Oscar Night Aftermath: First Impressions.

Okay, a more detailed entry will likely follow as the “rest of the story”-stories about the just-concluded Oscar telecast begin to trickle out, but for now my first impressions are as follows:

Chris Rock’s hosting turn was funny and fresh, but not so funny and fresh enough I fear to dispell the notion that his MTV-generation comedy was an awkward fit for the too-stuffy-even-for-VH1 asthetic of the Academy. Rock’s best material came in the form of “did he say that?”-deapans (introducing Halle Berry as star of “the highly anticipated Catwoman 2,” or Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek as “four of the lovliest images in Hollywood”), while “energy-injecting” exercises (interviewing attendees at the local Magic Johnson Cinema who prefered “White Chicks” to any of the nominated films, an embarassing sketch where he pretended to be a line-reading substitute for Catherine Zeta Jones opposite Adam Sandler) just didn’t come off. Nice job overall, though.

The “shakeup” of giving out the lower-profile awards in the seats or by lineup is the worst idea for the show in many a moon. It was awkward, stilted and terribly undignified, and now that those subjected to it have nothing to lose I suspect most of them will be agreeing with me loudly tomorrow. This could not have been a more naked attempt to “speed things up” by further ghettoizing the technical and short-subject categories in order to give the Joan Rivers crowd more time to gawk at the Big Names in Pretty Dresses. Every single award handed out in one of the “new” methods was damned disgrace, no two ways about it.

Holy cow! Julia Roberts with a FIGURE!!?? Wow, thank heaven for those twins… and the two babies that helped make them possible 🙂

Morgan Freeman is just pure class. Finally able to see his name removed from the “I can’t believe he’s never won…” list, Freeman’s speech is a short, pleasant thank you that spends more time praising the other players in the movie than it does on the man giving it. Well done.

How sweet was it to hear the near-total lack of applause any time “Passion of The Christ” was mentioned for anything? And how much sweeter to see it step up to get beat-down in every one of it’s paltry nominated categories? The only thing that could have added to the overall sense of justice-served I felt at this would have been for “Sister Rose’s Passion,” a biography of the revolutionary Catholic nun who became a champion for purging Catholicism of it’s anti-semetic “Passion Play”-era past, to have won the “Best Documentary – Short Subject” award, but this was not to be.

And speaking of “The Passion,” how angry do you supposed Michael Medved, L. Brent Bozell and all the rest are that not only did their yearlong campaign to turn the film into an Oscar winner implode, but so did their spiteful Plan-B of destroying the win-chances of “Million Dollar Baby”? Clint Eastwood’s film took home four of the six major awards, including Picture and Director, and will now likely be seen by everyone who was previously on the fence about seeing it. In the words of Clint’s character, Frankie Dunn, at a point when one of “Baby’s” major players scores a decisive moral victory over a gaggle of opportunistic neanderthals who just can’t help but remind me of the Medvedites for some reason: “Maybe somebody ought to count to ten.”

What was the deal with Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand? Something got said just before they stepped into view, and Hoffman was pulling away from her like she’d just contracted smallpox. Was this failed schtick or was something else going on?

What is Beyonce Knowles doing there? I know, I know, this is more of trying to make the show “hip,” but a pop crooner doing middling interpretations of the nominated songs is irritating and obnoxious in the extreme. Just play the damn songs, already.

That’s all for now, be back later with more details and more blogging. Lemme know what you though in the Comments section.

Religious "Right" takes one more shot at Oscar Night

WARNING: Even though most of you have by now either had the ending of “Million Dollar Baby” spoiled for you and/or have seen the film for yourselves, I’m still going to avoid actively posting or discussing the specifics on this blog entry. The folks in the articles I’ll be linking to, though, will not be so kind so click at your own risk. You have been warned.

As of this writing, the Academy Awards are only about sixteen hours away. For the entire awards season, we’ve watched extremists claiming to represent America’s religious community vent their frustrations at the “snubbing” of their beloved epic of medievalistic torture-porn, “The Passion of The Christ,” by trying to “take down” the Awards themselves and the likely winners in particular. With it seeming more and more certain that Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby” will be the film that “steals ‘The Passions’ award,” so called culture-watchers are making one last ditch effort to damage the reputation of the film and Eastwood out of what I can only describe as distinctly un-Christian spitefulness.

Albert Mohler, (posting at the Christian family website Crosswalk.com,) throws his hat in with the Medvedite critics who feel that spoiling the film will “save” potential viewers from it’s “harmful” message:

It’s mostly spoilers, so I can’t use most of the best money quotes, but here he is defending Medved:

“The cultural left responded with a vengeance, defending “Million Dollar Baby” and Clint Eastwood and suggesting that Medved was a “spoiler,” out to ruin the movie’s commercial prospects.”

Okay, let’s be clear about this here: Medved IS a spoiler, and there’s nothing “vengeance”-related about calling him so. Whether you disagree (as Medved does) with what he sees as the film’s message, withholding the dark 3rd-act plot twist so that it wallops the audience the same as it does the characters is THE central narrative mechanism of the film: In giving it away, anyone who does so forces the audience to see the film in a manner infinitely less affecting than was intended, and beyond all that it’s still just a rotten thing to do.

Crosswalk also posts an article adding fuel to the “boycott the Oscars for ignoring Mel Gibson!” fires, courtesy of “independent film producer-director and screenwriter” Joe Camp, best known (oh heck, ONLY known) as the creator of “Benji.” Joe Camp thinks our culture is going downhill, that Hollywood is to blame, and that their failure to nominate a nearly-plotless feature-length depiction of a C-list actor in a Jesus costume getting the stuffing kicked out of him as the Best Picture of The Year is the final nail in the coffin. But Mr. Camp can say it better for himself:

Now, I’ve never heard that Joe Camp is anything but a really stellar guy. And I’m certainly not going to argue the film-quality-gauging skills of the auteur who cracked the uber-complex cinematic equation of “that dog is cute, let’s film that dog,” but lets look at some quotes here:

“I would like to see all the Christian people who went out and spent money and made it one of the top-grossing pictures of all time not watch the Academy Awards, just because of that,”

And before that, the article tells us (in regards to the “Family Values” of the “Benji” franchise):

“Another movie that depicts those values even more directly is one “Benji”‘s creator regards with great admiration: “The Passion of the Christ.” He feels producer-director Mel Gibson’s movie about the crucifixion of Jesus has proven the power of the individual, with uncompromising vision and beauty, as few other films before it have done — and, lest anyone forget, it was a box office blockbuster to boot.”

Yegh. Enough is enough, people. I want ONE of these Religious “Right” zealots propping up “The Passion” to explain to me where all these “values” are in the film. We see almost none of Christs’ good works or teachings, of the multiple miracles he’s said to have performed the film feels the best thing to show us is a fictional scene crediting The Lamb of God with the invention of Big Tables. If I’m not already a believing, practicing, 100%-converted Fundamentalist Christian before I sit down for this movie, WHAT am I supposed to get out of this other than a long stretch of the kind of “plotless gorefest” the Michael Medveds of the world have spent their whole prior careers telling me I was going to Hell for enjoying? If watching a main character take a hellacious beating and come back for more is the definition of a film about values, then “Passion” shares values-movie shelf space with everything from“Lord of The Rings” and “Star Wars” to “Salo,” “Kill Bill” and “The Story of O.” Yet somehow, I don’t think the director of “Benji” is going to try and convince me that “The Story of O” was robbed of an Academy Award nod anytime soon. Just a ballpark guess.

Ahem. That being said, Camp makes his point eloquently and his feelings sound sincere. And “Benji” really is one of the better dog movies, when you get right down to it.

Let’s hear from a lady. Jill Stanek is an anti-abortion-rights activist, who’s position on the subject lies slightly to the right of the talon-fingered newborn from “It’s Alive!” Though she’s definately not-kidding-around with her comittment to her cause, she’s evidently not above using the difficult subject matter of her cause as the money-shot in a gag headline. Witness her new Worldnetdaily column, entitled “Pro-lifers: Abort the Academy Awards!”

Here’s where this one gets interesting: After using the word “abortion” as a shock-word for a jokey headline about a movie award show, the actual column attacks Oscar Host-to-be Chris Rock for having made abortion jokes in his past. Here’s Rock’s joke:

“Abortion, it’s beautiful, it’s beautiful abortion is legal,” joked Rock. “I love going to an abortion rally to pick up women, cause you know they are f—ing.”

Okay, the only thing “shocking” about that joke is that an original talent like Rock would resort to that worn-out Frat Boy oldie of a dirty joke. But here’s Stanek’s outraged reaction:

“Some say Rock was actually making a sarcastic indictment against abortion. That could be, and his comment did open my eyes a little wider on the exploitive nature of abortion. Nevertheless, the joke was repulsive, and any comedian who would use abortion to get a laugh is the last comedian in the world I want to watch on television. Abortion is the unfunniest topic in the world.”

“The unfunniest topic in the world…” unless the funny is occuring in headlines to her own articles, apparently. But while pointing out baldfaced hypocrisy may be fun, (and it is,) we move on to the REAL reason she’s up in arms: The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences has had the unmitigated gall to nominated for various awards not one but TWO films that run counter to the personal politics of Jill Stanek. Well, at least she’s not being unreasonable or anything…

Specifically, she takes issue with “Million Dollar Baby,” for reasons I’m still not going to spoil for you, and “Vera Drake” for being about the life, arrest and trial of a pre-abortion-legality working class Englishwoman who provides (illegal) abortions for those too poor (or in too bad a situation) to afford the nice, discreet, clean (but still illegal) ones used frequently by the wealthy. My immediate reaction here is: “Tsk, tsk. She forgot ‘Kinsey!”

But okay, as a “pro-lifer” Stanke has, of course, all the right in the world to be irked that “Vera Drake” has three nods. But she also saddles up next to the Medvedites when it comes to “Million Dollar Baby”…

“You’ve likely heard about the shocking end of “Million Dollar Baby” only from friends. Its ads and trailers give no clue to its real agenda.”

This kind of groupthink borders on the eerie. People: Withholding details of a major plot and tonal shift is a NARRATIVE DEVICE, not evidence of a hidden agenda. Granted, Stanek and others who confuse the two have the benefit of not being professional critics and former film-scholars of note… what’s Medved’s excuse again?

In the end, there’s ONE person left yet who hasn’t been much heard from on the controversy, and that’s the director/actor himself. Clint Eastwood has only offered smatterings of info on how he feels about the propaganda campaign being waged against him, but he finally spoke in depth in an extraordinary interview with Time Magazine:

Seriously, take the time and read that. Eastwood is not only the finest living actor/director in America, he’s also one of the most honest and intelligent. One of the best filmmaker interviews I’ve ever read. But let’s see the “money quote” exchange here, when Time writer Richard Schickle puts the Big One right on the table i.e. former Republican mayor Clint Eastwood “turning against” his Conservative fans with “Baby”:


EASTWOOD:Well, I got a big laugh out of that. These people are always bitching about “Hollyweird,” and then they start bitching about this film. Are they all so mad because The Passion of the Christ is only up for the makeup award and a couple of other minor things? Extremism is so easy. You’ve got your position, and that’s it. It doesn’t take much thought. And when you go far enough to the right you meet the same idiots coming around from the left.”

Hey, whaddaya know… Dirty Harry just made my day 🙂

REVIEW: Cursed

MovieBob to Universe: You can please stop with all of the you-asked-for-it ironic/karmic signs already, we get the idea. The 90s are over.

Our latest exhibit that the preceeding decade has, officially, passed into the ether comes in the form of “Cursed,” a teenaged-werewolf entry from the former “Scream” team of director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson, which arrived in U.S. theater’s yesterday to snatch the title of “worst excuse for a horror movie in 2006 thus-far” from “Boogeyman.” Yup, it’s as bad as you’ve heard.

You might remember that, back in 1996, Williamson and Craven’s innaugural collaboration, “Scream,” was regarded as something of a big deal. If you were pop-culture-attuned at all at the time, you may recall hearing that this film, an updated 80s-style “teen slasher” with the “hook” that the characters were aware of the “rules” of their genre, was credited with “reviving horror movies.” If you were a Movie Geek at the time, you may recall getting unspeakably annoyed at people who, upon hearing you say something marginally obscure about film, were given to point and declare “Yo! He’s like that dude from “Scream!”

You might also remember that Williamson followed his success with three more teenaged horror movies, “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” “The Faculty,” and “Teaching Mrs. Tingle,” (none of which were very good), a “Scream” sequel (also not all that good) and the catastrophically awful WB teen-drama “Dawson’s Creek,” the toxic influence of which is still being felt today. Craven, the one-time 70s/80s horror master who had fallen on hard times prior to “Scream,” had a brief upshot in work-quality, then went back to hard times as the executive-producer of a slew of bad movies and director of a Meryl Streep oscar-bait yawner about a violin teacher. No, really.

“Scream” was the quintessential “90’s” horror-movie, in as much as it was an “independent film” made and released by a big studio with name actors, endlessly in love with it’s own glib cleverness and, above all else, traded heavily in the “reference humor” popularized by Kevin Smith and run mercilessly into the ground by… everyone else and Kevin Williamson in particular. One more thing that makes it utterly a film of the 90s is that “Scream” became dated so fast that it became itself easy-fodder for the “reference humor” of “Scary Movie” with dizzying quickness. In fact, let me put it out on the table right now: As far as Williamson is concerned, I’m of the mind that the emporer has no clothes.

Williamson’s “Scream” schtick (a formula movie where the main cast kept joking about formula movies) went over big with the mainstream critics, who openly welcomed a “horror” movie that seemed to agree with them about how silly they always thought horror movies were to begin with. From where I was standing, most of the teenage audiences whom the media told us were “won back” to slasher films by Williamson’s cleverness didn’t really get into the jokes, and the Horror Geeks who would’ve gotten into the jokes didn’t because they weren’t all that nifty as references go (Jason wasn’t the killer in the first “Friday the 13th???” Whoa!) For my money, “Scream” was a hit because it was a solid Wes Craven slasher movie, and teens of that generation hadn’t had one to call their own yet. As if to prove my point for me, Williamson’s follow-up script for “I Know…” was in-joke free and did the same kind of business.

And furthermore, Williamson can’t even lay claim to having pioneered anything with self-aware horror. Horror movies where the characters were “aware” of horror movies had been done as recently as 1991 in “There’s Nothing Out There,” as the boys at StompTokyo.com discovered:
(And yes, I’m aware that StompTokyo’s reviewers say in that review that they think “Scream” was still better, so you don’t need to bother pointing that out.)

And hey, Wes Craven himself did it before “Scream” as well, in “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.”

Agree or disagree with me about “Scream,” but it can’t be denied that “Cursed” was hoped by all involved to be the Craven/Williamson-blockbuster’s second coming: The poster is nigh-identical, it’s a teen-targeted horror release, etc. From the get-go, this has been the promise: “Scream’ but with Werewolves!” Granted, exploring teenaged-angst through the metaphor of Lyncathropy is precisely as old as the teen-horror genre itself (having been originated in the 50s with “I Was A Teenaged Werewolf”), but surely a decent entry can be drawn from this material. Craven, for all his ups and downs, is a great director of both young actors and onscreen carnage, and Werewolves are certainly the most violent of the “classic” movie monsters; so if nothing else we should be in for some good old fashioned monster-splatter courtesy of creature-FX god Rick Baker. And hey, Christina Ricci is in it, and her bambi-eyed sexy/creepy hotness goes with horror films like pizza goes with everything. Someone would have to try to screw this up, right?

Well, if so, “someone” tried their ass off.


“Cursed” finds Ricci as a 20-something TV publicist (in an early sign of unintentional-hilarity to come, she works for the canceled-ages-ago Craig Kilborn Show) taking care of her geeky teenaged brother (Jesse Eisenberg) after their parents’ untimely deaths. She’s in a dramatic relationship with a Wax Museum owner (Joshua Jackson sporting look-I’m-a-grownup-now facial hair) while lil’ brother is pining for the high school hottie who’s hot-tempered boyfriend (Milo Ventimiglia) likes to beat him up and accuse him of being gay. One night, the sibs get throttled by a Werewolf and wake up with canine-style superpowers that increasing at the ever-frightening rate of whenever-the-plot-dictates, and as you might expect The Race Is On to find and destroy the “original Werewolf” and end the curse before more (offscreen) violence occurs.

Would you be surprised if I told you that Ricci’s wolf-powers interfere with her work while Eisenberg’s turn him into an overnight campus big-shot? Would it bowl you over if I told you that the initial attacker-Wolf is walking around in-congito among the main cast? Or that it’s not only eye-rollingly easy to pick out not only the “whodunnit” twist but also the supposed-gotcha “who-also-dunnit” twist? No? Hm. How’d I know? Maybe I’m psychic… but it’s funny, I don’t feel like Patricia Arquette…

Okay, so the plot is trash and the characters are central-casting cutouts even on Kevin Williamson’s curve, but this is STILL Wes Craven, still a Werewolf movie and still has Rick Baker effects, so at least there’s plenty of sweet man-in-suit monsters spilling plenty of latex entrails and Karo syrup all over the place, right? Nope, no dice.

The industry scuttlebutt on this one, for awhile, has been that the studio tossed out the script and ordered a rehaul in the middle of shooting, (tossing out original castmembers Skeet Ulrich and Omar Epps,) and that in addition they ordered scenes featuring Baker’s monster-suit werewolf trimmed and replaced with a CGI-double. After Wes Craven claiming that he was “still proud” of the finished film so long as they didn’t “cut it,” the film was stripped of its gore-scenes in order to take advantage of the post-Ring/Grudge/Boogeyman paradigm of “make a PG-13 horror movie, open in the #1 spot.

What we’re left with is a film that is, without hyperbole, almost-totally useless: A lousy-looking Werewolf we almost never see, making a gorey mess that we really never see, out of a roster of character we can’t possibly care about. Oh, and the requisite bad taste in our mouths from knowing that we’ll have to wait for the innevitable “UNRATED DIRECTOR’S CUT” DVD double-dip to find out of this was any better when it had some blood in it.

The film has ONE semi-interesting moment where a slightly better movie seems to be on the horizon: After Kid Brother throttles Homophobic Jock with his Werewolf-Kwon-Do in gym class, he points out the oft-held irony that vocal-homophobes are often closeted gays themselves. That night, Homophobic Jock comes to the house to appologize, comes out of the closet to Kid Brother and, still under the assumption that Kid Brother is also gay, tries to kiss him. The film unwisely (yet sadly in-tune with the likely sensibilities of most of it’s audience) plays the whole thing for laughs, (“I’m not gay, I’m cursed!” “Dude, I know! It does feel like a curse sometimes…” yuk, yuk, yuk,) but it’s the one unexpected thing in an entirely paint-by-numbers movie; and Ventimiglia as the Jock manages the character shift so well that by the time he’s charging off into anti-Werewolf battle with the would-be object of his affection he turns into “Cursed’s” best character in almost exact concurrance with the film’s forgetting his existance.

Even given this bad review (and all the other bad reviews,) some of you, like me, know you’re going to see this anyway just to get a look at the latest Rick Baker monster suit (for the record: There’s really only two good solid full-body shots of it when it’s not the ultra-cheap CGI dupe,) and I’m sorry to report that it’s a letdown as well: Oh, Baker’s sculpting and musculature are as good looking as ever, but at the level of basic design this is one of the least cool-looking Werewolves in a long time; barely even looking like a wolf at all and in fact bearing a closer resemblance to a giant bipedal Badger. Worse yet, the one transformation scene we get is done entirely with CGI, and Ricci and Eisenberg never transform at all. In fact, one of the big “final confrontation scenes” between characters who are all Werewolves has them in human form the whole time, tossing eachother around a kitchen and bellowing teen-angst melodrama just like in “Scream.” If there’s a mistake a Werewolf movie can make, “Cursed” makes it twice.

This is the kind of bad horror movie that will be making the lists of bad horror movies compiled by Film Geeks well into the next decade. It’s not scary, it’s not interesting, it’s characters are empty, it’s script is disposable, it’s monsters suck and it’s gore is nonexistant. I’m going to beg you here: Don’t see this movie. Don’t give your money to this. Don’t let this turn into a hit and send one more message to Hollywood that they don’t have to try to make successful horror movies. If you want a “teen-angst Werewolf movie,” get down to the rental place and ask them for THIS:

It’s called “Ginger Snaps,” and if you’ve got a Horror Geek worth his weight in Fango backissues in your life he’s probably already told you that this “has to be” better than “Cursed.” Listen to him. It’s got better Werewolves, better gore and one of the best horror scripts of the last couple of years. Just like “Cursed,” it’s got introverted siblings, teenaged-issues exaggerated into horrors by a Werewolf bite, even an Evil Jock as a red-herring baddie, but UNLIKE “Cursed” it’s not afraid of being smart, creepy and sexy about things; eventually turning Lycanthropy into a fits-like-a-glove metaphor for teenaged menstrual-angst. It’s good stuff.

“Cursed” is not good stuff. “Cursed” is a film of no use or value to film buffs, Movie Geeks, Horror Geeks or just general moviegoers. It’s a nothing-movie, and the only scary prospect it brings is the thought of having to endure “Cursed II: The Suckening” should this make back it’s budget come Monday morning.


REVIEW: Man of The House

Yeah, I know. No one cares how this is, no one was waiting for this, a great deal of you had never even heard of it or, if you had, knew it was coming. I was planning on reviewing it, but it turned out to be the only new movie my schedule allowed me to see tonight, so more’s the pity on the both of us, eh?

This is one of those bad comedies that probably lost any chance it had to be any good the moment someone decided “it can’t not work!” Most likely that moment occured concurrently with the hiring of Tommy Lee Jones for the lead. Jones is one of those little showbiz marvels, the talented, utterly-unpretentious workmanlike character actor so adept at filling up (often) thinly-written supporting roles with charisma that they become “marquee-name” leading-men because their very presence makes audiences feel instantly comfortable and “connected” to their role.

Always a reliable actor well-liked in his industry, Jones went from character actor to unlikely leading man after his “holy crap!”-inducing turn as Sam Gerad in “The Fugitive.” Since that film (and his subsequent Oscar win) Jones has been one of Hollywood’s busiest older-stars, appearing in a spectacular number of major-release films giving performances that are always good, frequently great and consistently based on the same premise: That audiences instantly connect with his decidedly-unimpressed-with-himself/old-school tough-guy vibe and can instantly imagine how “good” a movie might be by placing that “vibe” in any given situation. “Tommy Lee Jones fighting aliens with Will Smith” (“Men in Black”) sounded like fun, and it was. “Tommy Lee Jones versus an evil version of Rambo” (“The Hunted”) sounded like a decent little actioner, and it was. And so on, and so forth.

In “Man of The House,” Jones is playing a hardcase Texas Ranger Roland Sharp who’s chasing down the mystery-asassin who killed a high-profile witness and wounded a fellow Ranger in the process. The only witness to the crime and, thus, the bad-guy’s face, are five College football cheerleaders; so Sharp is assigned to move into the girls’ sorority house, protect them from the at-large killer and wait it out while they try to pin down whodunnit. (Provided with the information, as we are, that the girls cannot pick the killer from a list of “every known criminal in the United States,” will tell every member of the audience who’s seen more than a few cop movies in their lives who the bad guy is much quicker than it takes for anyone in the movie to figure it out.)

So the idea here is “Tommy Lee Jones having to share a house with five dizzy girls,” and let’s not lie: It’s a good idea. It sounds good. Jone’s rough-hewn bluntness paired off against five yip-yapping young girls is immediately appealing, and we can imagine all the fun scenes that will organically grow out of it: It’ll be funny to hear what he thinks of current pop music, his thoughts on their fashions, his reaction to encountering a bathroom full of feminine products, etc. It’s understood that the opening and closing acts will contain a healthy amount of shoot-em-up action business while the “funny stuff” will occupy the length of the 2nd act. It’s a given that Jones will impart some old-fashioned wisdom to the youthful girls, help them solve problems with experienced advice, etc., while they in turn will help him “loosen up,” and everyone will learn something and grow as people just in time for the bad guy to show up and get foiled before everyone reconvenes for the one-big-happy-movie-family coda. In addition, there’s the opportunity to stock the cheerleader roles with fresh young faces eager to use the role as a full-motion headshot for future work. Done well, or even passably-well, this could easily be a fine little no-brainer comedy.

Too bad it’s not done well, or even passably well.

It seems obvious, almost from the get-go, that the “this HAS to be funny” nature of the project may have inspired either a bit of laziness, a bit of producer interferance or a combination of both in the production overall. It’s just not very funny. The characters are sketched too broadly, even for a film like this, and it just does not work. Jones is as good as ever, and all the girls’ aquit themselves well enough, but there’s just not enough there to work with. Scenes and events that rely on a connection with the characters or an understanding of reaction falter because the connection and understanding simply aren’t there. Jones’ role, even moreso than usual is based entirely on the idea that “it’s Tommy Lee Jones.” The girls’ roles are so thin that it almost feels like overkill when the film gives them names, as they’re really only defined by their broad archetypes: as expected, we have Smart Girl, a Silly Girl, Hot-Tempered Latino, Edgy Bad-Girl and Largely Uninteresting African-American Leader Girl. (“Stoic Asian Martial-Arts Expert Girl,” apparently, was not invited to attend on the grounds that the film was already being too nice to me by providing some lovely footage of Monica Keena in a sports bra.)

Monica who? Keena has yet become a suitably big-named starlet despite a genuine talent and, it must be said, a tremendous sex appeal, but you might know her as “that actress who looks like Brittany Murphy might look if she ate some food once in awhile.” Take a look:

So yeah, it’s not a total waste.

The director is Stephen Herek, a solid worker-bee filmmaker who started out in the late-80s with a pair of genuine classics- “Critters” (which he also co-wrote) in 1986 and “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” in 1989- before settling into a good niche as a maker of likable family fare like “The Mighty Ducks” and “Don’t Tell Mom, The Babysitter’s Dead.” He also made the perpetually-underappreciated “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” So the guy can direct, and he doesn’t so much do many things wrong with this material as he does “not do enough” (it would be too harsh to say “fails”) to elevate it from a disposable collection of gags with barely enough laughs to fill it’s own trailer into something slightly more likable. The film’s biggest running joke, about Sharp’s insistance that the girls avoid wearing revealing outfits, not only doesn’t produce any great deal of laughs, it serves to make Sharp look creepily preoccupied with the subject. (It’s also a little too smug of the film to point out how “Girls Gone Wild” the cheerleaders’ early appearances are.)

There are brief glimpses of a better movie wanting to poke it’s head through: One of the girls developing a crush on Sharp comes up and is quickly dropped, as is the quick rapport he develops with “Bad Girl.” And yeah, the expected sequence in which Sharp undergoes a “makeover” is about as clever as you’d, well.. expect.

But in the end, this is pretty bad. Too few laughs in a film that’s really designed to provide as many as possible. Not that it’ll take much effort, but this is really worth skipping (unless choice #2 is “The Wedding Date,” in which case… it’s really worth examining what you’re doing in a situation where those are your only two choices.)


MovieBob stops ignoring the Bantha in the room

I’ve put this off long enough.

What I have here is a blog about movies. There are certain things you just HAVE to do on a movie blog. One of those things is, when this time of year (end of winter) rolls about, you turn your attention to “the big stuff coming this summer.” It’s one of those trends that’s not worth bucking. Everyone is doing it because, really, Hollywood makes darn sure there’s not much else for us to do.

So I’m sitting here, trying to organize my thoughts about the upcoming Summer Slate and find a thread around which to build a posting that doesn’t read like every other blog posting on the same topic. To jog my memory, I start running through the “upcoming” lists around the web, and the expected stuff starts to jump out at me: “War of The Worlds” is coming. “Fantastic Four” is coming… and not looking one ounce better, sadly. “Batman Begins,” “Sin City” and “Hitchhikers Guide” are all coming. All good so far, right?

And then, as if waking from a dream, two words come to my mind: “Star Wars.”

And then it hits me like a ton of bricks: I had completely forgotten that this was even coming out.

I should offer you some context in which to better understand what a shocking/englightening moment this was for me: I have a full-size reprint of an original “Star Wars” theatrical poster hanging on the wall opposite my bed, positioned as such that it’s one of the first things I see when I wake up each morning. Next to that, both volumes of the “Star Wars Infinities” comic collections are sitting atop one of my bookstacks. A DVD set of the original SW trilogy (pre-not-so-special-edition “fixes” versions, thank you) holds a prominent place on the “frequently-watched” section of the DVD shelf.

I had “Empire Strikes Back” bedsheets when I was a kid. I watched the originals to the point of memorization. When I got my first working copy of Adobe Premier, the first thing I did was make a half-dozen short films of myself and friends weilding lightsabers. I’m a “Star Wars” fan in the truest, bluest, child-of-the-80s sense of the word.

And I had completely forgotten that a new “Star Wars” movie was among the big Summer releases this year.”

And not just any “Star Wars” movie. “Star Wars – Episode III: Revenge of The Sith.”

As in “the one where we’ll see the birth of Darth Vader.” As in “the one where we see the Republic fall, the Empire rise, and the end of the Jedi.”


And I’d completely forgotten about it.

And I didn’t have to look far or even wonder too long about why this act of forgetfulness was able to occur. The answer was staring me in the face, and indeed has been doing so for well over two years now:

I just don’t care anymore.

You’ve all heard this before, not from me but from others like me, so lets not dwell on a story we’re all overly-familiar with. In brief: Waited in line for “Phantom Menace,” went into about 6th months of denial, eventually admitted to myself that it sucked, held out hope for “Attack of The Clones,” immediately recognized that it was better but still sucked, now awaiting #3 in the same way one awaits a funeral (i.e. wanting it to arrive and get over with so you can begin trying to let the good memories eclipse the bad.) By now it’s a story as archetypal as “boy meets girl.”

And it’s not just me.

And it’s not just the Geek Community.

The magazines and film sites are beginning to trickle out their “Summer Preview” stuff, and patterns are beginning to emerge: “Will The Fantastic Four be the nadir for Marvel characters as movies?” is a hot topic, as is “Do we really need another Batman movie?” (answer: YES.) “Will Hitchhiker’s Guide appeal to non-fans?” You get the idea.

But, while it is getting obligatory covers and mentions, another pattern is becoming strikingly clear: “Star Wars – Episode III: Revenge of The Sith,” the final question-answering installment of the former keystone franchise of all cinematic scifi/fantasy, the film “we’ve waited over 20 years to see”… doesn’t really rate that much of a mention. Theaters have massive advertising up for “Robots” unknown bionic heroes but not yet even a single image of C-3PO. “Star Wars,” once as a collective franchise a member of the pantheon of “above criticism classics” like “Godfather,” “2001,” “Citizen Kane” and “Psycho” has been reduced back to “just another big movie coming out,” and as far as “anticipated blockbusters” of the coming summer go Obi-Wan vs. Anakin in “RoTS” seems to be registering currently as barely more noteworthy than Jamie Foxx vs. A Killer Airplane in “Stealth.”

There’s a growingly-common analogy out there that compares Star Wars fans experiencing the meltdown of the franchise to battered wives. It’s allegedly hillarious, dontcha know, because “all those geeks never get laid, so it’s clever to compare their fandom to a relationship to highlight that fact.” But nonetheless, there’s a grain of truth to it. Being a SW fan right now is painful, and each day brings new bruises. By now, many have moved on or at looking at it as just another movie. Others, like myself, have worked tirelessly to recondition our minds to be able to easily seperate “real” SW (unedited originals) from the prequels and special editions. Others, though, are still working themselves raw trying to remain in denial about how far the thing has fallen, and these are the poor fellows who come off like abuse-victims.

But I want to know what you think. Hit that comment button below and tell me if you’ve had a similar experience it not being able to even remember it’s still coming, if you don’t care or if you think I’m crazy and want to tell me off on the whole thing.

Let’s hear it.

L. Brent Bozell strikes again

Those of you who read my little peice last week about the toxic influence of pro-censorship advocate L. Brent Bozell and his web-based outfits The Media Research Center and Parents Television Council on the current national FCC policy know I’m not a fan of the guy or his work. Those of you who didn’t, well, here’s your chance:

But as a refresher: Bozell calls himself a “conservative watchdog” and dedicates his life to stamping out stuff he doesn’t like from TV, film and radio. So, yeah, not a fan.

But the thing is, Mr. Bozell and I have a lot in common. For example, both of us share the likelihood of our ears perking up when we hear the word “lesbian” bandied about in relation to a television show. In fact, we’re both much more likely to watch any show that promises a “lesbian twist,” which these days is just about any show other than “Everybody Loves Raymond” (and thank heaven for that, I wouldn’t wish having to lock lips with Patricia Heaton on anyone of any sex.) Where we diverge is, I’m comfortable admitting I’m just a sucker for two girls “getting together.” It’s sexy. Whereas Bozell is allegedly devoting himself to watching sex-fueled TV shows “so you don’t have to.” Ahem. In any case, we both taped that last episode of “The O.C.”

Anyhow, Bozell is up in a dander about an “outbreak” of lesbian moments on TV during sweeps month. It’s understandable that he’d be upset, the notion that TV Networks add girl/girl coupling to their shows during the ratings-sweeps because they know for a fact that it will make many more people than usual watch flies in the face of his zealous insistence that the “Liberal Media” boogeyman is trying to force this content on a public that “doesn’t want it.”

Last night “The Simpsons” outed perennially single supporting character Patti Bouvier, and predictably Bozell is cheesed off…

Man, if yellow-skinned cartoon characters that every other censorship-pundit gave up on trying to silence about eleven years ago talking sex bother him so much, my Anime collection would give him a seizure…

And to prove himself further, he elaborates on the subject on his MRC column. Here Bozell clicks off every Sapphic instance he’s witnessed on the boob tube this month, and honestly his list puts mine to shame. I’m envious that this guy has seen so much more girl-on-girl action on TV this month than I have, and he’s (allegedly) not even enjoying it.

But hey, look what I found…

In the screed linked-to above, Bozell goes off on the recent episode of ABC’s ghastly “Wife Swap” in which the trading couples were Evangelical Christians and a Lesbian family. He describes the predictable results:

At the end of the “swap,” the Christian mom makes the lesbian cry by saying, “I think you are, according to the word of God, depraved, and I don’t want anyone depraved near my kids.”

At first, I’m thinking the point here is “gee, isn’t it typical that what bugs Bozell about “Wife Swap” isn’t the inherent cruelty and indignity of the show and most of it’s Reality TV ilk, but that the show has trained the TV Eye on the seething, irrational hatred that informs too much of so-called ‘Christians’ thinking in this country,” but then he goes on…

“That leaves everyone in the audience thinking, correctly: then maybe you shouldn’t have volunteered to go on “Wife Swap,” dummy.”

Okay, so he doesn’t like Wife Swap. Fine, at least he’s not being a hypocr…

Oh, wait. Look at this from September 30, 2004…

That was Bozell praising the heck out of “Wife Swap” back when it was new. Check this out:

“While the shows center on women from radically different home environments switching places, there is no sleazy expectation of swinging infidelity. Instead, the two families struggle to integrate a total stranger into their lives for a week, and often what emerges by show’s end is a renewed appreciation of the very essence of motherhood.”

So back then he ADORED “Wife Swap” for it’s family-values influence on the Reality TV culture, but NOW someone who goes on deserves to be verbally abused because they are a “dummy” who ought to have known better?

Now, admittedly, catching a pro-censorship advocate like Bozell in an act of hypocrisy is about as exciting as catching Winnie The Pooh in an act of honey-eating, but I just thought I’d bring it to your attention. And remember, this man and his organization are right now exercising an incredible amount of pressure on the FCC. Do you want these people in charge of what’s “decent” and what’s not?

Didn’t think so.

REVIEW: Constantine

Here’s something to think about: When was the last time we had a “typical Superhero” movie. That is to say, a movie that the majority of critics informed of it’s comic book origins were not compelled to describe using the sentence: “______ isn’t your typical Superhero.”

Here’s the thing: They say that about almost every comic book-based movie that comes down the pipe: Batman “isn’t a traditional superhero” because he has no powers. Spider-Man “isn’t a traditional superhero” because he’s a teenager. Blade “isn’t a traditional superhero” because he’s black. And a vampire. The X-Men “aren’t” because they’re societal outcasts, The Punisher “isn’t” because he uses guns, Hellboy “isn’t” because he’s a big red demon guy. Spawn “wasn’t” because, um… well, pretty much because Todd MacFarlane kept saying that he wasn’t, and at the time people were taking him seriously on such matters. But you get my point. The vey notion of being “not typical” has become the most typical thing of all. How, er… typical.

So let’s get this out of the way right now: John Constantine is (drumroll) not your typical superhero (wow, what a fresh idea!) because he’s, well, not a superhero. He’s a noirish occult detective, battling his way through an H.P. Lovecraft world with a Philip Marlowe additude in an ongoing DC/Vertigo comic series called “Hellblazer,” (I can’t imagine why they didn’t keep the name) but he popped up initially as an expository player in Alan Moore’s seminal 1980s run as the writer of “Swamp Thing.”

Lemme put this on the table: I’ve never managed to follow “Hellblazer” regularly. Strange, given my affection for all things Alan Moore and all things occult, but it just never made it to my pull list. So if you’re looking for a fan’s review of this as an adaptation, I’m afraid I’ll be of little help. Fortunately, Film Threat’s Pete Vonder Haar has gone ahead and written a “fan’s perspective” review of the film HERE:
And he even put up an alternate “just as a movie” review as well. Good show.

In terms of the film on it’s own from MY perspective, here we go: John Constantine (“J.C.,” get it?) can see halfbreed Angels and Demons (the full-fledged ones aren’t allowed on Earth, apparently, owing to a playful detente’ God and Satan are apparently having for kicks) walking around invisible to the rest of us mortals. These visions drove him to attempt suicide as a kid, and since suicide is the Big Unforgivable of all sins (the whole thing is DRIPPING in old-school Catholic Angst like that) his near-death experience has left him not only condemned to Hell, but with a firsthand glimpse of what it means for him. So now, as an adult, he trolls the occult underground “deporting” misbehaving demons as a kind of freelance exorcist in hopes of scoring a reprieve from the Almighty.

The introduction, it must be said, is a doozy; a cracking-good spin on the traditional “exorcism” scene we’ve seen in so many horror films. Instead of the expected old-priest/young-priest team confronting the posessed little girl with the demon-face strapped to the bed with dual utterings of “the power of Christ compels you!” we get chain-smoking, grubby suit-wearing John Constantine hopping onto the bed and leaning in to hiss “This is John Constantine, ___hole!” to the offending hellspawn. Not one for subtlety, when what appears to be demonic jaws lunge up from the poor kid’s neck, he simply slugs it.

As played by Keanu Reeves in full-on minimalist mode, Constantine lives out his crusade in Los Angeles. The comic book Constantine, I’m told, is a bloke doing his thing in England. This will no doubt annoy the hell out of you if you’re a “Hellblazer” fan and be of no consequence if you’re not, save for the fact that the knowledge makes it an inescapable truism that this would be soooo much cooler in a British setting. But L.A. is where we are and, in L.A., a lady detective (Rachel Weisz) is seeking Constantine’s help in proving that her devoutly-Catholic twin sister’s suicide was actually an act of murder. It all ties in to a big doomsday/antichrist hulabaloo involving Catholic Arcana fan-fiction staples like the Spear of Destiny (look it up) and the Angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton.)

It’s odd how old-hat some of this seems by now. So many films, especially in the horror genre, have mined this material by now that it’s starting to seem almost quaint. I’m sure this is all culled from one or more “Hellblazer” arcs, but the material has been mined so often by everything from “The Prophecy” to Kevin Smith’s “Dogma” that even items like the Gnostic Gospels that used to be the stuff of gasp-inducing gag-references for Seminary scholars is now the backbone of a sewing-circle potboiler like “The DaVinci Code.” Still, speaking as a 12-year veteran of Catholic School, it’s fun to see all the old trinkets trotted out as gadgetry in an action film. I don’t care if their born of the movie or the comic, but I love Constantine’s shotgun/crucifix firing gold bullets made from melted relics. Or the use of holy water as napalm. Or “the last rites” as a method of demon-torture. And my personal “omigodthatsocool!!!!” favorite, a pair of golden, crucifix-emblazoned Holy Brass Knuckles.

This is all very silly when you get down to it, but I have to say I dug the hell out of this. It just “works for me.” I love the offbeat no-sequitor level at which this is all pitched, like the scene where Constantine matter of factly snatches up a housecat before a “teleport me to hell” recon-mission with only the explanation being: “Thats good! Cats are good, half-in half-out already.” I even like Swinton’s Gabriel popping up wearing what must be the silliest concept for what an Angel might wear yet put to film. I dig the wild Heronymous Bosch-influenced hell, or Constantine’s weapons-supplier nonchalantly dropping off “bullet shavings from the asassination attempt on the Pope,” and Djimon Honsou’s not-nearly-as-racially-bothersome-as-it-sounds turn as a kind of Witch Doctor nightclub owner (who employs the most memorable door security I’ve seen in awhile.) And, dear me, how I do love Peter Stormare’s 3rd-act scene-stealer turn as as dandy, doting Lucifer.

Overall, “Constantine” is trying to set up a franchise, and it’s doing a DAMN good job of it. I want to see more of this guy, and his cool blasphemy-busting weaponry and his colorful friends. There’s a good series in here if they want it. So, overall, consider this a FIRM reccomendation.

Sidebar: Back in 1997, right before Marvel Films got it’s act going and started the then-to-present “comic book movie craze,” their first shot was “Blade,” an R-rated action/horror film based on one of their most obscure characters reimagined. It was a modest hit, heralding the arrival of “X-Men” and the triumph of “Spider-Man.” DC comics-based films have floundered for awhile, but now here they have a likely mini-hit in an R-rated obscure-character reworking… and waiting in the wings is non other than Batman and Superman films soon to come. Not saying history always repeats itself, just saying it’s… interesting.

Additional sidebar: Y’ever notice that in horror movies Christianity is ONLY ever represented by Catholicism, because Protestantism just isn’t “scary enough” I guess? Y’ever notice also that, for all the Religious Right knocking of movie violence, ultraviolent horror films like this an “Exorcist” are the most devout, literal religious films getting made these days?

In conclusion: To my usual battle cry of “to hell with ‘The Passion,'” I can now add this revision: “To hell with ‘The Passion,’ THIS is my kinda ultra-violent Catholicism movie!”


REVIEW: Son of The Mask

This is the sort of movie that, given the conditions of it’s release (i.e. as the only new mass-market family film opening opposite an R-rated action/horror movie) and the overall impression left by every shred of it’s marketing, gives any film critic reason to pause and consider if he should really even bother with it. After all, almost no-one thinks it will be good, and even less people than that really care. The math is simple: If you’ve got kids, and they want to go see a new movie this weekend, you’re probably going to see this, and “liking” it is irrelevant. So, really, there’s no reason for a review. This is cinematic fast-food, a “McMovie,” and it’s opening-weekend money was made the moment it was greenlit.

Then, of course, we critics remember that if we start acknowledging that on some movies our work just isn’t necessary, people might start to question if our work is “necessary” on ANY movie, and we can’t very well have that. So we review it anyway.

The original “The Mask” is best remembered, imo, as the shrug-inducing low end of the mid-1990s Jim Carrey arrival-impact, (spanning roughly “Ace Ventura” to “The Cable Guy”,) an unremarkable superhero spoof featuring an ancient Norse mask imbued with the power of Loki (Viking god of mischief) which brings to life the exaggerated “inner self” of anyone who wears it. In that film, the wearer was Stanley Ipkiss, (Carrey,) who was a fan of Tex Avery cartoons and thus who’s “mask-self” was a human cartoon, a small triumph of Carrey’s own rubberfaced talents blended with the latest in CGI. Oh, it’s also where we got our first good look at Cameron Diaz, back when she had a figure. Remember?

The problem posed immediately to any sequel to such a one-man show of a movie is that, almost ten years later, the original star is now well beyond this material. Granted, this might provide the ideal opportunity to find and launch a whole new “next big thing” physical comedian, but the producers here have taken the low road: Mining the original backstory for a story just convoluted enough in which all the best-remembered gags from the original can be replicated. So the story picks up with Loki (Alan Cumming… no, really, Alan Cumming) being pressured by Norse God Allfather Odin (Bob Hoskins) to find and retrieve The Mask before it causes more trouble. A surprising amount of screentime is somehow needed to establish all of this, in a series of painful scenes that serve chiefly to kill any chance of Marvel Films getting a good “Mighty Thor” movie off the ground any time soon.

Meanwhile, The Mask finds it’s way into the hands of struggling animator Tim Avery (Jamie Kennedy, and har-har on the name) who dons it and turns into a staggeringly bad imitation of Carrey’s mask-persona at an office Halloween party. (the franchise mythology has been, I guess, reconstrued so that the cartoon-esque powers are simply Loki and thusly The Mask’s “default setting,” so I guess Ipkiss’s toon-fetish in the original is now just an odd coincidence) In the first of many scenes that will have your kids asking plenty of awkward questions during the ride home, he keeps the mask on when he heads home for post-party sex with the wife, leading to the nine-months-later birth of Baby Avery, who has all the powers of someone wearing The Mask without having to wear one. This causes the Avery family to pop up on Loki’s radar, just in time for Mrs. Avery to be called away on business leaving responsibility-phobic Tim alone with the baby just at the same time the big bosses at work are finally asking to see his Big Idea for a cartoon show and… oh, to hell with it. Lots of stuff that’s not funny happens, over and over again, until everyone reaches the end of their painfully transparent character arcs and all learn Important Lessons.

With all that “story” going on, the film manages to devote most of the long 2nd act to a B-story in which Tim’s dog Otis dons The Mask (in a repetition of the only thing from the Mask anyone remembers other than Carrey or Cameron Diaz’s late, lamented cleavage) and battles superpowered Baby Avery for the attention of Tim, who’s also (for some reason) getting the “One Froggy Evening“-treatment from the baby. (The old Looney Tune with the singing frog only one guy knows about, remember?)

If nothing else, “Son of The Mask” serves as a helpful primer on how difficult the art of slapstick really is. It’s a thin line to walk between “funny horseplay” and “cruel, unfunny violence,” and this film approaches that line with the approximate precision of the Incredible Hulk trying to program a new wallpaper onto his cellphone. Scene after scene features gags that would compell the Three Stooges to telephone Child Services: In one scene, Tim tackles his wife thinking her to be the shape-shifting Loki. There’s a way to make that funny, but here the gag plunges into astonishing mean-spiritedness, with Tim pummeling his wife and repeatedly slamming her head to the floor before realizing his error. Charming. In another, Tim nearly electrocutes Avery with a broken, electrified lightbulb he’s sleepily-mistaken for a milk bottle. People, I laughed when Tom Green spun a newborn over his head by it’s umbilical cord, and even I don’t think there’s a universe where that’s funny.

It seems astonishing to say, but “Son of The Mask” is even worse than it’s trailers made it look. Along with the ghastly-misteps of slapstick noted above, it’s incoherent and none of it’s jokes land very well if at all. It’s junk, trading cheaply on memories of a decade-old hit that wasn’t all that good to begin with. It may be futile for you parents out there to try and avoid it, but you should still try. This isn’t just a bad movie, it’s bad for you. (And, honestly, I don’t think the kids are going to like it much either.)


Your freedom is in danger! Plus: Meet the people responsible!

Before I run this peice, concerning the recent proposed changes to FCC policy, I think I ought to outline my personal views on the overall subject of government media-regulation so that we’re all on the same page as to the prism through which this and stories like it will be viewed. My views on said subject are as follows:

There has never been, in the HISTORY OF HUMANKIND, a single provable case or even a single reputable study to support the notion that ANY item of the arts or media, (be it music, radio or TV broadcast, film, painting, sculpture, literature or otherwise,) is inherently harmful to view, see, read or listen to.

Read that last statement over again, and let it sink in. NEVER. Thats how many times someone has proven that a work of art or media is automatically “harmful.” ZERO. That’s how many reputable studies exist to support the idea that they could even in theory be automatically harmful. There is NO video game can be gauranteed to make anyone who plays it shoot up their high school. There is NO movie that can be garaunteed to turn your kid into a serial killer. There is NO album that can be gauranteed to make any listener commit suicide. Even that episode of “Pokemon” where the flashing light-patterns caused a mass-outbreak of seizures among Japanese children did not effect 100% of those who saw it. Are we crystal clear about this? These things DO NOT EXIST. At all.

Thusly, it is not merely my “belief,” but my conclusion based on the logic outline above, that in the complete absence of the garauntee of harm no branch of the State or Federal Government has the right to regulate ANY book, picture, film, television or radio broadcast, musical peice, or ANY work of creative media in regards to it’s content.

By extension of that basic principal, it is also my belief and conclusion that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has absolutely no right under the United States Constitution to regulate content and levy fines for “broadcast indecency” as it currently does. The FCC should be stripped of all such powers, and relegated strictly to the function of regulating the corporate and financial behaviors of Broadcast entities.

All power to regulate art and media content should be stripped from the government and placed exclusively in the domain of the private business owners who operate the television stations, movie theaters, art galleries, publishing houses, bookstores, etc. They, and the market they serve, should be the sole determiners of what is decent or indecent, what is regulated and in what manner. We are, after all, still allegedly a free market society.


Having said my peice in that regard, on to the news…

On February 16th, 2005, the United States House voted overwhelmingly to give the Federal Communications Commission the go-ahead on a proposed hike in broadcast indencency fines from their current $32,500 to a staggering $500,000. A lighter (but at $325,000 still inexcusably high) version of this legislation is favored by the Senate, which has to either approve the House vote or iron out a compromise between the two before any legislation can be passed on to President Bush for final approval.

Get the broader details HERE:

If you don’t understand why this is big deal, then you need to start paying attention to this stuff and now. I do not care if you are a Republican, a Democrat, independent, undecided, red-state or blue-state or whatever, this comes down to a simple fundamental truth: This is the government making laws to control speech. The higher fines will make it easier for the government to punish someone who says or shows something they don’t like. This is a way for a government body to get around the First Amendment. The freedom to express even unpopular speech is not just an important aspect of American life, it’s THE MOST important aspect of American life.

This is not about “making broadcast radio and television safe for family viewing,” as the White House said in a prepared statement. To that I demand to know: “Who’s definition of ‘safe?'” and “Who’s family? Your family? Mine? The Manson Family? The Partridge Family?” This is not about families or safety. This is about reactionary societal-regressives, motivated primarily by fringe elements of Religious Fundamentalism and cultural “traditionalists” who desire the re-engineering of American culture in their image through the use of government regulation. This is about CONTROL.

Back to boldface for a spell: Can you guess how much I think the FCC should be allowed to fine for “obscene” material on TV? Hm? How about ZERO dollars?

Of course, this is motivated almost entirely by the events of about a year ago, when a cheezy publicity stunt at the MTV-produced Superbowl halftime show resulted in the “shocking” (yes, shocking, simply shocking!!!) revelation to billions of impressionable TV viewers that fading pop diva Janet Jackson was possessed of an upper-torso epidermal feature also shared by every single person watching the show. The offending feature is colloquially refered to as a “nipple,” and anyone who honestly still thinks this was EVER even worth getting mildly peeved about… Please, I’m begging you, get counciling.

Now, let’s explore why this is a complete fraud:

The “Nipplegate” incident is part of a larger “story of the year” in 2004, i.e. the HUGE uptick in complaints to the FCC. The exact numbers are often disputed and hard to come by, but the figure is something like several hundred-thousand this year as opposed to a prior average of about a hundred. The way the enemies of free speech have so magnificiently spun this data, it’s easy to buy into the Big Lie that TV has gotten “too raunchy” and that there’s some kind of “silent majority” revolution going on in this country in favor of “good old-fashioned family values.” It’s not hard to look at this skewed data and conjure up the mental picture of hundreds of thousands of Smith’s and Jones’s deciding they’ve “finally had enough” of TV sex and violence (mostly sex) and sitting down spontaneously-en-masse to write impassioned strongly worded letters which in turn arrive in righteous, burying-bagfuls at the office of the FCC like some kind of facist Bizarro-World version of “Miracle on 34th Street.” It’s a powerful image, cinematic in scope and rife with pathos and symbolism…

…too bad it’s NOT REAL.

What if I told you that there’s BARELY the makings of an “uprising” out there? (There’s also no spoon, but thats another column.) What if the whole “massive surge in viewer complaints” was a shadow and a fraud? What if, instead of thousands of angry individual Americans motivated to write strongly-worded letters to the FCC with specific complaints, the “surge” was actually coming from thousands internet-trolling “family values” malcontents adding “me too!” to a mass-mailing and that “writing a strongly-worded letter” was in reality “clicking a mouse button.” What if a single group, founded by a single man was the mastermind behind the entire thing? Also a powerful image, cinematic in scope and rife with pathos and symbolism…

…except this time, IT’S REAL.

In January, the industry trade publication Mediaweek.com published shocking statistics about the entire FCC/Nipplegate debacle. It turns out that OVER 98% OF THE COMPLAINTS came from a single source. Read all about it over at Audio Video Revolution:

They call themselves the Parent’s Television Council. As an organization, they monitor the airwaves for anything they deem to be “indecent.” When such a nugget is found, it is posted on their website out of context and made viewable to anyone who wants to see it. Those offended by the clips are then prompted to digitally add their name to a mass-mailing-style form letter that the PTC then forwards to the FCC. And what does the PTC define as “indecent?” As you might expect, they toe the “Religious Right” line in that respect, so naturally they are infinitely more concerned about sex than violence, and “deviant” (read: “gay”) sexuality especially. See for yourself:

Everybody got that? Not a “moral majority” uprising in the mail. Not a spiritual fellowship of like-minded hardworking Americans. Websurfers with an agenda mass-mailing form letters from a politically-biased pro-censorship website.

And who’s in charge here? His name is L. Brent Bozell. He’s a professional censorship-advocate who, in addition to running the PTC, also operates the Media Research Center, which claims to be a “Conservative” watchdog outfit watching for “Liberal bias” in the media but basically exists to accuse anyone L. Brent Bozell disagrees with of being “biased.” Here’s the site, see for yourself:

What REALLY irritates me about the Media Research Center is that their bogus claims of watchdog-hood cheapens the very real problem of political bias in journalism. Fortunately, a REAL Conservative watchdog-group with REAL credentials that ISN’T just twisting news to advance a so-called “family values” agenda exists, over at David Horowitz’s Frontpagemag.net. Agree or disagree with Frontpage’s politics, at least their fair and honest which is more than can be said for either of Bozell’s operations. He’s not a Conservative, he’s a Religious Zealot, militantly anti-gay, anti-choice and only champions “conservative” causes when they advance his theological agenda…

…and hey, wouldn’t you know it? He LOVED “The Passion.”
Notice the little PTC link down the bottom to “send a thank-you note to Mel Gibson?” Man, sometimes this is just too easy.

When the REAL Constitutional Conservatives (and Libertarians) over at the respected CATO Insitute admirably stepped up and called out the PTC for the anti-freedom outfit it is, look how pissy Bozell got about it:
(Scroll down to “CATO Lobbies for Hollywood” entry)

The article he’s so upset about is by Adam Thierer, CATO’s Thierer. I URGE you to read it, as it’s the best anti-censorship article I’d read in many a moon:

Money quote from Thierer:
“While the PTC claims to be non-partisan, the watchdog group’s public policy advocacy adopts a distinctly social conservative and moralistic tone. Interestingly, the PTC’s motto is: “Because Our Children Are Watching,” which begs the question: Why are your children watching? Why are they watching Desperate Housewives or any other show you find objectionable? I know my kids aren’t watching.”

And one more:
“Conservatives and religious groups decry government activism in terms of educating our children, for example, but with their next breath call in Uncle Sam to play the role of surrogate parent when it comes to TV content.”

Can I get an “Amen?”

CATO Institute is one of the most intelligent and important groups on the American political scene. Vacillating between Constitutional Conservatism and Libertarianism (kind of an exercise in hair-splitting, really) their operating motto is: “Individual Liberty, Limited Government, Free Markets & Peace.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. If you’ve never heard of them or visited their website, I reccomend you do so and look around. If you’re into politics at all, from any side, this is pure brain-food:

So anyhow…

Our Freedom’s may have been be given to us by the blood of our Patriot forefathers, but keeping them is as responsibility for all of us. I, and many others like me, believe that the increased FCC-fines, motivated by bad, manipulated data, are a step in the direction of abridging those very freedoms. If you agree, do something about it.

You’ve all got a senator. You’ve all got a congressman. The White House Switchboards really do catalogue all the calls they get. Make your voice heard.

Yes, even if you disagree with everything I’ve said here. Despite the best efforts of The Parents Television Council and all their ilk, this is after all still a free country 😉

More Oscar controversy

…and this time it’s 100% Michael Medved and Mel Gibson free! I promise!

So there’s two simmering Oscar issues right now, which are sure to come to a head in the coming years but we’re getting early previews of around this year’s show.

The first issue is one of a rejiggering in the way the statues are handed out this year. The reliable Moviepoopshoot.com reports:

The meat of it goes something like this: Some of the “less major” awards this year will be given to the winners in their seats or via beauty-pagent style “every nominee lines up” on the stage. Presumably this is producer Gil Cates making good on his yearly promise to make the show go quicker and shake things up a bit… but c’mon, you don’t have to be any kind of insider to figure out what’s going on here: This is the Academy caving in to the sad reality that a majority of people watching the show are just doing so to oggle their favored celebs and see what they wore, and this new system was likely designed to get the awards that “nobody” (read: film buffs and the people nominated for the awards) cares about done quicker so that the attendees with the better PMI (People Magazine Index) can get even more attention.

Editor Walter Murch said it nicely in an angry email to Gil Cates:
“I would like to protest in the strongest possible terms your decision to not allow ‘technical’ crafts on stage to receive their Oscars.” He added, “To apply some kind of PMI (People magazine index) to the nominees and make this the criterion for whether they get to go onstage or not and speak to the Academy is disgraceful to the Academy and to all of the people who work in film, whether they are members of the Academy or not.”

To be fair, it hasn’t been confirmed which categories will be done this way and the producers are promising this WON’T be just about shorting the craft-nominees, but right now I’m with Murch: It just sounds fishy. The hard working people on the technical side of filmmaking spend their entire year with their work being overlooked in favor of celebrities who act in the films, and the Oscars is the one night the field gets suitably equalized: The winner of Best Actor takes the same stage, gets the same-shaped trophy and the same speaking time as the winner of Best Makeup or Best Editing. To take that away is cruel.

And speaking of hardworking people getting shortchanged, it’s ridiculous that there’s no Oscar for Best Stunt Coordinator. This is a vital part of making a huge number of films, and it deserves a category. The Stuntmen apparently agree with me. For seperate stunt organizations have joined to petition the Academy to recognize them. I say don’t hold your breath, look how long in between “Snow White” and “Shrek” for us to get a Best Animated Feature prize.

The only film pundit I can find talking about this is Jeffery Wells over at “Hollywood Elsewhere”…
…predictably, he’s against it. His rationale is, I gather, the same as most of the Academy ruling class: he views stunt work as the stuff of artless blockbusters, action films, and other stuff thats not worth recognizing. Or as he puts it:

“Safe, maybe, but forget creative. To me, movie stunts are the antithesis of that. Hollywood’s stunt professionals are good people, but they’re upper-level proles who are just a step or two removed from carpenters and electricians, and including them with the rest of the Oscar contenders would devalue things a bit.”

Look, I like Wells’ site, he’s a good film writer, but on this like most other things he’s just the definition of an old-school Film Snob (the boomer-aged dying-breed forerunner to the NEW power-class of film pundits, the Movie Geeks) and to put it bluntly: He just doesn’t get it. “Stunt Coordinators” don’t just stage crashes and falls, they also handle the complex human-mechanics like the elaborate fight sequences that’ve become so prevalent lately. It’s an art, it’s essential to filmmaking right now, and it deserves a spot.

In fact, I’ll do the stunt guys one better. They don’t need one award, they need THREE:

How about: “Best Stunt Coordinator,” “Best Choreography (Dance)” and “Best Choreography (Combat)”? That’d be something…