Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Soup Nutsy

Going to be in Chicago until next Wednesday, and while I'll try to hit up the blog in the interim, I'm not anticipating much free time. Therefore it's time once again to put up the universally acknowledged symbol for "Too Busy to Blog": A can of soup.

See you next week.

From THE ONION...

Recommended Reading

Seymour Hersh, the journo who wrote the blistering expose Chain of Command (and was famously referred to as a "terrorist" by Neocon Prince of Darkness Richard Perle) has an insightful new piece up for The New Yorker wherein he examines where the war has been and where it is headed. Especially noteworthy in light of the release of the newest "Strategy for Victory."

The War of Lowered Expectations

In the face of the increased criticism that has dogged their heels incessantly over the past month, Team Bush has unleashed their latest volley agains those critics who say he has no plan for victory: a freshly minted new plan for victory. Of course, the headline immediately underneath has the White House proclaiming that Iraq is likely to continue facing violence for years to come, so the question that immediately comes to mind is: Exactly which part of the "National Strategy for Victory" involves an actual, y'know, victory?

The McCain Conundrum

While the 2008 rumor mill seems to have Hillary Clinton pegged as the Dem candidate for '08 (something I'm not especially crazy about...), the GOP field seems to be pretty wide open, with everyone from Rudy Giuliani to Bill Frist being talked up for a potential run. I've long held that the candidate most likely to get the nod -- and most likely to get elected in a match-up with Hillary -- would be Senator John McCain, who remains popular even now with Democrats and Progressives.

Although I've usually been impressed with McCain's candor and I do find him to be a generally likable guy, I've always been somewhat put off by his willingness to be used by the Bush team whenever it suits their political expediency, dragged out as proof of Bush's wide-ranging suppor within his own party. Witness last year's presidential campaign for proofo f this. The fact that McCain puts up with this is something that has always defied logic for me, especially after he was soundly clobbered by Bush's dirty tricks squad during the Republican primaries in '00, where every smear tactic possible was dredged up by Turd Blossom Rove and lobbed at him.

I've often thought that McCain's a far better man than me to be able to let that pass. However, John Dickerson makes the argument that there's more political pipe-laying at work in McCain's "play nice" policy than any actual love.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

More Morita

Mark Evanier has some charming recollections over at his blog of various encounters he had over the years with Pat Morita.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Pat Morita, RIP


Another cinema icon has passed on.

Anyone who grew up in the '80s has an instinctive response to the phrase "Wax on, wax off," first uttered so indelibly by Noriyuki "Pat" Morita in that seminal coming-of-age movie THE KARATE KID, in 1984.

So effective was Morita in the role of wise handyman/karate instructor/life mentor Kesuke Miyagi that it came as an utter shock to my young mind when I learned many years later that the actor spoke with a crisp California accent, and that he was not, in fact, fresh off the boat from Okinawa.

In the end, Morita received an Oscar nomination for his trouble, and he would revisit his beloved character three more times in the next ten years, most recently in the best-forgotten THE NEXT KARATE KID, wherein he trained a young Hillary Swank (yes, that Hillary Swank).

They recently released new editions 0f the entire KARATE KID catalogue to DVD, and it was indeed a joy to once again take in the wisdom of the wise Mr. Miyagi, as he schooled the more-annoying-than-I-remember Ralph Macchio in the ways of life, love, and leg blocks.

Having viewed those films with fresh eyes and a new appreciation (except for the stunningly bad fourth film), it was indeed with heavy heart that I read the news that Morita passed away today at the age of 73.

Though he had assayed many roles in his storied career, including Arnold on HAPPY DAYS and the wisecracking detective OHARA in the late '80s TV series of the same name, it's safe to say that it is the one-of-a-kind Miyagi for which Morita will be forever remembered.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Zaki's Review: War of the Worlds (2005)

This past Tuesday I had occasion to finally watch Steven Spielberg's alien invasion extravaganza War of the Worlds, starring Tom Cruise. This one had slipped right past me during its initial summer run, and I'd heard good things in the intervening months, so there was a certain amount of anticipation as I popped the DVD into its waiting receptacle.

Like a Bolton Out of the Blue

It looks like renowned UN-hater and new UN Ambassador John Bolton has been living up to his hype, generally trying to strong-arm his fellow delegates by taking his two-bit Luca Brasi act on the road. Can't say this comes as a huge surprise, as Bush's appointment of Bolton of all people to that particular post had all the subtlety of letting a bull loose in a fine glassware storefront.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Recommended Reading

John Dickerson over at Slate.com makes a pretty good argument for why it might not have been such a bad thing for Dick Cheney to be seeking higher office in '08.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Returns!

Tonight's midnight release of HARRY POTTER & THE GOBLET OF FIRE sees with it the beginnings of Warner Bros.' full-court press hyping next summer's SUPERMAN RETURNS. Unlike BATMAN BEGINS, which did everything possible to distance itself from its four cinematic forebears, our first look at Bryan Singer's superhero epic unabashedly proclaims itself the progeny of the Christopher Reeve series, down to the John Williams music and narration from Marlon Brando ("Jor-El"), both cribbed from Richard Donner's 1978 original. I'm sure we'll be seeing a whole heck of a lot more as the June premiere date inches closer, but for now a tease is all we get. So far so good.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Moustapha Akkad, RIP

I'm way late posting this one, but I did want to make sure to acknowledge the sad passing of film director and producer Moustapha Akkad. A victim of the terrorist bombings in Jordan last week, the seventy-five year old Akkad's passing is especially poignant given the work he did.

While he is perhaps best known to American audiences as producer of the ongoing HALLOWEEN film series (a new entry of which he was in the midst of planning), he was also driven by a desire to build cultural bridges with the film medium. To this end, in the late '70s and early '80s, to worked produce and direct a pair of features specifically targeted at combating the prevalent perception of Arabs and Muslims in Hollywood: THE MESSAGE, depicting the story of Islam's early years, and LION OF THE DESERT, about Libyan Freedom Fighter Omar Mukhtar.

Both films starred the late Anthony Quinn, and remain even today some of the very few attempts to create mainstream movies that portray Muslims and Islam in a sympthetic light. Ironically, Anchor Bay released anniversary editions of both THE MESSAGE and LION OF THE DESERT mere days before Akkad's death, complete with behind-the-scenes featurettes and commentary from the now-deceased director.

The man may be gone, but his legacy lives on. He will be missed.

The Right and The Wrong

The past few weeks have been good ones to see some really looney ranting from some of the usual Right Wing ideologues. We've had Pat Robertson telling the folks in Denver that God hates them, we've got Ann Coulter living in a world where Joseph McCarthy is a hero and George Clooney is un-American, and of course one of our favorite blowhards, Bill O'Reilly, recently told the residents of my current hometown, San Francisco, that it's open season if some terrorist wants to turn it into a bullseye.

I'm not sure what has brought out this more-insane-than-usual Royal Flush from the Lunatic Right (once again, as opposed to the Lunatic Left), but it's been amusing seeing the reactions. I especially liked this point made by Bay Area-writer Mark Morford, which is spot-on, as he responds to O'Reilly's hysterics:

Here's the takeaway, the only thing you need to know: Bill O'Reilly is a walking, snorting cautionary tale. For those of us who occasionally tread similar terrain of barbed political commentary (tempered, I hope, with satire and hope and sex and humor and fire hoses of divine juice), he is the Grand Pariah, the threshold, the Place You Do Not Want To Go as an intellectually curious human soul. He is the guy you can always look to, no matter how bad it gets, and say, Wow, at least I'm not him.

In a way, we should be grateful for O'Reilly and Robertson and Limbaugh and Coulter and their slime-slinging ilk. They live in those black and nasty psycho-emotional places, so we don't have to. They show us how ugly we can be, how poisonous and ill, so we may recoil and say, Whoa, you know what? I think I need to be more gentle and less judgmental and kinder to those I love. BOR works an inverse effect on anyone with a vibrant and active soul -- he makes us better by sucking all the grossness into himself and blowing it out via a TV channel no one of any spiritual acumen really respects anyway.

From THE ONION...

Long Awaited Beer With Bush Really Awkward, Voter Reports

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Recommended Reading

Here's a nice op-ed over at The Huffington Post by actor John Cusack of all people, wherein he opines on everything from Bush Jr. to Jon Stewart. Worth a read.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

WING Goes Live

I've been meaning to post this one for awhile, but life kept getting in the way. Anyone who happened to channel surf past NBC last Sunday at 8 could have been forgiven for mistakenly thinking a political debate had broken out in the middle of November sweeps. Actually it was "The Debate," the much-anticipated live episode depicting the first (and presumably only) verbal joust between WEST WING presidential hopefuls Matt Santos (the Democrat, played by Jimmy Smits) and Arnold Vinick (the Republican, played by Alan Alda).

In a gutsy move for a primetime series that's already down significantly from year-to-year in viewers, the episode eschewed the usual behind-the-scenes wranglings and talk-and-walks that characterize the show. Instead they decided to devote the entire 40-minutes-and-change running time to the two faux-politicos going at each other on everything from health care to national security.

While it's hard not to ponder the mouthwatering possibilities of what the show's departed creator, Aaron Sorkin, would have done with such a tableau, WING writer and sometime political consultant Lawrence O'Donnell was still able to craft a script impressive in both how deep and wide it cast its net, making for television both riveting and thought-provoking. With the two characters choosing to dispense with the negotiated rules, viewers were treated to some actual honest-to-goodness fireworks between the erstwhile contenders, with discussions on some very relevant issues today.

All this made for a debate that was far more real than anything we got last year in the three watered-down sessions between Bush and Kerry, a contrast made only more pronounced with the hour's absolute fidelity to verisimilitude, down to NBC anchor Forrest Sawyer moderating. Ultimately, while all indications seem to be that this is indeed the final year for THE WEST WING (something not altogether unwelcome), its still comforting to see that its not going to go limping off into the television sunset without putting up a fight. While there's no word on when the TV election will occur, the run-up has sure gotten a whole lot more interesting.

The New York Times has a nice post-debate analysis on the episode, which you can check out here, and if you missed it, you can view a clip here, courtesy of OneGoodMove.

Whither Arnold?

As anyone who lives in California and watched TV sometime during the past four months can tell you, this past Tuesday was D-Day for a special election engineered by our very own Governor Schwarzenegger, putting to the test eight new ballot initiatives, including four which the Governator himself spearheaded. In what can be called at best a setback and at worst a stinging rebuke by the electorate, the Ah-nold found himself completely shut out come election night, with all eight propositions soundly defeated.

In addition to putting to the lie the notion that California is a state that's tilting towards the red, these results also throw into serious doubt Schwarzenegger's recently-announced re-election plans. It's hard to believe this is the same guy who rode into office a mere two years ago powered solely by swagger and bravado. Now, far removed from those once-dizzying heights, Schwarzenegger's meteoric descent has been rivalled only by that of George Bush Jr. himself, making for a potent one-two punch of political seppuku. So where does the Governator go from here?

Here are some thoughts on the subject by Michael Hiltzik over at the LA Times.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Orwellian

So prescient was George Orwell's 1984, with its chilling depiction of a dystopic, fascistic future that his very name became synonymous with the concept. Orwellian. It's a term we've heard batted around quite a bit for the past few years, mainly in reference to the "I'm fine, you're fine" view of the world that's painted by the White House, regardless of how stark the contrast may be with actual facts.

Now, with Bush mired in scandal both at home and abroad, we're seeing the Orwellian tactics of his administration more clearly than ever before. Author David Benjamin recently cracked open Orwell's seminal tome and examined some of the more obvious parallels between BushCo and Big Brother. Here's an excerpt:

"History has stopped," explained Orwell. "Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right."

Indeed, this White House, as a matter of ideology, loathes even the suggestion that it ever erred. George Bush is pathologically reluctant to admit even the tiniest goof because, as Orwell says, "... by far the more important reason for the readjustment of the past is the need to safeguard the infallibility of the Party. It is not merely that speeches, statistics and records of every kind must be constantly brought up to date in order to show that the predictions of the Party were in all cases right. It is also that no change of doctrine or in political alignment can ever be admitted. For to change one's mind, or even one's policy, is a confession of weakness."

Check out the rest here.

Friday, November 04, 2005

One Year Later

Well, hard as it may be to believe, today marks one year to the day that I first started this little slice of the Information Superhighway. One year ago Bush was making his victory lap and the Lunatic Right was crowing about how their man had struck a blow for all God-fearing Americans. Naturally I felt that the only way I could respond to this was in the time-honored tradition of all great American patriots -- anonymously, over the Internet. Whaddya want, it's convenient.

Now here we are one year later and it seems like everything Bush touches turns to crap, so I guess there really is such a thing as karma. Naturally a whole lot more has happened in the past year than just that, both personally and globally, but I thought it was worth it at this juncture to pause and take a look back at how this whole sorry enterprise got started. To paraphrase (badly) Walt Disney, no matter how many readers, how many subscribers this blog may expand to, in the end it was all because of one obscenely-privileged idiot son of a wealthy career politician/former president. Thanks GW!

For those of you who pop by semi-regularly, and those of you who've made this one of your bookmarks, you have my undying...congratulations. Let's face it, you have impeccable taste, and I applaud that. If you'd like, leave a comment on what types of stuff you like to see covered here, and what kinds of write-ups you'd prefer never to see again.

Now THAT'S how you do it...

With all the rigmarole of the past week, I neglected to post this little gem from the October 23rd episode of THE WEST WING. In a remarkable (and I'm assuming unintentional) parallel with real world events occurring concurrently in the real West Wing, the storyline on the television show involved the leak of classified information by a high-ranking administration official. The source of the leak was eventually revealed as Richard Schiff's Toby Ziegler, White House Communications Director.

Now, we already know how the real world version played out, with Lewis Libby's indictment, followed immediately by his resignation, followed immediately by Bush and Cheney racing to see who could praise the erstwhile felon more effusively. Okay, now that we've recapped the reality, let's check in on the fictional Jed Bartlett administration to see how they'd handle it.

Through the looking glass, people. Through the looking glass.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Return of the KING

We've seen the teaser, we've gotten glimpses like the one above, and now as we head into the final six week stretch, we get the full trailer for Peter Jackson's highly-anticipated KING KONG remake. For those who came in late, this is the third cinematic go-round for this epic tale, following the 1933 original and the updated Jeff Bridges-Jessica Lange vehicle from 1976.

As you can tell from trailer, this one takes the story back to its 1930s roots, sweetening the pot with some 2005-style CGI effects and the now-trademark Peter Jackson 3 hour runtime. The big question I have is whether there's really 180 minutes worth of meat in what is ultimately a glorified version of BEAUTY & THE BEAST.

I guess we'll all find out together on December 14th when KONG hits theaters.

AARGH!!

Click here if you've got an hour or five to kill and you want to play the most addictive game you're likely to see in quite awhile. Be forewarned that it will creep into the darkest corners of your soul and take up permanent residence. That said, enjoy!

(Thanks to Mark Evanier for initially posting the link.)

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Bird Flu: It's The New Terrorism!

As you can probably tell, I've been avoiding hitting the political beat since last week. Between Libby-gate, Miers-gate, and now Alito-gate, I'm just about gated out. Add to all this the Figurehead's continued freefalling poll numbers, and is it any wonder why the new Booga-Booga of choice, the Asian bird flu, is being used to whip everyone up into a frenzy?

Let's just say the timing of Bush's much ballyhooed "Flu Plan," which we have no reason to expect will go any better than his "Hurricane Plan" (especially considering he's farmed it out to the same gang of incompetents) is...interesting.

The one ray of light I saw this past week was the Democratic-orchestrated move to to take the Senate into a closed session, in a bid to uncover the deceptions that were instrumental in leading this country to the Iraq war. Of course such ballsy tactics could have been better applied, y'know, before most of the Dems voted to give Bush the authority to go into Iraq, but I guess we just have to take what we can get.

Anyway, while the move was perfectly in keeping with the Constitution, that didn't stop the lockstep GOPers, specifically Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist from acting positively apoplectic. Good stuff.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Michael Piller, RIP

Some sad news for fans of sci-fi in general and STAR TREK in particular with the passing of writer/producer Michael Piller at the young age of 57 after an extended battle with cancer.

Piller joined the writing staff of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION during its second season in 1988, and is largely responsible for lifting that series to both critical and popular acclaim. During its final season in 1994, Piller helped guide NEXT GENERATION to an unprecedented Emmy nomination for Best Dramatic Series, something never before or since accomplished by a syndicated series.

Piller also co-created DEEP SPACE NINE, the first of the modern day TREK spin-offs, regarded by many as the best series the franchise has produced. He also was a key figure in the creation of VOYAGER, which premiered in 1995 and ushered in the UPN network.

Though Piller left the STAR TREK office after VOYAGER's second season for greener pastures, he did make one last visit to the TREK universe when he wrote the screenplay to 1999's STAR TREK: INSURRECTION. In recent years, Piller and his son Shawn executive produced THE DEAD ZONE, which continues on USA, based on the Stephen King novel and starring Anthony Michael Hall.

Piller was a true giant in the field, and he will surely be missed.

Tuesday DVD Roundup

Today was pretty much dominated by the STAR WARS monolith. Though it did see a handful of other notable DVDs hitting the stands, there was only one other release that I was interested in...

STAR WARS: EPISODE III - REVENGE OF THE SITH

I was positively bowled over when I first saw this, the final entry in George Lucas' decades-spanning sci-fi epic in its initial run in theaters (you can check out that review here). Has my opinion changed in the months since the film's initial release? Not much at all. While the awkward, awful-at-times dialogue is only more stultifying upon repeat viewings, there's also no question that the emotional core at the center of the saga really becomes only more involving when viewed in context with the other films. Watch them in chronological or numerical order, either way REVENGE OF THE SITH helped to bring the STAR WARS series to a powerful, satisfying close.

This 2-discer doesn't present anything unexpected to those who've already invested in the previous two prequel DVDs. Another Lucas & Co. yak-track, and more behind-the-scenes featurettes, along with the usual top-of-the-line video & audio presentations. Truly a treat for the THX-enhanced.

STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE - THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON

It seems somehow appropriate that the day one sci-fi franchise's final entry hits the digital medium, so too does another. The main difference here is that while REVENGE OF THE SITH was widely regarded positively by both fans and critics alike, and generally viewed as bringing the glory back to the STAR WARS brand, ENTERPRISE's conclusion had the near-opposite reaction.

By the time it limped to its fourth season, with viewership less than a quarter of its premiere, ENTERPRISE was generally perceived as the last desperate gasp of a franchise that was at least half a decade past its prime. While not without merit given the franchise's rapid descent following the conclusion of DEEP SPACE NINE in '99, this is also a view that's terribly unfair given the phenomenal television we were able to get during what turned out to ENTERPRISE's last hurrah.

The first two years of the show, while not altogether uninvolving, remained largely mired in the same technobabble jungle that made the STAR TREK franchise such a drag in recent years, and while season three's yearlong "Xindi" storyline was captivating, it was also curiously disconnected from the rest of the TREK firmament. But for those faithful who stuck through it all, season four was when the show finally dove full bore into the STAR TREK territory.

Between ridgeless Klingons, logical Vulcans, the return of TNG-vet Brent Spiner, and the Mirror Universe, there's more than enough excitement in the 24 hours of this last STAR TREK season for the forseeable future to capture and keep the attention of both Trekkie and newbie alike. While the season (series) finale is an absolute embarrassment (as I mentioned in my initial review here), it shouldn't take away from what ended up being one of the most consistently entertaining years of STAR TREK in far too long.

So long ENTERPRISE, we hardly knew ya.