Friday, September 29, 2006

The Lightning Round:
If You Can't Say Something Nice, Demolish It!

This week's edition of your Lightning Round finds the art of conversation and pursuit of civil discourse a romantic myth, a lost love confined to great literature and the occasional hot date.

WAR OF WORDS. Arizona Republican Gubanatorial candidate Len Munsil vows to tear down the brand-new 9/11 Memorial in Phoenix if he's elected because of inscriptions he and others see as too liberal and anti-war -- in particuar, one that says: "You don't win battles of terrorism with more battles."

Governor Janet Napolitano, who helped plan the memorial, defends it saying the scores of inscriptions reflect a wide range of thoughts about the terrorist attacks. The Chairman of the 9/11 Memorial Commission methodically and calmly refutes the screaming of righties in a comment on the Arizona Republic website. Here's a few of his remarks:
* The Commission included family members of those who died in the terrorist attacks, a survivor, business leaders, clergy and Arizona's first responders who participated in the Search and Rescue mission at the World Trade Center in the days and weeks that followed the terrorist attacks.

* It is a bi-partisan Commission with a non-political purpose.

* The work of the Commission was done in more that fifty public meetings, with notice posted in advance, and open to all that chose to attend.
That last fact is particularly intriguing. Why is this is all coming to light two weeks after the memorial's dedication? Why did nobody get angry in the planning process? Why were no details of the supposedly offensive inscriptions leaked out then?

Maybe because nobody read them. Tom Smith, the chairman of the Legislative Governmental Mall Commission -- which oversaw the memorial commission -- said, according to the Arizona Republic, "the commission hadn't made it a practice to review the wording of any memorials but will do so in the future."

Reflect upon this a moment. The people in charge of reviewing the memorial didn't bother to review its central, most salient feature. Now Tom's looking into whether some of the comments can be removed (translation: cut out with big gaping holes left behind). Oops.

Two Phoenix-Area lawmakers want a special session to determine whether the memorial should be torn down. It's not likely to happen, but if our Arizona legislature votes to junk it, I say we also hold a vote on whether to junk another memorial with these words:
"Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away."

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
Such liberal anti-war garbage! Such left-wing wussiness!

Why, this doesn't belong on the Lincoln Memorial!

(A tip of my tricorn to Barbara for the tip on Mr. Lincoln's words!)

JIHAD-VERTIZING. A car dealership in Columbus, Ohio decided not to air a radio ad calling for a "jihad on the automotive market."

According to the AP, the Dennis Mitsubishi ad included talked of salespeople wearing "burqas," vehicles that can "confortably seat 12 jihadists in the back," and "Fatwa Friday," with "free rubber swords for the kiddies."

Several stations refused to run the ad. The dealer's president couldn't understand why such an ad would offend.

From the AP:
It "was simply an attempt at humor that fell short," dealership President Keith Dennis said Monday in a prepared statement.
To its credit, the local chaper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations accepted an apology and moved on, proving moderate Muslims do indeed exist, and they don't go around bombing car dealers.

STATING THE OBVIOUS. The Vatican says extremists are undermining religion. Note that we're hearing this from the Vatican, not an imam, not an ayatollah.

BILL'S BLOW-UP. Fox News honcho Roger Ailes considers Bill Clinton's much-viewed temper tantrum against Chris Wallace an assault on all journalists. We at The Lightning Round feel the need to supply Ailes with some deep background.

First, right-wingers dumped on Clinton from day zero. They trashed him in office. They trashed him out of office. They're trashing his wife for the very thought (still unproven, still unconfirmed) she might run for his old job. Evil Bill. Evil Hillary. Even legendary Arizona senator and conservative godfather Barry Goldwater told the righties to quiet down and let him be president. But alas, Barry, the GOP is not your party anymore.

Secondly, Clinton has done his best to handle such trashing with at least an air of civility. The last time I remember him getting truly angry -- not counting the infamous "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" speech -- is when he whined in a radio interview about Rush Limbaugh, back when Limbaugh's show was actually funny.

Thirdly, Democrats just don't know how to play offense. They can't throw off their Republican-shaped image as gutless, godless, pacifist tax-and-spend sops. Republicans screamed bloody murder about a Ronald Reagan movie on CBS and got it bumped to cable. Democrats complained when they saw ABC's 9/11 miniseries taking shots at the Clinton administration, but it ran anyway. Even Clinton himself couldn't get it pulled.

So Bill finally reached his boiling point. When Wallace asked about not getting Bin Laden, all that molten lava of loathing erupted. Clinton surely knew the snakepit he was entering when he sat down with Fox News, despite his gripe about being misled. Deep within him, he pined for that volcanic moment, tired of getting kicked around year after year and watching partisan spin doctors give his legacy another bruise.

So Roger, who assaulted who first?

FAHRENHEIT 2006. A church youth group in Minot, ND burned books, CD's, DVD's and anything else they thought was "hindering their relationship with the Lord."

From the Minot Daily News:
Mary Johnson, leader of the college and career group at the church, summed up what the burning is about: “Getting rid of junk in their lives that would hinder (their) relationship with the Lord.”
Johnson stated that a young man from the Air Force asked for the burning, and the church agreed.
The article doesn't mention the titles of anything incinerated, but one has to ask, how did this group of committed Christians end up with burn-worthy material in the first place?

It seems wasteful, but participant Chuck Holtzhower didn't mind:
“If I don’t feel that they’re correct for my life, why would I give them to somebody else?” he said. “There’s no other way around it, other than that fire right there.”
Why not recycle?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Reel To Reel: Flyboys

Paying tribute to the original Top Guns.

How It Rates: ***
Starring: James Franco, Martin Henderson, Jean Reno
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Aerial Combat Violence

Many call the Korean War the "forgotten war," but I find World War I slipping from our memories in spite of monuments and memorials. The War to End All Wars became the War Before Several More. And how many of us remember the Lost Generation before the Greatest Generation? Unlike the Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War II or Vietnam, WWI doesn't seem to hold some great moral theme or shared sacrifice at home for us to reflect upon. Indeed, the causes of the war, the ones historians more or less agree on -- nationalism, imperialism, militarism -- appear as two or three of the biggest kids on the block slugging it out just to see who's toughest.

More than 15 million died in WWI, which changed the face of combat and introduced a new field of battle: the air. Flyboys tells the adapted story of the Lafayette Escadrille, a French squadron of volunteer American fighter pilots formed before the United States entered The Great War and before "dogfight" referred to air warfare. Among those signing on for duty are Blaine Rawlings (Franco), a Texas cowboy who's just lost the family ranch; Eugene Skinner (Abdul Salis) A black American boxer who fights in France because they treat "negroes" better; and Briggs Lowry (Tyler Labine), a son of aristocrats hoping to redeem himself in the eyes of his family. They are led by Captain Thenault (Reno), a disciplined, spit-and-polished French commander who quickly finds his recruits can't speak the native tongue. The squadron's ace, Reed Cassidy (Henderson), serves as a mentor. His pet lion serves as nothing more than a curious distraction for a film trying too hard to inject a moment of levity.

The picture follows this band of recruits as we expect it to, taking us through basic training, the first mission, the mission after that, eventually leading to the climatic sky battle. Because the movie features no major stars, it's not shy about killing them off, a convenient way of dispelling predictions about the top of the credit roll surviving. But since love and war are joined at the hip in most war pictures, we have to get some romance in somewhere. Rawlings develops a crush on Lucienne (Jennifer Decker), a French country girl who bandages him up at a whorehouse after a crash. She is caring for three orphaned children, leaving her little time for any affairs of the heart until Rawlings tracks her down. Both of them struggle through the picture to understand each other's language, and how this love affair manages to blossom in spite of the language barrier is worthy of some kind of medal.

Flyboys' aerial battles seamlessly integrate digital and live action, with machine gun spray flying all over the place, bi-planes and Fokkers tailspinning. I haven't seen anything like this since 1927's Wings, one of the earliest Oscar winners, which still has excellent special effects. We don't have a Red Baron, but we do have a Black Falcon, a German ace so bloodthirsty he'll spray fighter pilots who land safely on the ground after bullets down the plane. Presumably, that's a violation of combat etiquette, but we learn the rulebook is going out the window. People and planes get shot up, dinged up, bandaged up, and then go back up for more.

As a war picture, the film contains plenty of heroics and arguable patriotism with a token "why-are-we-fighting" moment or two. Its characters are not drawn deep, and I didn't care a lot about them, except for maybe Rawlings because he was trying to get the girl. But I didn't really mind, since the combat is the star of the picture. We'll see if Flyboys becomes the paragon film for WWI aces as Top Gun did for F-14 pilots.

But as I said earlier, WWI is a few lines of history for many of us, especially compared to its more sinister companion, World War II. Perhaps it is because Hollywood has done exceptionally more to shape our vision of the latter, with films like The Longest Day, Saving Private Ryan, From Here To Eternity, Schindler's List, The Bridge On The River Kwai, Patton, The Dirty Dozen, and a list of others. Beyond All Quiet On The Western Front and Gallipoli, we have few classic WWI movies, just as we have few classic Civil War or Revolutionary War films. Hollywood bloomed as WWII broke out, its good-vs-evil nature rife with stories, real or imagined, eventually adapted into screenplays and unspooled onto the screen for years to come. I am not sure if it is the war that defined the war picture genre, or the genre that defined the war.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Lightning Round:
It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

When I visited the United Nations earlier this year, I found a beautiful enviornment existing in an alternate reality, one dependent solely on its participants believing in their own inflated self-worth. It's as if everybody came to work naked believing themselves clothed in the garb of emperors. We've heard that story before... which makes it easy to believe these ones:

DEMS' FIGHTING WORDS. Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez is having a helluva time in the U.S., after calling President Bush "el Diablo" -- the devil -- at the UN. The White House isn't dignifying the speech with an official response, but usually hostile democrats are itching for a fight.

From Reuters:
"Hugo Chavez fancies himself a modern day Simon Bolivar but all he is an everyday thug," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said at a news conference, referring to Chavez' comments in a U.N. General Assembly speech on Wednesday.
From CNS News:
"You don't come into my country, you don't come into my congressional district, and you don't condemn my president. If there's any criticism of President Bush, it should be restricted to Americans - whether we voted for him or not," [Democratic Representative Charles] Rangel said.
But Chavez thinks he ain't all bad. He's handing out cheap oil to needy New Yorkers.

PLAYING THE VICTIM. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shows he can spin with the best of any American pol, going before the UN Security Council and whining about why his country gets stink-eye about its nuclear program. Ahmadinejad claims he's making energy, not bombs.

He said the United States, Britain and others themselves benefited from nuclear energy and the fuel cycle. “Some of them have abused nuclear technology for non-peaceful ends including the production of nuclear bombs, and some even have a bleak record of using them against humanity.”
Mahmoud also plays the hostage crisis card:
“We all know that Iran’s nuclear issue is an excuse,” he said. “It’s been 27 years now that we've faced the hostility of the U.S. administration in various forms.
And he points the rhetorical finger:
“Again, I ask, who has the nuclear bomb and has used it before?” he asked. “Which one is a bigger danger? One that’s trying to develop a fuel for peaceful purposes? Or the one that made a nuclear weapon?”
We at The Lightning Round are only too happy to break it down for the Iranian-In-Chief:

Muslim radicals + hostile intentions + "death to America." Let's just say the world doesn't like guys with dangerous dispositions playing with plutonium.

ONE NIGHT IN BANGKOK AND THE TOP GUYS TUMBLE. When Thailand's Prime Minister was at the UN, presumably listening to Mahmoud's whining, his army pulled his country out from under him. They did it without blood or bullets. The rationalization: corruption.

From Reuters:
[A written statement] said the armed forces and police had set up a commission to decide on political reforms, ousting [Prime Minister] Thaksin [Shinawatra] in the midst of protracted political crisis in which he was accused of undermining democracy.
Martial law is in effect. The Thai Constitution is revoked. Yet many are more relieved then scared.
A few dozen people raced over to the prime minister's office to take pictures of tanks surrounding the area. "This is exciting. Someone had to do this. It's the right thing," said Somboon Sukheviriya, 45, software developer snapping pictures of the armored vehicles with his cell phone.
The Army has sworn allegiance to Thailand's popular king, making this more populist revolution than traitorous uprising.
The U.S. State Department said it was uneasy about the military takeover and hopes political differences can be resolved through democratic principles. "We are monitoring the situation with concern," a statement said. "We continue to hope that the Thai people will resolve their political differences in accord with democratic principles and the rule of law."
That assumes "democratic principles" were in place to begin with.

GETTING SCHOOLED. The principal of Velasco Elementary School in Freeport, Texas is apologizing for a Mexican Independence Day celebration, where several parents read a pledge of allegiance to the Mexican flag while the kids held small replicas of it. Another parent not at the ceremony heard about what happened and called a talk-radio show. You can figure out the rest.

From The Facts of Clute, Texas:
Brazosport ISD spokesman Stuart Dornburg pointed out that Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 is considered national Hispanic Heritage Month and Velasco’s assembly was a cultural educational activity. The district values and respects diversity, he said.

“We study different cultures, that’s part of the educational process,” Dornburg said. “And we do do a pledge to the American and the Texas flag every morning."
They say Texas is like a whole other country, but this is more than anybody needed. We at The Lightning Round expect the school to hear from the Minuteman Project soon.

DIRTY DANCING. Concord (NH) High School has cancelled all remaining school dances unless students stop "grinding." I probably don't need to tell you what that is. The principal says it's sexual. The kids disagree.

From the Concord Monitor:
They say that like the jitterbug and disco before it, grinding is just a sign of the times. "We were raised to dance like that," senior Kayla Bisson said.
Raised to? What parents taught them to do the nasty on the dance floor?

I WANNA TAKE YOU HIGHER... Redux Beverages is out with a new energy drink called Cocaine.

From the New York Post:
They say a high hits you within five minutes, followed by a caffeine boost 15 minutes later. But hold on - the ride lasts five hours and the concoction is "350 percent stronger than Red Bull," they claim.
The drink doesn't use controlled substances but a mixture of sugar and B12. Just don't snort it.

CRAM. David Bahn doesn't need any artificial sweetening to send his brain into overdrive. He's a natural learning machine, so driven he graduated from the University of Virginia in just one year -- and with a double major in math and physics.

Truth be told, he got a lot of help from 72 AP credits in high school. But he took 23 credits his first semester, nearly fifty percent more courseload than the typical student. Then he piled on more.

From the Washington Post:
He had some low points, especially late in April when the workload for his 37 credits seemed crushing, and his grades started to slip. (To some Bs.)
Bahn is now going for his Master's degree, which he also hopes to finish this academic year. His future plans are pointing him towards law school and the ambition of becoming -- wait for it -- a patent lawyer.

As somebody on Slashdot commented, what a waste of a mind!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Does Local Ownership = Better Ownership?

Many of you newsies have already heard the allegations the FCC killed a study revealing TV stations with local ownership do more news.

From the AP:
The report analyzed a database of 4,078 individual news stories broadcast in 1998. The analysis indicated that local ownership of television stations adds almost 5 1/2 minutes of total news to broadcasts and more than three minutes of "on-location" news.
"On-location" can mean several things, but I'm not sure what this study was getting at: does it mean live shots, stories done in the field, or both? Whatever it means, ArsTechnica quotes a UCSC professor suggesting the flip side: local ownership can also mean more pressure from local business.

I say it doesn't matter whether your owner is in the same community or one thousand miles away; it comes down to corporate attitude. Media conglomerate Belo made a reputation for putting money and quality into local news. Sinclair Broadcasting earned scorn well beyond TV industry folk for doing news on the cheap and with a conservative tilt. News Central, its grand experiment with outsourcing parts of local news and weather to their corporate HQ, is dying on the vine. But don't expect Sinclar to admit that anytime soon.

No doubt local owners care more because they have a stake in the community. It's simply good business to provide good news content. But limiting ownership numbers is silly. If the FCC really cares about quality news in communities, then it should be putting more scrutiny on public comments come license renewal time. Licenses are granted with an expectation of public service, after all, unless that's just another bygone commitment from another time -- in which case, why even require stations to keep a public file or send in reports of the kinds of news stories they run?

I can't remember a station losing a license over poor news or programming content, not in the last two decades, anyway. Yet we have the FCC eager to pounce on every f-word and bare breast beacuse of fake outrage campaigns organized by self-appointed cultural police organizations. How about pouncing on a few stations that run newsrooms like sweatshops (and I don't mean the one I'm at, for the record). The trade unions aren't getting it done.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Reel To Reel: The Black Dahlia

Dark drama and distressing disorganization.

How It Rates: **1/2
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank
Rated: R
Red Flags: Strong Sexual Content, Grisly Images, Strong Violence, Language

Brian De Palma's film noir of a notorious 1940's Hollywood murder is highly watchable but barely understandable. It dazzled me with its period ambience and beautiful cinematography but lost me in a murky plot which draws in so much more than the case of a dead would-be starlet.

The Black Dahlia is based on true events but adapted from a novel by James Ellroy, which accounts for its lack of cohesion and numerous sidebars. The film doesn't even start with the homicide, but with cop boxers Lee Blanchard (Eckhart) and Bucky Bleichert (Hartnett) in a prize fight as PR for the Los Angeles Police, angling to get a bond measure passed. Lee wins the fight. Bucky loses several teeth. Both of them get a ticket off crummy beats and into the Homicide division.

The partners stumble into the murder of aspiring actress Elizabeth Short, her body cut and half, her face slashed ear to ear. Yes, we do see the body, but De Palma approaches it in a way that doesn't go for the gross -- at least not right away. From here, the picture bobs and weaves just like the fight sequence from earlier as the two detectives uncover lurid and scandalous secrets on the trail of Short's killer. Blanchard obsesses over the case with destructive passion, alienating the woman in his life (Johansson). Bucky hooks up with a tawdry socialite (Swank) who bears a resemblance to the murdered girl and links to the case.

Dahlia delves too much into the personal lives of Lee and Bucky and not enough into Short's. We see her through a screen test and a porno film, and I sympathized with her as a struggling actress with pretty eyes and a beautiful face but minor talent. She's ready for her close up, Mr. DeMille. But unlike last week's Hollywoodland, we see nothing beyond that except the girl's mangled corpse and the dirty secrets of those who knew her.

Hartnett, Eckhart, Johansson and Swank are all fine in their performances. A dinner scene involving Bucky and the family of Swank's character is a ribald classic. But if their material had been cut down like the dead girl, the rest of the film would play the same way.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Lightning Round:
Dressed To Kill, Tested For Performance, Unplugged For Your Protection

DEATH BECOMES HIM. Kimveer Gill, the man who shot up a Montreal college didn't fear the reaper. But we should've feared him.

From the AP:
In postings on a Web site called, blogs in Gill's name show more than 50 photos depicting the young man in various poses holding a rifle and donning a long black trench coat and combat boots.

One photo has a tombstone with his name printed on it - below it the phrase: "Lived fast died young. Left a mangled corpse."


"Work sucks ... school sucks ... life sucks ... what else can I say? ... Life is a video game you've got to die sometime."
Reading over this man's sad, sick dossier, I wonder if anybody could have pulled him from his morbid morass. A neighbor described Gill as a loner. But Gill talks of "work" and "school." People had contact with him, but perhaps they wrote him off as another "goth guy," avoiding fashion profiling. Perhaps some kept their distance. We learn not to judge others by their looks. Black trenchcoats don't kill people, people kill people.

So many of us would dismiss Gill, place him in the weirdo file lacking evidence of any homicidal tendencies. When you don't see the warning signs, you can't sound the alarm. But we can't blame others for failing to connect the dots when our own culture of tolerance tells us to dismiss outer impressions.

ZERO TOLERANCE. Go to school in El Dorado, Kansas -- outside Wichita -- and you'll likely be handed an empty cup and instructions on what to do with it. The local district just passed a tough new random drug screening program that doesn't discriminate between jocks and everybody else.

From the AP:
It's instituting random drug screening for all middle- and high-school students participating in — or even just attending — any extracurricular activity. That includes sports, clubs, field trips, driver's education and even school plays. Those who don't sign consent forms can't attend games, go to school dances, join a club or so much as park their cars on school property.
School administrators say they will tell parents and not police about any positive test results.

The Lightning Round notes the concerns of students who feel their privacy is violated, but we also note doping up puts more than yourself at risk, especially in Driver's Ed. Interestingly, the school system declares it doesn't have a drug problem; therefore, it's taking a pre-emptive strike against WMD -- Weapons of Mass Delusion.

The ACLU is looking into the policy, but their concern fogs over the issue. From the AP:
"That policy invades the privacy of students that need deterrence and risks steering those students to a greater risk of substance abuse that makes the drug problems worse," [Brett] Shirk [of the ACLU] said. Some authorities said that excluding students from extracurricular activities will just lead them into deeper trouble.
So drug testing increases the risk of drug abuse? That's like saying mammograms cause breast cancer.

Sadly, when an entire school district feels the need to drug-screen every student -- since what middle- and high-school students don't do extra-curricular activities -- it says more about the district's collective fear and lack of confidence in parents to help keep their children drug-free.

And I wonder, just what kind of performance-enhancing drugs would debate team members find useful... besides speed?

DEADLY (DIS)GRACE. An episode of L.A. Law once portrayed someone being cross-examined to death. Nancy (Dis)Grace proves she can do it for real after apparently pushing the mother of a missing boy towards suicide. Truth be told, the mother pulled the trigger after (Dis)Grace's grilling but before the interview aired. This allows the ex-prosecutor to claim some measure of innocence, something we might not be able to say about the distressed mom. But we'll never know the truth now, will we?

SWITCHED OFF. From our own part of the world comes the story of Pinal County, Arizona sheriff's deputies pulling the plug on the GLOW glow-in-the-dark arts festival in Oracle over concerns about parking, among other things. What's worse, festivalgoers complained two deputies went a little overboard.

From KOLD News 13's Dan Marries:
"It really was a shock," says [GLOW volunteer Dave] Squires. "Basically, I think that they thought it was a rave with a lot of underage kids on drugs or something. It was just the opposite. It was a family event."
The unstated implication is possible confusion with the raunchily anarchic annual Burning Man festival.
"[One deputy] got behind the microphone and told everybody this was an illegal gathering, and that we had to leave immediately or else be arrested," Squires says. "It really was a shock."
At least 50 complaints are now on file with the department. The Pinal County Sheriff is trying to make amends, even holding a town meeting to address concerns. One deputy has been suspended.

If it's any comfort, the first night of the festival went off uninterrupted. Stay tuned to KOLD News 13 and The Lightning Round as we continue to follow the investigation.

THE BORAT ACCORDS. It's a threat bridging two nations, one reverberating for millions of miles, and countermeasures appear hopeless. Citizens are doomed, fated to laughingstock status, unless President Bush can somehow reverse the course of British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, better known as the character Borat, roving dunderhead reporter from Kazakhstan.

Bush will host talks on Cohen because Borat stars in a new road-trip mockumentary scorching American and Kazakh culture in equal blows, including a scene where Borat sings "and your home in the grave" at a rodeo in Salem, Virginia. He also got Tucson bar patrons singing "Throw The Jew Down The Well," for his recurring segment on "Da Ali G Show." We're amazed Cohen survived principal photography.

Never before have I seen a film rise to the level of diplomatic emergency. Kazakhstan president will talk with George W. Bush in Maine. His country is also launching an air assault.

From the London Daily Mail:
President Nazarbayev has confirmed his government will buy "educational" TV spots and print advertisements about the "real Kazakhstan" in a bid to save the country's reputation before the film is released in the US in November.
So what's Cohen saying about this international incident? Nothing directly, but we can get a hint at Borat's response in this statement he made after criticism of his appearance at the MTV Europe Music Awards.
"Since the 2003 Tuleyakiv reforms, Kazakhstan is as civilized as any other country in the world.

"Women can now travel on inside of bus, homosexuals no longer have to wear blue hats, and age of consent has been raised to eight years old."
LOW DRAMA. Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom thought they'd found worst play ever in Springtime For Hitler. They should've picked Christoph Schlingensief's new production which just premiered in Berlin. Among other things, Kaprow City features Queen Elizabeth played by a dwarf and Princess Diana in bed with two Down's Syndrome men.

From the London Daily Mail:
The bizarre drama, which is due to come to London next month, premiered on Wednesday night and dozens of people walked out on it within minutes of the curtain going up.
It's got stinker written all over it, provided you can actually see it...
German society girl Jenny Elvers played Diana on a stage that only one third of the audience could see. The other two thirds watched the action on TV monitors in black and white.
The critical reaction:
"It lasted two hours and felt like 24," wrote the critic for the tabloid B.Z. "I simply didn’t understand a single thing about it," said Joerg Hoffmanm, who left after 12 minutes."
I'm reminded of Bill Murray's playwright character in Tootsie, who says: "I don't like when somebody comes up to me the next day and says, "Hey, man, I saw your play. It touched me; I cried." I like it when a guy comes up to me a week later and says, 'Hey, man, I saw your play... what happened?'"

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Lie That Won't Die

I shouldn't even have to write this. The wing-nut theory that the government enginneered the 9/11 attacks is beyond laughable. It's insulting. But for those of you who think maybe a grain of truth exists to this rumor, read this from Popular Mechanics.

Saturday, September 9, 2006

Reel To Reel: Hollywoodland

Murder, Movies and the Man of Steel.

How It Rates: ***1/2
Starring: Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Ben Affleck
Rated: R
Red Flags: Language, Graphic Violence, One Explicit Sex Scene

Actor George Reeves found himself trapped as Superman, TV hero to millions of children in the 1950's. Despite the adoration of the young, he wanted to be Clark Gable instead of Clark Kent. Yet when he landed a role in From Here To Enternity, audiences yelled out "Superman!" Reeves never did find another huge role, and so we are led to believe his disillusionment with Hollywood factored into his 1959 death, officially ruled a suicide but unofficially considered a murder.

Hollywoodland explores the theories surrounding Reeves' (Affleck) death through the eyes of Louis Simo (Brody), a low-rent gumshoe reduced to taking fast bucks to spy on philandering spouses. Simo approaches his former partner looking for a handout and gets a tip on the Reeves case. LAPD has closed it, but Reeves' mother has doubts. She hires him, and Simo soon finds holes in the suicide theory, notably two holes in the floor of the actor's bedroom. He also probes Reeves' lovers, including Toni Mannix (Lane) -- wife of MGM studio head Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins) -- and socialite Leonore Lemmon, whom Reeves was set to marry days before he died. Director Allen Coulter offers considerable evidence to back up theories that Mr. Mannix or Lemmon were behind the actor's demise.

The further Simo probes the mystery, the more it consumes him. He wallows deeper into Hollywood's gritty subculture of sex and deception. The film moves at a brooding noir pace, sometimes a little too slow. Brody holds it together with his strong performance as a detective determined to learn the truth as it sends him down the Reeves road of self-destruction, distancing himself from his estranged wife and young son left distraught by Superman's death. Louis Simo knows he's in deep, but he can't walk away from a case with more stink than a bad B-movie script. Affleck is right on his mark as the frustrated man in the red-and-blue suit (or, grey suit because it stands out better on black-and-white film) who finds himself held back by the kryptonite of typecasting.

Hollywoodland is not a conspiracy-theory picture, but a picture dealing with conspiracies in a straightforward, rational manner. The period look and costuming will remind you of L.A. Confidential, but the film doesn't have a clear message to send other than Hollywood eats its own. It also has the unfortunate timing of coming out a week before Brian de Palma's similarly-themed whodunit The Black Dahlia, which means it risks getting lost in the multiplex shuffle.

Friday, September 8, 2006

The Lightning Round:
Locked And Unloaded

Let us begin with the biggest non-story of the week, coming to you from a remote high school on the Navajo reservation in northeastern Arizona.

CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW? It had the makings of another Columbine or Beslan: a report from Ganado High School -- about 315 miles northeast of Phoenix -- that six people were holed up in the building, armed with guns and knives. We later found out the real story: the school was locked down after some student thought he saw somebody with weapons. Police never found any.

The initial, erroneous reports of a standoff moved over the Associated Press wire on both the national and Arizona circuits. TV stations in Albuquerque, Phoenix and Tucson ran them as breaking news while they scrambled to get reporters and a chopper up there until the story collapsed.

The FBI, which was involved in this case because it happened on tribal ground, blamed it on the phones and a game of Telephone. From the AP:
Authorities attributed earlier reports of a standoff to a misunderstanding that stemmed from poor cell phone coverage from the geographically remote area and people making assumptions based on limited information that was available on the lockdown.
However, KSAZ-TV in Phoenix quickly unravelled the truth after getting ahold of a teacher inside the building. That was a lot easier than hooking up with the Window Rock police officer who was said to be the contact person. I attempted at least three calls to him over the course of a half-hour to get the "real" story -- all with a busy signal.

KSAZ-TV reports:
George Hardeen, a spokesman for Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr., said "it was a girl student" who told a school official about seeing the alleged weapons at 2:53 p.m., some seven minutes before school was to end for the day. "She alleged she was in the girl's room and was threatened by four boys and a girl. The initial story we heard was that the girls had knives and the boy had a gun," Hardeen said. "It's yet to be determined if this story is true or not." The school official notified tribal police and as many as 50 officers responded to the scene.
In all fairness, The Lightning Round reminds you Ganado -- and much of the Navajo Reservation -- is television no-man's-land. The nearest stations are in Phoenix and Flagstaff. Those stations don't have bureaus on the reservation, so stories have to be huge before reporters will even head that way given the driving time and logistical challenges -- mainly the need for a satellite truck. So in the interest of getting the video on for the 6 and 10 versus not at all, the instinct is to get what you know on air and get the pictures later.

The AP wire is a proven reliable source of information, but this was not one of its finer moments. We suspect the wire reporter got it the story from the police and went with official information.

UPDATE: The girl who reported the weapons now admits making it all up.

CIVIL UNREST. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is comparing Iraq's civil war to ours. She's also laying some historial guilt trips on war critics.

From the AP:
Rice, a former academic, said she spent the summer reading biographies of the Founding Fathers and said she was certain "there were people who thought the Declaration of Independence was a mistake" as well.
For the record, King George III refused to approve laws of necessity, repeatedly dissolved legislative bodies, forced soldiers into people's homes, bullied officials, stifled the press and cut off trade.

And we still don't know where the WMD is.

ANDERSON COOPER 007. I always thought CNN's news star looked a little spooky. Radar says that's more than suspicion.

SHOULDERING THE BURDEN. Defense Secretary Donald Rumfeld had shoulder surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff from an old wresling injury.

A spokesman says he's fine, but The Lightning Round has obtained a statement from Rummy himself: "You deal with the shoulder you have, not the one you would like it to be."

FRY BABIES. Used to be everything was bigger in Texas. Now it's just fried -- like Coca-Cola.

From the AP:
[Vendor Abel] Gonzales deep-fries Coca-Cola-flavored batter. He then drizzles Coke fountain syrup on it. The fried Coke is topped with whipped cream, cinnamon sugar and a cherry. Gonzales said the fried Coke came about just from thinking aloud.
I remember seeing Coke fountain syrup sitting on the shelves of my dad's old pharmacy in Kansas City. Back then you could use it as stomach-comforting agent. Need I draw the irony any clearer?

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

"Hi Everyone. I'm Very Happy To Be With You Tonight."

A few thoughts about Katie Couric's CBS Evening News debut:

1) Her delivery was all right, but at times she seemed like she was trying too hard to sound authoritative. But, no surprise, she got better as she moved from harder to softer news.

2) Why did we need new, curvy graphics? Avoidance of straight lines and hard angles is the new black in the broadcast design industry, but as these "supers" (titles used for names and locations) get curvy, they get bigger with a lot of excess curvature. Play it straight, folks.

3) I'm loving Katie's new wrap-around desk monitor. You saw it at the end of one segment when the stock market numbers came up.

4) I miss the correspondent previews from the opening headline segment. I know, I know, more Katie is what they want, but it's nice to let the reporters get a slice of the action off the top.

5) "FreeSpeech" has potential. Morgan Spurlock was wonderful talking about how the political polarization of America is -- in his opinion -- hype.

6) Notice how Katie took some air out of the critics who might grumble about the first pictures of Tom and Katie's baby on the -- ahem -- network news. She flashed back to a 1950's Douglas Edwards segment, where he showed off pictures of newborn royalty from across the pond. (TomKat's baby, by the way, looks like a mutant with all that dark hair -- but that's a blog rant I'll avoid.)

7) If you were watching the closing moments carefully, you noticed Katie quickly crossing her legs after the Wal-Mart sponsor plug ended. CBS News explains what happened:
Couric had ended the broadcast -- or so she thought. A round of applause erupted in the studio, and Couric stood up, throwing her script into the air. She was beaming.

But a second later, she realized the camera would be trained back on her momentarily. She sat back down, everyone hushed, and the closing music rolled with Couric on screen smiling, her notes on the floor.
8) Katie is entertaining suggestions for a sign-off line. What? No "courage?"

Sunday, September 3, 2006

Reel To Reel: The Illusionist

How does he do it? It's magic!

How It Rates: ****
Starring: Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Brief Violence, Brief Sex

The Illusionist combines elements of costume drama, mystery and police procedural into a period piece embracing period beauty while dispensing with period stuffiness. Don't be afraid of the early 1900's Austrian setting or the British accents (why not German accents?). Let the strength of Edward Norton's performance draw you in as he plays Eisenheim, a magician with a growing reputation for mind-boggling tricks.

The film opens with Eisenheim's arrest as he conjures a ghost during a performance in a packed old theater with flaming footlights. The photography and use of silence in this scene sets the tone for the entire picture: creepy but not creeped out. Norton's character is a bit creepy himself, but a mannered creepy. The rest of the picture is told mostly from the point of view of police inspector Uhl (Giamatti) as he tries to solve two mysteries -- one of which is the secrets behind Eisenheim's tricks -- motivated by loyalty to the Crown Prince.

The magician wows audiences, but his number one fan is Sophie (Biel), an aristocrat he loved as a boy but could not marry because of his working-class status. Forced apart, Eisenheim refines his magic until they meet again by chance during a performance. As if tapped by a wand, the romance rekindles in them. But Sophie's now the fiancee of Crown Prince Leopold of Vienna, a man who wants to fast-track his ascent to the throne. He has a reputation for less than regal behavior. Sophie wants nothing to do with this empty, status-arranged relationship, but Eisenheim will have an easier time disappearing the Vienna Opera House than getting his love away from His Royal Highness.

The Illusionist plays out like a classic fairy tale, with its themes of forbidden love and mystical danger. Eisenheim may be a wizard or just a a tremendously talented showman, but we're not sure until the end.

Saturday, September 2, 2006

Reel To Reel: Crank

Sex, drugs, violence... and that sick feeling you've been taken for a ride.

How It Rates: *
Starring: Jason Statham, Dwight Yokham
Rated: R (should be NC-17)
Red Flags: Graphic Intense Violence, Graphic Drug Use, Graphic Sex (Don't even think about taking the kids!)

What is going on inside of me? Have I been drugged? Poisoned? No... I've been had. I expected an action film, but I didn't expect a dose of vileness with it.

I like Jason Statham. I liked him in both Transporter movies and hope he does another sequel. I like the premise of his latest film: a hit man out for revenge against the gang lord who injected him with a cocktail that will kill him unless he can pump adreneline into his system -- or keep moving. It's a promising formula, multiplying Speed by D.O.A.. But unfortunately, the filmmakers divided it by Domino, and the quotient is a putrid mess of gratuitous violence, language and sex so unredeeming even a few fairly-good action sequences can't save it.

Crank enjoys its own filthiness, right down to a pornographic act in the middle of L.A.'s Chinatown next to a bus full of giggling schoolgirls. It drops enough F-bombs to warrant U.N. oversight. It lobs in throwaway scenes of hookers and nude women in... plastic bubbles, for crying out loud. And it does drugs, lots of drugs, as Statham's character Chev pops, snorts and shoots up to keep his heart going long after he should be dead. One drug he doesn't do in Crank is "crank" itself, street slang for methamphetamine. Meth users often go on runs for several days, unable to sleep, but Chev doesn't know this.

Chev relies on his doctor (Yokham) to save his life. He's also leaning on his girlfriend Eve (Amy Smart) for emotional support as he goes on a rampage through L.A. crashing cars and shooting things up as he tracks down his poisoner. The moments with Smart hint at something interesting, but then we come to that Chinatown scene.

The whole movie runs like a bad drug trip with punk rock backing and shaky point-of-view shooting, capped with a cheesy ending out of the self-parody pile. Statham the Transporter had slick, deadly charm. Here, he's just a drug-crazed hitman having a very bad day.

I must be honest. I saw Crank one weekend after having one of the best experiences of my life among friends. When such a heartening experience is juxtaposed with one so disgusting, when the obscene follows the inspirational, the repulsive repulses me even more. Had I seen Crank before last weekend's festivities, I would have still come down on it hard. But seeing it now just makes me ill.

Friday, September 1, 2006

The Lightning Round:
You're Going Down

Coming off the high of the Highland Weekend, reality of the low-lifes out there hits pretty hard. And this week, the cops bagged a biggie.

GOTCHA, WARREN. After more than a year on the run, the law finally caught up with Warren Jeffs, self-proclaimed prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). Jeffs has some 10,000 followers, many of them concentrated in the neighboring remote cities of Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah. He also has a large rap sheet, accused of arranging underage polygamous marriages to older men. The Utah charges include two counts of rape as an accomplice.

When Jeffs appeared in court Thursday, his laconically lanky self seemed hardly the tyrannical clergyman ex-FLDS members have described. KOLD News 13's Randy Garsee has travelled to Colorado City and Eldorado, Texas, where the FLDS has enclaves and documented a shadowy culture of multiple wifes and unflinching, mob-like loyalty to Jeffs. Even before he went on the lam, the prophet led a secretive existance worthy of a mafia Don.

From the San Antonio Express-News, who interviewed Marvin Wyler, former FLDS member:
"I'm hoping it won't make a martyr of him. I think he's a sick man. The religion has overcome his mind. He's not God, although by the way he acts and what he's done to people, he's almost there," he said.
We vividly recall this exchange from 2004, when Randy tried to arrange an interview with Jeffs from a pay phone in Colorado City:


RANDY: "Hello, Brother Nephi?"

"This is Isaac."

RANDY: "Hi there, Brother Issac, I was wondering if I could talk to the Prophet today."

ISAAC: "Who is this?"

RANDY: "My name is Randy Garsee. I'm with KOLD-TV in Tucson. Would he be available for an interview today?"

ISAAC: "Negative, he would not."

RANDY: "Does he ever talk to the media?"

ISAAC: "We have no comment."

That's as close as we got to Warren, considerably closer than the law got for more than a year. We used to joke about who the law would find first: Jeffs or Osama Bin Laden. Now that somebody has told him he isn't God, what life really remains in him?

From The Salt Lake Tribune:
[Movave County, Arizona investigator Gary] Engels said he asked how Jeffs was doing and whether he was "OK," adding, "He said yes, and that he's 'at peace' with things." After small talk, Engels began to try to question Jeffs. But Jeffs then invoked his Miranda right to remain silent.
YOU'VE GOT UNEMPLOYMENT. Radio Shack took the utterly classless step of firing 400 workers by e-mail.

From the AP:
Employees at the Fort Worth headquarters got messages Tuesday morning saying: "The work force reduction notification is currently in progress. Unfortunately, your position is one that has been eliminated."

Company officials had told employees in a series of meetings that layoff notices would be delivered electronically, spokeswoman Kay Jackson said. She said employees were invited to ask questions before Tuesday's notification on a company intranet site.
So the company line is, "you were warned." I guess it beats the death-ritual summons to an executive office for a lecture on tough times couched in boilerplate appreciation for services rendered -- which they can't remember anyway. Radio Shack decided a quick shot behind the ear was better than hanging. But woe to those who turned on their computers and bought the bullet. At least have the courtesy to say, "Dear John... "

WE'RE CUTTING YOU OFF. Starbucks offered free iced coffee to employees and friends through an e-mail -- until the offer got out of control.

From the AP:
Asked whether Starbucks will give this type of offer another shot, [Starbucks spokeswoman Valerie] O'Neil said only, "We're always looking at different ways we can share our products."
With Starbucks dotting the country like a rash, we got beyond "sharing" long ago.

SCHOOL DAZE. I think it's called "letting the animals run the zoo." Students at a Lorain, Ohio high school had more control on the first day of classes than the teachers -- who were striking anyway.

From The Morning Journal of Lorain:
Teachers voted for no confidence in the administration, four students climbed out of high school windows and eight security guards were fired for failing background checks.
The scene inside the high school was ''crazy,'' as ''chaos'' reigned while students watched television, talked on cellular telephones and played the card game Uno, according to several students.
Ah, Uno -- at least that's a wholesome game.

LET'S PLAY WITH ELECTRICITY! Here's something the students could've done in lieu of science class: turn a pickle into a lightbulb -- a very smoky, stinky, lightbulb.

Oh, what fun we could've had with this story if Kris Pickel was still with us in Tucson.

SEAL THE DEAL. Ever wanted your own fancy-schmancy official seal? The web comes to the rescue with the Official Seal Generator. Pick your inscription, some stock art, a border, and you're good to go. At the left, my unofficial attempt. We'll dress it up sometime in the future.

Now, what the heck do I use it for?