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