Friday, July 31, 2009

My New Man Crush

I've got a new man crush. His name is Lawrence Francis O'Donnell,
Jr. and although he has a long footprint - he has been around since
the Clinton Administration, I first became aware of him when he
recently guest hosted Keith Olbermann's MSNBC show. As of late,
Mr. O'Donnell has been all over MSNBC, particularly "The Morning
Joe" program and, to my admittedly biased ear, he is the only
pragmatic and reasoned voice in popular media today.

O'Donnell, an Emmy-Award winning producer and writer for the
NBC series "West Wing," is renown for his aggressive debate style.
He once shouted "liar!" over and over again at Swift Boat Spokes-
person John O'Neill shouted down fellow panelist Cathy Seipp on
the issue of public education and teachers.

O'Donnell refers to himself as a "pragmatic European socialist"
but more tellingly, "Morning Joe" Scarborough delights in
frequently calling him "crazy" which informs me that O'Donnell
must be the most honest white man in America.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Torchwood Pentalogy

I often argue that fiction is truer than non-fiction. The five
episodes of Torchwood: Children of Earth sum up the cruel state
of the world better than any news report I have ever seen or
read. The machinations of the power elite in Children ape what
happens in caucus, conference and board rooms all over the world,

What thought provoking stuff! Is Captain Jack's sacrifice inherently
any different than the deal the powers-that-be made with the 456?
They both made their choices "for the greater good" based on time
constraints and the information they had at hand.

And what a great juxtaposition between the choices Jack and Home
Office civil servant John Forbisher make. Earlier Forbisher had told
Jack "You're a better man than I am," but is he really? It has long
been my deeply held belief that a parent's prime directive is to
protect their children. My mantra regarding mine is "these are
mine and you can't have them."

Further, was it easier of Captain Jack to make his choice (his
daughter could not have made it) because he cannot die and has
and will see so many of his love ones perish?

I am all for plausible danger but DAYUM! are they gonna kill
EVERYBODY???? (by the by: the late great Tosh would have
figured out the frequency thing way before episode five).

The Doctor is In

I enjoyed the Dr. Who episode Planet of the Dead. The episode
was influenced by several works: a little bit Indiana Jones, a little
bit Flight of the Phoenix, a little bit Pitch Black, and sixties'
films such as Charade and Topkapi, which included Cary
Grant and Audrey Hepburn "being witty and sophisticated
together, and then running for their lives."

Michelle Ryan (late of the Bionic Woman) is bright, perky and
evanescent as Lady Christina de Souza, a totally British cross
between tomb raider Lara Croft and Harry Potter's Hermione
Granger. Headstrong and willing to dive headlong into any
situation, Christina is,ironically, the perfect companion for the
expiring and suddenly companion-adverse Doctor. Her cat
burglar's kit bag was a perfect match for the Doctor's all-purpose
sonic screw driver.

Also, British stand-up comedian Lee Evans is a hoot as the
Doctor obsessive Professor Malcolm Taylor.

To beat my personal drum, let me give shout-outs to Noma
Kumezweni as the pragmatic and by-the-book Unified
Intelligence Task (UNIT) force leader, Capt. Erisa Magambo,
Daniel Kuluuya (as Barclay) and Reginald Tsiboe (as Lou).
As people in their fifth decade drop dead all around me, I
am pleased to have lived long enough to see names like
"Kumezweni," "Kuluuya" and "Tsiboe" in the credits of an
episodic television program, albeit a British one.

Planet of the Dead is supposed to be the "last time the
Doctor gets to have any fun." If so, I enjoyed the ride.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Stupid? What he meant was "Retarded"

Tonight's episode of "Real Time with Bill Maher" (which I
watched at 3:00 am this morning) focused on the Henry Louis
Gates imbroglio and featured some hilarious takes. Some

President Obama regrets saying "stupid." What he meant was

"What kind of thief breaks into a house with luggage?"

"Airforce 1 was pulled over for a broken taillight."

"When black intellectuals strike - we take affirmative action."

Friday, July 24, 2009

Torchwood Tetralogy

I watched episodes 1-4 of Torchwood: Children of Earth last
night. Great stuff! I continue to appreciate the way people of
color - particularly black people - are seamlessly integrated
into this alternate reality - and London is a great backdrop
"character" in this drama (and, you gotta love the chutzpa of
the British - still supercilious enough to believe they are the
center of the universe - which was ridiculous even when Sean
Connery was still doing his James Bond thing).

Two things are refreshing: a) there are black people in the
"future" and (b) their integration from the bottom to the
top of society is so commonplace it is not even worth noting.
I do wish there had been more children of color represented
but that is a small nit.

I love the "fourth wall" of episodic television has been broken
down and there are actual and devastating consequences to
heroic action.

I love the ethical dilemmas presented and how quickly and
cavalierly they are dismissed by the ruling class. The notion
of oligarchy (masquerading as meritocracy) vs. true meri-
tocracy, in this context, is presented brilliantly.

It also addresses one of the hoariest and most annoying (for me)
cliches of SF literature - the willingness of a conspirator to sacrifice
millions to save a loved one (I reference Dr. Yueh in Dune and
Abe Sapien in Hell Boy II: the Golden Army). Of course it is the
right thing to sacrifice your beloved for the greater good - I know
it is the right thing to do - and, yet, I don't know if I could pull the
"save the universe as we know it" trigger if it was my sacrifice of
my son or my daughter that sealed the deal.

Oh, yeah, and the love affair between Captain Jack (John
Barrowman) and Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd) almost
rises to the level of Brokeback Mountain, and that is about
as high as man-on-man love can go in our popular culture.
Captain Jack has lived a long time and, like a western barroom
door, obviously swings both ways, but I am reminded of the
comedic question of how many heterosexual conquests a dedicated
cockhound can have before he is compelled to take a walk on
the "wild" side. Like the comedian says, "I want to know what
that number is!"

Lastly, entirely on a personal note, as a unrepentant Nipponophile,
I lament the absence of Naoko Mori's Toshiko Sato. I can, however,
be placated if she is replaced by the fetching Lois Habiba (Cush
Jumbo). I mean, how cool is it that there is a central character
named Lois Habiba? Speaking of the resourceful Lois Habiba, you
gotta love the stiff upper lip British ethos of taking haughty pride
in your position (or lot in life) no matter what it is (like a valet
calling himself a "gentleman's gentleman"). "I am a PA (personal
assistant)!" Lois states with certitude after super efficiently
delivering cointel to big eyed Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles).

Good, heady stuff! Lots to chew on!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Demolition Derby

I did what I often do before going to sleep – I turned on the
television and scanned the twenty-something movie channels
I subscribe to – and, to my pleasant surprise, I came across a
movie I hadn’t thought much about in the decade and a half
since I last saw it. The movie was 1993’s Demolition Man starring
Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes and an improbably perky and
dewy Sandra Bullock – still a year from her rocket launch to
superstardom in Speed. Not only that but the cast also includes
an equally dewy Benjamin Bratt and Rob Schneider, and the not
so dewy Dennis Leary, Jesse Ventura, veteran character actor Bill
Cobbs and Sir Nigel Hawthorne as the great architect of the brave
new world Stallone’s John “Demolition Man” Spartan awakens in
2031, thirty-five years after he was wrongfully convicted and
incarcerated in a cryogenic prison.

Literally born out of the Los Angeles riots of 1992, Demolition
presages a future where violence, sex , profanity and graffiti have
been eradicated by a benevolent overseer. Hawthorne’s Raymond
Cocteau has sanitized the greater Los Angeles area much the way
Rudy Giuliani purged New York City’s Times Square and, like the
denizens who used to ply their trade in New York’s sin city, the
undesirables of New Los Angeles have also been forced underground.
Dennis Leary’s Edgar Friendly is the leader of the unwashed and
the unwanted and is, therefore, a thorn Cocteau wants removed
from his royal paw. Long story short: Cocteau unthaws brutal
crime lord Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) to assassinate Friendly;
the unwitting police unthaw Spartan to recapture Phoenix, and all
hell breaks loose.

I guess all the mesomorphic freaks of the day were making science
fiction movies in the nineties. Arnold Schwarzenegger made Total
Recall in 1990, Demolition was made in 1993 and Jean-Claude Van
Damme followed with Time Cop in 1994. There is even a wry,
grudging tip of the hat to Schwarzenegger in Demolition when
Bullock’s Lt. Lenina Huxley divulges the source of all her knowledge
about 1996: the Schwarzenegger Presidential Library. What is
interesting is that while I include Total Recall among my top five
fave science fiction movies and remember Time Cop fondly,
primarily for the late Ron Silver’s star turn as the evil Senator
Aaron McComb, I had largely forgotten Demolition Man. And that
is a shame because seen through the prism of the last decade and
a half, Demolition is a veritable time capsule of small treasures.

First of all, the movie is startlingly prescient. It anticipates both
Giuliani’s antiseptic reign (1994-2001) and Schwarzenegger’s
political ascension (2003-2009). Further, Demolition’s year
2031 is a plausible future where small, computerized, fuel
efficient cars zip around a spiffy landscape not startlingly
different from our own. Then there are the amusing grace
notes like the machines that issue citations for every swear
word uttered and spew like ticket machines at Chucky Cheese
whenever Spartan is around. Also, Demolition’s world of 2031
is a place where Taco Bell is the only restaurant to survive the
“Franchise Wars” – and all restaurants are now Taco Bells –
which is not only funny but clever product placement. What
doesn’t age as well is the cheeky notion that all of our commercial
jingles will become golden oldies on 2031 radio –because in just
fifteen years forward most of them, like “My dog’s better than
your dog (the Ken-L Ration song),” are already disappearing in
America’s cultural rear view mirror – kind of like Ken-L Ration,
itself, which is no longer produced. Still, seeing and hearing a
pianist tickling the ivories and crooning “In the valley of the Jolly
(Ho-Ho-Ho) Green Giant” in the lobby of a swanky restaurant is
still a great visual and aural gag.

Like the notion of jingles as cultural keepsakes, the fashions of
Demolition are an interesting mishmash. The “Officer Friendly”
police force of 2031 wears uniforms straight out of the Third
Reich – benign Police Chief George Earl (Bob Gunton) looks
like Hogan’s Heroes Colonel Clink - monocle and all - while
the citizenry wears unisex kimonos straight out of the Heian
Dynasty (Glenn Shadix’s Associate Bob looks and sashays on
his platform sandles like a fat geisha girl).

Lastly there is Wesley Snipes as Simon Phoenix. Phoenix is
a Crayola-colored miscreant in overalls and a Dennis the
Menace stripped shirt. With blond Mohawk, this gleeful
performance is one part Dennis Rodman, one part Steve
Urkel and one part Heath Ledger channeling Jack Nicholson.
As Rob Schneider’s peace officer protests: “We’re police
officers! We’re not trained to handle this type or violence!”
The two big action set pieces feature major mayhem but are
sort of un balanced as 31 year-old Snipes is way too frisky for
47 year-old and feeling it Stallone. It is interesting to note that
Snipes is now as old as Stallone was when he made Demolition
and, even then, you would have expected Snipes to really “lick”
Stallone’s ass (in the mangled parlance of 1996 devotee Lt.
Huxley – “kicked his ass,” Spartan corrects wearily).

That said, Demolition Man plays good like a dystopian action
movie should.

Today in Sound-Off Theater (Descent)

I have found the perfect (for me) movie to watch with the sound
off: Descent, produced by and starring film goddess, Rosario
. For your good buddy, Rave, an unrepentant acolyte
at Miss Dawson's shrine, this film is the motherlode! My girl
(and there is a hilarious outtake regarding the use of the word
"girl" to refer to grown women), Rosario Dawson is in virtually
EVERY shot (!) - with the camera lovingly lingering on every line
and curve. Those lips! Those eyes! Those thighs (and the legs
that seem to go on forever)!

Actually, Descent violates one of the prime rules of "Sound-
Off Theater": the movie has to be wretched with the sound off.
Descent is extremely watchable with the sound on - bold,
daring and full of risks, and afro-gyno-affirming in surprising
and subtle ways (the not-so-subtle subtext exists in another
telling outtake).

Yet, this is a journey told primarily with Dawson's face - her
incredible smile, her often sad eyes, her long, cat-like body,
and the knitting of her brow.

Another revelation in the film is African-British actor Marcus
Patrick who scorches the screen in the way I haven't seen a
young black actor scorch the screen - ever. His masculine self-
possession is both amazing and exhiliarating. He commands
his space like a panther. The New York Times encapsulated
his screen presence by calling him a young Burt Lancaster,
and this description is apt - as he possesses the same
physicality and masculine danger. His career should be
blowing up - but he is probably twenty years from getting
a decent role.

Descent ~rave! Marcus Patrick's career ~(no)rave!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Monday Bond

I stumbled across a mini-James Bond marathon on the
USA Network (Monday, July 13
th) consisting of On Her
Majesty’s Secret Service
, Diamonds are Forever , You
Only Live Twice
and For Your Eyes Only. I assume these
movies were bundled together because they comprise the
quartet of Bond movies featuring 007’s arch enemy Ernst
Stavro Blofeld (Blofeld also appears in
Never Say Never
, a jackleg remake of Thunderball, but NSNA is not
officially a part of the James Bond canon).

USA showed the movies in the order I have listed above,
but I wish they had been shown in the order they were
Although Blofeld makes his first appearance in From
Russia With Love
, only his hands and the back of his head
is shown.
Thunderball marks his second appearance, but
we only see his hands stroking his trademark white Persian
You Only Live Twice (1967) marks the first occasion
we get to see Blofeld’s face and we are party to virtual Blofeld/
Bond passion play in this and the two movies that follow it.

Bond thwarts Blofeld’s best chance for world domination in
YOLT; Blofeld gains a measure of revenge by killing Bond’s
wife in
OHMSS; and Bond exacts vengeance by killing Blofeld
not once, not twice but
four times in Diamonds Are Forever
(1971). Then, because Bond didn’t get it right in DAF despite
drowning Blofeld in a tub of mud, tossing him in a vat of acid,
shooting him in the head and blowing him up on an oil rig –
he has to dispatch the feline-loving fiend one last time during
the opening credits of
For Your Eyes Only.

The Blofeld angle is fine but I have a different relationship to
three of the four movies shown.
On Her Majesty’s Secret
(1969) was the first Bond movie I ever saw. Now,
when the first movie you see of any franchise is the “runt”
of the litter, it tends to skew your perspective.
I have a good
friend who still claims
Godfather 3 is the best of the God-
movies. Now, maybe I’m the one who has been riding
the bloody crazy train but choosing
Godfather 3 as the best
Godfather movie is like choosing Larry as the funniest of the
Three Stooges.
I mean, sure Larry was amusing with his
Bozo the Clown hair and his perpetual hangdog demeanor
(like he had actually read the terrible contracts the Stooges
signed with Columbia), but funnier than Moe and Curly?
don’t think so.
But I understand where my friend was coming

George Lazenby was my first Bond and I have a lingering
affection for his performance.
I was thirteen years old when
I saw
OHNSS. A sheltered child who had lived in a sheltered
world, my eyes got big watching
OHNSS. I still remember
the quip Lazenby made when a henchman on skis got churned
up by a huge snow blower: “He sure had a lot of guts.”
does it get better than that?

I suddenly had a huge Bond jones but this was 1969, before
both VHS tapes and DVDs, so I went straight to the Ian Fleming
novels, which I read one after another, in sequence.
I first saw
the pre-
OHNSS movies on network television before subse-
quently viewing them on tape and early pay television.
discovered Sean Connery’s performance in
Dr. No (the first,
and, IMHO, still the best Bond film) and demoted Lazenby

You Only Live Twice is, hands down, my favorite Bond
movie (
You Only Live Twice is also my favorite Bond novel).
As an unrepentant Nipponophile, I love the score, I love the
locales, I love the paper walls, I love the fashions, I love the
bowing, I love the taking off of shoes, I love the women and
I love the action set pieces.
Also, as written by Roald Dahl,
YOLT has a breezy urbane sophistication that many of the
Bond movies strive for but few obtain.
With current viewing it
is easy to find
YOLT highly misogynic but, in the context of a
Bond film, I found it quaint and sweet.
Everything about YOLT,
from the opening “murder” in HongKong to the Ninja invasion
at the movie’s end, is just pitch perfect.

On previous viewings I had seen little to recommend Diamonds
Are Forever besides the great Shirley Bassey rendition of the
title song, but on Monday I saw the movie with new eyes.
DAF you can already see the Bond franchise taking on the 70’s
bloat of the Roger Moore era, with pointless stunts and lots of
product placement.

DAF was my first opportunity to see the original Bond in action
as Sean Connery returns to save the franchise from the brutal
backlash after
OHMSS. I was less than impressed. Although
he was only 41 years-old at the time (Moore is 46 when he begins
the role), he is already looking a little long in the tooth.
Still, DAF
has lots of grace notes.
For one thing, the merry henchmen, Mr.
Kidd and Mr. Windt, as portrayed by character actor Bruce
Glover (father of Crispin) and jazz bassist Putter Smith, are as
droll as they are vicious.
Further, I was probably too young to
appreciate Jill St. John’s grown woman performance as jewel
thief Tiffany Case when I first saw it but,
dayum!, I sho nuff
get it now.

Last but not least, however, is seeing DAF, in the reflection of
Mike Meyers’
Austin Powers movies. When Bond shoots the
wrong Blofeld doppelganger in the head, the real Blofeld, who
has a gun in his hand, does not take the opportunity to shoot
Bond dead but
instead orders him into an elevator where he
is gassed unconscious
then placed into the drunk of a car by
the erstwhile Mr. Kidd and Mr. Windt
before being driven out
to an oil field where his body is dumped inside a length of pipe-
line that is
then buried underground the next morning where
Bond wakes up to find himself about to be run over by a
mechanical pipe cleaner. I found myself channeling Seth
Green’s Scott Evil and shouting an exasperated “Just shoot
him!” at the television screen.

But then again, perhaps I just don’t get it.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Nursing a Habit

I DVR and regularly watch both Pinkett-Smith's Hawthorne and
Nurse Jackie with former Soprano Edie Falco, and Nurse Jackie
is clearly the superior of the two nurse shows. Which is not to say
Hawthorne is bad, "Nurse Jackie" is just better. Anna Deavere
Smith, Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-nominated American actress,
playwright, and professor, plays Gloria Akalitis, a wobbly, over-
officious, fleshy and clearly menopausal hospital administrator on
Nurse Jackie and her performance teeters on the precipice of
caricature. For me, it is a fascinating tight-rope act.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Digitally Converted

I finally got around to purchasing a digital converter box
for the ancient twelve inch color television in my kitchen
and it has been great! First of all, even before the conver-
sion to all digital broadcasting, I had only been able to get
VHF channels - which was fine because I rarely spent much
more time in the kitchen than it took to prepare or to con-
sume a meal, and I usually listened to sports radio or NPR
when I did that. So I get my brand new digital converter
home and hook it up to my television. As I said, my tele-
vision is old, so the cute little color-coordinated jacks that
plug into the cute color-coordinated holes were of no use
to me. I am strictly coaxial cable, baby! Still, I muddle
through, with no help from the instruction manual I might
add, finally realizing I need to slide the switch on the back
of the television from channel 4 to channel 3 in order to get
some reception.

My old television has no control buttons - they have all
broken off - so I need to use my universal remote to turn
the television on, then the digital converter box's remote
to turn on the digital converter box. I press MENU on the
remote control to display the Main Menu and select Auto
Program to begin scanning and searching for all the digital
channels in my area. It takes a few minutes but, man, is it
worth it. Instead of four fuzzy VHF channels, I now have
upwards of thirty over the air digital channels, including all
the UHF channels I had been previously missing. The digital
clarity of the picture is a joy to behold. I actually found my-
self sitting in a hard kitchen chair watching a 25 year-old
episode of Knight Rider on the ME channel (why does KITT
need Michael Knight, anyway?).

The downside is I am listening to less NPR and spending more
time in my kitchen watching The View and Kathy Lee and
Hoda. I am watching the local morning shows and the news
at noon. The upside is I am spending more time in my kitchen
chopping up onions, garlic and mushrooms and frying up fresh
garnishes for my burgers.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

How to Lose $60 Million Without Really Trying

I am watching something called In the Name of the King: A
Dungeon Siege Tale
on Showtime. The movie stars Jason
Statham and the cast includes such stellar actors as Ron
(Hellboy) Perlman, Ray (Goodfellas) Liotta - shamelessly
chewing up scenery as Gallion, the prolific John Rhys-Davies,
Burt (Smokey and the Bandit) Reynolds, Claire (Meet Joe Black)
Forlani, Leelee (Deep Impact) Sobieski and Brian J. White
(The Shield, Moonlight) wearing a nasty looking scar as
the nubian warrior, Commander Tarish.

The movie is directed by German born schlockmiester Uwe Boll,
best known for his BloodRayne movies.

I had never heard of this movie so I went to IMDB, Box Office
Mojo and Wikipedia and discovered In the Name of the King
cost $60 million and grossed a robust $13 million worldwide.
Then I discoverd the first BloodRayne cost $25 million and
grossed a whopping $2.42 million. WTF!!!!!

Then I discovered that Boll is very successfully manipulating a
lucrative loophole in German tax laws. Boll is able to acquire
funding thanks to German tax laws that reward investments in
film. The law allows investors in German-owned films to write
off 100% of their investment as a tax deduction; it also allows
them to invest borrowed money and write off any fees associated
with the loan. The investor is then only required to pay taxes on
the profits made by the movie; if the movie loses money, the
investor gets a tax writeoff.

Imagine, thought I, if black filmmakers were able to exploit such
a loophole? Everybody KNOWS black films don't make money.
What an excellent opportunity to make all the black epics everyone
dreams of but nobody dares risk the money to make.

What a bonanza! You could hire all the known but under utilized
black actors and actresses - pay them top dollar - WTF? We are
TRYING to lose money after all!

Let Vin Diesel make his "Hannibal." Let Spike Lee make his
"Tuskegee Airmen." Let the Hughes Brothers make whatever
they want. Hell, let me film The World Ebon. Shoot, I could burn
through a coupla hundred million dollars real quick!

Imagine the mishmash of casts you could come up with! What
would be your dream project?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Don't Want Nobody To Give Me Nothin'

In a predictable 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the
firefighters who were denied promotions because several lower
courts viewed the uniformity of their complexion as proof that the
New Haven promotion process was potentially flawed. This is not a
litmus test on Judge Sotomayor’s fitness for the High Court; it is
really a refutation of the long-held and wrong-headed notion that
minorities can’t achieve unless they are given special dispensations.
Almost from the beginning, the implementers of affirmative action
got it wrong. They looked at the evidence, coupled it with their bias,
and presumed that minorities had not achieved at the rate of their
white counterparts because they were under-qualified while
conveniently ignoring that most of the original complainants had
filed because they were denied advancement while less qualified
white applicants leapfrogged over them. What minorities require,
and what has long been lacking, is an level playing field. Don’t
change anything. Just open up the door, we’ll get it ourselves.