Monday, April 26, 2010

Global Warming's Good For You

In the spirit of promoting my famous friends (friend) in hopes that some day they (he) will get me a job with Jon Stewart, here's the next in Ben Sheehan's series of pertinent, entertaining, and increasingly naked music videos:

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bayside vs. McKinley

"Saved by the Bell" was an after-school staple:  its unrealistic, caricatured, two-dimensional portrayal of high school was ridiculous, beloved, popular, and hugely profitable.  (I have the "Saved By the Bell" board game in my basement if you guys want to come over sometime.  It's kind of College Years-y though)  "Freaks and Geeks," on the other hand, was largely unknown during its original airtime.  Its tender, darkly comic, gritty-but-nostalgic portrayal of high school was under-appreciated; it was shuffled around by its parent networks, censored, and ultimately canceled after only twelve episodes (fans fought for the broadcast of the remaining six).  But all's well that ends well: let's take a little Karma moment to compare how the teen-idol Baysiders have fared compared to Judd Apatow and Paul Feig's misfit Freaks.

First, the Freaks. It seems appropriate to order these actors Best to Worst in view of their subsequent success:

1. James "Dean" Franco: Playing Harry in the Spider-Man movies automatically makes Franco the box-office winner of the Freaks cast. He then starred in some boring movies that got really bad reviews (Tristan and Isolde? What is that?) But he redeemed himself playing Sean Penn's boyfriend in last year's Milk, the Oscar-nominated biopic of San Francisco politician Harvey Milk.  I'd make a Brokeback Mountain joke, but I'm a serious journalist here, you guys.

2. Seth Rogen: Post "Freaks" (and another similarly ill-fated Apatow series "Undeclared"), Rogen had a memorable supporting role in The 40 Year Old Virgin followed by the romantic lead in Apatow's Knocked Up.  But he solidified his career with Superbad, the Rogen-written, Apatow-directed comedy that grossed almost $200 million (it cost $20 million to film).  Rogen made the difficult leap from marginalized, chunky Jewish friend to leading man with relative ease, and got to keep his drug paraphernalia to boot.

3. Jason Segel: Appeared in Knocked Up, but became a full (frontal) star in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, a Segel-written, Apatow-directed comedy. (Tidbit: he told Jessie Thorn, host of the radio show "The Sound of Young America," that the Dracula puppet opera had been a sincere creative idea of his that he was repeatedly advised to abandon.) He's also been a main character on "How I Met Your Mother" for the last five years.

3. Busy Philipps: She was on "Dawson's Creek," the College Years for a while playing some character whose name I don't know because I am too cool to watch "Dawson's Creek." Now she's on ABC's hit comedy "Cougar Town," which you might have seen because it comes on after "Modern Family."  Like "Freaks," "Cougar Town" suffers from being under-rated and all but eclipsed by "Modern Family."  But it's just been renewed for another season, and star-power sitcom anchor Courtney Cox may ensure that this show has more staying power and we keep getting Busy.

4. Linda Cardellini: Has had a successful stint on "E.R." as Nurse Samantha Taggart since 1993. Was also "Chutney," the permed step-daughter who confessed to murder under Elle Woods' rigorous cross-examination in Legally Blonde, prompting half of my classmates to apply to law school and all of my friends to completely misunderstand what third year lawyers do.  

5. Samm Levine: Was one of the basterds in Inglourious Basterds

Now for the Bayside alums:

1. Mario Lopez: Hosting "America's Best Dance Crew" (annoyingly called"ABDC" by MTV) and "Dancing With the Stars" shouldn't be the most successful post-Bell move, but it is.

2. Mark-Paul Gosselaar: He was in that one-season show "Hyperion Bay" that every middle school girl watched because Zack was in it. Then he was on "NYPD Blue" for about four years, and now he's on "Raising the Bar." But everyone knows the most successful (and watched) TV appearance he's made since the Bell was on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon"... playing Zack Morris.

3. Tiffani-Amber Thiessen: The other triple-named, spelling nightmare of a co-star played Valerie on Beverly Hills: 90210 (thank you, Aaron Spelling). She made a bunch of TV Movies (including two "Saved By the Bell" movies, Hawaiian Style and Wedding in Las Vegas, both of which I recorded off TBS on a VHS tape if you guys want to watch them sometime.  We can play the board game, too. My mom makes popcorn, seriously, guys, it's fun.)  She's now in the USA show White Collar, which just feels like it's going to be canceled.

4. Elizabeth Berkley: This one shocked Bell fans by appearing nude in Showgirls, a critically-panned slutfest by director Paul Verhoven (RoboCop, Total Recall).  She looked hot, but she acted baaaaad. She was also in The First Wives Club and that new Woody Allen movie that no one saw.

5. Dustin Diamond: Where to begin. First there was his sex tape (Screeched). Then he got into some financial trouble, and like most people facing foreclosure, went on "The Howard Stern Show" selling tee-shirts that said "I paid 15 dollars to help Screeech [sic] save his house." (The extra "e" was to avoid copyright claims on the name.) But, he allegedly failed to deliver purchased tee-shirts, prompting at least one spurned customer to make the website "Dustin Diamond is a Dick." Then he wrote a tell-all book, "Behind the Bell," that is rife with misspellings and other errors. One reviewer put it this way:
"This weekend, I read Dustin 'Screech' Diamond's entire autobiography, 'Behind the Bell'. And I might be the only person who's ever done that.
Literally, the only person. I'm fairly sure no editor actually read it cover-to-cover; on page four we get the sentence "Fuck fame. Allow me to tear down your allusions"... and that sets off a book just riddled with spelling errors, punctuation errors, repeated references to craft services as Kraft services and weird line breaks. On two separate occasions, entire paragraphs are actually repeated"
The Diamonds must be so proud.

It's obvious that the Freaks have achieved fame on a level that none of the Bayside kids could with their made-for-TV movies, canceled dramas, and, shall we say, over-exposure?  Dustin had the right idea when he tried to go back to the Bell for success, but what he didn't understand is that people don't want to see the inner-workings of their favorite TV high school.  No one wants to know that wholesome Kelly Kapowski was secretly smoking weed in her dressing room, or having sex with Zack and Slater (both of which he alleges in his book).  In fact, that sort of realism and imperfection may have been why "Freaks and Geeks" was originally a less successful as a show than "Saved By the Bell," where everyone was a virgin and dope was dope.  We don't want to see the Bayside gang all grown up. We want to remember them the way we loved them, exactly as they were:

Sunday, April 18, 2010

How Do You Feel About Bacon?

This blog was coming dangerously close to having a serious religious discussion after my Pope piece.  Combined with the truly, deeply religious experience I had with a KFC Double Down yesterday, I thought this chart was an appropriate remedy:

Friday, April 16, 2010

I Smell a Ratzinger

Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist and popular Darwinist, is working with Christopher Hitchens, talented author and frequent Vanity Fair contributor, to bring criminal charges against the Pope.

Just read that sentence one more time. It could be my favorite sentence ever, after "Jon Stewart loved your audition tape," and, "here are the bacon donuts!".

Two dudes I have hardcore academic crushes on are teaming up to bring novel international LEGAL claims against the most powerful institution in the world? Awesome! Never mind the fact that neither is a lawyer, or that they don't have jurisdiction, or that the Pope almost certainly has sovereign immunity - it's time to start a realistic conversation about how to hold Catholic clergymen legally (and secularly) accountable for the Church's massive child abuse conspiracy.

The most recent allegations began when the Associated Press released a 1985 letter from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) refusing to defrock Father Stephen Kiesle, a CONVICTED child abuser. Kiesle had been found guilty by a California court in 1978 for tying up children and molesting them.  Kiesel requested to be defrocked, but the Pope refused for "the good of the universal church." (Maybe Kiesle had something else in mind when he asked to be "defrocked.")  The Father began volunteering as a youth minister, and subsequently plead guilty to child molestation and was sentenced to six years in prison.  Today, Kiesle is a registered sex offender.

This is the just most recent in a long line of accusations that the Catholic Church spent decades (maybe centuries?) covering up sex abuse scandals and silencing victims. But now, Dawkins and Hitchens are leading a new kind of charge: suing the Pope. They've hired two English attorneys - Solicitor Mark Stephens and Barrister Geoffrey Robertson QC - and are angrily pounding their keyboards and inundating the internet with incendiary, effusive threats.  But what are the chances of their legal jargon actually accomplishing anything other than stoking their own anti-Catholic sentiment (and stroking their own egos)?

Their first problem is whether they're going to bring criminal or civil charges. While they keep spouting statements about the Church's crimes, they can't bring criminal charges themselves.  So, either they lobby individual prosecutors to bring charges against individual priests (which is already being done on some level) or they get an international criminal court to prosecute the higher-ups for...what? Criminal Negligence? Human Rights Abuses? Maybe. It's too soon to speculate about the success of a prosecution, but the worldwide proliferation of Catholics doesn't necessarily bode well for an anti-Catholic Nuremberg.

In the meantime, news coverage of the Dawkins/Hitchins crusade indicates they're also launching a private civil suit against Pope Benedict.  If that's true, they've got to find a person who has an actual interest in the case. Neither Dawkins or Hitchens has a personal cause of action against the Pope, so they need to find a molestation victim (preferably someone abused by a Priest, like Father Kiesle, whom Church authorities expressly permitted to be around children despite abuse allegations) to actually bring the suit.  If they want to sue the Pope in England, this victim must have been abused in or be a resident of England to establish jurisdiction.  Then they have to get past the Vatican's claim that as head of state, the Pope has sovereign immunity from prosecution. (The counter-argument is that the Vatican is not a United Nations member, only an observer nation, and therefore cannot claim international sovereign immunity. No predictions yet on how successful that argument will be, but this issue alone could have far-reaching implications. Consider other observer nations like, oh, I don't know, PALESTINE?).

These challenges mean that Dawkins and Hitchens, despite their rhetorical flourishes, are the LEAST likely people to mount a successful challenge against one of the world's oldest, richest, and most powerful institutions.  Wouldn't organizing an international class action brought by actual victims make a bigger, better impact?  Not to be flippant with a subject as tender and terrible as child abuse, but asbestos and cigarette manufacturers quickly settled cases when they saw the number of potential claimants. Sometimes the threat of legal action is more powerful than legal action.

And, maybe that's what Dawkins and Hitchens are trying to do. Maybe they understand their own limits, but think that someone needs to be raising these issues, starting this conversation, and making these threats.  And if that's the case, we couldn't ask for two men with a more vivid mastery of prose. When asked if his goal was to get the Pope to resign, Dawkin's gave the following chilling response:
No, Pope Ratzinger should not resign. He should remain in charge of the whole rotten edifice - the whole profiteering, woman-fearing, guilt-gorging, truth-hating, child-raping institution - while it tumbles, amid a stench of incense and a rain of tourist-kitsch sacred hearts and preposterously crowned virgins, about his ears.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Stevens Addendum

Worth watching: The Daily Show tackles Stevens' retirement. Sigh. Writing jokes about Supreme Court Justices is sooooo my dream job:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Old Man Retires
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

P.S. I really wish you guys could all watch it on the show's web page like I did, because a giant "KFC Double Down" advertisement was in the corner the whole time.  So much awesome on one site.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Even Stevens

Today, 90-year-old Justice John Paul Stevens announced that this will be his final term on the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).  His retirement comes as no surprise - he'd previously declared that he intended to retire during President Obama's term.  But Steven's absence leaves more than just a gaping liberal hole on the Court: Stevens was the last remaining Protestant Justice (Justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Kennedy, and The Chief are Catholic; Ginsberg and Breyer are Jews). That means that the highest Court in the land is (and has been) a poor representative cross-section of the religious beliefs of the U.S. (which is about 51% Protestant, 23% Catholic, and under 2% Jewish).

Obama's nomination (say that three times fast) of rookie Justice Sonia Sotomayor was deliberately targeted to address concerns that there were too few women on the Court (in a country that is 51% female) and no Latinos (in a country that is at least 14% Hispanic).  But, other than interrogations and speculations about her potential abortion vote, neither Congress nor the media commented widely on her Catholicism, or exploded the fact that her appointment would contribute to a substantial Catholic bloc. I didn't even realize how glaring the omission was until NPR pointed it out THIS WEEK.

So, what happens now? Stevens is officially leaving and Obama is poised to appoint his second SCOTUS Justice in two years.  Obama can't want a repeat of Sotomayor's confirmation hearings - the days of questioning seemed exhausting and tedious to just about everyone watching (except maybe Robert Bork; I bet he thought it was a breeze). The brunt of the criticism was that Sotomayor would let her personal experiences (the infamous phrase "wise Latina woman" still rings in our ears) get the better of her legal judgment.

I recently had the opportunity to hear Dahlia Lithwick speak on about the hearings. (Dahlia is the girl-crush of every NPR-loving SCOTUS junkie, aka, me).  She made a lot of interesting points about the approach to Sotomayor, which you can read for yourself if you'd like.  But her speech concluded that the lasting result of the media circus was to make "activist" and "empathy" dirty words when describing a potential Justice.  We already knew that to gain bipartisan approval (if there is such a thing any more - Olympia Snowe doesn't count), Obama's next nominee needed a lengthy judicial record closely tied to interpreting written law, legislative history, and the specific language of the Constitution.  But in Stevens' wake, there may be a new criteria: good old fashioned Protestantism.

It is a little amazing that in the 200 years of white male Justices (and Presidents - Kennedy is still our only Catholic), "diversity" on the Court may now require a conscious effort to pick a Protestant.  If Obama ignores the religious majority, he may face (even heavier) criticism by constituents. (Constituents who the Dems desperately need to win over before mid-term elections.) So, his task is simple: find a pro-choice, anti-gun, pro-business, strict-Constructionist, Asian, female, Baptist and nominate the shit out of her.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Rewind the Music

One of the most gratifying moments in a great movie is when a character sings one of your favorite songs. Movie-watchers experience a soar of emotion, a reaffirmation, an opportunity to connect in a simple, authentic, sincere way. These moments are totally memorable: "Bohemian Rhapsody" in Wayne's World, "Tiny Dancer" in Almost Famous, "I Say a Little Prayer" in My Best Friend's Wedding, and of course, the quintessential,"You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" in Top Gun.


Now, I'm all about campy, and I'm all about bridging the gap between popular movies and musicals, but today I was thinking about some really great songs that define and underscore (pun) movie moments without starting a sing-along.  So, I started making a (totally subjective) list of my favorite unsung movie music:
8. Simple Minds, "Don't You Forget About Me" in The Breakfast Club; 
7. Harry Nilsson, "Everybody's Talkin'" in Midnight Cowboy;
6. The Rolling Stones, "You Can't Always Get What You Want" in The Big Chill;
5. Simon and Garfunkel, "The Only Living Boy in New York" in Garden State;
4. Queen, "Don't Stop Me Now" in Shaun of the Dead;
3. Yellow, "Oh Yeah" in Ferris Bueller's Day Off;
2. Elliott Smith, "Needle in the Hay" in The Royal Tenenbaums;

And, my personal favorite, for which I will NOT include a video (those of you who've seen it know why):
1. Stealers Wheel, "Stuck in the Middle With You" in Reservoir Dogs.

I'd only gotten this far when I mentioned this list to my friend Ben Sheehan (he created that Conan tribute video that I posted on the blog and that is now apparently going viral all over the place). He said it would be waaaaaay funnier (he uses a lot of "a's") and more entertaining if I made a list of the WORST movie music moments. And, maybe he's right.  So, here are the (totally objective) moments that were so memorable and so abrasive that they either ruined the film, or ruined the song for us forever:
7. Sixpence None the Richer, "Kiss Me" in She's All That;
6. The Wallflowers, "Heroes" in Gozilla; 
5. The Cardigans, "Love Fool" in Romeo + Juliet;
4. R. Kelly, "I Believe I Can Fly" in Space Jam;
3. Seal, "Kiss from A Rose" in Batman Forever;
2. Celine Dion, "My Heart Will Go On" in Titanic;
1. Aerosmith, "Don't Wanna Miss a Thing" in Armageddon.

Now, is it just a COINCIDENCE all these movies were made in the '90s?  I don't think so.  I think the 1960s and 1970s used up all the real musical talent there was in the universe, and then the 1980s used up all the novelty and synth there was in the universe, and the 1990s were left with nothing but cheesy pop songs and boy bands.  I mean, Bob Dylan's son doing a cover of a David Bowie song for a movie remake of GODZILLA? That is the most blasphemous thing I have ever heard.

So, feel free to blow up the Comments with your suggestions for either category.  And, since no one has ever blown up my Comments section before, you can consider this a desperate cry for attention.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Secret Life of Honest Abe

Media outlets are attacking Tea Party patrons as secessionists, brothers are fighting brothers over health care, and the Obamaconomy is in worse shape than the Reconstruction South.  In these trying political times, we could all use some patriotic inspiration from the man who united the country and defined liberty "for all:" Abraham Lincoln.  Lincoln was a great orator, a magnanimous countryman, and a determined, decisive, persuasive leader at a time when we needed one most.  But Lincoln had another lesser-known skill, a hunger that drove him to power: he killed vampires.

Look, I didn't make this up.  It's no secret I love dinosaurs first and zombies second and then probably mummies third and then vampires next.  So if I'd made this up, you guys would have every right to assume I'd finally gone off the deep end.  But it's not me this time!  It's Seth Grahame-Smith, author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which I would totally read if I didn't hate Jane Austin so much.

His book came out last month and it's already gotten a movie deal with big names behind it.  Tony Kushner (the Tony-award winning playwright behind Angels in America) and Tim Burton (movie master of the underworld and black-and-white stripes) have teamed up to adapt his novel.  It's easy to see why: make a list of five things that you want to see a movie about.  Go ahead.  Now cross off "boobs" and what do you have left?
  1. Historical figures;
  2. Vampires;
  3. Adventure;
  4. Tall People.
    BAM!  This combo means AL:VH could potentially be the greatest famous-dead-person-versus-supernatural-villain movie since Bubba Ho-Tep.*

    Unfortunately, as we all know, Lincoln's life wasn't all slave-freeing and vampire-killing. He met a tragic fate in a theater at the hands of John Wilkes Booth.  But at least he died with dignity:

    (That was "The Whitest Kids U Know," one of my favorite sketch troupes. They're weird and hilarious, like "Kids in the Hall" only less...Canadian.)

    *In Bubba Ho-Tep, Elvis (Bruce Campell) teams up with a Black JFK (Ossie Davis) to battle an Egyptian mummy who attacks their nursing home.  It is definitely as awesome as it sounds:

    Thursday, April 1, 2010

    April Fools

    One of my favorites: a spoof trailer for the Stephen King/Stanley Kubrick horror film The Shining. Happy April Fools Day!