Saturday, August 26, 2006

Paris Is Burning (and Probably Itching, Too)

With the limited connections I have, I knew it wouldn’t take very long for a promo copy of Paris Hilton’s first (and hopefully last) album, Paris, to end up in my hands. Ms. Hilton is seen as the spoiled heiress to her father’s fortune, but I don’t like to think of her that way. I like to think of her as the spoiled heiress to her great-grandfather’s fortune. After all, the family money comes from Conrad Hilton, the hotel founder. Actually, if you want to be even more accurate, her family’s money comes from Barron Hilton, her grandfather, who contested Conrad’s will, in which he was left no money. And to be fair, Barron at least made his own fortune in oil, jets, and credit cards, the kinds of businesses rich fucks do to become even richer fucks. But there’s no denying that, in true Anna Nicole style, Barron Hilton made the most of his wealth by crying in court that he deserved his daddy’s money. Barron’s son, Richard (Paris’s father)…I don’t know, does real estate or something.

But Paris likes to point out these days that she’s made her own fortune apart from her parents. What she doesn’t like to point out is that all of the money she’s made comes from the fact that, as a hotel heiress, party-hopping skank, amateur porn star and reality TV personality (and I use that last term loosely), she’s considered a minor celebrity. Thus, upon opening Ms. Hilton’s CD, the suicidal listener is confronted with a small booklet featuring ads for the fragrance Heiress by Paris Hilton, the Paris Hilton Handbag Collection, PH Watches by Paris Hilton, and an ad for Paris-related ringtones that promises/threatens “more Paris on DVD coming Fall ’06.” So, I think it’s safe to say that Paris Hilton hasn’t exactly taken the chance and made any money from something that requires anything more than simply being recognizably Paris Hilton. And this album, which is nothing more than a requisite commercial venture for a fame-hungry celebutante making all the usual stops (a book, a movie, an album, a TV show, a clothing line, a perfume—I assume marriage and pregnancy are next?), does not need to be mistaken for any kind of musical statement or attempt to be revelatory. It is bland, sleepy, tiresome, uncreative, and unchallenging. In short: recognizably Paris Hilton.

You know what you’re in for right from the insert, which features voluminous credits, a bunch of pictures of Paris looking, as always, indifferent and completely wrapped up in her own mind, but no lyrics. Not that it matters, because the lyrics are probably the least important thing here. The album opens with “Turn It Up,” a Scott Storch production that sounds more or less exactly like the single he’s produced for Brooke Hogan. Seriously, if this is the only work he’s capable of putting out anymore, then a) I don’t know how he had Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter” in him, and b) he needs to shut the fuck up about how talented he thinks he is right now. The first words Paris says on the album are “Yeah, that’s hot,” and this opener is full of childish rhymes like “Move your body/it’s time to party.” What’s especially amusing is that it sounds here (and on a couple of other tracks) like she’s trying to rap. Can she throw down? Of course not, you know that. She makes Kevin Federline sound like Eminem, and Kevin Federline makes Vanilla Ice sound like Outkast. The only thing really striking about Paris’s voice is the sheer number of overdubs to give her squeaky, soft, weak, mouse-caught-in-a-wind-tunnel voice the illusion of fullness. She (and probably other, uncredited professional backups) sounds like she’s been dubbed over six or eight times. The song is about nothing more than how sexy she’s supposed to be. It’s gentle, boring, and soporific.

The second track, also Storch-produced, is “Fightin’ Over Me,” which features guests Jadakiss and Fat Joe, low-tier rappers at best. As you can imagine, the guests do most of the work, with Paris providing something of a refrain. The song, which sounds like some dope tried to do a dream pop version of hip hop, is as forgettable as everything else here, though it is interesting to point out that both rappers are also heavily overdubbed, I guess to make Paris sound more “natural.” This is followed by her first single, “Stars Are Blind,” not produced by Storch. I admit, it’s almost a likable song, but I’m sure that’s because it sounds like some hit factory threw it together so that it sounded exactly like Gwen Stefani on an off day. Paris’s affected voice is particularly hilarious here, and it sure sounds like backup singer Jennifer Karr is working her damnedest to fill in for Paris’s limited vocals. Like almost every song on the album, it’s about fucking and relationships and, the 21st century pop music comeback, defining yourself by how well you live up to a man’s expectations of you and what you’re willing to give up for him.

I suppose it was no surprise to see Kara DioGuardi’s name turn up in the credits. She wrote “I Want You,” which sounds like every other song she’s produced for Ashlee Simpson, Lindsay Lohan, Hilary Duff, or just about any other young woman who has decided she, too, can record an album. Except that it samples Barry Gibb’s “Grease.” Otherwise, it’s a forgettable pastiche of disco. The next song, “Jealousy,” a Storch and DioGuardi collaboration (fitting, since DioGuardi is doing her best to completely destroy pop music, and Storch is obviously a demon sent to help her finish the job), is the expected swipe at Nicole Richie. Yes, like Hilary Duff and Lindsay Lohan before her, Paris has a song completely without irony in which she is sure that the only people who hate her either don’t understand her, are horribly jealous, or just enjoy hating people. Yes, that must be it. She doesn’t even have the grace to put some genuine feeling into her vocals, opting for the cool lack of passion and overdone affectation that she uses on the entire album.

It must be said that “Heartbeat,” another Storch abomination, is nothing but a molecule-thin rewrite/blatant stealing of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” right down to the timing and instrumentation. Storch steals some tricks from Madonna, the Human League, Mr. Mister, and XTC to make it sound less exactly like Lauper, but it’s still a gigantic rip-off, boring and unchallenging as everything else here.

With 20 minutes of my increasingly-shorter life gone by, I saw Kara DioGuardi’s name coming up again and stopped listening to entire songs. “Nothing in the World,” “Screwed,” “Not Leaving Without You,” and the especially over-the-top “Turn You On” all got about 35 seconds of listen before I flipped past them. But when I got to the closer… I am not a praying man. I don’t believe in a god. But I was willing to throw my skepticism to the wind and ask Jebus to make my brain explode so that I wouldn’t have to live in a world where I even remembered this song. Paris tops her ego-driven project by quadrupling the amount of ego heretofore expounded upon. Paris, egged on by Storch, has elected to close her album with a cover of Rod Stewart’s decadence-flaunting “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy.” Remember the Revolting Cocks cover? I don’t hate it so much anymore. I’ve heard Paris. The track sounds like watered-down piss. Like the final act of a Vegas show given by someone who really believes that they used to be famous and beloved, and then woke up one day and realized that they were just Zsa Zsa Gabor (not coincidentally, one of Conrad Hilton’s wives). The tune is sung with the peculiarly smug lack of personality that is one of Paris’s many insufficiencies.

The music and the singer are totally generic; this could be a collection of demos by anyone. In musical terms, Paris deserves nothing more than a life of nameless backup singing. I’ve never said this about any album before, but Paris is literally the most mediocre, unnoticeable, forgettable album I’ve ever heard in my life.

But it could be used to put small children and the elderly to sleep, so maybe that's something. And it's less than 40 minutes long, so it's a short time in hell. If anything can be.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Throwdown 8/25

15 random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.

1. I’m actually depressed by the news that Pluto is no longer considered a planet.

2. This chick from High School Musical, Vanessa Hudgens, is premiering the first video from her new album on Disney Channel tonight. She says it’s “something no one’s ever heard from me before.” Um…so is your name, kid.

3. Jennifer Lopez is apparently pregnant. But didn’t they say she was pregnant, like, four months ago? Isn’t that why she had gray hair or something? Man, you just can’t trust a celebrity anymore, can you?

4. Kevin Federline is bragging about how “amazing ass” his GED scores were. If he’s so brilliant, how come he’s almost broke? Didn’t he pocket two million for Chaotic last year? Motherfucker can’t live for a year on 2 mil? Dumbshit.

5. Speaking of stupid people, the almost-convincingly-lifelike Paris Hilton has lost her account at something called Spoof Card for hacking into Lindsay Lohan’s voicemail. Look, Paris, I understand why you hate Lilo, but don’t you think continuing to fuck up her life on purpose makes you like even more classless and childish than you already are. Will you just get a life and contribute something to the world? Hey, how about you just stick your head in a gas oven and take deep breaths until the pain of being you just stops? Paris’s publicist says that she might not even be aware whether or not she has a Spoof Card account. Wow, when are you idiots going to stop hiring morons to clean up your messes with the public? Or do you just assume we’re all as stupid as you are, and can’t tell when someone is lying?

6. Nicole Richie says her skinny, disgusting, 82 pound body is because she’s overstressed. Jeez, imagine the stress if she actually, like, had a job. Here she is out at a restaurant, which seems redundant.

7. Jessica Alba says that Dane Cook is going to be the next Steve Martin. I have to assume that Cook himself told her that and she’s never seen a Steve Martin movie before. Dane Cook is that guy from The Muppet Show, right? (The joke is blatantly stolen from Peter Lynn. I was just remarking on how funny it was the other day, and saw a chance to steal it. But it’s better than actually looking at that assface and his weird hand symbol.)

8. I know it’s all cool to like Beyonce Knowles, but I really want her to just shut the fuck up now. Does she actually sit down and think, “Hmm, today I’m going to sit and write a song about how a real lady is a slave for her man and does anything he wants her to, never says a word against him, and maintains her body for him”? She is the complete opposite of a feminist; every song she sings is about how she can only define herself by being with a man and what she does for him. It sickens me, and what’s even more disgusting is the way she says things like “Every woman needs to listen to this album.” And the most awful part: women tend to look at women like Beyonce (or Laura Bush, for that matter), who are just enablers for a man’s misogyny, and admire them for having class. What the fuck?

9. Man, Amanda Bynes got so icky thin a couple of years ago, and now she’s getting downright chunky. Nicole Richie, take a lesson. I still love my Amanda. And as I’ve said before, I think she digs me. I mean, you’ve never heard her say she doesn’t, have you?

10. Come on, you guys. Just admit it already. Just be brave and admit it.

11. I think it’s cute that Gwen Stefani wants to act and all, but in a remake of Baby Doll? The whole point of Baby Doll is that it’s her twentieth birthday. Isn’t Gwen Stefani, like, 38 or something?

12. Is this picture “too stimulating”? According to censors, it’s far too much for Japanese youth to see, even as an ad for Harper’s Bazaar. Hey, just because the first time I saw this picture all the blood in my body went straight to my instantly erect cock, I went into anaphylactic shock, died on my own floor, and my ghost had to dial 911 to get someone to come and revive me, doesn’t mean it was too stimulating, does it? I mean, I have high blood pressure.

13. Wow; James Robinson’s letter to Lindsay Lohan really opened the floodgates of criticism. Now mild-mannered William H. Macy is talking about her behavior on the set of Bobby, saying she was often late to the set, she was “disrespectful,” and saying (this is my favorite part) “she should have her ass kicked.” Awesome! Somebody give her to Macy, he’ll straighten the bitch out. Oh, and apparently the cast of Georgia Rule all hate her and a bunch of people just witnessed her punching her assistant in the face. Seriously.

14. The news everyone is reveling in is that Paramount has officially dropped Tom Cruise’s production company, with Sumner Redstone saying “His recent conduct has not been acceptable to Paramount.” Finally, negative public behavior affects someone’s career. For a while there it seemed like any idiot could be famous just because the media said they were. Now if we could just get rid of Paris and Kevin Federline… Anyway, Cruise’s producing partner Paula Wagner is just as crazy as he is; her reaction to Redstone’s above comment was: “Whatever remarks Mr. Redstone would make about Tom Cruise personally or as an actor have no bearing on what this issue is. There must be another agenda that the studio has in mind to take one of their greatest assets and malign him this way.” Don’t you love when people drop the word agenda like that? Are Cruise’s people trying to make this some sort of anti-scientology thing? Actually, Redstone’s remarks about Cruise personally or as an actor have enormous bearing on the business issue. She also says “You need to respect your artists.” Could we not through that word around when we’re talking about Tom Cruise, please? Actually, there’s a very good business reason: Mission: Impossible III is considered a disappointment, and the fact that Cruise is walking away with 20% of the profits (about $75 million) is a huge dent in Paramount’s profits. Plus they’ve got potentially more lucrative deals with DreamWorks, Brad Pitt (whose company Plan B produced the extremely successful Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), and JJ Abrams. The simple fact is that a lot of people were turned off by Tom Cruise’s year-long sermonizing media rampage/freak show of attitude, and his star is now considered on the wane. Why would you want to stay in business with the guy? Paula Wagner called Redstone’s remarks “offensive” and “undignified.” You know what else is offensive and undignified? Jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch like a child, perpetuating a hoax where you and a has-been TV actress have had a baby, and arguing with soft news king Matt Lauer about the history of psychiatry.

15. Man, I know it’s cool to just hate her, but after all these years I still just adore Britney Spears. Even though she snubbed my Jessica at the Teen Choice Awards (Jessica: “I love children. You look beautiful, can I kiss your pregnant belly?” Britney: “Hell no!”) She looks so damn cute. I’m not sure what it is about her, but the pregnant body sure does help, man. And the top hat? Now that’s a way to my heart. I love girls in top hats. It makes me think of the two of us sitting around listening to T. Rex’s Electric Warrior on vinyl in the dark and feeling the breeze. If she wasn’t so preggo, we could get high and talk about Pluto and its weird orbit…man, I’m pathetic, aren’t I?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Cracked Is Back...and Lacks

Well, after several years on hiatus, Cracked magazine is back on the newsstands. The website has actually been up and running for some time, with Jay Pinkerton (late of National Lampoon and one of the funniest guys on the internet) at the helm. You may have also noticed that Peter Lynn’s blog Man vs. Clown has been moved to the Cracked website as well. Why resurrect Cracked, a magazine that pretty much now has a reputation for being nothing but a less-funny version of Mad magazine? A periodical known now for once having run so-so movie parodies and shitty comics with a gentle, mildly amusing bent? According to the editor’s letter in the first issue, “to provide social commentary and clarity in the face of cultural and political challenges.” Also because “there is a need for a magazine of comedy and humor on the newsstand.”

The problem is, Cracked so far has very little to contribute. And there already are funny magazines on the newsstand. Magazines like, for example, The Onion, which the new Cracked heavily aspires to be (read: tends to rip off the style of). Another magazine Cracked heavily riffs from is Maxim, from which it seems to have stolen its entire layout. I don’t know if this is supposed to be an intentional joke, or unintentional laziness. Or intentional laziness, for that matter. I was looking forward to Cracked coming back, I have to admit, because I’ve been enjoying the web content. But as a lame Maxim parody?

That’s really the word for this relaunch of Cracked: lame. It’s not very funny (though there are some funny segments), and it’s not crushingly unfunny (though there are some of those, too), it’s just lame. Weak. As if no effort has been put into the magazine at all. As if the contributors are holding back their A-game until the magazine becomes popular.

Oh, fuck, and those contributors. At least with Pinkerton, you can count on hilarity, and his faux-article “Mexican Boys: Surprisingly Expensive” is one of the highlights of the first issue. And even though I disagree with his takes on Bill Murray movies in the “Laugh Audit” section, at least he’s got opinions on something. But some of the others…Michael J. Nelson is a step in the right direction, but Michael Ian Black? Not only do I think he’s spectacularly unfunny, I mean, unfunny in an epochal way, but I just do no understand people who think he’s funny. Mildly amusing at times, sure, but I got tired of hearing him discuss the many facets of pop culture eight or nine hundred VH1 specials ago. He’s from that annoying school of “humor doesn’t have to be funny.”

And Maddox? I know Maddox is a star on the internet right now, but he bugs me. He mistakes rage for humor, and consequently everything he writes sounds exactly the same. He only alternates between “grrr! I’m a manly pirate who punches babies and eats the rich!” and “I’m mad because the only people who read me are fucking morons!” There’s no observation in there to temper his “Man of the People Who Hates the People” shtick. I got sick of him earlier this year when he decided to turn his one-note ranting skit on bloggers, not managing to disguise the fact that he was merely whining because he was blogging on the internet before it was cool. Before it was called “blogging.” Yeah, Maddox, you’re genuine, like most people who hide behind pseudonyms.

Yeah, I know, I use a pseudonym. But I’ve used my real name on this site many a time.

So, what else is good? Well, there’s a couple of funny articles, including “The 2006 Douchebag Comprehensive Guide” (though pointing out that Tom Cruise is a douchebag is hardly topical by this point) and “The Next Superpower” (although it looks like it could just be a reprint from Maxim or FHM). Most of the magazine tries either too hard or not enough, and most of it is too brief to be funny.

What’s bad? Most of the rest, but especially their Smoking Gun parody, a bizarre and ridiculous painting of Prince, and (don’t hurt me Peter) the comic book parody Fastman. It’s exactly the same as Peter Lynn and Jay Pinkerton’s previous parodies of Batman and Superman (both of which are on the Cracked website). It’s the same problem with Scary Movie 4; in the days of the internet, everyone is done making fun of shit by the time it hits the slow media. Printed magazines are dying off. I would’ve stuck with the website. The magazine is a disappointment. Also, like Family Guy, they’re not really being edgy, they’re just pretending they are by aiming at targets their readers imagine would be offended, instead of the readers themselves. Not exactly daring.

You know, Mad is still on the stands, and even though it’s aimed a younger audience, at least it’s consistently funny. Cracked is for men in their 20s and 30s who are pretending to be intellectuals, who are pretending they like “thinking” humor, but are really just into frat humor. The same people who thought Super Troopers was hilarious and watch Comedy Central regularly. In fact, there’s a good comparison. Think of Cracked magazine as the Comedy Central of humor magazines: it has a couple of bright spots (like 12 or so episodes of South Park a year), it has some bad spots (most of the rest of their programming), it tries way too hard to be clever (the Comedy Central Roasts), to be relevant (The Daily Show), and to be cerebral (Stella), and it kisses your ass for being cool and hip enough to like it. But it fails at most of that and airs shit like Mind of Mencia and The Blue Collar Comedy Tour instead. Now think of Mad as something that’s actually funny.

Actually, the Comedy Central comparison is apt. The first issue features interviews with Carlos Mencia, Trey Parker & Matt Stone, and Rob Cordrry & Ed Helms. Why don’t they just become the official Comedy Central magazine? They’ve already decided that being amusing is better than being funny, so they’re halfway there.

The Daily Show

Since President Bush took office, and especially since 9/11, it’s been taken for granted that The Daily Show is the smartest, hippest late night show in America. Not that there’s much competition, of course, but it was pretty good. Even though it seems to take 25 weeks of vacation a year, it was a pretty up-to-date commentary show. Well, it would talk about things like the Boxing Day Tsunami a day or so late, but still, you get the idea.

Actually, I used to think The Daily Show was hilarious. It’s just that it was hilarious back when Craig Kilborn was hosting and nobody was watching; they took more chances. And it was even hilarious when Jon Stewart took over and all the Kilborn fans abandoned the show. But what started as a funny interview show with a couple of weird, interesting bits, has been blown so far out of proportion that I can’t stand it anymore. It was kind of weird when the media started to suck Jon Stewart’s cock for being so smart and earnest. It was annoying when young people came to believe that The Daily Show was more newsworthy than actual news shows. But now everyone involved with The Daily Show seems certain that the show’s importance is paramount on the political-media landscape, and the tone of the show is just disgusting as a result. I’m not a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, but neither am I a lockstep conservative. I just hate those smug liberal yuppies who go around congratulating themselves for knowing who Condoleezza Rice is and smarmily asserting that whichever Democrat was “hip enough” on The Daily Show last week should be president. And I hate the show for kissing the asses of those people.

Actually, that sort of audience reaction is a good example of why I’m starting to hate the average Daily Show viewer. There’s always some Republican who comes on the show to prove how cool and in on the joke he is by kissing Jon Stewart’s ass, and he always gets a round of applause for suggesting that Stewart should enter politics. Applause? Wait, I don’t think George W. Bush is fit for the office of president, I’ll grant you that. But I’m not sure the guy who played a network executive in Death to Smoochy is really the guy for the job, either. Let’s be rational and not smug, okay?

And it’s the same unfunny bits over and over. The show is such a slave to its own format that it can’t help but get old and stale. Do they realize the irony involved in doing insulting, stereotypical accents on voiceovers of foreigners while they’re decrying America’s xenophobia? Samantha Bee’s non-sequiturs are about as unfunny as Rob Cordrry’s testicle references. And I’d like to punch Ed Helms right in the face. I know they think they’re absurdist, but it just goes to prove that most people don’t know what absurdism is or how it’s supposed to work. And Jon Stewart resorts to the same tired mannerisms faster than Saturday Night Live cast members rush for the cue cards.

“Hey, here’s an out-of-nowhere reference to my being Jewish. AWK-ward! Here’s my Bush impression. Good? Ehhhh…not so much. Now I’m stroking my chin…and now…it’s my nipple. Nicely done. Mmm, now here’s my crappy Jerry Lewis impersonation, but suddenly my voice gets squeaky and nervous, so I’ll mop my brow with my tie, and say good day, suh!” (Looks up at the ceiling.) “DAMN YOU!

Wooh, comedy gold. And more importantly, political import.

Wake up, people. They’re comedians. Shitty comedians. They are not your source for news and political opinions. So, please, can you just read a little more?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

RV (2006)
It’s cute. It’s nice that, for a change, the country couple (Kristin Chenoweth and Jeff Daniels, the best parts of the movie) is nice and wholesome, not a couple of creepy rednecks. Cheryl Hines has nothing to do. I still like JoJo as an actor. Otherwise…boy, Barry Sonnenfeld continues to slide downhill. It’s not unwatchable, but it’s not really rewatchable, either. ** stars.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this one; the previews looked like crap, but it got such great reviews. And it turns out this is actually a great movie. Pierce Brosnan stars as a hitman who is starting to get burned out. He meets Greg Kinnear, an American businessman on business in Mexico, and the two form an unlikely friendship. It’s hard to describe the plot (a tight, economical 90 minutes where nothing is wasted) without giving anything away. Just see this movie, you probably won’t regret it. A nice little treasure. **** stars. A lot of people mentioned that Brosnan was deconstructing his James Bond sexy killer image, but did anyone notice the excellent way the movie deconstructed Hemingway, too?

One of the creepiest movies I’ve ever seen. A young man obsessed with voyeurism, cameras, and fear uses a camera tripod with a knife on it to film the terror on the faces of women. He’s making a documentary on his own life, and he has a big finish in mind. Bizarre, but exquisite. **** stars.

GO FIGURE (2005)
Standard issue Disney Channel movie with crappy parents who don’t listen and stuck up little kids. *1/2 stars.

A forgotten movie that ruminates on doctors, the meaning of life, the meaning of healing, and what society’s responsibility is to help people. And it’s a murder mystery. And a black comedy. With a twist ending. Only Paddy Chayefsky could write this movie and pull it off, so it’s a good thing he did. George C. Scott stars in a typically excellent performance as the suicidal chief surgeon at an inner city hospital. He falls for Diana Rigg (who could blame him?), whose father has been brought to the hospital for treatment. Anything else would reveal too much. If you ever run across it, you could do a lot worse. **** stars.

Okay movie based on a true story about eight sled dogs who were left behind in the Antarctic by their research team. The animals are neat, and I like nature stories, and I wish Disney would make more of them. But this one was a little too tame. The danger didn’t feel real enough (except for one truly great scare), and the story wraps up too neatly. Too much focus on the humans and making the audience feel bad. If Carroll Ballard had directed it, it would have been much better, more realistic and thoughtful. Disney’s the home of Never Cry Wolf; they should demand better results than this. **1/2 stars.

MUNICH (2005)
If you’ve seen any Steven Spielberg movie, you know immediately what you’re getting from any new ones: the meandering length, the unresolved daddy issues, the self-importance, the second act arrival of a mystical father-figure, the lip service paid to the idea of family without any meaning behind it, the reverence by foreigners for any shred of American pop culture (and we wonder why they hate our casual arrogance), the preachy manipulation, the lack of female voices (except for whores, nags, old women, or the usual token immature femme fatale), the blindly unquestioning respect for remote authority, and all that immature jazz that a man’s Spielberg age should be embarrassed for treating so childishly. What the film really is, more than anything, is yet another apologia for the cold and distant father, for the guy who puts the good of everyone before his family’s happiness, for the guy who is too busy doing Important Things to actually be a father. I guess I expected more because Tony Kushner wrote the script, but I notice that he was rewritten by Eric Roth of Forrest Gump fame. As is usual with Spielberg, the first act is too short to establish characters, the second act goes on for nearly two hours, and the third act is just a collection of scenes with no idea how to end a movie (which, as always, finally stops after five or sex mini-endings). The final moments, when Eric Bana makes love to his wife and flashes back to his killings as though raping away his guilt, and the end credits appearing over the World Trade Center, are particularly tasteless. I like Eric Bana, but is he always going to be in shit? As far as I can count, he’s had one good movie. The movie also wastes Ciaran Hinds and Geoffrey Rush. * star. Perhaps Spielberg’s worst movie.

A classic Anthony Mann-James Stewart collaboration. Appropriate mood, a great James Stewart performance, and a pulp fiction plot that is just enjoyable. ***1/2 stars.

The capper to the Disney Channel series Even Stevens. Unlike the same year’s (theatrical) The Lizzie McGuire Movie, this actually gets every character in and tells a fairly enjoyable story. If you like Even Stevens (a surprisingly funny show, thanks to the perfect comic timing of Shia LeBeouf), you won’t be disappointed. And you’ve probably already seen it. So this review doesn’t really matter. *** stars. Christy Carlson Romano is a cutie.

Lifetime Movie, and all that implies. Thora Birch’s performance is pretty good. The pacing is awful. ** stars.

Wow. This is just…wow. This is just such a goddamn terrible movie. Okay, so, there’s four girls (led by Raven-Symone, who I like) who are a pop group called the Cheetah Girls, and they got dreams, man, big dreams. They want to be famous, etc. But all they do is snipe and back-bite each other, treat each other like assholes, and let success go to their heads. Not a single character is likable, and the “commentary” on the music business is silly and lame. The music is just awful. I had problems paying attention to it and figuring out what was going on, because all I could hear with this sing-songy blather and slang that I swear I didn’t understand. This is one of the few times when I actually felt way too old to appreciate a movie. It’s like Josie and the Pussycats, only without the wit. Take that any way you want. * star.

FOUL PLAY (1978)
Funny movie with Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase and a plot to murder the pope. It’s a mystery, it’s a comedy, and it’s got Brian Dennehy, Burgess Meredith, and a hilarious small role for Dudley Moore. Not much to describe, really, but it’s a funny movie. Definitely one of the brighter moments of Chase’s career, and from the time before Goldie Hawn got annoying. *** stars.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Who Should Run for President?

The question coming up now is: who should be the next President of the United States? We already know Lieberman’s in the running, but who else are we looking at? A few issues ago, Playboy magazine ran a feature they called “The No-Bullshit Caucus,” offering a number of potential candidates whom writer Jeff Greenfield chose for “their willingness to speak plain English in a Washington world where the official language is Bloviation: a tongue that extends a simple sentence into a multisyllabic assault on common sense.” Here’s the delineation of choices. Whom would you vote for?

Senator John McCain (R, Ariz.)
Good Points: A champion of campaign finance reform. Practically demanded the resignation of the inept Donald Rumsfeld. Denounced the treatment of America’s political prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Has a good sense of humor. Helped to take down Jack Abramoff.
Bad Points: Staunch supporter of what amounts to Bush’s private war. All of that Bush ass-kissing made him look ridiculous and shows a serious error in judgment that makes him a questionable candidate. It’s unforgivable that he didn’t try to press his advantage; shows that he can be either intimidated or bought off.

Senator Russ Feingold (D, Wis.)
Good Points: Also champions campaign finance reform. Didn’t kiss Clinton’s ass the way other Democrats did, which shows a level, rational mind that believes in a moral center. The only Dem who voted against dismissing the Clinton impeachment charges without hearing evidence. Civil libertarian (which would be a nice change of pace). The only senator to vote against the Patriot Act. Voted repeatedly against cost-of-living increases for the Senate, despite being one of the poorest senators out there.
Bad Points: Voted to confirm John Ashcroft. And John Roberts.

Senator Tom Coburn (R, Okla.)
Good Points: The only senator to vote against the $31.8 billion Homeland Security spending bill. Opposed the $286 billion “Bridge to Nowhere” deal for Alaska, saying the money should go to help fix Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans (his motion was overwhelmingly defeated, so there’s what your government thinks is important). Disgusted by government overspending (and has used the word).
Bad Points: Socially conservative. Thinks that, once abortion is outlawed, those who provide it should face the death penalty.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D, Calif.)
Good Points: A moderate, which is better than being a fascist. Supports student vouchers and local governments (and, possibly, states’ rights, if you’re old enough to remember those). Proposed congressional censure for Clinton rather than impeachment, which shows she’s not afraid to be unpopular.
Bad Points: Supported Bush’s deficit-increasing 2001 tax cuts. Voted for Operation Iraqi Subjugation; regrets it now, but still shows a serious lack of judgment for a presidential option. Called for a moratorium on student visas post-9/11. Proposed a law barring people from nations that support terrorism from entering the US.

Senator Chuck Hagel (R, Neb.)
Good Points: Heavily criticized Bush’s foreign policy and his unilateral actions in Afghanistan (Hagel argued that Bush ignored potential allies). Charged that Bush was “hell-bent” on war and warned that there would be no easy transition to a post-Saddam regime. A veteran of Vietnam; not afraid to compare Iraq to it. Some Republicans consider him a traitor. Former CEO of the USO.
Bad Points: Idolizes Winston Churchill, one of the biggest high-handed screw-ups in political history; so does Bush, which only goes to show. Not much else; the Democrats actually love him more than the Republicans do.

Representative Barney Frank (D, Mass.)
Good Points: First openly gay member of Congress. Upfront about his errors in judgment. Not rigid. Criticized gay weddings in opposition to state law in California, because the marriages meant nothing legally. Dared to criticize Al Sharpton for not paying his taxes when Sharpton ran for president in 2004.
Bad Points: He’s upfront, but those are some big errors: hired a male prostitute to be his aide. I caught him once on Real Time with Bill Maher, and he seemed a bit out of touch and grouchy. House staff members think he’s brainy, witty, and funny, but they’re not exactly the Algonquin Round Table.

Representative Jeff Flake (R, Ariz.)
Good Points: Criticizes his own party, especially for appropriating federal money for local projects. Wants to make it legal for Americans to visit Cuba and ease the long-running, practically illegal embargo. One of two House members who voted against punishing Sudan for human rights abuses, instead arguing that economic sanctions create these abuses. Votes against many Republican initiatives, such as Bush’s education bill, the prescription drug bill, and the $286 billion highway bill.
Bad Points: Have you seen the guy smile? It just makes me nervous. A Mormon, which also makes me nervous. But it also means he’s not a WASP or a Catholic, which is good.

Representative Artur Davis (D, Ala.)
Good Points: Not afraid to buck his own party for what he believes in. Believes that being only conservative or only liberal is ignorance. Basically called the Democrats hypocrites.
Bad Points: Lots of rhetoric, no issues that he takes a stand on.

Representative Mike Pence (R, Ind.)
Good Points: Called his own party on the $24 billion in pet projects attached to the $286 billion highway bill. Proposed cuts to offset the cost of the Hurricane Katrina relief. Opposes farm subsidies. Authored a bill that would shield journalists from having to reveal their sources.
Bad Points: Social conservative. Opposes abortion rights. Opposes embryonic stem cell research, probably in the usual conservative knee-jerk mistaken belief that the embryonic stem cells come from abortions, not from a Petri dish.

Senator Barack Obama (D, Ill.)
Good Points: Voted against the confirmation of John Roberts, but defended Feingold for not doing the same. Criticized the Democrats for misunderstanding the voters and the country and called for more reason in politics. Excellent speaker, his “We are one people” speech was the first actual inspiring political speech since Kennedy’s “We choose to go to the moon.” Bush hates his ass, which is almost reason enough. Unlike Bush, may actually unite people.
Bad Points: I have yet to see them. Is the only one of these people I’ve already voted for.

I’m sure an Obama-Feingold or Obama-Flake ticket would be too much to hope for. At least they didn’t mention Hilary Clinton, which would be a huge mistake. At this point, I’m not really sure why there are still people saying that Hilary Clinton is our best choice for a first female president. Years ago, she knew what she was doing. Now, all she does is kiss Bush’s ass and spend her time making it harder for kids to get video games. What a load. Democrats, if you run Hilary Clinton, you might as well put the presidency in a box, wrap it up, and mail it to Republican headquarters, because barely anyone wants to vote for her anymore.

And could Ralph Nader please not run for president this year? Get serious, you’re never going to win.

Lieberman and Dirty Politics

Well, I guess it’s safe to say now that Senator Joseph Lieberman really, really wants to be president. After getting his ass handed to him at the 8 August Democratic primary, he’s decided to form his own party (the oh-so-smarmily named Connecticut for Lieberman party) and run as an independent candidate. Or, as he calls it, an “independent Democrat.”

The poor boy just can’t take the hint: even his own party doesn’t want him to run for president. And if the Democrats won’t vote for him, who does he think is going to? He may waste a few votes here and there, but seriously, does he really believe he’s so great a choice for president that simply running as an independent is going to make it happen?

The Democrats are asking that Lieberman be removed from the Democratic Party, a request which I don’t see as unreasonable. He lost the primary, after all, and running as an independent under another party basically removes him from his own. This was his decision, let him suffer the consequences; he’s not a Democrat. If America went crazy and voted him in (and that just ain’t gonna happen), he couldn’t serve as a Democrat. He’d be the first Connecticut for Lieberman president.

I’d love to hear some opinions from people in Connecticut on that name.

Lieberman calls the attempts to keep his name off the ballot and remove him from his former party “dirty political tricks.” I think one could also argue that running as an independent while still pretending to be a Democrat and doing anything you can to keep your name on the ballot might also qualify as dirty political tricks. It’s at least a lie of some sort. The man’s trying to eat his cake and have it too.

Why did Lieberman lose the primary? A lot of idealistic hopefuls point to his endorsement of the war in Iraq. Some point to his affiliation with the increasingly-less-popular Al Gore (Lieberman ran as his VP in 2000). Others point out a generational thing, basically saying that any man who wants to effectively ban video games will never be elected by people my age and younger. But Darth Dubya has effectively endorsed Lieberman…what exactly is going on here?

I’m calling it now, just in case this becomes an issue: this is the first step towards Lieberman switching parties from Democrat to Republican. Bush likes him, he hates individual choice, and he’s already proved that he’s not exactly a “play by the rules and accept a loss” kind of guy. No, like Bush, he just wants to be president so bad he can taste it, and he figures it’s his turn now, and if he has to switch parties to do it, that’s what he’ll do. If he has to kiss the current administration’s ass, he’ll do that too.

Watch and see what happens to him next.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Tony Jay

Rest in peace. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Those Kids Just Gotta Dance

Last week, Step Up opened in second place with $20.7 million. Entertainment Weekly called the opening “surprisingly successful.” In their review of Disney Channel’s upcoming movie The Cheetah Girls 2, Whitney Pastorak says that musicals for kids have “taken on an unforeseen level of commercial prominence.” I know this is EW, so the question might just be completely redundant, but: have they not been paying attention for the last decade or so?

Were you a kid in the eighties? If you were, you probably remember your little sister in those idiotic braids and bangles, with too much sparkly makeup and at least one forearm covered in those damn bracelets, singing into a jump rope and telling you how she and her friends were going to be singers one day. I mean, doesn’t every girl grow up wanting to be a pop star for a little while? Isn’t that part of the point of American Idol? What else does that show do but play on a kid’s dream that with absolutely no work and by sheer force of personality, they can be a pop star, too?

Girl groups have always been manufactured. The Andrews Sisters. The Ronettes. The Runaways. Pick a musical era, and you’ll find the Supremes or the Spice Girls. It’s always been a proven moneymaker, one that’s particularly easy to exploit. Not only because it trades on the prurient interests of the male population, but it trades on the dreams of every young girl who wanted, just wanted so bad to be a pop singer. In the eighties, they danced to Madonna videos, watched Jem & the Holograms, went to see movies like Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains and made Annie a hit. Hell, they did an entire episode of Just the Ten of Us about the girls becoming singers; that fired up the imaginations of my sister and every friend she had.

How is the commercial prominence of singing kids unforeseen? When I was a kid, we watched Kids, Incorporated, a show about singing children (which spawned Superstar Whore Fergie). When my mom was a kid, she watched the cartoon based around the Jackson Five. The Partridge Family was about a singing family, and even The Brady Bunch had to get into the act by making the kids singers and giving them a damn variety show. Saved by the Bell did an episode about the gang becoming a band; most shows aimed at kids have. A lot of Disney Channel series have musical episodes; That’s So Raven had two. So far.

Entertainment Weekly has had a strange history with teen pop and music for kids. I remember, back around 1995 or so, when the magazine had a cover story on grunge music and wondered why in the hell my generation had no bubblegum pop. Where was the teen music for today? “Where,” I specifically remember them asking, “is the ‘Stairway to My Prom’?” The funny thing is, when teen pop started in the form of the Spice Girls, all they could do was ridicule it as something prepackaged for kids who, they seemed to feel, were too dumb to need their own music, anyway. When Britney Spears started, they gave all the space they could to talking about how Avril Lavigne was so “real.” Then they ridiculed Lavigne to talk about Spears. They still act like both are major musical forces; they treat Justin Timberlake like he’s an important musical icon. The whole magazine caters to the pop music audience like mad, and now they say that the opening of Step Up and the commercial prominence of teen musicals is unforeseen? I mean, for the last couple of years, a lot of gossip column space has been taken up about the feud between Hilary Duff and Lindsay Lohan, about Ashlee Simpson and her hype machine, about Jessica Simpson’s marriage, about Brooke Hogan, about Beyonce Knowles, about Christina Aguilera, about Britney Spears. Fuck, even Paris Hilton wants to be a pop star. Teenagers and their music have taken over the whole damn country.

What can I say; kids love singing and dancing. Shit, you take anybody and put them in a dance movie, and no matter how shitty it is, it’s going to make four times its tiny little budget on the opening weekend. Center Stage, Save the Last Dance, Honey… I mean, who couldn’t have predicted that Step Up was going to take 20 mil on its opening weekend? Any media analyst who didn’t see that coming from eight miles away deserves to lose his fucking job. Duh.

Fuck, have you seen the hype and furor around the Disney Channel movie High School Musical? Even someone who has no interest in Disney, teenagers, or musicals must have noticed it somewhere. It was the bestselling album in the country. It was the bestselling DVD in the country, despite the fact that Disney Channel has been airing it at least twice a month since it first aired back in January or something. Disney has always dealt in combining pop music with their content: this is, after all, the company that launched Hilary Duff by turning her title character into a pop sensation in The Lizzie McGuire Movie. They launched Aly & AJ. Other Disney Channel stars who have recorded music: Raven-Symone, Orlando Brown, and Anneliese Van Der Pol (from That’s So Raven); Lalaine (from Lizzie McGuire); Christy Carlson Romano and AJ Trauth (from Even Stevens); and the entire cast of High School Musical (two of whom are recording debut albums). Disney’s the home of Jesse McCartney and Skye Sweetnam. Lindsay Lohan started at Disney. So did Christina Milian. Their biggest hit series ever is Hannah Montana, which stars Billy Ray Cyrus’s 12 year-old daughter daughter Miley as a pop singer!

Disney’s New Mickey Mouse Club (or MMC) launched the careers of Britney, Christina, and Justin, for chrissakes!

And here’s an extra added coincidence. In 1992, Disney released a movie I personally find repellent called Newsies. It was a musical about newsboys in the 1920s, and it starred Christian Bale (and he lived off the cult fame of that flick for years). My sister loved that stupid movie. It failed theatrically, if I remember right, but the cult audience is enormous enough the get the film a deluxe collector’s edition DVD. Who directed that movie? Kenny Ortega. The man who just directed High School Musical and, not coincidentally, The Cheetah Girls 2. By the by, Disney is also marketing the Cheetah Girls as an actual group (without Raven-Symone). Oh, Disney knows how to milk every drop out of a sure thing.

So, knowing all of this stuff I just laid on you, do you think that teen music and musicals and their level of commercial prominence are unforeseen? I would think a magazine that claims to have its finger on the entertainment pulse would know better. A lot better.