Thursday, March 31, 2005

Love, Meet Lovelace

Heroin junkie, rock 'n' roll shrew and the all-around generally unpleasant Courtney Love is poised for a comeback to the big screen. The former lead singer of Hole is set to star as the lead in a biopic about the late Deep Throat star Linda Lovelace. Granted, it's kind of a stretch for Courtney to play someone of comparative class, decorum and wit, but still ...

A Theocratic Agenda

Former U.S. Sen. John Danforth is the latest conservative Republican to caution his party about how the Religious Right has obscured long-held GOP principles. In his op-ed for The New York Times, Danforth, an Episcopal minister, muses on how the GOP and Christian Right are morphing into a single entity:

"I do not fault religious people for political action. Since Moses confronted the pharaoh, faithful people have heard God's call to political involvement. Nor has political action been unique to conservative Christians. Religious liberals have been politically active in support of gay rights and against nuclear weapons and the death penalty. In America, everyone has the right to try to influence political issues, regardless of his religious motivations.

"The problem is not with people or churches that are politically active. It is with a party that has gone so far in adopting a sectarian agenda that it has become the political extension of a religious movement.

"When government becomes the means of carrying out a religious program, it raises obvious questions under the First Amendment. But even in the absence of constitutional issues, a political party should resist identification with a religious movement. ... At its best, religion can be a uniting influence, but in practice, nothing is more divisive. For politicians to advance the cause of one religious group is often to oppose the cause of another."


"During the 18 years I served in the Senate, Republicans often disagreed with each other. But there was much that held us together. We believed in limited government, in keeping light the burden of taxation and regulation. We encouraged the private sector, so that a free economy might thrive. We believed that judges should interpret the law, not legislate. We were internationalists who supported an engaged foreign policy, a strong national defense and free trade. These were principles shared by virtually all Republicans.

"But in recent times, we Republicans have allowed this shared agenda to become secondary to the agenda of Christian conservatives. As a senator, I worried every day about the size of the federal deficit. I did not spend a single minute worrying about the effect of gays on the institution of marriage. Today it seems to be the other way around."

The entire piece is worth reading in its entirety.

Sex Tape Derby, Round 2

OK, you know the drill -- and if you don't, click here for it.

Sex tape. Must watch. Who gets the nod?

1. Simon Cowell or Ryan Seacrest ?

2. Everybody Loves Raymond's Patricia Heaton or King of Queens' Leah Remini ?

3. David Spade or James Spader ?

4. Sarah Jessica Parker or Kim Cattrall ?

5. Pierce Brosnan or Timothy Dalton?

6. Keri Russell or Sarah Michelle Geller?

Chinese Walking Tall

Encroaching capitalism and modernization come in many forms, but apparently most of those forms have long legs and the ability to watch parades without a curbside view.

Exhibit A: China, where the clamor for additional height has become a national obsession. The Los Angeles Times reports how a growing number of affluent Chinese are shelling out as much as $6,000 for surgery to add critical inches ... and no, not adding inches in that American spammed email sort of way.

From the L.A. Times:

"In the old days, when the government handed out the most desirable jobs, many college-educated Chinese didn't have to worry about finding work on their own. But now the job market is a seller's market, and seemingly irrelevant factors such as height play a role in who is hired.

" 'In China, the competition for jobs is too fierce,' said Xia Hetao, one of a handful of physicians in the country who specializes in leg lengthening. 'All else being equal, height becomes a deciding factor.' Many employers list height requirements in their job descriptions."

Yes, according to the story, even T.G.I. Friday's restaurants throughout China (isn't it reassuring to know that folks half a world away also get to enjoy Atkins-approved dishes?) stipulate that job applicants must be above 5 feet 1 for a woman and 5 feet 4 for a man.

Why on earth would there be a height threshold for Friday's?

Maybe there is a fear that uber-small waiters would injure themselves succumbing to the temptation of carrying fajita platters atop their head. Maybe the red-striped uniforms shirts are hand-me-downs from the NBA. Maybe management is worried that a diminutive employee could slip and drown in a vat of Mudslide. Who knows?

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Bunny Double

Ahh, the special effects wizardry that is Hollywood ...

Anyone familiar with the reputation of renegade filmmaker Vincent Gallo (Buffalo '66) might know a little something about his craptacularly self-conscious art house specimen, 2003's The Brown Bunny. That movie, you might remember, earned notoriety chiefly for its hardcore scene in which Chloe Sevigny fellated Gallo in full-on, up-close-and-personal cinematic splendor.

Now it turns out that Gallo wine bottle actually involved an entirely different vintage. According to reports circulating on the Internet, Gallo employed a stunt penis, the owner of which is a guy named Jacob Christner, a twentysomething actor who says he has yet to be paid for his work.

Boy, oh, boy. Talk about getting the shaft. The usually verbose Gallo, for his part, is dodging direct comment on the veracity of Christner's claims. Look who's not so cocky ...

This Just In! That If-the-Glove-Doesn't-Fit-You-Must-Acquit Guy Is Dead!

Legendary criminal defense attorney Johnnie Cochran is dead of an inoperable brain tumor. He was 67.

As you know, Cochran's greatest professional acclaim came when he won an acquittal for wife killer O.J. Simpson -- er, I guess that should be ex-wife killer -- but would you really want this headline to be your earthly legacy?: "Simpson: 'Cochran Gave Me My Freedom.' "

As far as calling cards for the Pearly Gates go, it might leave a lot to be desired. Even so, Cochran will still have less to answer for than, say, all those bastards who actually answer their cell phones with a normal tone of voice in movie theaters ...

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Gotta Crack Some Eggs

Here come the Health Nazis. This time, the target is Burger King and its Enormous Omelet Sandwich (catchy name), which packs 730 calories and 47 fat grams of mouth-watering, heart-pounding, artery-clogging, sweat-inducing egg, sausage, cheese and bacon goodness.

"Americans do not need an Enormous Omelet Sandwich," said Penn State nutrition professor Penny Kris-Etherton. "That's too many calories."

Oooh, here's a possible remedy, perfessir: Don't eat one.

Man, this problem-solving business is fun. Next!...

Not Necessarily the News

Fueled by a story in the March 13 edition of The New York Times, many on the left have been skewering the White House in recent weeks for its concerted efforts to push propaganda masquerading as real news.

I'm a bit late getting around to this subject, but bear with me a bit if you would, 'cause I do think I can actually add a bit of perspective (this might be the only time in my life that I really can add perspective, so indulge me; this is a red-letter day for the McInerney clan) ...

The exhaustive report by David Barstow and Robin Stein is certainly en eye-opener, noting how the Bush Administration produced scores of ersatz TV news segments touting various policy initiatives, everything from the Iraq War and the Medicare prescription drug benefit to after-school tutoring programs and attempts to curb childhood obesity.

From the Times:

"Under the Bush administration, the federal government has aggressively used a well-established tool of public relations: the prepackaged, ready-to-serve news report that major corporations have long distributed to TV stations to pitch everything from headache remedies to auto insurance. In all, at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years, records and interviews show. Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government's role in their production.

"This winter, Washington has been roiled by revelations that a handful of columnists wrote in support of administration policies without disclosing they had accepted payments from the government. But the administration's efforts to generate positive news coverage have been considerably more pervasive than previously known. At the same time, records and interviews suggest widespread complicity or negligence by television stations, given industry ethics standards that discourage the broadcast of prepackaged news segments from any outside group without revealing the source."

Having been intimately involved with the broadcast media once upon a time, I have to say, and it pains me to do so, I think the Bush Administration has been unfairly bashed over the matter. Instead, I fault the many TV news stations that were just too ignorant, lazy and generally apathetic to downlink and air freebie news stories without ever bothering to ponder where these news feeds originated (Tom Tomorrow's This Modern World offers a succinct explanation of how these free video feeds work).

The fact is that federal agencies are simply producing a visual form of a press release, which reporters, rightly or wrongly, have relied on since the dawn of time to craft news stories. And yes, such releases are typically presented in written form as if they were actual honest-to-goodness news articles. It's just public relations, folks, and politically motivated governmental entities have as much a right to exploit it as furniture stores and toothpaste manufacturers.

Undoubtedly the Bush Administration has been, er, mighty zealous exploiting the potential of video news releases, or VNRs, as they are called. But zealous doesn't necessarily equal insidious. As scheming and Machiavellian as this White House shows itself to be time and time again, there's no disputing that governmental public relations offices have a responsibility to inform the public about what their respective agencies are up to -- and that boils down to promotion of agendas.

But here's the rub, as the Times continues:

"It is a world where government-produced reports disappear into a maze of satellite transmissions, Web portals, syndicated news programs and network feeds, only to emerge cleansed on the other side as 'independent' journalism.

"It is also a world where all participants benefit.

"Local affiliates are spared the expense of digging up original material. Public relations firms secure government contracts worth millions of dollars. The major networks, which help distribute the releases, collect fees from the government agencies that produce segments and the affiliates that show them. The administration, meanwhile, gets out an unfiltered message, delivered in the guise of traditional reporting."

TV stations often pick up and air such VNRs. Do the producers, assignments editors and managing editors who pluck such VNRS from the recesses of satellite space know these stories are coming courtesy of Uncle Sam?

Much of the time, no.

Do they try to find out from where these VNRs originate? Not too often. Such thoroughness, sadly, isn't always a top priority for twentysomething TV news staffers frantically scanning wire copy, faxes and emails in search of things to fill air time. And with a swelling of TV news programs -- both on the national and local levels -- the main thrust of television news is one of feeding the beast. Fill time, show video. Fill time, show video. It's a dangerous one-two combination for the credibility of broadcast journalism. Many local affiliates have six or more news shows in the course of a weekday, but for most outlets there has not been a corresponding investment in bolstered resources and staff.

In that milieu, VNRs are manna from heaven.

And to make matters worse, they are often cannibalized by the local TV folks to resemble a story that has been locally shot, written and produced.

By way of example, The New York Times looked at WCIA, a small station in central Illinois. News director Jim Gee explained how agriculture-related stories became feasible as a result of VNRs produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

" 'I don't want to use the word "filler," per se, but they meet a need we have,' Mr. Gee said.

"WCIA ... has run 26 segments made by the Agriculture Department over the past three months alone. Or put another way, WCIA has run 26 reports that did not cost it anything to produce.

"Mr. Gee, the news director, readily acknowledges that these accounts are not exactly independent, tough-minded journalism. But, he added: ''We don't think they're propaganda. They meet our journalistic standards. They're informative. They're balanced.'

"More than a year ago, WCIA asked the Agriculture Department to record a special sign-off that implies the segments are the work of WCIA reporters. So, for example, instead of closing his report with ''I'm Bob Ellison, reporting for the U.S.D.A.,' Mr. Ellison says, 'With the U.S.D.A., I'm Bob Ellison, reporting for 'The Morning Show.' "

Bottom line, as far as I can see, is this: The feds could and should consider mandating that VNRs state clearly and unequivocally what entity is responsible for them. After all, agencies that put out press releases typically identify themselves at the top of the document, and they routinely list contact names and information.

But, ultimately, broadcast journalism needs to police itself. As television news continues to bemoan the consistent decline in viewership, the stations have only themselves to blame.

Jacko's Zealous Advocate

Perhaps Michael Jackson's defense attorney could have phrased things a bit differently ...

"You can't stop the defense from putting on a full-blown defense and I mean just that," defense attorney Thomas Mesereau warned the judge in court yesterday.

Tortuous Logic of Tort Reform: Florida Fun Facts

More uncertainties surround whether skyrocketing medical malpractice rates are the fault of money-grubbing lawyers and easily-led juries (cue: hissing from the audience), or that maybe -- just maybe -- the rising costs have something to do with the insurance companies that are the ones actually jacking up premiums.

Here comes more evidence for Republicans to dispute. Hot on the heels of a Texas study that found no correlation between rising malpractice insurance rates and lawsuits, another examination now finds the same dad-gum situation in Florida.

The Palm Beach Post details the Duke University study, which notes medical malpractice rates in the Sunshine State climbed by as much as 50 percent -- but without a concomitant rise in big lawsuit awards:

"The Duke researchers examined closed malpractice insurance claims filed with the state Department of Health between 1990 and 2003. Florida law requires insurers to submit reports on closed claims.

"The study found that the per capita number of malpractice claims in 1990 was about the same as in 2003. It also found that the majority of payouts $1 million or more were not awarded by juries, but the parties settled outside court. Florida juries awarded 60 of the 801 million-dollar payouts made between 1990 and 2003.

" 'We should be looking at what's happening in the settlement rather than what's happening with the jury," [Duke researcher Neil] Vidmar said. 'The real action is happening in the negotiations rather than in the jury room.'

"The study also concluded that the average malpractice award went up and more million-dollar payouts were made. But the researchers also found the number of severe cases, which usually result in higher payouts, increased between 1990 and 2003.

"Another study dovetails with the Duke researchers' findings. Tom Baker, a University of Connecticut professor specializing in insurance law, said he found that the amounts malpractice insurance companies nationwide are paying out for claims have not increased, leading him to conclude that lawsuits aren't the problem.

" 'When we're getting the same answer using completely different research methods, you can be pretty sure we're right,' Baker said of the two studies. 'If what you want to do is protect doctors from the next malpractice insurance crisis, tort reform is not going to do it.' "

When Republicans ease up on the almost pathalogical determination to emasculate trial attorneys, and when Democrats give up on their slavish vow to protect attorneys at all costs -- oh, to dream -- then we just might find a remedy in the tort reform quagmire.

(Thanks to The Gadflyer)

Monday, March 28, 2005

Real Family Values

Amid the sound and fury surrounding the Terri Schiavo story, it's easy for considerably less-contentious news events to get lost in the proverbial shuffle.

One such story: Dr. Georgeanna Seegar Jones, an American gynecologist who was pivotal in paving the way for the nation's first "test tube" baby, died on Saturday, March 26. She was 92.

In 1981, Jones and her husband, Dr. Howard Jones Jr., announced that in vitro fertilization had resulted in the birth of Elizabeth Jordan Carr, the first American to be conceived outside of the mother's body. In the wake of Georgeanna Jones' death, Carr told the Baltimore Sun that she had always considered the Jones to be a "second set of grandparents."

People quietly slip from this mortal coil each and every day without having achieved the sort of celebrity we typically reserve for supermodels and second-rate pop singers. Dr. Georgeanna Seegar Jones is just one of millions of unsung heroes and heroines who have left behind remarkable contributions sure to impact generations to come.

I had never heard of Dr. Jones before happening upon the Sun article, and that's a shame. While politicians of all stripes squawk like parakeets about family values -- you might have heard some particularly loud squawking as of late -- here was a woman who, along with her husband, influenced the lot of families in a way that really mattered.

Check out this Baltimore Sun story for more.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

The Schiavo Case: The Rule of Law

One of our favorite conservative voices, Glenn Reynolds, weighs in on the Schiavo controversy and his thoughts on conservatism and the rule of law:

"I don't think that America is in danger of being taken over by religious Zealots, constituting an American Taliban and bent on establishing theocracy. I think that -- despite their occasionally abusive emails (and most aren't abusive, just upset) -- the people that Mickey Kaus is calling 'pro-tubists' are well-meaning, sincere, and possessed of an earnest desire to do good. I don't think that they're nascent Mullah Omars, and I think that calling them that just makes the problem worse. This is a tragedy, and it's become a circus. Name-calling just makes you one of the clowns.

"Trampling the Constitution in an earnest desire to do good in high-profile cases has been a hallmark of a certain sort of liberalism, and it's the sort of thing that I thought conservatives eschewed. If I were in charge of making the decision, I might well put the tube back and turn Terri Schiavo over to her family. But I'm not, and the Florida courts are, and they seem to have done a conscientious job. Maybe they came to the right decision, and maybe they didn't. But respecting their role in the system, and not rushing to overturn all the rules because we don't like the outcome, seems to me to be part of being a member of civilized society rather than a mob. As I say, I thought conservatives knew this."

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Schiavo Case: Madness on All Sides


This is a truly mind-boggling drama being played out in Pinellas Park, Florida.

The Miami Herald reports that Florida state law enforcement agents set out March 24 to forcibly take custody of Terri Schiavo for the purpose of reinserting her feeding tube, only to finally back off when Pinellas Park police vowed to uphold the judge's order.

This is getting downright scary on so many levels.

Meanwhile, Schiavo's parents now allege their daughter tried to say "I want to live" when the feeding tube was removed last weekend. According to AP, the parents claim in their written legal motion that Terri said " 'AHHHHH' and 'WAAAAAAA' when asked to repeat the phrase 'I want to live.' "

The absurdities of this case widen. On one side, there is the seemingly far-fetched claim that, many years ago, a twentysomething Terri Schiavo mused about whether she'd ever want to live hooked up to life support or a feeding tube. Equally far-fetched, it seems to us, is the notion that a verbal plea for life came from a severely brain-damaged woman whom the vast majority of neurologists say cannot think or feel.

Finally, parents Bob and Mary Schindler are now laying blame with Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for not taking the law into his own hands and somehow kidnapping Terri Schiavo from her hospice. "He's put Terri through a week of hell and my family though a week of hell," Mr. Schindler told reporters. "I implore him to put a stop to this. He has to stop it. This is judicial homicide."

Regardless of where one stands on this whole sad affair, it seems exceedingly cruel to now blame Jeb. While we're no fan of Florida's governor, he is obviously a true believer on the side of the Schindlers and has done everything within the rule of law to aid their cause. Governors pledge to uphold laws, not break them.

There are serious issues and questions involved in the Schiavo debate, and reasonable, well-intentioned people can and do disagree. But the degree of incivility and demonization that the Schiavo controversy has inspired is, in a word, vile.

Proponents of the Schindlers refuse to believe it, but not every single judge in America is dedicated to the notion of murdering an innocent woman.

Even if we accept the notion that Michael Schiavo is a wicked, wicked man who has spent millions of dollars in legal fees and placed his life and new family at risk for the sole purpose of killing his wife (and we're not saying we do believe that) his motives are almost immaterial to whether Terri Schiavo is capable of cognition or why dozens of judges have determined validity to his claims about Terri Schiavo's prior wishes.

Similarly, we don't think U.S. District Judge James Whittimore, who was randomly assigned the case, deserved being vilified by the Religious Right as some Grim Reaper of the bench. Frankly, we feel sorry for each and every judge who has ever been assigned this case, considering the risks it exposes them to from zealots on both sides.

Nor do we think Dr. William Cheshire, who came forward to say he did not believe Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state, deserved the skewering he received by liberal pundits who went so far as to attack the poor guy for pun-filled medical papers and even bad poetry he has written in the past. That is nothing more than character assassination.

This ... is ... crazy.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Cutaways, Take 9

From the Please-God-No Department: Start your engines, guttersnipes! The movie muckwagon is rolling out another remake. This time, Resident Evil director Paul W.S. Anderson is committed to cranking out Deathrace 3000. If you're not familiar with the original Death Race 2000, do yourself a favor and seek it out now before this crap-in-waiting destroys the memories of one of the most enjoyably campy Roger Corman-produced drive-in flicks of the Seventies.

CHUD reports on the ill-conceived remake:

" 'The original was so much about decimating pedestrians that the actual race was almost irrelevant, and I want to restore that,' Anderson said, indicating he'll reduce or eliminate the most amusing aspect of the film. 'Set in 2020, ours is an ultraviolent, no-holds-barred race with heavily armed Escalades, Ferraris and Aston Martins.' Which makes me seriously confused as to why the movie’s not called Deathrace 2020."


If you've ever harbored what you just knew would be a great idea for a movie, you must read Query Letters I Love. Maintained by a Hollywood executive, this blog catalogs honest-to-God pitches from would-be screenwriters. Try to make sense of this one, for instance: an Iraqi refugee leads a rebel uprising in a fantastic and mysterious world populated by the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis and other dead pop-culture icons of the 20th century. As goofy as that sounds, we suspect it would still be better than any Rob Schneider movie.


The New York Daily News' Jack Matthews designates the biggest buzz surrounding upcoming movies. Steven Spielberg sure is one busy guy. This summer, he'll have the sure-to-be-a-hit War of the Worlds, and in December will follow that up with Vengeance, a drama about the PLO's massacre of Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympics. We're more interested in the latter film. By golly, the PLO was considered a terrorist organization once upon a time? Who woulda thunk it?


Speaking of upcoming movies, here's the latest trailer for Bewitched. To quote a shrink I know: "High hopes, low expectations." I mean, I love Nicole Kidman (although we received successful treatment for it, thank you very much), but I also remember The Stepford Wives.


And how about the new trailer for Ron Howard's Cinderella Man? Click here.


The funniest movie lines of all time as seen through the eyes of a smirky laddy mag, Stuff magazine. While we haven't seen the entire list (wouldn't you know, you've gotta actually buy the magazine for all of 'em), my favorite thus far is from 1996's Happy Gilmore (I know, I know ... I'm ashamed, too), in which a nursing home orderly played by Ben Stiller lays down the rules to Grandma Gilmore: “You can trouble me for a warm glass of shut-the-hell-up. Now, you will go to sleep or I will put you to sleep. Check out the name tag. You’re in my world now, Grandma.”


Will the rise of High-Definition TV force a rethinking of celebrity sex symbols? Phillip Swann, the president of OnHDTV, has released a list (we love lists over here!) of the celebs for whom HD-TV is, and is not, very kind.

And who fares best when you can see every pore? According to Swann, it's none other than alleged tennis pro Anna Kournikova.

The worst? Swann says HD-TV Cameron Diaz's "terrible acne" is not well-served by the ultra-clear reception. Ouch.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Ladies of "SNL"

In response to a query from a close friend and avid reader -- whom we will call Buck Nekkid, as per his unorthodox request -- we humbly present the following list of the All-Time Top Ten female hotties to have graced "Saturday Night Live."

While the following list of celebrity babes might appear to smack of hormone-addled immaturity (there, I said it and I feel better for having said it), please rest assured that such a perception is only an illusion.

10. Ana Gasteyer
Interesting face with kind of a squinty-eyed-Ellen Barkin-thing going on, her dead-on impersonation of Martha Stewart even managed to spice up the sex appeal of America's Do-It-Yourself Diva.

9. Molly Shannon
A terrific physical comedianne whose subsequent movie career has been disappointing (although she's set to co-star in Sofia Coppola's next movie, which is promising). Still, we yearn for her notably limber "SNL" antics: "I love it, I love it, I love it, I love it, I love it!"

8. Jane Curtin
Classically attractive and a great straight woman (in the comedic sense, that is), Jane always seemed a bit too well-heeled for the original Not-Ready-for-Primetime Players. Even so, she made an excellent "ignorant slut."

7. Victoria Jackson
The quintessential dumb blonde caricature wore thin, but we thought she was sexy in the way Betty Boop is sexy (yes, yes, I know she's a cartoon). Besides, we still liked Victoria's high-steppin' rendition of "I Am Not a Bimbo."

6. Maya Rudolph
Among the new crop of gifted "SNL"ers, her Donatella Versace impression can be a bit grating, but damn she looks fine in a wig and skimpy dress.

5. Cheri Oteri
Maybe we're just inordinately fond of any actress who dons a cheerleader outfit (OK, not just any actress; Tori Spelling comes to mind, f'r instance), but it helps, too, that Cheri Oteri is an attractive version of Imogene Coca.

4. Amy Poehler
This blonde funny woman has proven to be an excellent addition co-anchoring "Weekend Update" with Tina Fey. And, of course, she's a definite cutie.

3. Julia Louis-Dreyfus
OK, so her stint at "SNL" made Anthony Michael-Hall look like a comparative skit-comedy veteran, but there's no denying she's as much a hottie as she is funny.

2. Jan Hooks
A personal favorite of ours, Jan Hooks is one of the forgotten great comedic actresses of "SNL" -- and mighty sexy, to boot. And she earned bonus points for injecting a type of sultriness to impersonations of icons as disparate as Diane Sawyer and Jessica Hahn.

1. Tina Fey
The undisputed champ of "Saturday Night Live" hotties. Those lips! Those eyes! Those smart-girl glasses! And best of all, she has a razor-sharp sense of humor, having served as chief writer for the show and as screenwriter of the flick Mean Girls.

So there you have it, Buck. Next time, I'm gonna go ahead and pursue that Top 10 Finnish Mathematicians list you talked me out of.

Stop the Presses!

This Washington Post's March 24 headline for a story profiling Jeff Weise, the teen who went on a murderous rampage in Red Lake, Minn., really gets to the heart of the tragedy: "Shooter Described as Deeply Disturbed."

Hmm. Deeply disturbed? You don't say.

Does the phrase "No shit, Sherlock" come to mind?

Sexy and Cheerleading Don't Mix

First they came for the slimy energy companies that had pissed away their employees' life savings, but I was not an energy company employee. And so I said nothing.

Then they came for all the obscene words and actions on the television, but I was not even paying much attention to network TV anymore. And so I said nothing.

And then they came for all the carb- and calorie-rich junk food, but I was needing to lose some lbs. myself. And so I said nothing.

But then they came for the sexy high school cheerleading.

And that's when these cultural bombthrowers went too far.

ABC News has followed the crusade of Texas state Rep. Al Edwards. Armed with a bill to outlaw sexy cheerleading, this Democratic legislator has apparently spent far too many brisk Lone Star evenings huddled up in the bleachers, watching the cheerleaders gyrate and slither their way into his subconscious, a synapse-snappin' no-man's-land of frying pan sizzle and jailbait fantasies.

"Under Edwards' bill, if a school district knowingly permits such a performance, funds from the state would be reduced in an amount to be determined by the education commissioner," reported ABC.

Stop the madness.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Nanny Nanny Boo Boo

"You wanted me to jump off the bridge, I finally have jumped. You wanted to bring me down, you've finally brought me and my family down. Finally done it ... So now go pick a different person. I'm done."
-- Barry Bonds, 2005

"You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference."
-- Richard Nixon, 1962

Doctoring with Doctor Tom

"I don't think you have to examine her. All you have to do is look at her on TV. Any doctor with any conscience can look at her and know that she does not have a terminal disease and know that she has some function."
-- U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), commenting on the Teri Schiavo case in The New York Times.

That's Oklahoma's pride and joy, physician-turned-lawmaker Tom Coburn, proving just how easy it is to diagnose patients by watching television from the privacy of your own home. Try it yourself, it's a gas!

For instance, nowadays you don't even need a medical license to diagnose a United States Senator suffering from sheer idiocy ...

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Q: Are We Not Prophets? A: We are ...

A USA Today article questions how many Americans truly want the increase of choices that would arise from the Bush Administration's personal accounts for Social Security:

"Other analysts point to new research that shows too much choice can result in paralysis, bad choices or what psychologist Barry Schwartz calls 'vague angst.'

" 'It's never occurred to anyone that choice could be a bad thing,' says Schwartz, a professor at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and author of the 2004 book The Paradox of Choice.

"He cites a 2003 Vanguard study that found a negative correlation between participation in 401(k) retirement savings accounts and the number of investment options available. For every 10 funds added, participation dropped 1.5% to 2%."

Well, if this Schwartz character is sooo smart, how did he not know that more choices can be a bad thing? Obviously, the guy never really listened carefully to those flowerpot-wearing prophets of the Eighties ...


As the Bush White House might do well to remember the words of Devo:

Freedom of choice is what you got.
Freedom from choice is what you want.

Oh, yes, grasshopper ... we can learn much from gleaning the truth-telling of the Nostradamus fill-ins of the checkered Vans and skinny-tie generation.

When a problem comes along, you must whip it.
Before the cream sits out too long, you must whip it.

(Foretold the invasion of Iraq)

Look at you with your mouth watering.
Look at your with your mind spinning.
(Foretold the White House internship program during the Clinton Administration)

Monkey men all in business suit,
Teachers and critics all dance the poot.
(Foretold the theory of "intelligent design")

Sex Tape Derby

I will not be ignored.

Several posts ago, I proposed a game of some intellectual caprice (or smut, depending on your point of view). Read here for more.

In a nutshell, my fanciful proposition was this: Amid a growing trend of celebrities (Paris Hilton, Fred Durst and the like) who are caught on homemade videos doing the beast with two backs, let's say -- just for the sake of argument, mind you -- that you were forced, with eyes pried open, to watch a video (or DVD, if you wanna be all hip and with it) featuring certain celebs in various states of doing you-know-what.

Let's say you had to pick .... Whom would you rather be forced to view?

(Please note: This is not your run-of-the-mill "would yah rather" game. There is more nuance involved here ... or so I would have myself believe)

1. Bijou Phillips or Liv Tyler?

2. Kenny G or Kenny from South Park?

3. Nancy Grace or Gloria Allred?

4. Chris Rock or The Rock?

5. Tori Amos or Fiona Apple?

6. George Stephanapoulos or Tucker Carlson?

C'mon, fess up ...

Okie Bloggin', Take 4

Another installment of Okie Bloggin'. Not as daring as rasslin' a big ol' catfish from the bottom of a stream, perhaps, but still, all in all, a valuable character-building experience ...

Chaz at dustbury ponders the gender implications, if there are any, of the bloggers and linkers. I never really thought about it, but now that you mention it, I have noticed ...

The Joker's Wife has a bad case of pottymouth. Either that, or she and her husband, Otto, are just having some innocent roll-play (and we do mean "roll" with two L's)

On Okie Funk, Kurt discusses the reality vs. myth of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and what it means for Oklahoma. Considering the enduring, and unjust, bum rap the classic has gotten from my home state, this should be required reading for all Okies -- the book and the blog post.

Are all doctors dillholes? Lip Schtick's LilRed, who is likely grieving OU's loss at the moment, weighs in with a resounding "No." We'll concede, this sounds like one o' them good docs.

Reflections in d minor admits that Lynn is addicted to stuff.

This Is Class Warfare examines the implications of a recent study on the biases of the big cable news networks. Guess who might not be all that fair and balanced?

The Daily Bitch's aka_monty is happy to report (as are we) that, yes, people with differing views can disagree without dissolving into shouting matches.

Speaking of bitch, A Fistful of Fortnights also has something to bitch about.

The USAF wife of Great Googly Moogly shamelessly shills for Adagio tea -- but, then again, she does use the phrase "cut to the chase," which we'll accept as shameless shilling for us.

The proud Okie of Oklarama, that lovable OKPartisan, singles out a certain local "society" newspaper to wonder when "affluent" became synonymous for "beautiful." And no, cosmetic surgery doesn't count ...

Elsewhere, OKPartisan (the one and the same) on Blue Dot Blog reflects on all that hoopla surrounding same-sex unions, and wonders "why not gay marriage?"

Life and Deatherage ponders Republican Party ideology and the Terri Schiavo story.

Dr. Pants of Wholesale Pants Warehouse fame tells us all about having a ball.

The chicks from l'esprit d'escalier are having a rocky time of it. Hang tough, ladies. We're praying for you.

It's another birthday at It's Not Easy Being Green. Oh, how I miss the days when 25 sounded old to me...

Leila M., the proprietor of Sister Scorpion, discovers the dubious acumen of TV reporters. I don't wanna say "I told you so" -- especially since I didn't (not technically, anyway) -- but, what the hell? Told you so.

Okiedoke's Mike isn't a proponent of drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but he wonders what in tarnation Sen. Barbara Boxer is thinking in her push for a boycott of pro-ANWR drillin' firms.

The Left End of the Dial rues the Iraq War, what got us there and where the hell we go from here.

Oklahoma City's Alliance for Emerging Professionals is on the mind of one Downtown Guy.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Terri Schiavo: Some Blog Thoughts

Some sundry blogs weigh in on the Terri Schiavo saga ...

Bull Moose offers a clear-eyed critique of what the unprecedented involvement of Dubya and Congress means for conservatism:

"What we are witnessing now is the triumph of ends over means. That is exactly what the right loathed about the left. In the eye of conservatives, the left would stretch the Constitution and the law to serve its so-called noble ends. Liberals would turn to the federal courts to nullify the judgments of localities. In the end, according to the right, the law of unintended consequences would prevail and the rule of law would be obliterated.

"Process no longer matters to the right - after all they are on the side of the angels. Whether it is pork barrel spending , the Senate filibuster or federal intervention in a family dispute, modern conservatism knows no boundaries. The right is now intoxicated with power - process is for wimps."

The Token Liberal has an interesting perspective of the Religious Right and selective dogma:

"Here's a thought for the Religious Right Wing of the Powers That Be currently burning the midnight oil making political and ideological hay of Terri Schiavo's unfortunate plight ... what about just putting her fate in God's hands?

"That's right. Drop the posturing and the lawsuits and let God decide.

"He'll know what to do. Have a little faith, fer cryin' out loud.

"More hypocrisy from the Party of Less Government."

The mood is mighty dour at The All Spin Zone.

"The country is going to hell in a handbasket. The planet is going to hell in a handbasket. Hundreds of thousands of functional people will die around the world today from war, state-sponsored genocide, starvation, AIDS, spousal abuse, execution, gang violence, narco terrorism, and many other social causes, yet the U.S. congress would never, in a million legislative days (the measurement of time in Washington, DC), consider meeting in emergency session to deal with those issues. Never. Yet they meet today to deal with the moral question of a brain dead woman being allowed to depart this mortal coil with some modicum of decency."

Also --and another thanks to ASZ for the heads-up on this post -- Obsidian Wings provides a thorough -- and we do mean thorough -- examination of the legal implications involved. Click here for the musings; it's lengthy but worth it.

And for another view, dustbury's Chaz ponders right-to-die issues:

"A tossed-off Beckoid 'I'm a loser, baby, why don't you kill me?' does not strike me as particularly irrefutable.

"This is, however, as far as I'm willing to wade into the waters of euthanasia: I am not the best judge of slippery slopes, perhaps, but as a wiser man than I once said, 'You never think you have need of any chocks until you're in the truck, and you realize it's rolling down the hill. Backwards.'

"For myself, I haven't decided one way or another, haven't filed any legal documents or anything, but I figure there are worse ways to go than being shot out of a cannon."

So true, Chaz. But just to belabor the point: Being shot by a cannon isn't so hot, either.

Schindler's List of Helpers (With Friends Like These...)

Regardless of how you feel about the Terri Schiavo saga, there are some folks you just don't need in your corner. And it's more than a bit disturbing to see that Terry Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, have enlisted the help of two luminaries of the American lunatic fringe: Operation Rescue co-founder Randall Terry and militia crazy Lt. Col. James "Bo" Gritz.

On Saturday, March 19, the first day that Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was removed (the U.S. Senate has since hammered out a compromise to make a federal court the final authority on the case), police busted Gritz and several other protesters for trying to symbolically smuggle bread and water into the hospice of the brain-damaged woman.

A former Special Forces commando, Gritz has been at the forefront of the protests calling for Terri Schiavo to remain on a feeding tube. It is only the latest chapter in Gritz's decidedly unconventional career. In 1992, he briefly ran for vice president on the racist and anti-Semitic Populist Party ticket, playing second fiddle to the top of that ticket, former KKK leader David Duke.

Yes, Bo knows wacko. He has been active in the anti-government militia movement, and proved central in turning the 1992 federal seige on Randy Weaver (in Ruby Ridge, Idaho) into a major rallying cry for militia groups. At the time, Gritz called for the arrests of everyone involved, from then-FBI chief William Sessions to Idaho governor Cecil Andrus.

Since that time, Gritz has dedicated himself to hawking survivalist training, warning fellow conspiracy mongers about a Zionist plot for worldwide domination and championing the extreme fringe group called Christian Identity, which views the world through the prism of racism and anti-Semitism.

"Do you see the sign, scent, stain and mark of the beast on America today?" Gritz asked back in the early 1990s. "The enemy you face today is a satanic overthrow where he would change the United States of America, a nation under God, into USA, Incorporated, with King George [the first President Bush] as chairman of the board, and a Zionist group that would rule over us as long as Satan might be upon this earth. That is your enemy."

But Bo Gritz isn't even the most high-profile of the Schindlers' defenders. The couple's spokesman is none other than Randall Terry, who helped establish Operation Rescue (until mounting debts just got to be too much of a headache), where he advanced the anti-abortion fight by conducting commando-style raids on women's medical centers around the country.

This is a guy you want articulating your cause? Randall Terry who has unabashedly vowed to help transform the U.S. into a Christian theocracy? Randall Terry who is on the record supporting the death penalty for homosexuals (despite of, or perhaps because, his own son is gay)? Randall Terry who was jailed for trying to present a fetus to President Clinton?

Yep, the same Randall Terry who once warned doctors who perform abortions, "When I, or people like me, are running the country, you'd better flee, because we will find you, we will try you and we will execute you. I mean every word of it. I will make it part of my mission to see to it that they are tried and executed. If we're going to have true reformation in America, it is because men once again, if I may use a worn out expression, have righteous testoserone flowing through their veins."

We are wary of how Terri Schiavo's parents are really helped by a man who noted during a speech in 1993, "Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good."

If you are judged by the company you keep, the side battling for Terri Schiavo's feeding tube are not doing themselves any favors.

A Taxing Riddle

The IRS needs more muscle?

According to The Baltimore Sun, the agency plans to outsource a chunk of its collections activities to private firms. "Under the plan, set to start by the end of the year," the newspaper notes, "the government would transmit Social Security numbers and other information on tax evaders to one of as many as 12 companies that land the contracts."

There are critics of the plan, especially a provision that enables some private contractors to keep up to 25 percent of the delinquent taxes owed. As the Sun suggests, "that could encourage aggressive tactics."

What are we missing here? Is the IRS typically all sweetness and Daffodils about overdue taxes? How could private contractors possibly be more intimidating -- er, aggressive -- than a flurry of notices courtesy Uncle Sam? Unless these private-sector collection agencies are utilizing numchucks, we think the critics need to chill on the Chicken Littleisms.

Our favorite aspect of the outsourcing, however, is what a mind game it is for the "privatization=good, taxes=bad" ideologues over at the Cato Institute.

From the Sun:

" 'In general, I support privatization, but in this case, I'm concerned about civil liberties,' said Chris Edwards, an expert on tax policy at the Cato Institute, a free-market Washington think-tank.'Taxation is something the government uniquely does. The government has coercive power over individuals to pay up. That should be a government function, not a private one.' "

If ever there was a Zen Koan for libertarians, this is it.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

"The Ring Two," "The Jacket": Some Thoughts

What The Ring boasted in mood, atmosphere, pacing, characterization, layers of complexity and legitimate spookiness, its successor tries to make up for in ... um ... well ... rampaging deer.

In other words, The Ring Two is a failure. And that's a particular letdown, considering that Hollywood tapped Hideo Nakata for it, the Japanese director whose 1998 horror film, Ringu, was the original source material for The Ring.

Naomi Watts reprises her role as Rachel, the dogged newspaper reporter (if you haven't seen the first Ring from 2002, incidentally, forget trying to make sense of anything that goes on in this sequel). She and her preternaturally mature son, Aidan (David Dorfman) have tried to leave behind the horrors of Samara's home videos by moving to a small town in Oregon. But it's not that easy, and so it isn't long before the appearance of our favorite ghost in desperate need of a haircut.

Unless a movie is packaged to be camp, it can handle only a couple of absurdities before things turn laughable. Ring Two asks its audience to swallow an awful lot of gristle. After a local teenager dies under suspicious circumstances, Rachel has no problem sauntering into an ambulance, where she subsequently unzips the body bag to inspect the corpse. Nor does it prove to be a challenge for her to sneak into the crime scene and retrieve a videotape still in the VCR (lucky break for Samara that evidently no one in the Pacific Northwest has made the switch to DVD players).

There are some amusing bits, but they don't really gel into anything cohesive. Sissy Spacek makes an interesting cameo as Samara's biological mother; it's a hoot to see Spacek, who set the standard for creepy kids back in 1976 with Carrie, more or less riffing on Piper Laurie's role in that earlier movie as Carrie's crazed momma. We know Spacek's character here is crazy because she collects huge piles of newspapers, which -- according to Hollywood -- is a tell-tale sign of mental illness (i.e. A Beautiful Mind).

Most annoying of all is how The Ring Two cheats by revising the entire backstory of its progenitor. The first Ring centered on the conceit that Samara, a creature of pure evil, was something of an anomaly to the natural order of the universe. In that film, Samara's mother had suffered miscarriage after miscarriage before finally giving birth; Samara's very existence, it seemed, was an affront to nature.

But you can forget all that. Without wanting to give too much away (am I thoughtful or what?), that whole notion is turned on its head in Ring Two. Evidently, sequels are easy to crank out when screenwriters aren't tied to pesky matters of the logic and previously established narratives.

Mick LaSalle offers an on-target review in The San Francisco Chronicle.


Much better creepy fare is had in The Jacket. It's a lot of gibberish about time travel, mad doctors in insane asylums and an assortment of red herrings, but it's well-crafted and generally accomplishes what it sets out to do. Hell, The Jacket is certainly watchable, anyway. Then again, after The Ring Two, C-SPAN 2 could seem like a psychedelic trip.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Smoke Up

Even a tight-ass like David Brooks, God love him, can see the writing on the wall: America is becoming a nation of persnickety, fitness-obsessed killjoys. In a recent New York Times column, Brooks recounts a veritable orgy of food and booze he and some friends enjoyed during a trip to New Orleans. When the waitperson came around to offer that final cup of coffee, Brooks -- after properly gorging himself on an array of seafood -- surprised even himself by checking to ensure that the java was decaf. It was emblematic, the writer admits, of the wussified (my word, not his) era to which we belong.

"We live in the age of the lily-livered, in which fretting over things like excessive caffeination is built into the cultural code," he wrote.

"I blame the arbiters of virtue. Sometime over the past generation we became less likely to object to something because it is immoral and more likely to object to something because it is unhealthy or unsafe. So smoking is now a worse evil than six of the Ten Commandments, and the word 'sinful' is most commonly associated with chocolate.

"Now we lead lives in which everything is a pallid parody of itself: fat-free yogurt, salt-free pretzels, milk-free milk. Gone, at least among the responsible professional class, is the exuberance of the feast. Gone is the grand and pointless gesture."

Amen, Brother Brooks (that, incidentally, will be the last time your humble blogger refers to Mr. Brooks in that manner). While I certainly understand and appreciate the attention paid to fitness -- even I have been known to walk a few paces every so often, if only to find my wallet to pay the Dominos guy -- such zeal has cast a pall over the glories of decadence.

And nowhere is that more evident than the push to ban smoking in every nook and cranny of the globe.

First, in the spirit of full disclosure, let me say that I am a former smoker. Until a few years ago, I smoked a pack and a half a day. And while I have been horrified to find myself slowly turning into a pain-in-the-ass former smoker, the kind who wrinkles up his nose in disgust when sharing an elevator with someone who smells like he or she has diddled an ashtray, I fervently believe that some places should remain smoker-friendly -- indeed, must remain smoker-friendly.

Namely: Bars.

I defer to an excellent piece recently penned by Mike Millard in the Boston Phoenix.

"Smoking bans make sense, to a point. I won't argue, as some do, that the seriousness of secondhand smoke has been exaggerated. And as someone who hacks butts on a semi-regular basis, and who'd love to kick the habit, I gladly agree with common-sense rules. In airplanes, of course. Shopping malls. Even restaurants. But bars? Sorry. Smoking and boozing go together like Dean and Frank. To my mind, one of life's great pleasures is sitting in some quiet pub, a paper and a pint before me, the whorls from a cigarette playing in the late-afternoon sunlight. These days, one has to travel to Providence to be that decadent. Or actually, no. As of March 1, smoking is verboten there, too."

Even if we accept as gospel the health hazards of secondhand smoke, stamping out all traces of the smoke-filled bar is simply... un-American. Some romantic notions, no matter how misguided or delusional, are worth propping up by all means necessary. Politicians should cut deals in back rooms. Construction workers should catcall and whistle at good-looking women walking down the street. Detectives should wear fedoras and talk like Bogart.

And bars should be smoky. It is a winning combination comparable to coffee and doughnuts (another twosome currently under attack by the Health Nazis). Hell, anyone who has ever taken a drag on a Camel knows that nothing -- not even the euphoria of good health -- is quite as satisfying as a nicotine high accompanied by a cocktail. A free society cannot, in good conscience, prohibit that payoff. Otherwise, we might just as well allow sex but outlaw the orgasm.

But the need to protect the smoke-filled bar transcends matters of simple gratification. The smoky bar is iconic. And in an America seemingly wracked every few minutes by cultural upheaval -- a game of social tectonics constantly challenging our perceptions of conservative and liberal, right and wrong, truth and falsehood -- we should resolve to save the few iconic scenes that are still around.

Yes, even if they can kill us. These are, after all, weird times. We live in a world in which a submarine sandwich franchise promotes itself by catering to obese people. Growing numbers of school districts send home "weight" grades, as if further traumatizing fat kids will help them lose weight. A boob falls out of a bra during the Superbowl and people recoil as if Rome is burning. Gymnasiums have become the new coffeeshops, and coffeeshops have become the new gyms.

OK, I digressed there, but you get the general idea. Hey, teachers: Leave them bars alone.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Reel Short Reviews, Take 4

Some movies I've seen or re-seen recently (with four stars the maximum rating):

Baadasssss! (2003)
A movie for people who love indie movies -- not artsy stuff, mind you, but the kind larded with thug cops, pendulous boobs, kickass knife-fights and the occasional glimpse of boom microphone peeking into the top of the frame. A psychoanalyst could have a field day with the implications of Mario Van Peebles portraying his father, Melvin Van Peebles, as the elder Van Peebles made what would be the launching pad for the "blaxploitation" genre, 1971's Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song. Baadasssss! is a kinetic, admiring ode to moviemaking on a shoestring budget and the curse of creativity. Most of all, however, it's a valentine from Mario Van Peebles -- who produced, directed, wrote and starred in the film -- to his dad ...who produced, directed, wrote and starred in Sweet Sweetback.

Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982)
Steve Martin used his star wattage in the early Eighties for some truly offbeat films, including this film noir parody in which the main joke finds our hard-boiled detective (Martin) interacting with stars from film noirs of the Forties, including Humphrey Bogart, Burt Lancaster, Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner. If you're a fan of the Golden Age of Hollywood, you'll dig the Zelig-like gags -- but the story contrivances required for such interaction grow as tortured as you'd expect. A little goes a looonng way.

Friday Night Lights (2004)
The film version of H.G. Bissinger's celebrated work of "new journalism" packs a hell of a punch. Billy Bob Thornton is his typical chameleon self, but the movie boasts solid acting all around. Director Peter Berg could have eased up on some of his cinema-verite stylistics; the relentless handheld cameras, hurky jerky zooms and jump cuts make it a challenge to stay grounded in the proceedings -- but the film gradually reels you in and refuses to let go. Anyone who has grown up in the Midwest will recognize the staggering pressures placed on high school football players and how a team's performance can shape the self-worth of a poor community. Sad, but true.

Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst (2004)
This Robert Stone-directed documentary is a straightforward account of the Symbionese Liberation Army and that domestic terrorist group's kidnapping of Patty Hearst, who was the granddaughter of media tycoon William Randolph Hearst and heiress to that family's fortune. It is consistently interesting, if not particularly edifying, but the footage of that time period -- especially the group's 1974 shootout with Los Angeles police -- is captivating.

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)
Here's a novel twist on the old Cheech & Chong stoner comedies: Two smart young men, Asian-American investment banker Harold (John Cho) and Indian-American med school candidate Kumar (Kal Penn), get stoned one Friday night and set about to satiate their White Castle cravings amid the wilds that are suburban New Jersey. The result is a Goldilocks porridge of teen movies -- certainly not aiming too high, but also not stooping to the lowest common denominator. Directed by Danny Leiner (responsible for the safely lowest-common-denominator Dude, Where's My Car?), Harold & Kumar actually boasts some funny vignettes, especially involving a boil-laden meth addict-turned-born again freak and a stripper-fondling, coke-addled Doogie Howser.

The Last Laugh (1924)
F.W. Murnau's silent classic remains electrifying, no small feat for a movie that is essentially about a hotel doorman demoted to washroom attendant. Sound interesting? Well, it is, and more. The damn thing is poetic, an early testament to the power of cinema. Murnau's camera glides through hotel lobbies, climbs up tenement buildings and finds the visual manifestation of internal realities. Not too shabby. Murnau is ably helped by Emil Jannings as the oversized doorman who apparently considers being washroom attendant to be a fate worse than death. This movie must have really cut into the self-esteem of many a hotel employee back in '24.

The Leopard (1963)
Luchino Visonti 's Techniscope epic about 19th century Sicilian royalty is visually lush, long, plodding and still long. I know it's considered a classic; I know I should have appreciated it more. But I fell asleep watching it. Twice.

Saw (2004)
If David Fincher and the Crypt Keeper hooked up for a single night of bliss, this would be the subsequent spawn. The set-up is terrific: Two strangers wake up in a bombed-out and abandoned public restroom, each one with a leg chained to a pipe and a dead man in a pool of blood between them. But the movie bogs down in a tired morality play hypnotized by its own well-tread atmospherics.

Snow White: A Tale in Terror (1997)
Sometimes different isn't better; it's just, well, you know ... different. This dark, morbid and violent story is more about the Grimms' version of Snow White than it is about that Disney ingenue shacked up with all the happy dwarves. Sigourney Weaver is obviously having fun as Snow White's evil stepmother, but most of this flick just coasts along on the fumes of its own self-satisfied edginess. Once you get past the novelty, A Tale of Terror is a decent, if unremarkable, slab of Gothic horror.

The Wild Reeds (1994)
Set in 1962 France, this coming-of-age story centers on four young people at a boarding school. one of whom, Francoise (Gael Morel) discovers he is gay. As directed by Andre Techine, Wild Reeds is often poignant and reveals plenty of heart, but too often it lags and seems a bit too aware of its own low-key pretentiousness.

Wasting Time (with Style)

Chances are you might have already happened upon this, but just in case ... Better living through chemistry (not to mention the need for affordable pharmaceuticals) is lampooned sharply in this cartoon for "The Drugs I Need," with music courtesy the Austin Lounge Lizards. (thanks to JibJab)


Here's another Web site I only recently stumbled upon (thanks to the Incurable Insomniac). You no longer need to breathlessly await packages in the mail, thanks to the high-tech wizardry of Virtual Bubblewrap.


Need to waste even more time? Try this.


Remember way back during the 1988 Democratic convention when Rob Lowe got in so much hot water for engaging in a threeway sexcapade on videotape? The uproar over it seems almost quaint in retrospect, emblematic of a horse-and-buggy time filled with potato-sack races and barbershop quartets. Heck, the Lowe video must have been sepia-toned, for God's sake.

Nowadays, of course, you're almost an oddity if you haven't appeared naked in old photos or indulged in a videotaping of the profound act of lovemaking. Where would we be without Pamela and Tommy Lee renewing our faith in that crazy little thing called love? What would our joie de vivre be without Paris Hilton giving it up for the sake of the Information Age? And now we have Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst filing suit over his sex tape having been leaked over the Internet.

Anyway, it got me to thinking about the whole concept of sex acts committed to homemade videotape. OK, admittedly, anything short of a treatise on the Dewey decimal system is likely to send my thoughts in that direction.

But we digress. Anyway, here's our pointless survey for today:

Let's say you had to -- absolutely had to -- watch a homemade sex video featuring one of the celebrities noted below. I mean, let's say you had no choice in the matter, something akin to Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange.

In you had to pick one per matchup, who would you rather be subjected to watching make love, sweet love?

Tom Arnold or Maury Povich?

Nancy Pelosi or Lynn Cheney?

Jose Canseco or Jason Giambi?

Arlen Specter or Phil Spector?

Catherine Zeta-Jones or Selma Hayek?

Spuds McKenzie or Seabiscuit?

Star Jones or Pia Zadora?

Vin Diesel or the Rock?

Mary-Kate or Ashley?

Jerry Seinfeld or Larry David?

Keira Knightley or Kate Beckinsale?

Mel Gibson or St. Peter?

Minnie Mouse or Minnie Pearl?

Popeye or Yosemite Sam?

Betty or Veronica?

Just curious ...

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

That's One Choosy President

So let's get this straight ...

To serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Dubya picks John Bolton, a bomb-throwing canker sore of a diplomat whose very selection is viewed by many around the globe as an outstretch middle finger to that organization.

To serve as undersecretary of State for public diplomacy, Dubya picks political crony Karen Hughes, whose sickeningly blind loyalty to the clod in chief has helped her parlay a career from TV anchorwoman to top-flight bureaucrat.

To head the World Bank, Dubya picks pugnacious neocon Pooh-Bah Paul Wolfowitz, widely reviled throughout much of Europe for his pivotal role in leading the charge for the Iraq War.

Nice. At this rate, it's just a matter of weeks until the BTK killer wins a Cabinet post.

"Robots": Some Thoughts

As long as we're talking about robots ...

Robots, the latest cinematic excursion in 3-D computer animation, might not rival the monster works being turned out by Pixar, but this offering from director Chris Wedge (who also helmed the respectable Ice Age) still provides enough entertaining moments to leave the theater without cursing children.

In the movie's whimsical world populated by clunky, retro-looking metal robots (think a cross between Forbidden Planet's Robby the Robot and Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots), our perfunctory hero is Rodney Copperbottom (voiced by Ewan McGregor), a young go-getter bot who leaves small-town Rivet City to become an inventor. That dream propels Rodney to the bustling metropolis of Robot City, where he hopes to meet and work for his idol, Bigweld (Mel Brooks), a benign bot who supplies upgrades for aging and antiquated robots.

But drat! Rodney discovers that Bigweld has all but disappeared from the scene. Instead, Bigweld's empire has been hijacked by Ratchet (Greg Kinnear), an evil corporate robot in league with his even-more-evil mother (Jim Broadbent) to take over Robot City. If all this sounds anti-corporate and mildly subversive -- well, it is. So much the better.

There is a whole slew of star power here to provide voices, most of whom -- including Halle Berry, Stanley Tucci, Jay Leno, Drew Carey and Paul Giamatti -- are wasted. Only Robin Williams really has an opportunity to shine as (what else?) a lovable misfit named Fender. It turns out, incidentally, that even an animated Robin Williams can chew up the scenery with the same zeal as Kirstie Alley at a Vegas buffet.

But while the celebrity names are wasted, the jaw-dropping imagination of Robots is mighty impressive. Despite an occasionally rote script, Robots is rife with wonderful details, from the Rube Goldbergian contraptions that are Robot City's transportation system, right down to the grey pinstripes adorning Ratchet's sleek frame. And, yes, there are enough sly pop-culture references to amuse the weary parents in the audience.

Carrie Rickey provides a solid review in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Cutaways, Take 8

As of this writing, I can't judge the artistry of The Jacket's director, John Maybury, but based on a recent interview with IGN FilmForce, I can safely judge his personality.

The word, I think, is dick.

Some nuggets of wisdom from Mr. Maybury:

"When there are big narrative failings in a piece of storytelling, writers can just shuffle it all up and dump it on someone like me, the director, to try and sort it out. I think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Memento, there's been a whole raft of these kind of films.

"So I think if I've made a much more interesting, a much more demanding film than the general kind of ... No, I don't have contempt for Charlie Kaufman. He's a brilliant screenwriter as was proved last night (the Academy Awards ceremony) at that corporate event.

"It was really depressing to watch ... that corporate program ... to see how much crap won. Especially, you know, when the director who made Play Misty for Me, one of my favorite films of all time, won for such a piece of shit. But can you believe that the man who made Play Misty for Me made Million Dollar Baby?"

Sounds like The Jacket straitjacketed the wrong guy. Adrien Brody wasn't the delusional guy on that set.


David Cronenberg's The Fly as an opera?!? Yes, pardner, it's true. Composer Howard Shore -- who has scored many Cronenberg movies as well as more commercial fare like the Lord of the Rings trilogy -- is working on it. We only hope and pray that the soundtrack will have room for that great old Cramps punk classic, "Human Fly."


Gunner Palace looks to be an amazing vantage point to the latest Iraq War. Click here for the trailer. Directed by Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker, the documentary chronicles nine months in the lives of American GIs camped out in the one-time Baghdad palace of Uday Hussein.

In The Village Voice, Tucker muses on what motivated the film: "I'm kind of beyond rights and wrongs, at this point. I'm really more like, we're two years into a war, and it's a very painful thing. And that people need to pay attention to what's happening to these soldiers and their families. I think people have seen the war so politically, when they should see it emotionally, because emotions are good for action. Politics are a very dry thing."

Ella Taylor provides a meaty review of the film in L.A.Weekly.


Speaking of documentaries, here's the trailer for Inside Deep Throat, which has been getting mixed notices (mainly positive, though) for its mosaic of the controversy surrounding the 1972 hardcore porn phenomenon. Don't look for this one to play in the so-called Heartland.


McSweeney's offers up Abbott & Costello vs. Blockbuster. Check it out. It's what we Oklahomans like to call "a hoot."


USA Today examines the travails of transferring Marvel's Fantastic Four to the big screen.


We're on a trailer kick today. So here's the trailer for Richard Linklater's remake of (we're still coming to grips with this one) The Bad News Bears, which finds Billy Bob Thornton in the role of Walter Matthau's Buttermaker. I have to say, I've been skeptical. After all, I was a devotee of the original; for an awkward misfit boy who loved baseball growing up in 1976, Bears was the cinematic equivalent of a grilled cheese sandwich and Campbells tomato soup.

That said, the upcoming version, which will hit theaters in June, has a first-rate pedigree: Billy Bob, director Linklater (who gave us Dazed and Confused and The School of Rock) and screenwriters Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who scribed Bad Santa. So, yeah, I'm optimistic.


Oh, and the latest trailer for Frank Miller's Sin City is here. How amazing does it look? Waaayyy amazing.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Blame Someone, Anyone ...

As much as I'm inclined to shudder everytime the right-wing punditry renews its perennial charge that the mainstream media is anti-religious (or anti-Christian, to be more precise), sometimes the truth in the allegations is too much to ignore.

Case in point: The recent Wisconsin shooting in which the lonely, depressive sociopath du jour gunned down seven members of his church before turning the gun on himself.

News reports center on how gunman Terry Ratzmann had been mortified after Living Church of God evangelist Roderick Meredith predicted an imminent financial crisis that would sink America like an iceberg. Check out this Los Angeles Times report, for example, in which writers Scott Gold and Lianne Hart appear to seriously mull the culpability of the (admittedly flaky) sermon that Meredith had delivered to congregations around the nation via church publications and taped sermons.

"Ratzmann also appeared to have become agitated by recent messages delivered by Meredith, the church leader ... Acquaintances and church members said Sunday that Ratzmann may have been deeply affected in particular by Meredith's recent messages, delivered in taped sermons and editorials in the church's magazine, predicting financial collapse.

"One editorial written by Meredith said the United States would soon face 'total bankruptcy.' Meredith called for church members to pay off their credit cards and all other debts.'We should also have at least the equivalent of 60 days' living expenses in case of a sudden breakdown in the banking system,' he wrote.

"A spokesman said Meredith was not available to comment Sunday. The sermons and editorials were seen as a somber warning by many of the church's 7,000 members worldwide. The message, said Scott Winnail, a church elder in Wyoming, was that there could be a 'potential collapse of the U.S. currency.' However, Winnail and other leaders said the messages were not seen as particularly controversial among church members. They were, he said, 'not received poorly.'

"Indeed, in many ways they fit into the church's warnings over the years of an impending apocalypse. After [church founder Herbert] Armstrong's death in 1986, the Worldwide Church of God underwent changes that, while subtle at first, set it on a path toward schism.

"By 1995, its leadership had repudiated much of Armstrong's 'end-time' theology and even jettisoned hallmarks that helped define the church's worship on Saturday instead of Sunday, for example, and mandatory tithing. It also accepted the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, which Armstrong had disavowed. The turn toward mainstream Christianity prompted the formation of eight breakaway churches.

"One was led by Meredith, who remained faithful to Armstrong's doctrines. After another split, Meredith founded the Living Church of God."

Maybe it's just me, but the Times' lengthy exploration of Ratzmann's church affiliation smacks of inferences about an alleged role that Meredith's doomsday rantings had on the killer. Why not assign a reporter to determine where Ratzmann secured the gun that enabled him to murder? What about an investigative piece into what make and model of car transported him to his date with death? And just who were his grade school teachers? My God, where did they go wrong?

Good grief.

John Hinckley takes a shot at Reagan? Blame Taxi Driver. Oklahoma City's federal building is bombed? Blame right-wing talk radio. Massacre at Columbine? Blame Marilyn Manson and violent video games. Too many kids smoking in the school parking lot? Blame Big Tobacco. Too many fat people on the bus? Blame McDonald's. 9-11? Blame the Bush Administration.

In the 1970s, our nation was hip on the adage that "shit happens." Somewhere along the way, however, it became a national obsession to ascribe responsibility for all that aforementioned shit. This is not to agree with some conservatives who claim the blame game is indicative of a country populated by put-upon victims and crybabies. Sometimes it is helpful to search for blame.

But not when it comes to acts of violence and sheer depravity. Too often the inexplicable is nothing more than just that: inexplicable. Perhaps the ultimate lunacy is searching for a rational impetus in the irrational act.