Tuesday, May 31, 2005

'Throat' Speaks

Anyone with an interest in US politics or the film ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (or both) should find this one of note. Former FBI honcho Mark Felt, now 91, has revealed that he is the mysterious "Deep Throat" who helped Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein bring down the Nixon White House.

The story's been percolating throughout much of the day, and ultimately came down to a confirmation from the "Wood-stein" team that Felt was indeed their source. The reporters maintained that their source had sworn them to secrecy until after his death, and I remember Felt denying he was Deep Throat as recently as '99 (which is mentioned in the linked article), but with the two reporters confirming it, this marks the end of one of history's great unanswered questions.

Friday, May 27, 2005

It's all NEWSWEEK's fault.

So it turns out that widespread abuse of the Qur'an did occur at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo.

My question for Condoleezza Rice: Now that this has come out, is it as "appaling" as the Newsweek story from two weeks ago that first broke this news? You remember, the story that White House spokesman Scott McClellan said was "not accurate" and that State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said was "unfounded"?

Notice also that the amount of major media coverage this new revelation has garnered is nowhere near proportionate to the ballyhoo over Newsweek's retraction a week ago.

It's getting so it's difficult to even be surprised by this stuff anymore.

And to bring this whole thing home, here's an animation from cartoonist Mark Fiore entitled, appropriately enough, "It's All Newsweek's Fault!"

The LAW & Tom DeLay

Here's an interesting bit from the Studio Briefing:
DeLay Outraged by 'Law & Order' Dialogue

House Majority leader Tom DeLay has sent a blistering letter to NBC Universal TV Group President Jeff Zucker objecting to a "slur" against him voiced in the season finale of LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT on Wednesday. In the episode, a detecting investigating the killing of a judge remarks, "Maybe we should put out an APB for somebody in a Tom DeLay T-shirt." In his letter DeLay, a prominent critic of an "arrogant, out-of-control, unaccountable judiciary," wrote, "To equate legitimate constitutional inquiry into the role of our courts with a threat of violence against our judges is to equate the First Amendment with terrorism." He said that the dialogue represented "a reckless trivialization of a serious public issue." Moreover, he accused Zucker of "a failure of stewardship of our public airwaves" and said that the program was "as much evidence as anyone needs for the embarrassing state of the mainstream media's credibility." NBC Entertainment chief Kevin Reilly responded that the line of dialogue was meant to illustrate "an exasperated detective bedeviled by a lack of clues, making a sarcastic comment about the futility of looking for a suspect when no specific description existed. This isolated piece of gritty 'cop talk' was neither a political comment nor an accusation." Zucker did not respond.
And here's a quote from LAW & ORDER uber-producer Dick Wolf on this so-called "controversy":
"Every week, approximately 100 million people see an episode of the branded LAW & ORDER series. Up until today, it was my impression that all of our viewers understood that these shows are works of fiction as is stated in each episode. But I do congratulate Congressman DeLay for switching the spotlight from his own problems to an episode of a TV show."
In case we've forgotten about the problems to which Wolf is referring, just click here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Diversions 'R' Us

I've often made mention here of the dial-a-distraction nature of today's news coverage, with big, media-friendly news stories (usually involving celebrities) often breaking and...not...going...away...at the perfect time to divert attention from other, more pressing concerns. Hell, just look at the Michael Jackson trial, or the Robert Blake trial, or the...you name it. Anyway, Robert Smigel has taken note of this trend as well, based on this "TV Funhouse" cartoon from last week's SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, posted thanks to OneGoodMove.org.

Maher Blogs Back

Yesterday I mentioned lunatic congressman Spencer Bachus, who had a chip on his shoulder about Bill Maher's supposedy-treasonous comments during his season finale. Well, the comedian has blogged a reply, courtesy of Arriana's Huffington Post:

First, I had never heard of Congressman Bachus before this. Now lots of people have heard of him. You're welcome, Congressman, glad I could help get your Q rating up.

By the way, are we sure he's really a Congressman? Maybe he's just a guy with a fax machine. You know how fact checking goes these days.

I could go on and on, but this is too ridiculous, so I'll just say this: I'm not a congressman, I'm a comedian. There's nothing I can really do to help or hurt our troops (although anyone who's watched my shows or read my books in the last twelve years knows I'm a pretty ardent supporter of the military).

But a congressman, there's someone who can actually DO SOMETHING to help our troops. In fact, a case could be made that it's a lot more treasonous for someone in his position to be wasting his time yelling at a comedian. Shouldn't he be training his outrage at such problems as troops not having enough armor? Wouldn't that ACTUALLY support our troops more? And citizens of this country who claim to support our troops should write this man and tell him GET BACK TO WORK! DO SOMETHING THAT ACTUALLY COULD MAKE A DIFFERENCE TO SOLDIERS IN IRAQ!

And by the way, these "comments" were part of a longer, scripted comedy piece in the modest proposal tradition. I can see why administration supporters would want to deflect attention away from the gist of the piece, which was this: now that we can't meet our recruiting goals, maybe it's the people who were so gung ho for this war to begin with who should step up and go fight it. But of course it's always easier to distract people.

Finally, I would direct the Congressman to chapter 3 of my book "When You Ride Alone, You Ride with bin Laden." The accompanying poster shows a soldier, a cop, a fireman, and a teacher, and says, "We Say They're Our Heroes...But We Pay Them Like Chumps."

Maybe that's something else he could look into when he gets done with me.
Nice.

The Future, Conan?

After years of experience peering into the World of Tomorrow with his "In the Year 2000" segment (which remains hysterically funny five years after its sell-by date), Conan O'Brien tells us about the future of television in this article for Newsweek.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Darth Vader: Tool of SATAN!

Stumbled upon this site during my random web surfing:

I'm reasonably certain that this is a hoax, but even so, that picture asking us to choose between Jesus and Luke Skywalker is probably the funniest thing I've ever seen.

And in another example of comic gold:
In this “Final Episode” of the Star Wars, EVIL triumphs using the Force - a greater force they claim than God! This is a Dangerous LIE! This is no mindless entertainment, but an attempt by DEMONS to distract you from your real 75 year mission on planet Earth, to give yourself to Jesus! Do not trust a Yodah puppet from Satan’s dream factory, trust in the Word of the Bible!
And later...
Science fiction fans repent. Your very eternal SOUL depends on your answer.
Come on. That's funny.

Maher Rules: Epilogue

I mentioned Bill Maher's "New Rules" segment from his season finale last week, and it now looks like it's ruffled some feathers with a member of the "Love America or Die" crowd. Namely Spencer Bachus, the congressional representative from, wait for it, Alabama. Yes, I know, shocking. To wit:
"I think it borders on treason," Bachus said. "In treason, one definition is to undermine the effort or national security of our country."
Treason. What a Bozo. He goes on to say in the article:
"I don't want (Maher) prosecuted," Bachus said. "I want him off the air."
I don't know if you heard, congressman, but they've tried that trick once before. Why Maher is even dignifying this vulture's asinine comments with a response is beyond me...

Random STAR WARS Thought...

Having completed the prequel trilogy, I took the opportunity to finish the saga off with the original flicks, and it's amazing that things match up as well as they do. Even more so when you realize how much of the sacred mythology Lucas pulled out of the ether as he went.

While I'm hardly what you'd call an expert on the subject, there's certainly enough evidence out there to suggest that, off the top, Vader was not originally going to be Luke's father, that Luke & Leia were not planned as siblings, and that Obi-Wan Kenobi did not have any prior contact with the two droids, Artoo and Threepio.

That said, you'd never know any of this from the job Alec Guinness does as Obi-Wan in the original film. In fact, Lucas must be thanking his lucky stars every day for the past 28 years that Guinness gave him a performance so rich with facial tics, pauses, and nuanced line deliveries to allow for the creation of two sequels, three prequels, and practically the entire STAR WARS backstory.

The first time Obi-Wan sees R2-D2 and greets him with, "Hello, my little friend," it's perfectly reasonable to extrapolate a past familiarity with the robot, and even the character's later pronouncement of, "I don't seem to remember ever owning a droid" has just enough of an edge on it that it can be interpreted as Ben playing things close to the vest. There's also Guinness' slight pause and momentary hesitation as he tells Luke the "truth" about what happened to his father. Heck, just look at the quick, knowing glance he shoots Vader when Luke sees the two of them dueling.

Talk about the gift that keeps on giving.

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Happy Meal Empire

As if clogging our arteries with their sweet, sweet sandwiches wasn't enough, McDonald's is now rolling out a line of funwear for kids. Diabolical! Morgan Spurlock, the documentarian of SUPERSIZE ME! fame continues his assault on the fast food giant in this article for The Independent.

Also, be on the lookout for Spurlock's upcoming fX series 30 DAYS, which promises some populist fun in the Michael Moore/TV NATION tradition.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

UPDATED - Out in Force

Seems REVENGE OF THE SITH took a lightsaber to SHREK 2's single-day box office record, raking in $50 mil on Thursday alone. Astonishing, whichever way you look at it.

Next up, SPIDER-MAN's three-day total, set in 2002, of $115 million.

UPDATE - Well, when the dust settled, REVENGE OF THE SITH cleaned house and left several box office records decimated in its wake, with a record-setting four day haul of $158 million.

In the end, SITH also claimed the biggest first day ($50 million), second day ($33.8 million), and three day ($124.7 million) takes in history, though SPIDEY's elusive $115 million Friday-Sunday weekend total remained tantalizingly out of reach.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Maher Rules

Bill Maher's HBO show recently ended its season with an absolutely hysterical "New Rules" segment which you can view here. Keep an eye out for the "Chicken Hawk Down" bit.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Recommended Reading

Here's Greg Palast on the hypocritical underbelly of the White House's protest-too-much reaction to Newsweek's since-retracted Qur'an desecration report. Definitely worthy of a read.

Finally, FANTASTIC

Yahoo! Movies has posted the final FANTASTIC FOUR trailer, which made its debut in front of REVENGE OF THE SITH last night. Definitely the best one so far.

Talking Some Sith


Zaki's Review: STAR WARS: EPISODE III - REVENGE OF THE SITH 

“I am your father.”

With those four words, coming near the end of the very first Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, Jedi Master George Lucas accomplished something extraordinary. He was able to transform his charming little tale of a boy, a girl, and a galaxy, into a generational epic of tragedy, loss, and eventual redemption. It was here that Star Wars ceased to be a harmless curio hearkening back to the latter day-Flash Gordon serials, and truly became a saga.

When Lucas made his much-anticipated return to his “Galaxy Far, Far Away” six years ago with The Phantom Menace, the weight of anticipation stemming from a 16 year wait between entries was simply too much to bear, resulting in a film much-seen but little-loved. The disappointment felt galaxy-wide stemmed from Lucas’ inability, or perhaps unwillingness, to tap into the powerful, mythical well he himself had created, choosing instead to focus on the aw-shucks technical gee-whizzery that had made the original Star Wars (before it was known as A New Hope) such a phenomenon, forgetting that it was the film’s heart that made it resonate.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Darth Bush, Episode III

One more STAR WARS article before I see the movie tonight and type up my review.

The Washington Post
has more on the Bush-Sith parallels that have been making the rounds for the past week. Is REVENGE OF THE SITH "the biggest anti-Bush blockbuster since FAHRENHEIT 9/11"? Read the article and draw your own conclusions. Better still, read the article, see the movie, then draw your own conclusions.

(Thanks to Parvez for passing this one along.)

From THE ONION...

Finally, something I can get behind the President on...

Bush Challenges America To Produce The Perfect Romantic Comedy By 2009

The Flushing Flap

Obviously I've been following with interest the news reports over the past week about alleged incidents at Camp X-Ray at Guantamo that saw interrogators flushing copies of the Qur'an down the toilet, placing them on or near toilets, etc. ostensibly to intimidate the inmates. Pretty twisted stuff. Anyway, this led to widespread protests throughout much of the Muslim world last week and led finally to Newsweek magazine (which first broke the story) issuing a retraction yesterday.

I couldn't help but feel that Newsweek's mea culpa sounded suspiciously like they'd been "gotten to" by White House higher-ups, especially given that these accusations are hardly anything new, but I was ready to dismiss that as me being my usual cynical self. As it turns out, Steven Grant agrees with me, as evidenced by his latest column:

...Newsweek's retraction isn't likely to be taken seriously anywhere; stepping up now to say they got it wrong will likely play to the Muslim world as trying to cover the military's ass, while a recent Pew Research poll indicates 45% of Americans believe next to nothing (or less) of what major newspapers publish on major news stories, so the retraction likely won't carry much weight here either, except to give the Pentagon and the White House a way to dismiss the charges, and, by extension, similar charges earlier and in the future.
Read the rest from the always-entertaining and often on-the-money Grant here.

Zinn on Nationalism

Howard Zinn, author of one of my favorite books, A People's History of the United States, discusses the trend of overzealous nationalism and how poisonous it has become. One of the highlights:

Is not nationalism--that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder--one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred? These ways of thinking--cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on--have been useful to those in power, and deadly for those out of power.

National spirit can be benign in a country that is small and lacking both in military power and a hunger for expansion (Switzerland, Norway, Costa Rica, and many more). But in a nation like ours--huge, possessing thousands of weapons of mass destruction--what might have been harmless pride becomes an arrogant nationalism dangerous to others and to ourselves.

Read the entire article here.

The Fur of Frasier

In the first major casting announcement for next year's Matthew Vaughn-directed X-MEN 3, Kelsey Grammer of FRASIER fame has been announced as stepping into the blue fur and 200 IQ of Henry "Hank" McCoy, better know to fans of the Marvel Comics and Saturday morning 'toon as The Beast. Don't know how they'll pull it off, but he's certainly got the voice for the role, if not the body.

Follow the link and see some of the other new characters being introduced in this planned Memorial Day '06 release.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Darth Bush!

Seems that the rumblings about George Lucas using his EPISODE III platform to let fly some unflattering comparisons between the Evil Empire and the Bush Administration may have some merit to them, though if I were to guess, I'd say that whatever parallels might emerge are more a result of mankind's unerring ability to repeat its own mistakes than anything else. Of course the timing of the film's release, not to mention lines like, "If you're not with me, then you're my enemy," make the drawing of such connections difficult to avoid. Still, the one thing Lucas has excelled at when these STAR WARS films are at their best -- something you certainly can't accuse the last two prequels of being -- is tapping into our collective, communal archetypes.

On a somewhat-related sidenote, keep an eye out for my review of REVENGE OF THE SITH this coming Thursday.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Trek's End

And so end the voyages of the USS Enterprise...at least for the foreseeable future. It's hard to believe that 18 years of Trekking all came down to last night. With its two final episodes, STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE signed off of UPN, ending with it an unprecedented 25 season run of televised STAR TREK that began in 1987 with the premiere of THE NEXT GENERATION and continued through DEEP SPACE NINE, VOYAGER, and of course, ENTERPRISE.

In the end, ENTERPRISE was full of much more promise than its execution would have led one to believe, and unfortunately it had more stumbles than successes in its aborted four-season run. That said, I mentioned numerous times during the past year the creative resurgence the show had undergone during this, its final season, and that made last night's affair even more bittersweet.

Of the two episodes aired as the finale, the first, "Terra Prime," was the superior entry, and a much more effective coda for the much-maligned crew of Enterprise NX-01. All the crewmembers got their due, and in an emotional closing, Scott Bakula's Captain Archer helps lay the foundation for what will eventually become STAR TREK's benevolent United Federation of Planets. Archer's inspirational speech followed by the applause of gathered alien dignitiaries brought me back to another crew's emotional farewell, that of Kirk, Spock, and Co. in STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY.

That said, just as Kirk came back for one last hurrah in the underwhelming STAR TREK GENERATIONS, so too do Archer and crew return for the true final episode of ENTERPRISE, "These Are The Voyages..." Conceived by creators Rick Berman & Brannon Braga as a "valentine" for the fans and a capper not just to this series, but the franchise as a whole, the bulk of this outing takes place 200 years in ENTERPRISE's future, on the Enteprise-D of the NEXT GENERATION-era. The storyline centers on Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) turning to a holodeck recreation of the final voyage of Archer's Enterprise to guide him during a difficult personal decision (hearkening back to "The Pegasus," from NEXT GEN's final season).

While it's obvious that Berman & Braga's intent in writing the finale in this manner was to give context to the entire series and make sure that ENTERPRISE retains a place in the future pantheon of TREK, it's still hard not to be let down by "These Are the Voyages...", especially after the superior finale which aired right before it. That said, it was also hard not to get a little emotional with the episode's closing moments, featuring a montage of the famous "Space, the final frontier..." voiceover popularized in the original series, voiced by the three captains of the USS Enterprise: Patrick Stewart, William Shatner, and Scott Bakula.

While it's safe to say, in the greatest of Samuel Clemens traditions, that rumors of TREK's demise are greatly exaggerated, the end of ENTERPRISE is nevertheless momentous in many ways. Whatever form STAR TREK assumes in its next iteration, there seems little doubt that it will be vastly different from the franchise that ran for the better part of the past two decades.

Here's to end of one Trek, and the eventual beginning of another.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Once More at Bat

Another week, another BATMAN BEGINS trailer. This is the international version of the one I posted last week, and I think it's safe to say it's the best one yet.

UPDATED - No Cure For the Bolton Blues

So what has been happening with John Bolton lately? The relative quiet on the news front might lead one to think that the Bush Junta has quietly dropped plans to nominate this fanatic to the post of US Ambassador to the UN. Far from it, as this piece by Walter Williams shows.

UPDATE - Apparently that relative quiet was merely the calm before the storm, as Bolton's nomination has passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and moved onto the full senate, although they did make the unusual move of refusing to endorse him outright.

Darth Bush?

The Huffington Post pointed me to this commentary by John Podhoretz on the new STAR WARS movie and how it apparently betrays an anti-Bush bias. Though I can hardly claim any great insight into George Lucas' thought processes, I don't think it's too far a stretch to say that he's, if not anti-Bush, certainly not pro-Bush either. Despite this, Podhoretz' entire conceit is laughable, hanging as it does on plot intricacies from the preceding STAR WARS films that he has obviously failed to grasp.

Further, he goes on to condemn the MATRIX series for more, you guessed it, anti-Bushism, based once again on a pedestrian lack-of-understanding of those films as well. There's so much going on in the last act of the superlative MATRIX series that to try to sum it up here simply doesn't do it justice, but suffice it to say, Podhoretz's utter misreading of the trilogy's ending is proof enough of the almost-laughable ends to which these people go in their zeal to find hidden digs at their Imperious Leader. We've been down this road once before, of course, with the so-called anti-Bush bias on THE WEST WING.

What really seals the deal for me is Podhoretz closing comment, "both Lucas and the Wachowski brothers reveal with their brainless anti-Bushism the essential cowardly vapidity of pacifism." (emphasis mine)

Now, for maximum effect, imagine that last part being read by Darth Vader...

Dennis the Finished

There was a time not too long ago that Dennis Miller was one of the more incisive, witty comedians out there, but he's been absolutely impossible to stomach since his bizarre metamorphosis into a smarmy 9/11 Republican. Apparently most of America agreed with me based on the ratings for his painfully unfunny CNBC yakker, which were bad even for CNBC. As of Friday, we can stick a fork in this one. Darn.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

From THE ONION...

Scientology Losing Ground To New Fictionology

Blogger Blitz

It seems lately that the rapidly expanding ranks of Celebrity and Pseudo-Celebrity Bloggers are pushing aside the true meat-and-potatoes of the blogosphere -- The Unknown Nobody Bloggers (like me).

The most recent addition to the former is columnist Arianna Huffington, whose Huffington Post just opened up a few days ago. What distinguishes this one is the regular commentaries from a varied cross-section of analysts, ranging from the likes of Walter Cronkite to SEINFELD-creator Larry David. It seems like its going to be mostly one-sided liberal POV stuff, but still worth a look.

And for a humorous take on the "so cool it just became uncool" world of blogs, here's Jon Stewart, courtesy of OneGoodMove.org.

I am your fertilizer!

While we all know how much George Lucas loves to merchandise STAR WARS, maybe this is taking things a little far...

Friday, May 06, 2005

The New Batman Movie

Nope, not BATMAN BEGINS just yet, but if you crossed Batman & Robin with CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, you'd probably end up with "Robin's Big Date." Sam Rockwell and Justin Long are the Dynamic Duo in this very funny short film.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The DAILY News

Jon Stewart takes his INDECISION election coverage across the pond to bring us his take on Tony Blair's impending landslide re-election.

Also for DAILY SHOW fans, look for ubiquitous correspondent Stephen Colbert to get his own DAILY spin-off this fall. Here's a sneak peek.

Moore Money

Slate has an interesting article up discussing the long, winding road taken by Michael Moore and Co. to get FAHRENHEIT 9/11 to the big screen, including some surprising and heretofore unknown revelations about who profited most handsomely from this cinematic hot potato. Definitely worth a look.

The Fall of Frasier

After seeing this on JIMMY KIMMEL yesterday, I just had to seek it out online. It's a clip of Kelsey Grammar having an unfortunate encounter with the edge of a stage. I know I shouldn't laugh but, well, it's pretty funny.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

UPDATED - IDOL Threats

In a follow-up to my IDOL entry from yesterday, I came upon this site (props to Rich Nelson for getting to it first on his blog). I have to say that I find it absolutely fascinatingly -- in a perverse, supervillain kind of way, mind you. Not because someone's out to damage the "integrity" of such a treasured institution as AMERICAN IDOL, but more because someone took the time to think this thing up, and it actually seems to be working!

Seriously, this is like something Dr. Evil would come up with.

UPDATE - Looks like the Fox lawyers got to the brave souls who were spearheading the "Vote for the Worst" campaign, as all traces of it seem to have been wiped off the web. That said, I wonder if the past week saw them gain enough traction to keep their mad quest going.

Z Marks the Spot

I thoroughly enjoyed Antonio Banderas' swashbuckler THE MASK OF ZORRO when it was released back in '98, so I was pleasantly surprised to hear that they were coming out with a sequel so many years after the fact. It looks like all the major players, including Catherine Zeta-Jones, have returned for this entry, though Steven Spielberg and his Amblin Entertainment (who co-produced the previous film) are conspicuous in their absence.

Based on the new teaser trailer, THE LEGEND OF ZORRO looks like an enjoyable enough romp, though my Spidey-sense did begin to tingle at the inclusion of the token "smart alec kid." This one seems to have come out of the same lab where they grew that kid from THE MUMMY RETURNS.

You'll see what I mean when you watch the clip.

Monday, May 02, 2005

A Hero Falls

The official STAR WARS site has posted a very nice music video pairing John Williams' theme from EPISODE III, "Battle of the Heroes," with clips from the movie. Though it's mostly comprised of shots from the two trailers, there are some snippets in there we haven't seen before, and the music is appropriately grandiose and "Wagnerian."

Recommended Reading

Here's Frank Rich on South Park, Terry Shiavo, and the Reign of the Theocrats.