Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Oscar Pick Pontification: William Hurt

No real surprises in today's Academy Award nominations, with one exception. How did William Hurt earn a Best Supporting Actor nod for A History of Violence? His scenery-chewing performance as the tough-talking mob boss was more fit for an old "Batman" TV episode. Frank Gorshin would have been more nuanced.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Best of 2005: Movies

Well, it's taken me a while to get around to posting my dozen favorite pictures of 2005, but, hey, such is the price of being a movie geek in a state where the largest newspaper in town refuses to advertise NC-17 flicks and the Angelica is mistaken as something you order at the Olive Garden. In short, it took me a while to finally see all the flicks I really wanted to see for '05.

Here are my personal faves, in ascending (and therefore dramatic) order:

12. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Sure, there were more consistently accomplished movies I could have placed in this spot (Match Point barely missed the list), but give Kiss Kiss Bang Bang a big gold star for marking the triumphant return of director-writer Shane Black, the onetime wunderkind whose script for Lethal Weapon launched the era of the superstar screenwriter. A caramel-covered confection of film noir, pulp detective fiction and B-movies might be an eclectic choice for a year-ender best-of, but what can I say? Playful and fiercely coy, this is for people who love movies, with dialogue so pointed and lacerating it leaves burn marks. As the motormouthed crook-turned-movie star, Robert Downey Jr. hasn't been this good in a film for a long, long time, and, by all rights, the lovely Michelle Monaghan should be reeling in lots of script offers as a result.

11. Crash
The melting pot of Los Angeles reaches the proverbial boiling point in this film by Paul Haggis, here making his directorial debut after penning the Oscar-winning Million Dollar Baby. This sprawling, ambitious tale about racism in the City of Angels follows a dozen characters loosely connected to events that unfold after two young black men carjack an SUV belonging to the district attorney and his wife. Crash is stark and sometimes downright ugly, and it avoids cliche by consistently subverting our expectations. Certainly, the provocative script is helped by an ensemble cast that includes knockout performances by Matt Dillon, Terrence Howard, Sandra Bullock, Thandie Newton and Don Cheadle. It would have been easy for the movie to offer a bit of preaching, but Haggis doesn't pretend there are easy solutions to racism. Instead he dares you to search for answers yourself.

10. King Kong
Lord of the Rings
director Peter Jackson finally indulged his lifelong love affair with the seminal giant monster flick, with the result being a three-hour mash note to movie magic. It would have been easy to let things collapse under the weight of eye-popping special effects, but credit goes to Jackson and his screenwriting team for breathing genuine personality into the big ape. Buoyed by Naomi Watts' performance as Ann Darrow-in-distress, King Kong serves up one of the most affecting romances of the year. But no one goes to a monster picture for the mushy stuff. Thankfully, the CGI-generated spectacle is fit for a Kong, from the recreation of New York in the 1930s to the tragic climax atop the Empire State Building. Oops. I hope I didn't give anything away.

9. Good Night, and Good Luck
George Clooney was certainly Hollywood's-fly-in-the-ointment liberal this year with his star turn in Syriana and his directing-writing turn in this period piece about one of the near-bastions of great broadcast journalism, Edward R. Murrow. David Strathairn is uncanny as the chain-smoking broadcast reporter who took on Commie-baiting Sen. Joe McCarthy on CBS' "See It Now" news program. For me, Good Night, and Good Luck is more of a sentimental favorite than necessarily a superb movie; it can be a bit earnest for its own good, and, yes, the film does play a little fast and loose (but only a little) with Murrow's role in bringing down McCarthyism. Some saw the film as a direct indictment on today's timid press in the post-9/11 world, but even without that ostensible topicality, Clooney's tribute to Murrow and Fred Friendly has a lot to say about the vitality of a questioning, skeptical and restless press -- and why the supposedly sacrosanct goal of objectivity can be its own sort of bogeyman.

8. Cinderella Man
A shameless and undeniably effective tear-jerker about real-life prizefighter James J. Braddock, whose rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches saga during the Great Depression made him a sort of Seabiscuit for people who preferred their fairy tales in smoke-filled arenas. Why this crowd-pleaser took a dive at the box office remains a mystery for bigger minds to debate. In my humble estimation, Cinderella Man is director Ron Howard's most successful flick to date, elevated by a tremendous script (Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman), lush cinematography by Salvatore Totino, and performances from the reliable Russell Crowe and Paul Giamatti, who plays Braddock's loyal manager. And consider this: It ain't so easy to make a compelling movie about a likeable character who is relatively free of fatal flaws.

7. Batman Begins
In 2000's Memento, director-writer Christopher Nolan went all loopy and cranked out a thriller in reverse chronological order, so perhaps it's only fitting that his sleight-of-hand in this boffo action-adventure yarn is to treat a comic book superhero with ironic-free seriousness. And it works. Christian Bale is excellent as the conflicted protector of Gotham, and he gets able support from a stellar cast that includes Cillian Murphy, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Tom Wilkinson and L. Ron Hubbard wet nurse Katie Holmes. Sleek and stylish, Batman Begins is a slippery picture to define. While there is no disputing the film's comic-book inspiration, Nolan's thematic interests -- particularly the tension between justice and vigilantism -- are the stuff of grown-ups. In the process, Batman Begins establishes a whole new yardstick to measure comic-influenced motion pictures.

6. The Constant Gardener
A taut, somewhat opaque adaptation of the John le Carre novel that heralds the English-language film debut of Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles, the genius behind City of God. Constant Gardener is ostensibly a thriller, but it is about much more -- not the least of which is an unflinching assessment of the world's reaction to Africa's AIDS epidemic. Most of all, however, the picture is a uniquely fascinating love story, in which a rigid British diplomat (Ralph Fiennes) falls in love all over again with his recently slain wife (Rachel Weisz), a woman whom he truly gets to know only after she is gone. Weisz is incredible, incidentally; her luminous performance is the glue that holds together this ingenious story.

5. Mysterious Skin
Who knew that Gregg Araki, a favorite whipping boy of indie film, not only had a good movie in him, but a great one? But there it is: Mysterious Skin is a powerful, disturbing story of child sexual abuse and the tragic behavior it engenders in its victims. The picture is definitely not for the faint of heart; much of it is creepy and cringe-worthy. Such is the consequence of telling a story that revolves around the impact of a pedophile Little League baseball coach. Araki expertly interweaves his parallel narratives of male prostitute Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and the equally lost, if decidedly asexual, Brian (Brady Corbet), both of whom share a horrific secret. Not a pleasant movie, but an occasional kick to the consciousness can be good for you.

4. The Squid and the Whale
This is the stuff of indie fodder -- a despondent, self-obsessed writer; a dysfunctional family; a confused young man coming of age; the smug bourgeoisie. So why is this semiautobiographical picture from director-writer Noah Baumbach so uniquely terrific? Because every note rings with a musical clarity. The Berkmans are the sort of family that makes all of us feel a little more stable by comparison: Bernard (Jeff Daniels) is the arrogant writing professor who refers to Kafka as "a predecessor" and lets his son's girlfriend pick up the tab at dinner; wife Joan (Laura Linney) has racked up years of affairs and is now pushing a divorce; son Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) has the wrongheaded notion that his father is worth emulating; and youngest son Frank (Owen Kline) is on the verge of a world record for exhibitionist masturbation. Beautifully acted, trenchant, savagely funny, heartbreaking and consistently fascinating (are there any adjectives I left out?), The Squid and the Whale is a small film, but a breathtaking one.

3. Munich
Steven Spielberg
's meditation on vengeance has become an unfortunate lightning rod, with the ardent pro-Israel crowd saying the movie is too forgiving of Palestinian terrorists and some in the pro-Palestinian camp dismissing the flick as Zionist propaganda. A pox on both their houses. The film isn't quite as nefarious as those in the culture wars would have you believe. What Spielberg and screenwriters Tony Kushner and Eric Roth have to say about terrorism is as simple as it is irrefutable: Even when a violent response to violence is wholly justifiable, there are consequences (you know, that whole "an-eye-for-an-eye and the world ends up blind" shtick). At any rate, Munich is more thriller than polemic, and it succeeds magnificently on that level, brimming with jittery camerawork and elaborate set pieces that would have Hitchcock jonesing for more. Eric Bana is excellent as a soft-spoken Mossad agent dispatched to assassinate Palestinian terrorists who masterminded the slayings of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Only once does Spielberg lapse into heavy-handedness, when Bana replays the slayings in his head while having sex with his wife. I'm familiar with the trick about thinking baseball -- but bloodshed? Now, that's a buzzkill.

2. Brokeback Mountain
Look past the hype (albeit justified hype) about this being an "important" film and a "milestone" film and all those other adjectives sure to inspire backlash, and you'll find a moving and tragic love story. Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) meet in the summer of 1963 herding sheep on Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming, and the friendship between the two young men transitions, both seamlessly and inevitably, into a love affair. Brokeback is their Garden of Eden, a scenic paradise far away from the social constraints of their world; it remains an ideal as the two men age and move on, stuck in loveless marriages that lead to two more victims of societal restrictions. Gyllenhaal is a trifle miscast -- the filmmakers' attempt to age him in the film's third act is reminiscent of Giant, when we were supposed to believe Rock Hudson and James Dean were middle-aged 'cause they had gray hair -- but Ledger is astonishingly good. Director Ang Lee and screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana deserve credit for making an important film by eschewing its obvious political and social underpinnings. We know that Ennis and Jack are in the Wyoming where Matthew Shepard would be beaten to death in 1998, but Brokeback Mountain trusts its audience to make its own conclusions without being slapped into awareness.

Honestly, I can't put it any better than Chaz over at Dustbury: : "Every scene, every line, every offhand gesture is bent to the service of the story of these two men. And in that specificity, paradoxically, lies its universality: denied easy access to the stereotypes we might desire, we are forced to look at these characters in comparison, not to a pattern, but to ourselves. Brokeback Mountain speaks to everyone who's ever had to cover up the most important facts of his life."
1. Capote
Philip Seymour Hoffman delivers the knockout performance of the year as Truman Capote. It is a testament to this talented actor that he gets all the surface traits perfectly -- the babylike voice, the self-consciously effete mannerisms -- but don't mistake this for simple impersonation. Hoffman accomplishes the supernatural feat of transforming himself into the flesh-and-blood man who revolutionized true-crime writing, and journalism in general, with his blockbuster "non-fiction novel" of 1966, In Cold Blood. The actor is well-served by his old college chums, first-time director Bennett Miller and first-time screenwriter Dan Futterman, who use the picture as a springboard to examine how one of the great works of 20th century literature resulted from unchecked manipulation. It has been a while since character-driven drama was so, well, um, dramatic, I guess. In the process, the filmmakers provide one of the most successful and complex examinations of the creative life ever committed to celluloid.

They Grow Up So Fast ...

Something to make you feel old: Baby Jessica just got married.

Apparently she just can't help getting herself trapped.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

A Kick in Oklahoma City's Teeth

By Cassandra D

Is it just me or does anyone else think it was rather rotten of the new owners of Six Flags to not only move the corporate headquarters out of town, but also sell off Frontier City and White Water Bay?

I had figured that there was little hope of keeping headquarters here, but I had thought (naively) that Frontier City might at least end up with a makeover as a result of the deal. I had thought and, I must admit, even sort of assumed that as a little hat tip to the old home town and as a consolation prize for our losing the HQ, the new Six Flags owners would buff up our parks.

It's clear I'm no business mogul.

And Dan Snyder, I will no longer root for the Washington Redskins, you thief!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Friday Random 10

iPod shuffle -- it's good for you.

1. Leonard Cohen, "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye"
2. Smashing Pumpkins, "Bullet with Butterfly Wings"
3. Eric Burdon and the Animals,"When I Was Young"
4. Body Count, "Body Count"
5. Beat Happening, "Ponytail"
6. The Shirelles, "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?"
7. Shelby Lynne, "Telephone
8. Lucinda Williams, "Sidewalks of the City"
9. Skip James, "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues"
10. Pavement, "Zurich Is Stained"

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Peace in Our Time

As Ricky Ricardo would say: Palestine, you got some splainin to do!

Lest the cacophony of media wags continues to blame Israel for the never-ending conflict between that country and the Palestinians, consider this: Hamas kicked Fatah's ass in parliamentary elections, winning at least 75 seats and enough of a majority to rule without help from Fatah, which apparently is going to take its marbles and go home, anyway.

What does Hamas' ascendancy mean? Simply put, a militant terrorist organization committed to the annihilation of Israel soundly defeated the "moderate" terrorist organization that used to be committed to the annihilation of Israel.

The anti-Israel pundits who populate the mainstream press have a quick -- and dim-witted -- explanation for Hamas' victories. AP's interpretation is fairly typical:

"Hamas capitalized on widespread discontent with Fatah's corruption and ineffectiveness. Much of its campaign focused on internal Palestinian issues, while playing down the conflict with Israel."

"Playing down" the conflict?!? Give me a break. Show us the uninformed Palestinian voter who isn't acutely aware every day of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Politics in the Mideast isn't exactly needing a James Carville to pontificate on what the elections were about.

It's all about Israel, stupid. The election turnout was humungous. More than 70 percent of eligible Palestinians turned out to prop up the party of suicide bombers, random killings and all-around hate. Let's be honest: When a guy who goes by the nickname of Hitler wins a seat in parliament, there isn't a great mystery about what is driving the electorate.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan, never at a loss to undermine the credibility of his organization, has congratulated the Palestinian people for the "peaceful" elections, calling it an important step toward a Palestinian state.

Presumably another important step, at least for Hamas and its cadre of apologists, is the wholesale killing of Jews.

Sex Tape Derby, Round 37

Put on those smut caps, gang, for another installment of Sex Tape Derby. If you're a good American, you know the drill already: You've got to choose which celeb you'd rather be forced to watch dancing the light fandango (if you were to use the phrase as a euphemism for videotaped sex, that is).

Post your selections in the comments section below. And then thank your lucky stars that we live in a country where we have this sort of freedom.

Old-school TV titillation: Starsky (Paul Michael Glaser) ...

or Hutch (David Soul)?

The White Stripes' Meg White or ...

Freaky Fiona Apple?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Loaves and Fishes

That Kanye West .... what a shrinking violet.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Smiles for Boobies (A Baby's Tale)

For the past few weeks, the wife and I have been getting a bit impatient for the magical day that little Apple Rosebud McInerney (the nom de guerre of my infant daughter, for any of you readers who might be new to CTTC) would seem, well, happy to know us.

Thanks to a weekly email courtesy the infant-loving folks at babycenter.com, we learned about two weeks ago that anytime now our wittle wovable bundle of joy would likely look up at us some morning and, voila, warm the cockles (no smirking, please) of our hearts by flashing a big, gummy smile.

And so we began the wait for that anytime-now moment.

Mind you, it's not like Mrs. Chase and myself are such insecure and needy new parents that we needed that sort of affirmation from a being that doesn't even know to crawl in from out of the rain. It's just that, you know, it had been seven sleepless weeks of ooohhing and aaahhing over how cute and precious she is -- and, all the while, the baby had done absolutely nothing to acknowledge our unmitigated praise. Truth be told, the whole ignore-us-and-cry shtick had long jumped the shark. Sure, during that time the wife and I had glimpsed a number of wonderful gaping grins from ol' Apple Rosebud, but such expressions only came when she was asleep and passing gas. And let's be honest; I could visit my family if I wanted that kind of reception.

Then, about a week ago, our baby girl began to smile. Her little eyes and nose crinkled up, with her tiny chin quivering to accommodate the most innocent, angelic smile ever seen this side of the Mississippi.

But we had to look fast ... because the smile only appeared seconds before our baby went to work on mom's booby. The only thing that brought unencumbered joy to our child's face, it seemed, were boobies. Or, as the inimitable Graham Parker once termed it, the milk train.

The sight of boobies admittedly has brought many a smile to my own mug, and so I fully understood the kid's adoration of Mrs. Chase in all her breastfeeding splendor. But this nipple-induced courtesy was just too much, a slap in the face to her long-suffering parents, who continued to get the cold shoulder. Such objectification would not be tolerated.

Anyway, it all resolved peacefully this morning. Today was the anytime-now day.

Just before I left for work (yes, I do work occasionally), Apple Rosebud looked up at me and smiled. She even repeated the expression a few more times, as if to prove it had nothing to do with the emission of waste.

My baby smiled at me. And, yes, it was as incredible as I hoped it would be.

Monday, January 23, 2006

"I Wish I Knew How to Quit You..."

Couldn't resist....

Apology to Heather

By Conrad Spencer

Dearest Heather,

I am sorry.

You see, I was one of the millions of television viewers who didn't watch the first, the sole, episode of "Emily's Reasons Why Not." How could I have known that the arbiters of popular taste could be so fickle, the gatekeepers of mass media so impatient, as to deprive the airwaves of your ethereal presence after one measly episode?

I won't make excuses. I know the problem is mine and mine alone. It's my guilt over excessive TV consumption which led me away from you, and into the seductive arms of books and music and competitive juggling. Why can I not sit on my ass contentedly like so many others? Why must I crave more than another "sexy, single urbanite trying to find True Love in this cruel, cold world" sitcom? I watched your "Scrubs" episodes with near-religious fervor, but when you really needed me I wasn't there.

Perhaps, had I gotten over my highfalutin self, the uptick in your overnights would have melted the icy heart of some network executive. Overcome with humanity, perhaps he would have granted clemency to episode 2.

Just know that my feelings for you haven't changed. I still feel like I did when I was ten and first saw you, drunk and locked in Corey Haim's trunk or, nearly 10 years later, when you roller skated, naked, into my heart. It's just that, well...

Maybe this is for the best. Maybe you'll find that this is a blessing in disguise. With this "TV" phase out of the way, you get back to movies and full frontal nudity. There will be other parts. It's just that, right now, at this point in my life, this just didn't work for me.

I hope you understand.

Love always,


Sunday, January 22, 2006

More on "Munich"

While the movie Munich continues to draw the ire from Arab-haters who deem the movie anti-Israeli, presumably because the Palestinian terrorists depicted don't have horns sprouting from their heads, co-screenwriter Tony Kushner has finally answered some of the film's critics in The Los Angeles Times:

"Why does the movie show Mossad agents having doubts and regrets about killing terrorists when apparently they never have doubts and regrets? Why did you make that up?

"I've never killed anyone, but my instincts as a person and a playwright -- and the best books I've read about soldiers or cops or people whose jobs bring them into violent physical conflict -- suggest that people in general don't kill without feeling torn up about it. Violence exacts a psychic toll, unless you're a sociopath, and who wants to watch a movie about sociopaths?

"Munich dramatizes the toll violence takes. This bothers a few people at both ends of the political spectrum. I understand why those who think Israeli agents are villainous, unfeeling killing machines disparage our conscience-ridden characters. I'm confused by those who think that a depiction of the agents as conscienceless would make them more impressive and heroic.

Finally, Kushner addresses those who have confused the movie's concerns with those of Kushner, an American Jew who has been outspoken in his belief that Israelis and Palestinians should co-exist iseparatete states:

"Munich is not me or my politics masquerading as a movie. It's been shaped with remarkable generosity by Steven Spielberg into a historical fiction informed by several perspectives, including mine. We have prescribed nothing more specific for understanding the Mideast conflict, and the dilemma terrorism poses to civilization, than that you allow your unshakable convictions a little breathing room.

"I think it's the refusal of the film to reduce the Mideast controversy, and the problematics of terrorism and counterterrorism, to sound bites and spin that has brought forth charges of 'moral equivalence' from people whose politics are best served by simple morality tales."

If this is the sort of thing that interests you, the entire piece is worth reading here. You might not like Kushner's politics (I can't say that I do, for instance), but he makes the cogent point that Munich isn't about his politics.

There She Is ...

Stand tall, Oklahoma!

That's right, sports fans! Tulsan Jennifer Berry was crowned Miss America in Las Vegas.

For you enquiring minds out there, 22-year-old Jennifer attends the University of Oklahoma, where she is studying to be an elementary school teacher. Her turn-offs include drunk drivers and her turn-ons include ballet and being, like, totally pretty.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Sowing Bad Seeds

By Daniel Gale-Grogen

Another telling story about Jack Abramoff comes courtesy of former Beverly Hills High School classmate/Slate contributor Timothy Noah, who beat Time to the punch on early Abramoff assessments back in April 2005. Read all about Abraham Jackoff: The Wonder Years.

A Bad Seed

In a recent and exhaustive cover story on the Jack Abramoff scandal, Time reporter Karen Tumulty tosses in this chestnut from the lobbyist's distant checkered past:

"Jack Abramoff's first venture into politics was probably a clue that the future superlobbyist had a rather flexible view of the rules: he was disqualified in his 1972 race for president of his Beverly Hills elementary school, after a teacher discovered he had violated the school's campaign spending limits by serving hot dogs at an election party."

Rhetorical question:When do you know you're in deep, deep shit? When the media starts combing through your grade school years.

Maybe there really was something to all those teachers and principals who said this was going on your "permanent record."

Friday, January 20, 2006

Buon Compleanno!

"Cinema is an old whore, like circus and variety, who knows how to give many kinds of pleasure."

"A good opening and a good ending make for a good film, providing they come close together."
-- Federico Fellini

A happy birthday to one of our favorite all-time directors over here at CTTC, the masterful Federico Fellini.

He would have been 86 today.

And just because I love lists, I humbly submit my five favorite Fellini flicks (oooh, the alliteration!), in ascending order:

5. Roma (1972)
4. Amarcord (1973)
3. La Dolce Vita (1960)
2. Nights of Cabiria (1957)
1. 8 1/2 (1963)

Warm Delights

By Cassandra D

Coming so close on the heels of the return of Sex Tape Derby, you may think I am writing about delights of a carnal nature. But no, I'm talking chocolate. Specifically, the new Warm Delights from Betty Crocker. Has anyone else tried these little sinful snacks? Just add water and in less than 2 microwave minutes, a hot gooey brownie or hot chocolate cake is there to provide all the comfort your weak-willed self requires.

I remember reading somewhere that cake mix makers had the technology to bring us "just add water" mixes. None of that adding oil or eggs business. That would be just fine with me. As with the Warm Delights, you could lick the batter all you want with no fear of Salmonella. But no, apparently consumers felt too guilty, that it just wasn't really baking something if all they had to do was add water. So here we have been, stuck with inedible cake and brownie batter. Until now. (insert maniacal laugh here)

So Betty, I salute you!

Friday Random 10

Happy Friday, iPod people.

1. Elmore James, "The Sun Is Shining"
2. Eels, "My Beloved Monster"
3. The Chemical Brothers, "Let Forever Be"
4. The Barenaked Ladies, "Jane"
5. Frank Sinatra, "I've Got You Under My Skin"
6. Clem Snide, "I Love the Unknown"
7. The Dead Milkmen, "Nutrition"
8. Sly & the Family Stone, "Family Affair"
9. The Cure, "Killing an Arab"
10. Ben Folds, "The Ascent of Stan"

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Excuses, Excuses

In an audiotape released to Al-Jazeera (apparently the Bob Saget of the fundamentalist Islamic world), a voice purportedly that of Osama bin Laden offers excuses for why Al Qaeda has not carried out any post-9/11 attacks on U.S. soil.

"The delay in similar operations happening in America has not been because of failure to break through your security measures," AP reports bin Laden as saying. "But the operations are happening in Baghdad and you will see them here at home the minute they are through (with preparations), with God's permission."

Why am I reminded a bit of Jon Lovitz's pathological liar from "SNL," Tommy Flanagan?

"Uhh, yeah, we just haven't brought you to your knees 'cause we've been busy, see? Real busy, like distracted busy. Busy on something else. .... Yeah, that's the ticket...."

Of course, the thing about madmen is that they never know when to shut up. Osama goes on:

"But what triggered my desire to talk to you is the continuous deliberate misinformation given by your President Bush, when it comes to polls made in your home country which reveal that the majority of your people are willing to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq.

"We know that the majority of your people want this war to end and opinion polls show the Americans don't want to fight the Muslims on Muslim land, nor do they want Muslims to fight them on their (U.S.) land.

"But Bush does not want this and claims that it's better to fight his enemies on their land rather than on American land.

"Bush tried to ignore the polls that demanded that he end the war in Iraq.

"We are getting increasingly stronger while your situation is getting from bad to worse."

Granted, deciphering Al Qaeda statements is not my specialty (that, for those who want to know, is playing "Smoke on the Water" on a Jew's harp while balancing a live chicken between my knees), but I am struck by what bin Laden is trying to accomplish here. You couldn't come up with rhetoric more apt to rile Americans and boost Dumbya's sagging poll numbers. After all, the Iraq War is unpopular, but we don't exactly like that being pointed out by notorious terrorists who read Zogby data.

If bin Laden isn't purposely trying to fan anti-Al Qaeda sentiment here, he should think about outsourcing his public relations needs.

It seems that bin Laden's comments boil down to this: 1) Just 'cause you haven't heard from us doesn't mean we're not still scary; and 2) Let's talk. If that doesn't sound like a terrorist organization on the ropes, I don't know what does.

Sex Tape Derby, Round 36

With the advent of parenthood, I have decided to dispense with a few trifles of my past. Sleep is one of them. Another is the longer version of Sex Tape Derby, CTTC's now-and-then would'ya survey in which you, the reader, are asked to choose which of the following celebrities you would rather watch perform the sacred act of lovemaking (should you be forced to watch such abject sin and temptation) on DVD or (for the technologically imparied) videotape.

Despite my best efforts to draw out the perv in us all, STD (an unfortunate acronym, I grant you) ultimately became a sort of contest of lewdness involving a handful of devoted readers: Dr. Pants, Brick Fuckwahl, Buck Nekkid, MDC, Larry Mondello and the occasional frilly utterings of Jill Vatican.

In the new and shorter version of Sex Tape Derby, we here will routinely offer you some limited choices. As always, post your selections in the comments section below. And remember: The NSA is monitoring this, so please refrain from expounding upon any masturbatory fantasy that doesn't ultimately involve a rocket's red glare and -- if you suffer from erectile dysfunction -- bombs bursting in air.

And so ...

Singer Anna Nalick or

Singer Rachael Yamagata?

The beast with two Brokebacks: Heath Ledger or

Jake Gyllenhaal?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Don't Tread on Him

Remember Michael Fortier?

For those of you who don't live in Oklahoma, the name might not immediately register. Fortier was the onetime pal of Timothy McVeigh who knew about his plot to bomb the Oklahoma City federal building but did nothing to stop it. As McVeigh's best friend, he was aware of the bomb plan from the beginning, and even cased the building with McVeigh during a side trip to Oklahoma City in December, 1994. Over the span of several months, Fortier and his wife Lori helped McVeigh sell stolen guns to finance the plot. Lori helped hide blasting caps by concealing them in Christmas wrapping paper. Michael took steps to help stow away incriminating evidence for after the bombing.

But Fortier, a meth-addled militia sympathizer who proudly flew a "Don't Tread on Me" flag outside his Arizona trailer home, eventually became a chief prosecution witness against McVeigh and Terry Nichols. In exchange for that star testimony, Fortier received a 12-year prison sentence.

That time ends Friday, as Michael Fortier, who has earned some time off for good behavior, will again be a free man.

His culpability in the bomb plot remains decidedly more significant than federal prosecutors have been willing to acknowledge. Fortier did more than simply know about the plot in advance and keep his mouth shut -- although that is certainly deplorable enough. Fortier helped fence guns with the full knowledge that it would help fund the needed explosives. He stood by while McVeigh sharpened his bomb-making acumen in the Arizona desert.

But sometimes prosecutors have to make deals with the devil (Jack Abramoff, anyone?), and so it was with Fortier. His testimony helped thread a narrative to a largely circumstantial case.

During the McVeigh trial, Fortier testified that "if you don't consider what happened in Oklahoma City, Tim was a good guy." That remark elicited gasps in the courtroom (I was there at the time), but it made sense in a crazy sort of way. McVeigh's unthreatening persona was perhaps the scariest thing about him -- the fact that this gangly Army dude who liked comic books and sci-fi movies could justify the murders of innocents by likening them to Star Wars' storm troopers.

The same sentiment, in a way, applies to Fortier.

Testifying against McVeigh and Nichols certainly did not, and does not, make him a good guy. And one can only hope that Fortier's conscience is not immune to remorse.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

What Brings You Here?

I'm always interested in the Google searches that land some folks to this here blog. A few of the more noteworthy as of late, presented here verbatim, according to StatCounter.com:

"jessica alba's sexy pitchers in her underwear" (yes, pitchers)

"my baby had white colored feces only once, what does it mean"

"scott peterson golden globe" (who knew he had a movie out this year?)

"g-string for a 7-year-old" (um, the less said about this, the better)

"looney tunes nude"

"self-aggrandizing belief" (a bit vague, don'cha think?)

"robert loggia sexy pic" (what pic of Robert Loggia isn't sexy?)

"danica patrick in pantyhose"

"john stamos's penis"

Of course, there is the ongoing deluge of people searching for nude pics of various celebrities. But I continue to find myself intrigued and more than a bit alarmed to see that at least once a week someone out there in cyberspace trolls around for the following: "Loretta Swit nude."

Seriously, this Google search brings someone (probably the same someone) to this blog approximately once a week.

And here's the creepiest part -- Larry Linville died nearly six years ago.

Liberal Media? What Liberal Media?

Right-wing radio wingnut Glenn Beck is coming to CNN to host an hour-long program.

"Glenn's style is self-deprecating, cordial; he says he'd like to be able to disagree with guests and part as friends," Headline News' boss Ken Jautz tells Variety. "It's conversational, not confrontational."

Oh, really? Has Ken Jautz actually listened to Beck's radio show?

No, Glenn Beck isn't a hate monger in the same way that, say, Bill O'Reilly, Michael Savage and the like are. But what a sad testament it is about political discourse in the country when those yayhoos are the new threshold for hate mongering.

Suicide Is Painless

In a win for states' rights and the seemingly outdated value of compassion, the U.S. Supreme Court today upheld Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law by a 6-3 ruling.

On the portentous side, however, new Chief Justice John Roberts joined Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas in backing the Bush administration's opposition to the eight-year-old Death With Dignity Act.

The Washington Post 's William Branigin notes that former-Attorney General John Ashcroft challenged the Oregon law by claiming it violated federal authority to prosecute doctors who prescribe lethal drugs. Branigin writes:

"At issue was whether the federal Controlled Substances Act, enacted in 1970 to combat drug abuse and trafficking, allowed the attorney general unilaterally to prohibit doctors in Oregon from prescribing regulated drugs for use in physician-assisted suicide, despite state law permitting them to do so.

"Writing the opinion of the court, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said the federal law bars doctors from using prescriptions to engage in illicit drug dealing but that 'the statute manifests no intent to regulate the practice of medicine generally.' Moreover, the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) relies on 'a functioning medical profession regulated under the states' police powers,' he wrote."

The Post adds that Scalia, writing the dissent, scoffed at suggesting physician-assisted suicide serves a "legitimate medical purpose."

"Saying that the court's decision 'is perhaps driven by a feeling that the subject of assisted suicide is none of the Federal Government's business,' Scalia wrote that 'it is easy to sympathize with that position.' However, the government has long been able to use its powers 'for the purpose of protecting public morality,' he said.

"'Unless we are to repudiate a long and well-established principle of our jurisprudence, using the federal commerce power to prevent assisted suicide is unquestionably permissible,' Scalia said. 'If the term "legitimate medical purpose" has any meaning, it surely excludes the prescription of drugs to produce death.'"

Since the law's inception in 1994, about 200 terminally ill Oregonians were able to end their lives. Doesn't the alleviation of pain and suffering fall under the purview of "legitimate medical purpose" when there is no possibility of recovery? We here at CTTC applaud the high court for its decision.

With Samuel Alito assured a spot on the court, we can only hope that Anthony Kennedy is one super healthy mofo.

More on the topic is available over at How Appealing.

Globes Trotting

Some sundry thoughts on the 63rd annual Golden Globes, which I, being a complete movie geek, actually watched:

The acceptance speech award of the night went to "The Office"'s Steve Carrel. What can you say? The guy is dang funny.

The Atta-Boy! award of the night went to Philip Seymour Hoffman, who deservedly won the Best Actor Globe for Capote. The odds-on favorite had been Heath Ledger for Brokeback Mountain. Ledger was excellent, but Hoffman really gave a timeless performance.

Do you think Anthony Hopkins feels like puking up fava beans and a nice Chianti every time he is forced to watch that clip from Silence of the Lambs? I mean, the guy has made some other movies, hasn't he?

Oh, and best of all ...

Scarlett Johannson won special recognition for her Golden Globes.

Riddle me this, sports fans: When does it pay to be an obnoxious gay fashion designer? When it means being able to freely grope celebrities on the red carpet, of course (hat tip to Voxefx).

Monday, January 16, 2006

Wiretap Dance

In light of Martin Luther King Day and the current saga of warrantless wiretaps courtesy the National Security Agency, Nicholas deB. Katzenbach has a terrific op-ed in today's Los Angeles Times. A former Attorney General, he recounts the years that J. Edgar Hoover's FBI tapped Dr. King's phones and hotel bedrooms under the guise of "national security."

"Today we are again engaged in a debate over wiretapping for reasons of national security -- the same kind of justification Hoover offered when he wanted to spy on King. The problem, then as now, is not the invasion of privacy, although that can be a difficulty. But it fades in significance to the claim of unfettered authority in the name of 'national security.' There may be good and sufficient reasons for invasions of privacy. But those reasons cannot and should not be kept secret by those charged with enforcing the law. No one should have such power, and in our constitutional system of checks and balances, no one legitimately does."

The entire piece is available here.

(Thanks to Hit & Run)

Why Is Everybody Always Pickin' on Me?

For years I have known that friends and acquaintances enjoy making me mad. I don't know why, exactly, but they do. I am told that I'm "amusing" when I get pissed or flustered.

A friend told me recently that I'm like Charlie Brown when I get mad. I asked her to elaborate, but she declined.

I still don't know what that means.

Good grief.

Injuries Decline in Iraq

A glimmer of positive news coming from Iraq: The numbers of injured U.S. troops last year had dropped 26 percent from 2004. Experts attribute the decline to several factors, including more involvement in the Iraqi political process and fewer instances of brutal urban battle.

The numbers of U.S. troop deaths, however, remained virtually unchanged.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

R.I.P., Shelley Winters

A fond farewell to Shelley Winters, one of the great movie actresses of yesteryear. She died at age 85 of heart failure. Winters won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar twice, including one for 1959's The Diary of Anne Frank.

The Los Angeles Times' Claudia Luther notes that the interesting career trajectory for Winters, whose professional respectability increased along with her waistline. A blonde sexpot party girl during Hollywood's Golden Era, she took in more daring and interesting roles as she grew older and heavier.

"A little bit Jean Harlow, a little bit Mae West, Winters was once lumped with such sexy starlets as Marilyn Monroe. But Winters from the start was willing to give up glamour for a good role. After years on studio contract playing negligible parts, she got a break in George Cukor's 1947 film, A Double Life, in which she played a waitress who was murdered by Ronald Colman.Four years later, she became a full-fledged star as the dowdy factory girl that Montgomery Clift lets drown to be with the beautiful, rich Elizabeth Taylor in George Stevens' A Place in the Sun."

Her good looks, in fact, initially kept A Place in the Sun director George Stevens from casting Winters for the part. The Times continues:

"Winters finagled a meeting at the Hollywood Athletic Club, dyed her hair brown and put on a loose, gray coat, brown shoes and white bobby sox. She waited in the club's lobby. When Stevens arrived, he didn't recognize her, and she didn't go to him. When he rose to leave, he finally spotted her. She got the test, and the role."

She wasn't afraid of risky roles and risky films. For me, her best stuff is Charles Laughton's off-kilter thriller The Night of the Hunter (1955) and Stanley Kubrick's Lolita (1962), in which, as Lolita's attention-starved mom, she was unforgettable in what could have been a forgettable part. Oh, and let's not overlook Winters' over-the-top lunacy in Roger Corman's Bloody Mama tribute to Ma Barker.

R.I.P., Shel'

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Alito More Love

In a nutshell: It doesn't really matter much that in the confirmation hearings, Judge Alito declined to call Roe v. Wade "settled law." The phrase, despite the claims of Democratic senators who suddenly remembered John Roberts with fondness, is meaningless once you're on the Supreme Court. There is no such thing as settled law when you're on the highest bench in the land. Roe is settled only in the eyes of lower courts that do not set precedent.

With the Alito appointment all but secured (honestly, it was secured before the confirmation hearings, but whatever), abortion-rights proponents can seek some solace. Even if the judge supports overturning Roe v. Wade (which is probable), and let's say John Roberts did, too (not as probable), that still shakes out to only four votes (Scalia and Thomas being the other two) stripping constitutional protection for abortion.

The crucial court battle will be the next opening on the court, expecially since the next vacancy is likely to be that of the reliably liberal John Paul Stevens. Still, I suspect that a Republican president, even this numbskull 'n' bones, will be in no serious hurry to overturn Roe, which has long been an ace-in-the-hole rallying cry -- and thereby money-bait -- for that party's hardcore social conservative wing. It pays for Republicans to keep the overturning of Roe v. Wade to be a tantalizing, if ultimately unattainable, prospect.

Similarly, it pays for Democrats to fan fears that it could be overturned. If religion is the opiate of the masses, as Karl Marx once said (or was it Richard?), then abortion rights is surely the crank of politicos. For the sake of argument, let's say that Roe v. Wade is overturned. It's sheer speculation, but considering that most polls indicate Americans by and large support the right to choose, it is likely that all Blue states -- and even a fair number of Red states -- would act to keep abortion legal.

I am certainly no fan of Sen. Tom Coburn, but I don't see why he should be dismissed as a "loon" (as Daily Kos did) for daring to verbalize the obvious -- that the Alito confirmation hearings were all about abortion. If Democratic senators are allowed to be upfront that their opposition to Alito boils down to Roe, why is it any more troublesome for a pro-life lawmaker to admit that Roe is the determining factor for him or her?

If anything, the level of shrill protestations on both sides of the abortion issue obscure the complexity of what is at stake. I am solidly pro-choice (not that anyone was asking), but I am suspicious of both pro-choicers and pro-lifers who decline to concede that the decision is a tough and troubling one. There are a number of moral absolutes in this universe -- slavery is wrong, helping the disadvantaged is right, Carmen Electra could suck the cold off winter -- but I'm not prepared to say that a woman's right to abort a fetus is one of them.

Ultimately, the Alito and Roberts hearings illustrate the limitations of political theater. The judiciary's canons of ethical conduct dictate that a judge cannot pre-judge a case that could conceivably come before him or her. Subsequently, since anything can come before the Supreme Court, there is precious little real-world substance that the hearings can uncover.

The notable exception in the Alito hearings, of course, was the judge's role in the sexist, racist and homophobic Concerned Alumni of Princeton -- a membership that probably reveals more about his mercenary capacity for currying political favor than (hopefully) his actual worldview. At any rate, the grilling that Alito took over CAP was wholly appropriate, especially in light of his amnesia about the organization -- and too bad if Mrs. Alito got her Gilded-era panties in a wad over those Dems being mean to her wittle Sammy Whammy.

Otherwise, what the Alito hearings ultimately offered were a bunch of blustery narcissists who aren't really interested in asking meaningful questions hanging out with a reluctant witness who isn't really interested in offering meaningful answers.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Eggheads and Green Ham

It's a shame Dr. Seuss didn't live to see the day he would prove to be a prophet. Humankind can rest easy now; science has bred its first fluorescent green pig.

Reuters reports that scientists in Taiwan are responsible for the, um, breakthrough of sorts:

"By injecting fluorescent green protein into embryonic pigs, a research team at the island’s leading National Taiwan University managed to breed three male transgenic pigs, said professor Wu Shinn-Chih of the university’s Institute and Department of Animal Science and Technology.

“'There are partially fluorescent green pigs elsewhere, but ours are the only ones in the world that are green from inside out. Even their hearts and internal organs are green,' Wu said on Thursday."

The scientists claim the hogs will be important for stem-cell research. Whatever. We suspect some lab experiment went terribly wrong and this is just trying to make a silk purse out of a green sow's ear.

(Thanks to my brother-in-law for the heads-up on the story)

Friday Random 10

Today's iPod shuffle is brought to you by Stella Dora Breakfast Treats.

1. Elvis Costello, "You Belong to Me"
2. Ryan Adams, "New York, New York"
3. Mission of Burma, "Dirt"
4. Lucinda Williams, "Passionate Kisses"
5. Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, "You've Really Got a Hold on Me"
6. Etta James, "The Wallflower (Roll with Me, Henry)"
7. Ed Harcourt, "The Trapdoor"
8. The Kinks, "The Village Green Preservation Society"
9. Clifford Brown, "Portrait of Jenny"
10. Neil Young, "Down by the River"

Thursday, January 12, 2006

"This Is Lemonberry Gingersnap!"

By Daniel Gale-Grogen

For those who have seen and enjoyed Grizzly Man, or simply like watching people in mascot suits, please enjoy the glories of Grizzly Bear Man.

Babes on Film

My wife and I recently took newly born Apple Rosebud to a high-priced portrait photographer for the obligatory artsy baby pics. It was en edifying experience. Otto von Bismarck once remarked that people who love laws and sausages should make sure they never see either one being made.

Well, the same applies to baby portraits.

Prior to the shoot, Mrs. Chase and I inspected the walls of the photographer's studio waiting room. The photographer's specialty was baby portraiture, and it showed. The walls of her strip-mall office were adorned floor to ceiling with black-and-white pictures of babies in various states of repose. The scene was an orgy of adorability -- sleeping cherubs curled up beside teddy bears and long-stemmed flowers; impish infants and tow-headed toddlers with wide eyes and gentle smiles and the general vibe of cuteness.

The photos had the desired effect. Mrs. Chase and I were excited for the photographer to work her magic and capture Apple Rosebud in all her splendor.

And the photographer captured it, too, all right. Finally. She managed to eke out some great photos during an eight-minute span, a rare blip of time during which Apple Rosebud McInerney was not screaming, wailing, crying inconsolably, spitting up, grunting like a longshoreman and leaving ribbons of mustard-colored feces on tables draped in black cloth.

The shoot itself lasted for more than two hours. If you do the math, that means one hour and fifty-two minutes of screaming, wailing, crying inconsolably, spitting up, grunting like a longshoreman and leaving ribbons of mustard-colored feces on tables draped in black cloth.

Never again will I be lulled by the tranquil charms of a baby portrait. Behind each one, I now know, was a pure, unadulterated hell.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Best of 2005: Documentaries

The year 2005 was a pretty bang-up year for documentaries, but for you, dear readers, I've culled my faves down to five:

5. Inside Deep Throat
An entertaining trip down memory lane through the platform-heeled sleazepit of the Seventies, with the particular thrust (heh heh) being the notorious X-rated gem that made Linda Lovelace and Harry Reems household names (well, a lot depends on the household, I suppose). What's not to like? I'll take porn over penguins any day.

4. Grizzly Man
Less a documentary than an impressionistic work by legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog, who manages to put his indelible vision on the story of another visionary, the late Timothy Treadwell. The "grizzly man" of the title, Treadwell was an environmentalist-filmmaker who lived among the wild bears of Alaska until -- well, knock me over with a feather -- he was done up and eaten by one. Herzog, who pored through more than 100 hours of footage taken by Treadwell, presents a complex portrait of a man equal parts solicitous, insane and just another society burn-out. What I personally like most are Herzog's bizarre, occasionally jarring, narrative asides about the common denominator of nature being chaos and murder. Oh, those nutty, nutty Germans ...

3. No Direction Home: Bob Dylan
If you don't like Bob Dylan (and if not, shame on you), you'll like it. If you like Dylan, you'll love it. Directed by Martin Scorsese, this is a big, dense chronicle of the rise of the enigmatic Robert Zimmerman -- and a wonderful reminder of the crucial role that music can and does play in shaping our beliefs.

2. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
The get-pissed documentary of the year makes the Enron saga a bit easier to understand, but filmmaker Alex Gibney, for the most part, stays away from the scandal's technical side. This is chiefly a fiery corporate-horror story. While Gibney makes a few leaps in interpretation -- such as explaining Enron's evil streak by way of Stanley Milgram's behavioral experiments of the Sixties -- this is still compelling, infuriating stuff. And few moments in modern cinema are quite as jaw-droppingly gross as actually hearing the Enron traders laugh about causing misery in California.

1. Murderball
Although undoubtedly the finest sports documentary in recent years, Murderball is much, much more. It is that rarest of documentaries, a work in which filmmakers Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro came expecting one subject but instead stumbled on to a wide range of human experience. At its most direct level, the movie follows quadriplegic rugby -- known to its hyper-competitive participants as "murderball" -- as practiced by the U.S. Paralympics team. The picture is dominated by two larger-than-life personalities, the U.S. team's Mark Zupan and the Canadian team coach, Joe Soares, but Murderball ultimately explores richer, more fundamental truths about humankind. Just great.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Vanity, Thy Name Is Lohan

Poor Lindsay Lohan. First she fesses up to Vanity Fair writer Evgenia Peretz all about her struggles last year with bulimia.

Now the teen starlet has thought better of such candor. "The words that I gave to the writer for Vanity Fair were misused and misconstrued, and I'm appalled with the way it was done," she has told Teen People in a written statement.

Apparently it was a simple miscommunication -- which can happen easily when the interview subject is retching in a toilet.

No Crosses Count?

OK, so my frustration level with the clod in chief might be reaching tedious levels these days, but it's tough to keep that disgust in check when each day seemingly brings more evidence that we're living under a wannabe monarchy.

In Dumbya's signing last week of Sen. John McCain's bill banning torture, the president threw in a caveat in his "signing statement" that accompanied the legislation. It was a mighty sweet caveat. In short, he asserted that he can just disregard the ban as he sees fit.

More disturbing, an architect of using such "signing statements" to scuttle congressional intent is none other than Dumbya's Supreme Court nominee, Samuel Alito.

The Boston Globe's Charlie Savage and Rich Klein explain:

"In the past, presidents rarely issued such legal statements when signing bills. But in 1986, when Alito was working for former attorney general Edwin Meese III, the future nominee proposed that President Reagan issue signing statements more frequently.

"Alito contended that courts sometimes research congressional statements and reports when trying to interpret the intent of an ambiguous law. Alito proposed that the more frequent issuing of signing statements by presidents would 'increase the power of the executive to shape the law' by leaving a record of the president's view. 'Since the president's approval is just as important as that of the House or Senate, it seems to follow that the president's understanding of the bill should be just as important as that of Congress,' wrote Alito."

Dumbya has turned to such "signing statements" more than 500 times, according to Knight Ridder.

The hits just keep a-comin'.

Inside Lip Synch

Add Ashlee Simpson to the list of possibly syphilitic celebrities (hey, ma, check out the awesome alliteration!) feigning concern that a homemade sex tape of hers has found its way to the Internet.

Considering the stature and cleanliness of the Simpson clan, we're just glad that the tape wasn't shot by her dad.

(hat tip to Agent Bedhead)

"Munich" and the Sin of Ambivalence

Evidently, some with a stake in the so-called culture wars aren't satisfied to keep the weaponry relegated to gay marriage, intelligent design and the insidiousness of non-exclusionary seasonal greetings. In recent weeks the long knives have come out over a movie, and one not even directed by Mel Gibson.

Despite being a helluva film, Steven Spielberg's Munich has ticked off a bunch of folks, most of whom subscribe to the notion that supporting Israel/opposing terrorism means rejecting all suggestions of ambivalence and complexity in the big ol' universe.

Based on the controversial book Vengeance by Canadian journalist George Jonas, the film stars Eric Bana as Avner, a quiet and contemplative Mossad agent. After Palestinian terrorists kidnapped and murdered 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, Avner is directed by then-Israel Prime Minister Golda Meir to track down and assassinate a number of Palestinians who helped mastermind the slayings.

Spielberg's other flick of 2005, War of the Worlds, was a slick summer thrill ride, but its mosaic of U.S. cities under attack adroitly mined America's post-9/11 fears. Munich, an obviously more solemn picture, is the logical bookend to that earlier work.

While Munich's most direct subject matter is the aftermath of the Olympics tragedy, there's no denying that its depiction of vengeance, responding swiftly and decisively in the face of barbarism, is particularly apt in today's global environment. Spielberg underscores that fact with a scene toward the film's end, in which two characters are talking in Brooklyn, circa 1973. Behind them is Manhattan, and it is impossible to miss the Twin Towers looming like ghosts over the famed skyline.

Clearly, the filmmakers find legitimate linkages between Israel's response to terrorism in 1972 and the U.S. reaction to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Less certain, however, is whether Spielberg and company are judging the latter response, or simply pointing out the moral quagmire that results from an eye for an eye. The movie explores shadings of morality; it does not instruct.

But lack of certainty hasn't prevented some critics from lashing out at Munich.

In The New York Times, for instance, Edward Rothstein displayed the nearly supernatural ability to place himself inside the heads of the moviemakers:

"The warning and image [of the World Trade Center in the movie] are meant to suggest that militant attempts to destroy terrorism lead not to peace but to cycles of violence, and that the 9/11 attacks may even be consequences of Israel's response to the Munich massacre. A war on terror amplifies terror. Moreover, the movie teaches, opposing sides begin to resemble each other. Moral credibility is destroyed along with hope."

The New Republic's Leon Wieseltier was so venomous in his shredding of Munich, you'd have thought that Steven Spielberg himself had taken a dump on the guy's lawn:

"The real surprise of Munich is how tedious it is. For long stretches it feels like The Untouchables with eleven Capones. But its tedium is finally owed to the fact that, for all its vanity about its own courage, the film is afraid of itself. It is soaked in the sweat of its idea of evenhandedness. Palestinians murder, Israelis murder. Palestinians show evidence of a conscience, Israelis show evidence of a conscience. Palestinians suppress their scruples, Israelis suppress their scruples. Palestinians make little speeches about home and blood and soil, Israelis make little speeches about home and blood and soil. Palestinians kill innocents, Israelis kill innocents. All these analogies begin to look ominously like the sin of equivalence, and so it is worth pointing out that the death of innocents was an Israeli mistake but a Palestinian objective."

Wieseltier must've seen a different Munich than what I saw. Spielberg's film is not Oliver Stone sanctioning far-flung conspiracy theories, nor is it Mel Gibson fanning anti-Semitism. Instead, Munich makes the evidently serious transgression of humanizing its antagonists. It presents Palestinian terrorists as ... people.

Not particularly good people, mind you, but people, nonetheless. Munich hardly sympathizes with the Palestinian terrorists who committed murder. In fact, Mohammed Daoud, who planned the '72 kidnappings and murders, has accused Spielberg of "serving the Zionist side alone." The director makes no bones about his condemnation of terrorism. The audience has a rooting interest in seeing Avner and his cohorts assassinate the masterminds behind Black September. Nevertheless, the film makes the very point that violence, no matter how righteous, comes with consequences. Whether it is a soul in turmoil or the dangers of becoming one's enemy, there are ramifications.

One suspects that some of the savaging of Munich was inevitable because Spielberg had tapped Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner to write the screenplay. Kushner, the author of the celebrated Angels in America, is well-known for his leftist politics and harsh criticism of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip (Kushner, incidentally, is Jewish).

But Munich does not purport to be -- and should not be confused with -- a deep political treatise. It is too engrossing as a thriller to hold such lofty aspirations. Spielberg's take on the story is simple, but unequivocal. As he told The Los Angeles Times, "Sometimes we have to choose from bad options. And sometimes there are unintended results." How can you argue with that?

Ultimately, the LA Times' Rachel Abramowitz hits it in her assessment of Munich:

"Politically, the film is a Rorschach test -- almost impossible to view except through the lens each individual audience member brings to the theater. There are those who will see a glamorized Israeli Mossad squad, dispatching villains with ingenuity, fiercely committed to the perpetuation of the Jewish state, while others will be infuriated that any of the Israeli commandos express any qualms about their mission. Some will be troubled that the Palestinian terrorists have been humanized, and others will be sure that they haven't been humanized or validated enough.

"At the end, it's a visceral, emotional piece of work that doesn't offer any specific solutions — a fact that will anger a whole other set of viewers."

Monday, January 09, 2006

Day-Oh No

So, the far right has its Pat Robertsons making cringe-worthy remarks, and the far left has .... um, the guy who sang "The Banana Boat Song?"

Belafonte Calls Bush 'Greatest Terrorist'

From AP:

"The American singer and activist Harry Belafonte led a delegation of Americans ... that met the Venezuelan president (Hugo Chavez) for more than six hours late Saturday. Some in the group attended Chavez's television and radio broadcast Sunday.

"'No matter what the greatest tyrant in the world, the greatest terrorist in the world, George W. Bush says, we're here to tell you: Not hundreds, not thousands, but millions of the American people ... support your revolution,' Belafonte told Chavez during the broadcast."

Puh-leaze. Dumbya might just be the most dangerous president we've been saddled with since Tricky Dick but giving in to that sort of hyperbole on the international stage is sheer stupidity, and does nothing but urge skeptics to tune you out. Until Dumbya sends commercial airlines into skyscrapers, I'm placing my bets on bin Laden being "the world's greatest terrorist."

Stick to Calypso, Harry.

Coming Attractions: 9/11

Flight 93 (the trailer is here) is the first mainstream theatrical release to focus specifically on the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It's set to open in April.

If the just-released trailer is any indication, the film is likely to be a pretty raw emotional experience. Whether people go to see it remains another matter. Certainly, a lot of moviegoers are likely to think it tasteless and exploitation.

In a recent New York Times article, reporter Heather Timmons noted that director-writer Paul Greengrass shot the movie with the full cooperation of the families of the 40 passengers who died when the airplane crashed in rural Pennsylvania.

"A researcher for Flight 93, Kate Solomon, contacted the victims' families to solicit their support, and Mr. Greengrass and one of the film's producers, Lloyd Levin, met with many. ...

"Many of the actors have had direct contact with family members while researching their roles. Most stress that they are not seeking to impersonate the passengers they represent, but instead are trying to portray the way they might have reacted.

"Leigh Zimmerman, the actress playing the passenger Christine Snyder, was sent Ms. Snyder's wedding video by her family. 'I got to see the way that she walked and talked, I got to see her be with her family,' Ms. Zimmerman said. 'I think she was a calming presence,' she said, an interpretation reflected in Ms. Zimmerman's portrayal."

This might sound like a callous observation, but I wonder if Greengrass, in working so closely with the families, might compromise his vision. After all, one would guess -- and rightly so -- that just about every family member of every Flight 93 passenger wants to believe his or her loved one was instrumental in storming that cockpit, an act of selflessness and heroism that saved countless lives.

What family would have given the moviemakers the go-ahead to depict their dead loved one as anything less than heroic? By honoring every passenger of that ill-fated flight, Greengrass might be making less of a movie and more of a memorial.

Which, come to think of it, seems like the appropriate thing to do. Regardless, Flight 93 is sure to be a fascinating, challenging film.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Crony Baloney: The Sequel

You've got to hand one thing to the Bush Administration: They're a consistent bunch. Amid revelations surrounding its unconstitutional spying on Americans, a casual observer might suspect the Bushies would rein in -- at least for a bit -- their flagrant dismissal of checks and balances.

But no. That, friends, is part of the impressive chutzpah of a White House incapable of humility, generosity or contrition.

So perhaps it really was no surprise to discover earlier this week that sneaky ol' Dumbya bypassed Senate approval by installing Julie Myers to head the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of Homeland Security. Because the Myers appointment, steeped as it is in cronyism, was stalled in the Senate, the prez simply waited until senators went home before placing the 36-year-old Myers in charge of the agency and its annual $4 billion budget.

"By installing Myers in office while Congress is in recess, Bush circumvents Senate approval of her nomination," the Houston Chronicle reported. "Her appointment will expire in January 2007, when the next session of Congress begins."

Myers has some stellar qualifications. Namely, that she is the niece of Gen. Richard Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Oh, and her husband is chief of staff to Homeland Security boss Michael Chertoff.

Those must be her qualifications. After all, her experience with immigration and customs issues is little to none.

But what do I know? She'll probably do a heckuva job.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Instant Karma's Gonne Get You ...

First, Dumbya's approval ratings began dropping faster than Tara Reid after a fifth of Southern Comfort. And then Tom DeLay got himself into a fine mess down in Texas.

Then the Jack Abramoff scandal sent Republican congressmen scurrying to unload their campaign coffers of tainted money.

And now Time reports that disgraced ex-U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham wore a wire for the FBI once investigators squarely had him for accepting bribes from defense contractors.

According to the magazine:

"The identity of those with whom the San Diego congressman met while wearing the wire remains unclear, and is the source of furious—and nervous—speculation by congressional Republicans. A Cunningham lawyer, K. Lee Blalack, refused to confirm or deny the story, and wouldn't say whether Cunningham will implicate any other members of Congress. The FBI is believed to be continuing its probe of defense contractors involved in the Cunningham case."

Chickens, meet roost. Roost, meet chickens.

Protecting Our Liberties

By Cassandra D

Here's a thought-provoking post from Jack Grant at The Moderate Voice.

Read the whole thing, but as an appetizer, here are some great quotes it refers to:

Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.
-William Pitt

Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security, will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.
-Benjamin Franklin

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.
-Ronald Reagan

Beyond the Green Door

By Daniel Gale-Grogen

Major metropolitan areas with vital, self-sustaining and self-regenerating music scenes can withstand club closings, and they do so with the knowledge that the loss of a venue just means that a new one (or two) will open to take its place within a few weekends. Recent eviction/eminent domain issues surrounding the legendary Bowery punk club CBGB and Asbury Park's Stone Pony struck deep with music fans, but in the New York area, the possible demise of these bars was greeted in some quarters with shrugs -- to some, even a legendary venue is still just a place with a stage and a PA, and more stages and amps will come.

At the end of this month, the great Oklahoma City punk club The Green Door will be shuttered forever, a victim of a the financial misfortune of its owners and the vicissitudes of the touring industry. When it opened five years ago at its original location, 8911 N. Western, The Green Door was everything an alternative rock club should be: dark, low-ceilings, bad toilets, Newcastle Brown Ale and some of the best local, national and international music you could hear for less than $8 a pop, and it was glorious. Sure, it was in an ass-nasty part of town, the toilets were every bit as shit-tastic as the ones Hilly Krystal never had cleaned at CBGB, a permanent Camel haze hung just below the ceiling and the unpaved parking lot in back turned into a lake at even the hint of a drizzle, but it was ours.

Like any club owner who makes a visible dent in a scene, Reggy Wheat has as many detractors as friends, but history will be his vindicator. He hosted some of the best concerts I've ever seen in any city. He booked The White Stripes at The Green Door when only a few hipster doofuses even knew who they were, much less could sing a few bars from "Apple Blossom" or "You're Pretty Good Looking (For a Girl)." There was a Hot Hot Heat show at the old location in which the cram-packed crowd sang along to every single word from the Make Up the Breakdown album, and the only place it was being played was on 105.3 The Spy. People were acting like a bunch of God-fearers singing along to a Michael W. Smith song on one of those Time/Life Songs 4 Worship late-night commercials, and singer Steve Bays was one demented evangelist, jumping onto any surface that would carry his weight.

There were others great memories, like when the all-female Swedish garage band Sahara Hotnights played there, and the lead singer's boyfriend was working as their roady. The women acted like they had just sold out the Jacob Javitz Center, but the boyfriend was just chilling out, rolling cable and moving monitors. He just happened to be Howlin' Pelle Almqvist of the Hives, and he was more than happy to talk about the recording of Tyrannosaurus Hives and be gracious when we all acted like glaze-eyed fanboys.

It was also the site of one of the great experiments in local band community building, the Mix Tape Club shows. Local bands got together and paid tribute to their favorite artists: Bowie, the Beatles, the Clash, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd. The Pink Floyd show was particularly outstanding: an all-star local group built around The Fellowship Students played Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety, complete with Fillmore West-style liquid projections. They performed a similar feat with Abbey Road at the Beatles show, and they were pushing the ABLE commission time limits -- "The End" was played with the house lights on, with the final fadeout happening at 2 a.m., with Wheat screaming, "I'm glad you had a good time, now get the fuck out!" They never even got to play "Her Majesty."

When The Green Door moved to Bricktown, the great shows became bigger: The Electric Six/Junior Senior concert must have been 1,000 strong. Unfortunately, when The Spy went Tejano and the major concert tours started tanking, things dried up. The Wheats kept it going as long as they could, but by last year it was clear that The Green Door was on borrowed time.

There are other great clubs now, including the Conservatory (which now occupies the old Green Door location) and Opolis in Norman, but The Green Door opened the way for them. Now, Oklahoma City could revert to its old ways, playing bitch to Tulsa and wallowing in its "classic rock"/Nashville B-team ennui if these and future clubs do not survive to carry the standard. Here is hoping that, in a post-Green Door Oklahoma City, there will be clubs that double as living rooms for our hipster community, places where great bands will come because they heard there were great crowds who will hang out, scream for more, buy them drinks and let them sleep on their floor.