Friday, March 31, 2006

Friday Random 10

Occasionally it happens -- I'll listen to my iPod on shuffle and am cool with every song I hear. Today is one such day.

1. Queen, "Bicycle Race"
2. Muddy Waters, "You Shook Me"
3. Elvis Costello, "Tear Off Your Own Head (It's a Doll Revolution)"
4. The Blue Magoos, "(We Ain't Got) Nothin' Yet"
5. The Starlight Mints, "Popsickle"
6. Yo La Tengo, "Nuclear War (Version 1)"
7. Mose Allison, "V-8 Ford Blues"
8. The Youngbloods, "Get Together"
9. The Strokes, "Hard to Explain"
10. Squeeze, "Cool for Cats"

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Sex Tape Derby, Round 46

It's Sex Tape Derby, so start yer engines. Here's the scenario: Let's assume you had prurient interests (assume away) and had to watch a homemade sex videotape or DVD. Who would you rather, um, watch? Post your selections in the comments section below.

Or click here for a more exhaustive explanation.

Vintage hotties: Lauren Bacall or ...













Ingrid Bergman?













Denzel Washington or ...














Wesley Snipes?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A Personal Gripe

By Cassandra D

Okay, so why is it that the makers of computer desks don't realize that a whole bunch of cords have to plug in behind the dang computer? I am so sick of the cabinet door's not closing, yet even when I reach back and shove the cords around, I can't get the stupid computer to slide any farther back.

AHHH!!!!!!!

and kicking it doesn't seem to help...

Reel Short Reviews, Take 16

Some thoughts on some films I've seen recently. You can probably figure out my complex ratings system.

Aquamarine (2006)
Harmless, intermittently entertaining tweener fare about a mermaid who becomes pals with two girls one memorable summer. I can't believe I just wrote that. Shoot me now.
**1/2

The Boston Strangler (1968)
Richard Fleischer's once-shocking story of Albert De Salvo, the Boston handyman who killed 11 Boston women in the early Sixties, suffers from some dated psychological mumbo-jumbo; the film practically crashes to a halt once De Salvo (portrayed by a mannered Tony Curtis) and the lead investigator (an annoyingly rigid Henry Fonda) begin their lengthy interrogation inside a starkly white room. What remains surprisingly effective, however, are the director's multi-image collages that heighten the suspense while simultaneously presenting a panoramic vision of a city in terror. Fleischer, incidentally, recently died.
**1/2

Bubble (2006)
A mesmerizing film in its own failed-experiment sort of way, Bubble is Steven Soderbergh's latest off-the-map exploration. Released simultaneously in movie theaters, on cable and on DVD, the picture fell well short of its supposedly revolutionary potential in distribution, but it excels for sheer chutzpah. With a cast of non-professional actors (one lead was discovered managing a West Virginia KFC), the story concerns ennui and murder involving three workers at a doll-making factory. The acting is uneven and Coleman Hough's script, which relies largely on improvisation, is patchy, at best. But the dreary pace and eerie mood have an unequivocal spell. It is chilling and frustrating -- but definitely interesting.
***

Firewall (2006)
Cliches on celluloid. Harrison Ford is angry, goddammit! And worst of all, he's dealing with kidnappers willing to exploit his son's allergies to peanuts! Wake me when it's over.
*1/2

Freedomland (2006)
Freedomland's just another word for a movie you should lose.
**

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)
Jim Jarmusch's seemingly impossible blend of mobster action flick and meditation on the Samurai code enacts a sort of intoxicating hold on the viewer willing to give it a chance. Buoyed by a fluid, graceful performance from the underrated Forest Whitaker as the street assassin who owes his life to a Mafia capo, Ghost Dog is another of those Jarmusch oddities that works in spite of itself. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that Jarmusch is some kind of genius.
***1/2

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
Watching this latest in the Harry Potter series, I couldn't help but reflect on how spoiled modern-day film audiences are. Remember back when one of Ray Harryhausen's special-effects creations could spark your imagination for weeks? Nowadays, we moviegoers just assume that anything imaginable can be conjured up onscreen, and for good reason. From dragons to winged horses, Goblet of Fire is packed to the gills with eye-popping visuals. Too bad the storyline itself feels like a time filler between installments. Still, it's interesting to see how the teen years are pushing Rupert Grint, who plays Ron, perilously close to a likeness of Megadeath rocker Dave Mustaine.
**1/2

Hustle & Flow (2005)
Terrence Howard's portrayal of a pimp-turned-rapper gives heft and resonance to what is essentially a middle-of-the-road melodrama. It is a powerhouse performance, all right, and the arrival of a major star. But don't get me wrong; the movie deserves props on its own, too. Craig Brewer's film is consistently watchable, and even boasts one truly outstanding scene. When Howard's Deejay finally meets up with Skinny Black (another solid acting job by Ludacris), it revs up enough unexpected intensity to make you forgive some of the more overwrought moments that preceded it.
***

The Lady and the Tramp (1955)
I can't believe I had never before seen this Disney classic until recently; I didn't realize how much I was missing, locked away in my childhood attic with rats and a saucer of milk. Anyway, what can you say about Lady and the Tramp? It is superb Disney fare, even if it does paint an awfully sympathetic portrait of cocker spaniels (not my favorite breed of dog, not by a long shot). You've got to love any kids' film with the veracity to show two (brace yourselves) unmarried dogs spending the night together, only to be followed shortly thereafter by Lady giving birth to a litter of pups. Take that, Brent Bozell!
***1/2

A Little Romance (1978)
I can only guess the primary reason for this George Roy Hill trifle was to justify trips to Paris and Venice. Precocious American girl (Diane Lane in her big-screen debut) has a whirlwind romance with bratty French boy (is that redundant?), and they somehow wind up involved with Laurence Olivier, who mugs shamelessly as a charming thief. The movie makes shampoo ads look like a Bergman art film by comparison.
**

Metropolitan (1990)
Whit Stillman's criminally underrated debut precipitated the sort of preciousness that would later permeate so many indie flicks, but Stillman's quasi-fantasy version of New York's collegiate upper class doesn't take itself so seriously that it ever becomes grating (unlike a number of its successors). Witty, curiously stilted banter fill this Salingeresque view of the Big Apple. A surprisingly sweet-natured film and a personal favorite of your humble reviewer.
****

Mo' Better Blues (1990)
Spike Lee has always been a frustrating filmmaker, crafting works that are visually lush -- and sometimes downright audacious -- but too often hampered by overwrought theatrics and a lead-footed sense of storytelling. Mo' Better Blues isn't his worst effort, not by a long shot, but this tale of a trumpeter (Denzel Washington) juggling two women and a disgruntled jazz band is heavy on form and wafer-thin on content.
**

Nine Lives (2005)
I could only handle six of these vignettes before I had to choose life and eject the DVD. Ponderous, pretentious, elliptical fodder.
*

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973)
I wanted to like this Sam Peckinpah yarn -- honestly, I did. Yeah, I know it's been maligned over the years, chiefly because of nearly incomprehensible editing and some curiosities (Bob Dylan in a bit of stuntcasting as some yayhoo named Alias), but I was willing to cut the film some slack. After all, how could a blood-soaked western from the great Sam Peckinpah not kick butt? But damned if I ever truly cared about the titular characters. Despite the typically evocative atmospherics of a Peckinpah flick, I couldn't get past a labored screenplay or Kris Kristofferson's wooden performance as the Kid.
**1/2

The Pink Panther (2006)
Does anyone remember way back when Steve Martin made good movies?
**

Pride and Prejudice (2005)
A visually lush adaptation of the Jane Austen classic gives the lovely Keira Knightley a chance to show off her acting talents. She is appropriately headstrong and heartbreaking as Elizabeth Bennett, the wiseass of five dopey sisters who bounce through 18th-century England looking for love in all the wrong places. As we all know, romantic period pieces based on classic novels too often make for airless movies, so hand it to director Joe Wright for making this a work of truly resonant cinema.
****

Ride the High Country (1962)
The movie that put Sam Peckinpah on the map doesn't have the slow-mo bloodshed of his better-known works, but it is a gem on its own quietly elegiac terms. Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott, two B-western heroes, are appropriately cast as two aging gunslingers -- one upright and law-abiding, the other a crook -- reuniting to transport a haul of gold to a bank. There was no shortage of Sixties-era westerns about the end of the Old West, but Ride the High Country is better than most of 'em, largely because of its elegantly low-key script, Lucien Ballard's lush cinematography and the engaging performances of the leads. Oh, and it marked Mariette Hartley's movie debut -- as if that means anything.
***

Sunrise (1927)
An intoxicating (that's right, I'm not afraid to be effete when need be) silent film by the legendary F.W. Murnau, in which a farmer tries to kill his wife, thinks better of it and ends up falling in love with her all over again. Don't be fooled if this sounds like something you've seen on CourtTV; it's still pretty terrific.
***1/2

Three Men and a Cradle (1985)
This mediocre French film was the basis for the U.S.-made hit Three Men and a Baby, which alone should have made it suspect. Nevertheless, this comedy of three entrenched bachelors who wind up having to take care of a baby (fathered by one of the trio) has its occasional cutesy charms. But then a subplot involving drugs and the police feels shoehorned-in, and Coline Serreau's direction is generally sloppy and aimless.
**

Thumbsucker
(2005)
The indie aesthetic goes to seed. Whiny, reactive outcast sucks his thumb, has a strained relationship with his parents and lets bad things happen to him. There are actually some stellar aspect to Mike Mills' film: some excellent performances, particularly Keanu Reeves (yes, you read that correctly) and Vincent D'Onofrio; sanguine Elliott Smith songs and the occasionally arresting epiphany. But the film's lead actor, Lou Taylor Pucci, makes the protagonist slightly less appealing than a bowl full of bile.
**

Triumph of the Will (1935)
Leni Riefenstahl's masterwork of propaganda-as-art chronicles the 1934 Nazi party rally at Nuremburg. Fascinating, impressive and scary.
***

The Weather Man (2005)
Nicolas Cage is best at flawed, melancholy, self-pitying, self-absorbed characters (not that there's anything wrong with that), and this Gore Verbinski-directed picture is no exception. Cage portrays David Spritz, a Chicago TV weatherman who is both prosperous and spiritually empty as the result of his celebrity and wealth. He yearns for the approval of his father (Michael Caine), a stuffy, Pulitzer Prize-winning author. He labors for a relationship with his daughter, a sullen, overweight girl whose unflattering wardrobe has resulted in the schoolyard sobriquet of "Camel Toe." Oh, and as if all that isn't sad-sack enough, his ex-wife (Hope Davis), on whom Dave is still hung up, is about to get remarried. This is pretty bleak stuff for a major Hollywood studio, so kudos for the surprisingly provocative excursion. That said, The Weather Man, despite a smart screenplay from Steven Conrad, never quite congeals. I don't know why, exactly. Perhaps it is an episodic structure that occasionally meanders, or perhaps the movie is a victim of Verbinski's own stylistic slickness.
***












Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Shame of Stern

I have a problem.

As a Sirius subscriber, I have found myself suddenly addicted to Howard Stern.












As an ostensible grownup, I know this addiction is, well, indefensible. The Stern show is misogynous in the way that Charles Manson is ill-mannered. It is beyond tasteless. It gives new shades to the so-called coarsening of culture. And I am unequivocally hooked.

I'm new to this Stern-on-radio thing. Living in Oklahoma -- a state where irreverence typically means an extra helping of green vegetables -- there have been no no radio stations willing to give airtime to the self-proclaimed King of All Media. Sure, I'd seen his TV talk show appearances and his program on E!, but the actual radio experience had long been unavailable to me.

Once upon a time, back in the day when I was at college on the West Coast, I had a roommate from Raritan, New Jersey, who was a diehard Stern fanatic. The roommate, Carlo, would repeat verbatim his favorite Howard bits, interspersing his commentary with Italian obscenities, his left eye squinted shut like a perverted Popeye as he would relate: "Then he, then he says to them Bangles, to that fuckin' fine one, Susannah hooziwhatsit ... 'Hey, you Bangles, you like to get spanked?'" Carlo would then let out an ear-splitting hoot, his head reared back and tears streaming down his cheeks in an orgasm of hilarity.

Something must be lost in the translation, I figured. It all sounded pretty moronic to me.

But you know what? As it turned out, there was something lost in the translation and it was as moronic as I had guessed.

God help me, I think I understand now. This morning I listened to the Stern show as two women on air demonstrated the effectiveness of an electronic sex toy that replicated oral sex on them. No, no, no, no, no, I told myself. This is wrong. I've got a wife, a daughter. I am way too old to be listening to this cultural cesspool.

And I told myself that over and over as I listened all the way to work.

And no doubt I'll listen to it on my commute home, too.

Dear God, help me.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Man's Best Friend

I wanna talk about my dog.

I know, I know -- I've become one of those horrible bloggers who post pictures of their pets and regale you with stories about how doggone cute and funny they are, how they can be soooo fickle or playful, or how they like chasing squirrels, how they're just like a person, or some such nonsense. Blah blah blah.

Anyway, indulge me for just a second here. This is a bit of a confessional. I want to tell you how I really had no idea I cared so much about my dog until the damn thing went and got herself injured.

Mrs. Chase and I have two dogs, a Boston terrier named Maybellene and a Shih Tzu named Nadine. At any rate, the senior dog is Maybellene, who we got a little more than two years ago after I had become charmed by my oldest sister's Boston terrier (who, sadly, ascended to doggie heaven last year). After combing the region for Boston breeders, we finally ventured to far southeastern Oklahoma, where we purchased Maybellene from a one-legged veteran who lived in a mobile home with his wife and whose prized possession was a framed black-and-white photograph of George W. and Jeb Bush back when they were children with gaping silver spoons shoved down their gullets.

But I digress.

We brought Maybellene the puppy (pictured below) home. Both the wife and I were smitten by the canine, who promptly displayed all the Boston terrier traits I had found so oddly endearing -- bulging eyes that resembled Marty Feldman after a crank binge, the single-minded obsession for tug o' war and fetch, the wall-shaking snoring, the room-clearing flatulence I rightly figured would help mask my my own indiscretions.












As time wore on, however, Maybellene made it clear that I was not her favorite McInerney. While she tolerated me well enough, and even deigned to play fetch with me, she absolutely slobbered herself silly over Mrs. Chase. Maybe the dog was struck by Mrs. Chase's mellifluous voice, or that she let the animal hang out on the sofa -- or maybe it was just that, truth be told, the wife is just a better person. Whatever the reason, Maybellene gravitated toward Mrs. Chase, following her everywhere like some wet-nosed stalker.










And I began to have hard feelings about it. Here it was that getting a Boston terrier had been my idea, and here I was being shut out of the family dynamic. I became the vehicle for Maybellene to receive food in the morning. I became the poor bastard whose spot on the couch she would steal the moment I got up to go to the kitchen or bathroom.











In the meantime, Mrs. Chase had gotten pregnant and decided -- ostensibly in some hormonally imbalanced spasm of good intentions -- that we needed a second dog to keep Maybellene company once the baby arrived.

The rationale was partly right. With the birth of our daughter, the lovely Apple Rosebud McInerney, we followed the experience of so many new parents by neglecting the pet. But now we had two dogs to be irritants. It didn't take long for the luster to wear off with two little canines whose primary contributions to the household included shedding on the furniture. shredding dirty diapers and shitting in the yard.

A few weeks ago, Maybellene underwent emergency surgery due to a scratched eyeball -- apparently a common danger for a breed of dog with big, bulbous eyes that look like they were rejected by Ren and Stimpy animators for being too outlandish. Following the surgery, the veterinarian provided the wife and me with 10 types of eyedrops and pills to medicate Maybellene every two hours, around the clock. In addition, the dog was fitted with one of those Elizabethan collars that give her a sort of "Flying Nun" flair.

Despite a costly surgery, the animal doc provided no guarantees. Even with 24/7 medical treatment, she explained, there was no assurance about saving Maybellene's right eye, which now looked suspiciously like a purple marble. To further complicate matters, the dog -- who's always been a bit of a pansy -- struggled mightily every time we tried to administer the eyedrops. The more she struggled, the more pressure she placed on the bad eye, thereby increasing the chances of rupturing it. I wasn't thrilled -- understandably, I think -- with the prospect of having an itinerant dog eye bursting all over my undershirt during some 2 a.m. therapy session. It only took one sleepless night of struggling with Maybellene until I was ready to take out the eye myself. Surely a dog is OK with a single eye, I reasoned. It's not like they read or anything.

Granted, I've never been much of a pet person. Although I was raised in a household that always had a family dog, invariably young Chase would get attached to the mutt just long enough for my mom to give the dog to the maid (yes, I grew up in a household that could afford maids, lucky me). And a few weeks later, the maid invariably would reveal that the aforementioned mutt had been run over in traffic. For years I assumed our maids lived along Interstate 35.

But I digress again. The point is that the prospect of doping up Maybellene every two hours seemed to be not only an unbelievable hassle, but almost absurd. With a wife and a baby and a plasma-screen TV, how in God's name could I be expected to help care for a dog who primarily knew me as her master's husband?












That was nearly two weeks ago. In that time, the purple marble eyeball has improved steadily, allowing us to reduce the rounds of eyedrops and pills (for the dog, that is -- we're still popping pills like crazy). And while Maybellene won't be able see much in her right eye, it will at least offer enough peripheral vision to keep her from walking into walls.

And I have come to the grudging realization that, sombitch, I really do love that dog.

There is something touching about a mutt's unwavering allegiance and trust. She shakes each time I give her the medicine, but damned if she doesn't ultimately oblige. She isn't crazy about the E-collar, either, but damned if she doesn't accept it in stride. Hell, what can I say? She's a good dog. It's that simple.

And when she exhibits such loyalty, I guess I had better rise to the occasion, too.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Cut That Man Off, Already!

By Cassandra D

You would think that with Bush's approval ratings in the toilet and given that the most common word association that Americans come up with for him is "incompetent," Congress would have the guts to rein him in.

Chase already wrote about Bush's propensity to tack "signing statements" onto bills. It's no wonder he hasn't vetoed anything: he thinks he can just ignore whatever he doesn't like.

Now comes word that he plans to ignore the parts he doesn't like in the newly reauthorized Patriot Act.

This man really believes he is King George ... or at least God's infallible chosen one.

Why can't Congress put an end to the signing statements?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Friday Random 10

iPod shuffle: Live it.

1. BR5-49, "Even If It's Wrong"
2. The Fall, "Mr. Pharmacist"
3. The Beatles, "Something"
4. The Honeydogs, "Freakshow"
5. Cat Stevens, "Wild World"
6. The Rolling Stones, "It's All Over Now"
7. Hole, "Jennifer's Body"
8. Roy Acuff, "Bang Away My Lulu"
9. Sufjan Stevens, "John Wayne Gacy, Jr."
10. Bruce Springsteen, "Darlington County"

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Ya Gotta Darlene Love the Hair

By Larry Mondello

Phil Spector in court today. Not sure about murder, but he's guilty of something!

I'll Have a Diet Snarl, Please

By Larry Mondello

The VEEP's demands for a visit

With an 18-percent approval rating, he's lucky to get clean towels!

And a microwave??? Careful, Dick.

Sex Tape Derby, Round 45

Put on those thinking caps and jimmy hats, sports fans, it's time for another installment of Sex Tape Derby. If you absolutely must watch one of the following do the beast with two backs on a homemade videotape or DVD, who would you rather watch? (notice the clever twist on the time-honored game of "would yah rather?"). Post your selections in the comments section below.

Need to know more? Read here.

All About the Benjamin: Jennifer Garner or ...











Jennifer Lopez?














Y Tu Mama Tambien's Gael Garcia Bernal or ....













Diego Luna?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Hot for Teacher

Florida English teacher Debra Lafave, once charged with having had an affair with a 14-year-old male student, is back to being a free (and apparently free-spirited) woman. AP reports today that prosecutors dropped the charges after a judge rejected a plea deal that would have kept the teen boy from having to testify.















Let's just get the obvious out of the way: This is one hottie teacher. Debra Lafave is the stuff of Van Halen videos, the stuff of unfulfilled erotic fantasies harbored by just about every heterosexual male boy who ever drifted off during freshman English.

Twisted and depraved criminal? Of course. In need of serious psychiatric help? Sure. But seriously, if the Lafave scenario had popped up in a 1980s' teen exploitation flick (think Private Lessons or Class), it would have stretched the bounds of credibility. According to prosecutors, the teacher and student had sex in the classroom, for Pete's sake. It's enough to make me go back and rethink all those Penthouse Forum letters I scoffed at for years.

As it is, Lafave still faces three years of house arrest and seven years of probation for a difference charge stemming from the case. Even so, the boy's mother is disappointed that this salacious schoolmarm won't be seeing time behind bars. In a recent e-mail to a Florida newspaper, the woman wrote, "There is no one that wanted to see Debra Lafave serve jail time more than myself."

Somehow, I doubt that's true.

I suspect there are several hundred female inmates at Florida's Hillsborough Correctional Institution who might be really disappointed that Ms. Lafave isn't slammer-bound.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Rough Turf

By Conrad Spencer

Everyone who grew up in the rolling green vales of mid-century suburban development knew the grumpy retired guy who mowed his grass everyday and yelled at the kids cutting through his yard.

Take that guy, give him a shotgun, and you have Charles Martin of Union Township, Ohio, who shot 15 year-old Larry Mugrage twice for walking across his yard.

I've never been big on lawns, and I've always failed to understand people who are. Should I ever devote more lazy summer Saturday afternoons to lawn care than to, say, drinking beer and watching baseball, or drinking beer and reading, or drinking beer then napping, or drinking beer and doing anything other than lawn care then my life has gone terribly awry and an intervention is called for at once.

In fact, "lawn care" is a bit of a misnomer here, because while I have a "yard" I don't really have a "lawn." I have assorted grass and weeds that never get fertilized or re-seeded, just mowed occasionally to control the vermin and keep me in compliance with city ordinances. I can give you the social, environmental and aesthetic reasons why I dislike lawns, but mostly I feel I have better ways to spend the coin of my life.

That being said, many in my God-fearing red state suburbia feel differently. Some men treasure their lawns. They obsess. They tend to their lawns with a devotion unseen in most marriages. They go into debt to give their lawns the seed, the water, the fertilizer they crave. Some men, apparently, will even kill for their lawns.

And you just know that silent, impassive lawn will never appreciate it.

Monday, March 20, 2006

On "The Sopranos" ...

Judging by the level of invective from folks on HBO's chat forum for "The Sopranos," you would think that in last night's episode, "Sopranos" creator David Chase relieved himself on a big plate of canole.

I respectfully disagree with such unkind assessments. In my humble estimation, last night's episode was another extraordinary work for what is consistently the best show in television.

In "The Sopranos," dream sequences do not exist just for David Lynchian excursions into the weird. From the git-go, the show has embraced psychology and psychoanalysis as fundamental to its exploration of character. When therapy sessions are a focal point of a program, as they have been with "The Sopranos," you know you are in a landscape decidedly different from boob-tube norms.

The dreams of a comatose Tony Soprano are pivotal to his final reckoning with his God, his family and himself. While the implications of the dream are for better people than me to debate, it seems fairly evident that Tony sees himself as an imposter. The search for self-identity has permeated "The Sopranos" since its inception. It is only appropriate that, as Tony, the self-professed "sad clown," barrels toward either death or inalterable brain damage, the quest for self takes center stage.















Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum weighs in:

"The twilight between life and death made vivid in David Chase's exquisite script became an absorbing, poignant meditation on the path some parallel Tony Soprano might have taken.

"What if he were an honest and faithful salesman, missing his wife and kids while on the road? And what if that Dream Tony had his identity snatched out from under him in a businessman's bar, his life upended in a mix-up of wallets and briefcases? Would Dream Tony accept the identity of ''Kevin Finnerty' — a name with echoes of the infinite beyond — or would he fight to recover ownership of his real self? 'My whole life is in that case,' he says. 'I'm 46 years old. Who am I? Where am I going?'

[...]

"Oh, and here's some rich irony: While Dream Tony loves his wife too much to be able to cheat on her with a willing stranger, this Kevin Finnerty guy appears to be a business cheat, someone crooked enough to make serene monks mad."

The Newark Star-Ledger's Alan Sepinwall has a more intriguing take on the episode: What if the alternate Tony Soprano, a no-accent salesman stuck in Costa Mesa, California, is in an actual Purgatory?

"Then he steals the identity (sin) of Kevin Finnerty -- a heating salesman who lives in one of the hottest states of the union (Arizona) -- checks into another hotel, and falls down a red staircase, at which point he learns he has Alzheimer's (eternal damnation). And while Carmela's busy in the real world telling him he's not going to Hell, Tony's in Purgatory debating whether to tell his wife this is exactly the fate he has in store.

"It may be hair-splitting to call this something other than a dream, but Tony's misadventures in Costa Mesa were much more linear and coherent than his regular dreams have ever been. There were important details scribbled in the margins (the bartender joking, 'Around here, it's dead,' or the 'Are sin, disease and death real?' commercial on the TV), but there was an actual story here instead of Tony bouncing from one surreal tableau to another.

"Still, Chase followed last week's watercooler cliffhanger with an 11-minute opening sequence set in a world that's not our own, with a Tony who wasn't quite right (it's startling to hear James Gandolfini's natural speaking voice), and only one split-second nod to the shooting (the brief flash of the doctor shining a light in Tony's eye mixed in with the chopper spotlight)."


Along the way, the episode presented a raft of terrific moments. Best of all was Edie Falco. She demonstrated some fearsome acting chops in the scene where Carmela breaks down as Tom Petty's song "American Girl" opens a floodgate of memories from better days. It is an astonishing moment in a TV series that has had plenty of astonishing moments.

Overall, I have considerable enthusiasm for this season -- in case you couldn't tell. Finally, I defer to the Star-Ledger's Alan Sepinwall, who encapsulates what is so fascinating, and ballsy, about how this season has kicked off:

"For years, most of Sopranos' fandom has been divided into two intersecting sets: those who watch for the whacking and crude humor, and those who watch for the psychiatry and art-house storytelling. By putting the shooting right next to Tony's afterlife business trip, Chase is pushing his chips to the center of the table and telling the audience they had better go all in -- murder and therapy, flatulence jokes and metaphysics -- if they intend to stay at the table for this final season."

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Motel Hell

The New York Times today details how U.S. intelligence officers tortured Iraqi detainees in a hidden military base near the Baghdad airport. While the article primarily deals with some harrowing allegations regarding torture in a place dubbed the "Black Room" by U.S. troops, I couldn't help noticing this:

"Detainees were kept in as many as 85 cells spread over two buildings. Some detainees were kept in what was known as Motel 6, a group of crudely built plywood shacks that reeked of urine and excrement. The shacks were cramped, forcing many prisoners to squat or crouch."

Now, I'm no patron of Motel 6, mind you, but it seems to me that once the name of your hotel chain is usurped by the United States military to denote hellish living conditions, you are in need of a serious, serious public relations makeover.

I'm not sure that promising to "keep the light on for you" is cutting it anymore, guys.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

A Straw Man for All Seasons

Well, knock me over and fry me in anti-freeze, the AP finally devotes a news story to the White House's rhetorical deceit (which has been a major peeve on this here blog for some time):


Reporter Jennifer Loven writes:

"Straw men have made more frequent appearances in recent months, often on national security — once Bush's strong suit with the public but at the center of some of his difficulties today. Under fire for a domestic eavesdropping program, a ports-management deal and the rising violence in Iraq, Bush now sees his approval ratings hovering around the lowest of his presidency.

[...]

"Last fall, the rhetorical tool became popular with Bush when the debate heated up over when troops would return from Iraq. 'Some say perhaps we ought to just pull out of Iraq,' he told GOP supporters in October, echoing similar lines from other speeches. 'That is foolhardy policy.'

"Yet even the speediest plan, as advocated by only a few Democrats, suggested not an immediate drawdown, but one over six months. Most Democrats were not even arguing for a specific troop withdrawal timetable.

"Recently defending his decision to allow the National Security Agency to monitor without subpoenas the international communications of Americans suspected of terrorist ties, Bush has suggested that those who question the program underestimate the terrorist threat.

"'There's some in America who say, "Well, this can't be true there are still people willing to attack,"' Bush said during a January visit to the NSA."

Not that it does much good to carp about it now, but hey, I'll take what I can get.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Drink Drank Drunk

Happy St. Patty's Day, all ye drunkards (yes, Surly, that means you).

In honor of the special day, we direct you to a most illuminating story in The Morning News on the finer points of St. Patrick's Day vs. Purim, Judaism's greatest get-blitzed holiday.

Jessica Simpson, American Patriot

"We are huge fans of him and of his family, his girls. Jessica loves the heck out of him."
-- Joe Simpson, disturbingly doting papa of Jessica Simpson, on George W. Bush.















We don't know about fair, but certainly, er, balanced floozy

Friday Random 10

A rather eclectic iPod shuffle this Friday.

1. Jackson Browne, "Doctor My Eyes"
2. The Smoking Popes, "My Lucky Day"
3. The Skyliners, "Since I Don't Have You"
4. The Viscounts, "Harlem Nocturne"
5. The Neville Brothers, "Voo Doo"
6. Prince, "Cream"
7. Rage Against the Machine, "Street Fighting Man"
8. Fountains of Wayne, "Hey Julie"
9. Elvis Costello, "Hoover Factory"
10.Ween, "Puffy Cloud"

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Sex Tape Derby, Round 44

March Madness, March Schmadness ... with Sex Tape Derby, you need never get blue brackets again. If you haven't indulged in this waste of time (and make no mistake, we are proud of our spotless record on that count), the conceit is easy enough: If you had to watch a celeb engage in the act of lovemaking, whom would you rather watch get jiggy wid' it?

Post your selections in the comments section below. And then click your heels together three times and make sure your shoes are OK.

For a more exhaustive explanation, click here.

"Laguna Beach"'s Kristin Cavallari or ...














"The O.C."'s Mischa Barton?











Kicking it old school: Vintage Warren Beatty or ...












Vintage Paul Newman?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Gutless in the Senate

If the mainstream media is so frigging liberal, I wish they'd start acting as such and less like Karl Rove's personal fluffer. Media Matters scolds The Washington Post's Shailagh Murray for a March 15 story that makes the strange, and inaccurate, assumption that most Americans support Dumbya's illegal wiretapping surveillance on U.S. citizens:

"In fact, most polls show the opposite. A Quinnipiac University poll conducted February 21-28 found that while 79 percent of 'American voters say the government should continue monitoring phone calls or e-mail between suspected terrorists in other countries and people in the U.S.,' 55 percent say 'that the government should get court orders for this surveillance.' A CBS News poll conducted February 22-26 asked respondents: 'Regardless of whether you approve of the President authorizing the wiretaps, do you think the President has the legal authority to authorize wiretaps without a court warrant in order to fight terrorism, or doesn't he?' Fifty-one percent said the president does not have the legal authority to do so. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll from February 9-12 reported that 50 percent of respondents believed the Bush administration was "wrong" to wiretap 'conversations without a court order,' while 47 percent said it was 'right.'

"Murray appears to have conflated public approval of spying on suspected terrorists with approval of the means through which the Bush administration has conducted the eavesdropping. Approving of the surveillance and approving of the tactics are two very different things. As the polls show, one can believe the president should conduct surveillance on suspected terrorists and at the same time believe that he should obey the law in doing so."

The White House spin machine has always been particularly deft at twisting facts to bolster its more repellent policies. They sure as hell don't need the help of sloppy -- or perhaps obsequious -- reporting.

Confusing the issue is the modus operandi of the Bush administration. It's policymaking by way of Emily Litella.

Criticize the Iraq War and it is distilled by the Bushies that you're suggesting we "cut and run" in the war on terrorism (or terrah, if you're the verbally challenged commander in chief). Condemn the torture of Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Gitmo and you're just being soft on terrorists. Or there's the case of U.S. Rep. John Murtha, a defense hawk who called for the beginning of a pullout of U.S. forces from Iraq, only to be lampooned by the Bushies, who knowingly mischaracterized his proposal as an immediate withdrawal.

Now you see the Republicans licking their chops over the call for censure from maverick U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold. The White House apologists -- and apparently most Democratic federal lawmakers -- view any push for censure in this case as a win for the president. Why? Perhaps because terrorism remains -- inexplicably -- Bush's strong suit; and Americans, by and large, don't give two shits about civil liberties if the perception is that it's only foreigners who are getting hassled.

While I hardly consider myself a hardcore leftist, my figurative hat is off to Feingold's adherence to principle. His call for censure has nothing to do with ostensible surveillance of suspected terrorists, but it has everything to do with the Bush administration's blatantly unlawful wiretapping.

As usual, the Rude Pundit pulls no punches:

"Feingold must be stunned, like a soldier leading his machine gun-toting men into battle who then run screaming away from the rock-throwing enemy. The censure issue should be on the front of every Democrat's website, with press releases and interviews sticking to a single talking point: President broke the law. Feingold knows it's a black and white issue, as he tried to explain to sexily dim Soledad O'Brien Monday on CNN in response to O'Brien's quoting of Bill Frist on the issue, 'Many of his colleagues on the Republican side, senators, have said repeatedly since we've found out about this eavesdropping program in December, that it wasn't legal. In fact, some are saying, well, it's illegal, so let's make it legal. What does that tell you? That means they're admitting the president broke the law of the United States of America.'

"What the rest of the Democratic Party ain't gettin' is that the nation is fuckin' begging for the party to stand up and say, 'Enough.' Bush's poll numbers are in the tank despite non-stop coverage of every flea fart of a speech he gives, despite the political talk shows being filled to swelling with Republicans and Joe Lieberman saying how goddamned wonderful the President is, except for a minor thing here or there, like, you know, the war; with the bloviators of the air and of the Congress saying that it's unpatriotic to question the President; and without any serious news organization or investigative body exposing the rotten worm and maggot-filled underbelly of all the scandal that's eating away the nation. Turn that log over, and you'll retch from the disgusting sights and smells. Still, still, the public is done with this President..."

Remember back in the quaint old days when there was general consensus that breaking the law was bad, regardless of how well-intentioned the criminal behavior? Gosh, I didn't think I was an old coot but I even remember the days when perjury about a blowjob was bad since it was, you know, breaking the law.

Nowadays a United States senator makes the argument that lawbreaking deserves a vote on a motion to censure, and his colleagues on both sides of the aisle refuse to look at it in anything but the most crass political terms. Check your principles at the door, senators; you're welcome, however, to hang on to the toupee and Cialis.

What ... what ... pussies. Hell, let's censure the entire U.S. Senate while we're at it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

"The Simpsons" in the World of Live-Action

I have no idea why this was done, really, and I know this has already bounced around the Internet a good deal, but it's just too nifty not to post: a live-action redux of the opening to "The Simpsons."

(hat tip to Pop Culture Junkies, which hat tipped You Tube)

Monday, March 13, 2006

Yale Taliban

In its long and auspicious history, Yale University has produced some impressive grads (Cole Porter, David McCullough, Tom Wolfe, Bill Clinton, etc.), as well as a few clunkers (a 43rd president of the United States comes to mind).

Nevertheless, this venerable institution has outdone itself with the case of Rahmatullah Hashemi, ex-spokesman for the Taliban regime and current Yale freshman. Several weeks ago, The New York Times Magazine highlighted how Rahmatullah, one-time face of the Taliban, had somehow landed at Yale with the help of some string-pulling from a CBS news producer-cameraman. A number of folks, primarily conservative pundits, have rightly expressed outrage over Rahmatullah's enrollment. As the Hartford Courant notes:

"Fox News has dubbed Rahmatullah the 'Ivy League terrorist,' and a columnist for The Wall Street Journal has compared him to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. A group of Yale graduates has taken their alma mater to task.

"Two have launched a campaign to 'Give Yale the Finger,' urging alumni to send press-on nails to Yale as a reminder of the fingernails the Taliban tore from women who wore nail polish.'Yale is not a right,' said Brian Wesley Cook, 22, of Fairfield. 'Yale is a privilege. Not everyone is entitled to that privilege. We are talking about the mouthpiece of one of the most despicable regimes in history.'"

It will be a disappointing stain on the credibility of the political left if the only serious criticism comes from the right wing. Call us nuts (call us a cab, too, while you're at it), but it seems to us that Rahmatullah's special enrollment at Yale means he took a slot that otherwise would have gone to some gifted, hard-working schlub somewhere unable to gain entrance to the Ivy League school. After all, it isn't as if the 27-year-old Rahmatullah, whose schooling in Afghanistan did not extend beyond the fourth grade, exactly earned his acceptance at Yale.

That said, I don't necessarily believe there is something grievously unjust (as some have) with the notion of Rahmatullah being at Yale while the university simultaneously tries to block military recruiters from visiting campus. Yale's problem with the military, after all, is that the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding homosexuals is a violation of Yale's policy banning recruitment from businesses that discriminate.

But wait a minute: What entity in recent memory could be more discriminatory than the totalitarian, Buddha-smashing, women-killing, gay-torturing, refuge-to-terrorists regime of the Taliban? It is worth pointing out that Rahmatullah, while acknowledging that the Taliban were wrong about some things, has hardly renounced his former colleagues.

The Wall Street Journal's John Fund, not someone CTTC is generally fond of quoting, has weighed in with an op-ed in the Courant:

"In an interview published March 3 in The Times of London, Rahmatullah acknowledged he had done poorly in his class 'Terrorism: Past, Present and Future,' something he attributed to his disgust with the textbooks: 'They would say the Taliban were the same as al-Qaida.' He shifted blame for many of the Taliban's brutal practices onto its Ministry of Vice and Virtue, even though he had defended their actions in 2001. As for the infamous filmed executions of women in Kabul's soccer stadium? 'That was all Vice and Virtue stuff. There were also executions happening in Texas.'"

One suspects that liberal media types might be shying away from criticizing Yale because they might see the Rahmatullah controversy as being a referendum on George W. Bush's war on terrah (although the last time I checked, the war in Afghanistan was a helluva lot more rational than its sequel in Iraq). Alas, that should not be the case.

Would the left have no problem if Yale had granted admission to, say, the chief propaganda minister for the Sudanese government that has orchestrated genocide in Darfur?

Somehow I doubt it.

Yes Sir, Yes Sir, Three Bags Full

By Daniel Gale-Grogen

The steady diet of livestock jokes probably started when you were a teenager, when some towel-snapping bacne sufferer in gym class made a cutting remark about the resident farm boy enjoying carnal knowledge with one of his particularly pulchritudinous lambs. Of course, he didn't put it that way -- it was all about "fucking a sheep."

Of course, nobody in class actually knew why this was funny (other than it involved having sex with animals -- a guaranteed knee-slapper) or of any actual incidents of man getting deep in the wool, but now, thanks to an Arizona fire chief, we have an actual incident that doesn't rely on folklore passed on about a shepherd back in Croatia.

As usual, The Smoking Gun has the details. Leroy Johnson, a deputy fire chief in Mesa, Arizona, was spied on the property of one (we defecate you not) Alan Goats by Mr. Goats' teenage daughter Fawnda (okay, we defecate you on that one), dragging one of the farmer's sheep into the family barn.

So when the 52-year-old man was confronted about his animal instincts, the apparently drunk Johnson replied with an early front-runner for Best Quote of 2006:

"You caught me Alan, I tried to fuck your sheep."

Wow, CTTC has always stood by the cliched notion that honesty is the best policy, but Chief Johnson, that was damned refreshing. Now, Silkwood-style decontamination and a short-term memory-damaging blow to the head sounds really good right now.

All Irony-Deficient, Look No Further

Alanis Morissette might have sung "Ironic," but trust me, she didn't know ironic.

For ironic, of the mind-spinning variety that caused O.Henry characters to screw up Christmas and whatnot, it is worth reading a story from this past Sunday's edition of The New York Times. In a fascinating article, reporters Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor outline how Saddam Hussein's chief concern in the days leading up to the Iraq War was a potential Shia uprising, not a U.S. invasion.

Here's a taste:

"Hussein did take some steps to avoid provoking war, though. While diplomatic efforts by France, Germany and Russia were under way to avert war, he rejected proposals to mine the Persian Gulf, fearing that the Bush administration would use such an action as an excuse to strike, the Joint Forces Command study noted.

"In December 2002, he told his top commanders that Iraq did not possess unconventional arms, like nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, according to the Iraq Survey Group, a task force established by the C.I.A. to investigate what happened to Iraq's weapons programs. Mr. Hussein wanted his officers to know they could not rely on poison gas or germ weapons if war broke out. The disclosure that the cupboard was bare ... sent morale plummeting.

"To ensure that Iraq would pass scrutiny by United Nations arms inspectors, Mr. Hussein ordered that they be given the access that they wanted. And he ordered a crash effort to scrub the country so the inspectors would not discover any vestiges of old unconventional weapons, no small concern in a nation that had once amassed an arsenal of chemical weapons, biological agents and Scud missiles, the Iraq survey group report said.

[...]

"Seeking to deter Iran and even enemies at home, the Iraqi dictator's goal was to cooperate with the inspectors while preserving some ambiguity about its unconventional weapons — a strategy General Hamdani, the Republican Guard commander, later dubbed in a television interview 'deterrence by doubt.'


"That strategy led to mutual misperception. When Secretary of State Colin L. Powell addressed the Security Council in February 2003, he offered evidence from photographs and intercepted communications that the Iraqis were rushing to sanitize suspected weapons sites. Mr. Hussein's efforts to remove any residue from old unconventional weapons programs were viewed by the Americans as efforts to hide the weapons. The very steps the Iraqi government was taking to reduce the prospect of war were used against it, increasing the odds of a military confrontation."

The entire story is worth reading.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Dire Warnings from the Pot to the Kettle

Sometimes the news headlines of the day are so ironic, not even The Onion could add anything to the absurdity.

Like, for instance, this nugget from AP:

Bush: Ports deal collapse may hurt U.S

A little like John Gotti arguing that Dom DeLuise is an embarrassment to Italians.

Our clod in chief, in the sort of rhetorical flourish that fully explains why his approval ratings are at an all-time low, says that the clamor to nix the Dubai ports deal puts the U.S. in a bad light overseas.

"I'm concerned about a broader message this issue could send to our friends and allies around the world, particularly in the Middle East," Bush told a conference of the National Newspaper Association. "In order to win the war on terror, we have got to strengthen our friendships and relationships with moderate Arab countries in the Middle East."

Forget for a minute the "moderate" nature of the United Arab Emirates, one of the few Arab nations that recognized the Taliban as legitimate and is as fiercely anti-Israel as any country on the planet.

Let's first admit upfront that, yes, the collapse of a business agreement with the UAE's DP World might just dissuade Middle East investors from U.S.-driven ventures. The port deal was more odious from a political vantage point than from a real-world perspective, anyway, and it is likely fair to say that most opposition to it stems from anti-Arab bias (although a cursory look through the news of the day helps make such bigotry and fear a bit understandable).

But Dumbya has the audacity to suggest this is the egg streaming down Uncle Sam's face? Pardon us, but under the George W. Bush cookbook -- WMDs and the Iraq invasion, Abu Ghraib torture and indefinite incarceration at Gitmo, plans to blow up Al Jazeera, etc., etc. -- we've been slipping on egg shells for several years now.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Friday Random 10

C'mon and iPod shuffle. All the cool kids are doin' it ...

1. Sonic Youth, "Kim Gordon and the Arthur Doyle Hand Cream"
2. Camper Van Beethoven, "No More Bullshit"
3. Muddy Waters, "Champagne and Reefer"
4. John Mayer, "No Such Thing"
5. Bongwater, "There You Go"
6. The Minutemen, "Do You Want New Wave or Do You Want the Truth?"
7. The Bee Gees, "New York Mining Disaster 1941"
8. Paul Simon, "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard"
9. Ben Folds, "Zak and Sara"
10. Jets to Brazil, "In the Summer When You Really Know"

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Up in Smoke

U.S. cigarette sales are at their lowest level in 55 years.

That's good news. Hell, it's great news.

I smoked my last pack (Camel Lights, in case you must know) in the fall of 2002 and, with the exception of maybe one or two lapses around that time, I've been smokefree ever since. Still, I smoke in my dreams -- nearly all my dreams. Speaking as a quasi-textbook addictive personality, and one whose misspent youth involved sampling more illegal substances than Baskin-Robbins has flavors, I can say without hesitation that tobacco is the most viciously addictive drug I ever encountered.

Sex Tape Derby, Round 43

Another happy Sex Tape Derby to you and yours. In keeping with the tenor of the times, I have decided to refrain from posting any Danish editorial cartoons of religious prophets.

Instead, fancy this, Mousketeers: You must watch a celebrity having sex via a homemade video or DVD. And let's say you must choose who you'd rather watch. Feel free to post selections in the comments section below.

The comprehension-impaired may read further here.

Virginia Madsen or ...












Catherine Keener?











Grudge match: King of all media Howard Stern or ...












CBS boss Les Moonves?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Got Myself a Gun

The last vestiges of winter are behind us. And so with the sun-streaked advent of springtime, we find flowers in bloom, bees abuzz and skies a-blue.

And best of all, the return of "The Sopranos" is only days away. The scuttlebutt is that a major character will be killed on the first episode (any predictions on who it will be?)













Many vats of ink have been spilled over the past several years by self-styled culture pundits pontificating over what makes the HBO series such a phenomenon (the latest treatise comes from Newsweek, by the way, which offers some half-baked thesis about it involving a close-knit family). Since David Chase's Mob soap opera debuted in 1999, network programs such as "Lost" and "24" have exacted similar holds on their respective audiences, but the depth -- and, dare we say, profundity -- of "Sopranos" is in a league by itself.

So, what does account for "The Sopranos" mystique?

In my humble estimation, there aren't any overarching mysteries responsible for "Sopranos" success.

It's the writing, stupid.

David Chase has simply created rich, complex, interesting characters -- characters who would be uncharacteristically complicated for literature, much less the cramped confines of the small screen. Tony Soprano is a being of extremes, but "The Sopranos" doesn't simply hang its hat on dichotomies (lookie! he's a vicious mob boss who loves his kids!). The central characters of "The Sopranos" are exceptionally well-drawn, and it is from their full-bodied lives that the stories' depth unfold. David Chase doesn't condescend to his audience; that in itself almost makes his show a novelty.

While there's no denying that generous helpings of sex and violence boost the show's visceral appeal, the main draw is old-fashioned storytelling. Who woulda thunk it?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

"I Saw Mommy Kissing ..."

The next time you ponder having "that talk" with your child, consider how easy you've got it, comparatively speaking.

Madonna notes that her daughter Lourdes recently asked if mommy was gay. The reason? She saw mommy making out with Britney Spears at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards.

"I said, 'No, it just means I kissed Britney Spears. I am the mommy pop star and she is the baby pop star. And I am kissing her to pass my energy on to her,'" Madonna told Out magazine.

A hard-hitting AP story explains that Madonna's child has an astonishingly acute sense of gaydar:

"The pop diva, considered by some to be an icon in the gay community, tells the magazine her 9-year-old daughter likes to guess who is gay: 'Oh, and the other thing she likes to do when we go out, she says, "Mom, do you want me to point out who the gay men are?" And I say, 'Okay, but I think I already know.'"

As for me, I rue the day I will have to explain to my daughter why daddy likes watching two women make out.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Quote of the Day

"This administration has engaged in secrecy at a level we have not seen in over 30 years. Unfortunately, I have to bring up the name of Richard Nixon, because we haven't seen it since the days of Nixon. And now what they're doing -- and they're using the war on terror to justify -- is they're starting to target journalists who try to pierce the veil of secrecy and find things and put them in the newspapers."

-- Former presidential advisor David Gergen, on CNN's "Reliable Sources"

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Party Crashed

Defamer's reaction to Crash winning the Best Picture Oscar pretty well mirrors our own view:

"God help us all. The sky has opened, Beezlebub has dumped his infernal payload of obvious evil on an unsuspecting Earth. Life as we know it is over. Drive to the desert and start a new civilization, hoping that our horrible, horrible mistakes will not be repeated. This is the end, friends. See you in Hell."

While I liked Crash more than that, I will concede there is something to the critique of MSNBC commentator Erik Lundegaard, who wrote this prior to the Academy Awards:

"What is the big problem with race in the Los Angeles of Crash? That everyone enunciates every racial thought they have. So the Asian woman complains that 'Mexicans' don’t know how to drive and the 'Mexican' mocks the Asian woman’s pronunciation ('blake' for 'break'), and the white gun store owner calls the Persian man 'Osama' and blames him for 9/11 and the white cop mocks the black woman’s name ('Shaniqua. Big f---ing surprise') and the black cop calls his girlfriend 'Mexican,' as the Asian woman did, even though — she informs him — her mother is from Puerto Rico and her father is from El Salvador, to which the black cop makes it up to her by asking her why all of her people park their cars on their lawns.

Crash is saying 'How horrible that we're all this way' when most of us are not only not this way but the exact opposite of this way. We may think these thoughts but we rarely enunciate them. Sure, racism still exists, but at its most potent it's usually silent. It's opaque. It makes you wonder 'Is this happening because of race?' You suspect but you have no evidence. Crash not only gives us evidence it manipulates the evidence."

All that said, at least the Crash upset provided a spark of interest in what otherwise was one of the most mind-numbingly dull Oscar shows in recent history -- and that's saying a lot. Jon Stewart, a favorite of CTTC, did the perhaps classy thing by staying away from political humor -- but his tame jokes did him no favors. The film clip collages were visual Ambien. Reese Witherspoon's acceptance speech had everything but the ghost of her dead grandmother from Tennessee blowing on a milk jug. When Jessica Alba, even a clothed Jessica Alba, is among the highlights, you know you've got trouble.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

God is Good

By Cassandra D

If you are looking for reassurance that God does indeed give great gifts to humanity, there is this: the normal body temperature of a dog is between 101F and 102F.

Ah, heaven!

Friday, March 03, 2006

Friendless Rachel

Fametracker unveils its selection for the Most Undeservedly Famous Person of 2005. Drum roll, please, for ...




















Jennifer Aniston.


As Fametracker notes:

"Aniston also had what was, by any measure, a terrible artistic year. Her thriller, Derailed, stank. Her comedy, Rumor Has It..., stank. There has never been an iota of proof that anyone in America wants to see her doing anything other than fluttering her hands anxiously while fretting over whether or not to kiss Ross Geller. Or...you know. With the boobs hanging out.

"We're not saying she's not talented. That would be Nicole Richie. We're saying that her talent has not yet been translated, either last year or in previous years, into anything that anyone wants to actually look at or experience."

Sure-fire career boost? Two words masquerading as one: softcore.

Friday Random 10

By Daniel Gale-Grogen

Strange. Two "De La"s coming from wildly different quarters.

1. Imogen Heap, "I'm a Lonely Little Petunia (In an Onion Patch)"
2. David Bowie, "China Girl"
3. Parliament, "Up for the Down Stroke"
4. Fiona Apple, "Sleep to Dream"
5. Frank Sinatra, "Three Coins in the Fountain"
6. Colin Hay, "I Just Don't Think I'll Ever Get Over You"
7. De La Soul, "Ring Ring Ring"
8. Primus, "Shake Hands with Beef"
9. Ben Folds, "Don't Change Your Plans"
10. Belle & Sebastian, "Le Pastie De La Bourgeosie"

Thursday, March 02, 2006

If I Ran the Oscars

With the Academy Awards upon us, I am taking personal privilege to offer what would have been my nominations and winners. I know, I know -- it's a wild, far-out concept.

Best picture:

Capote
The Constant Gardener
Munich
Brokeback Mountain
The Squid and the Whale


And the Oscar should go to: Brokeback Mountain










All of the aforementioned are great movies, but any motion picture that enters the rarefied air of cultural watershed without actually trumpeting a social or political agenda must be recognized for what it is: a bona fide masterpiece. It is rare to find a movie that can change hearts without tugging on heartstrings, but Brokeback Mountain works precisely because it does not bask in its own daring. Sure, the movie has generated lots of media buzz -- so much, in fact, that the title has already transmogrified into a cultural punchline -- but you can't blame the film itself for that. Director Ang Lee and screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana truly made art with this beautiful, poetic and ultimately tragic picture.

But the Oscar will go to: The same

The Academy will get it right this year.

Best Actor:

Russell Crowe, Cinderella Man
David Straitharn, Good Night and Good Luck
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote
Terrence Howard, Hustle & Flow
Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain

And the Oscar should go to: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote










Hoffman's performance is the kind that lives on for decades. If he had done nothing more than perfectly mimic Truman Capote's baby voice and effete mannerisms, that would have been enough to impress audiences. But Hoffman did much better, inhabiting the iconic character and conveying all the competing complexities -- self-aggrandizing and vicious, sensitive and self-loathing -- that made him human.

But it will go to: The same

Like I said, every once in a while the Academy does do the right thing.

Best Actress:

Joan Allen, The Upside of Anger
Toni Collette, In Her Shoes
Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line
Clare Danes, Shopgirl
Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener

And the Oscar should go to: Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener










Inexplicably, the Academy actually nominated Weisz for a best supporting actress Oscar, even though she is obviously a co-lead in the movie. Weisz is pure charisma in Constant Gardener, a flirty force of nature who does what she needs to do for the crusade she champions. It is the sort of performance that should catapult someone to A-list status. Alas, it hasn't happened for her -- yet.

But it will go to: Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line

Since Weisz is nominated in the best supporting actress category, I would concede that, given the nominees, Witherspoon is deserving of the honor here. That said, I have to admit that, as of this writing, I have not seen Felicity Huffman in Transamerica.

Best Supporting Actor:
Paul Giamatti, Cinderella Man
Matt Dillon, Crash
Terrence Howard, Crash
Jeffrey Wright, Broken Flowers
Ben Kingsley, Oliver Twist

And the Oscar should go to: Matt Dillon, Crash









In a movie overflowing with outstanding performances, Dillon was a standout as a racist cop harboring more humanity than he cares to admit. Granted, the script provided the character with shades of ambivalence, but it was Dillon who can sell a monologue about his dying father. In the hands of a lesser actor, the dialogue would have sounded like speechifying. As it is, the scene is spellbinding.

But it will go to: George Clooney, Syriana

The Academy, like God (probably synonymous in the minds of many Academy voters), moves in mysterious ways. The reasoning goes that Clooney, because he won't win for Good Night, and Good Luck, will receive the recognition for his competent, but hardly award-worthy, work in Syriana.

Best Supporting Actress:

Glenn Close, Heights
Tandie Newton, Crash
Michelle Williams, Brokeback Mountain
Maria Bello, A History of Violence
Amy Adams, Junebug

And the Oscar should go to: Amy Adams, Junebug










Adams was the best thing about Junebug with a performance that straddles the line between daffy and heartbreaking. Hell, I ended up getting a crush on her character, and that hasn't happened to me since I caught Dyanna Lauren in Bad Wives, so that's gotta count for something.

But it will go to: Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener

Of course, she'll get the award, since it's a lead masquerading as a supporting role.

Best Screenplay (adapted):

Jeffrey Caine, The Constant Gardener
Dan Futterman, Capote
Tony Kushner and Eric Roth, Munich
Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, Brokeback Mountain
Gregg Araki, Mysterious Skin

And the Oscar should go to: Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, Brokeback Mountain












There isn't a single false note in the McMurtry-Ossana script for Brokeback Mountain, as the screenwriters unfold the doomed love story with patience and precision. At every turn, the pair avoid what surely was a temptation to make the Big Statement. Instead, they settled for richly drawn characters who act in ways wholly believable.

But it will go to: The same

Best Screenplay (original):

Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco, Crash
Guillermo Arriaga, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman, Cinderella Man
Woody Allen, Match Point
Noah Baunbach, The Squid and the Whale

And the Oscar should go to: Noah Baunbach, The Squid and the Whale










Baunbach's quasi-autobiographical screenplay is so scorching, it might just cause lesions. Bitterly humorous and humorously bitter, it rings with the authenticity of what happens when narcissists go bad. For my money, this is the toughest category of the year, since Guillermo Arriaga and Woody Allen also produced amazing work in 2005.

But it will go to: Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco, Crash

Hollywood likes slightly didactic message movies -- even when the message is that they're all racist pricks.

Best Director:

Fernando Meirelles, The Constant Gardener
Bennett Miller, Capote
Steven Spielberg, Munich
Gregg Araki, Mysterious Skin
Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain

And the Oscar should go to: Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain












Araki and Spielberg contributed powerful films this year, but both are a bit unwieldy, particularly Munich, which could've stood some more judicious editing. Brokeback Mountain's Lee should win for being the year's one pitch-perfect movie.

But it will go to: The same

Like there was ever any doubt.

Best Documentary:

Grizzly Man
Murderball
March of the Penguins
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
The Aristocrats

And the Oscar should go to: Murderball










There were some tremendous documentaries this year, but none bottled the emotional resonance of this provocative glimpse of the U.S. Paralympics rugby team. Featuring two larger-than-life personalities, Mark Zupan and Joe Soares, Murderball inspires without being brazenly manipulative. It is a movie that registers on a variety of levels. In short, it is magnificent.

But it will go to: March of the Penguins

Now, don't get me wrong -- I really liked this picture. No one can deny the Herculean task it took the filmmakers to follow these birds in their cyclical travails of procreation (the outtakes shown during the final credits really illustrate the pains to which the cinematographers went). Still, March of the Penguins didn't strike me as so different from any number of terrific animal documentaries you might come across on Animal Planet. But who gives a damn what I think? The picture was the sleeper hit of the summer, and no wheelchair-bound thugs -- or Kenny Lay, for that matter -- are gonna get in the way of Academy voters rewarding the one documentary that actually made lots of moolah.

Sex Tape Derby, Round 42

Happy Thursday, guys and gals, and welcome to another installment of Sex Tape Derby. The premise is easy enough, provided you have a libido and a functional knowledge of home entertainment technology. Let's say you must watch people "getting it on," as they used to say in the Sixties. Which of the following would you rather watch? Post your selections in the comments section below. For a fuller explanation of STD (Sex Tape Derby) and the pivotal role it played in a free Iraq, click here.


Would-be "American Idol" Becky O'Donohue or ...


















Would-be "American Idol" Katharine McPhee?



















Tough Clive Owen or ...













Debonair George Clooney?