Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Chicks Are Back

Some folks interested in such things suggested a couple of years back that The Dixie Chicks committed professional suicide with their "I'm embarrassed President Bush is from Texas" comment. Some radio stations refused to play their stuff, and lots of red state-ers boycotted CDs and shows.

Not yet ready to make nice, the Chicks recently released an album that is topical, shoots from the hip and takes no prisoners. (Add your own western-type cliche.) Taking The Long Way was last week's top-selling album, and far exceeded industry predictions. Without help from a hit single, or wide-spread radio play.

I'd like to think the high sales were the result of a society that appreciates smart and entertaining performers, regardless of their political leanings. My guess, though, is that the sales have as much to do with the low popularity of they do the Chicks' talent.

Now, as Bill Lynch points out, if we could just get them to swing their tour through The Mountain State.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Please, Make It Stop: Part 3

My All-Things-Oprah sense went off while pulling up the Life section of USA Today On-Line. (Since USA Today hiked it's price to 75 cents while reducing the paper's width, I only read the on-line edition now. I'm cheap.)


My Oprah-sense tingled (and not a good tingle, mind you) and I realized that there, to the bottom left, was Oprah's picture. At first I thought I saw a slight trace of a halo above her head, but quickly realized it was the glare off my bedroom window. I re-adjusted my laptop and read that she is now being touted by some group for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The "Oprah For Nobel Peace Prize" group explains to readers that Oprah is a "friend to the world," and one of the few celebrities we "know intimately." They ask for a letter of support, and end their message with: "Oprah For Nobel Peace Prize. Now, More Than Ever."

I've watched the show over the years, and there is one consistent thing about the lady: Oprah thinks she knows the answers to life's mysteries, and to those annoying areas of grey that cause confusion in mere mortals. And like others who believe they are enlightened, Oprah feels the need to spout out maxims and parables, most of which she steals from the guests on her show. The Nobel Prize? Give me a break.

...Of course, she is better than Maury Povitch.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Rumor Has It

Jennifer Aniston's movie Rumor Has It is an average movie with an above-average premise: The Graduate was based partly on fact, and the family members of Aniston's character are central to the story.

Aniston plays Sarah Hattinger, a conflicted and complicated woman who finds herself in a pre-mid-life crisis. Hattinger is frightened, feels alone and is unsure of herself. Searching for life meaning, she stumbles onto the information that The Graduate was based in part on the lives of her grandmother and her mother. This causes her to seek out the film's Benjamin Braddock inspiration, played by Kevin Costner. Costner plays the role with subtle humor and sensitivity, and his is a terrific supporting role.

Rumor Has It-like The Graduate in the 60s-is a film about uncertainty. At it's core, it is about that stage of our lives when many of us pause and ask: "Now what?" The answer to that question puts us on a path toward the rest of our lives. In Hattinger's case, she makes the decision the audience wants, which I thought was the wrong way to end the film. It wasn't authentic, and seemed dishonest. So, average flick to rent when you have little else to choose from. **

Making Memories

Memorial Day, to me at least, has always been about making memories as much as reflecting on and paying respect to loved ones who have passed on. I hope the memories currently being made with my kids, such as...

Hiking up to The Rock, along a trail in our neighborhood, and

Hanging out at the pool, and

Pretending to be pirates at the cook-out.

...are easily recalled by my kids on some far, distant (Please! Be far and distant) Memorial Day when I'm not around.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Whatever Happened To...Freddie The Frog

Henrietta Hippo was funny and a flirt, and Charlie the Owl was pretty smart. But Freddie the Frog (in the green, far right) was dah man on New Zoo Review.

Our friend Doug and his helper, Emmy Jo, knew it, and they were gracious enough to let the spotlight shine each week where it belonged, on Freddie.

NZR has been syndicated nationally since 1972. After original episodes concluded Henrietta and Charlie continued their efforts to educate children, while Doug and Emmy Jo joined a commune in New Mexico.

Fearing he would be typecast as a kid show actor, Freddie made some controversial commercials before fading into obscurity. His latest, which came during his darkest period in 1987, was quite possibly his most creative effort.

I Hate To Say It, But...

...I told you so. Back on February 16, 2006 I said:

My American Idol Pick

Simon hates him, Randy has yet to call him "Dawg" and he doesn't make Paula hot, but Taylor Hicks is gonna kick some AI butt this season. The TV editing hasn't done this guy justice. Check out three of his songs from this site, listed below. (Scroll to the bottom where the songs are listed.) Listen to all three; they are original and soulful.

Aside from my unflattering and narcissistic need to remind folks I called it (more than three months ago), the re-post is so you can check out some of Taylor's songs from his independent CD release. The ones on the link are quite good. Check 'em out and let me know what you think.
Click on this to listen:

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Please, Make It Stop: The Sequel

"She's a really hip and materialistic Mother Teresa," says Kathryn Lofton, a professor at Reed College in Portland, Ore., who has written two papers analyzing the religious aspects of Winfrey. "Oprah has emerged as a symbolic figurehead of spirituality."

While un-hip and impoverished Mother Teresa was helping the ill and disenfranchised, Oprah was paraphrasing the comments of her guest experts, and claiming their (sometimes) profound advice as her own.

Cool or not, I'll take Mother Teresa's spiritual guidance over Winfrey's soundbites any day.

Bottom 5 Worst Movies

About mid-way through Asylum last night I realized that the movie deserved a spot on my all-time-worst-movies-ever-made list.

The list doesn't include movies I know will be bad; it would be too easy to add "It's Pat" or the dozens of poorly done flicks that each year go straight to DVD. No, my list is made up of movies I expect to be good because of the actors featured, the director or the advance buzz, but for some reason the flick never materializes into something that, well... doesn't suck.

The list is ever changing, of course, but the bottom 5 (in which Asylum now rests) as of today includes:

Number 5: Gigli
Billed as a murder mystery wrapped in a love story, Gigli was simply a way to get two young, attractive and popular people together in hopes the box office would go through the roof. The mobster flick was the beginning of a slump for Ben Affleck, and an expensive confirmation that J-Lo should lose the acting bug. Producers expected "cha-ching," but got "thud."

Number 4: Shanghai Surprise
We knew Sean Penn could act, and hoped his then-wife Madonna could. Turns out, she couldn't . One of the few misteps Penn has made in his career, but he did it out of love.

Number 3: Boxing Helena
A man loves a woman so much that he kidnaps her, and methodically cuts off her arms and her legs while keeping her in a box. I actually watched this movie twice, thinking I missed something the first time around. I didn't.

Number 2: Asylum
Set in the 1950s, the wife of a psychiatrist falls in love with a mental patient at the asylum which employs her husband, risking everything including the life of her son to be with the guy. I needed an injection or two myself to get through the damn thing. Ian McKellen stars, which made me interested...for about 20 minutes.

Number 1: Raising Cain
I'm a fan of John Lithgow, and expected so much that I actually saw this movie in the theater back in the day. I left the show horribly confused. Did he have a twin, or did he have a multiple personality? During the movie I recall asking my wife if she thought a part of the movie had not been shown (perhaps a reel was forgotten) because it made little sense. It ranks as my all-time worst movie.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Squid And The Whale

The Squid And The Whale, based in great part on writer-director-actor Noah Baumbach's childhood, gives a deep and intimate look into a family in crisis. The peek inside is so intimate that I sometimes felt as if I was intruding into the lives of real people, watching them struggle to resolve personal dilemmas and family dysfunction.

At times I wanted to close the curtain because the view was too raw, and so personal.

Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney play Bernard and Joan Berkman, parents to Walt and Frank. Both parents are writers; Bernard is chasing- and failing to find- the success he had with his first novel, while Joan is just beginning a satisfying and exciting career. Jealousy, despair and insecurity play pivotal roles in the development of these characters, and kept me interested and invested in their outcomes. I alternated between hating Walt and Frank, and wanting to embrace them. The kids get caught between intellectual parents who use emotions as weapons, and struggle to break free from the tug-of-war to find their own path.

The Squid And The Whale is a no holds-barred look into dysfunction. It isn't easy to watch, and may even be too disturbing to some. But is feels real, and genuine. The acting and writing are superb.

Friday, May 19, 2006

No Hablo W

From the AP:

WASHINGTON (May 19) - President George W. Bush supports two Senate proposals that English is the U.S. language and the "common and unifying language," White House spokesman Tony Snow said Friday.

This is a lame discussion and, in my opinion at least, merits no need for real debate. Considering the overwhelming majority of our media is printed or broadcast in English, and our governing bodies use English as the primary means of communication, I'm dubious of the intent of those proposals. I'm guessing the proposals have more to do with making some folks feel better just before voting season. (Which is a lot like deer season, but with more death and destruction.)

I'm chuckling today, though, because proposals to make English our "common and unifying language" are supported by a man who said:

Laura and I really don't realize how bright our children is sometimes until we get an objective analysis. (on CNBC, April 15, 2005)

The illiteracy level of our children are appalling. (speech on January 23, 2004)

Let me put it to you this way. I'm not a revengeful person. (Time, December 25, 2000)

One year ago today, the time for excuse-making has come to an end. (speech on January 8, 2003)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Da Vinci Debate

The Da Vinci Code, one of the most anticipated films in recent years, opens this weekend to erratic buzz and a backlash from zealots.

We've chuckled at Tom Hanks' unusual haircut, and debated whether Harrison Ford may have been better in the lead role. But the outcry that is occurring worldwide about this movie is absurd. Consider these over-the-top reactions (most of which was reported at AOL's Movie News):

In Thailand on Wednesday, a police-run censorship board overturned an earlier decision to cut the last 10 minutes of the film, but insisted the distributor add disclaimers stating it was fiction.

In Ireland, volunteers plan to distribute free copies of a special edition of The Irish Catholic newspaper outside cinemas showing The Da Vinci Code over the weekend.

The Vatican has called for a boycott of the picture.

The Indian government said it would show the movie to Christian groups before clearing it for release.

In the mainly Catholic Philippines the censors have given it an "adult only" rating.

Talking heads are popping up almost hourly on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and the morning network shows, and using the opportunity to discourage people from seeing the movie.

I read and enjoyed the book, and I am eager to see the film regardless of the reviews. More interesting to me is the outcry that seems to be occurring over a work of fiction. (Maybe.)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Saturday Morning Memories: Part 2

I always suspected that pre-teens fell into one of two Saturday morning camps during the early to mid-70s. You were either in:

Camp 1:

or Camp 2:

Because I liked intrigue, mystery and cute girls with pig-tails I was a Land Of The Lost fan. Which did you prefer, and why?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Whatever Happened To...Meeno Peluce

Voyagers was a unique show that lasted 20 episodes on NBC during the 1982-83 season. Jon Erik-Hexum and kid sidekick Meeno traveled through time to right wrongs and kick ass. Each week they landed somewhere in history, discovered an anomaly (that's geek talk for "something ain't quite right") and worked to correct history. I think Voyagers was a forerunner of shows like Quantum Leap and Sliders.

Anyhow, Hexum was killed in a tragic blank-gun shooting incident. I haven't' seen Meeno since.

UPDATE: See the latest update on Peluce (and his photography biz) here at this link.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Saturday Morning Memories: Part 1

The Saturday mornings of my childhood were such fun. My brother and I would get up early, grab some sugary cereal and sit down in front of the tube. We played outside most of the day--living on a farm in the country sort of made that mandatory--but from about 7:3oam until noon we watched cartoons.

Cartoons B.S. (Before Scrappy Doo, for those who have not heard me wail about it) were lively, inventive and advanced by great story-line writing. Cartoons P.S. (Post Scrappy Doo) seem to be created only to sell merchandise, and suffer from tired, re-treaded plotlines.

It's interesting how much from those B.S.shows have stuck with me into my adulthood. Thirty years later I can still sing the entire theme from Hong Kong Phooey, and I rely on Schoolhouse Rock's "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly" for my definition of an adverb. Fun cartoons weren't just for Saturdays, though:

Timer rocked! He taught kids about the nervous system in an After School Special. On Saturdays, in between full length cartoons, he showed us how to make homemade popsicles. Most importantly, he taught us the value of cheese as a snack.

About 10 years ago my wife and I were eating at The Cheese Cellar, in Pittsburgh. Our first time there, we were reading the menu when the waitress arrived to take our order. It went like this:

Waitress: Hi. Ready to order?

Me: Well, I'm hankering for a hunk of...

My wife: Please ignore him.

Me. A slab, a slice, a chunk of...

My wife: [kicking me under the table] Really, he is just weird. Ignore him and he will stop.

Me. I'm hankering for a hunk of cheese.

Waitress: Yeah...Whatever. Listen, you wanna hear the specials?

You'd never get that life-long memory from The Care Bears!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Elections Have Consequences...

I heard the phrase when Harriet Miers was first nominated to the US Supreme Court. I heard it again when Chief Justice Rehnquist died, and a second W-nominated judge was added to the Court.

But I'll be damned, I didn't fully realize those consequences until the night Chris Daughtry was voted off American Idol.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Wolf Creek

I hate horror movies. More truthfully, I'm scared of them. I saw Rosemary's Baby when I was a kid, and I ain't been the same since. So, when my wife qued up Wolf Creek from Netflix, I became a little nervous. I read the Netflix plot summary:

Writer-director Greg Mclean bases his first feature film on actual events in the Australian Outback, where three friends find their road trip cut short by a series of unexplained mysteries. Left stranded to fend for their own survival, the weary travelers dodge an ominous set of strange lights that seem to be targeting their every move. This official Sundance selection won critics' praise for its chillingly realistic approach to horror.

Okay, I thought. Maybe a sci-fi horror flick, or a low-budget thriller. "Srange lights" and "unexplained mysteries" are fine with me. So, I buttered up the popcorn and hit "play."

Sweet Jesus!

Wolf Creek is nothing like it was advertised by our buddies at Netflix. Here is my version:

Three friends travel to deserted Aussie Outback. Car breaks down. A badass Crocodile Dundee-type pretends to help them out, drugs them and then tortures and kills two of the three. Lots of knives, guns and blood. Enjoy.

Wolf Creek is neither original or interesting. It was closer to watching a snuff film. Skip it.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Please, Make It Stop!

From, and the London Free Press:

"Katie is a young girl's name. Her name is Kate now she's a child-bearing woman."
-Tom Cruise, on his fiancée, 'Kate' Holmes

Feed A Cold, Starve A Fever, Watch Flicks For The Pukes

While recovering from a nasty stomach virus this week, I caught up on a few films I've been wanting to see for some time. Between bathroom breaks (sorry for the visual), I saw:

Capote: For me, Capote is a B+ movie with A+ acting. Prior to Oscar time, I doubted the move to cast Philip Seymour Hoffman in the lead. I'm a serious fan of Hoffman. I've seen all his films, and think he is the Dustin Hoffman of this era (the best compliment I can give to a character actor). But, play Truman Capote? C'mon...Well, he does. Superbly. An honest, moving and impressive portrayal. I liked the movie pretty well, but it was his performance that made the film an event for me.

The Family Stone: I wanted to like this movie for so many reasons, most of them involving Sarah Jessica Parker. I think she is wickedly talented, sexy and weird. Stone has a very good cast, and the acting was above board. Parker tries to assimilate into a family that seems very normal, but which is experiencing a grief and despair that hasn't yet risen to the surface. It does, mid-way through the movie, and the results were sort of off-putting to me. Some of the dynamics in the film made me feel uncomfortable, and made me enjoy the movie less.

Shopgirl: Based on a novella by Steve Martin, Shopgirl follows a smalltown girl as she discovers herself in big city LA. We get to see how choices and relationships affect her maturity and perspective, and how she becomes more resilient through some strained experiences. I thought Shopgirl was a fantastic, original movie, with appropriately restrained performances by Claire Danes and Steve Martin. Jason Schwartzman steals the movie with what I think is his best performance since Rushmore.

Of the three, I recommend Shopgirl highest.

Now, back to the couch...

Monday, May 01, 2006

To See Or Not To See

United 93 was released over the weekend, to a flurry of critical praise and warning. The film is reportedly well done, but many feel it is too realistic and too soon after 9/11/01 to serve as entertainment.

I'm curious: Will you see United 93, and why or why not?