Thursday, September 30, 2004

Book: Fade to Blonde, by Max Phillips (2004)

Hard Case Crime goes two-for-two. The label’s first original title is a solid pulp thriller about a would-be screenwriter who drifts into hired muscle work and gets involved with the wrong woman. The plot shambles a bit, but Phillips’ tone is bang-on perfect. And his take on the femme fatale is a memorable one:

“Her eyes were large, pale, and set wide beneath a broad, low forehead. Her chin was pointed, but her fine-lipped mouth was wide. There wasn’t really room for it on her face, any more than there was room for that chest on her skinny frame. Her arms and legs were too long. Sitting there behind the wheel, she looked like she’d folded them up the wrong way, the way you’ll fold a road map the wrong way. I could see why she’d flopped in pictures. She was disturbing-looking. Ten thousand guys had made a play for her, but I don’t guess any of them kidded himself it was a good idea at the time.”

I’m ready to have Hard Case deliver their offerings to my door each month like NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.

Cable Catch-Up: Shattered Glass (2003)

When I saw this movie in the theater, it struck me as admirable but small. An exposé of Stephen Glass’ deceptions as a writer at THE NEW REPUBLIC seemed the kind of story that would have played better on HBO. But I found myself thinking about it often. It had more staying power than most films I saw last year.

Watching it again, it’s revealed as one of the best movies to date on the modern American workplace. It has as much to say about today’s cubicle dwellers as THE APARTMENT did about the Organization Man. Forget the journalistic ethical dilemmas. This movie incisively anatomizes the psychological and political games that crop up in every office. Peter Sarsgaard gives a quietly blistering performance as editor Chuck Lane. Billy Ray’s film should be a staple in management seminars.

Miscellaneous: Links

The gifted cinematographer Christopher Doyle lets fly in this interview (reg. req’d.). Learn how Quentin Tarantino’s movies are like trips to the supermarket, how video games have brought about a sea change on par with “the death of talkies,” and how he and Zhang Yimou designed HERO to be processed on a purely visual level. Via Movie City News.

Just what the world needs: an argument in favor of hazing. Assuming that hazing is the real reason why he was wearing the boots, of course.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Graphic Novel: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume 2 (2003)

Alan Moore’s team of Victorian superheroes returns in another ripping yarn. This time Mina Harker, Allan Quatermain, Captain Nemo, Dr. Jekyll and the Invisible Man face down the Martian invasion from THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. Dr. Moreau and John Carter of Mars also make appearances. No doubt there are plenty of other literary references that I missed on the first reading; Moore’s work has a fantastic density. On the basis of his epic comic WATCHMEN alone he should be regarded as one of the premier writers of his generation. His subsequent books, like LEAGUE and TOP TEN, continue to combine the fluidity of film with the detail of fiction.

Artist Kevin O’Neill can’t go unmentioned. The opening battle on the surface of Mars has almost no dialogue. Just O’Neill’s staggering illustrations.

Volume 1 was adapted for the movies in name only last year. Moore’s plot was jettisoned, and the characters of Dorian Gray (not only ageless but indestructible) and Tom Sawyer were added to the roster. Sawyer was the studio’s idea, a way to appeal to the American audience. Good plan – build identification by sticking in a character from a book most people were forced to read against their will. If they’ve read it at all. The movie’s not good, but it’s also not the disaster it’s made out to be. The first 45 minutes chug along nicely before it collapses into a muddle.

Sean Connery played Quatermain. I loved his rationale for taking the part. He said that he was offered both THE MATRIX and THE LORD OF THE RINGS, but as he didn’t understand the scripts he turned them down. When the script for LEAGUE left him baffled, he said yes at once.

Connery has dropped out of his latest film, ostensibly to focus on his memoirs. But others say he’s gotten fed up with the mechanics of big-budget filmmaking, particularly in the wake of his publicized fights with LEAGUE director Stephen Norrington. I don’t see why Connery can’t keep acting in smaller films along the lines of FINDING FORRESTER. Except, you know, good.

Good Scene, Bad Movie: Blood Work (2002)

Before striking Oscar gold with MYSTIC RIVER, Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Brian Helgeland teamed on this soggy adaptation of Michael Connelly’s novel. It departs from the book’s plot in ways that Connelly addresses in his latest, THE NARROWS.

There is one terrific scene between Eastwood and actor Rick Hoffman, currently onscreen as an odious lawyer in CELLULAR. Hoffman found a man who’d been shot by the killer Eastwood is pursuing. Because of a police error, the man died before an ambulance could reach him. Hoffman recounts the story bitterly, repeating certain phrases. It immediately creates the sense that this is a tale Hoffman’s character has told many times before, and will be repeating for the rest of his life.

Miscellaneous: Link

I can’t resist Rex Reed when he’s in a bad mood, even when he’s gunning for filmmakers I like. Here he dismisses David O. Russell, Wes Anderson, Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman among others as “film’s new hacks.” Plus, he reveals the who and the why in THE FORGOTTEN, so now I don’t have to go. Thanks to GreenCine Daily for the link.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Movie: The Last Shot (2004)

This movie, loosely based on an FBI sting operation in the ‘80s, is definitely a minor effort. But it’s not without its charms. Agent Alec Baldwin sets up a fake movie company so he can bribe the gangsters controlling the Teamsters union. But in order to make the plan work, he needs a fake movie. And an aspiring director (Matthew Broderick) who has no idea that his big break is actually a complete sham.

It’s a dynamite premise, but Jeff Nathanson opts for a low-key approach that doesn’t take full advantage of it. It does yield other rewards. Baldwin and Broderick work well together in scenes that contain an undercurrent of sadness. Both of their characters have been plugging away at their trades for a while now with little success, and are convinced that this project is their, well, last shot for glory. Baldwin – is there a more entertaining actor in movies? – is particularly strong, never more so than when he begins to believe that he really is a producer.

A solid cast (Toni Collette, Tony Shalhoub, Ray Liotta) helps the film go down easy. Joan Cusack has the equivalent of Baldwin’s role in GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS: she appears unbilled to deliver a profane speech that brings down the house.

Take a gander at the movie’s poster. It’s a garish throwback to the one-sheets from the ‘70s. All it’s missing are photographs of the cast members across the bottom, a la THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. It’s ugly as sin, but I love it.

Miscellaneous: Links

Here’s an inspired answer to the NHL lockout. Defamer offers an early review of the new musical version of The Ten Commandments starring Val Kilmer. My favorite line: “The burning bush went out a few times as well.”

As for the big changes coming up in late night, Slate’s Surfergirl does a fine job of analyzing Leno’s five-years-early farewell address and summarizing the challenge facing Conan O’Brien.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Movie: Shaun of the Dead (2004)

The filmmakers are calling this a ‘rom-zom-com,’ or a romantic zombie comedy. Whatever it is, it works. Comedy is the movie’s strongest suit. Slacker Shaun (co-writer Simon Pegg) and his best bud Ed (Nick Frost) are so out of it that they almost don’t notice the apocalypse playing out in their drab London neighborhood; they’re already the living dead. The ‘zom’ element is also served up in force as Shaun and his friends barricade themselves in the godawful pub where they while away every evening. The benchmark for all good zombie movies is met, in that entrails make an appearance. Even the romance has a little weight to it, thanks to the appealingly sensible Kate Ashfield.

The scenes between Shaun, his sweetly dim mother and his distant stepfather (the great Bill Nighy, who played the lord of the vampires in UNDERWORLD) have a surprising emotional impact. SHAUN is a fully-rounded movie with a distinctly English sensibility. Points for a note-perfect ending.

DVD: Spartan (2004)

I had this movie at #1 in my half-year recap. Three-quarters of the way through 2004, it’s still there. A repeat viewing only confirms that David Mamet’s political thriller is the film that the MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE remake wanted to be. It wrings gut-wrenching tension from contemporary fears – that the system is irreparably broken, that the government lies to us, that the terrorism card can be played for political ends. Considering the plot, I still find it damned odd that Alexandra Kerry is in this movie.

Watch this one. Watch it now.

Miscellaneous: Phrase of the Day

This New York Times article on the proliferation of sex shops in Greenwich Village explains that such stores outside ‘adult entertainment zones’ can stay open if at least 60 percent of their merchandise is not X-rated.

“Robert Sacklow, the inexhaustible inspector for the Office of Midtown Enforcement, calls the merchandise ‘Spanish Popeye.’ The term stems from a sex shop he once inspected in the Bronx that had 12,000 X-rated videos – and a single wall covered with 18,000 copies of Popeye cartoon videos dubbed in Spanish.”

Miscellaneous: Links

I haven’t been to McSweeney’s in ages. The humor was getting a bit too ... experimental for me. But Matt at pointed me toward this piece on classic films reconsidered. Which led me to this one on great works of literature, Maxim-style.

Of course, all of this is merely an excuse for me to link to my contribution to McSweeney’s, which ran nearly two years ago. Pathetic, isn’t it?

Sunday, September 26, 2004

DVD: The Punisher (2004)

That stuff I said about TWISTED being the worst movie of the year? Forget it. This is what I get for reordering my Netflix queue when I’m sick.

THE PUNISHER was part of April’s bring-a-covered-dish-best-served-cold potluck, along with KILL BILL, Vol. 2 and MAN ON FIRE. I saw the other two in the theater, so it’s not like I have anything against revenge fantasies. This one is based on the Marvel comic character who, it should be noted, began as a villain.

FBI agent Frank Castle (Tom Jane) starts down his bloody road after his entire extended family is massacred. It’s another sign of Hollywood inflation. In the original DEATH WISH, an attack on his wife and daughter that led to his wife’s death was enough to transform Charles Bronson into a vigilante. Now the Castle family reunion has to be strafed with machine guns, because otherwise we might not think the bad guy deserves it.

It’s not that THE PUNISHER is incompetent, although that’s certainly true. Every character behaves stupidly, none more so than preening baddie John Travolta, who hardly seems worth Castle’s efforts. Some of the characters’ actions beggar belief; writer/director Jonathan Hensleigh has a woman leave a purse containing a pair of Harry Winston earrings in her car while she goes to the movies. Not once, but twice. The tone is wildly inconsistent. We get incipient alcoholism and ‘comic’ fight scenes that drag on forever. The dialogue sucks.

For most of its running time, the movie is a lousy action film deserving of the MST3K treatment. But the climax - which involves an act of violence against Travolta’s character that is a.) excessive, b.) filmed in loving detail, and c.) being perpetrated against American serviceman overseas – did something that no movie in a lifetime of movie-watching has ever done. It awakened feelings of moral revulsion. Feelings that only intensified when Hensleigh capped the mayhem with a joke, and then closed with an image of Castle as a hero. I suppose some congratulations are in order. This movie actually made me feel unclean.


I stumbled onto a rebroadcast of one of the 1984 debates between Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale last night. Quick thoughts:

1. I was unnerved by the amount of time devoted to the issue of terrorism, in the wake of the attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon. Mondale accused Reagan of ignoring intelligence, Reagan spoke of using U.S. troops to bring democracy to the Middle East. Different candidates and locations, same problems.

2. Reagan acknowledged the difficulties in combating suicide bombers who were convinced that their actions would lead them to paradise. It’s a note of realism lacking in the current debate.

3. Reagan also said that international cooperation had led to an end of the problem of skyjacking. If only.

4. If I hear any questions on Thursday night that are half as tough as those posed in ‘84, I’ll be enormously surprised.

Miscellaneous: Link

Matthew Klam’s cover story in the New York Times Magazine is widely seen as the death knell for blogging. Or at least for the coolness of it. It’s a fun read, though. Klam finds it hard to fathom that the cutting-edge types he profiles (like Wonkette) would give up their cachet for a gig in mainstream media. Not to point too fine a point on it, but duh. Isn’t that why anybody starts a blog? Let me remove all doubt: I, Vince Keenan, am available for weddings, bar mitzvahs, and alternative weekly thinkpieces.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Operation Travolta: Michael Keaton

Look fast in the ads for the Katie Holmes comedy FIRST DAUGHTER and you’ll see Michael Keaton as the President of the United States. From the gonzo heights of BEETLE JUICE to playing the dad (albeit the First Dad) in a teen comedy. Keaton deserves better. So I’m issuing a challenge to filmmakers: give the actor a role worthy of his talents, the way Quentin Tarantino revived John Travolta’s career. (Hence the name of this occasional feature.)

Keaton has a special flair for conveying all-American guy-ness. Genial and decent, with a wariness underneath. He has a uniquely hyper way of moving, like a one-time athlete who still hasn’t figured out what to do with his excess energy. It’s a live-wire quality that charges the screen.

It’s obvious that the man has great comic chops, which come through even in sitcom-style fare like MR. MOM. (Here’s where I confess my affection for the 1984 gangster parody JOHNNY DANGEROUSLY. I even like Joe Piscopo in it, for God’s sake.) Ron Howard made good use of Keaton in NIGHT SHIFT, GUNG HO and the underrated THE PAPER. But it’s really in his collaboration with Tim Burton that the actor bloomed. His fearless performance in BEETLE JUICE is as potent today as it was in 1988. And he remains the only actor to have brought anything to the role of Batman, which as the screenwriter William Goldman points out is “and always has been a horrible part.”

1988 was also the year of Keaton’s greatest dramatic triumph, playing a drug addict in CLEAN AND SOBER. There’s a scene in that film – he calls his elderly parents and tells them he’s doing great while trying to persuade them to mortgage their house so he can have the money – that captures the essence of the addict’s psychology better than any other. The whole movie is Keaton’s show.

The ‘90s weren’t so good to him. But neither were his films. (SPEECHLESS? MULTIPLICITY? Did anybody like those movies?) There were hints of a comeback when Keaton played Elmore Leonard’s cocky DEA agent Ray Nicolette in two movies, JACKIE BROWN and OUT OF SIGHT. Rumors circulated that Ray would get his own feature. I’m glad that didn’t pan out, because the character can’t sustain an entire story. But Keaton was perfectly cast, as he was in the recent HBO film LIVE FROM BAGHDAD.

So what’s on tap for the actor? Playing opposite Lindsay Lohan in the remodeled HERBIE, THE LOVE BUG. That ain’t right, people, and you know it. Where’s Wes Anderson or Dylan Kidd (ROGER DODGER) when you need them?

TV: Law & Order

If Dennis Farina played a cop in real life anything like he did on last night’s season premiere, how could the Chicago PD let him go? Too bad the rest of the show didn’t live up to him or his fantastic assortment of neckties. James Wolcott offers an interesting critique of the show.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

DVD: Quai des Orfèvres (1947)

Director Henri-Georges Clouzot is perhaps best known for the suspense masterpiece DIABOLIQUE. (The 1955 French version, natch. Not the hellishly bad quasi-feminist remake featuring Sharon Stone in a series of ensembles based on the wallpaper designs from the old Cal-Neva resort in Lake Tahoe. For some reason, her clothes are the only thing I remember about the remake. Apart from the ‘improved’ ending.) Clouzot also made the nerve-wracking classic THE WAGES OF FEAR, about truckers hauling nitroglycerin. Two great thrillers, made with perfect detached control.

That’s why it’s a surprise and a treat to catch up with a Clouzot film that’s an epic of humanism. It’s structured as a murder mystery – the title is the location of Paris police headquarters – but is so much more. It’s also a portrait of a troubled marriage and an exposé of show business life. Jenny Lamour (Suzy Delair) is an ambitious cabaret singer who’s not above flirting her way to success. Her husband and accompanist Maurice (Bernard Blier) fumes over her infidelities but can’t bring himself to leave her. When the “dirty old man” who showed an interest in Jenny is found dead, the case falls to a crusty detective (Louis Jouvet) and veteran of the Foreign Legion who gained a son in Africa and is struggling to raise him alone.

Clouzot packs the film with memorable characters, starting with the Columbo-esque Jouvet. His staging is brilliant, as when he has the detective interrogate the couple during a rehearsal over the music. Every scene pops ... particularly the one where the lovely Jenny poses for her publicity photos. Yowza. It astounds me that a movie with such bracingly adult takes on love and sex can end with what amounts to a Christmas miracle. The movie is a joy from start to finish.

The Criterion DVD includes excerpts from a 1971 documentary on Clouzot. The director is almost combative in his responses, but considering the oddly pretentious interviewer perhaps he should be. Clouzot was famous for bullying his actors, at times physically assaulting them. On this film he subjected Bernard Blier to an actual blood transfusion on camera under the supervision of doctors. What’s amazing is how the actors laugh over this behavior and swear how they would work with him again. It’s a far cry from George Clooney getting into a fistfight with David O. Russell on the set of THREE KINGS.

R.I.P.: Russ Meyer

You’ll find no better appreciation of Meyer than this one written by his former collaborator Roger Ebert. I watched BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, one of the films they made together, a few months ago and mentioned it on the blog. I think it’s appropriate that I quote my review in its entirety here:

“Jesus, is this movie nuts.”

Monday, September 20, 2004

DVD: Twisted (2004)

And a new contender for worst movie of the year leaps to the head of the pack. I think I’ll pretend there are two directors named Philip Kaufman. There’s the one who made the sly 1977 version of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and THE RIGHT STUFF. And the one responsible for this piece of dreck. It’s enough to make you long for the return of Joe Eszterhas. JAGGED EDGE, BASIC INSTINCT, JADE. Now there was a guy who knew how to write a trashy sex thriller set in San Francisco. Kind of. Come back from Ohio, Joe. All is forgiven.

TV: Countdown to the Emmy’s

I don’t mean to get all Eats, Shoots & Leaves here. But the apostrophe in that title – which appeared onscreen before and after every commercial in ABC’s pre-show – should not be there. So much for a good liberal arts education.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Movie: Sky Captain & The World of Tomorrow (2004)

I wanted to love this movie, honest I did. But the sad truth is I’m finding it hard to muster even a little enthusiasm for it.

It looks stupendous, but that’s a given. I’ve stopped fawning over technological wonders in the movies, because special effects are the only thing that Hollywood knows how to do well anymore. (It’s not the first film to rely on computer-generated sets. That honor goes to 1994’s RADIOLAND MURDERS, a frantic George Lucas-produced comedy that’s so devoid of laughs I’m convinced it’s actually an elaborate psychological experiment.) For all the robots, dinosaurs and space-age gizmos dreamed up by writer/director Kerry Conran, I thought the most effective use of the hardware came in recreating the grand entryway to Radio City Music Hall. It’s a stunning piece of artifice that reduced Rosemarie to tears.

And I didn’t mind the indifferent plotting, because breathless and incoherent is the standard in adventure films today. Although the lack of forward momentum does take its toll on the film’s visuals. “Look, another breathtaking setting that exists only in pixel form! Why are we here again?”

It’s the flesh and blood element of the movie that comes up short. A fantasy world needs to be anchored by actors who wear their humanity with divine panache: Errol Flynn, Harrison Ford. Jude Law seems a likely candidate to join their company, but he proves surprisingly wan as Sky Captain. And Gwyneth Paltrow sinks the film every time she opens her mouth. She may look every inch the intrepid girl reporter, but she sounds like a sorority sister insulting her cab driver. Conran’s clunky dialogue doesn’t help; the boy-girl patter was obviously written by someone who’s spent the last twelve years rendering zeppelins in code. Angelina Jolie shows up in the film’s final third to demonstrate how this kind of thing is done, but by then it’s too late.

A final note about the dialogue: I can’t overlook a reference to “World War One” in a movie set in 1939. That kind of slip didn’t get past Encyclopedia Brown, and it’s not getting past me.

TV: The Miss America Pageant

‘Casual wear’ is now part of the competition? How do you judge someone on their ability to sashay around in blue jeans and a handkerchief top?

Miscellaneous: A Fish Before Dying

Two people interviewed in two different sections of today’s New York Times - vineyard owner Randall Grahm and supermodel Carolyn Murphy - say that they would like their last meal to be “the black cod with miso” from Nobu.

Miscellaneous: Links

France’s smash hit reality show sends students back to the harsh schools of the 1950s. This better not mean a comeback for the Magdalene Sisters. And Jaime Weinman takes a thoughtful look at the impact of the STAR WARS movies.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Book: The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett (1929)

This month marks the 75th anniversary of Hammett’s classic, making it the ideal time to revisit the book. Anything that can be said about it has already been said, many times over. Like that’s gonna stop me.

1. The 1941 John Huston film is quite possibly the most faithful adaptation of any book. The oft-repeated legend is that Huston simply had his secretary retype Hammett’s novel in screenplay format (INT. SPADE’S OFFICE – DAY), but there are enough deviations from the text to make me think it’s an apocryphal story. The dropped scenes always feel a little off to me when I read them. I can’t tell if it’s because they weren’t in the movie or if they’re inferior to the rest of the book.

2. The characters are extraordinary. Even if you’ve never seen the film, and consequently wouldn’t hear the voices of Bogart, Greenstreet, Lorre and Astor as you turned the pages, you would remember these people. Their interaction matters far more than what they’re after. It’s a brilliant joke, then, that in the statue of the Falcon Hammett created the most storied McGuffin in crime fiction. It’s an even better joke that the genuine article never surfaces in the story.

3. Hammett never once lets the reader into Sam Spade’s head. We know how he rolls his cigarettes, but we’re never privy to his thoughts. This makes Spade inscrutable at best and unlikable at worst, but never less than compelling. Most contemporary fiction is lousy with psychology. It’s bracing to read a book that asks you to judge its characters on the basis of their actions alone.

4. The best-known omission from the film is the Flitcraft episode. Spade recounts an earlier case to Brigid O’Shaughnessy to pass the time. Flitcraft, a successful Tacoma businessman, disappeared without a trace. Five years later, Spade was hired to investigate a report that the man was living in Spokane. It turned out to be true. Flitcraft had been on his way to an appointment when he was almost killed by a falling girder. As a result, “he felt like somebody had taken the lid off his life and let him look at the works.” He walked away from his old existence, drifted around for a while, and then settled back into a new one that was virtually identical.

“He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling.”

A shocking sentiment, and one that has even more resonance now. It’s hard to believe Hammett wrote it 75 years ago.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Website Update: Practice

The latest installment of ‘In the Frame,’ my column from Mystery*File, is now up. Read it here.

Book: Grifter’s Game, by Lawrence Block (1961)

All hail Hard Case Crime, the publishing imprint that’s putting a new spin on old-fashioned pulp paperbacks. The line debuts with this reprint of a Gold Medal book originally titled MONA. It’s a gritty story of lust and murder, with a truly sick twist of an ending. What happens is purely malevolent yet motivated by something akin to, but not quite, love. I can see how people would have carried the memory of this book around with them with 40+ years. It’s an auspicious beginning for a label I hope is around for a while.

DVD: The Set-Up (1949)

Perhaps the least-known title in Warners’ film noir collection. I expect that will change in short order. Boxer Robert Ryan is so washed-up that his manager doesn’t even bother to tell him that he’s supposed to take a dive in his next bout. Why cut him in for a share when he’s got no chance of winning anyway? Turns out the pug’s greatest weakness is his only strength: he has no idea when he’s beat.

It’s based on an epic poem – that’s right, poem – by Joseph Moncure March. Considering that another of March’s poems, THE WILD PARTY, was turned into not one but two musicals, maybe he should have written more. The film unfolds in real time, evidenced by the opening and closing shots of the same clock. 72 minutes have passed, and you won’t soon forget them. On the commentary track, Martin Scorsese praises the boxing scenes as the most visceral in cinema. The word of the director of RAGING BULL is good enough for me.

Miscellaneous: Links

Larry David explodes the myth of the undecided voter. And, courtesy of Jim Romenesko’s Obscure Store, an explanation of why so many kids waste time playing video games: there aren’t any good car shows on TV.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

TV: Rated R: Republicans in Hollywood

AMC aired this documentary by former Clinton/Gore staffer Jesse Moss last night. It’s a look at the burgeoning influence of conservatives in Hollywood, loosely organized around Arnold Schwarzenegger’s gubernatorial campaign. Frequent mention is also made of THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST’s box office success.

Moss tries to get Republican celebrities to talk about their beliefs on camera. The big names like Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson don’t speak to him. Neither does Heather Locklear, who in my opinion is making a huge mistake. Republicans need a spokesbabe. Bush may be in for four more years, but we all know Heather’s new show LAX won’t live out the season. The people Moss does include represent the spectrum of Republican thought: small government libertarian (Drew Carey), pro-life (EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND’s Patricia Heaton), military first (John Milius). There’s also bad boy Vincent Gallo, whose conservatism was sparked as a youth when he saw all-American Johnny Unitas square off against selfish hedonist Joe Namath in Super Bowl III. It’s a diverse range of views, although I haven’t been able to take Milius seriously since learning he was the inspiration for John Goodman’s character in THE BIG LEBOWSKI.

A number of the Republicans Moss interviews talk about the need to take Hollywood back. They control all three branches of government but still view themselves as outsiders thanks to show business. Think of it in terms of high school. (I think of everything in terms of high school. It is the kiln that fires us all.) Republicans have the student government locked up, not to mention the glee club. All the hall monitors are theirs. But the cheerleaders ignore them, so they feel empty inside.

For further proof, consider the first annual conservative film festival, which you can read about here and here. Its genesis? A trip to the Little Rock art house, where the only options were BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE and FRIDA, which is about a Communist. “Where are the films for normal people?,” one of the festival’s founders asks.

At the mall, genius. Where the normal people are.

Side note: This is the first program I’ve watched on AMC in months. Tonight’s classic American movie is THE REAL McCOY (1993), with Kim Basinger and Val Kilmer. When it comes to thrillers about blonde single mom cat burglars that co-star people who share my initials, this one is easily in the top six.

TV: The Al Franken Show

A one-hour condensed version of each day’s Air America broadcast runs on Sundance Channel every night at 11:30. Just after THE DAILY SHOW ends, which I’m sure is not a coincidence.

For some inexplicable reason, Air America doesn’t have an affiliate in ultra-liberal Seattle, and I have no interest in downloading MP3s of Franken’s chat-fest, so this is my first exposure to the show.

TV ruins Franken’s best gag, the fake interview. He introduces a conservative guest and we can clearly see that it’s Tim Meadows, or Bebe Neuwirth, or some other actor playing a role. They then read scripts into microphones. It’s not exactly scintillating television. I couldn’t guess how well it plays on the radio.

Overall, the show is strident, one-note and relentlessly negative. Just like every other political talk show I’ve heard regardless of affiliation. The success of these programs only demonstrates that Americans are spending too much time stuck in traffic or at unfulfilling jobs.

Miscellaneous: Link

To keep today’s political streak going, here’s a reasonable statement of my views on the subject of free speech, from a man I regard as my personal spokesman, Penn Jillette. Courtesy of Mark Evanier’s News From Me.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Cable Catch-Up: The Seven-Ups (1973)

Producer Philip D’Antoni wanted to make another tough New York thriller after his Oscar-winning success with THE FRENCH CONNECTION. So he hired himself as director, brought back Roy Scheider, and asked real-life detective Sonny Grosso (the inspiration for Scheider’s character in FRENCH) to provide the story. The result is a cop movie that’s all balls and no brains. It’s a STARSKY & HUTCH episode inflated to two hours. There is one hell of a car chase, though.

Book: The Poker Club, by Ed Gorman (1999)

Four poker buddies accidentally kill a burglar who breaks in during their game. They decide to dispose of the body without informing the police, unaware that the intruder had a partner. Who begins stalking them.

The novel is an expansion of Gorman’s short story “Out There In The Darkness.” He sucks you into this nightmare in short order. He has a pulp master’s inherent feel for story, along with a deceptively simple prose style reminiscent of Stephen King’s. Digressions on pop culture and memory catch you by surprise with their emotional force.

A few months ago, Ed praised another suspense novel of this stripe, James Siegel’s DERAILED. That book didn’t work for me, largely because of a preposterous plot twist. But it also wasn’t grounded in reality the way THE POKER CLUB is. The characters’ decisions have a relentless grim logic, which only tightens the book’s grip.

A movie version of DERAILED is in the works, by the way. The main character is a regular guy who gets in over his head when he starts cheating on his wife. He will be played by Clive Owen. The man who was King Arthur, and who may yet be James Bond. Not my first choice to play a schmuck from Long Island.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Movie: THX 1138 (1971)

The first feature from George Lucas is back in theaters for a limited engagement prior to its DVD release. It’s easily Lucas’ least believable vision of the future. A society of people trapped in soul-crushing jobs, hooked on mood leveling pharmaceuticals and encouraged to consume? Come on.

The movie is among the darkest of comedies. The title character (Robert Duvall), arrested for feeling too much, writhes in pain while the voices of the prison guards watching him argue about monitor settings. It makes for an interesting contrast with the work of Stanley Kubrick. His films always have the sense of a controlling intelligence, however cold or disinterested it may be. Lucas’ movie is so thoroughly depersonalized that if you beseeched its gods, you’d soon find yourself trapped in their voicemail. And I mean that as a high compliment.

THX ultimately devolves into a chase film, but even in the heat of pursuit Lucas explores the facets of his sterile civilization. There’s a sequence when Duvall escapes from prison only to be plunged into a raging torrent of humanity that had me hyperventilating. And the movie’s closing conceit is grimly hysterical.

Lucas has a habit of tinkering with his movies. He’s added footage to this film, and there are reports that Hayden Christensen has replaced Sebastian Shaw in the ghostly farewell that closes RETURN OF THE JEDI on DVD. So let me make a request. Can Lucas use CGI to correct the misspelling of actor David Ogden Stiers’ name in the THX credit roll?

I saw the movie at my favorite Seattle theater, the Cinerama. It’s one of the only movie houses in the world equipped to show films in the now defunct Cinerama format. Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to see 1962’s HOW THE WEST WAS WON there the way it was intended to be seen. Three projectors, three screens. Utterly breathtaking.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Movie: Cellular (2004)

Nobody exemplifies the B-movie spirit better than Larry Cohen (Q, IT’S ALIVE). Why settle for wringing one script out of an idea when you can get two? In the ultimately disappointing PHONE BOOTH, a guy answers a call and can’t move. The same thing happens here, only this time the guy never slows down.

And neither does the movie, one of the happiest surprises of the year. Cohen’s script has been rewritten by Chris Morgan, but his fingerprints remain all over it. A simple premise – a kidnap victim (Kim Basinger) dialing random numbers on the remains of a shattered telephone hooks up with a callow surfer (Chris Evans) – is pushed as far as it can go. Every conceivable complication involving a cell phone call has been worked into the story. You can almost picture Cohen’s checklist. “Low battery? Got that. Driving into a tunnel, done.” There’s not a wasted moment. The movie unfolds in a fierce 87 minutes, helped along enormously by David Ellis’ unpretentious direction.

Evans makes a likable lead, boding well for his future as The Human Torch in the upcoming FANTASTIC FOUR movie, but the day is carried by his costars. Basinger’s character gets to demonstrate surprising resilience. And the action heroics come courtesy of William H. Macy, playing a hangdog cop on the verge of retiring to open a beauty parlor. Sorry, day spa. There’s even room for LAST COMIC STANDING’s season one winner, Dat Phan.

CELLULAR is one of those crackerjack thrillers destined to become a home video staple. It certainly won’t suffer on DVD. But don’t deny yourself the opportunity to see it in the theater. The showing I was at became an authentic grindhouse experience, with everyone in the audience – including me – talking to the screen, hooting and hollering, and then filing out into the night with goofy smiles on our faces. It’s been too long since that’s happened.

Miscellaneous: Links

Forget the Internet and print-on-demand. A writer in China produces a novel distributed via text messaging. And how dumb do you have to be not to tip your waitress in a restaurant called Soprano’s?

Friday, September 10, 2004

Cable Catch-Up: Vampyr (1932)

There are single scenes in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s essentially silent film that are scarier than CABIN FEVER, WRONG TURN, and the TEXAS CHAINSAW remake combined. Like a bit involving a one-legged soldier and his shadow. Or the sequence in which a man views the world through a window cut into his coffin as he’s ferried to the grave. A sense of ancient evil pervades the entire movie (even the sort-of boring bit in the middle). The story unfolds with a relentless dream logic reminiscent of David Lynch.

Book: A Gentleman’s Game, by Greg Rucka (2004)

Another book that won’t be released until the end of the month, and which I’ll cover at length in the next Mystery*File.

Rucka transports the characters from his QUEEN & COUNTRY series of graphic novels with spectacular results. It’s a modern espionage novel that doesn’t shy away from current events, but embraces the chaos and tries to make some sense of it. The action sequences are electrifying, the take on politics (especially in the Middle East) withering. The future of the genre is right here.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

TV: Bands Reunited

I would call this VH-1 show a guilty pleasure, except I don’t believe in the term. It can be strangely moving to see what’s become of musicians you liked (or at least heard of) 20 years ago and watch them play together again for the first time in ages. The closing concert always kills me: footage of the band then and now shown in split-screen, the people in the audience just as old as those on stage and just as happy to be there.

Last night’s episode focused on ABC, whose album LEXICON OF LOVE (‘Poison Arrow,’ ‘The Look of Love’) is one of the ‘80s finest pop records. But here’s an interesting lesson. Last season, everyone in Frankie Goes To Hollywood wanted to reunite except lead singer/pretentious git Holly Johnson. Result: no concert. Two of the four original members of ABC decided not to perform. But lead singer Martin Fry said yes, so the show went on. Thus proving that in the end, the guy up front is the only one who matters.

At least Martin Fry still has the pipes. He sounded great.

Cable Catch-Up: Bend It Like Beckham (2002)

Yes, it’s charming. But couldn’t there be one plot twist in this movie that you couldn’t predict based on a single viewing of the trailer? And why does the lead character have to get every single thing she wants? At least The Bad News Bears lost the final game. Now that’s a lesson for the kids out there.

Miscellaneous: Links

A musical version of The Ten Commandments, written by the composer of Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’ and starring Val Kilmer as Moses. Who says Los Angeles is a cultural wasteland?

And courtesy of Sarah Weinman, a cautionary tale about the perils of modern publishing. Well, I thought it was a cautionary tale. Much of the reaction toward Stacy Sullivan, the subject of the article, has been negative. She may have been a tad naive, I’ll admit. But I don’t think it’s too much to ask for an arm of a major multinational corporation to evince some interest in one of its products.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Miscellaneous: Seasons in the Sun

Now that summer is over, at least as far as Hollywood and America’s school systems are concerned, here are some quick thoughts on two trends:

1. Sequels that don’t suck. Twice this summer, reviews convinced me to take a flier on follow-ups to movies I didn’t particularly care for the first time around (SPIDER-MAN, THE BOURNE IDENTITY). Both times I came home happy. These movies are terrific entertainment that improve on their predecessors in every way. It’s almost like the filmmakers paid attention to what people were saying.

I’m trying to view this as a positive trend. I really am. I mean, it led to two fine afternoons out of the hot sun, didn’t it? But it seems like a lousy way to run a railroad. The first movie in a potential franchise is test-marketed into blandness. If there’s an appetite for it, the second movie will be better. It gives a whole new meaning to the movie set catch-all phrase, “We’ll fix it in post.”

2. Remakes that miss the point. Two darkly comic paranoid classics, THE STEPFORD WIVES and THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, were revisited this summer. Both are perceived as commercial disappointments. And both seem to have been made by people who never saw the originals, but only heard about them in pitch meetings. (“Robot wives? I love it! ... It’s a comedy, right?”)

It’s bad enough that neither movie thrills. And that both of them concoct plot explanations that ultimately make no sense. But they don’t even attempt to tap into the genuine societal fears that the originals exploited so cannily. Are you telling me that with everybody perpetually on edge these days, there’s nobody out there who can:

a.) identify those things that we’re all afraid of; and
b.) figure out how to incorporate them into a thriller?

This summer, only OPEN WATER achieved the first aim. But it muffed the second. And it was an independent film, so I can’t even blame the crushing influence of corporate Hollywood. Maybe we’re all so blissed out on mood elevators that as a species we’ve lost the knack to laugh at what frightens us.

Then again, there’s always next summer.

DVD: The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

Make all the copies you like. The original always stays sharp.

This is the ur-caper movie, directed by John Huston, adapted by Huston and Ben Maddow from the novel by W. R. Burnett. All the elements are here. The big dumb palooka who only wants one more score so he can go home. The girl who foolishly gives her heart to him. The criminal mastermind with the fatal weakness. There’s crooked cops and the great Louis Calhern as a lawyer on the ropes. All this and Marilyn Monroe, too.

The most remarkable thing I can say about this movie? It’s the weakest of the five in Warner’s film noir collection.

Magazine: The New Yorker, 9/6 issue

Tad Friend profiles political impressionist Jim Morris. Best known for doing Ronald Reagan, Morris is hard at work on his John Kerry:

“It’s coming together. I see John Kerry as two parts Herman Munster and one part Bill Walton – his build and facial structure and the cavities in his head, the nasal stuffiness. Then, there’s a bit of Hugh Grant in his smile; some Robert Stack raspiness in his voice; some Jim Nabors in the shoulders and face; some Bea Arthur in the face; and a hint of that Indian who cried from the highway about the litter. Oh, and a little bit of my dog, Tex.”

Sounds about right.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Book: Absent Friends, by S. J. Rozan (2004)

This book doesn’t drop, as they say in the music biz, for another three weeks, and I’ll be writing a detailed review of it for the next issue of Mystery*File. (Issue #45 just dropped, as they say in the music biz. Get yours now.) So I’ll keep my comments brief.

I liked it. (OK, I won’t keep them that brief.)

It’s an ambitious novel, a crime drama involving a small circle of friends and lovers set against the backdrop of the 9/11 attacks in New York. Rozan does an exemplary job with the latter, recreating the feel of those days in vivid, jangling detail. By comparison, the crime story feels too small-scaled and insular. It’s fairly obvious where the plot is going, a state of affairs that isn’t helped by the book’s ornate structure. Rozan has said she used this technique to echo the way people felt in the wake of the attacks, but it doesn’t read that way. It feels more like a device to mete out information bit by bit.

Perhaps it’s best not to think of ABSENT FRIENDS as a mystery novel, but as a portrait of a time and place that already seems to be receding into the past. It’s beautifully written, as you might expect from Rozan, filled with characters you care about. All of them forced by events to reassess everything they thought they knew. Including their own pasts.

Rozan has been tracking the book’s path through the publishing process on a blog. I hope she keeps it up and running for her next project. If she doesn’t, there’s always her other blog.

Miscellaneous: Links

Michael Moore thinks he’s taking one for the team. I hate to break it to you, big guy, but not every documentary you make is a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination.

Elsewhere, David Poland starts a blog. Why he needs one when he already has Movie City News and the Hot Button I don’t know, but he has one. And the New York Times profiles that guy. You know, from the commercials?

Monday, September 06, 2004

Movie: We Don’t Live Here Anymore (2004)

It doesn’t sound like the most scintillating story: two couples slowly unravel because of adultery and its attendant petty betrayals. Moving, sure, if it’s done right. But hardly anybody’s definition of a good night out.

Yet this adaptation of two stories by Andre Dubus offers a thrill largely missing from this summer’s blockbusters: the chance to watch professionals at the top of their game. The actors – Mark Ruffalo, Laura Dern, Naomi Watts and Peter Krause – all work in perfect sync. Screenwriter Larry Gross lays out the psychological games subtly, raising issues of money and class. Gross, who wrote 48 HRS., has been trying to get this film made for twenty years. He deservedly won the Waldo Salt award at this year’s Sundance festival.

But it’s Australian director John Curran, making his U.S. debut, who pulls it all together. He demonstrates an astonishing command of his craft, using sound and perfectly-placed edits to deepen the film’s emotions. What could have been a largely internal tale becomes, in his hands, a dynamic and visual one.

I think it was novelist and screenwriter William Goldman who talked about the New Yorker school of fiction. Where every short story seems to end the same way. A marriage on the rocks. A last-ditch trip to Italy to save the relationship. The couple sits at an outdoor café, unable to communicate. An insect lands on the table. Crawls a certain way. The man looks at his wife. The closing line is invariably some variation on this:

“And she understood.”

There’s an aspect of that here. The final images presume more finality than they achieve. But at least they give you something to discuss on the way home.

Miscellaneous: Links

It’s a holiday weekend, but that doesn’t mean bloggers are taking time off. Lee Goldberg offers two excellent articles on FLETCH novelist Gregory McDonald here and here. And Jaime Weinman braves the wrath of a rabid fan base by posting his list of ten reasons why he hates FAMILY GUY.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

DVD: Harvard Man (2002)

Diaries, particularly those that track the making (or unmaking) of an artist’s projects, have always fascinated me. My interest in them led indirectly to this website. I tried to keep a journal of my own work, but the results were so boring (read: depressing) that I decided to shoot my mouth off about movies and books instead. I never seem to be at a loss for words on those subjects.

But I still read diaries, and then reread them. My copy of Richard E. Grant’s WITH NAILS, in which the actor recounts 7 years’ worth of movie gigs, is falling apart. (And it’s the UK edition, so it doesn’t even have the chapter on the making of the Spice Girls movie.) Another favorite is Steven Soderbergh’s GETTING AWAY WITH IT, which combines a profile of the director’s mentor Richard Lester (A HARD DAY’S NIGHT) with a record of the year Soderbergh spent struggling to get a movie – any movie – off the ground. At the end of the journal, he’s offered OUT OF SIGHT, the film that turned his career around. Two years later, he would be competing against himself for the Best Director Oscar. Reading about his disappointments and seeing how quickly his fortunes turn is hugely reassuring.

Hands down, my favorite diary is the one that writer/director James Toback wrote for the film annual PROJECTIONS. I couldn’t estimate how many times I’ve read it, but it’s well into double digits. Toback’s fierce intelligence is alive on every page. In 1994, he was hard at work on several projects, but his main focus was a script about the seminal incident in his life, an eight-day acid trip from which he almost never returned. He writes it, rewrites it, confronts the material, retreats from it, meets with actors (Leonardo DiCaprio, Stephen Dorff) about starring in it, talks to producers about mounting a production. At one point he gathers strangers in Central Park so he can read what he has written to them, in hope of gaining some fresh perspective. For twelve months it’s always on his mind and forever out of reach. Reading about his obsession with this story is fascinating.

In 2002, HARVARD MAN was finally released. By then I’d read Toback’s journal ten or twelve times.

But I didn’t see the movie.

I was afraid his version wouldn’t live up to the one I’d imagined. In fact, I was sure it wouldn’t. As lively a figure as Toback can be, he’s wildly erratic as a filmmaker. He works best under limitations; he wrote BUGSY for another director, and on TWO GIRLS AND A GUY he had only three actors and one set. Without those restrictions, he produces shapeless, pretentious movies like BLACK AND WHITE (2000), movies that are full of ideas but with no story to serve them.

After reading Toback’s diary for the umpteenth time, I realized it was its ten-year anniversary. I marked the occasion by finally watching the movie.

ENTOURAGE’s Adrian Grenier stars along with Sarah Michelle Gellar. Al Franken has a funny cameo as himself. There’s a half-assed plot about point-shaving in collegiate basketball, another about an FBI investigation. Some of the acid trip visuals are clever, but no movie can come close to capturing what Toback describes: “No self left. No ‘I.’ Just the noise of words with no inherent meaning.” On the whole, the movie merely plays with the concepts it raises. It’s a complete mess.

You should see the version in my head.

Friday, September 03, 2004

DVD: Millennium Actress (2002)

A reclusive screen legend agrees to one final interview to mark the closing of the studio that made her name. As she speaks to the film crew, scenes from her movies merge with moments from her life until it becomes difficult to tell them apart.

Satoshi Kon’s feature-length anime is an insanely ambitious work. It’s a look at the full sweep of a woman’s life as well as a history of postwar Japanese cinema. (I have no doubt that it’s packed with movie references that sailed over my head. Although I’m pretty sure I spotted Zatoichi in there.) The plot that drives the film is gossamer thin; it’s really more of a conceit than a story. But it allows Kon to tie all of his themes together and build to a poignant ending.

The scope and sweep of this movie would be impossible to achieve in live action. Luckily the Japanese continue to see animation as a vessel for adult storytelling.

TV: Republican National Convention

A highpoint of this week’s coverage was MSNBC’s ‘Convention After Hours.’ The show, hosted by Joe Scarborough and Ron Reagan, Jr., aired nightly from midnight to 2AM EST live from Herald Square. Maybe it was the lateness of the hour or the in-house jazz band, but the show had a mellow vibe that encouraged guests to speak to each other without screaming. I was sorry to see it end.

Last night Triumph the Insult Comic Dog joined the panel. (A moment, please, to honor Robert Smigel. Who must laugh himself to sleep every night, still unable to believe that a one-joke bit on Conan O’Brien has become a second career.) Triumph asked actor Ron Silver if he’d endorsed Bush because it was either that or go on HOLLYWOOD SQUARES. Silver replied that national security had made him a one-issue voter, then asked Triumph to name the key domestic issues of 1940, ’44, ’52 and other election years when the United States was at war. After a pause, panelist Mike Barnicle said, “Ron, are you actually trying to debate the dog?”

Cut to my favorite shot in all of television: the crew in hysterics.

Over on Fox, Pat Boone decried morals in Hollywood. As an example, he cited Robert Mitchum’s arrest for marijuana possession – in 1948. When he got out, Boone said, “he was bigger than ever.” Well, that’s true.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Cable Catch-Up: Innerspace (1987)

I keep waiting for a cult following to spring up around this movie, one of your better comic science fiction love stories. It’s a riff on FANTASTIC VOYAGE in which miniaturized test pilot Dennis Quaid is accidentally injected into hypochondriac Martin Short. Meg Ryan is Quaid’s love interest, which may bring back a few painful memories. But we’re all adults here, and we have to get on with our lives.

Director Joe Dante is one of the few masters of this tone. A product of the Roger Corman factory, he’s best known for 1984’s GREMLINS. The 1990 sequel is actually a much better movie, a straight ahead gonzo comedy packed with in-jokes. Dante began his career with two pitch-perfect comic horror films, PIRANHA and THE HOWLING. His crowning achievement is 1993’s MATINEE, a warm look back at 1960s horrors real (the Cuban missile crisis) and imagined (the creature features cranked out by William Castle). I count myself among the few fans of Dante’s last feature, LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION, which did an admirable job of recreating the anarchic spirit of the Warner Brothers cartoons.

Co-writer Chip Proser also wrote ICEMAN, one of the great lost films of the 1980s. I hereby launch a campaign to have it released on DVD. Who’s with me?

Music: Laura Branigan

The pop singer died last week. She had largely retired from performing in 1996, so she unfairly missed out on the ‘80s revival. I didn’t think much of her songs like ‘Gloria’ and ‘Solitaire,’ but she had a powerful voice.

The video for her song ‘Self Control’ was one of the first to be banned from MTV. I remember it vividly: the suggestion of an orgy, the masked lover, the enormous belt Branigan wore over her cat suit. It was directed by William Friedkin of EXORCIST/FRENCH CONNECTION fame, and in retrospect it seems like a dry run for his 1995 sex thriller JADE. (Who knew? It turns out Friedkin is now directing opera.) Times change; the video is now a staple on VH-1 Classic. You can watch it on the official Laura Branigan website.

Miscellaneous: Huh?

“Saying that Fox News is beating the networks only because Republicans are watching is like saying ‘The Sopranos’ beats the networks only because Italians are watching.”

-Fox spokeswoman Irena Briganti to the New York Times on their coverage of the Republican National Convention

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

DVD: Pennies From Heaven (1981)

Let me say up front that I refuse to compare this movie to Dennis Potter’s original 4½-hour miniseries, because I haven’t seen that version. Although now that it has also been released on DVD, I intend to. The film has only whetted my appetite for Potter’s work.

His pioneering use of song as way of illuminating narrative has been cribbed many times. (See John Turturro’s ROMANCE AND CIGARETTES, due later this year.) Steve Martin stars as a sheet music salesman in the 1930s Midwest. As he struggles to sort out his romantic life, the upbeat tunes of the era provide a sharp counterpoint. The cast lip-syncs to original recordings, although they do their own dancing. Martin proves to be a surprisingly able hoofer. Better than Richard Gere, anyway.

The drastic compression of the storyline makes the film more melodramatic, but also contributes to the intensity of the musical numbers. The characters need these songs, because they provide the only respite they have from the burdens of the Depression. The bombastic MOULIN ROUGE! attempted something similar with contemporary music, but in order to do that, you have to let at least one song play out in its entirety. And overblown originals do not count.

PENNIES doesn’t fully cohere into a whole, but it’s never less than gripping. It’s a powerful testament to music’s ability to articulate emotion in a way beyond the reach of most of us.

TV: The Daily Show

On the Republican National Convention: “Madison Square Garden hasn’t seen this many white people since the last Rangers home game.”

I am proud to say that Rosemarie made this very joke, word for word, the day before Jon Stewart did.

Miscellaneous: Celebrity Politics

Arnold Schwarzenegger Movies That He Has Yet To Invoke In A Political Speech:

Red Heat
Jingle All The Way
Batman & Robin
End of Days
Collateral Damage

Arnold Schwarzenegger Movie That He Should Have Invoked In His Speech To The RNC:

Hercules in New York

Miscellaneous: More Celebrity Politics

Actor Ron Silver, one of the founders of the Creative Coalition, has received a lot of press for his endorsement of President Bush. Here’s an excerpt from a New York Times article:

Running into Al Franken, the comedian and liberal talk show host, at the Four Seasons Party on Monday, Mr. Silver said, “I’m speaking tonight.”

Puzzled, Mr. Franken asked, “For Bush?”

Reinforcing the point, Mr. Silver replied, “I’m speaking.”

“For Bush?,” Mr. Franken said.

“I’m speaking,” Mr. Silver said again.

“For Bush?,” Mr. Franken said.