far she's still the store manager, although now she's prohibited from talking to the media."

If Lentz or her ragtag assortment of sandwich craftsmen are let go by Quiznos, there will be some serious ass-kicking to go on in Seattle.

Let's start working on the protest chants now: Free Daw Na Lentz! Free Daw Na Lentz! Quizno? Hell, no! Quizno? Hell, no!

Note to casting director: We see Jena Malone as Dawna Lentz, Jeff Garlin as the former Quiznos owner who skips out on the swell bunch 0' kids and Seann William Scott as Stifler.

Friday, February 04, 2005

The Best CDs of 2004

We've taken our own sweet time getting around to this, but just to be anal-retentive completists about it, here are our picks for the best CDs of the year that was 2004 ...

15. The Walkmen, Bows + Arrows (Record Collection)
We were wondering whatever happened to Jonathan Fire*Eater, one of the more promising bands to emerge from the late Nineties, only to discover the outfit is alive and well in this latest incarnation. While nothing on the record tops the mesmerizing onslaught of guitar noise in Bows + Arrows' "The Rat," a number of tracks come mighty close.

14. The Deathray Davies, Midnight at the Black Nail Polish Factory (Glurp)
Aside from boasting one of the cleverest band names in indie rock, the Dallas-based Davies combine the infectiousness of power pop with a do-it-yourself garage-group aesthetic. Punctuated by fuzzy guitars and a charming lo-fi production, the record inexplicably came and went without fanfare -- but it's one of the most consistently engaging works of 2004.

13. The Black Keys, Rubber Factory (Fat Possum)
This Akron, Ohio-based duo cranks out the sort of stripped-down, blistering blues rock that conjures up the likes of Jimi Hendrix and early Led Zeppelin without sounding derivative or self-consciously retro. Recorded in an abandoned rubber factory (hence the name -- duh!), Rubber Factory is raggedly glorious and adorned with one masterpiece single, "10 A.M. Automatic."

12. Iron & Wine, Our Endless Numbered Days (SubPop)
A friend refers to this as music for "drawing a warm bath," which, we didn't realize, is a euphemism for suicide. That really puts a damper on our rubber duckie time. Sam Beam, who goes by the stage moniker of Iron & Wine, offers affecting acoustic dirges so intimate you can almost feel his stale breath as he warbles through such delicate downers as "Naked As We Came."

11. Nellie McKay, Get Away from Me (Columbia)
This 22-year-old musical prodigy might resemble Doris Day on the CD cover, but don't be fooled; this animal-loving blonde leaves bite marks (or hickeys, depending on your point of view). An impressive and audacious two-disc debut, Get Away from Me candy-coats its venomous satire in cabaret, light jazz, jump-blues, torch numbers and even rap.

10. Keane, Hopes & Fears (Interscope)
Some music critics compared this British trio to Coldplay, but we find Keane's unabashed theatricality and lead singer Tom Chaplin's jaw-dropping vocals more reminiscent of vintage Queen. Whoever the hell they sound like, Keane can be hit-or-miss, but when the songs hit -- as in "Somewhere Only We Know" and "Bend and Break" -- they defy gravity.

9. Rilo Kiley, More Adventurous (Brute/Beaute)
It doesn't hurt that lead singer Jenny Lewis is college rock's newest sex symbol, but Rilo Kiley proves its mettle through its accessible countrified atmospherics, incisive and smart lyrics and angular melodies. "It's a Hit" is indicative of what these Los Angelenos can turn out when all cylinders are firing.

8. William Shatner, Has Been (Shout! Factory)
From the starkly hypnotic to sheer effervescence, Capt. James T. Kirk takes the microphone for these weird and wonderful spoken-word hybrids -- and, here's the kicker, it's not a joke. Produced by Ben Folds and featuring the likes of Joe Jackson, Henry Rollins and others, this amazing collection eschews easy classification. As Kirk himself would say: This. Is. Excellent.

7. Mission of Burma, ONoffON (Matador)
Old punks don't die, or even fade away, for that matter; this seminal punk band picked up as if it had never left. Boston's Mission of Burma reminded us that punk rock can still be relevant, with such knockout songs as "Wounded World," "The Enthusiast" and "Nicotine Bomb" just as brutal and bold as anything from the group's Eighties output.

6. A.C. Newman, The Slow Wonder (Matador)
The brains behind the New Pornographers showed his considerable chops in this solo outing, a shimmering collection of power-pop goodness. In a perfect world, tracks like "Come Crash" and "Drink to Me, Babe, Then" would have received scads of radio play. As it is, The Slow Wonder can tide over New Pornographers fans until that band's next disc.

5. Brian Wilson, Smile (Nonesuch)
The greatest album never made finally became real this year, as the genius Beach Boy returned to the studio to finish the legendary project he had started and scrapped back when Gomer Pyle was still on TV. The real-life Smile doesn't match its legend -- nothing short of Pet Sounds II would have done that -- but it is a delightfully eclectic and achingly beautiful work that conjures up nostalgia for an alternate universe America that never was.

4. Green Day, American Idiot (Reprise)
Punk rock was always political at heart, so it's only fitting that these standard bearers of the post-punk revival got around to making a protest record. A rock opera of suburban teen angst, American Idiot might not have the observational skills of, say, the Dead Kennedys in their prime, but it is fiery, tough and genuine -- and it's rare to find all three in a single disc. Two 9-minute-plus song suites, "Jesus of Suburbia" and "Homecoming," are the band's greatest works to date.

3. Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand (Domino)
This Glasgow, Scotland-based quartet makes you believe again in the healing power of great singles rock. In this self-titled debut, Franz Ferdinand whips up 11 exquisitely crafted rock songs pulsating with crisp guitars, libidinous energy and ridiculously catchy hooks. Franz Ferdinand is so expert at what it does, in fact, that the record eventually just wears you out.

2. Snow Patrol, Final Straw (Polydor/A&M)
Let's hear it for Scotland. Another band from the land of haggis and golf, Snow Patrol mines the emotionally rich terrain of despondency and dysfunction for truly soaring rock. Marked by swirling melodies, pummeling guitars and the inimitable vocals of Gary Lightbody (a not-so-dour Lou Barlow vibe is going on here), Final Straw is consistently interesting and infectious.

and drum roll, please ...

1. Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose (Interscope)
Who woulda thunk that the White Stripes' Jack White would be an ideal choice to jumpstart the career of the coal miner's daughter? As producer of Van Lear Rose, White helped Lynn fashion a comeback while remaining true to her icon status. The songs have a sexy, rough edge here, from the chug of "Have Mercy" to the locomotive power of "Portland, Oregon," but there is no false note. In short, a masterpiece.