Monday, January 31, 2005
U.S. students say press freedoms go too far
Here's a highlight:
One in three U.S. high school students say the press ought to be more restricted, and even more say the government should approve newspaper stories before readers see them, according to a survey being released today.And later:
Although a large majority of students surveyed say musicians and others should be allowed to express "unpopular opinions," 74% say people shouldn't be able to burn or deface an American flag as a political statement; 75% mistakenly believe it is illegal.What do you even say to something like this?
Saturday, January 29, 2005
Friday, January 28, 2005
Star Expects Demise of 'Star Trek: Enterprise'
Despite a stepped-up campaign by Star Trek fans to save the long-running series, John Billingsley, a star of UPN's Star Trek: Enterprise has predicted that it will not be renewed. Billingsley told the Ventura County Star that the current low ratings for the series and the fact that Paramount will have the 100 episodes needed for syndication of the series spells doom for the series. It returned this season only because Paramount TV, which produces it, agreed to significant budget cuts. However, audience erosion continued. "My feeling is that after all these years, the people who are not watching Star Trek won't start watching," Billingsley said. Meanwhile, fans of the series said Thursday that they hope to raise $14,994 to pay for a "Save Enterprise" ad in USA Today that would run during the February sweeps.
Now I've been saying for quite awhile (since at least the premiere of series IV, STAR TREK: VOYAGER) that this venerable franchise needed a well-deserved rest, but of course the Paramount Powers-That-Be were absolutely intent on strangling the golden goose, and ENTERPRISE's ratings doldrums coupled with the outright disastrous box office of 2002's STAR TREK: NEMESIS may have just about done the job.
Still, if this does in fact turn out to be the swan song year for ENTERPRISE (and, it follows, TREK in general), it would be most unfortunate, as the show has finally found its space legs and is kicking out some powerhouse episodes in the mold of the halcyon Kirk-and-Spock era. It still hasn't reached the heights hit by the best-ever TREK series, DEEP SPACE NINE, but that show was so unique and special that it truly was a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. So what's the point of this rant? I guess I'm trying to say that if you've ever had an interest in STAR TREK but have stayed away from ENTERPRISE (a lapsed TREKKER, if you will) -- it's worth your time (or timer, given that it's on Friday nights).
In a somewhat related note, artwork has been released for the upcoming ENTERPRISE DVD sets, the first of which is due out on May 3rd.
They certainly look pretty, but if history is any indication, Paramount will no doubt continue its long-standing policy of ridiculously overpricing these TREK box-sets...
''America is not ready for a female superhero,'' says CATWOMAN producer Denise Di Novi. ''Men [don't] want to see it — especially teenage boys — and it seems like women don't want to, either.'' Reasons CHARLIE'S ANGELS screenwriter John August: ''Studios think all teenage boys are horny, and therefore want to see a beautiful girl kicking ass. But teenage boys are also kind of terrified of women, so the sexuality drives them away.''You know what else drives people away? Bad movies. No, seriously.
I'm thinking that these two sparkling insights would hold a helluvalot more water if it weren't for the fact that ELEKTRA, CATWOMAN and CHARLIE'S ANGELS were atrocious, atrocious films. Maybe people just have a low threshold for crap. Maybe, god forbid, it takes more than Jennifer Garner in skintight satin or Halle Berry in some kind of S & M-styled fetish gear to get asses in seats?
Anyway, read the EW article here.
Thursday, January 27, 2005
I love how they've even found a way to sub-categorize this type of stuff -- "comedic leftist political satire," or something to that effect.
Regardless, Richard Corliss has written for TIME about as good a piece about the life and influence of Johnny Carson that I've yet seen.
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
Thursday, January 20, 2005
WASHINGTON, DC—Attendees at the Independence Ball, one of nine officially sanctioned galas celebrating President George W. Bush's second inauguration Thursday, will be treated to a viewing of a caged Saddam Hussein, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said Monday. "What better way to honor the president than with a physical symbol of his many first-term triumphs?" McClellan said as Hussein rattled the bars of a cage already suspended above the ballroom where the event will be held. "And I must compliment the planning committee. Outfitting Gitmo detainees with iron collars and forcing them to serve appetizers was an inspired stroke." Ball attendees will also be awarded door prizes, including a basket of nuts, 20 yards of cloth, and a barrel of crude oil.
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
I've now sat through two nights of stunningly awful would-be superstars who are somehow convinced that they are God's gift to America. Why? Well, mainly because their families have told them they're fantabulous singer. You have to wonder what is going through these people's heads. Simon Cowell may come off more often than not as a huge jerk, but how else does one tell these would-be Justin Guarini's that they couldn't sing if the survival of the human race depended upon it? It's really quite horrifying, not only to see, but also in its implications.
This piece from MSNBC.com pretty much sums up my thoughts.
Saturday, January 15, 2005
Friday, January 14, 2005
Although I had some minor quibbles with certain creative choices, by show's end, I was onboard for the regular series. The ongoing premieres tonight on Sci Fi Channel, and mainstream critics are lavishing the kind of love on GALACTICA that I've never seen given to a science fiction show. I think this can partially be explained away by the fact that the original show is considered such a joke in "respectable" circles. Still, it's impressive nevertheless. To wit (courtesy of AintItCoolNews.com):
The Hollywood Reporter says:
For character-driven, hard-edged science fiction, the return of "Battlestar Galactica" can't be beaten. Where the original series cruised in with campy derring-do, this re-imagining of the franchise is "space noir," with actors playing it for high, realistic stakes. Old fans of the series may be a mite disappointed at the changes, but this fast-paced, tense and dramatic hourlong has plenty of choice rewards for viewers and upholds the smart promise of the 2003 miniseries. … The visuals and sound effects are extremely cool, with spaceships rendered as both sleek and dangerous, and the noises of fast-moving fighter ships toned down from the high-pitched whines of the original series. Characters Lee "Apollo" Adama (Jamie Bamber), who is the commander's son; Kara "Starbuck"
(Katee Sackhoff); and Colonel Tigh (Michael Hogan) are all generously dysfunctional and fun to follow. Thrace
Niftily picking up where the 2003 miniseries left off, the new franchise provides solid storytelling … Those who don't frequent Internet chat rooms have missed much of the off-screen drama surrounding "Galactica's" voyage, with plenty of overheated bleating from fans of the original that has gone a long way toward giving sci-fi nerds a bad name. Fortunately, producers of the new show have mostly tuned out the static and stuck to their guns, crafting a very adult series whose principle shortcoming is being almost unrelentingly grim -- though not inappropriately so, given the subject matter. … in terms of top-notch sci-fi fare on a budget, this impressive new vessel flies well beyond its predecessor.
The Los Angeles Times says:
… all of the characters and relationships are deepened in the new show. Far more serious in tone, Sci Fi's "BG" greatly improves upon the bad scripts and wooden acting of the original show (which, admittedly, is part of its charm for some people). The show could use a little more humor, and that may come as supporting players step into more prominent roles, but the first several episodes bode well for a series that should eventually win over fans, old and new.
USA Today says:
Those looking for a more exciting space-adventure alternative to
should be thrilled by the series return of the hit miniseries Battlestar Galactica … revival of the late '70s show — considered camp now, and lousy then. There's nothing camp about this darker, smarter, morally ambiguous update, which again follows the survivors of a sneak Cylon attack as they try to save humanity and find Earth. … The show stresses the sex a little too aggressively, the better to pull in teen boys. Nevertheless, this promising show is more the heir to Farscape than the old Battlestar, which is all for the best. Enterprise
The Arizona Republic says:
… takes itself very seriously. It is the most ambitious science-fiction series since The Twilight Zone. … Friday's series opener is as compelling a piece of suspense and human drama as anything on the major networks. …
The Boston Herald says:
… could end up being one of the best sci-fi television outings ever … An intelligent, attention-demanding, character-driven show, it marks a maturing of the sci-fi series genre. … it's the dense narrative and impressive cast that stand out. The episodes aren't neat little ``Trek'' allegories or tidy ``Stargate'' shoot-'em-ups. The series is more like a sci-fi ``The Big Red One,'' moving through the real and sometimes small emotions and personal interplay of life under close-quarters duress. Crises often play out over multiple episodes of the continuing story line. Sometimes this makes the pacing feel off and the tone flat - until an episode or two later you realize the story was building to some ingenious surprise. This is a show that takes its time and challenges its audience, which is as welcome as it is rare. …
… [the miniseries] caused a huge uproar among fans of the original who seemed to have forgotten just how bad the show was. … now back as a weekly series -- and quite a good one … far darker, a good deal scarier and a whole lot sexier than the original. … loaded with surprisingly strong stuff, including provocative takes on terrorism and the politics of genocide. The special effects are unexpectedly good. And the acting … is light-years better than in the original.
… the new version from producer Ronald D. Moore more than fulfills the promise of his miniseries smash of a year ago. … This is no video game …
People Magazine says:
… there’s more than enough action to keep the show from getting preachy … Unfortunately, the Jan. 21 episode suffers from guest-star casting of Richard Hatch (Apollo in the ABC original), who seems rather rusty as a supposedly charismatic rebel. …
easily the best show the network has put on since "Farscape." … smart, deliberative drama … Two things make this series a vast improvement over the miniseries: Show runner Ron Moore and his writing staff now feel free to dig deeper into the characters, and the show's pace and tone, though still sometimes slow and somber by conventional standards, has been opened up and made more accessible. Lighter moments have been added and the show's scope has grown more epic ...
Unfortunately I don't have Sci Fi, so I guess I'm waiting for season one to hit DVD.
Thursday, January 13, 2005
"On the right" was the columnist Robert Novak, who "in the interests of full disclosure" told the audience he is a "personal friend" of Mr. Williams, whom he "greatly" admires as "one of the foremost voices for conservatism in America." Needless to say, Mr. Novak didn't have any tough questions, either, but we should pause a moment to analyze this "Crossfire" co-host's disingenuous use of the term "full disclosure."
Last year Mr. Novak had failed to fully disclose - until others in the press called him on it - that his son is the director of marketing for Regnery, the company that published "Unfit for Command," the Swift boat veterans' anti-Kerry screed that Mr. Novak flogged relentlessly on CNN and elsewhere throughout the campaign. Nor had he fully disclosed, as Mary Jacoby of Salon reported, that Regnery's owner also publishes his subscription newsletter ($297 a year). Nor has Mr. Novak fully disclosed why he has so far eluded any censure in the federal investigation of his outing of a C.I.A. operative, Valerie Plame, while two other reporters, Judith Miller of The Times and Matt Cooper of Time, are facing possible prison terms in the same case. In this context, Mr. Novak's "full disclosure" of his friendship with Mr. Williams is so anomalous that it raised many more questions than it answers.
What else is there to say when the fourth estate is basically living in the poolhouse of the first estate?
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
If Osama bin Laden does, in fact, head a vast international terrorist organization with trained operatives in more than forty countries, as claimed by Bush, why, despite torture of prisoners, has this Administration failed to produce hard evidence of it?
- How can it be that in Britain since 9/11, 664 people have been detained on suspicion of terrorism but only seventeen have been found guilty, most of them with no connection to Islamist groups and none who were proven members of Al Qaeda?
- Why have we heard so much frightening talk about "dirty bombs" when experts say it is panic rather than radioactivity that would kill people?
- Why did Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld claim on Meet the Press in 2001 that Al Qaeda controlled massive high-tech cave complexes in Afghanistan (news - web sites), when British and US military forces later found no such thing?
Read more at the link.
Monday, January 10, 2005
5 - STANDER
Thomas Jane had his most mainstream role in this year's THE PUNISHER, which was enjoyable enough on its own, admittedly shaky, merits, but Jane's true breakout performance was in this now-you-see-it, now-you-don't movie that registered nary a blip on the public's collective radar. Jane plays Andre Stander, a frustrated captain of police in 1970s South Africa who protests his country's apartheid policies by ochrestrating a string of daring bank heists. The film's disparate elements of heist caper and social commentary are ably held together by Jane's star-making turn. If ever a film deserved to find an audience on home video, this is it.
4 - THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE
In many ways this is the stepcousin to Michael Moore's FAHRENHEIT 9/11 (see below). What makes MANCHURIAN superior to Moore's film in many ways is the cloak of detachment that a summer blockbuster provides. One can choose to see a taut, quick-paced, expertly plotted thriller, or one can look beneath the curtain and see a very pointed criticism of our political process. At first blush, remaking a seminal piece of 1960s paranoia cinema doesn't seem especially well-advised, but director Jonathan Demme and writer Daniel Pyne deftly reshape the material, shifting the focus from McCarthy-era witch hunts to the very real influence of multi-national corporations in shaping United States foreign policy.
3 - SPIDER-MAN 2
I loved the first SPIDER-MAN when it came out in 2002 so I had admittedly high expectations going into the second go-round. I was shocked and astounded to find those expectations not only met, but exceeded. The storyline this time is richer, with greater depth given to the various characters. Another plus: the film's villain (Alfred Molina as Dr. Octopus) escaped the laughably bad POWER RANGERS-style costume that so hamstrung Willem Defoe's Green Goblin in the first film. With SPIDEY 2 and X2, it seems Marvel has the sequel game all tied up.
2 - THE BOURNE SUPREMACY
THE BOURNE IDENTITY came out of nowhere two years ago, providing a taut, enjoyable spy thriller which went on to become the most-rented DVD of 2003. For the second film based on the late Robert Ludlum's spy novels, the filmmakers went deeper into the characters, allowing star Matt Damon to cement his portrayal of a man racked with guilt over his former life as a CIA assassin, and who is lost as to what his new place in the world is. You won't find a bigger BOND booster than me, but I'm hard pressed to argue that the BOURNE flicks aren't better entertainment than 007 has been in a very long time.
1 - THE INCREDIBLES
This one can't get to DVD soon enough.
Disney and Pixar do it again, though I'm inclined to believe it's more Pixar than Disney. Director Brad Bird, who did the superlative THE IRON GIANT in 1999, uses the superhero genre to make some very cogent social commentary on comformity and fitting in. What distinguishes THE INCREDIBLES is that while it has fun with the tried-and-true tropes of superhero-ing, it never mocks the genre, instead poking at it lovingly. Because the film takes its characters seriously, so we take it seriously.
Missed it by that much...
While the above represents my Top Five list for the year, there were other movies I enjoyed that juuuust missed making the cut:
Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx shine in Michael Mann's tribute to LA's nightlife. While the setup, with Cruise as a hired hitman, and Foxx as the taxi driver forced to ferry him around, is solid, it's Mann's trademark camerawork, including his intercutting of digital video, that distinguishes COLLATERAL from a lot of the standard action vehicles out there. Ultimately the film's only weak point is a final act that seems to hit all the rote action movie buttons, an unfortunately banal ending for such a wonderfully offbeat film.
The reaction to THE TERMINAL varied wildly depending on the amount of sugar one could tolerate in his or her diet. I found this Capra-esque fable about a flummoxed foreign national trapped in the internation terminal of an American airport to be absolutely charming. Steven Spielberg seems to be having a ball spinning his yarn, as does star Tom Hanks, and even composer John Williams provides a perfectly whimsical score. It still boggles my mind that this little gem (a $75 million "small" film by Spielberg standards) never found an audience during its theatrical run.
Well, the election's over, and George Bush is still sitting in the big chair, so I guess on one score Michael Moore failed. Still, its too easy and a little unfair to dismiss F9/11 as simply a very loud anti-Bush screed when so much of the film bespeaks a deep love of country and kin.
However, what keeps FAHRENHEIT from entering my top five is what is ultimately the film's greatest weakness. Moore's stridently partisan agenda to unseat the Bush junta (which, don't get me wrong, I have absolutely no qualms with) effectively makes up the audience's mind for them before they've seen one frame of film. However, Moore did succeed in introducing many relevant issues into the public discourse, in the process creating the most successful doc of all time, and that's a victory no matter which yardstick you use to measure.
Coming as it did before the mad rush of summer blockbusters, this Ron Perlman starrer pretty much flew under the radar, although it did well enough to warrant a sequel (the ultimate barometer of box office success). Though the trailers made it seem more like the bastard stepchild of THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, Guillermo Del Toro's super-demon opus proved to have plenty of heart to go with its considerable special effects. The three-disc director's edition only makes this moreso. If you missed this one in its initial release, it's worthy of a rental.
Haven't yet seen, but looking forward to...
Ray, Million Dollar Baby, and Hotel Rwanda
And that's it for this year's list. See you back here next year when we can discuss 2005. Back tomorrow with more political stuff.
Friday, January 07, 2005
Here's the original link.
The big war this year will be over social security, though, as HP reportedly plans to push his grand scheme to privatize the whole schemer. Meaning, basically, encouraging people to gamble on the stock market. Republicans really know how to bear a grudge; they've been pissing and moaning about Social Security since its inception. But here's the thing: Social Security was created to protect Americans from the stock market, following so many of them being financially wiped out when the stock market crashed in 1929. It was intended not to make anyone rich but to guarantee at least some income to citizens in their golden years. The workings of it are fairly simple: we put a small amount of our income into a common pool, and that money accrues interest and pays for our parents' retirement, while the money our kids put in will pay for ours, etc.
The problem with social security isn't the system itself (everyone grouses at least a little about putting money in, nobody grouses about taking the payoff) but with the government's attitude toward it. To the government, it's not money sitting there waiting to be paid back out, it's money going to waste. What nobody in the government - and I mean both Republicans and Democrats; professional Republicans seem to have a violent allergic reaction to any money that can't be invested in the stock market, but it was professional Democrat Lyndon Johnson who thought it'd be a great idea to tap it to help pay for the Vietnam War and other pet projects - can get through their heads is that while the government is the custodian of the fund, it's not their money!
Administrations since Johnson's, including this one, have made a regular practice of embezzling from the social security fund on the theory that they'll put it back before anyone notices. So there's something to be said for protecting social security from the government. But the "private investment" scheme is really a plan to get rid of social security altogether. If people are now allowed to transfer social security input into "private accounts," the money to pay off those who've already paid into social security dries up.
Similarly, since playing the complex, unpredictable and fairly easy to manipulate stock market is akin to playing roulette for most small investors, letting funds earmarked for social security go to the stock market instead is tantamount to funneling that money from not-so-rich to rich, raising again the specter of 1929, when whole lives were wiped out. Republicans always talk like the stock market is The Answer, but the stock market has really become the dark face of capitalism, not much more than a pyramid scheme that has to be periodically deflated to continue, and those deflations always result in a handful of usually already rich investors getting much richer while the vast majority of investors get much poorer.
Which isn't to say you can't win at the stock market; you can win at pretty much any form of gambling, if you're willing to learn all the rules and pay constant attention. But it's a lot of work. You can hire a money manager/mutual fund to do the work for you, but that's money off the top and if they happen to lose all your money for you, well, you're responsible, not them.
Given continued economic shakiness - an increasingly costly war, new warnings of economic slowdown, continued weakness of the dollar against foreign currencies - it's understandable why HP wants social security money out floating around the economy. But given those conditions does anyone really want to risk the futures of the next several generations of Americans against another Black Friday?
Thursday, January 06, 2005
I have to say, the presence of the Academy Award-winning Spacey lands some nice credibility for the film, and is a nice parallel with the original 1978 Richard Donner Super-film, which featured fellow Oscar winner Gene Hackman in the villainous Lex role. Hopefully Spacey won't go quite as far over the top as Hackman did.
This one is definitely shaping up nicely, especially after more then ten years of false starts that saw everyone from Tim Burton to Nicolas Cage to McG attached at various points. If Singer's SUPERMAN turns out half as good as it's shaping up to be, coupled with the early promise of Chris Nolan's BATMAN BEGINS, this could finally be DC's turn to shine at the cineplexes after being thoroughly trounced by Marvel for the past few years. Doubt me? Just look at this past summer, where Marvel produced SPIDER-MAN 2, while DC came to the table with CATWOMAN. 'Nuff said.
More updates as they occur.
Back tomorrow with my belated film top 5 for the past year. Hey, I'm late to the party, but at least I get there.