Friday, March 31, 2006

Feed Your Head -- Rest Your Feet

To the high school students of Tucson demonstrating against harsh immigration reform: Enough marching. It's time to get back to class.

One day of demonstrations, I understand. Two looks suspicious. Three, and I know you're just ditching pre-calc.

I know about the First Amendment, and I know immigrants built this nation. But I also know you all need an education. And a few of you could use some schooling on what you're marching about.

Here's an actual soundbite from an actual student that actually aired at the start of KOLD News 13 at Ten on March 30, 2006:
"I came to protest I guess. I'm just with the Mexican people. A lot of my friends are Mexican."

(Reporter asks a question)

"I don't exactly know what it's for."
"Si se puede!" Yes, we can! Can... uh... what?

Many of you aren't marching in protest. You're wandering in the wilderness, adrift on the waves of others' passion. You know not your purpose nor your politics. Your aim is hanging out with the crowd.

Did you know there's more than one immigration reform bill before Congress? Do you know that not all of them involve making illegal immigration a felony? Did you hear about the guest worker program the president backs -- at substantial risk to his standing among conservative Republicans?

Do your homework. Understand the issues. Understand your position.

Your teachers and principals are trying to help you. They are mercifully -- I say too mercifully -- sparing you from truancy citations and detentions to let you take a hike. They know a teaching moment is before them, and they are offering you classroom time to talk this out. I suggest you take their offer.

From KOLD News 13's report by Teresa Jun:
"We used the approach that we're not going to physically confront kids leaving school," said TUSD Superintendent Roger Pfeuffer. "Given the emotionality of the issue, I think we dealt with it appropriately."
What are you administrators afraid of? Do you have nightmares of the 60's? Are images of Kent State pervading your thoughts when you see the cast of fourth-period Physics parading live on KGUN 9?

"Appropriately," my foot. It's time you put yours down.

A truancy citation is not a death sentence. It is not racist. Asking students to stay in class and march after school is more than reasonable. It's polite, if nothing else. Offer to help rally after the final bell.

Don't let parents get under your skin. They will holler and whine if you lock the school down, but do it anyway. You're paid to educate, not commiserate. Sensible parents will support you.

I cannot deny the satisfaction and emotional rush of publicly expressing your beliefs. But true satisfaction comes from understanding the framework of your convictions and forming your opinions from fact. All this is possible if you don't skip out on History and Civics classes. You can't learn it from the street.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

And The Network Goes To...

My hunch back in January was wrong. KWBA in Tucson is getting the CW network.

It makes sense. KWBA has nabbed higher ratings than KTTU and holds a higher profile. But KTTU will hook up with Fox's new creation: MyNetwork TV.

Let's go deep here. The whole point of merging UPN and WB was to create one strong network out of two weaker ones. Looking at the season-to-date Nielsen averages, WB and UPN are each drawing less than half of Fox's audience (6.0 for Fox, 2.1 each for WB and UPN). Provided CW takes the best of the best, they could stand to close the gap to perhaps 50-75 percent of Fox's number -- say a 4 rating. But that sounds awfully optimistic.

MyNetwork TV is going to get a strong push from Fox, which owns several MyNetwork affiliates. The main offering is English versions of telenovelas, those steamy Mexican soaps. But Why not just call it "Fox 2," as Inside Tucson Business' David Hatfield alluded to? You capitalize on the strong Fox brand. Maybe you also offer a second run of Fox shows a day or two after they run on Fox. Forget to Tivo American Idol? Catch an encore the next night on MyNetwork! As CBS is showing us on Saturday nights, you can make money off repeats of popular shows like CSI.

I also won't be surprised to see a repeat of the present situation: two low-rated nets still in Fox's long shadow. Names may change, affiliates may shift, but you end up with the same problems.

But with my last hunch disproven, what do I know?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

"You Look A Little Too Happy To Be Here."

That's yours truly at the Arizona Renaissance Festival, kilted to the hilt and loving every second of it. The title quote comes from the ticket taker at the gate, himself costumed, when he saw the smile on my face as I passed by.

For the uninitiated, you can rent costumes right outside the gate. The fee is not outrageous -- about $30 for me. Yes, it's a little long. And yes, if you have to ask, I was wearing undies. I thought about keeping my dress shorts on in the changing room.

"Take off your shorts," the attendant said.

I thought about it some more. But since the kilt fell below my knee, I decided to risk potential embarassment.

Walking around in a kilt is quite comfortable. I just wish I wore actual kilt hose instead of those socks! Calm wind helps too. Sometimes you have to sit like a girl. I don't care. I have a "brave heart."

I could tell you more about the day, with its shows and jousting and chivalrous revelry. I enjoyed it. But after a few recent timeline travels which involved much more interaction, simply dressing the part isn't cutting it any more. I feel like I have to go further, which in this case probably meant dancing the Highland Fling... something which I didn't have the opportunity to do.

What does this mean? For me, living history means living it. But a time will come, I promise you. Keep your kilts on.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Send In The Lions

I thought we got rid of the Taliban in the Afghan government. I guess not:

Christian Charged For Switch From Islam

My favorite contradictory quote:
"We are not against any particular religion in the world. But in Afghanistan, this sort of thing is against the law," the judge said.
And from the prosecutor:
"He would have been forgiven if he changed back. But he said he was a Christian and would always remain one," [Abdul] Wasi said. "We are Muslims, and becoming a Christian is against our laws. He must get the death penalty."
It's getting much harder for me to believe Islam is a religion of peace with characters like these around. I'll say it again: moderate Muslims need to start taking their faith back.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Reel To Reel: V For Vendetta

How It Rates: ***1/2
Starring: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving
Rated: R
Red Flags: Intense Graphic Violence and Swordplay, Mild Language

I saw V For Vendetta late in the evening in the middle of a Las Vegas getaway. Out of all the shows in Vegas I could've picked, I picked this one. I emerged from the theater spellbound. This is a film that I watched for two hours and mused upon for many hours afterward. I was still thinking about it when I drifted off to sleep in my hotel room.

V For Vendetta has a complicated Francis Movie Equation: 1984 + Phantom Of The Opera + The Zorro Pictures / The Matrix + the psychology and mindsets surrounding the Third Reich and the War On Terror. The film from the directors of the Matrix triology could be a warning picture -- a prediction of what will happen if we do not guard our liberties, trade freedom for security, and surrender to fear.

The picture takes place in 2020 Great Britain, now a facist state. The motto of the government conjures up images of Nazi Germany and The Wave: "Strength Through Unity. Unity Through Faith." A nationwide curfew is strictly enforced. Works of art and music deemed offensive by the government are confiscated. Television is merely the puppet of the government, censored and bloated with propaganda as news. Vans with listening devices cruise up and down the streets monitoring for dissent. And the public, comfortably numb in their homes and pubs, doesn't care.

One person does: a mysterious vigilante named V (Weaving), who wears the mask of Guy Fawkes, a man who tried to blow up Parliament in the 1600's. V is out to reawaken the public to what they have lost and make them rise up against tyranny. This involves a pirate broadcast, a few big explosions, and lots of killing -- mainly targeted at government officials. He meets and befriends Evey (Portman), a worker for that puppet TV network, who comes to find within herself another person, one with purpose and courage.

That's all you need to know about the plot, which is building up to a big day when something big is supposed to happen. A curiosity: the USA in this film doesn't exist any more as a sovereign nation, although it's not clear why. We hear a couple of references suggesting that somehow, the British took back the former colonies. Lousy redcoats. What is clear is this: the War on Terror has grown and spread, along with a climate of fear. In this climate, a repressive regime rose to power, much the same way the Nazis rose to power in the disillusionment, poverty and hopelessness of post WWI Germany. The film also throws in some other thought-provoking twists, which are better left for you to discover and find the parallels in real life.

In The Matrix, the Wachowski brothers laid some deep questions about our dependence on technology and our perception of reality into a world of CGI. V For Vendetta goes even deeper, though with less action and more political intrigue, all of which works, except for one scene of Weaving's character slicing through people with a pair of swords.

For a vigilante, V speaks with the tongue of a learned man, not some psychopath. He is a voice of reason, even if you do not approve of his methods. "People should not be afraid of their governments," he says. Governments should be afraid of their people." Still, you can call him a terrorist. His actions are violent and designed to incite fear. He kills a lot of people. And even if the ultimate end is eliminating the government's own campaign of repression, he is not a role model for your kids. But as we see all the time, one person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter. And if we suddenly realize one day the freedoms we love have been confiscated, a lot of us are going to want V out there fighting for us.

It's no spoiler to tell you that Parliament is blown up, just as Fawkes intended. This may disturb you. But in the context of the picture, it might not. It is all perception, and the Wachowskis push that question: is terrorism ever justified?

At one point, V lectures the British public on what has happened to their rights and says the blame for it lies with themselves. Twenty years from now, I hope like heck somebody isn't making the same lecture to us in America.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Drawing The Curtain On Freedom Of Speech

What should have been a teaching moment, an opportunity for a discussion of free speech and what offends us fell victim to a scared administrator in Fulton, Missouri, my home state.

High-school drama teacher Wendy DeVore is resigning after the school superintendent cancelled TWO student plays amid complaints about content.

From the AP report:
But after a handful of Callaway Christian Church members complained about scenes in the fall musical "Grease" that showed teens smoking, drinking and kissing, Superintendent Mark Enderle told DeVore to find a more family-friendly substitute.
Teens smoking. GASP! Drinking. GASP! And kissing. GAAAAAASSSSP! The teenage high-school experience isn't suitable for high-school teenagers anymore. And this is after the script had already been sanitized for high school audiences. The New York Times points out DeVore rated the production PG-13. That should've been enough.

The irony surrounding what was to be the next play speaks for itself:
DeVore's students were to perform Arthur Miller's "The Crucible," a drama set during the 17th Century Salem witch trials.
Note that this play was chosen before the cancellation of Grease.

The irony deepens when you see what play went on instead:
DeVore chose Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," a classic romantic comedy with its own dicey subject matter, including suicide, rape and losing one's virginity.
But I guess because it's written in Old English, nobody will understand it anyway.

According to the Times, Dr. Enderle seems more concerned about tough questions than standing tough for his faculty and students:
Dr. Enderle said he did not base his decision to cancel "The Crucible," which was first reported by The Fulton Sun, a daily, just on the three complaints and the video [of a dress rehearsal]. He also asked 10 people he knew whether the play crossed a line. All but one, he recalled, said yes.

"To me, it's entirely a preventative maintenance issue," Dr. Enderle explained. "I can't do anything about what's already happened, but do I want to spend the spring saying, 'Yeah, we crossed the line again'?"
"Preventative maintenance." Call Roget's. Censorship has a new synonym.
Nevertheless, the superintendent said he was "not 100 percent comfortable" with having canceled "The Crucible."
Not only is he devoid of backbone, he's also wishy-washy. Do you want this person leading a school district?

This could've been an excellent topic for a town-hall meeting with parents. Hopefully, somebody would have stood up for the kids and their teacher.

From AP:
"We have become a laughingstock," teacher Paula Fessler told The Fulton Sun.
Make a ridiculous decision, and you deserve the ridicule. Unfortunately, the ridicule here is obtuse, hitting the citizens of Fulton, Missouri instead of their school superintendent. Fulton is not a backwater bastion of intolerance. You will recall it's where Winston Churchill made his famous "Iron Curtain" speech.

Now, we have the Velvet Curtain. On one side, we have the First Amendment. On the other, we have those who say it doesn't apply to kids, doesn't apply to indecency, doesn't apply to anything we don't "like." They have mentally added another amendment to the Bill Of Rights: The Right Not To Be Offended.

That right does not exist. If something offends you, then use the one that does to state your beliefs as a counterpoint. But also choose to turn away, close your ears and your eyes. The arts and the media feed off of your patronage. Refusing to patronize offensive content will send a much more powerful message than taking a pre-emptive strike. As we have seen time and time again, controversy drives publicity, which drives curiosity.

The student actors at the center of this are concentrating on putting on a fantastic show, Shakespeare or otherwise. Huzzah to them! Unlike their high chancellor in the faculty, they know where they stand.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Tears Of A Stranger

The following took place a few weeks prior to the date of this entry. I have withheld this story until now to avoid upstaging the mourning of the young woman who lost her life. But I feel ready to tell it, especially after seeing the movie Capote, so that you may know journalists -- including TV news producers -- are not without feeling for the people they encounter, even as others criticize us for having no soul, no shame, no honor in our profession.

I felt powerless. A story didn't roll correctly. A soundbite had no audio. And all I could do was kneel beside a monitor, one earpiece listening to the unfolding program, and keep people in front of the camera from looking silly by warning them when they were on. So much for field producing live shots at the Chrysler Classic of Tucson. Everybody was fine on my end. But gremlins were popping up back at the station during the Sunday 5:30 newscast.

I'd volunteered for the job hoping to help the sports crew avoid a repeat of last year, when the golf tournament went into extra holes. It led to a mad understaffed scramble to get the footage on the air. If anything, I could run tape back and forth should we bump up against a tight deadline, easing the tension. This year, it all ended on time, with plenty of minutes to catch our breaths, edit our tape, and set up our live shots. We were overstaffed.

But then I heard Andrew, one of our photographers, was on his way to another assignment. The family of an 18-year-old girl killed in a car accident just two days ago was going to talk to us. Andrew was to get the soundbites alone, without a reporter accompanying him. I didn't want him to do it by himself, so I dusted off my TV reporting expertise from long ago and hopped in the live truck with him.

We made a call to the assignment desk to get directions and some background. I dug through the back of the van for a pen. My hands waded through camera bags, empty pop bottles, discarded paper, trash, mystery wires, wrappers and filth, but located not a single pen. At work one hangs around my neck. All I had around my neck now was my press credentials. I desperately needed that pen to transcribe the details that were either going to keep me out of trouble or get me into more of it: Who was this girl? How did she live? How did she die? No way was I going into an interview with a grieving mother ignorant of the facts and bereft of a way to take them down in front of me.

Andrew stopped at a 99-cent store while I leaped out and ran for a cheap writing utensil. I snatched a pair of Scriptos and dashed for the checkout.

"Are you in a hurry?" a clerk asked in the middle of an order. She was rolling what looked like two dozen pop cans across the scanner, one at a time.

"Is there an Express Lane?" I queried.

"It's $1.07," she said, seizing the advantage of working at a fixed-price store: an ingrained knowledge of prices plus tax.

She generously took my money in the middle of the other order, and I was back in the truck in a flash, on the phone, and on my way to an interview that would wring my heart like a sponge.

All I knew about Elisa before I met her family was that she was an aspiring mariachi musician, one who had placed fifth in a national contest. I knew she had died in a head-on collision. And that was all.

Our live truck rolled into the dark cul-de-sac around 7:30, delayed by heavy traffic. Rows of parked cars lined the curb outside the family's home, occupying as much space as possible without blocking the center of the road. I worried how we would get our battleship of a vehicle out. The approaching deadline for the 10:00 newscast was working against us. We were to get enough material -- interviews and pictures -- for a "natsound" package, one where the interviewees do all the talking in the finished piece and the reporter does none.

Here I was, the reporter, wearing neither a suit nor tie but the aftermath of a day in the field assisting with golf coverage. A button-down brown-striped shirt hung loose around my waist, with brown shorts as base. Pulling cables left the pant legs marked with black streaks. My press badge with the four-year-old picture still hung around my neck, and a Chrysler Classic media access pin dangled from a pocket.

A relative serving as a liaison for the family met us shortly after we rolled up and graciously thanked us for coming. She led us inside.

Relatives filled the garage and every room of the home's lower floors, some hugging, some eating or sipping beverages, and nearly everyone talking. We made our way to the living room, where a crew from another station was wrapping up amongst the crowds. Their camera sat dismounted, tripod ready for folding. Andrew and I searched out a space for an interview.

"Wherever you want to do it," I said to him and the family. We decided on Elisa's room.

The door swung open and I stepped into a shrine. Pictures of the girl dotted the blue walls: her and her friends, her and her family, her as a mariachi singer, the feature article about her in the paper, all smiles. Ticket stubs for Spanish concerts protruded from the frames. My eyes scanned the room several times as Andrew set up the equipment.

I caught a quote on her bulletin board: "Wait for what you want and you'll get run over."

As the photographer took video of the photos, my eyes fixed on a silver microphone without a wire. It lay on her dresser like a hairbrush, and I asked about it.

Her father laughed. "She used that to practice her stage technique," he said. He didn't think that old mic, dented on the top, worked.

I saw the mirrored closet doors in front of me and knew it did. Every day, Elisa would stand in front of those doors, practicing to become a star, perfecting her voice and her rhythm. My mind flashed back to my high school days when I practiced for speech and debate competitions in front of my mirror-less closet door.

Elisa's mother and I sat down on the girl's bed. I asked her to face the camera and not me as the interview began.

"Tell me about her," I said, keeping my question vague and open-ended so she could proceed with the most striking thought that came to her mind.

"Elisa was a charismatic young lady," her mother said. "She just brought so much joy and happiness to everyone. Everyone she met, she touched in a positive way."

The mother painted me a picture of the daughter she had lost: a loving person, one driven by a love of music, one who brought joy to many others while determined to be the best.

She talked of Elisa placing second -- not fifth as I had been told previously -- at the national mariachi contest last December, second out of 500 contestants.

"She did so well. We were so proud of her, and yet at the same time she was so disappointed that she didn't get first place because she thought she had let us down. And we said, oh no, you never let us down."

She talked of Elisa learning Spanish from scratch to master her craft.

"She had wisdom. She had a lot of wisdom in her age. And I don't know, maybe that's why the Lord took her from us at a young age."

And then came the night Elisa died.

Elisa was on her way to a party, one with traditional Mexican music, and she was to pick up a couple of friends on the way.

"She said, 'I'm on my way, I'll be there in a few minutes,' and then quickly she says, 'Oh no.' She hung up. And and at that time, they didn't hear from her again."

Nobody knew what caused her to veer into oncoming traffic. But her death was instantaneous.

The walls full of pictures, the memories, and the presence of her loving family seeped into me. My insides ached and my eyes watered.

"Excuse me, Chris, this battery's almost dead," my cameraman said. "I need to go get another one."

I needed the moment. I rubbed my eyes nonchalantly, as if my contact lenses were bothering me, composed myself and sat up. While Andrew fetched the battery, I made small talk with a comparison to the late pop star Selena, who also had to learn Spanish on her way to stardom.

I talked to her father, who admitted being hard on his daughter when it came to singing right. But she also made him proud, when she was on stage, performing for millions of people on the Univision TV network.

"I'm sure she's singing right now," I said.

"Yeah," her father smiled. "I guess the Good Lord wanted her in His choir of angels. Maybe they were all sopranos and they needed a mezzo soprano or something."

We needed video of her singing. A family member found the DVD, but it wouldn't play correctly on the DVD player in her room. Someone suggested bringing the DVD player from the living room up to the bedroom.

"It may be easier for us to just go downstairs," I said as Andrew grew nervous about the time slipping away from us.

We returned to the crowds below and Andrew set up the camera in front of the living-room TV while relatives fidgeted with the DVD player. What we were about to get wasn't going to look the best it could. We didn't have the proper equipment and cables to take the video straight from the disc. And worse, Andrew thought he only had 30 seconds of battery power left. But we had to make it work.

The family searched out the moment that brought pride to them. I held the microphone up to the stereo speaker.

Elisa stepped onto the stage, her off-white mariachi outfit glowing in the lights, earrings dangling in front of her tightly-ponytailed dark brown hair. She began to sing, and the passion of the music poured from her corazon as if she had been singing all her life. She missed not a note, flubbed not a phrase. Her beauty penetrated the screen. Again, my eyes watered.

"Muchos gracias!" Elisa called to the audience, taking her bows as the crowd on the disc cheered her.

A few people behind me applauded. I turned around and saw every face in the room staring silently at the screen, the pain evident in their eyes, their hearts longing for another song.

"Thank you," I said softly. "Thank you for talking to us."

Andrew loaded up the gear and I slipped into the front passenger seat of the live truck.

"This is killing me," I said to my colleague, my voice quivering. "I can't listen to somebody talk about this wonderful person who's gone and not be affected by it."

Tears flowed silently now in the privacy of the live truck. I tried to regain my composure, some modicum of professionalism, but my body shook with the chill of grief.

I felt so awkward and out of place. I had entered the home of a family in mourning for their daughter as a stranger, and yet the two people closest to her willingly shared the story of her life with me as they would to a friend, in her own room. Some might call it grief therapy, telling the story over and over again to keep her spirit alive within them.

The rule is you don't let yourself get emotionally involved with a story. You're a journalist, not a grief counselor. And I'd been down this road before, having run the camera a decade ago in college while a fellow reporter talked with the mother of a son who had just been murdered.

I cannot sit in front of somebody, eye to eye, and hear the story of someone like Elisa without it touching my heart, without it making me shed a tear. Perhaps it is because this person is so worthy of my respect, so worthy of honor in a time when many young adults do not make the right decisions. Elisa did not deserve to die. She deserved to live, using her love of music to bring joy and pride to all around her.

We arrived back at the station at 8:30 and quickly pieced together the story. I cut the basic soundbites in the computerized editor and Andrew hurriedly laid down the music and pictures from Elisa's performance to round it out. I was under double the pressure because Andrew had to edit another story and wouldn't be available to help until that task was done.

The finished product deserved five minutes. But we only had time for a minute and a half.

We saw Elisa singing, her mother talking about the "charismatic young lady." Her father talked about his proudest moment, "watching her sing at this competition she was in."

We heard about the night of her death, the "oh no" phone call. But we heard more about the life.

"We're going to miss her dearly," her father said in the final words of the piece, just before Elisa finished her song and said "Muchas Gracias."

I'm glad the piece contained only the words of Elisa's parents. Any words I would've added would have been tainted by emotion. This way, viewers heard the story I heard, although in a lot fewer sentences.

A wonderful young woman, one who had enriched the world around her was gone. The photographs in her room bore abundant proof of the many lives she touched. She was on her way to stardom. She was living a dream. But so many others were taking that journey with her. And now we'll never know how far she would have gone.

To deny my emotion is to deny my own humanity. And I feel no guilt in weeping for this person. She has earned every tear.

Reel To Reel: Capote

How It Rates: ****
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Rated: R
Red Flags: Brief Graphic Violence, Smattering Of Language

In Cold Blood is on my list of Books I Need To Read Before I Die. But in a way, I already have. Truman Capote's nonfiction novel sparked a new genre and forever changed the way true-crime accounts were written. One of my favorites in the genre, Harry N. MacLean's In Broad Daylight, is one of Blood's many great grandchildren.

But Capote is not the story of a book. It is the story of a man consumed with humanizing the story of a family murdered in 1950's Kansas. Capote's probing of the two killers' lives brings out parallels in his own scattershot life and reveals currents of deep tragedy and longing. Watching Capote unravel the truth is like watching a sand castle blown away by the wind, leaving a foundation in ruins.

Hoffman, who just won an Oscar for his performance, is absolutely mesmerizing as the famed author. His high-pitched effeminate voice leaves no question about his orientation. But at the same time it projects childlike innocence, a harmless disposition that hides deeper scars. Several scenes show us how Capote could be the life of the party as a quirky storyteller. Hoffman embodies the role completely, flawlessly integrating Capote's tics and speech patterns.

The movie focuses on Capote's various journeys to Kansas to gather the raw material that would make him famous. He is aided by fellow author Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), who grew up in Capote's neighborhood and has just penned her own groundbreaking novel, To Kill A Mockingbird. Capote is not one to use a notebook and pen when he's talking to people. He will step into a room and start to absorb his surroundings, as he does in one memorable scene where he meets one of the killers being held in "the women's cell" -- a cage in the Sheriff's kitchen. Capote can recall conversations with amazing accuracy, as he himself boasts, which he will later jot down in notebooks.

The author realizes he can't tell the story without fleshing out the two killers, condemned to death. He bribes a warden to give him unlimited access. He finds another lawyer for them so they will not be executed before he's finished gathering facts. And in the process, a friendship develops -- but maybe it's more of a dependency. The killers want to live. Capote wants to finish his book. The author resorts to small deceptions to keep them talking, saying the book is less finished than it is. But Capote's legal aid works too well, putting the case in front of the Supreme Court, and further denying the author an end to the story which is tearing him up. All through this, he sees his friend Lee rise to fame. Her book is a success. It becomes a movie. Capote knows he has his own success, but it is delayed as long as the killers are alive. Still, he feels for them, he is bonded to them.

Capote reveals why the author never finished another book, just as In Cold Blood revealed what led two men to kill. Both Capote and the killers become victims of their own actions. And as the two criminals lost their lives, Capote loses his own in the contradictions of friendship and his work. He says to Lee, "I couldn't have done anything to save them." Lee replies, "Maybe not, Truman, but the truth is, you didn't want to."

Journalists are not supposed to become emotionally attached to the stories they cover, but Truman Capote was not a journalist. He was a novelist. The attention to detail, the need to create compelling characters, the crafting of a plot all drove him to dig into territory and emotional minefields many reporters don't wander into. Capote became the victim of a job too well done.

Monday, March 6, 2006

And The Oscars Go To...

A few comments on Hollywood's Big Night:

Best Picture: Crash -- You can read this one of two ways. Some of you will say Brokeback Mountain got snubbed because it was about gay cowboys. Nikki Finke of L.A. Weekly says it's because straight Academy members didn't want to see a gay movie. I read it this way: Brokeback had a strong message about love, but Crash had a stronger one about race relations.

Best Director: Ang Lee for Brokeback Mountain -- No gripe here. Lee took charge of a film that could've ended up as porn or laughable love story and steered around the mines. That's what a good director should do.

Best Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman for Capote -- I haven't seen the picture. But I've seen enough of Hoffman's performance to want to. And now I want to even more.

Best Actress: Reese Witherspoon for Walk The Line -- Hooray! (That only approximates the cheer that went up in the newsroom when she won.) Joaquin Phoenix was great as Johnny Cash. But Witherspoon was even better as his second wife. She dissolved into the role so effectively, doing her own singing, I had to ask myself, "Is this the same person who starred in Legally Blonde?"

Best Supporting Actor: George Clooney for Syriana -- Oh heck, another performance I haven't seen in a film I haven't seen.

Best Supporting Actress: Rachel Weisz in The Constant Gardener -- Ditto.

Best Song: Three 6 Mafia with "It's Hard Out There For A Pimp" from Hustle & Flow -- The lyrics were disinfected for TV, I'm told, but I swear I heard the phrase "talkin' s#!t" instead of "jumpin' ship." Shocking, yes. Surprising, no. Remember, Eminem won for "Lose Yourself" in 2003.

Best Documentary: March Of The Penguins -- A pic about cute flightless waterfowl does more than $100 million in worldwide box office. If that isn't worthy of an award, then the Academy's documentary voters deserve all the scorn they've absorbed over the years.

And about Jon Stewart -- He behaved himself a little too much. Maybe he feared becoming red-state flamebait or becoming the worst host since Dave Letterman. But as the night went on, the jokes got better: "Do you think that if we all got together and pulled this [giant Oscar statue] down that democracy would flourish in Hollywood?" "We're out of clips!" If you tuned in expecting The Daily Oscars, you tuned out disappointed.

In all, we'll probably remember (or forget) this year's Oscars for what wasn't there: no runaway winners, no political barbs. Call it boring, but that's showbiz.

Sunday, March 5, 2006

Reel To Reel: 16 Blocks

How It Rates: ***
Starring: Bruce Willis, Mos Def
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Language (medium), Violence (medium)

What saves 16 Blocks from becoming a forgettable police procedural is a barrage of surprises -- not necessarily major plot twists, and not all of them on the level. And all right, Mos Def does steal several scenes as Eddie, a motormouth con with a nasal, Mike Tyson-esque voice. But aside from those two features, it's just another TV cop show.

Bruce Willis stars as Jack Mosley, a run-down alcoholic NYPD detective given a simple chore. Take Eddie from jail to the courthouse for a grand jury appearance. Sixteen blocks -- piece of cake. It's like dropping some shirts off at the cleaners. Eddie, however, is about to testify against some crooked cops who would rather see him dead. When Jack stops off for some booze to stay comfortably soaked, a hit squad moves in on Eddie, who's still in the car. But things go sideways, and Jack and Eddie are on the run, with Eddie's mouth running as fast as his legs.

Willis' character is not drawn for us any deeper than necessary. Maybe it's because Def's Eddie is hogging so much characterization he's not leaving anything on the plate. We know Eddie has a dream of opening a birthday cake bakery, and he's trying to clean up his act. But what do we really know about Jack? Nothing really more so than he's been on the force long enough to have some deep roots and probably a few skeletons, but we don't know the facts, ma'am.

16 Blocks makes good use of several foot chases, dodging the car-chase cliche as much as possible. While that's refreshing, I found a couple of plot twists at the end a little far-fetched. Still, they seemed to work, and the picture has a capable handler under director Richard Donner (Lethal Weapon). The picture is a good run for the money, but it won't leave you breathless.