Saturday, June 25, 2005

 

Cruise Meltdown Watch...


...continues apace. Check the video here.

Hmm...feeling even more confident about my previous prediction.

To be fair, I will say that Cruise has a point when it comes to Ritalin -- particularly its use in the the over-medication of children. I'm not convinced that using various drugs on kids, given that their brains are not completely developed is a good thing. However, completely dismissing psychiatry as a "pseudosciencce" is a bit ridiculous. Besides, hearing a follower of the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard referring to anything as "pseudo" is somewhat...odd.

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Justice Dept. Abandons Cover-up!!!!

And here's to you, Lady Justice, our lonely nation turns its eyes to you...



Yup, your favorite blogger keeps you abreast of the latest political developments!!

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A Slightly Different Rainbow Coalition

My latest Post column discusses gay politics in the Big Apple.

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Friday, June 24, 2005

 

Improv(e) Your Life!!!

Around New York this weekend, looking for some fun and that Pride Parade thing is just too conservative for your tastes?

Well then, do we have something for you!!!

COME CELEBRATE WITH AN IMPROV SHOW!! Yours truly will be performing with a great bunch of Improv-isers!

Set aside Friday, June 24th and Saturday June 25th, 2005, 8p.m.

The location is Stonestreet Studios, 48 w. 21st Street (bet. 5th and 6th), 8th Floor.

A moderate (yes, both liberals and conservative will be pleased -- or insulted) $15 cover will expose you to one of the finest improvisation troupes in the city -- AND, of course, the requisite free beer!!!

A fan of Whose Line Is It Anyway? should especially like it!

Never seen the program? Trust me, you'll love "The Yes Show"!! Have I ever lied to you? (Um, recently, I mean!)

And did I mention the free beer?

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Thursday, June 23, 2005

 

The Cashed Crusader

I thought about just updating my Batman Begins post, but this bit of genius deserves a special spot of its own. Forbes runs the calculator on how much it costs to be Batman.

Many thanks to a certain colleague who requests that his
secret identity be respected.

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Glad To See Liberals Stand Up For The Little Guy!!!

Not!

So, if we have a liberal faction that is against medical marijuana and supports seizing private homes to give the property away to wealthy developers, why on earth do we need a reactionary corporatist right-wing?

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Yep, I'm Burning Mad Too, Karol

A "conservative" Congress? Yeah, right. Guess this means that even the definition of conservative must be amended.

And Duke Cunningham is simply an
embarrassment.

UPDATE: The gentleman on the other side of the aisle is also 100% correct too. On both the amendment AND on Cunningham.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

 

When Ex-Bosses Battle

John Podhoretz who hired me at the Post weighs in on the new Hillary book here.

Tony Blankley who hired me in Newt Gingrich's offices weighs in on the new Hillary book
here.

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Cruise-ing For A Bruising

Sorry, but Katie Holmes was what you call an annoyance in Batman Begins. A friend -- who otherwise liked the movie -- said that she was just plain awful. I wouldn't go that far. As I hinted before, she proved that there is such a thing as too much publicity -- and there is such a thing as bad publicity just being...bad.

I've liked Katie as an actress; I thought she was cute in Dawson's Creek. However, she was a constant distraction in this movie and, frankly, Tom Cruise is to blame. I've very rarely had the problem of having a celebrity's public persona intrude on a movie or musical experience. That's why I rarely care if some celebrity starts spouting off on politics. I let the film draw me in and enjoy it for what it was.

It was very difficult to do that whenever Holmes was on the screen. I found myself thinking of Cruise jumping up on Oprah's couch, the engagement announcement at the Eiffel Tower on Friday, the whole orgiastic PR campaign. You heard it hear first: I predict that War of the Worlds will turn out to be a major bomb -- a significant embarrassment for Cruise and Steven Spielberg. The thing that Cruise has always had going for him, from his earliest days in Losing It, Taps & Risky Business, through his superstar middle period of Top Gun, Cocktail & A Few Good Men to his more recent fare like Minority Report (which was, as my buddy Dan said, is a seriously underrated movie) is an audience acceptance that he's essentially a good guy -- the cliched "man who men want to be and women want to be with." Even through a couple of divorces (and the Scientology and sexuality stuff in the background), his public persona was still that of a rather stable everyday guy, who guarded his privacy.

That's not the man on display now. He is allowing his public life to become so outsized that it's crowding the image of the man on screen.

This comes at a rather precarious time in his career. Recall that his good performance in Collateral was still completely eclipsed by Jamie Foxx's. There have been other times when Cruise has played across great actors. Hey, he had to watch both Paul Newman and Dustin Hoffman pick up Best Actor Oscars playing opposite him -- while he wasn't even nominated for supporting performances. But, in both of those movies, it was never the case that people forgot that he was in the film. He became almost an afterthought in Collateral.

And that was before Cruise decided that the entire world had to know all about his personal life -- or at least his version of his personal life.

Viewers may well decide that TMI is just that -- too much information. Can Spielberg save War of the Worlds? Perhaps.

But, Cruise alone may not be enough this time. His loud, ubiquitous, spring romance may well have set him up for a precipitous summer fall.

UPDATE/CORRECTION (6/23/05, 6:30 PM): As I said to my friend Tom who pointed out the mistake: "Wow!!! I did what so many other idiots have done for twenty years now -- confused Al Pacino with Dustin Hoffman!!!
Of course, it was Hoffman who won for Rain Man with Cruise opposite him! D'oh!"


Pacino, of course, won for Scent of A Woman with Chris O'Donnell as the youthful sidekick. O'Donnell, to complete the circle was Robin in the two Joel Schumacher movies.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

 

You've GOT to Be Kidding Me!!

Nope, I'm not making this up. From the AP (via Yahoo):

Photo

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Killen Time

They say justice delayed is justice denied. Well, a certain type of justice seems to have finally come to Ray Killen

However, it is seriously open to question whether this was legal justice. The prosecutor didn't have much of a case, frankly. I don't doubt that Killen was involved in the murders of Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney. Could it have been proven back then absent the racial climate of the times? Probably. Could it truly be proven today? Most likely not. The closing arguments to the jury were filled with sentiments along the line of "Show the world that this isn't the same Mississippi."

In essence, the prosecutor basically asked the jury to ignore the case and the evidence and do what you think is right in your heart.

In short, do what juries in the South did back in the day -- except for the opposite reason.

Hmm...wonder what
Robert "Changing The Sheets" Byrd has to say about this?

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Batman Begins (the War on Terror)

There won't be any objective pretense here: If you've been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know that the author is a comic-book fan. It may also have come through that Batman has long been his favorite. The first comic I ever read was a Batman title (Catwoman was the villain, I believe). So, I went to Batman Begins fully expecting to be both viscerally entertained as well as aesthetically pleased.

In general, both emotions were satisfied. But, this isn't a review so much as a collection of reflections on the new movie, its reviews in the mainstream media and what are we to draw from this particular re-interpretation of the Batman mythos in 2005. Fair warning: This is written on the assumption that most of you have seen the movie. If not, run out right now and see it. Otherwise, you may fall victim to some spoilers. I will try to give a warning ahead of time as I get to a major plot point, but I can't guarantee that will happen in every instance.

Christopher Nolan (of Memento fame) and David Goyer (of the Blade trilogy) are an excellent combination. There's a reason why comic book movies of the last few years, as a group, have been far superior to previous efforts. It's not just because of better technology. It's because the creators have grown up with comics as a pop culture medium that is in many ways respected -- it has its own champions; it has its own awards. Others outside may still not necessarily "get it," but enough people do that the creators do not merely survive, they are quite well compensated and succeed in other genre -- movies, television, books -- as well. And the crossover goes in both directions, such as Joss Whedon of "Buffy" writing for Marvel and directing the upcoming Wonder Woman movie. And Allen Heinberg, writer and producer on the comic-book loving "The O.C." writing Young Avengers for Marvel. Goyer himself has written JSA for DC and is working on movie projects involving both Marvel's Ghost Rider and DC's The Flash.

The strongest criticisms coming to the film are that the first half drags on for too long and there is too much psychoanalysis of Bruce Wayne -- Batman "on the couch" as the Washington Post's review puts it (though given that that review helpfully points out -- wrongly -- that "Wayne Enterprises staff scientist Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman)" was in "creator Bob Kane's original stories," why should we pay attention? For the record, Fox wasn't added to Batman's supporting cast until the 1970s. And, no, I couldn't tell you who, before Lucius, was the first black character in a Bat-comic.)

Of the first point, well, is there something wrong with actually having some exposition in an action-adventure movie? Something wrong with exploring the hero's motivations? I will say, however, that there was something disturbing about, once again MAJOR SPOILER ALERT having the key villain have such a prominent role in the creation of Batman.

Fans of the first Tim Burton film will recall that the man who kills Bruce Wayne's parents eventually becomes The Joker. That was one of the greatest deviations from the comic origin.

Batman Begins is more faithful to the traditional construction of two-bit thug Joe Chill killing the Waynes, Chill's connection to mob boss Carmine Falcone also echoes other versions of Batman's beginnings.

However, the two great deviatons that Nolan and Goyer take involve young Bruce's childhood fear and the role of Ra's Al Ghul in training Wayne in his "wilderness" years. The "old" story -- the young adult Bruce Wayne is inspired to take his guise by a bat flying into his house, because "criminals are a superstitious cowardly lot" (one of the most famous passages ever in a superhero story) that need something that strikes fear into them -- is turned on its head.

Now, Bruce Wayne, the child, is terrified of bats -- particularly after he falls into a hole that drops him into a deep cave on the Wayne estate. His father, Thomas Wayne has to save him. Later, that fear of bats leads the Wayne family into a fateful encounter with Joe Chill. This series of events means that the emotional catalyst for Bruce becoming Batman is different. It's not simply the desire to wreak vengeance on the criminal element. It's partly out of guilt for Bruce's perceived role in his parents death. There's nothing completely wrong with adding another level of emotional drama to the story, but Batman ultimately being driven by guilt and fear is something that takes getting used to.

Secondly, Henri Ducard, who helps train Batman comes out of '70s/'80s re-interpretations of the Batman origin. However, the movie's spin that Ducard is actually "working" for uber-mysterious Ra's Al Ghul (it's a bit more complex, but we'll leave it at that characterization for the time being), means that, ultimately, we are in a similar place as the Burton-Keaton-Nicholoson film: A "super" villain's actions have pivotal role in the formation of Batman. Somehow, the random nature of the original story had a more profound impact (for this long-time reader anyway).

Something that Batman Begins can't be faulted for, though, is the multitude of ninjas in the early part of the film. For those not versed in comic lore and only know from, say, movies of the last couple of years, it wouldn't be surprising for some viewers to declare that this film rips off Daredevil and Elektra and their "dark-ninja-cult" storylines.

In fact, this film mines material coming from Batman comics dating back more than thirty years ago. Indeed, its ultimate triumph is that, in making a pointed departure from the near-camp of the Joel Schumacher-George Clooney Batman & Robin monstrosity, it's greatest influence actually derives from the late-60s/early-70s creative renaissance engineered by writer Denny O'Neil and artist Neal Adams.

The best and worst thing to happen to Batman comics in the '60s was the Batman TV show. While it sparked new found interest in the character and boosted sales throughout publisher DC's line (the Justice League of America title, for example, would often draw Batman on cover in ridiculous proportions to the other characters size to emphasize his role).

After the Batman craze concluded, the series continued, but sales slumped. DC Editor Julius Schwartz was brought in to revitalize the line with a "new look" that was supposed to signal a return to more serious fare. Over the course of a few years, Dick Grayson graduated high school and went off to college. The classic villains took a breather until they got revamped. But, most significantly, writer O'Neil came in and frequently teamed up with artist Adams to create a darker, moodier Batman. (Adams first joined the Bat-world drawing the team-up title The Brave & The Bold.)

The team's greatest triumph was the introduction of Ra's Al Ghul, who made his appearance here:




The character's name was first uttered in an earlier issue, as the mysterious head of the League of Assassins (which becomes the League of Shadows in Batman Begins). To add drama, al Ghul's daughter and chief lieutenant, Talia, becomes infatuated with Batman -- who reciprocates).

In any event, by the time O'Neil and Adams had worked their magic, the campy series of a few years before were a long-ago memory.

This is the same transformation that Nolan and Goyer perform in Batman Begins. The Clooney camp is gone in this darker, more reflective production. Ironically, despite al Ghul being a thirty year character, he seems more appropriate for a world today than the fantastical Joker, Mr. Freeze, and Poison Ivy of the earlier movies. We live, after all, in a world where a secret, lethal, organization coming out of the East with designs on destroying major cities in the West actually exists. Ra's Al Qaeda, anyone?

Of course, to need Batman's assistance, terror has to be more than just organic. Thus, Jonathan Crane, AKA, The Scarecrow is the secondary villain. But, he is perfect for the atmospheric themes in both the movies and the contemporary times. Crane's fear chemical, which initially disables and nearly kills the hero, ultimately makes Batman look even more menacing to everyone who sees him. Thus, Crane also contributes to the creation of the Batman as a fearsome symbol.

Despite the interesting similarity between the League of Shadows and al Qaeda, this is no political movie. There's not even the seemingly oblique shots that many have been pointed out in Revenge of the Sith. This is much more a personal, action-adventure, piece, laden with Freudian overtones. Indeed -- SPOILER -- when Wayne Manor is burned, Bruce is blamed for it. He's not responsible for it. However, later, to save the city, he has to engineer the destruction of the monorail system that runs directly to his family's huge office building. This is a monorail designed by his beloved father. To save his city, Bruce Wayne must destroy his father's creation.

Cinematically, however, there is little to criticize. Christian Bale has immediately become my favorite Batman. Val Kilmer had that title previously. Yeah, Batman Forever wasn't great (though it was Citizen Kane in comparison to Batman and Robin), but Kilmer pulled off the role well. Bale, however, is to Bruce Wayne/Batman what Hugh Jackman is to Wolverine -- the perfect actor to bring the comic book character to life.

Similarly, Michael Caine as Alfred, Gary Oldman as Sgt. James Gordon and Liam Neeson as "Ducard" are inspired choices. Katie Holmes is something different. We'll leave it for a subsequent post, but let's just say that, yes, there is such thing as bad publicity.

Overall, consider this one quite happy Batman fan -- and sad that it'll be too many years before the next one.

UPDATE: An overview of BB's box office mojo from, uh, Box Office Mojo. The site's review, while overlooking the 1970's material's foundation of the plot, strongly praises the overall product.

UPDATE: Andromeda over at Tacitus sees a bit of a political message in the movie.


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Sunday, June 19, 2005

 

Happy Fathers Day...

...to all the cool Dads out there! Hope you're having a good one. Here's my profile of a rather remarkable guy doing the right thing (registration required).

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