Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Whole World Is Watching -- Not

Could it be that Americans are finally starting to turn a deaf ear to the White House talking points?

Maybe. A record low audience watched Dubya's June 28 speech, broadcast on all major TV networks, in which he tried to stem dwindling support for the war that didn't know when to say when.

Nielsen Media Research found that 23 million Americans tuned in, the smallest audience of Bush's tenure. Reuters reports that number is about 8.6 million viewers shy of Dubya's previous low as president, the April 2001 address in which he split the baby on stem cell research.

Why the disappointing audience figures? Hell, that's easy: The terrorists hate freedom, don'cha know.

Sex Tape Derby, Round 15

So here's the situation ...

Let's say this is you ...

And now let's say, just for the heck of it, that while in such condition, you've gotta watch a pornographic videotape ...


And then let's say you must choose between the following pairs who's gonna have to star in the aforementioned viewing entertainment.

Post responses in the comments section.

1. Evangeline Lilly or Kate Beckinsale?

2. "Inside the Actors Studio" sycophant James Lipton or that salty Mr. Peanut?

3. Blair Brown or Bonnie Hunt?

4. A man of letters: F. Scott Fitzgerald or William Faulkner?

5. Mom and daughter showdown: Young Goldie Hawn or Kate Hudson?

6. Pundit pulchritude: Paul Krugman or David Brooks?

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

A Plug for the Lips

The Flaming Lips are set to release a DVD containing 19 of the band's videos.

Billboard reports that the DVD, slated for release on Aug. 23, will include everything from "She Don't Use Jelly," "Turn It On" and "Do You Realize?" to songs that the Lips recorded for "SpongeBob SquarePants" and the upcoming flick Wedding Crashers.

The Boy Can't Help It

As Dan Balz writes in today's Washington Post:

"Sept. 11 remains Bush's most reliable argument with the public when he faces political headwinds; it gave him the highest-rated moments of his presidency and helped sustain him through a difficult reelection campaign. Surprisingly, given how effectively he has used the collective emotion of that day in the past, Sept. 11 has been largely missing in the administration's discussions of Iraq this year."

Missing no longer ...

"9-11! 9-11! 9-11! Ahhhhh!"

Cue the prez:

"After September the 11th, I made a commitment to the American people: This nation will not wait to be attacked again. We will defend our freedom. We will take the fight to the enemy.

"Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war."

-- Bush at Fort Bragg, N.C., June 28, 2005

Never mind that he took the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan, and rightfully so. Iraq was a different fight; it's simply one that morphed into the fight against terrorism once we took occupation.

"Many terrorists who kill innocent men, women and children on the streets of Baghdad are followers of the same murderous ideology that took the lives of our citizens in New York and Washington and Pennsylvania.

"Some wonder whether Iraq is a central front in the war on terror. Among the terrorists, there is no debate.

"Here are the words of Osama bin Laden: This third world war is raging in Iraq. The whole world is watching this war. He says it will end in victory and glory or misery and humiliation."

Again, our Prevaricator in Chief is playing as fast and loose here as daughter Jenna at a UT fraternity house. Iraq is surely a hotbed of terrorism, and that fact alone renders it difficult, if not impossible, to pull out -- but it became what it is after Dubya's war of choice. If you live in a house teeming with feces, filth, candybar wrappers and half-eaten powdered doughnuts (not that I'm speaking from experience here, by the way), you can't feign outrage when the cockroaches finally show up.

But no use crying over spilled milk, or blood, of course. Iraq is the new flashpoint for terrorism. No getting around that one. No sirreee, Mr. President, you've got us there.

On that point, we'll defer to Bull Moose:

"The President again restated the tie between the overall war against terror and Iraq. Whatever one thought about the link before the intervention, it is certainly true now. That is why we must prevail in Iraq regardless of the validity of the original claim. With all of his errors, mendacity and demagoguery, the President has led us to the point to where there is no turning back. His domestic political opponents are placed in a position where they must hope for his and our nation’s success. Defeat would come at an unacceptable price for our country and result in a precious victory for the terrorist foe.

"Those who will truly bear the burden are our brave soldiers and their families. We are humbled by their courage and their service. If only the President possessed the capacity to call on the rest of our country to give more. He does not. That is the nature of our current leadership."

Monday, June 27, 2005

"Batman Begins": A Review

If there is any justice in the box office, Batman Begins would be awash in moolah. Alas, while it is doing well, its box office still appears to be below expectations (perhaps a real indication that the home entertainment phenomenon is having a significant and lasting impact on movie theaters).



As excellent as Memento was, that marvel of indie filmmaking from 2000 hardly hinted at the big-budget confidence of director Christopher Nolan. Taking the helm for this prequel marking a return to the Batman franchise, Nolan presents what some might have thought unthinkable: a quasi-realistic, intelligent and provocative movie based on a comic book hero.

Christian Bale stars as our brooding Caped Crusader, the son of a Gotham City philanthropist who was a child when he saw his parents gunned down by a mugger. The trauma spurs his personal odyssey to East Asia, where he apparently bums around the likes of Tibet, living as a petty thief until he falls under the guidance of a shadowy cult, the League of Shadows. It is there he learns to become something of a super vigilante, although Bruce bails once the group's leadership, portrayed by Liam Neeson and Ken Watanabe, start crazy talk about destroying Gotham City.

So Bruce returns to his hometown after a seven-year absence. Drawing upon his education from the badasses of the League of Shadows, the heir to the Wayne fortune begins the painful creation of Batman, dedicated to cleaning up this city overrun by mobsters. During such scenes, the movie provides a kick of familiarity in the same way that the final 30 minutes of Revenge of the Sith tickled moviegoers. We are watching the birth of an icon, from the Batman costume (sans Joel Schumacher's plated nipples, thank God) to the Bat Cave to Batmobile. And best of all is that Nolan grounds his story in a veneer of realism.

Batman Begins delivers plenty of bone-crunching action and some edge-of-the-seat sequences (particularly a chase involving the Batmobile), but screenwriters Nolan and David S. Goyer conspicuously avoid much of a body count. For all the darkness inherent in the Batman myth, the filmmakers are not afraid to examine timely questions of what separates vengeance from justice. Batman refuses to play executioner.

Bale is terrific in the lead, an actor blessed with a tough action-hero presence but one who is also capable of acting. Katie Holmes is fine as Bruce Wayne's childhood pal-turned-honest assistant district attorney; the only downside to her performance is that she's a bit of a distraction in the wake of the TomKat media deluge. But the cast is uniformly top-notch, and cinephiles are sure to appreciate the litany of great character actors: Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Rutger Hauer, Cillian Murphy and Tom Wilkinson all get a chance to shine.

The inimitable Roger Ebert put it best: "This is the Batman movie I've been waiting for; more correctly, this is the movie I did not realize I was waiting for," he writes, "because I didn't realize that more emphasis on story and character and less emphasis on high-tech action was just what was needed."

A Space Oddity with Major Tom

Is there no end to Tom Cruise's single-minded determination to turn himself into a laughingstock? His latest media twist-off comes with belittling a Boston Phoenix reporter who dared ask if Cruise was attracted to War of the Worlds because of the important role that space aliens also happen to play in Scientology.

ABC News chimes in:

"Cruise ... was so stunned that he questioned the reporter's credentials. When told that the reporter worked for the Boston Phoenix, he asked, 'Is that a good paper? Really?' "

Oh, L. Ron Hubbard, failed hack sci-fi writer. Is that a good prophet?

What's to belittle? Space aliens and space travel do factor into Scientology.


Or, to put it the way Major Tom surely did to the perky Katie Holmes atop the Eiffel Tower ... Gort! Klaatu Barada Nikto!

Meanwhile, we can only venture to guess what the late great Hubbeard, ensconced somewhere on a (hopefully) good, rent-controlled planet, must be thinking of the never-ending TomKatie show ...


Christ, I bet I coulda bagged Mamie Van Doren herself with all that Xena stuff. Second base, definitely ...

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Sunday

Waking up with a mild hangover from a big-ass wedding reception the night before, where -- shockingly -- the misanthrope that I am had a blast.

A morning cup of coffee watching our two dogs tumble over one another in the backyard.

The Sunday New York Times.

My wife being my wife, which is to say adorable as hell.

A blissfully sunny and hot summer afternoon.

A late afternoon matinee. The return of George Romero making movies about flesh-eating zombies.

And a great new song by the Fountains of Wayne, "Maureen," blaring over the car radio (SIRIUS satellite, lest you think Oklahoma City radio suddenly became bearable).

Life can be so friggin' beautiful. I've got to do a better job remembering these days.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Downing Street Drumbeat

If you need evidence that the Downing Street Memo is finally starting to build up some traction, here it is: Coverage of the memorandum actually found its way into Stars & Stripes newspaper within recent weeks.

The paper's Leo Shane III reports:

"The memo was first revealed by the Sunday Times of London in May. Earlier this month, both Bush and Blair dismissed the accusations [of the memo], saying that the war in Iraq was justified because Saddam Hussein was ignoring international law.

"But members of Military Families Speak Out, whose members are relatives of troops killed in Iraq, said Congress must investigate whether the president lied to the country to justify military action.

" 'This war was based on lies and deception,' said Celeste Zappala of Philadelphia, whose son was killed in April 2004 while providing security for investigators searching for WMD. 'The only way we can understand how we've come to this disastrous position is to find out what the truth is.' "

Shakespeare's Sister is among the blogs doing truly outstanding work beating the drums on the Downing Street memo and the subsequent flurry of other British documents relating to the war of choice. As Sis writes:

"These memos collectively draw a very different picture of prewar planning than was painted for the American people. The intelligence and facts were fixed around the policy -- a single-minded policy of regime change, with war the inevitable result, even if Iraq's dictator had to be taunted with bombs and ultimatums. And prior to the invasion, the Bush administration had no definitive plan to promote true democracy -- and no strategy to ensure that the new Iraqi government would not be just as bad as the last one."

All that said, we remain skeptical that the Downing Street Memo and company -- even if it does ultimately receive widespread coverage from the mainstream media -- will have much of a significant impact on the presidency. First, it's likely at this point that even many Americans who support the war are willing to concede that the Bush Administration skewed intelligence reports to bolster the argument for invasion.

Moreover, the White House, for a few years now, has carved out a curious -- but curiously effective -- rhetorical stance in which it almost admits suspect motives. After all, Bush and Cheney and the rest have continually changed the subject by asking rhetorically if the world is a safer place without Saddam Hussein in power.

Finally, the flurry of leaked documents are recorded hearsay. They are the interpretations of British diplomats allegedly distilling Washington, D.C., sentiment of the time. All of it might well be an accurate representation, and we're all pretty damn sure it is, but unless similar documentation survived email purges at the White House, we doubt anything is gonna change.

Let's not add a "Gate" suffix to the Downing Street Memos. Just yet, anyway.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Cruise-ing for a bruising

When we talk about "A-list" actors these days, the "A" seems to increasingly stand for "asshole." It is no longer enough to pull down $20 million + points on the gross, but now these copiously compensated cretins insist that their extreme and media-disseminated religious ideas are the way, the truth and the life. Whether it's the notion that Christ is a Schwarzeneggerian avenger against Jews or that your depression is the result of an evil intergalactic despot named Xenu planting spirits in Earth's volcanoes 75 million years ago, celebrities are going batshit with their beliefs and foisting them upon us.

This morning on Today, CTTC's most despised straitjacket candidate, Tom Cruise, wanted to talk about his conquest of new Dianetics adherent Katie Holmes and possibly ruin some furniture. But host Matt Lauer decided to call him on a his recent barking-mad criticisms of Brooke Shields, who wrote about her post-partum depression in a recent book, Down Came the Rain.

From MSNBC:

"'Cruise got very serious and kept saying “Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt” every time Lauer said he knew people who were helped by anti-depressants. Shields took them for her post-partum depression. As a Scientologist, Cruise doesn’t believe in those kinds of drugs or therapy of any kind. At one point Cruise told Lauer, “You’re glib” and said Lauer didn’t know what he was talking about. The star launched into a detailed discussion of the use of the prescription drug Ritalin.

"'It's very impressive to listen to you,' Lauer replied, 'because clearly, you've done the homework. And you know the subject.'
'And you should,' Cruise retorted. He also told Lauer, 'You don’t know the history of psychiatry. I do.'"


Cruise is right about one thing: Lauer is glib, and he does often have arguments with his interview subjects rather than simply asking questions. But, Cruise was flying the freak flag this morning. When Lauer mentioned that he had known several people who had been helped by anti-depressants, Cruise accused Lauer of endorsing Ritalin.

You know where this is going: "Why does Matt Lauer hate America?"

More from MSNBC:

"Lauer asked Cruise how he could get more people to understand Scientology, the controversial religion practiced by Cruise and other celebrities like John Travolta.
"'You just communicate about it,' Cruise said. 'If I want to know something, I go and find out. Because I don't talk about things that I don't understand.'"


To wit, here are things that Cruise understands:

"College women can smell ignorance... like dog shit." Risky Business, 1983

"I'm Jack O' the Green!" Legend, 1985

"If you think, you're dead." Top Gun, 1986

"The waitresses hate me!" Cocktail, 1988

"Underwear is underwear." Rain Man, 1988

"Penis! Penis! Big fucking erect penis!" Born On the Fourth of July, 1989

"I know nothing of books or alphabets or sun or moon." Far and Away, 1992

"It doesn't matter what I believe." A Few Good Men, 1992

"It's not sexy, but it's got teeth!" The Firm, 1993

"The dark gift is different for each of us." Interview With a Vampire, 1994

"This is the Mount Everest of hacks." Mission: Impossible, 1996

"I'm not gonna do what you all think I'm gonna do, which is, you know, flip out!" Jerry Maguire, 1996

"In this life, it's not what you hope for, it's not what you deserve - it's what you take." Magnolia, 1999

"Even in my dreams, I'm an idiot who knows he's about to wake up to reality." Vanilla Sky, 2001

"I have to find out what happened to my life." Minority Report, 2002

"I am not Japanese." The Last Samurai, 2003

"I am a cool guy." Collateral, 2004


Okie Bloggin', Take 9

Checking in with some of our favorite Oklahoma-based blogs ...

Mike over at Okiedoke ponders the future of China and brushes up on his Chinese. Just in case.

A Fistful of Fortnights' Sadie muses on lies, men and women, online dating and scads of other weighty stuff.

Lip Schtick's LilRed is getting nauseated from summer feet.

Life and Deatherage is getting nauseated from Jeb Bush shenanigans.

Okie Funk provides a deserved tip of the hat to the moral code espoused by Oklahoma-born poet and author N. Scott Momaday.

The Blue Dot Blog finds that the United States and The Matrix have something in common, and it ain't Keanu Reaves in a trenchcoat.

Over at Left End of the Dial, James suggests that the racist wounds of the past won't heal as long as folks like Trent Lott and George Allen keep scratching at them.

Existential Ramble says it's time to bury the myth of Gaydar. Which is a shame, really, since he was my favorite "M*A*S*H" character.

Sister Scorpion explains why she's a feminist revisionist, and what the heck it is in the first place.

The Erudite Redneck hopes the Southern Baptist Convention puts the brakes on an anti-public education resolution.

Dustbury's Charles lets it all hang out on his blog.

Jill Vatican of That's Gonna Leave a Mark fame stews over salary inequities. You go, girl.

I'm not one to typically dig poignant odes to cats, but I would direct you to a rather touching post to Charlie the Psycho Kitty, courtesy Lady Godiva at Posts from the Edge.

l'esprit d'escalier has had it up to here with stalled lines at convenience stores.

Oklarama's OKPartisan is pregnant and she's had it up to here with crappy commercials.

Our pal known as the Token Liberal is roughing it in London. That bastard.

Dr. Pants' Wholesale Pants Warehouse finally gets the threeway of his dreams -- well, sort of.

The Mainstream Baptist gives a big thumbs-up to comments by former Sen. John Danforth and his concerns about how right wing Christians have hijacked the Republican Party. I still find it amazing that we're at the point that an arch conservative like Danforth is now deemed a moderate.

This Is Class Warfare offers a how-to course in blogging.

The Downtown Guy looks at the impact Toby Keith's new joint is likely to have on downtown Oklahoma City. Freedom fries are just another snack food for nothing left to lose ...

Lynn S. of Reflections in d minor is having good clean fun with art.

The sisters of Among the Dahlias continue to work out some, er, "issues" online.

And The Daily Bitch is still sans permalinks. So read her whole damn blog. Go ahead. See if I care.

Crumbs 'n Stuff, Take 8

Porn star Mary Carey, recently a guest of Dubya and the National Republican Congressional Committee for a multimillion-dollar D.C. fundraiser, fesses up about her secret fantasy. And what's on the mind of this DP diva? Hint: It involves the president's twin daughters. Carey, you might recall, ran for the governor's seat in California on a platform of tax deductible lapdances and taxing breast augmentation surgery. (As coincidence would have it, the current California governor also harbors secret fantasies involving the Bush girls). Read on at, of all places, WorldNetDaily. (By the way, be careful opening the Mary Carey site if you happen to be at work, you friggin' perv).

***

With the Mark Felt/"Deep Throat" story rekindling memories of the Watergate scandal, Watergate.info is a site well worth checking out. It present a comprehensive and user-friendly sweep of the scandal, including news stories, analysis, audio and video clips and other choice bits.

***

Thanks to waxy.org, the truth can now be shown: Tom Cruise Kills Oprah.

***

Oh, and speaking of Celebritydom's meltdown of the moment, PopCultureJunkies finds some intriguing similarities between the kidnapping of Patty Hearst and that of Katie Holmes (the major difference, of course, being that the SLA never banged Mimi Rogers).

***

Another site worth perusing. The Emmett Till Blog chronicles everything surrounding the reopened murder case of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old African-American boy brutally slain in Mississippi in 1955. The keeper of this site, Susan Klopfer of Parchman, Mississippi, chronicles the ugly history of race relations in Mississippi. Fascinating and sad.

***

Something I've pondered over far too many hours in my life. RetroCRUSH lists the 50 hottest cartoon babes of all time. Which reminds us of the only decent Howie Mandel joke we ever heard: Something about growing up with a mad desire to yabba dabba do Betty Rubble ...

***

Texas Gov. Rick Perry: "Adios, Mofo!" (Check out Crooks and Liars for the video)

***

Oh, and as long as we're scraping gunk out of the recesses of the Internet, Good Plastic Surgery is a nifty little site exploring the sudden shape-shifting of celebrities. In case you've been wondering about Lindsay Lohan and her incredible shrinking breasts, this blog's for you.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

I Oughtta Be in Chicago

So ... this is where I oughtta be living:

American Cities That Best Fit You:

60% Chicago
60% New York City
55% Philadelphia
50% San Francisco
50% Washington, DC

Which American Cities Best Fit You?

Check out the test. (And thanks to Truly Bad Films for the heads up)

Movie Lists

Two movie-related lists that are worth a perusal ...

The American Film Institute, an organization that apparently really needs a hobby, has come out with another of its "greatest" lists. This time it's the greatest movie quotes of all time. Take a gander and then tell me how "Nobody puts baby in the corner" from Dirty Dancing cracked the Top 100. Hasn't that line been remembered primarily cause it was so dopey?

Oh, and if you're a complete cinema geek (like myself), you might be interested in this list, courtesy Mike Gerber. These are the movies that all incoming graduate students at the University of Southern California School of Film and Television are expected to have seen. Interesting list.

Mississippi Burning, the Director's Cut Alternative Ending

Edgar Ray Killen has been sentenced to 60 years in prison for masterminding the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi.


What a sweetie.

Considering that Edgar is 80, we think he needs to start taking better care of himself if he hopes to make parole ... in about 2026.

Sex Tape Derby, Round 14

OK, sports fans, here's the premise. Let's say you have no option but to watch a pornographic videotape or DVD. Furthermore, let's say you must choose among the following pairs as to aforementioned entertainment. See how easy it is? Just answer the question, Claire -- and post your responses in the comments section.

Or not. But God help you if you don't.

1. Charlie Manson or Marilyn Manson?

2. Affleck, Aflac, whatever: Jennifer Lopez or Jennifer Garner?

3. Napoleon Bonaparte or character actor Robert Loggia?

4. "All in the Family"-era Sally Struthers or "M*A*S*H"-era Loretta Swit?

5. Christian Bale or Patrick Dempsey?

6. Amber Valletta or Uma Thurman?

Sway-yah on Dat Bible, You Sombeech

A North Carolina district judge says that trial witnesses cannot use the Koran for oaths in court.

The Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record reports that Guilford County's top judge, W. Douglas Albright, says North Carolina law is clear that the only legitimate oaths are those made on "Holy Scriptures."

"Everybody understands what the holy scriptures are," Albright previously told the Greensboro paper. "If they don't, we're in a mess."

One supposes the same could be said about a judge not understanding the Constitution.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Way, way too much Celebrity Skin

We at CTTC applaud Courtney Love for ripping up her Drug Dealer Directorytm and endeavoring not to corrupt a daughter who, let's face it, was going to have a rough go at things from the beginning. It was the right thing to do, especially if it means we don't have to hear another album like 2004's America's Sweetheart -- the whole thing sounded like "Bum Fight Night" in MacArthur Park.

But, one of the downsides to getting clean is the very real possibility that you could end up looking like John Lithgow's Roberta Muldoon in The World According To Garp. It's hard not to sound like a snotty, Hollywood, pansy-ass, parasitic gossip columnist when talking about these things, but one should not sublimate one's desire to chase the dragon by wolfing down suckling pigs and chasing them with Redi Whip.

Whoremongering on K Street

It's good, good, good to be a K Street lobbyist. In The Washington Post, Jeffrey Birnbaum notes that the number of registered Beltway lobbyists has more than doubled since 2000 -- to nearly 35,000 -- while the amount they charge has skyrocketed by 100 percent.

"Political historians don't see these as positive developments for democracy," writes Birnbaum.

" 'We've got a problem here,' said Allan Cigler, a political scientist at the University of Kansas. 'The growth of lobbying makes even worse than it is already the balance between those with resources and those without resources.' "

What strikes us as interesting is how Republican-controlled executive and legislative branches have actually fueled the K Street train. At first blush, after all, you might think that a lobbying bonanza would run contrary to a federal government presumably committed to the ideology of deregulation, smaller government and laissez faire economics. But no. Could it be that the GOP doesn't exactly put all businesses and industries on equal foooting?

The Post continues:

"In the 1990s, lobbying was largely reactive. Corporations had to fend off proposals that would have restricted them or cost them money. But with pro-business officials running the executive and legislative branches, companies are also hiring well-placed lobbyists to go on the offensive and find ways to profit from the many tax breaks, loosened regulations and other government goodies that increasingly are available.

[...]

"The Republicans in charge aren't just pro-business, they are also pro-government. Federal outlays increased nearly 30 percent from 2000 to 2004, to $2.29 trillion. And despite the budget deficit, federal spending is set to increase again this year, especially in programs that are prime lobbying targets such as defense, homeland security and medical coverage."

Same song, different verse. Either the Dems are selling influence or the Republicans are. What changes are the folks doing the buying. We're not so naive as to envision a day in which money and influence won't weigh so heavily in policymaking. Granted, that's just the way it shakes out, and will always shake out; such realities inevitably mean tough-going for Democrats, who traditionally (accent on the "traditionally") speak for those without money or influence.

But the growth of lobbying is generating its own industry, the industry of influence, and that is just too intangible a commodity for those in the business to resist a scam here and there. For lobbying at its most vile, look no further than the escapades of lobbyist extraordinaire Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee today painted an operation in which the pair bilked American Indian tribes out of millions of dollars through bogus invoices and tax-exempt organizations.

AP has the lowdown on documents presented to the committee, chaired by U.S. Sen. John McCain.

"The documents show continuing efforts by Scanlon and Abramoff to convince tribal officials that their lobbying efforts were far more extensive and expensive than they actually were.

" 'I think you should call her and tell her that we have turned the corner but you are pouring it on to make sure we win. Tell her as of now you are finally willing to say that we will win this, but laughingly say "I don't know how I am going to get back all the money I had to dump into this. I hope the Golden Moon (casino) turns out to be real golden!" ' Abramoff suggested to Scanlon in an e-mail. 'That will set her up for a discussion about payments.'

"One e-mail obtained by the Senate committee shows that Abramoff and Scanlon charged the Mississippi Choctaws $7.7 million for projects in 2001. Of that, Scanlon spent $1.2 million on lobbying work, and he and Abramoff split the remaining $6.5 million."

Read the AP story here. It's an eye-opener.

Pissed Off

As a product of the Seventies, I remember well the whole CB radio craze and that God-awful C.W. McCall song "Convoy," which celebrated the fun of talking to truckers in a lingo befitting a Little Orphan Annie decoder ring.

Funny thing is, I remember all the gibberish about bears and smokey and the like, but I don't recall much talk about tossing big jugs of piss out the window of moving vehicles.

But apparently trucker tee-tee has become a big headache for the poor schlubs tasked with cleaning up along America's roadways.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports on the urinary litter:

"Maybe you never noticed speeding by at 65 mph, but urine-filled containers are increasingly piling up along America's roadways. Litter watchers say it's an unsettling trend that started in the West and moved quickly east to Ohio and beyond."

Dubbed "trucker bombs" because they are primarily the handiwork of truckers and tend to explode when hit by a mower, states such as West Virginia and North Dakota have even retrofitted piss-resistant shields on their mowing equipment.

Reporter Amanda Garrett goes on to explain that the trucker bomb has grown so prevalent that it forced a change in a training video for one Ohio program that enlists juvenile delinquents for roadside cleanup.

" 'We had to tell them not to eat or drink anything they find along the roadway because they think it's hilarious when they do,' said Jill Meyers, the program's manager. 'Kids find this stuff and think it's Mountain Dew,' she said. 'They probably clean up a lot more [urine] than they ever realize.' "

With apologies to Charlton Heston, it appears that Mountain Dew, like Soylent Green ... is people.

It's people!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Gitmo Fun

A few thoughts on last week's cover story in Time (I know, I know, I'm late on such things) regarding the Gitmo interrogation of Detainee 063, Mohammed al-Qahtani, the so-called 20th hijacker of 9-11.

From the magazine:

"Al-Qahtani's resilience under pressure in the fall of 2002 led top officials at Gitmo to petition Washington for more muscular 'counter resistance strategies.' On Dec. 2, Rumsfeld approved 16 of 19 stronger coercive methods. Now the interrogators could use stress strategies like standing for prolonged periods, isolation for as long as 30 days, removal of clothing, forced shaving of facial hair, playing on 'individual phobias' (such as dogs) and 'mild, non-injurious physical contact such as grabbing, poking in the chest with the finger and light pushing.' ... The techniques Rumsfeld balked at included 'use of a wet towel or dripping water to induce the misperception of suffocation.' "

Despite the unconscionable tales of torture to emerge from Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, let's give credit where credit is due. In the case of Detainee 063, grumpy grandpa Donald Rumsfeld absolutely, unequivocally, positively did not sanction suffocation. By God, if we want someone to talk, we will do our very best not to kill them first.

Elsewhere, the article reveals that the interrogations of al-Qahtani intensified:

"The quizzing now starts at midnight, and when Detainee 063 dozes off, interrogators rouse him by dripping water on his head or playing Christina Aguilera music. According to the log, his handlers at one point perform a puppet show 'satirizing the detainee's involvement with al-Qaeda.' "

OK, first let's just get the obvious out of the way. When the U.S. military officially deems your music to be an implement of torture, it is time to re-examine your career. Of course, Gitmo might just be the break that Lindsay Lohan needs to jump-start her singing chops.

But what's up with the puppet show? Interrogators crouched behind a puppet stage and maneuvered hand puppets or marionettes (the log book is unclear here -- classified, no doubt) in hopes of wearing down the entertainment-starved prisoner?

Hell, we knew Lambchop could be the occasional smartass ... but torture?

We can only hope the Pentagon is saving Mortimer Snerd for the really scary fuckers ...


"Uh-huh ... an' yah call it thah Koran, huh? Well, yah don't say..."

Hoodies

We're fascinated by the stories chronicling the growing menace in Britain of "Hoodies," rampaging youths in hooded sweatshirts with a penchant for knocking over bike riders and punching strangers in the face while recording the attacks on their cell phones.

The Dallas Morning News' Todd Robberson reports that the juvenile delinquency appears to be escalating:

"Last month, hoodies beat a 16-year-old girl unconscious while recording the attack on a mobile phone and messaging it to their friends. In October, a 41-year-old man who had fallen asleep at a bus stop was permanently disfigured and burned over 22 percent of his body when youths set him on fire in another ... attack.

"Last week, a 5-year-old boy escaped death after being lured from his yard by young teens who placed a noose around his neck and attempted to hang him. Last month, a 49-year-old man was left brain damaged after he challenged a gang of youths throwing stones at his car, and they beat him into a coma."

Hmmm...

Sounds familiar ...


Viddy well, li'l brother, viddy well.

Circus Freaks

If you never read The Comics Curmudgeon, start -- if, for no other reason, his ongoing grievances with "The Family Circus."

"Every day when I read this feature I ask myself, 'How long can they keep this crap up?' Usually, by 'crap' I mean the Family Circus in general ..." he writes.

If only Bill Keane's persistent vegetative state of a comic could read more like this ...

America: Red, White and Blue Pills

Kudos to OKPartisan and a very moving post on her Blue Dot Blog. Having recently seen the Oscar-winning documentary, Born into Brothels, it was a reminder to her of how much Americans, by and large, are removed from the realities endured by the rest of the world.

OKPartisan writes about what she sees as Americans' penchant for a Matrix-constructed reality:

"A few years ago I went on a mission trip to Peru, where people live in shacks and lined up outside the clinic overnight for the chance to spend a few moments with a doctor. They were grateful even for a few ibuprofen pills and when we left hundreds were left waiting, unseen. There were old arthritic people who had to be dragged from place to place and children with cerebral palsy who could go nowhere their mothers couldn't carry them. There were 10-month-old babies the size of 2-month-olds because they didn't have enough to eat, and 10-year-olds with severe asthma who had no medications.

[...]

"It is time that we stop calling ourselves a 'culture of life' when the only lives a lot of people care about are the ones that aren't ever disagreeable, that never make mistakes, that don't place any psychological demands on us. We need to care as much about children who are going to be born, children who have been born, and adults, as about aborted fetuses and vegetative unfortunates."

Check out the entire post here.

KKKontrite

The Ku Klux Klan origins of U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd are nothing new, of course. The West Virginia Democrat has been apologizing for his past since the 1950s. Still, The Washington Post's Eric Pianin points out that it is a bit troubling that the senator's latest autobiography, Robert C. Byrd: Child of the Appalachian Coalfields, glosses over his rather involved past with the KKK.

"In it, Byrd says he viewed the Klan as a useful platform from which to launch his political career. He described it essentially as a fraternal group of elites -- doctors, lawyers, clergy, judges and other 'upstanding people' who at no time engaged in or preached violence against blacks, Jews or Catholics, who historically were targets of the Klan."

Um, OK, we'll just call bullshit on that one. Surely, hoods and white sheets aren't de rigueur at the West Virginia country clubs.

At any rate, Pianin notes that the 87-year-old Byrd insists the memoir is not intended to provide "finite details" of his former life as a Klan organizer. That might be just as well, the Post points out, since the book fails to acknowledge that Byrd spent most of the 1940s as a KKK organizer and advocate.

"By the time Byrd began organizing for the Klan during World War II, the organization had largely morphed into a money-making fraternal organization that was virulently anti-black, anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic," Pianin writes.

He continues:

"Byrd asserts that his Klan chapter never engaged in or preached violence, "nor did we conduct any parades or marches or other public demonstrations" -- other than one time delivering a wreath of flowers in the shape of a cross to the home of a member who had been killed in a pistol duel.

" Byrd wrote that he continued ... recruiting for the Klan until early 1943, when he and his family left Crab Orchard for a welding job in a Baltimore shipyard. Returning to West Virginia after World War II ended in 1945, he launched his political career, but not before writing another letter, to one of the Senate's most notorious segregationists, Theodore Bilbo (D-Miss.), complaining about the Truman administration's efforts to integrate the military.

"Byrd said in the Dec. 11, 1945, letter -- which would not become public for 42 more years with the publication of a book on blacks in the military during World War II by author Graham Smith -- that he would never fight in the armed forces 'with a Negro by my side.' Byrd added that, 'Rather I should die a thousand times, and see old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels.' "


OK, so it is true that in the decades since, Byrd has apologized numerous times for his involvement with the Klan. While he wasn't exactly the most civil rights-minded federal lawmaker during the 1960s -- he opposed the Civil Rights Act and voted against confirming Thurgood Marshall to the U.S. Supreme Court -- it is probably fair to say Byrd's political transformation has been considerable. And if nothing else, the guy deserves credit for his eloquent opposition to the Iraq War.

But how earnest is renunciation of the past when such contrition is steeped in a whitewash? Even now, Robert Byrd seems unwilling to fully admit his ugly history. This is a particularly thorny moment for our nation. It is 2005 and we are still atoning for the horrific sins of yesteryear. The 1955 murder of Emmett Till has been reopened amid compelling evidence that the slaying involved a larger conspiracy. Edgar Ray Killen is on trial for the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

People and viewpoints can and do change with the passage of time. Indeed, the politicians you need to watch out for are those seemingly blessed with unwavering certitude. For the sake of his legacy if nothing else, Robert Byrd should come clean.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Quote of the Day ...

Goes to 42-year-old Rickie May.

The Little Rock, Arkansas, man was tucked safely in his bed when a Ford Taurus came crashing through his brick home and finally roared to a stop on top of May in his bed.

"I just knew I was dead. I told God `Sorry' for everything I'd done, but I asked him to help," Rickie May told AP.

I like that. Sorry about everything else, but I really need your help here ... I'm not sure what exactly, but I get the feeling that there is something profound about the human condition hidden in that line.

At any rate, it was evidently good enough for the Almighty. May is in fair condition.

Biden His Time (Till '08)

So U.S. Sen. Joe Biden says he will be running for president in 2008. Let me say this about that: I'm pumped.

Yes, yes, a bunch of Democrats intent on shooting themselves in the foot will grouse about his vote for the bankruptcy bill earlier this year (which we're willing to forgive, since the guy represents Delaware, the Ground Zero of credit card companies). And some, no doubt, will dredge up the plagiarism woes that tanked his bid in 1988 (which we're also willing to overlook, considering the American people penchant for forgiveness, or haven't you noticed the current occupant?).

The Moderate Voice's Joe Gandelman notes that Biden will make for a tough candidate, and he succinctly wraps up the senator's strengths and weaknesses:

"Strongest point: is quite media savvy. Reporters love a good quote and Biden has given them good, solid ones over the years.

"Weakest point: You need party activists to win primaries and his supporters may not have the fire in their bellies needed to counter supporters of some of the others."

Here's the thing about Joe Biden: He has the presence, charisma and overall gravitas it takes to win. At first blush, he certainly seems a more viable -- and centrist -- candidate than Hillary.

And that's all you need, really.

The Longest Homophobe

The original Longest Yard was a landmark of Seventies-era, anti-establishment sentiment. It was violent, savagely funny, mean and an unapologetic spit in the face of authority. As directed by the gifted Robert Aldrich, The Longest Yard of 1974 was about as cutting-edge as mainstream comedy got at the time.

Fade in to 2005 and an ill-conceived remake, with Adam Sandler in the Burt Reynolds role of Paul Crewe, a fallen NFL quarterback rotting in a Texas prison when he is tapped to organize a football team of convicts to play the guards.

What is deemed cutting edge in these trying times? Tough call. In our strict law-and-order environment, Hollywood doesn't have the cojones to focus too much on the sociopathic tendencies of convicts. After all, prison inmates are not funny (well, not unless they're being held indefinitely at Guatanamo Bay, but that's for another movie).

Nope, nowadays cutting edge means anti-gay. And the remake of The Longest Yard is chock full o' backwards, redneck, stereotype-embracing, queer is ha-ha funny gay-bashing.



See how funny they are?

We've got a prissy fella who develops an instant crush on Sandler because our hero is boorish and has crashed his girlfriend's Bentley after going on a drunken joyride. (Gay people love brutes, don'cha know).

We have a gaggle of flamer convicts who make up cheers like "Gimmie a D! Gimmie an I! Gimmie a C! Gimmie ..." (Get it? They want, well, you know ...).

We have two inmates caught making out over a surveillance camera. We have Rob Schneider in a cameo (reason enough to avoid the picture) as an overzealous convict all aflutter over the possibility of a group hug in the showers.

It appears that gay-bashing is the one remaining widely accepted form of bigotry left in America.

I would call your attention to a touching and poignant sermon recently delivered by a friend for a Unitarian Church service in Oklahoma City.

Some Day This War's Gonna End ...

"Things aren't getting better; they're getting worse. The White House is completely disconnected from reality. It's like they're just making it up as they go along. The reality is that we're losing in Iraq."

-- U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, to US News & World Report

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Made-for-TV Nutjob

I applaud Mr. Greg Angelo's perspicacious insights regarding the Jennifer Wilbanks-Judith Regan dinner-theater version of Faust, but I must admit to being a bit, well, underwhelmed with the notion of this made-for-TV runaway bride.


We can only assume that ReganMedia president and reigning bitch-goddess Judith Regan is still suffering from Bernie Kerik withdrawals when she says "I am looking forward to developing the scripted project with Wilbanks and [her fiance John] Mason. Theirs is an unexpected and compelling story of love and forgiveness that has certainly taught me a thing or two."

Now, we can certainly understand why the family of Mark "Deep Throat" Felt is maneuvering things so that grandpa is paying off like a Reno slot machine. That's a compelling story (Tom Hanks' production company has purchased the movie rights).

But does anyone really think that the Jennifer Wilbanks story cries out as compelling? Even by TV-movie standards, we're not certain of the dramatic potential. Girl meets boy. Girl gets engaged to boy. Girl screws over boy so that she can hop aboard a Greyhound and get her head straight in Las Vegas (!). Boy forgives girl and they go ahead and marry because boy knows he can hold this embarrassing fiasco over girl's head for the rest of their natural lives.

In Oklahoma, we call that marriage.

Friday, June 17, 2005

"Cinderella Man": No Glass Slipper

Movie audiences sure are a fickle lot. Amid a dearth of quality movies in recent months, The New York Times reports that box office for Cinderella Man has been far from a KO.

"Despite an Oscar-caliber cast led by Russell Crowe and Renée Zellweger, an Oscar-winning director in Ron Howard, glowing exit polls and solid reviews, 'Cinderella Man' has stalled at the box office, taking in just $34.6 million after two weeks.

[...]

"The result has been a blue mood at Universal. 'There are hardly words to describe how we all feel,' [Cinderella Man producer Brian] Grazer said. 'I feel like crying.' "

I've just got to say that amid a lackluster year for serious-minded movies (at least so far), Cinderella Man has been one of the more welcome surprises. Some might argue that this biopic about 1930s-era prizefighter James J. Braddock is a manipulative tear-jerker, but the film's emotional pull is genuine and affecting. Indeed, how would a filmmaker go about chronicling the Great Depression without jerking a few tears? Rampant poverty and soup kitchens aren't exactly the stuff of musical comedy.

Howard is so skillful a mainstream director that too often he is dismissed by film critics suspicious of anything that actually connects with a wide audience. But I would contend that it is a nifty hat trick to construct a dramatic film around a protagonist who is decent, honest, compassionate and loving. There is no marked tragic flaw here -- only the external forces of the Depression and his opponents in the ring -- and yet Cinderella Man never wants for conflict. And Howard is helped along by two of the finest actors currently working today, Crowe and Paul Giamatti.

Our unsolicited advice: Re-release it in late fall. This kind of movie invariably gets lost amid sci-fi epics, caped crusaders and Adam Sandler.

The TV Movie Version -- Season Three

Conservative trash-media harlot Judith Regan has bought Jennifer Wilbanks. No, not just optioning her story for a ReganBooks release -- Wilbanks has consigned every possible cash-collecting strategy to Regan's indiscriminate eye: motion pictures, television, live stage, books, and commercial products. This means that ReganMedia brokered next week's NBC interview onslaught with Katie "I Brake For Botox" Couric.

You might have glazed over when you read one of those media possibilities: live stage. Everybody sing! "I can't believe I'm marrying this turkey/Perhaps I'll take a trip to Albuquerque!"

ReganMedia has irons in the fire at several media outlets, including HBO, A&E, NBC, WE, Discovery, AMC, FOX, VH1, Universal and 20th Century Fox, and so we can probably look forward to our favorite media abberration -- the TV Movie. So, here it is everybody -- let's cast actresses with the right look, or a certain craziness capacity!

Jennifer Wilbanks should be played by:

a) A.J. Langer of My So-Called Life and the recently canceled and appropriately titled ABC drama, Eyes.
b) Rachel Dratch of Saturday Night Live
c) Tara Reid
d) Cheri Oteri of SNL
e) Somebody else?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Stand on Media Jackals



Stephen King knows horror. And his take in Entertainment Weekly regarding the media circus that surrounded the Michael Jackson trial? Nothing short of horrific:

" It's sickening that it takes a columnist in an entertainment magazine to point out that more than 2,000 newspeople covered the Jackson trial — which is only a few hundred more than the number of American servicemen and women who have died in Iraq. On the same day that crowds gathered in Times Square (and around the world) to learn the fate of the Pale Peculiarity, another four suicide bombings took place in that tortured, bleeding country. And if you tell me that news doesn't belong in Entertainment Weekly, I respond by saying Michael Jackson under a black umbrella doesn't belong on the front page of the New York Times."

Sex Tape Derby, Take 13

Thursday is Sex Tape Derby day. It's in the Constitution -- go look it up. In the meantime, place your picks in the comments section below. To better understand the premise behind this Zen koan masquerading as a tawdry game of salacious caprice, click here.

1. Chicks with Bush: Laura Bush or Condi Rice?

2. Method mayhem: Montgomery Clift or James Dean?

3. "Gilmore Girls' " Alexis Bledel or "Joan of Arcardia's" Amber Tamblyn?

4. Scientology Sex: John Travolta or Tom Cruise?

5. Yabba dabba doo: Wilma Flintstone or Betty Rubble?

6. Sean Hannity or Alan Colmes?

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Sound Bites, Vol. 1

It's not much of a secret to those who know me - my musical tastes rarely (the odd Kelly Clarkson tune excepted) jibe with what's flowing out of most mainstream radio control rooms. Cookie-cutter pop music bores me - yeah, yeah ... tar me with that elitist brush - therefore I'm forced to roam the fringes, seeking out adventurous yet catchy tunery that tickles my ear and doesn't leave me reaching for my revolver after two or three tracks.

Here's a list of what's been in reg'lar rotation in either iTunes, my trusty iPod or in the Riprockmobile the last few weeks. These all carry the "Dash Riprock 100% Guaranteed Sonic Seal of Approval" - spin these puppies and forget all about the fact that someone actually felt obligated to allow Britney Spears to procreate.

Sun Kil Moon, Ghosts of the Great Highway
Sure, it's almost two and a half years old, but this little-known treasure can't be championed enough - Mark Kozelek (of the Red House Painters) wraps his mournful tenor around starkly composed chamber pop that's tailor-made for a rainy, somnolent summer's afternoon. Of course, it sounds even better huddled in front of a roaring fire but it's June, people. Just stick with the rainy afternoon for now.

Anna Nalick, Wreck of the Day
She's talented and drop dead smokin' hot (which is always a dynomite combo for the Dashmeister) - but take one listen to "Forever Love (Digame)" on her debut disc and this singer/songwriter will become one of your new favorite artists. Her current single, "Breathe (2 AM)" ain't shabby neither and this Noo Yawk-based musician is poised to bring on a lighter, less angry Alanis/Fiona/Shawn Colvin vibe for the double oughts.

Gorillaz, Demon Days
Damon Albarn gets his drug-pop on with this searing, utterly mesmerizing collaboration between shit-hot DJ of the moment Danger Mouse and the cartoon collective (animated by Jamie Hewlett) known as Gorillaz. The lead single, "Feel Good, Inc." is a trippy, vaguely nihilistic piece of pop augmented by a truly demented De La Soul cameo - also, Dennis Hopper shows up on a spoken word track that would make a killer answering machine message. Y'know, if you're bored some evening and looking for something fun to do ...

Coldplay, X&Y
As the lads from London continue their ceaseless bid to usurp Bono and the boys of U2 from the throne of "World's Most Important Rock Band," they find themselves more or less in a holding pattern on their third (and still quite brilliant) album - while the seething angst that fueled much of 2002's A Rush of Blood to the Head is relegated to the margins, there are still soon-to-be-classic tracks such as "Square One," "White Shadows" and "Talk" that rock with polished precision and still manage a sense of ragged emotion. Chris Martin's written his most memorable ballad yet with "Fix You" and something tells me their fourth record will up the ante considerably.

Oasis, Don't Believe The Truth
Yes, the Gallagher brothers stopped banging models, doing blow and brawling with each other long enough to churn out yet another album - but here's the real shocker: it might be Oasis' most compelling and consistent record since the mid-Nineties. "Lyla" is a killer first single and if they'd release the positively off-kilter "The Importance of Being Idle" as the follow-up, it'd be like Standing on the Shoulders of Giants never happened. Not that I hate that album or anything.

Stay tuned for regular-ish installments ... and of course, feel free to leave me new records that blow your hair back (or your skirt up, as the case may be). Happy listenin' and if you need me, I'll be throwing dice with the neighborhood kids near the wading pool.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

War of the Words, Starring Tom Cruise

In a recent interview with Crazy Tom Cruise, Entertainment Weekly actually takes the Toothy One to task for a number of misstatements emitting from his superstar Scientologist.

"Well, look at the history. Jung was an editor for the Nazi papers during World War II. [According to Aryeh Maidenbaum, the director of the New York Center for Jungian Studies, this is not true.] Look at the experimentation the Nazis did with electric shock and drugging. Look at the drug methadone. That was originally called Adolophine. It was named after Adolf Hitler... [According to the Dictionary of Drugs and Medications, among other sources, this is an urban legend.]"

Ouch. I won't be the first or last to make this observation, but it is interesting -- and a little sad -- when an entertainment mag does a better job fact-checking than most members of the White House press corps.

Reel Short Reviews, Take 8

More flicks that I've seen or re-seen as of late. For the ratings-challenged, four stars is the max. Fewer than four stars would be less than max. You get the drift.

Crash (2005)
Million Dollar Baby screenwriter Paul Haggis trades in his celluloid capital in this flawed but captivating ensemble piece about race relations. If Los Angles didn't actually exist, moviemakers would have had to invent it (well, I guess they did, in a way), it is a city so rich in metaphor. Here, Haggis turns up L.A.'s cultural melting pot to a boil as he begins with two philosophizing African-American men (Larenz Tate and the rapper Ludacris) who gripe about the casual bigotry of stereotypes before pulling out guns and -- wouldn't yah know it? -- carjacking the white district attorney (Brendan Fraser) and his bitchy wife (Sandra Bullock). Ultimately, the picture's many powerful moments are undermined by one contrivance too many (this is one of those ensemble films that work on the conceit that a dozen people from disparate backgrounds can keep bumping into each other in a city of several million), but if you can accept a few coincidences, there is much to savor, particularly a sharp and literate script that brings out the best in such actors as Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon and Ryan Phillippe -- yes, even Ryan Phillippe.
***1/2

Fury (1936)
The first American film by German-born director Fritz Lang has dated dialogue and some absurd plot points, but its central theme, of a lynch-mob mentality, remains very much relevant today. Spencer Tracy stars as upstanding citizen Joe Wilson (now that's a red-blooded American name) falsely suspected of a kidnapping based on the most flimsy of evidence; Joe loves salt peanuts, y'see, and it just so happens that the ransom note of the aforementioned crime had residue from salt peanuts on it. Well, poor ol' Joe is tossed in a county jail before he can even see his gal (the charismatic queen of melodrama, Sylvia Sidney) and then whipped-up townsfolk storm the jail and burn it to the ground. Well, the whole fracas is enough to turn a law-abiding fella, even Spencer Tracy, into a revenge-minded crazy. Occasionally corny, but still arresting.
***

Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
Y'know, paying another visit to this goofy adventure yarn helps put the Star Wars saga, especially the second trilogy, in context. The tales of Greek mythology topped anything George Lucas could devise (not a particularly challenging statement, granted, since Lucas borrowed liberally from ancient myths) and animator Ray Harryhausen's creations are still imaginative and fun. A giant bronze Titan lumbering after our heroes, a nine-headed hydra, an army of sword-wielding skeletons -- it's still a hoot.
***

Kicking & Screaming (2005)
Eventually Will Ferrell will get a movie deserving of his considerable comic talents. This ain't it. As a hypersensitive suburban family man who becomes a soccer coach for his young son's team, Ferrell proves to be far more interesting than the humor-challenged script. Robert Duvall is tiresome as Ferrell's bullying father (we saw The Great Santini already) and Mike Ditka isn't even convincing as Mike Ditka.
**

The Last Picture Show (1971)
The aesthetic of the 1970s met the John Ford western in Peter Bogdanovich's one and only masterpiece (OK, Paper Moon comes close). Timothy Bottoms gave his melancholy all as Sonny Crawford, a sad-eyed high school senior stuck in a West Texas town where its inhabitants battle boredom through dreary infidelities and casual cruelty. Not the most uplifting study of humanity, perhaps, but the film exudes a beauty and lyricism that makes it just as relevant now as it was to audiences in 1971. Based on the Larry McMurtry novel, the film also provided grist for some amazing actors, especially Cloris Leachman (her performance in the movie's conclusion scene might be in my top 10 all-time movie scenes), Ben Johnson, Ellen Burstyn and a nekkid Cybill Shepherd.
****

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
Bill Murray is one of a handful of comedic actors whose mere tone of voice is enough to make me smile. So although this extra-precious Wes Anderson movie sometimes tests its audience's patience, it succeeds chiefly because it is such a spectacular playground for Murray as the world-weary, egocentric, petulant and charming oceanographer/filmmaker Steve Zissou. Like Zissou, Life Aquatic is a surprisingly complicated movie to sum up. It is adorned with Anderson's gentle whimsy (in some respects, this is a waterlogged version of The Royal Tenenbaums), peppered with nice touches like Portuguese versions of David Bowie songs, goofy-looking sea creatures and well-drawn supporting characters. If Anderson occasionally stretches the weirdness thin and takes odd forays (what is the self-reflexive reason for his highlighting the artifice of Zissou's boat, the Belafonte?), he also manages to wring moments of pathos. In the end, what is most compelling about Steve Zissou is a very existentialist need to know that he actually matters. In that sense, Anderson's protagonists share something in common with the heroes that populated the films of Federico Fellini, perhaps Anderson's greatest influence.
***

Once Were Warriors (1994)
This product from New Zealand concerns Beth Heke (Rena Owen) a descendent of the Maori tribal warriors, who suffers -- and I mean suffers -- a physically and psychologically abusive husband (Temuera Morrison). The directorial debut of Lee Tamahori is a stunner. The movie is honest and often harrowing, but don't mistake that as just a big downer. Beautifully acted and boasting top-notch production values, Once Were Warriors is, above all else, a riveting domestic drama.
***1/2

Shoot the Piano Player (1960)
Charles Aznavour stars in this light but consistently entertaining bit of French New Wave about an ex-concert pianist who now works in a Paris dance joint and finds himself drawn by his brothers into the criminal underworld. The synopsis sounds a heck of a lot more dramatic than the movie actually plays out, but director Francois Truffaut keeps things thoroughly engaging.
***

Spanglish (2004)
When I first saw it in the theater, Spanglish struck me as unfairly maligned by critics, the victim of a delayed backlash to director-writer James L. Brooks. Turns out the critics were on to something. Despite some solid performances and affecting moments (Brooks is too clever a writer to make a bad movie), Spanglish never really congeals. It purports to tell the story of Flor (the beautiful Paz Vega) a headstrong single mom who leaves her native Mexico and eventually becomes a housekeeper for an affluent Los Angeles family. I say "purports" because it flirts with ideas about cultural differences, but ultimately, the storyline plays out more like a male fantasy for sophisticates. See, the family is the dysfunctional Claskys. Husband John (Adam Sandler) is a sensitive master chef with the misfortune of being chained to a neurotic shrew (Tea Leoni), and so it's only fair that he should be swept up by the charms of the sexy and saintly senorita who enters the household. Consider it The Seven Year Itch for limousine liberals. Along the way, Brooks seems to actually forget a number of plot threads he sets up earlier in the film, especially one concerning Leoni and her put-upon daughter.
**1/2

Spirited Away (2001)
Master Japanese anime moviemaker Hayao Miyazaki must have had angels and ghosts whispering into his ears during the creation of this extraordinary work. Nothing short of Alice in Wonderland through the looking glass of Eastern mysticism, Spirited Away is a startlingly innovative tale of a petulant adolescent girl who is transported to a magical bath house where spirits and weird creatures hang out and do, you know, weird stuff. Note to druggies: Fantasia has nothing on this.
***1/2

Monday, June 13, 2005

This Just In! Freakish Entertainer Acquitted!


He has his reputation back!

"Mr. and Mrs. Smith": A Review


In the annals of big-budget Hollywood movies -- if, indeed, there are people retentive of such annals -- Mr. and Mrs. Smith is likely to be remembered chiefly for the tabloid coverage surrounding the alleged off-screen coupling of its on-screen couple, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. But leashing it beside such mangled mutts as Gigli and Proof of Life would be a bit unfair, for the movie, while far from a masterpiece, is no dog -- at least, not by the standards of what's shaping up to be a lackluster year at the movies.

By now you undoubtedly know that Pitt and Jolie portray Joe and Jane Smith, clandestine assassins who work for competing agencies. The affluent, bored husband and wife have kept their lethal professions a secret from each other, but that changes when their paths cross over a job that they both screw up. As a result, John and Jane are assigned to kill one another.

Like the song says, it's a thin line between love and hate. Mr. and Mrs. Smith is at its cleverest when it riffs on the little secrets that whittle away at marital bliss. Perhaps the secrets harbored by the Smiths involve more of a body count than do those of most couples (we hope), but the resulting detachment and ennui isn't so alien. And so beneath the silliness is a parable of marriage that actually resonates.

Well, it resonates some. Simon Kinberg's screenplay doesn't exactly break new ground exploring post-coitus rage. Pictures such as Prizzi's Honor and The War of the Roses boasted much more cutting satire, but Kinberg excels at witty double meanings. "I missed you today," John tells his wife at the dinner table. "I missed you, too," she responds wryly. Such moments help make up for Kinberg's weirdly stale depiction of domestic matrimony. With its post-work martinis, sniping over new drapes and the like, Mr. and Mrs. Smith's dated take on suburbia is dangerously close to that of the God-awful Stepford Wives remake).

When Mr. and Mrs. Smith does deliver the goods for summer popcorn entertainment, most of the credit goes to director Doug Liman. As he proved with Go and The Bourne Identity, Liman is among a handful of filmmakers today who can inject humor into action sequences without it seeming forced. Mr. and Mrs. Smith is hardly flawlessly paced -- it takes too long to get started and it overstays its welcome one shootout too many -- but there are some nifty set pieces, particularly the Smiths' no-holds-barred destruction of their stainless steel designer kitchen.

As for the performers, let's just say that Pitt and Jolie have a real and tangible on-screen chemistry. Did they knock boots during shooting? My money is on: You bet your ass, they did. Acting, schmacting. Pitt is a fine actor when he feels like it, but here he doesn't have to do much more than sleepwalk.

Jolie is slightly more impressive, and not just 'cause she has a few scenes decked out in a tight leather skirt and fishnets. The woman might be a loon and a half, but she gives a whole new definition to sexy. As my friend Buck would say: Giddy up on that.

The TV Movie Version -- Season Two

Say what you want about the online community -- we might be a repellant group of slobbering antisocials with bad translucent skin and curved spines -- well, except for Wonkette, but we do care. We care a lot. Witness the "Free Katie" movement, in which a not-at-all commercially ravenous group of sweet-natured nurturing types are selling T-shirts, baseball shirts, trucker hats and java mugs to help "a young, gifted, actress held captive by forces we may never understand. Even one summer of captivity is too long for one so bright."

On the site, one can see photos of Thomas Cruise Mapother IV manhandling his prey with his veiny, age-mangled mitts. You see, she's like a little bunny rabbit -- Thumper, really -- being batted around by a shaved, "Dianetics"-quoting bear with stupendously large, glowing Chiclet teeth.

In keeping with this horror, we present "Tom and Katie -- Battlefield Hollywood." Depending on casting and budget, this new TV movie could be shopped to HBO, or sent to Fox or the WB for B-list, and if we don't get solid B-listers, then it goes to E! or VH1. Let's cast!

As Katie Holmes:
a) Shannyn Sossamon from "The Rules of Attraction"
b) Rachel Bilson from "The O.C."
c) Jena Malone from "Saved"
d) Kristin Kreuk from "Smallville"
e) Someone else?

As Tom Cruise:

a) Gary Busey, who has the teeth.
b) Cruise's creepy cousin, William Mapother, from "In the Bedroom" and "Lost."
c) Ben Stiller, who has already had practice.
d) Preening investigative journalist Gerald Posner
e) Someone else?

As Oprah:

a) Viola Davis of "Solaris"
b) S. Epatha Merkerson of "Law & Order"
c) Star Jones of "The Practice"
d) Tracy Morgan
e) Someone else?

To Hell with Backwards Baseball Caps

So the other day my wife and I were eating lunch at Camille's (a decent sandwich place if you've never been) and this younger couple came in with their child, who looked to be about three years old. Anyway, the parents appeared to be in their mid- to late-twenties, but the dad appeared to think he was even younger -- boasting sideburns, a quasi-goatee and ... goofiest of all ... a backwards baseball cap.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm all for populism and live-and-let-live and all that crap, but affectations of slovenliness teeter on the ridiculous. A baseball cap, properly placed, is fine. But being a grownup and turning it backwards when you're not a gangsta rapper or catcher in the major leagues says one thing: poseur. It has all the subltety of wearing your underwear outside your regular clothes.

Parenthood, if nothing else, should at least signal that one is ostensibly beyond skater punk accoutrements.

Jesus Christ. I'm really sounding like an old fart these days.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Never Forget


"I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart."-
- Anne Frank

She would have been 76 years old today.

Never forget.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Castrate Me Elmo

Remember the old days of the so-called "Republican revolution," when the Final Net-encrusted mullahs of the extreme right set their beady sights on public broadcasting? Once again, these radicalized culture haters are going in for the kill, hoping to eviscerate Terry Gross, Elmo and Jim Lehrer in the process.

The Washington Post reports:

"A House subcommittee voted yesterday to sharply reduce the federal government's financial support for public broadcasting, including eliminating taxpayer funds that help underwrite such popular children's educational programs as 'Sesame Street,' 'Reading Rainbow,' 'Arthur' and 'Postcards From Buster.'"

This was the small-cranium, James Dobson faction of the House tipping their tiny hats to Kenneth Tomlinson, Bush's new head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which oversees PBS and National Public Radio. Tomlinson is the former editor of Reader's Digest, and rode herd on Grandma's bathroom reading material back when they would run anti-Democratic broadsides and social-conservative, dystopian fantasies about a future U.S. that has devolved into a Third World trash heap thanks to video games and heavy metal. Plus, who can forget "Drama in Real Life" segments along the lines of "I'm Buried Alive!" and "Ferret Attack!"

Since taking office, Tomlinson has been railing about alleged liberal bias at PBS and NPR, although polls commissioned by the CPB itself suggest that the public begs to differ with this movement-conservative tightass. He has appointed Republican watchdogs to pore over tapes and footage, looking for any bugaboos such as too much airtime for "the opposition party" or cartoon aardvarks engaging in civil disobedience at Bush's Social Security rallies.

Of course, conservative talking heads have railed against PBS and NPR for years, but one of the most obnoxiously and demonstrably incorrect lines of reasoning has come from George Will, who has said on ABC's This Week that PBS is irrelevant or redundant thanks to cable content. He is fond of pointing out A&E as evidence that "Arts & Entertainment" is fully represented on cable.

Has he ever watched A&E? Do Dog the Bounty Hunter or Growing Up Gotti, Intervention, Criss Angel Mindfreak, Sell This House or endless reruns of Third Watch or CSI: Miami seriously go head-to-head with Masterpiece Theater or Evening at Pops?

Common Cause has a petition up against Tomlinson. Go to this link and tell Tomlinson and his cohort to stop screwing with the Cookie Monster.