Thursday, November 03, 2005

TV - LB, 10/31

(thoughts from Season 1)

As the opening credits and most cuts from commercial let you know,
Laguna Beach is a community built up against the Orange County
palisades, plungling cliffs that seperate the sea from the land.
Perhaps then, just to keep the stunning beauty of the place forefront
in our minds, we can imagine that it is these gorgeous cliffs - and not
some boring, inland, desert, Wiley-Coyote-like cliffs - that the
producers have decided to throw the show off of.
Because that's what they've done - into the abyss for the long, slow

Last year, the show was a look behind the curtain at the true Other
Half, at obscenely rich and privilidged and happy children in a green
and golden California wonderland.
This year, the whimsical kids from last year have returned from
college visibly deflated from the experience, while the kids left
behind have given away the secret that last year labored to hide:
white trash knows no boundries.

"You know what? You should know who's lap you're sitting in. You
know what? Put make-up on her and get her out to walk. If she falls
over, its her own fault."

Wow. How did we get here? Let's take a look...

At a fashion show (don't ask) Jason, the unshaven, indifferent sexual scavenger whose vapidness
girls so often mistake for personality, made a series of clumsy,
half-hearted gropes and kisses at his ex-plaything, Jessica. Childish,
akward and at war with her own self-esteem, Jessica - of course - let
And LC saw them. Or rather, saw him.

It was a depressing swing of events, if only because the last two
weeks have been on an upswing. LC and Stephen, back from failed stints
at college, have retaken the show from the dreary and bitchy Kristen.
That development alone is all the information you need to know what the
season has been like - as sherri and terri might have told Kristin, you
ruin everything, you ruiner.

But LC fell for Jason (which, sadly, is pretty much the final
evidence we need to give up the last bit of hope on interprettying LC's
reserved personality as being, ya know, 'soulful' or 'shy' or
'thoughtful' rather than 'a complete bimbo'). We all knew a White
Trash eruption was brewing - just a question of when.

It began with a rare swerve into current events, the kids took an
interest in the landslides that had brought down "like 20 houses in LC
and Stephen's neighborhood." The bulk of last year's cast - back for
the summer - decided to put on a fashion show-benefit.
LC, as the fashion student, was in charge of the whole thing, and
she actually attacked it. Where was all this passion when she was
dueling with Kristen for Stephen's affections? it would have been a
To the cause they recruited this year's cast. And really, here was
a chance to put Kristen - clearly in full-time training for her
eventual entry into the Matt Lienart-level of Young Hollywood - in a
leather bra and pants and let her shake her ass. How could they miss?
Well, first they let Talan sing. man, was that funny. I think he's
such a frieght train of ambition and well-planned exposure that he's
going to end up famous somehow - and all this will really just look
like the funny stuff that happened 'on his way up.' but for now,
knowing he's a high school kid who thinks he's a TV star and- evidently
- a rock star - man, was that funny.

And then, as Talan sang, Jason pulled Jessica onto his lap. And
started feeling her up. There was no question, none, who initiated
what (as if Jessica ever initiated anything in her life...)
Lauren saw it, called out Jason and he promtply did the "she just
came up to me. I didn't do anything, i just want to be with

That seemed OK but of course, it wasn't. Backstage, LC confrotned
Jessica. here's how it went down:
"You are a very rude girl. Sitting in other people's boyfriends
"Who's lap was I in?"
"You should know who's lap you're in. You know what? Put make up
on her and get her out to walk. If she falls over its her own fault."

As great as that was - and it certainly was the highlight of the
season - it got far, far trashier. 20 minutes later, backstage, Jason
and Jessica were fumbling and kissing at each other. And LC saw it.

Honestly, i think what is happening here is that Jason simply can't
communicate normally, and has probably gone through life not needing
to. If he can skip words, he does. When seen with his friends, they
are always playing basketball or something, but rarely with any sense
of urgency - they just play with a ball rather than relate to each
other. If this was a boys prep school - of just a place where tough
kids actually lived - he'd probably be in 4 fights a day (or a
ceaselessly carnal gay guy - it's a fine line).
Jessica, of course, simply craves approval, and jason's fumbling
looks and feels like it.
So, in each other's company, they play ceaseless grabass.

LC, of course, wasn't interested in all this. She just wanted to
punch something.

She yelled at big J. He sat around with that pissy-ness that only
the eternally-unpunished can muster when they finally get caught. And
LC, in a fantastic final shot, walked off into the night past him, like
he wasn't there, in a knee-high skirt - even her legs are perfect this
year - and halter-top. He had to sit there and watch her walk away.

It was pure white-trash, and it could have just as easily been in an
Omaha trailer park as California's most elite beash community. But for
white-trash drama, it wasn't bad.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

West Wing, 10/30

In the first segment of last night's West Wing - an episode entitled
"The Al Smith Dinner" wherein the candidates debate whether they should
attend the Al Smith Dinner - one of Josh's aides asks him: "Who's Al

Lord, but they're mailing it in.

I'm certainly nobody's political operative, but i feel pretty good in
sayiing that "Al Smith" is kind of one of those tripwires between
people who have studied politics - or just really like it - and those
who haven't or don't. Like Tris Speaker and Bob Lemon and Luke Appling
- maybe you never heard of them, but theyre in the Baseball Hall of
(full disclosure: I have no idea who who Luke Appling was. None)
So the average West Wing viewer (though not, i bet, the average WW
fan) may not know who Al Smith was.
But there is no chance - none - that any character who has ever
passed in front of the camera didn't. Not even that horny british
ambassador, and certainly not an aide to Josh Lyman.

(for the record, Al Smith was the gov of NY and one of the great
progressive politicians of the early century - and i mean that with
emphasis on both words: he was a great progressive and a great
politician - he started as a hired hand in the NY fishmarkets, moved up
through the union ranks, and then city government and then did 4 terms
as governor, where he took on child labor, care for the mentally ill,
factory conditions, expansion and urban construction and a long list of
stuff that needed fixing. He would have been President except he was
Catholic, which back then was enough to sink him. Any decent Poli Sci major (of just anyone from New York) - would know that. I know who Smith is because he is the central character in the first 100 pages of Robert Caro's biography about Robert Moses, The Power Broker, the absolute #1, retire-the-trophy greatest political biography of all time. There is NO WAY a Democratic staffer on a presidentail campaign never read
it. It's not plausible).

So I'm not sure if they're getting too stupid to breathe or too cute by
a mile. This week was Abortion week, always a fun topic, but like the
song said, how bizarre, how bizare. The R nominee, Vinick (Alan Alda)
is pro-choice, a position which his party, obviously, detests. He is
CONSTANTLY defending himself to his own party on this point.
Here's the good bit - Matt Santos (the cancerous Jimmy Smits) is
personally pro-life, and skates as close to pro-life as a D can.

In other words, we now have a show with a D defending his sorta-pro-life
tendancies and an R as a pro-choicer.
And the national women's group - a stand-in for NOW - is thinking of
endorsing Vinick on the shrewd grounds that he'll win and suddenly
they'll be online with a pro-choice R President.

I'm wondering if maybe they think they're all in Australia. Or
Germany. Or Singapore. Because none of the above - none of it -
resembles anything close to America. A pro-choice R, in real life is
called... Hilary. What used to be a great Inside Baseball show is now
fanciful, utopian fiction.
As I've said, real elections are won not
by clever ads and soaring rhetoric but by TURNOUT - voter roles,
registration, base-level organizing. Bad TV, maybe, but if you want a
tv show about how to be President well.... that's how you become
And, much worse, jeanne garafallo is wrestling the show away from
Josh. Here character is an idealogue, she's a well-known real life
leftist flunky and she can't act a lick. Great - let's hand her the

Good news: Donna's back! With Josh! And we even got a flare of the
old black magic:
Josh, curtly and angrily: "Do you have any references?"
Donna: "Santos for President Campaign Manager Josh Lymon, try the
main switchboard." sing it, dollface!

So they've resorted to sitcom antics with a West Wing budget (as
Vinick entered the Al Smith dinner, all the copcars and security had
their flashers on, filling the set with pulsating red lights; when
Santos came in, the same lighting, only it was all blue - GET

And now, we get a LIVE debate next week - between, I assume Jimmy
Smits playing Santos and Alan Alda playing Vinick. nice stunt - a live
TV non-debate debate with 2 non-real people (also, did i see that ER is
going to have a - deep breath - AIRLINE CRASH right outside the doors
of the hospital. What, at NBC, are they saying no to?)

i think the debate will be fun. And as I've said before, it's
STILL the West Wing, and they still lap everything on TV (inluding
Commander in Chief, which is DYING to be called Desperate
Whitehousewive). And I imagine it will be better than Vampire Bats
(starring Lucy Lawless!). I'm just a little concerned about how much


Thursday, October 20, 2005

Weekend of Movies - Crash, Blade Trinity, Red Eye

thanks to a vicious headcold, just had a movie-rich weekend.

Crash - I know, i'm late to the party, but you'll have trouble finding
a more arresting movie in recent years.
So what is it about Ryan Phillippe? Ever since he seduced Selma
Blair away from Sarah Michelle Gellar, Phillippe has been that rarest
of things, a professional catalyst - BSG might put him in the Robert
Horay/Nate Dogg corrlelary - He never carries a project, but if he's
AROUND it, you're guaranteed a funky, exotic and quality movie.
Way of the Gun. Gosford Park. Cruel Intentions. Antitrust
(ENORMOUSLY underrated - see it just
to take in Tim Robbins playing a guy who is 1-based on Bill Gates and
2-is really a 70s-Bond-level villian. Also, in the mandatory Hot Girls
slot, you get Rachel Leigh Cooke, just months removed from her
jiggle-queen breakthrough in She's All That, and Claire Forlani, soon
after Joe Black, when it looked like she was poised to take over the
world - how did this movie disappear so completely?)
But back to Phillippe - he was even the "Host" on Outkast's watershed
'Hey Ya' video.
AND he bangs Reese Witherspoon.
And now, Crash. Phillippe, now that i've carried on about him, is
just one of about 10 A-minus/B-plus actors who play in Crash, which is
a multi-story meditation on various kinds of racial hate in America.
It's incredibly smart and tough and - key point - expertly made. All
the jumps are seemless, the cameras zoom smoothly through rooms to
follow conversations, the lighting paints the mood, and the director is
as likely to keep watching the actor reacting to a key line than on the
actor delivering it. Big League talent behind the camera.
The plot takes the four or five main stories of the movie - the
lives of a few sets of strangers, all with various racial issues - and
wraps them around each other. In fact, it wraps them so tight, by the
end it gets a bit comic. You're basicly asked to believe that the
population of Los Angeles is, at most, 30. It's like 6-degrees of
seperation, only, at most, 3-degrees.
But again the writer helps you out - often when the stories collide,
the characters don't even know it - only you do, since you're been
following them.
The movie builds all its hate and mistrust and loathing into two
critical moments - the first one is diffused by Phillippe. The true
apex, then, comes a minute later on the driveway of the locksmith's
house (interesting metaphor, the locksmith, the man we trust to keep
the world at bay) and it's one for the ages. You think you know what's
coming, you think you know, you think you know and bam! - Way worse
than you thought.
From there, the movie begins to diffuse, which turns out to mean
that only 5 or 6 coincidences still have to be revealed.
Of the 10 central characters, only Brendan Frasier can't punch his
weight, which should surprise no one.
It's fun to watch Sandra Bullock be a screaming, unapologetic rich
racist bitch.
And almost stealing the show is Ludacris, the planet's current best
rapper - he is so good as a conflicted street criminal that the
director allows him to both open and close the movie.
One more interesting note - this genius I've been going on about who
wrote and directed Crash is a guy named Paul Haggis, who also wrote
Million Dollar Baby. And episodes of Diff'rent Strokes and the Love
Boat. Just for perspective.

Also checked out Blade Trinity. Usually, I wouldn't even bring it
up, but, like i said, it was a movie-filled weekend, so I will: Skip

Finally, we went out and saw the still-in-threatres Red Eye - and what
a pleasant surprise, to find a low-budget, formula studio movie as well
made as this one. It's directed, with pop and tempo, by Wes Craven,
who puts in absoluetly nothing that isn't vital. The movie ads and
trailers, for some reason, sell this movie as a sort of horror movie,
'Elm Street' in a 767, but it isn't at all. It's a thriller, closer to
Die Hard than Freddy. Well, closer to Hitchcock than either of those,
and like Hitchcock movies, it lives and dies on its lead - and on that
note, Rachel McAdams has arrived. She was great in the Notebook
(dragged to it, but she was the only thing that kept it afloat),
stellar in Mean Girls and she's great here. If Nicole Kidman can be a
major star, so can this woman (of course, by that corollary, so can
anyone, but whatever). She's paired with the guy from 28 Days Later,
who is just too creepy to be boring. The entire movie is a mind game
between a pretty, smart girl and the wierdo she's next to on an
airplane. And all of that is really great. It's so cerebral that the
one moment where violence erupts is so unexpected, the whole theatre
It falls apart - as absolutely every movie like it must - when they
land the plane and, therefore, take away the playing field. Then it
quickly becomes a very ordinary chase movie with explosions and killers
lurking behind shower curtains. But that bit - again, to Wes Craven's
credit - lasts at most 10 minutes.
But perhaps the best part is the opening 20 minutes, where Red Eye
expertly captures the misery of modern airport/airplane living. The
gate person, overhead compartments, the ticket agent, the mindless
pre-flight 'announcements' (all electronic items in 'off' position,
etc), the stuffy sense of privilidge that you have to walk through as
you transit the first-class cabin back to your seat - it's all here.
Great movie.

ps - This is season premier week on (network) TV, and my expectations
are low - Lost and Desperate Housewives are going to have to find an
entirely new trick to keep the mojo rising, and I don't think either
will (Lost has a fighting chance; Housewives, I think, is already in
the post-sex "Moonlighting" realm); West Wing - it's been a long, long
time since I rooted for a Republican, but I think that's what I'll be
doing this year, but will it matter? The last 2 years have been so
bad; the Simpsons - no clue what's going on with that show, but I just
spotted this the other day - does anybody watch The Family Guy? I
caught one episode and it's like the Glory years of the Simpsons all
over again! Hysterical! Revelation!
(PS on the Simpsons - if you're unclear on "the Glory years," that's
seasons 5, 6 and 7 - and six just joined 5 out on DVD - worth
And Season 2 of Laguna Beach... come ONNN!!! Know your worth,
girls! KNOW YOUR WORTH!!!!! Tomorrow (Tuesday) night is the Cabo
episode - I'll have more after that.

Monday, October 10, 2005

TV - LB Season 2

Laguna Beach - THIS was the Orange County Aristocracy I was waiting
for. A nearly perfect collection of soulless, emotionally isolated,
lonely and vicious children of infinite privilidge. I think I see what
happened - the filmmakers latched onto last season's central kids - the
sleepy but good-natured LC and Stephen, the ditzy Lo, the artsy and
soulful Trey, the oddly priggish Morgan and Kristina - and in the deal
they got the scorching hot vampiress Kristen, then a junior. Kristen
virtually took over the show, but her evolution was fun to watch,
particularly amid the ebb and flow of the other characters.
Unfortunately, all of the above graduated except Kristin, leaving
the whole franchise to her. So this season we get Kristin's more
natural social class - the screaming bitches and callous jocks - that
no TV producer would have picked in a vacuum, but here we are anyway.
I wish i was exagerating or being dismissive. I'm not. The bile
between the clans of girls and sexual indifference of the guys has been
like the opening 3rd of any really over the top teenage movie. And I
think the producers hate them as much as we do - unlike last year, they
routinely humiliate the kids by showing moments they never did last
year - mean jokes and thoughts about each other said in private, the
giggly retellings of other's failures and even routine drunkeness (I
mean, last year's kids never seemed to be far from a good time, but the
producers didn't seem to enjoy watching them stumble and fall, nor
drunkenly lick each other's faces, as they do this year).
Perhaps inevitably, Kristin - the scheming slut queen of last year -
is now the nearest thing to a wise voice of reason - the three or four
less-hot friends she pulls behind her, like satelites pulled behind a
planet, are worshipping and needy. She is strict and demanding. most
appualing is the season-long destruction of the sweet-natured but
hopelessly niave and insecure Jessica - she is just cute enough (or,
more plausibly, just stacked enough) to attract the preying attention
of the school's cruelest boys, but not near skilled enough to naviagate
thier waters. She hooks up with baseball stud Jason - possibly the
shallowest male character in Reality history - who is bored with her
almost before he begins.
Hitting way out of her league, Jessica falls for him. Her life
becomes an unending series of unreturned phone calls, almost all of
which the producers show us.
Kristin intially tries to help her friend ("take it from a girl who
cheated on her boyfriend - he's cheating on you!") but sours on the
project when she realizes Jessica isn't in her league, either. Soon
Alex M., a lurking girl of average looks but striking availability
latches onto Jason. Or rather, Jason, managing briefly to string
together five or six words, takes up her open offer (literally in front
of Jessica - nice).
Alex M.,, a bit of a queen bitch herself among the girls but no
expert with guys, then misses all the same signs that Jason is done
with her, too. As far as she is concerned, they are together. The
glee she takes from having 'stolen' someone's guy is palpable.
Jason, in a piece of calculated sexual theatre I personally think he
did entirely to show off for the camera, then calls Jessica (from a
golf course, where he's goofing off with friends - she's the butt of a
quick round of jokes between them) and later on hooks up with her. At
a party, full of eyes. Alex M., out to dinner with Kristin and the
clan, get s text message on her phone about the liason AS IT'S
HAPPENING. Say this for the Laguna kids - they know how to leverage
At fault, clearly, is Jason. He's a grinning, thoughtless asshole,
who went a step too far entertaining himself between two willing girls.
And he gets blamed by exactly no one.
Instead, the entire herd comes down on Jessica. Crucially, Queen
Bitch Kristen, who could have solved the problem, doesn't. She piles
on. The girls all go to Cabo - where last year's show hit an historic
high note - where they all get drunk and party all week, except for
Jessica- she gets to sit in her room and cry. Kristin does nothing to
make the peace, and as the week wears on, Alex M. attacks and
humiliates Jessica at a nightclub. No one holds her back. The only
person who tries to diffuse it is Jessica's friend, Emily, who's
argument is:
"If you ruin Jessica's Cabo trip, you're ruining my Cabo trip." -
wow. that's sticking up for a friend.
Alex M replies: "Sorry Dude."
Once back home, Alex M. 'confronts' Jason while he's playing
basketball (though only sort of grab-ass, shoot-around ball) with his
friends. Smart. She hits him with some dreary "where are we right
now?" and "do you have feelings for me?" rap. She never had a chance,
of course, but this particular form of relationship suicide is really
painful to watch.
He says, literaly, nothing. He nods, grins, grimaces, shrugs, and
then caps it with a "whatever."
And the star-crossed lovers part.
It's about as fun as it sounds - mean people behaving horribly.
Funniest of all is that the very best looking of the new cast could not
have cracked the starting line-up against last year's (except for
Morgan, who didn't really count anyway), who never, ever treated each
other so badly.
(though, could it be some of the ol' LB-Season 1 magic that the
producers end the Cabo show with a shot of a downtrodden Alex M walking
away while, in the foreground, Jason now back on the court, happily
hits a lay-up? Now that I think about it - of course it was)
In all a vast letdown from last year.

(As Kristin would say, more drama)

Monday, October 03, 2005

Movie - Aristocrats, Lord of War

I forgot to mention a while back that I saw the aristocrats.
I probably laughed to the point of hypoxia more than three times. I also almost walked out twice. As 'brave' as the movie is, if you're not repulsed to the point of anger at least once or twice, you may be too far down the Cool path for your own good.

On the other hand, this probably statistically - (# jokes/minute)*funniness - the funniest movie of all time.
Favorite part was a montage, early, when they bounce from comic to comic
in this machine-gun fire of filth that never seems to stop. That
technique, however, got a bit old, particularly when they got to the
incest bit. Also, thought South Park was brilliant, but thought the
Jesus bit in the Onion office was not.
But I think the Rabbi hit it Poo-Holes style with his review. 9/11
is the new incest - if it's not a 9/11 joke, then it's not really good.
Bob Sagat was ridiculous. Also, I loved the guy who, to my
knowledge, only plays bad guys in movies but was too funny
(sittingoutside, looking stoned). "After the tragedies of Jan 12,
can't we all.... That was the day i left my wallet in a restraunt on
Wait - i just remembered the funniest part - watching Hefner twitch,
miserably, as Gilbert does his thing.

Also saw "Lord of War" with Nic Cage. A movie that wanted so badly to
be "Blow + explosions" but didn't have the story telling ability. The
final act, where he gets busted, is particularly empty. In fact, it
has the smell of desperate rewrite.
But there's a time-lapse sequence - where a bunch of locals, in 24
hours, completely dismantle a Russian jumbo jet - that is almost worth
the price of admission.
A good rental is Game Over, a documentry about Gary Kasparov's chess
game with the IBM computer Deep Blue. Heavily over-dramatized, and
clearly done by a guy who want to be Errol Morris but isn't, but still

Monday, July 18, 2005

Blaine, follow-up

(this post is a follow-up to this one, below)

So I actually did spend an hour cleaning up the kitchen and living room
with the Cameos playing. Here's the preseason Top 10.

10 - The Miami guy who keeps slapping away a Florida State guy's
helmet, while yelling, 'it's all about this 'U' ". What's so great
about that is that, as we know from self-labeled "Soldier," Kellen
Winslow, "It's all about this 'U' " is the unofficial team slogan for
Miami players. So from one cameo, we get to think about Kellen's
timeless "Soldier" tirade, Kellen's recent two-wheel hijinks AND the
endlessly amusing irony that, of all the letters that the Miami
Hurricanes football players can cling to for identity, they choose the
one that stands for "University."
9 - The three bruisers in halter tops for whom it's a Great day to be a
8- The Florida State sorority, 20 strong, that lets you know: It's In
The Game.
7 - The East-West all-star game sideline roll call of conferences -
they run quick clips of players from different conferences lining up
with their helmets and giving shout outs about how their conferecne is
just SO totally In The Game. SEC, Big 12, Pac 10, all In The Game.
ACC is in the game, hilariously fronted by a Duke guy (I mean.. come
on...) And so is Boise State, San Jose State and Utah whose players
stand around together giving a collective, vague non-BCS-Is-In The Game
shout. Hilarious. And if you don't think ANYTHING sounds cooler when
you sandwich it around "baby," just listen up for "Boise State, baby,
Boise State!" Terrific.
6 - the Florida State twins dressed in Porno Pocahontas outifts. It's
in the Game.
5 - Lloyd Carr, back for at least his third cameo, with not an inch
more charisma. The squarest coach in the nation - It's In The Game.
4 - (to the hook of Biz Markie's "Just a Friend) "EYE... I love
U-S-SEE-EEE....And I hate U-C-L-A (and Oklahoma! (yelled)), and I hate
UCLA (and OKlahoma!) OH BAY-BEE, EYE... I love U-S-See-eee.... and I
hate UCLA (and Oklahoma!) - EA Sports it's in the Game!!!!!" There's
five of 'em, each wearing more red and yellow than the next (three
Blaine jerseys between them), each with frizzier, blonder hair than the
next, each in jean shorts shorter than the next. Filmed, obviously, in
the parking lot of the Orange Bowl. Them Sooners never had a chance.
3 - Tommy Chang at the East West Bowl. With a rare solo cameo, Chang
looks in the camera and says, "Tpmmy Chang, University of Hawaii, NCAA
passing leader" with about the same commitment that Scott McClellan
answers Rove questions.
2 - The 3 drunk Wisconsin chicks in half-shirts. Not surprisingly, the
director gave them a full, uncut Cameo ("E-A-Sports, N-C-double-A
Football Two-thousand-six - If it's in the Game, it's in the Game -
whooooooooo!"). Arms draped around each other, they teeter farther and
farther forward towards the camera, in a manner that becomes more and
more fellatious as they go (Yes, that's a word - I just heard it in
"Kinsey"). For sheer horsepower, right there with the three assassins
ABC found in the Miami stands during the '02 FSU game.
1 - USC. Hey - everybody else with a preseason list has them here.
And since I don't actually rank teams anymore, here's my chance.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Blaine 2006...

...aka, EA Sports' "NCAA 06", the latest release of the only serious
college football video game franchise for playstations and the like.
You're either with Madden or your with me, and if you're with me, well,
here we go.

(hey - since i'm doing a video game post, anybody know how to watch the
porn on Grand Theft Auto 5? I don't mean how to unlock it, cuz I won't work that hard. I mean, have the actual movie parts been captured and posted anywhere? Leave it in the comments below. thanks)

After a 30 minute initial shakedown, I'll cut to it: thumbs way the
hell up. Where the 2005 game was a sloppy re-release of 2004 with a
thin coat of new paint (and 2004 was a clone of 2003), for 2006 they've
totally updated the product, with only one or two obvious missteps and
a whole list of clear upgrades.

I'm 4 days away from spending 45 days in front of a giant plasma screen
in a hanger on the other side of the world. Now I can hardly wait.

Coverboy and Packaging: (UPDATE FROM PREVIOUS POSTS) D-. Every version of an EA Sports college franchise ever released for the PS2 has had on its cover one the sports' elite players from the previous year, including this month's NCAA basketball with Emeka Okafore.

They have been, if memory serves, Danny Wuerfel, Joey Harrington, Carson Palmer and last year's Larry Fitzgerald (to break the QB lock, I guess). Two runaway Heisman winners and two saavy shoulda wons.

This year they went with Desmond Howard.

The only reaction this can possibly elicit: Who said no?

And the bizsarre part is, assuming they felt like they needed a midwest pick, Michigan had a terrific departed player available for the first time this decade in Braylan Edwards. In fact, Edwards is pretty much the only first-tier talent
to emerge this decade from the Big 10 (other than Clarett), and he even stayed all four-years, always a nice touch for a college-based game. If they were going to do a Big 10 guy, this was it.

and they did. Big 10-circa 92.

In fact, it kinda HAD to be Edwards: the three best players from '04 are all
back in school (SC's Leinart and Bush and Texas' Young) so they
couldn't be on it. The #1 draft pick, Utah's Alex Smith, has still
never played in a game of national interest. Two of the top 3 running
backs were from Auburn, and neither was really the team's star, and the
third, Cedric Benson, wasn't the best player on his own team. I think
any true college fan would have appreciated seeing Cal's Aaron Rodgers get the cover
- who had a more complete, memorable college season in 05 than Rodgers?
But both the 03 and 04 games had Pac 10 QBs on the cover, and the frat
boys in Austin, Columbus and Tuscaloosa are only going to buy so many
of those.
This might have been a good year for a defensive player (David
Pollack? Marcus Spears? Either, or both, Sean Codys?). But I suppose it was time for a midwest guy, Michigan is the Midwest's franchise team and so Braylon would have been a solid choice from a limited field.

Instead - an NFL-flopping, early 90s guy who, the year he won it, wasn't even the best player at his own position in his own bowl game.

Other than that bizarre pick, the packaging is updated. They gave the typeface a tech look
and added some stadium elements. And they dropped it from "2005" to
just "06"

Not enough to sink the product, but a terrible, terrible start.

Fortunately, things recover.

Opening Cameos: The Cameos (the live-action clips that run as the
intro at every boot up) were strongest in 03, which was nothing but
campus clips. And let's just say it: it had the ASU chicks. The 04
cameos were dull, with mostly shots of ex-players at the all-star game
and some annoying band clips - plus the two random clips of two skinny
SDSU chicks who weren't even so much as hot as jarringly slutty. 05
just sucked. boring. bands, all-star games, lame.
Welcome back to the good stuff. Lots of on-campus rallies, TONS of
hot girls screaming "its in the game" and then bouncing around, drunk
frat boys, fighting mascots - terrific.
And here's the hammer: there's now an option in the game that you
can watch all the cameos, back to back to back to back to back......
awesome. honestly, i could probably just let that play for like 2
hours while i clean the kitchen or cook or... just watch it.

They made an improvement and a mistake in the menus - they added
actual famous game tape to the menus. As you select what you are
doing, to the right they have, say, Desmond Howard's return against
Ohio State, or Warren Sapp destroying an FSU runningback. That's good
(though it looks like there's only 5 or 6 clips - they repeat pretty
Unfortunately, the soundtrack over all the menus is no longer fight
songs (what else COULD it be?) but now skate/surf-punk music. That was
the cool thing to do in the late 90s, but its pretty dated. not to
mention all the punk songs so far suck. the only hip hop is "me myself
and I" from De La Soul and, again, it seems pretty limited. The songs
repeat pretty fast.
bad decision.

And now... the game.

Gameplay: they altered the controls, which is interesting and i
think good. For dodging and juking, rather than using the
front-mounted 'L1' and 'R1', you now use the right stick. Juking is
one of the best parts of the running game so its important to get it
right. we'll see, though, because it's a bit akward to snap the ball
with the X and then shift your thumb to the stick. Particularly since
the circle is still the spin the move. It'll take a few hours to sort
it out.
But at least they're trying something new.

Defense seems a bit more responsive around the line, but i think
some of the mechanisms for switching plyers has changed. again, time
will tell. But i always sucked at playing D anyway, so it won't matter
to me.

Animation - which was always a strong point - is terrific, i think
actually redrawn from previous years, but i'm not sure. either way,
looks great.

Strange Features - the clownish "crowd noise" is still there but oh
well. last year Madden added something called "playmaker" where a
certain player had some sort of super-powers and could fly, or
something. i don't know. Apparently they've migrated the concept to
this game, with one player on the field highligheted as an 'impact'
player by a white dot - when the white-dot is pulsing, that player is
'in the zone' and has triple-magic-hitpoints. Or something. i don't
know - i'm always against any sort of invented superpower thing. So
far its mildly distracting. And Reggie Bush is always pulsing. I wish
you could turn it off.
Also back is that odd 'match-up' option where you can, before the
snap, compare the relative talents and fatigue of your players at the
line and the guys they are lined up against. Actually not a bad
feature, but unneeded.
They reddid the pregame animation, which after 4 years needed
rewrite, but they made it into this bizarre studio show - the three
ESPN guys sit around and talk and then Lee Corse puts on the helmet of
the team he picks. stupid.
But unlike last year, where the bizarre add ons swamped the game to the
detriment of the expereince, here it's all secondary. the game play
appears to be the focus again.

Now, the truly good news: the structure of the game.
revamped and massively improved the practice options. Now the
'practice' part of the game is like an arcade-style game of its own.
They have 4 drills: option (QB and RBs versus 2 LBs and a safety),
passing skeleton (passing game without linemen), running game including
and "oklahoma."
"Oklahoma" is terrific - its 2 on 2, a ball runner, a lineman going
each way and a linebacker, all hemmed in to a 10 yard area. you get 10
snaps as the ballcarrier, trying to use your blocking past the line
then beat the linebacker in the backfield. then you get 10 snaps as
the linebacker, trying to stop the CPU as the ballcarrier.
In all of the pracitce games, it keeps score, and records your high

There is still Dynasty mode, roughly the same as Madden's
"Franchise," where you run a program as the coach through multiple
seasons. But they've also reworked it from the bottom-up - now rather
than be the Dynasty coach, you can play a full career as a specific
player in a mode called "Hiesman." You start as a high school kid and
'tryout' - you run through one of any of the practice arcades as your
tryout for a scholarship. Your score determines the scholarship offers
you get. I picked option QB, and screwed up the first couple then did
real well on the last 5 snaps. I got offers to mississippi st, akron
and Syracuse (you can also 'walk-on' anywhere you want - not sure what
the advantages or disadvantages are of that). Then you 'enroll' and I
guess play a full season. As you go through (and this part, obviously,
i didn't do), your heisman hype goes up and down depending on your
performance. they have a little structure set up for 'college life' -
you get fan (or hate) mail, earn awards, be on the cover of SI and all
the stuff from Dynasty (playbook, rankings, bowl games, etc).
A nice effort to rework the long-term part of the game.

All the standbys are still there - historic teams (which i like) and
mascots (which I don't). And they appear to have dialed down the
stupid crowd animation, which was one of the 'new' things last year.
thank goodness.

There's also online play, if you're into it.

In short, where 2005 was a major let down, 2006 is a terrific
product. I guess that bodes well for the new Madden, for those of you
who dig that. so if playstation football is your deal, don't hestitate
to get it.


Thursday, July 07, 2005

Terror - We Win

Terrorists, you have lost.
I mean - stop it, already. We're done, we're through. we're over it. In fact, everytime you blow something up, we're getting less scared. How do you like that, terrorists? TERROR-ists? OOOOhhhh. I'm just so TERROR-fied by the TER-ROR-ists.
I know - I feel horrible for all those people who died in London. And everyone who knew them. And everyone who knows the people who know them. That's gonna be, like, five years of hearing the people who knew someone lean on that crutch for everything. "Split the check? You ordered both appitizers, and I had, like, two chips!" "I know, but sometimes when I think of Cheryl, I just eat..." "Fine, look, at least put it on my card. I get miles."
But who'd you get? 40 people? 40! That's a joke. In Iraq, they do that everyday. And the degree of difficulty is WAY higher. They have stuff set-up to keep THOSE terrorists away from the Victims - concrete barriors, sniffing dogs, insane mercenaries, 50 caliber machine guns manned by 19-year-olds who grew up playing XBox 20 hours a day. And they still get 50, 60, 70 a pop. THOSE are terrorists, my friend.
Enemy, I mean. Whatever.
And don't be fooled by all our 'public officials' - none of whom we like, by the way - "urging" us to "remain calm." I just heard the LA polic chief plead with everyone to "remain calm." Like who? Who's not calm? You know who's going to an airport and flying todat?! My parents! The same Red State, terrorist-fearing Americans who cancelled a cruise to Alaska in 2002 because of terrorsts are today perfectly fine flying here. Flying!
Remember when NOBODY was flying cuz of you? For a week!!! Man, you must miss those days.
Tony Blair sounded pissed, though. He's a tough guy, that Tony Blair. Man, if I was a terrorist, no way I piss him off. And you got him on a bad day, too. Yesterday, he completely stole the Olympics from the French (he hates those French - you think you hate the French, but you have no idea). And I suspect he was so ecstatic over the Olympics that he just couldn't help giving Bush a rash of crap over dinner about crashing his bike. "What's the band-aids for George? Oh! Had a spot of trouble on the bike, eh? Ran into a copper, did we? We call them bobby's, ol' chum. Probably his fault, i'm sure. But you know who's a good bike rider from Texas? That Lance Armstrong - fancy he'd crash into a bobby? Bloody doubtful, eh, Georgy. And isn't he winning the Tour De France right now? My, but he's fast. Lance Armstrong, indeed. And speaking of France, George, did you hear who got the Olympics? I did! Waiter, another gin and tonic for me and President Lance, here!"
So I'm betting Tony Blair woke up this mornig hungover, and - wham - gets this news. Big mistake, terrorists.
Now 9/11 - okay, you got us. totally. In a way, we were all a bit amazed - it was like watching... well, it was like watching buildings full of people collapse, is what it was like. And Madrid was bad. I'll give you that. And then came... Bali? Bali? Step 3 to ripping out the living soul of the Great Satan and feasting on his innards is to blow up... t-shirt shops and a Fat Tuesdays in Bali? Now it's been three years since you swore to bring down the Great Satan, and fill our streets with boiling blood, or whatever, and you've hit two public transit systems and a strip of beach bars in Asia. The Ring 2 was scarier than this!
Just stop it. we can tell you're out of ideas.
Because I gotta tell ya, this international war on terror I keep hearing so much about - this is like a 90s Super Bowl. Afghanistan we won, like, 100 to 0. Iraq, 90-10. OK, 80-20. But 80-20?!?!? That's such a complete butt-kicking. No wonder we're getting bored.
The networks are back to soaps. CNN and Fox are already blaming each other. NPR is the only network even trying to be shocked. But you knew that was coming. And, hey! You had to do this today? If you'd waited a day, maybe they would have pre-empted 'Calling All Pets.' Now, it's gonna be on for sure. Right after that annoying Moyra Gunn person.
Thanks for nothing, terrorists. Damn you, you've won again!

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Movie - Batman Begins and the Dukes

First some perspective, courtesy of Mandy, upon the entrance of one of
the movie's key characters:

Her: Oh no, not him.
Me: What?
Her: Is that Jerry Springer?
Me: Uh... that's Rutger Hauer.

But ya know what? The similarities are striking. Long way from Blade
Runner, indeed.

So despite what you heard elsewhere, Batman Begins is a hell of an effort, if you keep in mind the limitations built into the movie. No, not any prequels-are-hard-to-do nonsense. No, the director,
Christopher Nolan (who did Decade Top 10-shoe-in "Momento"), was
saddled with Liam Neeson and Katie Holmes.
As far as Neeson, the likable Scot goes - well, to quote Sherry and
Terry, the Simpson's purple twins, "You ruin everything, you ruiner."
Between his franchise-sinking effort in Phantom Menace and this, Neesan
is arguably right there with Michael Bay as the worst thing in the
history of action movies. He can do no right. I keep thinking its the
script, because he unfailingly has horrific material to work with (and
his lines in this movie are hilariously bad), but he also is utterly
unbelievable as a tough guy. Or even an in-shape guy. He makes Pierce
Brosnan's anemic James Bond look like The Rock.
Neeson bookends this movie with wildly dull catfights and mindless
gibberish about 'confronting your fears by becoming your fears' and
it's best to ignore both episodes completely.
Everything in between is really good.
Well, except for Holmes, who is terrible, but you knew that going
in, right? Fortunately, Nolan spots the danger early and solves it
with an ingenious sidestep. He does this to her: A) she plays an
assistant DA with B) straight black hair and skin tight cashmere
numbers who c) spends every second onscreen striding purposefully down
hallways holding a legal briefcase or D) in edgy conflict with her
boss, the DA, a nameless actor who is E) cast, clothed and made-up to
look as much like Sam Waterston as possible.
In other words, the director clearly knew from the second he was told
he had Holmes what just about everyone else knows, too: in a fair
world, she MIGHT be a good enough actress to play the Angie Harmon-et
al role of the Law and Order pin-up girl.

(any question of how interchangable the hot-bimbo-DA role is on that show should be put to rest with that link - notice that the bio is for the NEW hot-bimbo-DA, while the previous-generation hot-bimbo hasn't even been stripped from the show's banner at the top of the page)

So, like renting a blow-up castle to let the kids bounce around in
at a grown-up party, what Nolan does, brilliantly, is build Holmes her
own little L&O episode - replete with the Waterston look alike to talk
down to her - to play in while he and the rest of the cast shoot a
Batman movie. By her fifth time on screen - demanding to see
evidence, earnestly arguing for an indictment, telling the cops to
watch their step - I was greeting her appearance with my own little

So Neeson is relegated to play against the credits and Katie is sent
out to find Lenny. That leaves the rest of the movie, which finishes
miles ahead of the previous contenders as the best Batman movie to

And it's mostly because of Christian Bale.

Being handed Batman was clearly a make-or-break opportunity for Bale
who, ever since American Psycho, I've had listed right there with Jason
Stetham (Turkish from Snatch) as a guy who needs to be handed a 5-movie
franchise. He crushes this one. He's smart, tough, mean and dark, and
roles through the movie like he was born to it. The entire point of
the movie is to put a story to Batman's dark impulses, and, once spun,
Bale wears the weight of that backstory as easily as he wears a tux. In
key moments, he doesn't preen or overreach. When the moment is funny,
he flows with it and lets the joke breathe - and then has the grace to
walk away. When the moment is dark or tense (which is pretty much all
the time), he lets loose a little bit of the fury he brought to Jason
Batemen in "Psycho" and attacks.
When not having to carry Holmes of Neeson on his back, he's a wonder.
Comparing him to the other Batmans....
He's relaxed and engaged as both Bruce Wayne and Batman, versus the
perpetually lost Michael Keaton.
He has no false swagger or smarm - which is pretty much the
definition of George Clooney in every movie.
And he's not an introverted geek like Val Kilmer.
OK, so lapping that field is no big deal. But Bale is better than
just 'better than those guys.' He's smart, grounded, stubborn and -
when the light goes on - a born man of action.
Been a while since I found myself thinking, "here's a guy who could
play Indiana Jones" but, well, here's a guy.

The toys of the movie are terrific especially the Batmobile, a
dead-even mix of M1A1 tank and Lamborghini Countach. Morgan Freeman
and Michael Caine, both heavyweights in flyweight roles, handle their
business with expert timing (it's still another reflection on Bale that
he never cedes the screen to these two high-end actors when they are
together). Unlike the other movies, the villian is kept very
deliberately in the background, so there's no vamping comic or
brand-name action star to steal screen time. The villan is Batman's
past (and, i guess Neeson and Holmes), no problem for Bale.

Terrific movie.

Also, saw the trailer for Dukes of Hazzard. unwatchable. Since you
know the best 3 jokes of the movie are in the trailer, this mght be the
least funny movie of the year. I saw three quick sequences that
sounded like jokes, but as far as actually laughing? Forget it.
And, Jessica Simpson, tits and ass predictably ablaze, is making a
major push for Worst Fake Southern Accent Ever.
Which would be quite an accomplishment, since she's from Texas.
Who has ever been more successful on less talent? She's like a
porno-barbie version of Tom Arnold.

Monday, June 27, 2005

something else the right is getting good at

pre-rant: read this week's New Yorker piece on Patrick Henry College.
They're Coming.

on with the rant -

example 1: two years ago, two NY Times reporters were handed by a
senior admin official the name of valerie plame, as a CIA operative, in
order to smear her husband, a former diplomat who was accurately
calling George Bush a liar about plutonium in Nigeria. maybe not a big
deal, either the leak (who cares?) or the plutonium (no one believed
him anyway) but revealing the information - the CIA part - was a crime,
not to mention a clear act of betrayal of national security (the
maginitude is not at issue).
if you squint, it almost looks like treason (it certainly DOESN'T
look like Supporting Our Troops). and somebody in the White House
committed it, on purpose, for patently, obvious and cynical, pro-Bush
a special prosecutor, reasonably (though surprisingly) was appointed
to find out who.
And the NY Times reporters, who were clearly used by the source for
partisan smearing, are nonetheless standing firm, not revealing who it
was. A promise, even one to a professional smear-artists, is still a
They are a High 9 eye-roll away from jail.
To sum up: A member of the white house staff places Bush-Cheney '04
ahead of national security, and two NY Times reporters may end up in
jail for it.

(tangentially, Robert Novak, who famously printed the same
leak/smear, is not on the hook for the pokey - and he won't say why.
And yet, he still draws a paycheck from a host of companies that trade
in 'news' - discuss)

example 2: The High 9 last week decided that the government can take
your house.
No, they didn't really. Well, yeah, they sorta did - but that's not
all they said. In fact, it's not even the main thing they said.
What they actually said was that it is not the role of the federal
government to dictate to states or localities what they may or may not
throw into their own local Eminent Domain grinder, as long as that
state or locality appears to have the 'public good' in mind. clearly,
a decision frought with dangers, and the case presented to the High 9
was a particularly offensive one: throwing ancient retired people out
of thier lifelong homes to make way for a mall. yuck. however, the
elected officials - and, therefore, ostensibly - the electorate of some
snobby NE hamlet thought it sounded good and the High 9 said little
more than, "my name's Paul and that's between Y'all."
So what do we, as students of American Info-tainment, know about
Eminent Domain and what happens when private interests hijack it? Any
takers? If not, allow me my favorite example: if there is a single
Eminent Domain case pertinent here - one where a government clearly got
in bed with rich boys and shit all over everybody else - it must be the
backstory to the Ballpark at Arlington, the stadium that now prints
money for the owners of the Texas Rangers where once nice houses of
nice families stood. As trampled-freedom stories go, its no more
horrible than many runaway stadium deals except for one postscript: it
launched George Bush to the Texas Governorship.
So, big picture, kind of an important case.
And its about as one-sided as ugly Eminent Doman cases get - rather
than try to buy expensive land, some rich boys bought themselves a
cheap local government, which promptly handed over to them all the land
they wanted, current owners be damned (Dubya was the grinning frontman)
(yes - they did it as an 'authority' - like that matters).
Just the kind of case you'd like to think a body like the High 9
would pounce on - and just the kind of case they opted to let slide
last week, in the name of state and local sovernienty.
Now, is ANYONE please with that decision? Who would we EXPECT to be
pleased? Any takers?
Well, if history and ideology matter a lick, you might expect that
those who back Dubya on matter of Federalism (less of it) or Greed
(more of it) or Dubya himself ("8 years of Jed, then P will be 40")
would welcome the decision.
Afterall, its got all the ingredients: Greed, Dubya's own personal
history and - best of all - limits on government power. Call it
State's Rights, for lack of a better term.
Because that's what this decision was: the High 9 deciding to NOT be
the one branch of government responsible for ruining somebody's greedy
fun - which is to say, they actively chose to NOT make an 'activist
judicial' decision.
This was clearly not the work of a Big Government Court.
Only, the voting among the Justices was inconvienant to Dubya's
current political needs.
See, roughly speaking, the Court's rightwingers voted against this
decision, the others for it.
In other words, the rightwingers voted FOR a Big Government/activist
decision, the others against.
Again, Rightwingers, pro-activism; leftwingers, strict construction.
And yet, in the right's ever-expanding Every-Day-Is-Opposite-Day
circles, the cry is growing rapidly that this was a 'vote to take your
property.' I know that, because I heard two nutjob right wing radio
hosts say just that on their shows this weekend - and then attack the
decision as 'just another example' of the court's 'liberals' being

So, to sum up: The court - supposedly stacked 5-4 with Dubya
enemies - felt compelled to vote in FAVOR of abusive eminent domain
(which Dubya not only favors but owes his career to) to AVOID being an
'activist' or 'Big Government' court - precisely the label Dubya has
and will continue to attack them with.

So What Did We Learn Today? Well, it's 2 instinces where Dubya is
greatly benefitting from. or being shielded by, the very people who
could - and perhaps should - do him harm. And he's able to do so only
because - ONLY because - these 'opponents' have some regard for thier
own professional conduct in fields where Dubya has demonstrrated that
he does not.
In short: His opponents are more honest, more moral and flat better
people than him - so he wins.


Saturday, May 21, 2005

Movie - A World Of Pure Imagination

My wife has never read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Her interest in sci-fi starts and ends with Star Wars and her affection for British humor doesn't go much past a Fish Called Wanda. She won't even sit through an episode of Star Trek or Monty Python's Flying Circus.
The Guide, in other words, is not her thing.
Neither was this movie.
I mention that because I’m about to really lay it on thick in praise of this film, and I want to be balanced: apparently, it’s very possible to be bored to tears by this movie.
Fair enough.
Or, like me, you can be ecstatic.

A few hours before we went to see it, there was a show on TV I caught in passing that mentioned that Johnny Depp is going to play Willy Wonka in a remake of the great 70s movie, daring to tread in the shoes once worn - and worn down to brass tacks - by Gene Wilder in, arguably, one of Cinema’s all-time great performances. Seriously, Wilder’s Wonka is up there with De Niro’s Jake Lamota, Jodi Foster’s Clarice Starling and Bridges’ Lebowski, right?
Anyway, I’d say Depp, uniquely among modern actors, might pull it off. But as I watched the show today I thought: that’s a tall order to update that movie.
Which is exactly what I would have said about trying to bring the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the screen.
But they did it. In fact, they nailed it. As cross-genre adaptations go, it’s right there with Wonka. And they did it the same way Wonka managed to meet and exceed it’s own book: they rejected as many notions of traditional movie story-telling as possible, and they hired the Right Guy.

First, the Right Guy: I can only name three Sam Rockwell pictures, and two are grand slams: “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” possibly the most overlooked movie of the new decade, and now Hitchhiker’s. Rockwell plays Zaphod Beeblebrox, the cartoonish hipster and space pirate who is also the President of the Galaxy (plot will not be outlined here – you know it already or you never will). Rockwell’s Beeblebrox is an instant classic, a rough mixture of Micheal Keaton’s surreal Beetlejuice and a double-shot of George Bush. Anybody NOT see Dubya in that performance? I thought it was glaring (and perfectly appropriate). In fact, I would bet all parties involved with this movie tilted Beeblebrox’s persona toward more American and more air-headed veins than the book’s Beeblebrox, just to capture some Dubya flavor.
Rockwell didn’t climb up on the pedastal with Wilder – he just doesn’t have enough screen time – but it’s still one for the ages. Rockwell is funny, optimistic and eternally delighted with life in the way that only the utterly oblivious – which is not to say ‘dumb; - can be. His body (covered in garish outfits) clicks and whirrs with nervous energy and he finishes every sentence with an unconsciously flip “alright” or similar. Beeblebrox starts the movie, as he did the book, with two heads (one fun and dim, the other mean and horny), with one on top of the other, the lower tucked into his shirt – and Rockwell even sells that.
I seem to remember Rockwell’s Beeblebrox on roller skates, though he wasn’t, just gliding around each scene on his own atmosphere of goofy chic.

(And how long before Rockwell and Edward Norton finally get it on. Something has to give. Soon. I see it going down as them playing co-leads - two brothers or best friends after the same girl, something - and whoever comes out of it the star is set for the next 20 years and whoever loses starts doing re-occurring roles on Desperate Housewives. I can’t wait.)

Past Zaphod, the movie’s key relationship – like the book’s - is between Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect, an odd couple wonderfully realized by a funny brit I don’t feel like looking up and the American rapper Mos Def.
The brit, who I understand is a star over there, is perfectly serviceable as the whiny, frightened Arthur, combining slapstick with desperation as only the British can. I think a less-famous Hugh Grant might have done better, or that Colin guy. But this Arthur is fine.
Mos Def, on the other hand, was a brilliant hire. First, it makes Ford black, which just never would have occurred to me, but opens up a whole new line of metaphor. Second, Mos’ persona is detached and caustic in the Dave Chappelle mode (though not nearly as potent), and why not? The original Ford was a weeded-out 70s euro-gypsie, only his hitchhiking was between planets rather than EU members. That Ford wouldn’t play today, so why not make him an urban-cool black guy? Mos delivers all the key lines with enthusiasm and measured talent. Can’t ask for anymore.

And as for Trillian – well, she was disposable in the book, and she’s even more so here, played by a woman who isn’t Mary-Louis Parker and clearly can’t get over it. She tries the eye-roll, the halting cadence, the lip bite, the all-lower jaw talking motion. Nope.

Then there’s the Hitchhiker’s text. At times, the movie is slavish to it – the movie’s first joke (a construction foreman’s threat to Arthur) is directly lifted dialogue, the first instance of many. Other times, the movie feeds itself – the flyswatters that spring from the sand to swat people when they have ideas, the Jabba-like Malkovich character, the Brazil-like sequence of form-filling in a Vogan prison waiting room.
They all work, and have no doubt: I was ready with the hook.
In all, they got all three phases of an adaptation right: there is more than enough of unedited scripture for even the most demanding fan; where material was dated (Ford and Zaphod’s base note; the Guide’s user interface), they updated boldly; and what is completely new fits with the old like they were forged together (perhaps they were – Douglas Adams helped with the script before his death).
And then comes Slartibartfast and the Magrethean factory.

I haven’t read huge volumes of science fiction, but in what I have choked down, I’ve come across just two invented landscapes that still astound me. One is the interior of Arthur C. Clarke’s Rama vehicle. The other was the Magreathean planet factory – an unfathomably huge building where the technicians and artists of Magreathea create planets like cars on an assembly line.
Forget about making the jokes funny or capturing the appropriate tone of daffy philosophy – any movie of the Hitchhiker’s Guide was going to live and die on its Magreathean factory.
Full marks. Even in today’s CGI world, the factory floor hit me with as much inspired force as the virtual canyons of Tron in the 80s. And the simple construction cage with the infinite telescoping rails was the perfect vehicle to navigate through it for Arthur and Slartibartfast (played by Bill Nighy in still more perfect-pitch casting, by the way).

I said before the movie came out that all I wanted was a film that was bravely different. Didn’t matter what that was, just as long as it wasn’t a bloodless, dull sci-fi movie draped over Adams’ book.
Picture “Stargate” with jokes – not that.
They did it – the Vogon’s fleet and horrible planet; the Mos Eisley-worthy bar scenes; the Guide’s terrific animations; even the depressive Marvin (and you got the joke right? His body was, to the every curve, a perfect reproduction of a Star Wars storm trooper uniform, only for a fat dwarf).
And a major shout-out to the interior of the Heart of Gold, the white-on-white, half-ship, half-sofa gallery that the quartet rides about in. Best retro-70s/NASA-chic interior since Blur’s “Music Is My Radar” video.
And as for the Heart’s spherical hull – a nod to Kubrick or to the trash collectors of Quark? Any guesses?
The weakest moment of the movie is the first, where the credits roll over a dolphin show set to the dreary, Hitchhiker’s-inspired showtune, “So Long And Thanks For All The Fish.” I approve of the notion of adding some musical elements to this movie – why not? - just not this music. If anything, they should have updated Wonka’s signature tune, “A World Of Pure Imagination.”
OK, so this movie has no answer to the Oompa Loompas. Wonka remains the book-to-movie gold standard. But ‘pure imagination’ is exactly what this movie needed and, thankfully, exactly what it got.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

TV - The Rise, Fall and Rebirth A&E

I remember, not long ago, when A&E was The Smartest Network on TV.
Today, it prominently features "Dog The Bounty Hunter" in primetime. And when you get down to it, isn't that descriptive clause - "prominently features 'Dog The Bounty Hunter' in primetime" - a working definition of "Smartest Network on TV-on-Opposite Day?"
What happened?

That's a question worth reviewing because, as in ice climbing or pictures of yourself in high school, you don't realize just how massive the cliff was until you look back at it.
And I want to discuss two shows currently on A&E, one of which is the most unbearable show on the air, a weekly summation of all that's gone wrong (and no, not "Dog" - can there be anything to say about such a show that its title doesn't already shout?)
But it's the other, brand new show I really want to address. Because I'm teetering on the edge of calling it the best show on TV.
We'll see.

So just a few years ago, A&E had “Law and Order” on heavy syndication as its franchise; the dignified and smart “Biography" as it's trophy show; a long list of smart British imports surrounding them; and the occasional well-produced domestic documentary on chaos theory or Egyptian art or Verdi operas or something.
Maybe no one was watching. Certainly everyone talked as if they were.
First, the network lost “Law and Order” to TNT, a devastating blow. In fact, it was a double gut-punch because, for one, at that point A&E and "L&O" were pretty firmly connected as brands. If you caught a new Law & Order on NBC, you'd think, "hey, the A&E show!" But worse, L&O inspired deep loyalty in millions of the most desirable viewers: smart, spendy. nightly addicts. Law and Order was THE guilty TV fix of the 90s, and probably the 4th best thing about the entire broadcast decade, behind Seinfeld, the Simpsons and James Earl Jones-CNN bumpers.
A&E losing L&O was like NBC losing the NFL, Letterman and Cheers all at once.
What was left? Well, actually, less and less.
Soon “Biography” ran out of interesting people (“next week: Penn from Penn and Teller!”) just about the same time they – idiotically – decided to go daily, and then they spun it off as it’s own channel.
When TLC launched “Trading Spaces,” that made open season on stealing good British shows for American audiences. Goodbye to that revenue stream.
Then, as the coupe de gras, Bravo bought the “West Wing," and promptly gave it the complete "Law & Order" treatment - Monday marathon, three times every other day, the latest one at bedtime, first one's free, tell your friends.
And A&E, like a hard-dumped boyfriend, just collapsed. Today, it's probably the worst network on the air, edging it’s sister in faux-dignity, History Channel. The difference is small but vital: History Channel is War porn, while A&E is literally for snuff fans– true crime of the stickiest sort and lots of it.
“Cold Case Files,” “The First 48,” “City Confidential,” “American Justice.” Dreary, utterly interchangeable “real-life” shows about droopy, work-a-day cops paddling upstream against America’s industry of petty killings. And "Dog."
And the network’s signature syndicated series? “Crossing Jordan” and “CSI: Miami.”
Arts and Entertainment, indeed.
So, trying to stop the bleeding, A&E has taken a couple swings at the ‘Reality’ piƱata in recent season (Hence, the "Dog" show). I’ve been trying to write about one of the resulting shows for a while, because - in now-typical A&E style – it went not just wrong, but incredibly, fantastically, jaw-droppingly wrong and is now the worst show on TV, full stop.
And the other might be – miraculously - the very best.

I am not one to be mesmerized by the grotesque (car wreck gawking, etc), but I’ve been pulled into the awfulness of “Growing Up Gotti” for 3 full episodes.
I’m over it now, but the scars run deep.
The show is a follow-around of the Osbournes-variety, only the subject is someone named Victoria Gotti, who is related, somehow, to John Gotti. Daughter? Possibly. Evidently, she has written some junk novels and now is a 'gossip' writer for a supermarket tabloid. Not that you can tell from the show.
There are no gangsters, crime or underworld politics on display (which might have been interesting). Just a rich, trashy woman with more money than sense and her three awful sons.
Victoria is mid to late 40s and fading fast, with bottle blonde hair and store bought tits, filthy-helacious rich, living in a comicly palatial Long Island suburban house. Every item she owns, wears or covets screams ‘trash with money.’
But taste isn’t everything so, fortunately, she’s shrill, airheaded and ill-tempered, with ZERO discernable talent, skill, income or even interests. Oblivious to her fabulous wealth, she is bored by the world and pissed that it doesn’t entertain her more. She keeps ridiculous hangers-on around her and spends money without thought or purpose.
One of her vanity habits is to employ young, motivated, smart ‘assistants’ and abuse them terribly.
If it sounds like she is a subject ripe for great comedy, then you've spotted the fatal flaw of the show. Either by contract, laziness or just stupidity, the show takes Victoria completely seriously, even though the world clearly does not. The producers seem to think they are the breathless chroniclers of a dynamic, modern woman's (and a single mom!) fast-paced, high-purpose, deeply complicated life.
Only they aren't. Victoria is a crass, deeply ridiculous, embittered and angry bimbo.
The Smoking Gun seems to get the joke. But A&E can't - or refuses - to see it.
The counter-example is the first season of the Osbourne's, a show which understood it was filming a madman running his own asylum. Every episode, the joke - sick as it was - was on Ozzie (who, to his credit, laughed right along).
Not here. In fact, Victoria is actually the narrator and very nearly the entire script of those narrations are witless jokes about her life that, as she reads the script over the pictures, she doesn’t seem to get (“…but then again, going to dinner with me is always a major production.” Make it stop).
And if it was just her, it would be one of the most boring shows of all time.
Sadly, she has 3 sons. Not for a year of house payments would I have bet that you could produce 3 Italian-American teenagers less appealing than the fictional AJ Soprano. Yet AJ is a regular Sonny Corlene next to the Gotti kids.
Alarmingly feminine and in a perpetual state of entitled preen, the three "boys" (as she calls them) spend thier lives sulking, complaining, joylessly consuming and avoiding eye contact with the world.
Perhaps the show's only real hook is the frustration it inspires. As a viewer, you need to see these three DO SOMETHING. Anything - they are rich, young, the kind of silly handsome that attracts silly girls, and have absolutely no responsibilities or discipline at all. The mind simply can't accept that three such kids would be so willfully dull. As each episode grinds to close, you feel compelled to watch another because - SURELY! - they're about to come to life!
But they never do.
In fact, since the entire show – rich, mafia-linked family living charmed life in the Burbs – is an obvious Sopranos cash-in, a viewer finds themselves jonesing for Christa’fa’ to show up at their door, call them sissies, scare them shitless and take their mink coats for gambling debts.
Yeah, mink coats. Teenagers all, they wear fur coats (well maybe – in one episode, one of them gets cheated out of some princely sum for a “chinchilla” coat that Victoria then pegs as rabbit-hide - hilarious) and piles of jewelry valued in the 5 digits.
Issues like school and the future do not ever cloud their fake-tan faces, and they are the worst kind of phony-tough (in one episode, set loose in a water park full of similar teenagers, they leer at girls like safari tourists and appear frightened of other kids their age).
They lounge, stare at themselves in most of their home’s numberless mirrors, communicate by mumbling and opt out of physical labors large and small (in one episode they let their groundskeeper set up their basketball hoop; in another, they watch him carry mattresses by himself out of a needed room).
The groundskeeper, though a silly man, is the only redeemable character. In one episode, Victoria, terrified that some dinner guests will judge her to be low class (imagine!), she forces him to pretend to be an Italian Count. He does, inventing a ridiculous history for himself as he and the obviously-trash-his-ownself dinner guest get wasted together.
I want to drop some quotes on you as evidence to the show’s mindlessness, but really – like Scott McClelland, nobody says anything worth repeating, not even to make fun of it.
A terrible show, the worst non-CSI production currently on the air. Catch it just to see how bad things can be, and to boycott the sponsors.

And then set the VCR for “Intervention” and send the kids to bed. Unlike anything else on TV.
“Intervention” is clearly produced by the same people who do MTV’s always-rewarding Real Life series and its documentary spinoffs (I want a famous face, etc). In those show, the cameras find utterly ordinary people who have one, deep story to tell – the shows have titles like “I’m a Mu Tai kick boxer,” “I’m a binge drinker” “I’m a professional weight lifter” “I’m a teenage parent” (regard the latter: get a copy; show it to a group of 14 year olds; collect your chips when you get to Heaven).
“Intervention” is a clear spin-off – the pacing, cuts, and even graphics are all the same.
Only the people have much bigger problems. They are big-time addicted to something. And at the end of each episode, their friends and family hold an intervention, forcing them into treatment almost – but not quite – against their will.
I’m no behavioral expert, but the four people we’ve seen so far sure looked like they needed it. As bad habits go, they were about 3 exits past ‘pissed it all away.’
In two episodes, we’ve seen shopping (bankruptcy 2 years ago) and gambling ($200,000 in the hole), pain pills (stealing them from her terminally-ill-with-cancer boyfriend) and ‘cutting’ – when somebody slices themselves as a release/fix.
You’ll never see an American Justice ‘recreation’ with as much blood as the cutter spills on camera after a hard, frustrating night out at the clubs.
And the horror of the show, which is its power, is that they aren’t freaks or losers but people who have lost their way, slow by slow, and before they knew it found themselves in an avalanche of addiction.
If you think addiction is ‘weakness,’ watch this show.
In every single case, during moments of mental collapse (a frequent event in these lives), each of them will drop into word-blurting, and out will come the language of pain:
The gambler, stiff with shame, while begging his mom for money: “I..I Hurt!”
The shopper, suffering panic attacks in the car: “This… Is… Torture…This… Is…Torture!”
The pill popper’s pills are for pain.
And the cutter… well, use your imagination.
Maybe each of them, years before and a million miles ago, committed some dubious sin or gave way to some human weakness that started the slide, but the people you meet in this show are no more ‘weak’ or ‘guilty’ of their illness than someone drowning in a river.
The shop-a-holic is an actress who was on “E.R.” for 3 years (the residual checks fuel her habit) – then she had, in effect, a nervous breakdown and never recovered. Now she hides in her house for weeks, emerging only to shop.
The gambler was a child genius, graduating from UCLA at 14. Only he never grew up and drifted into gambling to escape the adult world (I thought it was clear, though the show never said, that gambling was, to his hyper-smart brain, the ultimate ‘puzzle,’ an unsolvable challenge that his ego forced him ever deeper into). He’s gambled away, among other things, his parents’ house (the mileage on his mom and dad’s faces is unexpressable).
The pill addict was an ex-social worker, who used to be in charge of 41 case workers. She lost it all to prescription pills. Her dying boyfriend both enables her and tries to get her to quit.
And the cutter – a young-20s, super cute party girl from Arizona, popular in school, an artist and musician, surrounded by friends who admire her and two strongly Christian parents at home (mom is grounded and miserable about her daughter, and gives the best speech of all I’ve seen at the intervention; but dad is serene in the Lord to the point of callousness. His reaction to the cutting-thing: “your body is your temple in the eyes of the lord. You don’t want to damage your temple, do you?” – thanks, pops).
They all think they are being filmed for a show “about addiction” and each of them freely talk about their horrors.
And then, under the direction of a psychologist, they are confronted, by surprise, by all of the family and friends they have left.
So far, 3 took it well. Two of them had, I thought, a sense of relief, the other just defeat. One wanted no part of it and let everybody know it. Awesome.
It might not be enough to redeem A&E, but it’s the best show on TV.
At least until Laguna Beach launches season 2.

Web Site - Media Matters

in the past 2 or 3 months, nobody has gotten after it like
MediaMatters.Org, the David Brock creation. They are relentless, and
yet so simple - ALL THEY DO is hold the bastards to their own words.
From O'reilly and Limbaugh all the way up to Frist and thems - They get
caught lying and say: "I never said that," and MM says, "Only, you

They're the best assassins on the web.


Thursday, April 21, 2005

Music - Headsprung

How'd I miss this? I've been hearing this tune for a month, thinking
"Summer Definer-candidate" - and then yesterday I put together who's
behind it and almost crashed the car.

This was supposed to be the summer that Ludacrs came back to the
pack, of T.I.'s breakout behind "Bring 'Em Out" (and, truthfully, it
still is) or of 50's second album swallowing the world (and if you
missed 50's House Party on MTV, take a lap).
And here comes rap's Nolan Ryan, throwing high-90s, smokin' the
latest Young Guns, speed-bagging Robin Ventura's head. Unbelievable.
Even in the days before Run-DMC launched the revolution, they said
Ladies Love Cool J - and now their of-age daughters do to. The Great
LL - behind Timbaland's best track work in years - crushes one. His
best effort since the Momma Said-era, which was about the time 50 was
watching the Fresh Prince in his underroos.

And he can't, he can't and he won't quit,

Global Warming

Follow the money. What a great chart.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Movie Review - Africa, true and false

So, two movies I’ve seen in the last week are both set in Africa, though they couldn’t be more different if one had been filmed in Antarctica. Hotel Rwanda is nearing DVD release and Sahara’s sequel is probably already in pre-production, so their time left among us is short. So while there’s a chance to still go see them, let’s discuss whether or not you should.

Hotel Rwanda, you should. And I’ll just say it: you should go see Hotel Rwanda while it is still in the theatres so it makes some money there so other movies like it can get made.
Don Cheadle possesses the greatest “Why Me?” face currently working, possibly the greatest ever. Certainly in the same class as, say, a young C. Thomas Howell (pre-Soul Man) and Don Johnson and almost up there with all-time champ John Cazale before he put up the most amazing career in movie history and promptly died.
Where, afterall, have we seen Cheadle? Getting screwed by life, that’s where – One, he was the desperately honest cop in Traffic whose witness gets killed out from under him and who then takes one in the chest himself; two, as the most unbelievable Caribbean gangster imaginable in After Sunset, where he was so not-menacing that you found yourself rooting for the movie’s ‘hero,’ Pierce Brosnan (another eternally miscast guy) to cut him a break; and, three, in his defining role, as the immortal Buck Swope, the would-be-honest “high end” stereo dealer who loses his chance for a legit life because of his porn career in Boogie Nights.
Don Cheadle has made a great career by playing characters who get less than they deserve and react in the exact way you or I would: half-noble bravery, half-pleading self-pity.
Which is why he is so perfect in Hotel Rwanda. He faces hell on earth first as we know we would – denial and panic - and then as we hope we would – with bravery and action.
That’s the greatness of the performance. It evolves as the movie does and is utterly human.
The greatness of the movie is that the story is true.
I don't want to spend a huge amount of time recounting it because you should learn about it yourself, but briefly: In 1994, a civil war broke out in Rwanda that was like all wars – fought for the rich by the poor – but because it happened in tribal Africa, it was much more so. Powerbrokers convinced the nation’s ‘tribes’, the Tutsis and the Hutus, to slaughter each other. As the movie makes clear, the ‘tribes’ of Rwanda are nothing more than the still-standing caste-system set up by the country’s Belgium occupiers who pulled out decades ago. To call yourself a Tutsi or a Hutu had nothing to do with ancient, or even recent, African tribal history. It had to do with how low or high Belgium’s white people let you rise in their servant corps.
Cheadle plays Paul Rusesabagina, whose European name fits perfectly with his job as the manager (more or less) of a high-end hotel that caters almost exclusively to white foreigners. He is a master of the well-thought-out bribe to keep the wheels turning at the hotel (owned by a Belgium-based corporation). He begins the movie – and possibly ends it – with a vision of himself as above any and all possible native Rwandan issues. He works for a European hotel, catering to European tourists and business people. And they love him. In his mind, he’s most of the way to European himself.
And then the world explodes.
Half of Rwanda’s population begins hacking the other half to death, co-ordinated by a radio station and fueled by their own poverty. And suddenly Paul is left alone – his white guests are evacuated by the UN (whose politically handcuffed Canadian commander, in real life made impotent by UN rules, is bafoonishly played by Nick Nolte), leaving his family, his employees and a growing roster of Tutsi's hiding in the building.
With wit and deceipt, skills he once used to steer his hotel through peace-time Rwanda’s social circles, he keeps the jackalish packs of muarading Hutus at bay for at least a few weeks.
In the end, he helps get nearly 1200 people – children and women, mostly – to safety. The movie leaves no doubt that all would have been slaughtered without him.
It’s a terrific story told with patience, humor and, when needed, unblinking cruelty, and it all begins and ends with Cheadle’s desperation – at first, his desperation to not be seen as an African which becomes a desperation to be with them.

“Sahara,” on the other hand, were you to buy it a beer in an empty bar, would probably describe itself as an ‘action’ flick - but what isn’t these days? In modern cinema, if you don’t have at least one boxing/ju-jitsu match under spinning helicopter blades, you’re pretty much begging for the purgatory of ‘art film’ status. You say your final 10 minutes were actually FILMED rather than spit out of a computer? What is this, “Lonestar?”
Well, Sahara is certainly not “Lonestar,” and while we’re on the subject, I think we’re now far enough along the Matthew McConaughey career-arc to officially declare “Lonestar” as the best movie he will ever appear in – his “Good Will Hunting”-moment – but so what?
Damon is going to die with a 9 digit net worth thanks to Jason Bourne and now maybe McCoughney can give him a run for his money with a franchise based on Clive Cussler’s swashbuckling novel hero, Dirk Pitt.
I read probably 4 Dirk Pitt books – I bet there are close to 10 – in early high school. Pitt was probably invented to be an American James Bond, only instead of being a professional spy, he’s a professional scuba diver with vague ties to the government along scientific lines – all of which, time after time, just happens to be exactly the right background to save the world from a long line of dark geniuses, psychotic tycoons and rogue tyrants (needless to say, Pitt always get the girl, too, though that plot point –scuba expert gets laid - was never as difficult a sell). As a teenager, I found the books immensely involving and readable, if only for the sheer size of their spirit. In the most famous of the series, they raised the Titanic and in general, showdowns tended to be on icebergs or on crashing planes or on space shuttles or something. Lost treaure was usually part of the hunt. All hope would almost always be nearly lost several times over in each book. A key moment of inventive brilliance always carried the day.
Terrific reading for a 15 year old - though I thought even then that the hero, Dirk Pitt, was a bit bloated with Hero-ness. He lived in a hanger full of vintage cars? He knew how to actually fly helicopters? He really carried 30 year old Scotch with him everywhere, even into volcanoes?
And – here was the real stretch - America’s greatest warrior-playboy earned a paycheck from the part of our government whose primary service to the taxpayer is… studying weather?
Then came Tom Clancy, and suddenly being a buff, Scuba-diving weatherman wasn’t good enough to fight evil. What was required was usually a degree from Holy Cross or Annapolis, current subscriptions to Jane’s and Barrons, and lifelong membership in the Republican party. America’s fictional answer to James Bond, it turned out, wasn’t an over-sexed, deep-tan scuba playboy, but Oliver North.
Seriously – what DIDN’T the 80s ruin?
“Sahara” shrugs off most of those bonds, but some things have changed for good, so “Sahara” delivers a blazingly tan McCounghey as Pitt, but he’s not a weatherman but rather – try not to yawn – an ex-Navy Seal who now dives for buried treasure.
The movie starts fantasticly – really, for 30 minutes I thought we had found the new “Ronin” – but slowly disintegrates towards typical ‘blow-up-the-bad-guy’ video game fare.
The plot: At the end of the US civil war, a steel plated Confederate gunboat made a run past the Yankee blockade and was never seen again. The movie opens brilliantly depicting this nighttime run, with hardly a single word exchanged onscreen as anonymous men fight desperately to save their ship – dark and cramped as a tomb - and themselves from unseen enemies, who lob firey cannonballs at them from the fog.
Then you get the credits, which roll over a constant, zooming tour of a modern-day room, where every corner and spare inch of wall is covered with newspaper clippings about Pitt and his sidekick and their past searches for treasure (including the Titanic). As the credits wind down, the camera finds the room’s desk, where we discover that the room is actually on a boat which is even now asea seaching for more treasure.
Which McConaughey almost immediately surfaces with.
Great opening.
However, neither the movie, McConaughey nor anyone else in the movie are given time to breathe as several intricate and worthy plot twists are piled on the screen much too quickly (if Pitt, prowling the Lagos, Nigeria underworld, finds his way to a dark shop in a dark alley to retrieve a dark, ancient clue for the plot’s key dark, ancient mystery, isn’t that worth, say, 2 or 3 minutes of screen time and a few strokes of the creative brush, just to get you in the mood? It gets maybe 30 seconds and you sort of end up thinking: is this Nigeria or New Jersey?)
Escorting McConaughey through out is the vastly underrated Steve Zahn. He plays a re-worked version of Pitt’s constant sidekick, Al Giordino. Here Zahn is Pitt’s exNavy buddy, nearly as much a superman as Pitt himself. And Zahn, a master of the comedy of panic, does his best to keep McConaughey loose. The movie would have sunk much quicker without him.
OK, so Pitt and his crew head up river out to find an Ebola-like plague and, maybe, the lost Confederate ship.
A fun boat-vs-boat gun battle ensues, which leaves Pitt and Zahn on camels, which leads to a gun fight with the local army (that fight, by the way, is actually pretty well executed. I’m always grateful when gun-fighting actors, rather than making pained faces or yelling laugh lines or dropping ‘you’re terminated’ quips, actually act like they want to WIN THE FIGHT. Yes, it’s been a while since I saw a Navy SEAL switch from shooting a rifle right- to left-handed, but their heart is in the right place).
Then the wheels start to seriously come off.
It turns out – and this is just laziness- the ‘villian’ is building some kind of, err, perfect toxic waste disposal machine in the desert (within sight, by complete coincidence, of the confederate gunboat hulk – pure chance!). So to be clear: to this point, our villian has killed off doctors and bought off governments and armies, and generally acted terribly; and Pitt and friends discover that his REAL plot is to… recycle!!!!
Only his huge recycler doesn’t work right, so actually he’s… POLLUTING!!!! Not even on purpose.
And that’s it. That’s the big dark secret at the center of the movie. An ‘evil’ tycoon wants to recycle, but is really bad at it.
(ANOTHER thing the 80s ruined – with the Russians no longer a credible threat, there’s no real reason a white guy would ever be an evil genius, at least not where Americans would care. Where once Goldfinger, Drax industries, Spectre and even the occasional free-lancing communist General threatened the world, we now get incompetent garbage men).
After some fisticuffs beneath some rotors (see above), the tycoon hires out the local warlord and his army to find and destroy Pitt and their climactic showdown manages to directly rip-off TWO Rambo movies, simultaneously. I’ll leave you some suspense by letting you figure out which two.
Still, much goes right early and often in Sahara, despite the dead weight of a sexless Penelope Cruz. This was a role for an SNL girl, not Tom Cruise’s ex. By way of making up for it, the movie surrounds McCoughney with plenty of other fleshy delights: smartly picked classic rock tunes – Skynard, Steppenwolf, Grand Funk – raggedy clothes and glowing backlighting. He’s quite a piece, as Mandy let me know several times during our screening.
At one point, before the strings get cut, McConaughey lets go a clever line which Cruz tries to cattily dismiss, but he volleys it right back with his go-to smile and a Dude-that’s-Wooderson-delivery: “The world would be a whole lot cooler if you did.”
This movie isn’t anywhere near great, but it almost was. I hope they don’t give up on the franchise.


with the release of Sahara, McConaughey has now played, by my count, six memorable roles. Not in six memorable movies, or even six good movies. Six memorable roles.
Here are the names of those 6 characters:

Dirk Pitt
Denton Van Zan
Palmer Joss
Tip Tucker
Buddy Dees

(the last is David Wooderson, but Dazed and Confused’s Wooderson is “Wooderson.”)

Does that not read like the two-deep chart for receiver at Texas Tech? Or possibly the ‘featuring’ section of the credits in a porno movie? Dirk, Denton, Palmer, Tip, Buddy, Wooderson. Awesome.

The only marginal role on that list is Tip Tucker, but don’t underestimate it. Tucker was the crazed trucker in Larger Than Life, the widely ignored Bill Murray comedy about an elephant. Oh well – Western Civ’s loss. McConaughey was absolutely lights-out (not to mention unrecognizable) as the raving lunatic Tip.
The others are: Sahara (Pitt; pretty good), Reign of Fire (Van Zan; not a great movie but under-rated), Contact (Joss; intriguing but flawed) and Lonestar (Dees; I’ll return to Lonestar later).

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


"Now I gotta give a shout-out to Seagram's gin, cuz i drink it and they're payin' me for it."

- a delightful line from last year's Freak-a-Leak, 2004's most inventive and dancable and rap song (some readers may recall I called it as the Coming Thing in March). the song was, you may remember, Petey Pablo's raunchy, miles-over-the-top ode to himself and mysoginy.
spelled wrong, sorry. that line was in the final fade out of the song, literally shouted over the beat as the song ended (between Lil' John yelps).
it was, i thought, the final, hilariously absurd touch to a song of
absurd hyperbole. A rapper claiming that not only does he party so
hard that he needs to give his gin a shout out, but he's such a major
star that a gin maker pays him for it.
i laughed everytime I heard it - which was some percentage of the
350,000+ times the song played on American radio.
I know that number because, apparently, they WERE paying him for it.
It's the newest thing, apparently: paying rappers to plug products.
Pablo was one of the first. McDonald's just got into the biz this
summer. up to $5 per time the song plays on the radio.

Harry Shearer has the story on LeShow this past week: click on "The trades"



Book review

I've just read a superb book, The Emperor of Scent by Chandler Burr.
it's non-fiction and though I can't put it solidly among my all-time non-fiction favorites, it's definetly the most absorbing book i've read in a year or so.

At a time when Malcolm Gladwell's unfocused, vague and even sometimes contradictory 'Blink' is the "It" book of the Spring, this one is the real thing: a tight, witty narrative about a science problem, with a terrific protagonist and - here's the key bit - a fantastic mystery.

The subject is the sense of smell and the search to discover how it works, which absolutely no one knows. We know the other four, of course: Sight (rods and cones), touch (potassium pump), taste (buds) and even sound (3 interlocked bones per ear so delicate that they
arguably prove Divine intent) are all taught in junior high. Duh.

But smell? Err... well, see, you've got the molecules, right, and they float up towards your nose, see, and... errr...
Not a clue.

Burr opens the book with the terrific observation that not only do we not know how it is done, but if you compare it to the other body systems most scientists assume are most like smell (digestion and immune system), we shouldn't be able to smell anything at all.

Now THAT'S how you start a book.

Digestion knows how to digest a set number of things - from turnip roots to chicken wings to wine - because over 100,000 years of evolution, the stomach has developed ('selected' in evolutionary terms) a certain number of enzymes to take down food that ancient man ate.
And the very second you eat something on the list, your digestive system (alerted by taste) goes to work. But since cavemen didn't eat, say, plastic - or metal or a million other modern molecules - the stomach doesn't know how to digest it. ever.
Now immunization, which is opposite: it can fend off anything,
including amazingly complex and virulent bugs, that were utterly
unknown prior to 1900. Or yesterday. You can be allergic - a healthy
reaction to strange substances - to almost anything. But the immune
system takes time - a new, crazy strain of flu enters your body and you
get sick for a week, not from the flu but because your immune system is
hashing out the right strategy. eventually, the immune system figures
it out and rids the body of it.
To sum it up, imagine you ingest two things that were discovered in
the 70s: the Ebola virus and a Matchbox Car. Let's say you swallow a
Matchbox Car and contract Ebola on the same day. It will take a few
days, but your immune system will wage a war with the Ebola so violent
that you might die in the battle. Immune systems go down fighting.
But if you live (or even if you don't), that Matchbox Car will sit
in your stomach, untouched, until... well, ya know, it leaves.
The digestive system either works or it doesn't, right away. The
immune system takes all comers, but it needs time.

Not smell. Hold your nose to a bottle of the latest, most complex
molecule produced by a chemical factory, and you will instantly smell
it. No human could have ever smelled this molecule, or anything like
it, before - so evolutionary programming is out. And there is
absolutely no delay for the brain processing it - so much for the body
engineering a response.
So why does Northern New Jersey smell so bad? What the hell is
going on?

If you want to hook me into your book, that's how you write a first
chapter. And Burr did, so i pressed on.

Enter a French/Italian/English professor (he splits his time between
the three) named Luca Turin who is a biologist but is a life-long nut
for perfume. He writes, on his own, a Zagats-style book about the
world's perfume, just because he likes them and realizes suddenly that
no one has ever written anything like it before. In fact, he suddenly
realizes he is one of the world's leading experts on smells, by
default. He meets perfumers, goes to their secret, huge factories and
the more he sees, the more he realizes that the multi-biollion dollar
industry has no idea how they do it - they produce thousands of random
chemicals and hope they find a dozen that smell good.
And then one day, as he thumbs through some odd, forgotten medical
or scientific textbook just for fun, it hits him like the apple hitting
Newton on the head - he knows how smell works. Now he has to prove it.
And off goes the book.

Turin's answer is - wait for it! - complex. Still, as a book likes
this requires, Burr is very good at breaking it down to basic, "the
electrons are the traffic, the lightswitch is the drawbridge"-level
english. But to give you just the slightest hint, Turin concludes that
smell must be like sight and sound rather than digestion and immune
Here's my farthest dive into science-talk: digestion and immune
response is based on the shape of molecules - in the stomach and in the
white blood cells, the body reads, and attacks, the shape of a molecule
- fine; light and sound are based on waves (of sound and of light) and
specifically frequency - red is 400Khz of light, high-C is 20,000khz of
sound, etc; everyone has always assumed that smell is based on
molecular shape - Turin decides that it must be molecular frequency,
which is - deep breath - measured by how tight a molecule's electrons
are tied to it. OK, that's it for geek-speak.
Using that notion - frequency - it makes perfect sense that a
gigantic molecule developed by Dupont can smell precisely the same as,
say, fresh cut grass. Dupont polymers and grass molecules certainly
don't have the same shape - it would be comparing a mountain bike to a
747. But, if you add up their electrons, just by coincidence they both
vibrate with the same frequency. That's well-accepted chemistry.
And - lookee here - they just HAPPEN to smell the same!!!!
Turin collects evidence like that and then gets into some some crazy
biology-meets-chemistry-meets-physics-meets-perfume geek. I'm pretty
sure i roughly understood all of it.

So it's a good story.
But it's a great book because Burr can write so damn well,
specifically about a subject which is maddeningly difficult to write
about: smell. Over and over again in the book, he credits Turin,
perfume-book-author, with the gift of being able to put smell into
words. But Burr clearly has the same gift.
So you end up reading page after page of wonderfully constructed
essays and description on smells ("an initial note of cumin that
trumpets the arrival, in the background, of not-quite-ripe mango and a
Turkish alley after a strong rain") that, if left to you or I would be,
"like cheese, only maybe like apple." But burr and Turin describe
smells - particularly complex, perfumy smells - like long, intircate
pieces of music or deeply meaningful paintings. Which, really, smell
has every right to be treated as.
(burr recently wrote a piece in the New Yorker about a perfumer for
a major fashion house, which offered a glimpse of this. if you saw
that, this is 300 pages of it).

It's a smart book on just about every level, and if it has a flaw
it's that it sides so violently with Turin's theory over the rest of
the science world. The scientists who believe in the Shape-theory of
smell (which is to say, ALL scientists except Turin) are portrayed as
monkeys. Maybe they are. The case seems strong. but then, the book's
about Turin, so you'd expect that.
Fine. it's Burr's book.

Emperor of Scent. Give it a sniff.