Tuesday, February 12, 2008
American Idol Hollywood Week: Now with Extra Colossalosity
Hollywood week on American Idol is always a little irritating. The faces and voices go by so fast that you don’t really notice many of the people--except, of course, the really cute ones like Brooke White. Hubba hubba and I love her voice--it’s pretty, strong, and a little bit earthy in nature. I love the fact that they are allowing musical instruments this year, though; it makes a much more satisfying listening experience. Some of the time.
At other times it was even more brutally painful than normal--like Jacob’s drummer/singer version of “Hooked on a Feeling.” Ouch.
There is something of a “No Wannabee Left Behind” feeling to Hollywood week. It’s like every half-assed karaoke talent from around the nation was allowed to come play with the big kids. Listeners with more sensitive ears might be forgiven for thinking, “And this was the best of the bunch? Will they actually find enough decent singers to torture us with over the next few months, nurturing our inner Simons as the cruelty flows from the keyboards of countless armchair critics without the balls or talent to compete themselves?”
Or, maybe that’s just me.
It’s truly painful listening to some of the murderous thing that these kids do to the music.
“Hey, Big O, whadya got there, fella?” Love that ad.
I did like the mildly scary looking Amanda Overmeyer and her Elvira-eque hairdo. A little taste of 60’s rocker at least gives the show something grittier than a boy-band nasally whine. She isn’t a great singer, but she’s a passionate and fun performer--I’m half surprised that they let her through and are keeping her in the show. My only fear is that she’s sort of a female Lenny Kravitz--that is, a complete compilation of her influences without anything new to add to the mix. That’s fun for a while, but it gets boring after a bit.
But if she’s going to be derivative, at least she’s pulling from a unique source. She stands out from the competition in a huge way.
Josiah Leming is another one that I find interesting. He’s obviously a lost kid who has made some bad decisions, but that brit singer sound that he has going on is interesting even if it is very much playing in the Coldplay ballpark. I can’t help but like him, though.
I wonder if success would help him pull himself together or if it would give him the capacity to really screw things up.
And, yeah, I liked tattoo girl. Not only is she cute and talented, but she seems like a hell of a nice person.
Was Jack Black born to be Kung Fu Panda? I think so.
How the System Could Let Down Sgt. Patrick Lett
A combination of the requirements of Federal sentencing guidelines, a lawyer who doesn’t seem to have done everything that I could have for his client, a judge who was unaware of a sentencing rule that would have allowed a lighter sentence, and a very bad decision on his own part conspired to deliver something other than justice to Sgt. Patrick Lett. While it’s impossible to avoid the fact that his legal problems are of his own design--delivering crack cocaine for his cousin in exchange for car repairs--it’s also impossible for me to avoid the conclusion that our justice system is letting him down.
Some of the guilty people who go before the courts deserve a little bit of mercy along with their punishment. Given his spotless previous record, his service to the country, the kind of people who came to speak on his behalf, and the judge’s own expressed desire to be able to give him a lesser sentence, it seems obvious that Lett is one of the people who deserves a second chance. Instead, he’s been lashed around by the courts, has probably ruined his career, and may well lose years of his life to prison--a fate I don’t believe he deserves.
Here’s hoping the Supreme Court sees fit to give Sgt. Lett a second chance; that would be justice for a man who served his country well, who admitted his error, and who had no history of legal transgressions.
Newt Endorses McCain. Okay, That Might be Overstating it a Bit.
Newt Gingrich, in a call for change in the Republican party, had this to say about the upcoming election:
So that isn’t really an endorsement of McCain, I’ll admit, than it is an endorsement of making a rational compromise for the sake of the nation.
More on this later. It will probably come up around the same time as I finish off the Three Sunday Reviews posts…
Newt had more to say, of course, and Newsmax can be relied on to give us little tiny chunks of it while trying to get us to buy something for pervasive joint pain. Read the rest.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
Three Sunday Reviews, Part 2: Violence
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The pacing does, indeed, hit something closer to plodding, but it’s made up for by an intimate view of a familiar story: how Jesse James, the psychotic and ultra-violent media star of his day was betrayed and murdered by one of his men, a jealous and dishonorable John Ford. And it’s a hell of a story.
It is easily one of the most visually engaging movies I’ve seen in a long time. With views of rough country filmed with a eye for texture and nuance, it succeeds in sheer beauty in a way that few movies ever manage; in the same way that The Cell was so richly compelling in its vision of the world of dreams and nightmares, even if The Assassination of Jesse James were a horrible movie, it would be remarkable for its gorgeous scenery. While The Cell was let down by its story and acting, though, The Assassination of Jesse James is a far more complete film.
Brad Pitt may have hit his career high point with his portrayal of James as a charismatic, unpredictable, and, ultimately, self-destructive anti-hero. Pitt is every inch believable in the role. Casey Affleck, as Robert Ford, equals Pitt with a performance that is a disturbed and tone perfect version of a man who is deeply jealous of the fame of Jesse James. These two are remarkably good together and supported by a cast that doesn’t let them down for even an instant.
It could have been tightened up and the pacing at times could be charitably described as leisurely, although brooding and introspective might be tossed into the mix, as well. The visual space and quiet moments let the thing breathe in the same way that the Mark Hollis’ song “The Color of Spring” breathes in its quiet moments--and the silence imbues the well-considered, spare piano notes with so much more meaning than if they had been buried in noise. Not for everyone, to be sure, but a treasure for people who enjoy the moment’s reflection within the art.
The pacing is a problem, but, to me, a forgivable one. Far more problematic is the homoerotic edge--it seems oddly out of place and, as far as I’m aware, has no place in historical accuracy. As an ode to Brokeback Mountain without the consummation, it’s merely a distraction. Ang Lee told the gay cowboy story better.
The girl can fall asleep during the loudest, most brutal movie when she’s at home and on the couch. It’s worth noting that she walked in on the movie late, while getting ready for bed, and was entranced by it. She was intent on it to the end, engrossed by the characters and the story. That, by itself, is a big endorsement.
It’s a worthy, quiet movie with moments of shocking violence and brutality. The poetry is in the wonderful performances, the measured unfolding of the story through its wholly real characters, and the superb artistry of its cinematography.
As I said, it’s not for everyone, but it isn’t without value. I loved it.
Three Sunday Reviews, Part 1: Love
Feast of Love
Feast of Love isn’t just bad because it is poorly written, although that’s one of its bigger problems. But we’ll get to its shortcomings in a bit. On the plus side, the acting is fine, the visuals are lovely, there are more than a few nude shots happily fulfilling my own personal desire for more gratuitous nudity in film. The pacing is a little slow, but it never quite falls into plodding. That’s the good.
Sad, then, that stilted, uneven dialog conspires with a strange landscape of characters of depth in sharp relief against cardboard cutouts that flit through the movie with hardly a sense of humanity to them. Some of the characters--an alcoholic father, in particular comes to mind--never feel real enough to achieve the kind of importance they come to play, so the emotional response is muted. Feast of Love’s biggest sin, though, is it’s moral confusion.
At one point in the film, Morgan Freeman’s wizened professor tell’s Greg Kinnear’s sadsack romantic that he can’t be angry at the failure of his wives’ sense of fidelity. After all, you can’t blame someone for falling in love. But the act of betrayal--the cruelties, lies, selfishness, and the betraying of marriages, trust, spouses, and children are brushed aside as all the couples become friends in the end. It’s a squeaky clean lie that doesn’t acknowledge the truth of the pains and angers and arguments over CDs, bills, and alimony that come with ruined marriages in real life. It’s a lie of the common era, though, that advocates a nebulous personal fulfillment above the stark and hard realities of personal responsibility--a failing, then, not of this movie, but of this culture of “finding your bliss” that has somehow made abandoning families and children into a semi-heroic stance against old notions of what constitute marriage, fidelity, love, and honor.
This is a horrific twisting of the world. And while this movie doesn’t make heros of its cheating and tortured cast, it does end up letting almost all of them off the hook for their selfishness--except for Greg Kinnear who thoughtlessly buys his wife a dog. Symbolically, he’s portrayed as the bad guy for this act (and it is, indeed, thoughtless), but she is portrayed as a fine specimen of grown up for leaving him for another woman. Brilliant.
With Morgan Freeman--who has come to occupy the position of God’s own voice in US cinema--telling us in kindly voiceover’s that everything is alright, the reality is scrubbed free of an authentic sense of the weight of failed relationships. In place of that burden is the ethereal lightness of Hollywood’s new adult: free from real responsibility, not living in a world many of us working class prols would recognize, and smiling with kind arrogance on those of us below who dare to believe that greatness comes when your personal fulfillment doesn’t come at the expense of the lives around you.
Thursday, February 07, 2008
Romney Almost Brings a Tear to My Eyes
Romney’s words made me feel a little misty. I admire that he would be willing to sacrifice his own ambitions to bring an opportunity for unity in the Republican party.
That bolded bit is something that I doubt you’d see from many career politicians these days, and it speaks well of Romney. It doesn’t hurt that he’s young and I’m sure he’ll be making this run again in the future, perhaps with very different results.
I’m sure it was a difficult decision. Unlike some (perhaps many) people who will drop by RSong today, I also happen to think it was the right choice. Bravo!
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
Hope, from the Sokwanele Blog, explains a little about normalcy in Zimbabwe. As always, Sokwanele remains an excellent resource for gaining a realistic understanding of what life is like in Mugabe’s country--a frustrating, ugly view, no doubt, but far more honest than anything you’ll read from New African’s Baffour Ankomah, an apologist who not only glosses over the depredations of Mugabe’s government, but blames Western powers for Zimbabwe’s economic woes.
Monday, February 04, 2008
Huckabee Seems Confused on the Subject…
Mike Huckabee is complaining about voter “supression” after taking umbrage at the Romney campaign’s assertion that a vote for Huckabee is a vote for McCain in the upcoming primaries. That assertion may or may not be true--I’m not sure where Huckabee fans will break when their guy is forced out of the picture--but I think that Huckabee is a bit confused on the whole point of the campaign.
See, the campaign exists to convince people to vote for your side instead of the other guy’s side. Voter suppression, on the other hand, is when you try to convince people to stay home--something I try to do when faced with people who really don’t seem to care about the political process, the issues at hand, and what the candidates actually stand for.
So, for example, if I point out that there is no way in the world that, say, a vote for Obama in the general election is a vote for higher taxes than McCain or Romney will offer us, I’m not trying to suppress the pro-tax contingent, I’m simply letting you know what the consequences of your vote will end up being. Now, since over one half of my recent (and modest raise) was eaten up by taxes, let’s just say that the tax issue is a big one for me.
In case you skipped over that last bit, let me say it again: over 53% of my raise was taken away from me in taxes. Damnit. Update: See comments for just how incorrect this number is. If you’re curious.
What were we talking about? Oh, yes.
Offering up arguments to convince a person to vote A instead of B is voter re-direction, not suppression. Suppression would be me saying that Obama will win so handily that you don’t even need to show up to cast a vote. Don’t waste your time.
See the difference, Mike?
Good. Because Romney seems to have a firm grip on the subject and he’s beating you over the head with it:
I’ve started wondering, somewhere deep in the back of my head, if it isn’t Ron Paul that’s plotting a third party run if he doesn’t get the nomination: unless he imagines that he’ll be offered a plum cabinet position or the VP slot for giving out his endorsement, what is Huckabee still running for? The only thing that shoots down my own little, irrational conspiracy theory is the fact that there would be nowhere for Huckabee to run.
The mind wanders.
Probably the Last Word on the Super Bowl Ads
I was wondering where the competing beer ads were this year. Well, the Miller common sense guy delivers his own critique on the Super Bowl ads. And I don’t much disagree with him. Amazing work from Miller pulling off this ad in such a short amount of time.
Tip of the hat to the American Copywriter.
Great Super Bowl Ads
My friend Jerry forwarded on this link to the 10 Most Memorable Super Bowl Ads. Good list--although I would kill off the annoying GoDaddy ad and put in maybe the herding cats commercial or one of the Budweiser lizard ads. Leading of with the Apple 1984 ad is almost a cliche at this point, but it would be hard to deny the spot’s narrative power.
My personal favorite might be the Monster.com ad that comes right after Apple’s, though. I swear, I almost hurt myself laughing the first time I heard one of those kids say “I want to be forced into early retirement.” That put yesterday’s Careerbuilder.com ad--"follow your heart"--to absolute shame.
Anyway, check it out. For the younger folks out there, it might be the first time you’ve seen the Xerox ad from 1977. An inspired choice.
Sunday, February 03, 2008
Super Bowl: Final Impression
Congratulations to the Giants for doing what no one would have imagined a few games into the season. It wasn’t the most exciting game (until closer to the end), but it was a gritty performance.
Go Peyton’s brother!
On the other hand, how classless is it that most of the Patriots and Belichick had left the field before the final, ceremonial kneel down. Classless, rude, self-centered, arrogant, and amazingly poor sportsmanship. It makes me feel better when I think what it must mean to lose the perfect season after going 18-0.
Belichick is one of the game’s best coaches, no doubt, but his personality makes Ron Paul seem downright Churchillian in nature.
Now, back to the important part: a brand new House is coming up next!
Okay, one other thing: the MVP should have been someone on defense. The offense did enough to win, I suppose, but it’s the defense that gave them the opportunity to do so.
Super Bowl Impressions (Updated Over and Over and Over Again…)
We’ll get back to politics later, but for now, it’s all about the Super Bowl.
And don’t forget that you’ll be able to watch the Super Bowl ads here on MySpace after the game is over.
Second half impressions are in the extended entry.
Saturday, February 02, 2008
Friday, February 01, 2008
Take That, Carter!
It’s a good night. I just came back from Borders, it’s snowing outside enough that I have an excuse to practice a little sloth tomorrow morning, I’m watching Magnolia, and I just read Shawn Macomber deliver an eloquent pummeling to my former least favorite former president.
Once again proving why he’s one of my favorite writers, Macomber gives us a great examination of how Carter’s religious faith isn’t, perhaps, what you might have thought it was.
Recently, another writer who I admire said something about a sentence that I had written ("Wish I’d had that line for Will in PC.") and it was the kind of compliment that made me feel about as good as you might imagine. I can’t deliver the same kind of compliment--I don’t have the same kind of professional standing as the gentleman who said those words to me--but let me say that I wish I had written that paragraph, and very specifically that last sentence, myself. It pulls together so much of my impression of Carter into one tiny package that I can’t imagine how I would improve upon it.
Rules for the Elect, #1
The first lesson that elected, male representatives up and down the food chain need to learn is this:
I put this one first on the list because it seems to pop up fairly often. You’d think that this rule would be in some budding politician’s
Since I continue to want our elected
Of course, his first mistake might have been trusting a lobbyist.
Even with this highly public advice, my guess is that politicians will continue to fall into the same trap of believing that their penises are far more desirable than rational thought might lead the rest of us to believe. Kind of like Hillary’s thoughts about the desirability of the Federal government mandating universal pre-k.
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