Thursday, April 28, 2005

Sex Tape Derby, Round 6

Let's say you had to watch a videotape -- or DVD, as the case may be. And let's say the aforementioned video captured the act of lovemaking, or boot-knocking, or the beast with two backs, or whatever silly vernacular phrase you prefer. And let's say you had to watch ... (click here if you still don't get what I'm driving at). Post your responses in the comments section below.

Go ahead... all the kids are doin' it ...

1. Grace Kelly or Audrey Hepburn?

2. Massachusetts junior senator John Kerry or Massachusetts senior senator Ted Kennedy?

3. Desperate Housewives face-off: Marcia Cross or Teri Hatcher?

4. Punk poet Henry Rollins or the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Anthony Kiedis?

5. Wasted Courtney Love or wasted Whitney Houston?

6. Toby Keith or Tim McGraw?

Thin-Skinned Wal-Mart

As if anyone really needed more evidence that Wal-Mart does, indeed, suck, here's more: The world's largest retail chain has no sense of humor.

For a class at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Daniel Papasian had designed a Web site parodying a the philanthropical Wal-Mart Foundation. Until, that is, Wal-Mart attorneys presented Papasian with a cease-and-desist order alleging violation of copyright law.

Papasian wrote on his site that he's not buying Wal-Mart's presumed concerns about use of its logo:

"The act of parody was no doubt political; it was not the use of copyrighted materials that threatened Wal-Mart, but rather the more radical implications that challenged the position of Wal-Mart within our society. The parody site caused people to question the power of Wal-Mart, global trade, and global capital in general..."

OK, maybe that last line indicates that the 20-year-old Papasian might be getting just a bit of a swelled head, but no matter. We think he still has a point ...

"Because the United States still recognizes the right of people to free speech - it hasn't been struck down (yet) as anticompetitive by the WTO - Wal-Mart knew they couldn't go after me for my criticism. So Wal-Mart's high-powered attorneys went after me for copyright violation ..."

Haiku that, LilRed ...

Okie' Bloggin', Take 6

Just checking in with some of our favorite Okie-based blogs ...

Remember when word was that nerdy Paul kid from "The Wonder Years" was none other than Marilyn Manson? Well, A Fistful of Fortnights remembers it well.

Oklarama's OKPartisan touts two very different Oklahomans whose hearts remain in the Sooner State: the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne and the anti-Dixie Chicks' Toby Keith.

Ceres of The Joker's Wife has caught the blog bug. Bad.

Oh, and speaking of blogs, Sean Gleeson ponders blogs too big for their britches.

The voting continues at Okiedoke's Oklahoma's Sexiest Power Women election. There are plenty of worthy candidates on the ballot, from OU's own Sherri Coale to first lady Kim Henry to former KWTV anchor Jenifer Reynolds. Personally, we're trying to figure out how to do a write-in vote for Linda Soundtrack. Long live democracy!

The Blue Dot Blog has had it up to here with all the children feeding at the grocery store trough before their parents even make it to check out.

And on the subject of manners, LipSchtick's LilRed offers a lift on the intricacies of elevator etiquette.

This Is Class Warfare checks out the GOP's increased confidence that they can slam the middle-class with taxes while winning their hearts on social conservatism.

An excellent Oklahoma-based site I only recently discovered, Swinging Fists, examines the importance of the First Amendment by way of Floyd Abrams' recent appearance on -- you guessed it -- "The Daily Show"

Over at dustbury, Charles suspects the motives of Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum's recent meddling with the National Weather Service.

The Left End of the Dial's James renders a verdict in the Republicans' war on judges.

Okie Funk reads into the incredible shrinking world of newspaper circulation.

Our pal LiteraryTech at Existential Ramble is through holding his breath for Congress to determine who was responsible for the Abu Ghraib torture.

Tom Coburn Is a Big Fat Jerk examines the odyssey of onetime KKK leader Dennis Mahon, who recently traded in the white hood for a rent-a-cop badge.

Sooner Thought gets an eyeful of three boobs.

l'esprit d'escalier went in for acupuncture and ended up getting needled in all the wrong ways.

Classical music receives its just props from Lynn at Reflections in d minor.

Life and Deatherage gives Consumer Reports a piece of his mind.

Leila M. of Sister Scorpion needs to take care of some neighborhood issues.

Dr. Pants of Wholesale Pants Warehouse fame, meanwhile, is having some serious issues at work.

Token Liberal, an Okie in exile, is doing the Dew.

And wine, dinner and mystery -- it's all on tap at Oklahoma Wine News.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

"The Interpreter": Some Thoughts

The Interpreter doesn't harbor any pretensions about being anything more than a geopolitical thriller, and that's to its benefit. What it does settle for is taut, smart moviemaking, buoyed by excellent performances from the preternaturally humorless Sean Penn (who is Jude Law again?) and the preternaturally beautiful Nicole Kidman.

As Silvia Broome, Kidman is a United Nations interpreter who stumbles upon a whispered conversation in which two men speaking in a foreign tongue conspire to kill the despot of an African nation when he addresses the UN's General Assembly. Penn is an investigating Secret Service agent who finds himself more suspicious of the interpreter's hidden past.

The Interpreter is hardly without flaw. Its plotline is coherent but complicated, and the script has too much backstory for its own good; both Kidman and Penn have overwrought monologues that probably attracted them to the project, but should have been cut somewhere along the way.

Still, this is entertaining, old-school, big-star stuff. And while director Sydney Pollack won't make you forget Hitchcock, the flick does boast at least one bravura set piece -- a nifty bit of suspense aboard a city bus -- and a nicely rounded script that even finds room for a bit of progressive propaganda lauding the UN. Cheers.

L.A. Law

Wesley Snipes is suing New Line cinema over the third, and apparently final, installment of the Blade franchise, Blade: Trinity. Snipes, who starred in the movie, contends in court papers that the movie sucked.

Hmmm. We just got an idea for a kick-ass class-action lawsuit.

Rob Schneider, we'll be contacting your lawyer ...

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The War on Drugs with Warring Druggists

The things that become skirmishes in our so-called Culture Wars never cease to amaze me. In America's determination to infuse the most seemingly innocuous incidents into full-blown cultural touchstones, there is now a battle raging over whether pharmacists should have the right to refuse filling prescriptions opposed to their moral views.

Amanda Paulson with The Christian Science Monitor explains:

"It's a debate that weighs personal morals against professional responsibility. It pits religious rights against patients' rights and raises the question of just where pharmacists stand on the spectrum of health-care professionals.

Many pharmacists point to the 'conscience-clause' exceptions that nearly every state has in place for doctors, allowing them to recuse themselves from performing abortions or other procedures they object to. They believe they should have similar protection.

"Critics point out that filling a prescription is a very different job from writing one, and question whether pharmacists can deny a legal drug on moral grounds. And the patients who have been denied are simply angry to see their prescriptions become fodder for a public debate -- especially when the prescriptions they wanted filled were for something as time-sensitive as emergency contraceptives, often known as the morning-after pill."

So here's my take on it: If specific pharmaceuticals are stocked at a pharmacy, then the pharmacist should be obligated to fill the specific prescription. It seems unconscionable to me that a pharmacist would refuse to provide a morning-after pill to, say, a rape victim, a refusal that in itself is arguably a form of revictimization. Don't think that scenario is so far-fetched; it has reportedly happened in Texas, among other states.

If a Walgreens or CVS or Wal-Mart (sorry, LilRed) makes a corporate decision to forgo carrying certain prescriptions, so be it. I suspect that the free market will shake out the longevity of such short-sighted pharmacies (the tricky part, I suppose, is what to do in a rural community being served by only one drug store, but then again, folks in those parts always seem able to stock up in the ingredients they need for methamphetamine).

Ultimately, pharmacy fickleness just seems like a slippery slope (not to mention atrociously alliterative).

But whatever. These days, Americans are definitely in a confrontational sort of mood.

What's next? Should a drug store employee who considers homosexuality an abomination to God be allowed to refuse selling condoms to someone he or she presumes is gay?

Should grocery cashiers be allowed to refuse to wait on a morbidly obese shopper buying with nothing in the cart but doughnuts and fudge? After all, that cashier could argue a moral opposition to helping someone slowly kill himself or herself.

What about a cashier selling a pack of cigarettes to someone with a hacking cough? Should a hardcore atheist be allowed to refuse service to someone wearing a large crucifix?

Sell the goddamned pharmaceuticals.

It shouldn't stop you from stomping your feet and muttering your sanctimonious tsk-tsking under your breath, but c'mon: Enough already.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Blogs of the Rich and Famous

Not to sound like some kind of right-wing whackjob blogger or anything, but you seriously have to wonder if the mainstream media has a handle on the appeal and popularity of blogs even yet. By way of example, we have The New York Times reporting on an upcoming blog by Arianna Huffington, to be called The Huffington Post, which will be a sort of hangout for scores of blogging celebrities, including Walter Cronkite, Nora Ephron, Warren Beatty, David Mamet and the like.

First, we have doubts about what will be the authenticity of such an endeavor. Many of the celebs are likely to have their ostensible blogging filled by a ghost writer or some lackey whose other duties include answering fan mail and picking up dry cleaning. And the celebs who do blog, we suspect, will either lose interest quickly or be too aware of the possibility of pissing off their audience.

The New York Times' take on Arianna's new effort is particularly bemusing. Check out this oh-so-not-comprehending-the-blogosphere nugget from Times writer Katharine Q. Seelye:

"In some ways, Ms. Huffington's venture is a direct challenge to the popular Drudge Report. Started nearly a decade ago by Matt Drudge, the Drudge Report lifts potentially hot news from obscurity and blares it across a virtual "front page," usually before anyone else. While his squibs are sometimes cast with a conservative slant, his 'developing' scoops often send the mainstream media scrambling to catch up."

Um ... how would Huffington's blog be a "direct challenge" to the Drudge Report? How is that remotely akin to the function of the Drudge Report? We're no fans of Matt Drudge, God knows (unless we're talking about anachronistic hats), but Seelye's knowledge of blogs apparently stopped sometime in the late-Nineties when something called the Drudge Report was yammering on about Bill Clinton and blowjobs. With the exception of the occasional -- and often erroneous -- "scoop," Drudge offers a compendium of stories from other media outlets. What is the similarity, we ask, to celebrity bloggers waxing about the best place for tapas?

More likely, Huffington's "venture" will pose more of a challenge to progressive blogs, since that will characterize the vast majority of her contributors.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Sex Tape Derby, Round 5

As if you didn't know how to play (as if!), check here. Otherwise, post your responses in the comments section below.

1. Jodie Foster or Tatum O'Neal?

2. Tom Brokaw or Dan Rather?

3. Charlie's Angels-era Jaclyn Smith or Angels-era Farrah Fawcett?

4. Sean Hannity or Matt Lauer?

5. Ex-Seinfeld squeeze Shoshanna Lonstein or ex-Scott Peterson mistress Amber Frey?

6. The Simpsons' Smithers or Bikini Bottom's SpongeBob SquarePants?

"12 Monkeys" & John Bolton

American Idle weighs in on the John Bolton hearings ...

"Downfall," "Gunner Palace": Some Thoughts

In some ways, Downfall is more of a historical document than it is a movie. A painstakingly authentic dramatization of Adolf Hitler's final days in his underground Berlin bunker during April of 1945, this German-language film has its share of dramatic flaws. It meanders occasionally and could have withstood a bit more discipline in the editing process, clocking in at nearly three hours. And it is almost too ambitious for its own good, offering a panoply of characters whom director Oliver Hirschbiegel juggles with varying degrees of success.

And yet, Downfall is an often amazing, always powerful film.

The movie drew criticism in its native Germany for its allegedly sympathetic portrait of some Nazis. I'm not certain what Nazis those critics are referring to -- certainly not Dr. Joseph Goebbels' true-believer wife, Magda (Corinna Harfouch), who poisons her six children rather than risk them growing up in a post-Nazi world.

At any rate, I think there's a sizable difference between a sympathetic approach and one that simply humanizes its subjects. Part of what makes Downfall exceptional is its determination to add flesh and blood to these monsters of history. And besides, Bruno Ganz's mesmerizing portrayal of Hitler isn't likely to elicit much sympathy from German movie audience, especially his enraged pronouncements to his generals that the German citizenry deserved to be killed because they'd proven themselves to be so weak.

Besides, it seems to me that it is far more unsettling to examine the human side of the psychotic, to observe the recognizable strains of humanity that mask evil. From Ted Bundy to Timothy McVeigh, history is filled with examples of the easy-going, charming -- even likeable -- mass murderer. Those are the truly scary. Less fearsome is the slobbering, wild-eyed madman on the street corner; you already know to steer clear of that guy.


On the topic of war movies, the documentary Gunner Palace presents a decidedly ambivalent view of the American occupation in Iraq. Husband-wife documentary makers Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein might not have meant so much moral ambiguity, as a good number of the U.S. soldiers spotlighted in the film come off as, well, young, cocky and mean-spirited assholes.

Most don't, of course, and even the more insufferable troops followed in the documentary are easy to empathize with, being stuck in a country where every unaccounted-for item on the side of the road can spell their demise.

In the long run, that ambivalence just might be what makes Gunner Palace a more illuminating view of the Iraq War than, say, a polemic like Fahrenheit 9/11. Despite some sloppy narrative techniques in Palace, particularly an annoyingly melodramatic voiceover by Tucker, the movie effectively presents the warts-and-all hell of war.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Time Out

Tom Tomorrow ponders the appropriateness of Ann Coulter's appearance on the cover of Time during the week marking the 10th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. As he points out, that's a mighty big spotlight for a hate-spouting whackjob who once quipped that her "only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building."

What a sweetie pie.

What a vile shrew.

Saints in Iraq

The recent slaying of Marla Ruzicka in Iraq is disturbingly reminiscent of that of another young American woman -- diminutive and blonde and idealistic --whose all-consuming desire to help people in that troubled land led to her own untimely death.

A California native, Ruzicka joins Oklahoma-born Fern Holland in the pantheon of loving, genuinely committed civilians who made the ultimate sacrifice amid the killing zones that is post-war Iraq. In mid-April, the 28-year-old Ruzicka, along with her driver-translator and another guard, died in a suicide bomb attack in Baghdad.

The Los Angeles Times' Doug Smith writes:

"Her death stunned a wide circle of diplomats, government officials, soldiers, journalists and ordinary people from Baghdad to Kabul, Afghanistan.'God bless her pure soul, she was trying to help us,' said Haj Natheer Bashir, the brother-in-law of an Iraqi teenager Ruzicka was trying to evacuate to the San Francisco Bay area for surgery. 'She was just a kind lady.'

"A former Marine who now works for the State Department in Baghdad, said: 'She was a remarkable woman and a kind person, and she affected everyone she came in contact with.'

"A few days after Baghdad fell in April 2003, Ruzicka showed up in Iraq. She began building a volunteer network to document civilian casualties. The records they compiled on more than 2,000 dead provided an early accounting of the war's toll. Although the currently accepted figure, based largely on news accounts, is between 17,000 and 20,000, Ruzicka's stands out because of the detail it contains, said Newsweek reporter Owen Matthews, a friend of Ruzicka.

"Several friends said Ruzicka experienced steep emotional swings and had a troubled side to her life that drove her. 'This was her therapy,' said Matthews. As she struggled to build her own organization, Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, Ruzicka began shuttling between Baghdad, an office in New York and her parents' home in the Bay area. She also traveled to Washington to lobby for assistance for Iraqi war victims. Tim Rieser, an aide to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., credited Ruzicka with inspiring an appropriation of $17.5 million for aid to Afghanistan and Iraq."

Her death recalls that of another diminutive blonde woman who died for her commitment to others. Last year, 33-year-old Oklahoma attorney Fern Holland was assassinated in Iraq, where she had helped craft that country's interim constitution guaranteeing representation for women. Such work was nothing new for Fern, a former Peace Corps volunteer and American Refugee Committee investigator who had spent much of her too-short life helping people living in oppressive regimes.

Earlier this year, Oklahoma Today magazine posthumously named Fern Holland 2004's Oklahoman of the Year.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

"Melinda and Melinda": A Review

Melinda and Melinda is not exactly a return to form for Woody Allen, but at least it doesn't elicit cringing, which is a good sign -- and a change of pace from his most recent batch of dogs. Moreover its meditations on the nature of life and the creative process mark a return to the sort of stimulating brain teases that Allen offered in such great works of his as The Purple Rose of Cairo, Zelig and Stardust Memories.

The movie opens with two playwrights (Wallace Shawn and Larry Pine) at a Manhattan restaurant arguing about whether life is chiefly tragedy or comedy. By way of illustrating their respective viewpoints, the pair offer up conflicting scenarios that spin from a single episode (or an inciting incident, as Robert McKee might call it): a woman named Melinda crashes in on an insufferably affected dinner party.

In the "tragic" story, Melinda is a chain-smoking neurotic who makes poor choices in men and finds herself ensnared in a web of affairs involving her friend Laurel (Chloe Sevigny), and jazz pianist Ellis (Chiwetel Ejiofor). The Melinda of the "comic" story finds our female lead as a sunny ingenue who is pursued by a married out-of-work actor, Hobie (Will Ferrell.)

As Allen has done for nearly two decades, he plunders his earlier, and better, works for jokes and situations. Hobie complains to his wife that they hardly ever make love anymore, and his Woodyesque gestures and stammering harkens back to almost identical scenes from Annie Hall and a handful of other Allen films. Hobie's wife, an indie filmmaker (Amanda Peet) , is at work on something she calls The Castrating Sonata, a warmed-over reference to The Castrating Zionist, a fictitious memoir scribed by the protagonist of Manhattan.

And of course, the characters are composites from the Woody Allen gene pool: loquacious, self-absorbed, neurotic, implausibly sophisticated folks who are surprisingly cavalier about marital infidelity (particularly important in the make-believe world of the man who ran off with his stepdaughter).

In that stifling milieu, however, you have to offer kudos to any actor with the gumption to elbow breathing room for himself or herself. Radha Mitchell is very impressive in her dual Melinda performance, particularly in the comic tale. The gold star, however, goes to Ferrell, whose knack for physical comedy helps lift his Hobie beyond the Woodyisms that hobbled other actors (most notably Kenneth Branagh in the abysmal Celebrity).

Melinda and Melinda hints at the ambitious and clever Woody Allen his fans know and wish were still making movies. But ambitious and clever alone don't keep an audience invested -- not with a tragedy that isn't very tragic and a comedy that isn't very funny.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

9:02 a.m. Wednesday, April 19, 1995

There is not much to be said about the Oklahoma City federal building bombing that has not already been said. It has been 10 years since a Ryder truck packed with a fertilizer and fuel bomb tore through that building and forever altered the physical and psychological landscape of my hometown. The ensuing years have seen Oklahoma and the nation endure more than I ever would have dreamed possible before April 19, 1995.

I was a journalist at the time, and I vividly remember the moment I saw the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building's shattered frame in person, some 45 minutes after the explosion, thinking to myself that I'd likely never witness again anything so horrific in my state -- or my country, for that matter. And then six years later, the 9/11 attacks would dwarf the Oklahoma City tragedy with a death count more than 17 times the 168 victims of the federal building bombing.

In many respects, the bombing was the defining moment in my life. For more than three years, it consumed me professionally, to the point of obsession, really. It impacted relationships, leading to friendships and the dissolution of others. It connected me to my native state in a way I wouldn't have thought possible. It drew me into situations and brought me to people who continue to haunt me. And there are moments from that day and the weeks and months that followed I will never forget.

I remember the second false bomb scare to occur that morning. The first was around 9:30 a.m., which sent rescue workers, reporters, police and onlookers fleeing for their lives. I had missed that scare by about 15 minutes, but when the second false alarm arrived, around 11 a.m., I was caught up in a stampede north of the bombed-out Murrah site. I remember ducking behind a parked car and seeing another reporter, a woman I had worked with for many years, break down sobbing and shaking and repeating, over and over, "I hate this, I hate this, I hate this ..."

I remember catching a glimpse of a makeshift triage, a cluster of lacerated and bloodied and dazed people on the ground, that had been set up in a downtown parking lot near the Murrah building. The area briefly became visible to the media after one of the large trucks hiding it was forced to move. The streets already were thick with walking wounded, people with cut faces and hair matted with blood. The sea of patrol cars and ambulances, some from as far north as Claremore, was extraordinary.

I remember being struck by the magnitude of the impacted area. The Murrah building was Ground Zero for the blast, but downtown Oklahoma City, for about a quarter-mile in all directions, looked as if it had weathered a nuclear attack. The YMCA, the Journal Record Building, the Athenian restaurant, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board Building and a multitude of other structures were in a shambles. Downtown streets glinted from sheets of shattered glass.

I remember interviewing workers in a health clinic that, despite being several blocks north of the bomb site, had lost all its windows and doors in the blast. It was there I heard on a radio that a death count was starting to build for a daycare center that had been inside the Murrah building.

Near Ground Zero, I remember coming across a friend of mine, a paramedic who was among the first to arrive at the scene. And I will never forget this tall, lumbering hulk of a man crying as he recounted how EMTs set up a morgue for the children who had been in the building's America's Kids Daycare Center. He described rows of tiny bodies draped by small blankets, all of them stretched out in the shadow of playground equipment at the YMCA.

Sometime that afternoon, rain began to fall. The nearby Civic Center had been transformed into a briefing area for media. It was there I joined other reporters converging upon then-Governor Frank Keating. And it led to a strange epiphany; I had considered myself a cynical and anti-authority contrarian up to that time, but I was almost flat-out ecstatic to see the governor of the state -- as if it really meant something. For the first time in my life, I understood the impressive calming effect of leadership, and for the first time that day, I almost felt safe.

I remember two days later, being inside a crowded supply building at Tinker Air Force Base for the initial court appearance of a young man named Timothy McVeigh. He had been picked up by a highway patrolman shortly after the bombing on unrelated charges, but now was the prime suspect in the terrorist attack. Staring at the blank-faced defendant, all I could think was, Christ, what a skinny and gangly and nondescript-looking guy.

I remember crying for the first time toward the end of that awful, exhausting week. It was in my apartment late at night. I was sitting at the breakfast table, transcribing taped interviews from the 19th, when I realized that for most of the tape I had been listening to a constant din of grief: shouting voices, hysterical sobs, police and ambulance sirens and a crush of unmitigated white noise. I began to shake and cry and I did not stop for almost an hour, I think.

And I remember the implosion of the Murrah building the following month, once recovery workers had done all they could. The demolition workers had neglected to do a public countdown, and so the sudden explosion caught many bystanders off-guard and proved particularly frightening for some of the victims' family members. One older man in particular, whose daughter had died in the bombing and with whom I'd become very friendly, nearly collapsed into sobs.

Oklahomans went on, of course. Many of those impacted by the bombing were never able to get over it, despite the frustrated pleas of many Oklahomans -- most, perhaps -- who eventually grew exhausted by the never-ending media coverage and suspicious that some were beginning to exploit the tragedy. Many reveled in the details of the subsequent investigation, while others tuned it out completely.

For myself, I will never forget. Nor do I want to.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Smells Like Tourism Spirit

Kurt Cobain's hometown finally embraces his legend.

(Thanks to Truly Bad Films)

Friday, April 15, 2005

Cutaways, Take 10

The Onion's AV Club has a fun piece on bad scenes in great movies -- and great scenes in bad movies. If you have any contributions to this, leave it in comments.


OK, so I only knew Upton Sinclair for The Jungle, his 1906 muckraking novel about Chicago's squalid meat-packing industry. Who knew he'd written anything else worth a damn, particularly anything worth turning into a movie? Leave it to wunderkind filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, whose next project will be the film adaptation of a little-known 1927 Sinclaur fiction, Oil.


Where do you go after a of Passion of the Christ? Well, apparently Mel Gibson's next pic will be about the life and times of Pope John Paul II. Presumably, the Jews will not be the villains in this next movie.


The trailer for Night Watch looks mighty promising.


CHUD features an interview with Palindromes director Todd Solondz and star Jennifer Jason-Leigh. In the universe of risky filmmaking, you don't get much more risky than these two.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Sex Tape Derby, Round 4

You know the drill. You know you do ...

1. Michael Bolton or John Bolton?

2. Lauren Graham or Constance Marie?

3. Mr. Garrison (and Mr. Hand) or Chef?

4. Brooke Shields or 1980s-era Phoebe Cates?

5. Luke Wilson or Matthew McConaughey?

6. Bess Truman or Mamie Eisenhower?

Government with Heart

The Washington Post recently boasted an interesting story about how popular, but embattled, Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has spearheaded efforts to open a public shelter for that city's elderly prostitutes with nowhere else to go.

The Post's Mary Jordan writes:

"Lopez Obrador has built a huge base of support among the disenfranchised since he took office in 2000. In addition to building houses for the poor, he has established monthly cash payments and public transportation discounts for the elderly, medical assistance for the disabled and economic support for single mothers. He has fixed streets and parks, spent lavishly on public works projects aimed at alleviating traffic congestion and even turned over the spacious city-owned building to aging prostitutes.

"So when Congress voted Thursday to strip him of his immunity from criminal prosecution in a relatively minor land dispute, several hundred thousand people -- many of them the city's poorest residents -- turned out in Mexico's central square to support him. They decried the action as a political lynching of their mayor, the front-runner in early polling for next year's presidential election.

"Lopez Obrador's opponents say his free spending on social programs represents not a big heart, but a big ego. Even though critics say some of his social programs such as the shelter are laudable, they argue that the mayor is using city money to buy votes at the expense of the city's long-term economic health. They say his economic policies scare off investors who could improve the city's economy and create jobs that would help lift people out of poverty."

The story is worth a look, if for no other reason but to reflect upon how genuinely altruistic public policy in the United States would be considered a political kiss of death.

That open-heartedness, the belief that our most vulnerable citizens deserve our help, is perhaps what I find most attractive -- at least in the abstract -- about the Democratic Party (even though I'm a Republican). Too often, of course, that desire to help can transmogrify into a patronizing we-know-best-for-you mindset (hence being a registered Republican, I suppose) but the most fundamental level of humanitarianism -- working to ensure a roof over one's head, a meal in one's belly, a real opportunity to better oneself, free body piercing (that one's iffy) should always be a priority for politicians.

Neither party, of course, really aspires to be much of a voice for the downtrodden. When push comes to shove, after all, the downtrodden don't vote in great numbers -- and they sure as hell don't contribute to campaigns.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

For City Council: It's Rick James, Bitch

The Memphis Flyer muses on the political landscape of Hattiesburg, Mississippi -- specifically, the travails of would-be city councilman Rick James and his wife, Diane.

Seems that an awful lot of folks in Hattiesburg are fans of Dave Chappelle's show on Comedy Central, particularly Chappelle's signature bit in which he portrays the dead superfreak himself and barks out, "I'm Rick James, bitch!"

The Flyers's Chris Davis writes:

"In a letter to Comedy Central, the couple explained that 'Due to the popularity of the Dave Chappelle show, people keep stealing our 'Vote Rick James' yard signs ... we would appreciate a small campaign donation for more signs. ... Each time a sign is stolen, it costs us $4.75! Every time a 'Rick James' piece runs on your show, we stand to lose dozens of signs overnight ... The yard signs have been spotted at least 100 miles from our home by truckers ... Young children on bikes scream, 'I'm Rick James, bitch!' as we drive by in our car with our 'Rick James' car signs. ... People even drive by our home and scream,
'Super Freak.' "

Davis' suggestion is a valid one: What about just going by Richard James?

Dr. Tom's Staff Infection

If it's not Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn saying one thing, it's his staffers...

Max Blumenthal reports in The Nation:

"Michael Schwartz must have thought I was just another attendee of the 'Confronting the Judicial War on Faith' conference. I approached the chief of staff of Oklahoma's GOP Senator Tom Coburn outside the conference in downtown Washington last Thursday afternoon after he spoke there. Before I could introduce myself, he turned to me and another observer with a crooked smile and exclaimed, 'I'm a radical! I'm a real extremist. I don't want to impeach judges. I want to impale them!' "

Gosh, that's mighty funny. As moronic a statement as it is, Mikey's candor just again highlights what has become increasingly obvious: The Far Right wants activist judges. They just want to make sure they're conservative activists.

"The Upside of Anger": A Review

The Upside of Anger is a change of pace for Joan Allen, a gifted actress whose previous works -- notably The Ice Storm, The Contender and Nixon -- consisted of portraying repressed, emotionally remote characters. By contrast, Anger's Terry Ann Wolfmeyer is anything but demure. After her husband apparently skips off to Europe to shack up with a Swedish secretary, Terry finds herself pissed at the world and balancing an SUV-sized chip on her shoulder. And it leaves this affluent Michigan housewife at home alone to cope with four beautiful daughters, with whom she fights over everything from their chosen careers to chosen boyfriends.

Let's say this upfront: Joan Allen's work as the vodka-swilling, acid-tongued Terry is worth the price of admission all by itself. Her performance is a wonder of controlled, sardonic ferocity.

And she ain't alone. Kevin Costner is almost as impressive as Terry's neighbor Denny Davies, a scraggly, no-account ex-baseball star (what else?) for the Detroit Tigers. Both Terry and Denny are drawn together by loneliness and their affinity for boozing, and it doesn't take long before the retired pitcher is hanging around the uptight, if comfortable, Wolfmeyer household.

Unfortunately, things sag from there on.

Writer-director Mike Binder apparently used up most of his creative juices imagining the two middle-aged lovers at the movie's core. Although he has given himself a scene-stealing role as Denny's sleazebag radio producer, Binder is far less generous to the other actors. The Wolfmeyer daughters (Alicia Witt, Keri Russell, Erika Christensen and Evan Rachel Wood), who range in age from their mid-teens to early-20s, seem especially stranded by sketchy characterization. They are cardboard cutouts devised solely for the purpose of instigating familial conflict; we have the dancer who doesn't eat, the pretty one who doesn't want to go to college and so on. Only Wood, who was so impressive in Thirteen, manages to find shades of depth as the youngest daughter.

Despite a handful of funny scenes and a lot of arguments -- and always in public settings with plenty of onlookers (a particular peeve of mine in movies) -- not much actually happens in Upside of Anger. Binder, whose chief contribution to our popular culture until now was HBO's "The Mind of the Married Man" series, is saddled by his own ambitions. The moves opens with the principal characters gathered at a funeral before we shuttle back in time three years to begin the story proper. It's a nifty narrative device -- whose funeral is it? -- but Binder keeps scratching this gimmick until it starts to bleed. He toys with his audience to second-guess which character was in that opening-scene coffin, offering us such possible suspects as a suddenly ill Wolfmeyer daughter and a peripheral character obsessed with bungee jumping. You half-expect Hercule Poirot to pop up from behind a sofa and reveal the corpse before the ending credits roll.

And speaking of the ending -- don't worry, I'm not revealing more -- suffice it to say that it's a full-blown annoyance. The ostensible twist does boast dramatic potential, but Binder has cheated mightily in order to get us there. In the world Denny might refer to, you could say that Binder corked the bat for what turns out to be nothing more than an infield grounder.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

A Calendar for All Seasons

With the dog days of summer ahead of us, this calendar seems particularly appropriate.

Yes, it's a real item and it's really for sale.

Crumbs and Stuff, Take 7

Who needs Mickey Mouse? Charles Dickens might not be the most lovable and furry mascot, but that won't keep him from being the focal point for Dickens World, an amusement park currently under construction in England. Built at a cost of more than $113 million, it will feature rides and attractions based on the life and works of the immortal author.

The International Herald Tribune reports that the amusement park "will recreate the Victorian era, when children worked in sweatshops ..."

Insert antiquated Kathie Lee Gifford joke here.


One of the more bizarre blogs I've come across as of late is Girls Are Pretty. Check it out. It's difficult to describe the site's premise, other than to say the author needs treatment -- and thank God for his readers that he's not receiving any.


Some interesting bastard pop, particularly the Elvis Costello/Police/Peggy Lee concoction "Wrapped Detective." (Thanks to I'm Just Sayin' for the heads-up).


And just for the inspirational heck of it, some Pulp Feng Shui to soothe your noir soul (and thanks to All Night Surfing, which, come to think of it, is also a mighty irresistibly eclectic Web site).

Monday, April 11, 2005

Shays It Ain't So

So now the media feeding frenzy surrounding Tom DeLay -- and don't get me wrong, this is a completely overdue and delicious buffet line -- is speculating that the Texas Republican's days must be numbered because a fellow GOP lawmaker, Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut, is calling on DeLay to step down as House majority leader.

Umm, let's not be toasting DeLay's political demise just yet. First, the ostensible criticism from Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum has been decidedly bland ("I think he has to come forward and lay out what he did ... but from everything I've heard ... everything he's done was according to the law"), while other GOP lawmakers have been even noticeably quiet.

And Shays is hardly a typical Republican. The guy is pro-choice, a leading proponent of campaign finance reform and a frequent critic of DeLay's. Hell, he was one of the few House Republicans to vote against the Bill Clinton impeachment. Trying to deduce anything about DeLay's future by what Shays has to say is like asking Zell Miller where the Democratic Party is headed next.

"Sahara," "Fever Pitch": Some Thoughts

From the there-are-worse-ways-to-spend-some-bucks-at-the-movies department:

Sahara is a big, dumb, improbable, kid-friendly adventure yarn. And much like last summer's big, dumb, improbable, kid-friendly adventure yarn, National Treasure, it is decent popcorn entertainment, provided you're willing to temporarily put aside all ability to reason, ponder and use opposable thumbs.

In this adaptation of a Clive Cussler novel starring his hero Dirk Pitt, director Breck Eisner (son of Disney's Michael Eisner -- ahhh, the joys of being the child of a movie mogul) does little more than string together a bunch of preposterous chases, close calls and explosions. During the Golden Age of Hollywood, this sort of stuff would be labeled derring-do. Maybe it still is. Eisner's direction is hackneyed, and the editing is far too jumbled to really follow much of the action, but the goofiness of it all is, grudgingly, pretty damn fun.

Sahara's biggest drawback, aside from it being utterly ridiculous (and since that's part of the good time, who can really call that a drawback?) is a cast in desperate need of a collective bitch slap.

The inexplicably famous Matthew McConaughey, who stars as our hero, looks and acts as if he'd be more comfortable spring breaking it at Padre Island than racing through desert sands. As the beautiful and brainy love interest, Penelope Cruz offers line readings slightly more proficiently than that of a trained seal.

And as the trusty sidekick, Steve Zahn plays Steve Zahn, which is to say he is engaging enough in that smartassed sidekick sort of way, until you realize about two-thirds of the way through that the filmmakers have no intention of killing this guy off.


Equally pleasant (and frothy) is Fever Pitch. At first blush, a romantic comedy might seem a bit of a stretch for Peter and Bobby Farrelly, the brothers who whipped up hair gel in There's Something About Mary and bull-milking in Kingpin, but even their grossest gross-out comedies have been romances at heart.

Fever Pitch purports to be a love triangle between a workaholic businesswoman (Drew Barrymore, cute and sunny as ever), a fanatical Boston Red Sox fan (Jimmy Fallon) and the Bosox during its magical 2004 season. But the movie is more inclusive than a mere valentine to baseball. Loosely based on the Nick Hornby novel, Fever Pitch essentially has fun with examining the art of compromise in relationships. Oh, it maintains a light touch, all right, but nevertheless it does touch upon real issues dealing with self-identity and juggling passions ... and all that other crap.

And so Fever Pitch, for all its endearing silliness about Red Sox Nation, reveals sincerity and even a bit of wisdom (this from the pair who made Dumb and Dumber). But the movie does commit one glaring error (surely you didn't think I'd get through this without at least one baseball analogy). Jimmy Fallon is milquetoast. He doesn't embarrass himself, but the guy has no real presence.

I never thought I'd say this, but where's Adam Sandler when you need him?

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Memogate Shredded: Not Knowing When to Say When

Even after the staffer of a Republican U.S. senator fessed up to the crass Schiavo talking points memo, some leading conservative voices still refuse to just say "uncle" and move on. Instead, some continue to carp that Washington Post reporter Mike Allen somehow did something wrong. The stubbornness and, well, just poor sportsmanship of it all strikes us as more than a tad pathetic -- like a toddler throwing a tantrum in public, say, or Sean Penn's sense of humor -- but increasingly it appears the Far Right is intent on cornering the market on conspiracy mongering.

Balloon Juice, one of our favorite conservative bloggers, sees something more sinister at play:

"What I see going on around me is that my party is in power. We control the Presidency. We control the House and the Senate. Republican appointees outnumber Democratic ones on the Supreme Court, and we are poised to add more. We own talk radio. Cable news tends to be neutral to conservative ...

"And it still isn't enough. Everything is under attack if it does not toe the same hard-right line. The university, the institution of marriage, journalism as an enterprise, the medical community, the legal community, every foreign institution, the United Nations- anything, that doesn't cater to the conservative need for instant gratification in the form of message adherence and submission to the new doctronaire [sic] must be destroyed. Look at the recent behavior of Republicans in Congress towards REPUBLICAN APPOINTED CONSERVATIVE JUDGES. Forget 'screw me once, shame on you.' This new breed of fanatacism [sic] is 'Slight me in any discernable [sic] way, even a mild disagreement, and I will publicly destroy you.' "

Read the entire post. It's excellent.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Finger Food

The mystery widens surrounding the secret ingredient of a certain bowl of Wendy's chili. Police insist they're not, ahem, pointing fingers, but investigators are now focusing on the Las Vegas woman who reported the severed finger in a bowl of chili that she ordered at a San Jose, California, Wendy's restaurant. The woman, Anna Ayala, has a lengthy history of pursuing lawsuits (no doubt the Republican Congress will glom on to this case before long as fodder for tort reform).

The following is from AP, not The Onion:

"Wendy's maintains the finger did not enter the food chain in its ingredients. All the employees at the San Jose store were found to have all their fingers ..."

Stay tuned. This case looks to be a real nail-biter.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Co(s)m(et)ic Surgery

The Wall Street Journal's Jeffrey Zaslow boasts an entertaining look at the battle for aging comic strips to remain relevant: Nancy watching "The O.C.," Blondie's daughter dressing like Britney Spears, Little Orphan Annie fighting North Korean terrorists, that sort of thing.

Zaslow writes:

"For cartoonists now at the helm of old comic strips -- many of whom are new, hired hands -- such contemporizing is more crucial than ever. Given changing tastes and declining space on newspaper comics pages, cartoonists are struggling to give characters 2005 sensibilities without offending nostalgic older fans. It's a tough task."

Which brings us to "B.C." Talk about needing to get modern. Christ, those fuckers are still living in the Stone Age.

And speaking of which, here's an amusing waste of time: SpongeBong Hemppants.

It's Italian... "Frah-GEE-lee!"

OK, if you haven't seen, or don't remember, A Christmas Story, the title of this post must make no sense.

Anyway ... I love A Christmas Story, the perennial Yuletide classic in which hapless Ralphie Parker pines away for that Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle with a thing that tells time.

But my adoration of it pales beside that of San Diego resident Brian Jones. Through the magic of eBay, Jones recently bought the Cleveland, Ohio, house that served as exteriors for the Parker family home in that 1983 film.

In a fun-as-hell story, the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Amanda Garrett reports on Jones' love affair with the movie:

"It all started, Jones said, when he and his parents watched 'A Christmas Story' on TV one year. They joked about all the characters' foibles and laughed at all the ridiculous childhood scenarios that were universal, no matter when or where you grew up.

" 'Everyone got caught saying "Oh, fudge" at least once,' Jones said.

"Time passed. And one day after Jones graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, he received a large wooden crate marked 'FRAGILE.'

Jones said he didn't make the connection to the movie at first. Then he opened it. A life-sized woman's plastic leg covered in fishnet was inside. A fringe lampshade sat on top.

"It looked just like the leg lamp Ralphie's father so proudly displayed in the front window of his family's house in 'A Christmas Story' -- much to his wife's consternation.

"Jones' parents, it turned out, had gone to the garment district in Los Angeles, bought different pieces and assembled the lamp for him as a joke.


"More time passed and when Jones left the Navy ... it dawned on him how to make a living. On April 9, 2003, he launched -- a largely online venture that sells replica lamps from the movie for $139.99, plus $35 shipping and handling.

"So far, he has sold about 3,000 of the curvaceous 45-inch-tall gams. A bulb under the shade lights up, but so, too, does the leg." plans to restore the house to the way it appeared in the film and eventually turn the place into a museum of all things Christmas Story.

Now, if only someone were to pay homage to my other favorite Christmas movie ...

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Memogate Shredded

So in light of all the GOP hrrumph hrrumph about that mysterious GOP talking points memo on Terri Schiavo having actually been a dirty-trick plant by the Democrats (as if Karl Rove doesn't have the monopoly on that gag), let us bow our heads and gloat just for a bit.


Turns out the memo, indeed, was authored by legal counsel for Florida Republican Sen. Mel Martinez, who inadvertently handed the talking points over to Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin.

The revelation comes from The Washington Post's Mike Allen, a reporter unjustly vilified by some conservative blogs for his initial story on the controversial memo:

"The staff of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, at the request of a Democrat, spent a week trying to determine the memo's origin and had come up empty, said an official involved in the investigation.

"The unsigned memo -- which initially misspells Schiavo's first name and gives the wrong number for the pending bill -- includes eight talking points in support of the legislation and calls the controversy 'a great political issue.'

" 'This legislation ensures that individuals like Terri Schiavo are guaranteed the same legal protections as convicted murderers like Ted Bundy,' the memo concludes.

"It asserts that the case would appeal to the party's core supporters, saying: 'This is an important moral issue and the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue.'

"The document was provided to ABC News on March 18 and to The Post on March 19 and was included in news reports about congressional intervention in the Schiavo case ...

"At the time, other Senate Republican aides claimed to be familiar with the memo but declined to discuss it on the record and gave no information about its origin."

Even though Martinez has admitted the memo originated from his staffer, and even though the offending staffer has resigned, some on the political right still smell something fishy.

Whatever ...

Sometimes, good people, it's not a fish you smell, but just another fish story -- one cooked up and served by your friendly short-order cooks of the kooky far-right.

Sex Tape Derby, Round 3

For the rather simple instructions of this mind-expanding quiz, click here. Otherwise, I think you folks know the drill ...

1. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos or Denise Richards?

2. Owen Wilson or Ben Stiller?

3. Barbarella-era Jane Fonda or modern-day Susan Sarandon?

4. Sammy Sosa or Barry Bonds?

5. NBC's Campbell Brown or Norah O'Donnell?

6. Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas?

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Another View of "Sin City"

To drive home the amazing fidelity that Sin City director Robert Rodriguez showed to Frank Miller's "Sin City" graphic stories, Film Rotation has a nifty comic panel-to-film shot comparison.

"Sin City": A Review

Among the random posts on about Sin City is the presumably high praise calling it the best adaptation of a graphic comic book ever to hit the silver screen. That's nice and all, but what does that really mean? Speaking as someone who can appreciate the artistry of graphic novels without necessarily being a diehard fan, the comment meant about as much to me as touting a movie for offering the best-ever depiction of, say, cheese.

Regardless of how closely Sin City adheres to Frank Miller's celebrated works, we know this much: The movie is pure male id made palpable and projected on a really big screen for all to see. Director Robert Rodriguez did not compromise his determination to transform Miller's hard-boiled graphic comics into cinema. In this monumental exercise of form over content, the men are edgy anti-heroes who make Mickey Spillane look like a pansy. The women are curvaceous whores with a taste for push-up bras and fishnets.

In other words, don't expect subtlety. Sin City's trio of storylines are bare-boned noir tales of the three Vs: vengeance, violence and vigilantism. Aging police detective Hartigan (Bruce Willis) fights to protect sexy stripper Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) from a slimeball pedophile called Yellow Bastard (Nick Stahl). Deformed psycho-mensch Marv (Mickey Rourke in the film's best performance) kills and mutilates his way through Sin City in search of the vicious bastard who murdered a heart-of-gold hooker (Jaime King) who showed him a really good time. And in the least compelling vignette, a thug named Dwight (Clive Owen) joins forces with the prostitutes of Old Towne to keep their turf after the gals mistakenly decapitate a creepy cop (Benicio Del Toro).

So we essentially have the same story told in three different ways, but no matter. The movie's chief draw is its own schlocky vibe, a concussive orgy of pure viscera. Amid green-screen magic and a gorgeous monochromatic visual scheme (with the occasional splash of red blood and yellow-skinned sex predator) Rodriguez and Miller ladle out heaping portions of movie dreams: rain-swept streets, vintage cars, smirking sluts, bad cops, silent cannibals and enough hacked limbs to keep Golden Corral in business for years.

For all the eye-popping hullabaloo, and there is no denying that Sin City is a marvel to look at, the movie rides on little more than junk adrenaline. Only the segment featuring Mickey Rourke really achieves emotional resonance, and that is chiefly due to the actor's expressiveness beneath layers of makeup and prosthetics (we hope this marks the beginning of a comeback for him).

Even the Kill Bill movies, Quentin Tarantino's own homage to junk adrenaline, boasted a protagonist who audiences could care about. Besides, Tarantino made movies, messy flawed things subject to the rhythms of cinematic storytelling. It is evident from Rodriguez's oeuvre (look at the fancy word!) that he also knows about pace, but he appears to have temporarily forgotten that stuff in his Quixotic quest to remain true to Frank Miller's vision of Basin City.

Alfred Hitchcock once remarked that he stayed away from adapting great works of literature into cinema, preferring works that had potential but were hardly the stuff of celebration. The great director reasoned that a classic -- whether it be a book, poem, movie, stage play, painting, sculpture or, yes, a graphic novel -- has already been defined in the artist's chosen medium.

Perhaps Miller's Sin City works as a graphic comic because that is what he set out to produce. Sin City the movie sets out to be a comic, too ... and there's the rub.

The Dallas Observer's Robert Wilonsky encapsulates nicely the highs and lows of Sin City.

I Brake for Judges

Thankfully, not all Republicans are following the lead of Texas feral child Tom DeLay in his threats of retribution against the judicial branch of government. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is echoing the sentiments of Dick Cheney in calling for a collective hitting of the brakes in the post-Schiavo let's-bash-the-judiciary witch-hunt.

Geez. How goddamned moronic is it in the first place that Republican leaders are even being put in a position where they have to distance themselves from the irresponsible, over-the-top bluster of Tommy Boy?

As The All Spin Zone notes, a number of Republican lawmakers appear to be backing away from the so-called war on the judicial branch.

And no, this isn't -- and shouldn't -- be a re-tread of where we all stood on the sad case of Terri Schiavo. What's at stake is nothing less than preserving the network of checks and balances that remains among the most brilliant aspects of our system of government.

DeLay and his ilk have spent years and years railing against what they call "activist judges." But as my brother dryly noted the other day -- and he's a smart fella, my brother, despite an Encyclopedia Britannica-sized collection of quirks -- what these folks actually want is "conservative activist judges." After all, every step of the way in the Schiavo legal battle, courts backed the legal claims of Michael Schiavo.

It might not make it right, but it does make it the law.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Whatever Happened to Randolph Dial? The Corrected Version

OK, looks like my hopes have been dashed. It now appears that Bobbi Parker actually was taken against her will and is reuniting with her family. Oh, well ... it was a beautiful dream while it lasted.

Whatever Happened to Randolph Dial?

As frustrating as I find Oklahoma on occasion, I will say one thing for my home state: We sure have great crime stories.

More than 10 years ago, a convicted murderer named Randolph Dial escaped from a state prison in Granite, Okla., with the wife of a deputy warden. Dial was a trusty in charge of the prison arts program, while the woman, Bobbi Parker, was the prison art program's coordinator.

Now, the FBI reports that the star-crossed pair have been found in East Texas. Dial and Parker were running several chicken farms. Dial was taken into custody, but Parker -- who claims she was kidnapped and held prisoner for 10 years (yeah, right) -- wasn't arrested.

" 'As far as I know, she has no intention of leaving,' Shelby County Sheriff Newton Johnson said late Monday. 'She said she wants to stay on the farm and raise chickens.'

"However, Johnson said Bobbi Parker asked an FBI agent about her daughters and husband, Randy Parker. She appeared healthy and unharmed, the sheriff said."

The whole thing screams out for a made-for-TV movie.

Poor Randy Parker. Now, we may be wrong about this whole scenario, but it doesn't appear to get much more cuckolded -- in a James M. Cain sort of way -- than being dumped by your wife of 12 years for a convicted murderer. To make matters worse, Dial, who was housed in a minimum-security prison, was doing yard maintenance for the Parker family at the time of his escape. The scene of the shirtless, rough-talking convict asking the warden's comely wife for a glass of cold lemonade practically writes itself.

Moreover, Dial was an accomplished artist whose forte was pottery. Anyone remember that steamy pot-throwing scene from Ghost?

I'm tellin' yah: Made-for-TV movie.



Chickens scatter about, kicking up DUST, as we see the STILETTO HEELS of a woman traipse across the yard. She is dropping chicken feed for the squawking birds when she stops at the distant sound of POLICE SIRENS ...

Ooohh ... this has potential...

Okie' Bloggin, Take 5

A perusal of some of our favorite Oklahoma-based blogs ...

Life and Deatherage explores the dwindling rights of minority views on Capitol Hill and beyond.

OKPartisan at Blue Dot Blog says she can finally make out the misogyny in the lyrics of gangsta rap now that the alt-rock Ben Folds is covering Dr. Dre

At Wholesale Pants Warehouse, the 'nad-shaving sociopath we know as Dr. Pants admits he is literally selling out to the man by shilling newspapers. Oh, the things you gotta do in the Naked City.

Have they no shame? Apple Jacks were awesome ...and now, says Lip Shtick, it's all just so ...jacked.

This is why I like reading This Is Class Warfare. Bruce manages to cover the GOP's war on the judiciary, FOX News bias and the problem with Beck's new disc -- all in one fell swoop. Bravo!

Okiedoke tells us of the night the turkeys came home to roost -- or something like that. As Tony Montana would say, "Gobble gobble to my little friend."

Sister Scorpion's Leila M., committed bibliophile, gives the low-down on her books of choice.

Speaking of books, Okie Funk get another "atta boy!" for an excellent piece on the late, legendary (and too often overlooked) Oklahoma-born author Ralph Ellison, whose sole novel, Invisible Man, is one of the greatest works of 20th century American literature.

We suspected it all along: The Daily Bitch is into playing games.

Over at A Fistful of Fortnights, Sadie examines that whole "bullshit diversity" business about gender equality in the blogosphere (oh, how I love/hate using that word).

The good professor at The Left End of the Dial looks at the continued occupation in Iraq and wonders: Whose insurgency is it, anyway?

Reflections in d minor's Lynn S. welcomes springtime.

And speaking of threeway sex -- OK, so maybe we weren't speaking about it, not literally, anyway -- Shut Up and Blank ponders why Jane Fonda is blabbing these days about her swingin' days of yesteryear with Barbarella director Roger Vadim.

Oh, and It's Not Easy Being Green has a whole new name and look. Apparently, it might be easier as the Mysterious Red M.

And just for us Okies (and lovers of all things Okie):

On a less lofty front, Okiedoke's Mike is almost ready to commence voting (yea for democracy!) to determine the Sexiest Power Woman in Oklahoma. We're still holding out for Linda Soundtrack on a write-in ballot (man, is that dating myself or what?)

Oklahoma City natives, take note: The Downtown Guy fills us in on the (possible) survival of the Plaza Court building, a terrific old structure of near-downtown.

Oklarama wonders if, and when, city leaders will get around to landscaping the Oklahoma River (or the North Canadian, for all you purists out there). Oh, and she also engages in a bit of would-be flag waving.

And the granddaddy of Oklahoma bloggers, the esteemed Mr. Hill of Dustbury fame, goes motorin' for the Grand (Blvd.) Tour.

Monday, April 04, 2005

A Selective Culture of Life

Don't let it be said that George W. Bush doesn't take advantage these days of every opportunity to exploit -- er, stroke -- the Religious Right.

While Dubya was appropriately laudatory in his remarks on the death of the Pope, he managed to toss a nugget related to the post-Schiavo controversy:

"Throughout the West, John Paul's witness reminded us of our obligation to build a culture of life in which the strong protect the weak."

Presumably, Dubya's endorsement of the Pope's "culture of life" doesn't extend to the Catholic Church's condemnation of the death penalty.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

National Treasure - Not

This doesn't exactly need repeating, but just for the record: Sandy Berger is a lying, full-of-it creep.

Balloon Juice has a succinct recap of Berger's late-night confetti party at the expense of the National Archives -- and a reminder that many in the previous White House administration have, as Ricky Ricardo would have said, some 'splainin' to do.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Speaking of Religion ...

Alternative news weekly covers don't come much more incendiary than this cover from Seattle's The Stranger. (Via Gawker). If Seattle weren't chock full o' godless mongrels who drink the blood of infants, there'd be some serious rioting in the streets. Here in the heartland of Oklahoma, of course, we suspect there would be outrage over the cruel parody of Mrs. Schiavo, but plenty of giggling over that funny Papal hat.

And while we're on the topic of surefire tickets to H-E-double toothpicks: Look who's found Jesus. Why, it's Son of Sam serial killer David Berkowitz.

Hmm. First, he obeyed what he said were orders by a neighbor's dog (hence the moniker "Son of Sam") to kill. Dog spelled backwards is God. It's all starting to make sense ... if we could just link it all back to Kevin Bacon, we'd be stoked!

Stem Cells and Hope

Kudos to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for ensuring embryonic stem cell research in the Bay State, despite a promised veto from that state's governor and far-right lapdog, Milt Romney.

From the Boston Globe:

"Scientists in Massachusetts are already doing embryonic stem cell research. But the bill would remove the current requirement that the researchers get approval from the local district attorney to work with embryos, and would give the state Department of Public Health some regulatory control over their research. Supporters hope it will keep embryonic stem cell research, and jobs, in the Bay State."

If the measure becomes law, Massachusetts will join California and New Jersey as the only states to explicitly endorse embryonic stem cell research and somatic cell nuclear transfer.

Which reminds us to direct you toward a mighty impressive online commentary that Patti Davis wrote for Newsweek a while back. Evidently, Ron Reagan isn't the only Reagan family member who can articulate the importance of stell cell research.

In her piece, Davis recounts the sad tale of the late Tom Hill, an ALS patient who had fallen prey to a biotech firm that made the bogus claim of being able to cure him through the injection of stem cells.

Davis writes:

"If the Bush administration, which has blocked federal funding for stem-cell research, had any compassion or even any logic (notice I said 'if' -- I don't believe this administration has either), Tom Hill's struggle to live would serve as a wake-up call. Particularly because his is only one of many stories. There are people paying $20,000 to have holes drilled into their skulls into which stem cells are injected, according to the L.A. Times. In all probability those cells aren't the right kind either.

"As long as the true potential of stem-cell treatment is delayed, blocked and hampered by the government, people will in their desperation reach for whatever they can find. They will empty out their life savings, leave their families burdened with debt, all in the desperate attempt to live a longer life, to be free of disease. To see their children get married, to meet grandchildren who haven't been born yet, to walk along the beach with their spouse or partner, to wake in the morning without pain or medicine or fear.


"Bush apparently feels comfortable and justified in allowing clusters of cells -- the result of in vitro fertilization procedures -- to be destroyed rather than allow them to be used for potentially life-saving research. We know already some of the miraculous characteristics of embryonic stem cells; the miracles we don't know about are waiting to be discovered. According to the president, his position is a religious one. These cells could possibly become human beings. But they never will. They are being destroyed, routinely and frequently. That's the part you don't hear about in the president's press conferences or in the State of the Union addresses."

Recess in Pieces

If RedDirt were around today, he would undoubtedly bemoan this as further evidence of the disappearing Great American Childhood: Apparently, school recess is becoming a thing of the past.

In the St. Petersburg Times, writer Lane DeGregory reports that about 40 percent of schools nationwide have scrapped recess for a variety of reasons, including the rising costs of playground equipment and liability concerns.

DeGregory writes:

"Remember recess? Four-square, jump rope, hanging upside down on the jungle gym. Red Rover, stickball, climbing trees, hunting for caterpillars. Or just being by yourself.

"Recess meant diving into leaf piles, hurling snowballs, blowing dandelion tufts. Gossiping and freeze tag and getting dirty.

"Sure, recess could be a drag. Bullies and crybabies showed their true selves on the playground. You got skinned knees and bruises and sand in your eyes.
But good or bad, everyone over 30 remembers recess. It was a chance to run and swing and use your outside voice, to climb and jump and hang out without grownups butting in, to invent games and rules, to form your own teams and make your own choices."

With the exception of a few fond memories playing doctor with a girl named Lisa Farrington in a tucked-away corner of the schoolyard, my chief memories of recess are decidedly ambivalent. Being picked last for dodgeball, ducking bullies, being forced to eat a beetle, that sort of thing. As for me, I will shed no tears for the loss of recess.

Reel Short Reviews, Take 5

Another batch of movies recently seen or re-seen (four stars the maximum ranking, which means zero stars are -- you guessed it -- is the lowest possible).

American Pie (1999)
What can you say? As directed by the talented Paul Weitz, American Pie is several notches above the typical teen sex comedy, but it's a teen sex comedy, nonetheless, which means it's subject to all the well-worn cliches, gross-out humor and facile characters that you'd expect. Four high school guys make a pact to get laid before graduation, a Holy Grail of a quest that leads to several truly funny bits, particularly the baked good of the title and an Internet-friendly tryst between the hapless Jim (Jason Biggs) and a sexy Czech foreign exchange student (Shannon Elizabeth). Considering how Weitz's successive comedies, particularly About a Boy and In Good Company, focused on surrogate father-son relationships, it's interesting to see the genesis of that theme in the genuinely affecting interaction between Jim and his well-meaning, but awkward, dad (portrayed by the inimitable Eugene Levy).

The Battle of Algiers (1965)
Events of current-day Middle East make this film as relevant as it was upon initial release. Shot in a pseudo-documentary style in stunning black and white, the film tells the story of the revolution that resulted in Algeria's independence from France. Although Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo squarely sides with the FLN, the Algerian terrorists (or freedom fighters, take your pick) behind that insurgency, the movie's unflinching depiction of civilian bombings and random murder feels decidedly ambivalent nowadays. Some 40 years after its initial release stirred up controversy and was subsequently embraced by such revolutionaries as the Black Panthers, Battle of Algiers doesn't come off as flagrantly biased as it must have seemed to the French government, which banned it (chew on that irony for a while).

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
A remake of a little-known 1963 comedy called Bedtime Story, this Michael Caine-Steve Martin farce follows the crosses and doublecrosses of two con men who specialize in duping rich women along the French Riviera. Director Frank Oz has made his share of subpar comedies, but Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a cut above most. It lags a bit in the second act, but most of it is fun and provides room for Caine and Martin to indulge the shticks they do best.

Donnie Darko (2001)
Writer-director Richard Kelly did not lack ambition in this cult film of a disturbed teenager tormented by a guy in an evil bunny costume. With its kitchen-sink storyline involving time travel, schizophrenia and alienated youth, Donnie Darko knocked me out when I first saw it. Alas, its considerable failings become more and more apparent with repeated viewings. Despite some memorably lyrical moments chronicling the descent of our hero (Jake Gyllenhaal), the plot is essentially barely coherent gibberish. Much of the dialogue is cringingly bad, the satire lacks bite (the adults are dumb and fake) and Kelly doesn't do his movie any favors devoting screen time to some awful, and extraneous, supporting performances, such as that of Darko executive producer Drew Barrymore. It is a shame, too, because when the film is most resonant -- as in scenes propelled by music from Tears for Fears, the Church and the like -- Donnie Darko is as weirdly seductive as teen angst.

The Entertainer (1960)
Another early-Sixties British study in dour, working-class realism. Tony Richardson directed the film, in which Laurence Olivier recreated his famed stage role as third-rate vaudevillian Archie Rice. Not surprisingly, his performance is impeccable, and Joan Plowright is almost as good as Archie's long-suffering daughter (Olivier and Plowright married a year after shooting the film). But the talky script and unrelenting gloominess starts to suffocate the proceedings. It doesn't take long to realize Archie is an unrepentant screw-up and will continue to screw-up until the final credits roll.

The General (1927)
Certainly the most revered of Buster Keaton 's works, this classic -- equal parts adventure, romance and comedy -- is based on an actual train hijacking during the Civil War. Beautifully shot, surprisingly lyrical in parts and boasting some terrific stunts, The General is still a film easier to admire than appreciate.

The Incredibles (2004)
A nearly perfect Pixar product that comes courtesy writer-director Brad Bird, whose The Iron Giant in 1999 hinted at his sizable talent. The Incredibles reaches the Spielberg standard of excellence when it comes to straightforward, crowd-pleasing storytelling -- but that doesn't mean it skimps on sophistication or subtlety. In its tale of a family of superheroes struggling to be average, Bird parodies family dynamics, a litigious society, the complexities of hero worship, male midlife crisis and the narcisstic certainty of just knowing we could touch the stratosphere if our peers weren't weighing us down. There are some interesting insights to be found amid the jaw-dropping computer animation.

The King of Comedy (1983)
A blistering satire from Martin Scorsese still has every bit as much bite as it did when it opened (to criminally lukewarm box office) 22 years ago. Robert DeNiro stars as pathological fame-seeker Rupert Pupkin, whose idolatry of a late-night TV talk-show host (Jerry Lewis in a superb performance) leads to kidnapping. The film is one of Scorsese's best, and underrated, works. Not only does it skewer America's zeal for achieving celebrity without really doing anything to deserve it -- a jab more relevant in today's Reality-TV era than it was back in the '80s -- but it is also an exceedingly well-told story, expertly paced and peppered with the director's visual flair.

Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. (1999)
Fred Leuchter was a death geek, a self-styled expert on the implements of capital punishment. Documentary maker Errol Morris chronicles how the Massachusetts native became involved (perhaps unwittingly) with a group of Holocaust revisionists who hired Leuchter to go traipsing through the ruins of Auschwitz in hopes of confirming their insistence that there were no Nazi gas chambers. Morris paints Leuchter as a naive dupe; regardless, the man is too pompous and pathetic to elicit much sympathy. Subsequently, Morris' film is well made, but ultimately empty. You're not exactly sure what Morris found so compelling about this jackass of a subject.

The Philadelphia Story (1940)
I had forgotten what a wonderful movie this is, a true classic that -- aside from a few archaic social mores smacking of racism and misogyny (wife-beating must have been a funny concept for 1940 audiences) -- feels surprisingly contemporary. Its story of high society (and high maintenance) divorcee Tracy Lord and the men who love (and are frustrated by) her provides star turns from Katherine Hepburn, James Stewart and Cary Grant. The generally overlooked Ruth Hussey, incidentally, is excellent in the less-showy role as Stewart's work colleague/would-be love interest. Director George Cukor deserves great credit for maintaining a fast clip with a very talky and stagy script; it was initially a Broadway show, after all. But the dialogue of screenwriter David Ogden Stewart is (pardon the fey description) exquisite.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
The best film to date from Wes Anderson is, loosely, about a cad of a husband and father who attempts to win back his brilliant, but dysfunctional, family. Like Anderson's other films, however, plot is of little consequence. He's more interested in quirkiness, weird detail and a strange brand of humanism. It works, for the most part, and it helps to have an outstanding cast with Gene Hackman a particular standout as the deceitful, no good patriarch, Royal Tenenbaum; Gwyneth Paltrow and Owen Wilson, who co-wrote the script with Anderson, are also damn good. There isn't really a great deal that actually goes on in Royal Tenenbaums, but its eccentricities, off-kilter pacing, twee soundtrack and hermetically sealed fantasy vision of New York all combine to make it (for me, anyway) irresistibly life-affirming.

You Can't Cheat an Honest Man (1939)
When it comes to the great movie comedians from the Golden Age of Hollywood, few can rival the great W.C. Fields. And while You Can't Cheat an Honest Man is sub-par by Fields' standards -- he doesn't get nearly enough screen time, being the main problem -- it's enjoyable enough. The bulk of the movie served as a vehicle for Edgar Bergen and his favorite dummy, Charlie McCarthy.