Wednesday, June 29, 2005

From THE ONION...

Having recently invested a hefty amount into an iPod, this one keeps me up nights...
Dead iPod Remembered As Expensive

VENTURA, CA—A third-generation, 30-GB iPod, serial number AP356372, died early Monday morning at age 2. "I'll never forget all the great music it used to play during my workouts," said the late iPod's owner Sarah Zartman at a brief memorial held over the junk drawer. "It was convenient, portable, and really pricey—almost $500." Zartman said that, had she known the iPod's lithium-ion battery would have such a short lifespan, she might have spent more time listening to it. AP356372 is survived by a BlackBerry.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Good to be the KING

Check out the first teaser for RINGS-master Peter Jackson's upcoming giant monster remake KING KONG here.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Agreeing to Disagree

A few months ago, I saw actor Ron Silver on a C-SPAN interview he conducted with CNN's Jeff Greenfield. Now Silver, a devout "9/11 Republican" is someone whose politics I cannot disagree with more, at least as it pertains to the War on Terror and the Bush Administration. And yet here he was on television being articulate and charming, and I thought to myself, "I'd love to have a conversation with this guy." Not because he made such a strong case for his position that I was moved to change my opinion, but more because I felt such an exchange of ideas could be mutually beneficial.

The reason I bring this up is because of a recent e-mail exchange that I was privy to that makes me wonder if I'm the only one left alive who relishes the idea of opening a dialogue with folks whose views I may disagree with in hopes of gaining a greater understanding.

It all started when a friend forwarded me a news story about actor Denzel Washington's donation of thousands of dollars to a burn center for wounded soldiers. The e-mail I received was followed by this tag from the person who had forwarded it to him:
The question I have is why does Alec Baldwin, Modonna, Sean Penn and other Hollywood types make front page news with their anti-everything America crap and this doesn't even make page 3 in the Metro section of any newspaper.
While I may disagree with the sentiment, it's a perfectly valid question. Now, bear in mind that I was not nor am I a part of this discussion -- I merely got caught in the backwash of the CC list. In response to that general e-mail, I received this general e-mail a few hours later:
The reason being...he did it out of the goodness out of his heart, not for publicity. Sean fucking Penn, Tim Nazi Robbins...they are all about anti-war this and bring the troops home that....BULLSHIT...they want to publicity and to try to use "star" power to get their liveral ass views out. Move to fucking Britain assholes.
I've kept the profanity and misspellings for the sake of my point, which is to ask how one is supposed to have any kind of intelligent discussion about relevant issues when this is the level of discourse we've sunk to. What does it say when it's considered "bullshit" to espouse a point-of-view that's anti-war? What's the rationale there? Heck, I'm still trying to figure out the connection between saying "bring the troops home" and Tim Robbins being a Nazi.

Verily, the mind boggleth.

I suppose what saddens me the most is that we seem to have become so intolerant in this new age of total polarization that we've lost the ability to stomach views different from our own. Further, it's as if we've lost even the desire to come together across ideological divides and work towards solving our mutual problems.

Now, this isn't meant to be a verbal smackdown of the person who typed the above e-mail, who is perfectly entitled to his/her opinion, but rather a more general observation on what place -- if any -- reasoned debate has in our modern society. Instead the focus has turned to winning at all costs, and if that victory comes by way of yelling the loudest, then so be it. More succinctly, we've tossed out the age-old paradigm of agreeing to disagree.

This line of thinking -- the Fox News approach, if you will -- can take us to a dangerous place if we let it.

How can I miss you if you won't go away?

I already mentioned my thoughts on flag burning and overzealous lawmakers, and then, as if on cue, I read this from Steven Grant:

Four more years? Forty? Last week, some of the most right wing representatives in the House introduced a bill. HJ Res 24, to repeal the 22nd Amendment that placed term limits on the office of the presidency. Seems like barely ten years ago term limits was the great cause célèbre of the Right, as they sought to drive entrenched liberals out of office and "level the playing field" by removing the necessity to run against incumbents. In fact, it was the Right who pushed through the 22nd Amendment in the first place, in fear that Franklin Roosevelt, the only man ever to win the presidency in four consecutive elections, would become in essence President For Life, a functional dictator of America.

Apparently that's no longer a concern - then again, the same people so concerned over term limits in the '90s abruptly decided perhaps they weren't such a good idea after they got elected, so it's not like there's no precedent for it - and obviously the main intent behind the bill is a prolonged reign for the Hand Puppet, who would no doubt fly the "stay the course" flag for as long as the war on terrorism went on (decades, so we're were told), and the controversial computerized election machines being shoved into use in every possible venue could heoretically ensure re-election after re-election. A most cunning plan, as Baldrick would say.

I don't expect that something like this would pass, for many of the same reasons Grant goes on to outline, but it's also not too surprising that it's even being given the time of day. It's just an outgrowth of the world we live in.

Big Blue is Back

Batman has already begun, and now the clock is reset in anticipation of next summer's return of Superman. Since production began, BlueTights.net has regularly presented director Bryan Singer's video blogs providing a sneak-peek into the film's production, but this week's entry is especially interesting. The focus this time is on screenwriters Dan Harris and Michael Dougherty (X2), and in addition to some new footage of Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane and Brandon Routh as Clark Kent, we also get a sense for the first time of the movie's scope and plotline.

Getting Flagged

What constantly amazes me these days is how ready, willing, and able Democrats are to roll over on hot button issues. Republicans have become so skilled at playing the Patriotism card to trump any opposition that the articulation of a differing viewpoint, something it's not unreasonable to expect from the Democrats, is noticeably MIA. Oh, there are a few still holding up the flags of dissent, but when DNC chairman Howard Dean is marginalized by his own party for calling out shady Republicans tactics, I'm afraid you need to remind me again why we even bother to have a two-party system.

This symbolic neutering of the Democratic Party continues in full swing as we rush headlong towards next year's midterms. The latest issue on the agenda? Flag burning. Several times in the past fifteen years Congress has put up for vote a proposed amendment to the Constitution that would ban the desecration of the American flag, and several times it's been voted down by the Senate. Of course, now that the Republicans have a simple majority, and the Democrats have lost all nerve, it's likely that the amendment will pass this time.

Now, just to clarify, as a matter of principle I'm opposed to the burning of the flag, if only because it creates such incendiary iconography that whatever political statement might be hidden in there is effectively lost in the smoke. But you have to ask yourself, is this really about the flag? I don't think so, and I don't think anyone would say that it is. Ultimately what's happening here is a way of gagging the First Amendment, of stifling any kind of political dissent, and wrapping it all up in the illusory guise of the Stars & Stripes. It's a win-win for Republicans. After all, who'd dare to vote against it? The lawmakers pushing this amendment are practically tripping over themselves to re-assert their own patriotism, all the while forgetting that the mere existence of such a law is anathema to what America means.

To put it more broadly, doesn't the American flag stand for the right to burn the American flag?

The one question politicos need to ask themselves as they mull over any laws they will pass is, "What happens next?" And it's a valid question. What possibilities does the passage of such a law now open? Once a precedent has been set to ban certain forms of political expression because they may make some of us uncomfortable, we're already on a dangerous path away from those ideals that are supposed to be quintessentially American.

David Morris of Alternet has an interesting take on the place of the American flag in modern social and political terms.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

KINGDOM Gone

Ridley Scott's KINGDOM OF HEAVEN was one of those movies I had every intention of seeing at the outset of this moviegoing season, but it somehow got away from me after that first week, and once REVENGE OF THE SITH dawned, I knew I'd missed my window.

KINGDOM OF HEAVEN is really a bittersweet film for me, mainly because I had laboured intensively over the course of several years on a spec script about Saladin and the Crusades, covering the same period of time and the same subject matter. Naturally all of these efforts were swiftly scattered to the four corners once Scott's film was announced, and with the the film dying a particularly bloody death at the domestic box office, any lingering hopes I might have had about selling my take on the subject have been effectively kiboshed.

All that being said, I've been hearing some very good word-of-mouth on it, especially from those in the Muslim community (one friend even went so far as to say it outpaces GLADIATOR by a wide margin -- something I don't consider very difficult to do, mind you). Any film that deigns to portray Muslims and Arabs as both honorable and noble is not only a rarity, it's also without precedent in the post 9/11 era.

This piece by Robert Fisk details not only his own reaction to the film, but that of a Muslim audience in Lebanon.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Hillary's Old Flame Tells All

I'm no great fan of Hillary Clinton. Not to say I dislike her, mind you. I guess I just don't have any strong feelings about her either way, which is why I've always found it both amusing and puzzling how much of a mad-on the Lunatic Right has for her. The latest example of this is the release of the new book entitled The Truth About Hillary.

While its purpose is ostensibly to "tell it like it is" about the former First Lady, I don't think you need to read too far between the lines to see that the book's not-so-secret goal is to trip up any presidential aspirations the New York senator may be harboring, similar to the way right wing puppet John O'Neill's hatchet job on John Kerry, Unfit for Command, helped bullseye Kerry's chances in the last election.

Now, personally I don't think Hillary would A) be a very good choice, and B) have much of a chance at winning anyway, but that's all beside the point. What cracks me up about this book is some of the "shocking" revelations it purports to expose, like this gem...

Readers will learn from the book, thanks to an interview with fifth-grade boyfriend Jim Yrigoyen, that Clinton can be one tough cookie. The old sweetheart recalled how the young Hillary Rodham had entrusted him with watching over some baby rabbits. He made the mistake of giving one to a neighbor.

"She hauled off and punched me in the nose," Yrigoyen said.

Maybe next they can haul out Hillary's childhood babysitter to tell us the shocking secret of how she enjoyed undressing her Barbie dolls. Is this stuff for real?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Zaki's Review: Batman Begins

What a difference a decade makes.

When last we saw Batman on the big screen, the Caped Clooney had just dispatched a neon-blue Arnold Schwarzenegger, been joined by Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl, and was ready for more camped-out, grotesquely over-the-top adventures.

How far Warner Bros. prized franchise had fallen since its heyday with 1989’s Batman and 1992’s Batman Returns, both directed by Tim Burton. Instead, under the helm of Joel Schumacher, 1995’s Batman Forever and 1997’s Batman & Robin saw the series morph into a garish resuscitation of the 1960s Adam West-Burt Ward television series that forever etched words like “Pow!” and “Zowie!” on the collective psyche.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

X-Tease

I know I've been coming down pretty hard on recent developments for X3, but regardless of all that, even I have to admit that this teaser poster is very nice.

Back tomorrow with my BATMAN BEGINS review!

Dial-A-Distraction

Steven Grant has a new column wherein he discusses some of the events going on in the world that the media is noticeably mum on, such as:

Just heard the Dick on TV discussing the rising number of calls to close down the Guantanamo Bay detention center. You may recall recently the Admin suffered the rebuke of being called a gulag by Amnesty International, which was not impressed by Admin claims that feeding prisoners negated that term; AI chose to focus on it being a prison camp where men are taken against their wills and without any actual charges being leveled against them, and interminably incarcerated, interrogated and tortured at all hours without recourse or expectation of release. Cheney stated "some of these men are living in the best conditions they've ever known in their lives," which I guess means the facility should be reclassified as a spa (perhaps an "involuntary spa"), and dismissed Guantamano opponents as "people who don't agree with our policies." Gee, Dick, y'think? (Do these people ever actually listen to what they're saying?)

I was wondering how far discussion of shuttering the US' dirty little secret at Guantanamo would go before the media found something else to occupy its time. Enter, on cue, Michael Jackson and his "Not Guilty" verdict. I mentioned on Monday that with the impending Jackson verdict we could look forward to media discussion of anything else of substance to effectively be taken off the table. John Nichols of The Nation has come to much the same conclusion, writing on his blog:

The problem with big media's cynical game of feeding the American people a junk-food diet of movie-star romances and showbiz scandals is that eventually perspective starts to get lost. On Monday, a breathless CBS radio news announcer described the Jackson verdict as "the lead story of the day, perhaps the month, perhaps the year."

If that announcer was even remotely right, then America is in serious trouble, because despite what much of the media may choose to make of the Jackson story, this tired little tabloid report is not the story that matters. It is, however, the story that keeps on giving to the powerful players in Washington who would prefer to avoid the sort of scrutiny that is directed at the Michael Jackson of the moment.

Unfortunately, as it happens, there are none so blind as those who refuse to see, and at the moment, that about sums up the American people.

Lane Smith, RIP


The trades had some sad news this morning about the passing of actor Lane Smith at age 69. His death comes less than a week after the DVD release of LOIS & CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN. Smith played gruff-but-loveable Daily Planet editor Perry White on all four seasons of the ABC show.

Although he essayed a wide variety of character parts throughout his career in film & television, he is arguably best known for his roles on the aforementioned LOIS & CLARK and as the villainous collaborator Nathan Bates in V - THE SERIES. Smith had been suffering from ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) for the past few years.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Sore 'Throat'

I think it's about time to stick a fork in all the Deep Throat talk that's been clogging up the airwaves for the past week, and with the Michael Jackson verdict due to be announced any minute now, I'm guessing we've all heard the last on Deep Throat anyway. Still, here's Frank Rich to take us out in style as he discusses the long shadow cast by the film ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, and how it's colored the media coverage of Mark Felt's outing.

Lowered X-Pectations

With X-MEN in 2000 and X2 in '03, I was pleasantly surprised both times not only at the fidelity the filmmakers displayed to the source material, but also the way Bryan Singer and company were able to transcend the comic book roots of the material and actually make good films. In fact, X2 promised much for the sequels that were sure to follow. Then it all came apart like a house of cards. First, Singer and his team (writers Dan Harris & Michael Dougherty) departed for blue, red, and yellower pastures, leaving the X-MEN franchise in creative flux. Now, it seems like the mutants may be headed towards a disaster of biblical proportions -- and that's just behind the scenes.

I discussed some of the turmoil engulfing the third X-flick last week, and now Ain't It Cool News has the full-fledged spy report that sounds the warning buzzer. Though there is some good to go with the bad, there's enough mentioned here to set my Spidey Sense a-tingling. First and foremost, newly-minted CATWOMAN star Halle Berry, easily the weakest link in the X-ensemble for the previous entries, has been moved front-and-center. Then, in a series of shocking moves (which seem more a result of difficult contract negotiations than story necessity), it looks like James Marsden's Cyclops (highlight to read spoilers) is eliminated early on in an utterly unnecessary death, and though the report doesn't spell it out, it appears that Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) also meet their ends in this entry, something that's incredibly short-sighted and ill-conceived if true.

With all this drama, it seems more and more that last week's announcement of Hugh Jackman's deal to produce and topline a WOLVERINE spin-off after X-MEN 3 is a smart move. Jackman has been the defacto star of the series anyway, and by essentially changing the focus to spotlight one star instead of seven or eight, it eliminates another round of complex contract negotiations. That said, based on everything we're hearing so far, I'm wondering if the third film will up and kill the whole thing before they can even get to the spin-off. For all the years I've followed this type of thing, I'm no closer to understanding the idiocy that drives studio politics.

I don't want to jump the gun in pronouncing X3 DOA, but based on what I've heard so far, my gut feeling is that much the same way X-MEN ushered in the Marvel movie boom, this one may well put the kibosh on it.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Recommended Reading

Ted Rall has an excellent piece on the gaping disconnect between the reality being dictated by world events, and the propoganda being doled out by Bush and his point men. A great read.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Blair, Bush, Bullsh**

Here's Jon Stewart on the recent Bush-Blair meet-up in Washington -- including their thoughts on the AIDS crisis in Africa, Global Warming, and, of course, the language barrier.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Recommended Reading

With last week's sturm und drang about Deep Throat, some attention has begun to turn (however briefly) towards how the Bush Brain Trust (many of whom are refugees from the Nixon Administration) have learned the lessons of Watergate and are putting them to good use. Sydney Blumenthal makes note of this in an an excellent piece written for The Guardian:

Nixon's grand plan was to concentrate executive power in an imperial presidency, politicise the bureaucracyand crush its independence, and invoke national security to wage partisan warfare. He intended to "reconstitute the Republican party", staging a "purge" to foster "a new majority", as his aide William Safire wrote in his memoir. Nixon himself declared in his own memoir that to achieve his ends the "institutions" of government had to be "reformed, replaced or circumvented. In my second term I was prepared to adopt whichever of these three methods - or whichever combination of them - was necessary."

But now George Bush is building a leviathan beyond Nixon's imagining. The Bush presidency is the highest stage of Nixonism. The commander-in-chief has declared himself by executive order above international law, the CIA is being purged, the justice department deploying its resources to break down thewall of separation between church and state, the Environmental Protection Agency being ordered to suppress scientific studies and the Pentagon subsuming intelligence and diplomacy, leaving the US with blunt military force as its chief foreign policy.

It's scary how often history tends to repeat itself, and yet we seem to be more blissfully ignorant today than just about any other time in our nation’s history. One has to wonder if a Woodward or Bernstein would even have the same impact today that they did thirty years ago. Read the rest by Blumenthal here.

Taking a Shat

On Tuesday I talked about the saturation of the the TV-on-DVD genre, and right on cue Sony released the cover art for this upcoming release:



Ladies and gentlemen, the defense rests.

(It hits shelves August 9th for those of you who are interested.)

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Tuesday DVD Round-up

Probably the biggest beneficiary of the burgeoning DVD boom has been the TV-on-DVD genre. Studios have been dusting off their archives and issuing box sets with alarming regularity over the past few years, with an equal number of welcome and puzzling releases. Today marks something of a watershed for TV shows on DVD, with a staggering 40 different television-related DVDs being released -- 19 of which are season box sets. And that's on top of the theatrical DVDs being released. While there's a lot of junk coming out, here's a look at what items will be getting my DVDollars:



THE DEAD ZONE - The Complete Third Season


Anthony Michael Hall continues his late-career reboot in the role of troubled psychic Johnny Smith. Now entering its fourth season, THE DEAD ZONE remains one of the most consistently well-written, well-performed series on the air. Hall has so thoroughly made the role his own that he has kicked to the curb all thoughts of Christopher Walken (who essayed the part of Smith in the David Cronenberg DEAD ZONE feature).

A marked improvement from the digressions of season 2, year three contains only 12 episodes, but packs a wallop in its continuation of the series-long arc about the oncoming apocalypse, corrupt politician Greg Stillson (former Young Indiana Jones Sean Patrick Flanery). The great thing about this series on DVD is that it's so affordably priced that owning the entire show doesn't need to induce bank account-draining bouts of panic.



LOIS & CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN - The Complete First Season

There was a time not too long ago (twelve...years...) that LOIS & CLARK was a genuine phenomenon. It was perched firmly in the ratings top 20, it inspired legions of devoted fans, and nary a week went by that stars Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher weren't on one magazine cover or another. Heck, I still remember when steamy pics of Teri Hatcher wrapped in a sprawling Superman cape were the most downloaded images on the 'net. Still, time isn't always kind to these sorts of things, and it was with a mix of anticipation and trepidation that I popped in the feature-length pilot last night. Pleasantly, I was reminded immediately of how good this show was when it worked.

Indeed, this first season is the most consistently solid of the series' four year run, three of which were agressively mediocre. Cheesy special-effects aside, clever writing and a winning cast from stem to stern (including John Shea as the most through-and-through evil Lex Luthor yet) make it clear why this one inspired such a rabid following, making it even sadder when you consider just how stunningly awful the show became toward the tail-end of its run.



STAR TREK: INSURRECTION - 2 Disc Collector's Edition

Let's face it. INSURRECTION, the ninth TREK feature and the third to feature the NEXT GENERATION crew, is crap. Crappy crap. Mind you, it's nowhere near as big a turd as the entry immediately following it, NEMESIS (which answered the statement "Well, it can't get much worse than this," with a resounding "You're damn right it can."), but it's still pretty bad.

Seven years after the fact, I think it's easy to trace the beginning of TREK's recent, pathetic demise to this maddeningly ordinary film. Despite the fact that it features a script from Michael Piller (see THE DEAD ZONE, above), INSURRECTION never feels like more than a padded NEXT GENERATION TV episode. Did the TREK honchos really think a feel-good story about a Fountain of Youth planet was what the audience wanted to see after the intense, involving FIRST CONTACT two years before it? It's this total disconnect between fanbase and Powers That Be that resulted in the snooze-inducing VOYAGER and four uneven years of ENTERPRISE before the franchise (mercifully) sputtered to a halt.

Still, I'm a completist, and that's why Paramount somehow always takes my money.

Monday, June 06, 2005

The X-Games

When director Bryan Singer ankled 20th Century Fox and Marvel's X-MEN 3 to head-up crosstown rival Warner Bros.' SUPERMAN RETURNS, it sent the the mutant franchise into a tailspin. The past week has seen quite a bit of movement on the X3 front, with the departure of previously-announced director Matthew Vaughn just one month before photography was to begin. Of course this was immediately followed by a series of "no worries" press releases from Fox while they no doubt scurried about trying to find a replacement to keep their tentpole pic on track for its Summer '06 date.

While the official word is that Vaughn left to spend more time with wife Claudia Schiffer (and can ya blame the guy?), I've heard from several sources that Vaughn's exit is a result of not only feeling overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of the undertaking before him, but also his making several unreasonable demands to the studio, not to mention a general prima donna attitude, so it's my guess that the parting of way was mutual.

Regardless, the dust has now settled and, following the collapse of New Line's parallel development of RUSH HOUR 3, director Brett Ratner has signed on to sit in the big chair. In one of those kind-of-ironic twists, Ratner is one of the directors who tried -- and failed -- to work out the Man of Steel epic during its tortured ten year-plus layover in development hell, taking the reins after McG and before...McG.

So what does Ratner's hiring mean for the merry mutants? Well, he's always proven himself to be a competent director, but his output so far (such widely disparate films as the two RUSH HOUR outings and the Hannibal Lecter prequel RED DRAGON) doesn't show much of a strong directorial signature, which is what the admittedly persnickety Singer brought to the movies.

However things shake out, there's already a huge cast locked in, with the previously-reported Kelsey Grammer in the role of the Beast, Maggie Grace from LOST as Kitty Pryde, and Vinnie Jones playing the Juggernaut, not to mention everyone we've come to expect from the previous two films (yes, even Halle Berry -- surprisingly). Ratner's certainly going to have his hands full with his huge cast, and I think it's a safe bet that this second sequel will be very different stylistically and tonally from the ones preceding it. Will it make for a better film? We'll just have to wait and see, but my Spidey sense sure is tingling...

Friday, June 03, 2005

Deep and Confused

It's been a light week for blogging, but I wanted to make sure to post this clip from THE DAILY SHOW which discusses the media reaction to the revelation of Deep Throat's identity. As always, probably the most cogent analysis of this whole thing that you're likely to find.