Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Andy Hallett, RIP

Some extremely sad news this morning that Andy Hallett, best known as the empathic lounge lizard Lorne on the series Angel died Sunday of a heart attack. Hallett brilliantly imbued his character with equal parts humor and pathos, especially challenging when you consider the makeup appliances he had to act under, and Lorne's final scene in the Angel finale back in '04 (has it really been five years?) remains especially poignant. Nothing much I can really add, except that I loved him on the show, and 33 is far, far too young.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Maurice Jarre, RIP

The first time I heard of Maurice Jarre was with his majestic and sweeping musical score for Moustapha Akkad's 1976 religious epic The Message. This was probably sometime in the mid-'80s, so I was probably around six or seven years old when I saw it . Even at that young age, I knew there was something tremendous about this man's music, such that I committed his name to memory.

It was only later that I realized the full breadth and scope of Jarre's contribution to the world of film music, ranging from the distinctive themes from Dr. Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia to the bombast of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome to the tragedy-tinged reworking of "Unchained Melody" in Ghost. These were, of course, only the barest hint of his mammoth filmography.

Jarre, who passed away this weekend at 84 after a bout with cancer, was among the last of the old school maestros such as Elmer Bernstein and Miklos Rozsa and Bernard Hermann, all of whom put such a distinctive sonic stamp on the movies of yore, and his death signals the end of yet another chapter in Hollywood history.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Why Hollywood Sucks

After the tragedy of X-Men: The Last Stand, pretty much anything else Twentieth Century Fox does to the X-franchise amounts to bird droppings on top of an eight car pileup, but this one still takes the cake.

I'd heard awhile ago that Ryan Reynolds had been cast as Wade Wilson, known to comic readers as Deadpool, in the upcoming Wolverine prequel flick that serves as a de facto X-Men 4. For some reference, this is what the four-color version of the character looks like:

And this is Reynolds from the footage we've seen so far.

Okay, not exactly a one-to-one translation, but this being the movies, you naturally expect a few changes in the transition between media. Not having a huge investment in the character anyway, I pretty much left it at that.

That is, until I visited Wal-Mart yesterday and saw this in the toy aisle:

Apparently the "Wade Wilson" that Reynolds plays is merely a preamble to the "Deadpool" depicted in plastic form above. What chain of causation led Twentieth Century Fox from gun toting masked man to shirtless, scarred...uh, blade-handed guy is anyone's guess. Also, his mouth has been stitched shut, meaning the guy known as "The Merc With the Mouth" has no mouth.

When you think about it, it's a pretty low hurdle to clear when the mere presence of a mouth is 100% more faithful to the character than, y'know, not having a mouth. Amazingly enough, the folks at Fox (I'm looking at you, Tom Rothman) have chosen the latter option, leaving us with neither "Merc" nor "Mouth." Brilliant.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Co-blah

And here we are yet again, rubbing our foreheads over the live action G.I. Joe flick. Although the PR flacks at Paramount have been pretty good about releasing posed publicity stills of most of the main characters in the ensemble, the one conspicuous absence has been the Big Bad of the Joe "mythology" -- Cobra Commander. Until now, that is. It appears, finally, that our ship has come in.

Now, in case you're going by the '80s toyline/comic/cartoon show and are expecting the movie to serve up something like this:

Or this:

Or perhaps even this:

...Well, prepare to revise expectations downward. Like, way downward. Like, this downward:

What. The. Hell.

Chalk this one up to the infinite wisdom of Joe producer Lorenzo DiBonaventura, who feels the '80s version is a little "much," but apparently thinks the movie's take is the height of subtlety. Click on the pic for an embiggened view (if you must).

Now, rather than work myself into an apoplexy trying to sum up what a friggin' atrocity this thing is, I'll let the folks at Topless Robot do some of the heavy lifting on my behalf:
As per this figure, the live-action G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra movie version of Cobra Commander is:
  • WEARING A SLEEVELESS TRENCHCOAT.
  • HAS TUBES CONNECTING HIS HEAD AND CHEST, TO EITHER TRANSPORT CHEST JUICE TO HIS SKULL, OR SKULL JUICE TO HIS CHEST.
  • AND HIS HEAD IS A GIANT CRUNCH BERRY.
Yeah, I'd say that about covers it. Oh, and he's played by the kid from Third Rock From the Sun. They forgot that one.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Recommended Reading

Matt Taibbi has an extended, in-depth look at the current financial mess, specifically the whole AIG situation, and his conclusions are somewhat discouraging.

The short version:
As complex as all the finances are, the politics aren't hard to follow. By creating an urgent crisis that can only be solved by those fluent in a language too complex for ordinary people to understand, the Wall Street crowd has turned the vast majority of Americans into non-participants in their own political future. There is a reason it used to be a crime in the Confederate states to teach a slave to read: Literacy is power. In the age of the CDS and CDO, most of us are financial illiterates. By making an already too-complex economy even more complex, Wall Street has used the crisis to effect a historic, revolutionary change in our political system — transforming a democracy into a two-tiered state, one with plugged-in financial bureaucrats above and clueless customers below.
The slightly shorter version:
...we're officially, royally fucked.
There's more fun and frivolity at the link above, and the entire article is well worth a read the whole way through.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sick.

Dead Palestinian babies and bombed mosques - IDF fashion 2009
Dead babies, mothers weeping on their children's graves, a gun aimed at a child and bombed-out mosques - these are a few examples of the images Israel Defense Forces soldiers design these days to print on shirts they order to mark the end of training, or of field duty. The slogans accompanying the drawings are not exactly anemic either: A T-shirt for infantry snipers bears the inscription "Better use Durex," next to a picture of a dead Palestinian baby, with his weeping mother and a teddy bear beside him. A sharpshooter's T-shirt from the Givati Brigade's Shaked battalion shows a pregnant Palestinian woman with a bull's-eye superimposed on her belly, with the slogan, in English, "1 shot, 2 kills." A "graduation" shirt for those who have completed another snipers course depicts a Palestinian baby, who grows into a combative boy and then an armed adult, with the inscription, "No matter how it begins, we'll put an end to it."
Wow. Just wow.

Friday, March 20, 2009

AIGEEZ

Reactions have poured in from all quarters to this week's revelations of AIG's $100 million-plus retention incentives, and rather than end up as another decibel added to the cacophany, I've been content to mostly sit this one out and chew popcorn on the sidelines. Mostly. While naturally the news of these bonuses coupled with the several billions of taxpayer funds keeping the company afloat has led to a few raised eyebrows, the sense I have is that the outrage over this is more of that old political opportunism than actual, y'know, outrage.

Nevertheless, in attempting to take as broad a view of this is as possible, it seems the one thing there's a surplus of in this whole thing is blame. Of that, there's gobs to go around, starting with a lack of transparency on the part of AIG (though, as we'll see explicated below, I hate referring to AIG as as if it's one big monolithic entity) that surely did them no favors, continuing up the food chain to CT Dem Chris Dodd for removing provisions to monitor these bonuses, than lying about it, up to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who apparently lobbied for said provisions' removal, and lastly to President Obama, who, let's be frank, should have known better (and in the case of Geithner, should have chosen better).

*phew*

Now, providing a different perspective from the image of Righteous Populist Indignation we've gotten up to this point, I provide this picture from The Boston Globe of an AIG employee (left) confronting a protester (the other guy) outside the company's offices in Boston:

The AIG employee above is Mike Coyle, father of Sean, and here's the younger Coyle to provide us with some further context:
So here's the full story. While some held signs that supported the "restabalizing of unions" many of the protesters identified themselves as members of the "Socialist Alternative." According to my father, they all looked like a bunch of hippies and homeless people.

The story with the picture is, when my dad was coming back from lunch, the protesters began shouting things at everyone walking into the building. Keep in mind, the building isn't JUST AIG employees. But no one seemed to care, because all them there finger-pointers ain't in possession of the full facts, I reckon.

The guy in the picture was saying stuff like "my tax money's paying your salary!" and "what gives y'all the right to spend my money?" It wasn't until the guy said "you're stealing food out of our babies mouths. . . you'll be sorry" when my dad got in the guy's face and said...

..."listen, you lazy piece of shit - - I got enough of the baby killer crap in Vietnam. Check your fuckin' facts and know what the fuck you're talking about. I EARN every cent I make. You look like you've never worked a day in your life. Threaten me again and I'll break your goddamn neck."

At that moment, the private security hired by AIG's New York office stepped in and pushed the protestor away. When the photo went online and was circulated through the office, my father was sure he'd be repremanded (even though he was never listed by name). To his pleasant surprise, his boss's, boss's boss personally called him and said "I wish you would have socked that guy."

I could tell he was excited. Apparently he's a folk hero within the company as the man sticking up for all the hard-working little guys.
Having known Mr. Coyle for a little while now, let me be the first to assure you that if you got him angry like that, odds are better than even that you deserved it. The point, I guess, is that things are rarely as simple as we like to think (or think we'd like).

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Joe D'oh! - Part II

Word keeps trickling out regarding this summer's blockbuster-hopeful G.I. Joe, and it's not sounding very promising, unfortunately. Garth Franklin over at Dark Horizons was present for a screening of some finished and unfinished sequences, and here's the takeaway, reinforcing the very same concerns I've had for awhile:
Ultimately it is what it is - a Stephen Sommers film. Like Baz Luhrmann on speed, the man is about as subtle as a sledgehammer and so everything in this is huge and explosive in a visually impressive but utterly over the top and often quite silly way.
Bummer.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ron Silver, RIP

Ron Silver passed away this past weekend due to esophageal cancer. Though he'd made an impact on stage and screen over the years, usually playing a steady stream of great bad guys in mediocre movies (TimeCop, ferinstance), I naturally remember him best as political strategist Bruno Gianelli on The West Wing, as he ran the campaigns for both Democrat Jed Bartlet and Republican Arnie Vinick.

Silver had come to new prominence in recent times due mainly to his political conversion in the wake of September 11th, and his subsequent strong advocacy for the Bush White House and Bush policies. Here's what I had to say about Silver back in '05, in the context of a broader discussion about the state of our current political discourse:
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.
What saddened me most when I heard about his passing was the knowledge that I'd never get the chance to have that conversation.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Dick Unchained

Without the "restrictions" of public life to "keep him in check" (that's sarcasm, folks), it seems the former veep has leapfrogged past that Penny Ante Darth Vader stuff he was known for, and entered into comical Mr. Burns-style supervillainy. He certainly had a wowzer of a CNN interview today, hitting the magic trifecta of economic cluelessness, Bush League fearmongering, and of course, undying devotion to the man in charge. Talk about the gift that keeps on giving.

Just like when he came out from his cavern a few days before the election to vocally endorse John McCain (eliciting a loud forehead slap from Big Mac, no doubt), I have to believe that Team Obama is secretly hoping Cheney shows up every couple of days just to mouth off some more.

Recommended Reading

Frank Rich on the Republican quest for new windmills to tilt at, now that our dire economic straits have rendered (mostly) inert the hot button "culture war" issues (guns, gays, God) that they wielded like bludgeons for the past several years and, more broadly, for the past several terms:
Even were the public still in the mood for fiery invective about family values, the G.O.P. has long since lost any authority to lead the charge. The current Democratic president and his family are exemplars of precisely the Eisenhower-era squareness — albeit refurbished by feminism — that the Republicans often preached but rarely practiced. Obama actually walks the walk.
And later:
What’s been revealing about watching conservatives debate their fate since their Election Day Waterloo is how...so many of them don’t want to confront the obsolescence of culture wars as a political crutch. They’d rather, like [Eric] Cantor, just change the subject — much as they avoid talking about Bush and avoid reckoning with the doomed demographics of the G.O.P.’s old white male base. To recognize all these failings would be to confront why a once-national party can now be tucked into the Bible Belt.
Good stuff, and more at the link.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Another Reason To Like WATCHMEN

Simply put, because ultraconservative loon (and rabid Islamophobe) Debbie Schlussel doesn't.

My favorite piece of her foaming "evisceration" of the movie is this gem:
It's 1985 and Nixon is President. We've won in Vietnam. Oh, and Henry Kissinger has a Russian accent. And Ronald Reagan is thinking of running for President in 1988. Wow, isn't that cool that they got it wrong on purpose? I'm so amazed at this "high-brow art" of deliberately getting dates and timelines wrong, you know, just to be "artistic," and get the drooling of the critics. That is sooooo genius. Like way totally cool.
Aaaaand there goes the point, whizzing several miles above Ms. Schlussel's head, doing a figure eight in midair and skywriting as it goes.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Whatchu talkin' 'bout, Willis?


I have to admit, as a native Chicagoan this should be a pretty big deal, and it kind of is, but I mainly did this post just so I could use that header.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mad Man

Lex Luthor (by way of Funny or Die and Mad Men's John Hamm) tries to get a piece of all that federal bailout action.


Sunday, March 08, 2009

Zaki's Review: Watchmen

 This is no crowd-pleaser. And proudly so. Unabashedly, even.

Whatever enthusiasm the opening night audience may have had for director Zack Snyder’s mammoth epic Watchmen when the film began, it was barely palpable as the credits rolled. The throng quietly filed out of the screening room, attempting, no doubt, to puzzle together their own reactions. Certainly that was the case for me. I knew right away that I admired it. It was impossible not to. But I needed to sleep on it before I could figure out whether I liked it.

Well, I did. And I do.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Boldly Waiting

Back soon with my thoughts on Watchmen, but until then, feast your eyes on the third (final?) trailer for JJ Abrams' Star Trek, which sure does make May seem like a long time away.