Thursday, April 28, 2005

"Waiter, there's a fly on my Pope!"

There was a documentary on PBS last night called "White Smoke," a timeline of the events from the death of Pope John Paul II to the election of Pope Benedict XVI to replace him. I found it to be illuminating and interesting, but also disturbing for one big reason: a brief shot of John Paul lying in state in St. Peter's Basilica included the extra bonus of a big-ass FLY fluttering around on his face. Of all the footage they had from three days of the pontiff being displayed before the millions who flowed in to pay their respects, they had to choose those few seconds? And remember, boys and girls, PBS is now available in high-definition - heaven knows what that will look like in crisp detail.

Adventures in Film Advertising

Just saw a commercial that advertised Stephen Chow's flick "Kung Fu Hustle" as "The #1 Kung Fu comedy in America." Now, not to pick hairs, because apparently Chow has a mini-classic on his hands, but exactly how many Kung Fu comedies are currently in general release in the U.S.? Oh, wait - why, of course. I totally forgot about "The Pacifier." And when "Kingdom of Heaven" comes out in a couple of weeks, well, just pass the fried rice and forget about it.

(P.S. Yeah, I know that tagline in the commercial is obviously being silly. So am I - psych!)

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The End is Near (really, we mean it this time)

Many mystics and pundits and prognosticators will say to you with a straight face that the End of Days is upon us, and will point to various indicators to prove their claims that it will soon will be time to leave and to turn the lights off before we lock up this plane of existence. Maybe they'll reference 9/11, or the tsunami or the fact that the frogs are dying. Some will say that it's because Benedict XVI is the next-to-last pope ever according to some 11th century saint who, on his deathbed, allegedly listed all of the Holy Fathers (cryptically, 'course, 'cause no decent psychic would ever speak the straight skinny about such matters). Then there are the obvious signs, such as the Red Sox winning the Series or Britney's carrying of the Federline child, yo. But today came the final, undeniable proof that God is coming, and He most likely is pissed.

Brace yourself ...

Michael Bay is remaking "The Birds."

I leave you to ponder what's left of your fate.

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," the movie - Don't Panic!

Being both an entertainment journalist and a movie buff, I relish the opportunity to see advance screenings of new films, even when I know that the piece of cinema I will be seeing has little chance of being known as a work of art, or even of cinema ("Battlefield Earth," anyone? Still waiting for that sequel!) But the big-screen version of Douglas Adams' "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe" held special ranking inside my hot little head, 'cause it was probably my favorite novel of the 1980s. I even wrote a very successful (A-) book report on the tome when I was a sophomore in high school. I relished Adams' melding of science-fiction, comedy and a hint of satire; I found his work on "Hitchhiker" and the other four books of the trilogy (don't ask) to be very clever and very British, even if his last offering in the series, "Mostly Harmless," was a bit too dark for my taste. (The best one? The fourth, "So Long and Thanks for All the Fish," though you'd better read the first three before you tackle that one else nothing will make sense.)

It had long been Douglas Adams' dream to convert his most famous book, which actually began as a BBC radio series, into a major motion picture. He worked for years on the screenplay, literally up to the day he died, at the age of 49, in 2001 of a massive heart attack while working out in his Southern California home. (Adams probably appreciated the irony of that, maybe even silently chortling to himself as he was whisked up to the Pearly Gates.) People as diverse as Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and Jim Carrey had been mentioned to take on major roles in whatever flick resulted, rumors that must have caused consternation to die-hard fans of the English-based story - much in the same way devotees of "Bridget Jones' Diary" may have cringed when Texas Renee Zellweger landed that veddy British part. But, as the smoke clears, we now have a "Hitchhiker" for the masses with a cast that straddles the line between the English and American coasts, but is still based firmly in the British countryside - at least, before the Earth is destroyed by a group of very ugly intergalactic demolition artists.

Don't worry, for those of your who aren't familiar with the "Hitchhiker" saga - I didn't give anything anyway. The destruction of the Earth takes place within the first 30 pages of the book - or, in Hollywood math, the first 10 minutes of the film. That's how things get started - on the worst Thursday ever, as Everyman Arthur Dent goes from trying to prevent his house from being flattened in favor of yet another highway bypass to being hurdled across the galaxy, homeless in every way possible, and helped only by his best friend Ford Prefect, who actually is an alien and traveling correspondent for "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," the most popular book in the universe. What Arthur confronts, dressed in his pajamas, are experiences beyond his imagining - a permanently depressed robot; a two-headed, three-armed gigolo/thief who happens to be president of the galaxy; and the cute girl whom Arthur failed to pick up at a recent costume party. Oh, he also discovers who really runs things in the universe and what the answer the ultimate question of life is. And why towels are so important.

All of this is spelled out in vividly delightful detail by Adams in his book, which is dense with puns and funny dialogue and even funnier passages from "The Hitchhiker's Guide" about poetry, ballpoints and whether God really exists. There are many who feared that this would be unfilmable in this format, or that the mucky-mucks in Tinseltown would find a way to, well, muck up what they considered to be sacred text from Adams. You know, the way they've altered just about every book that's ever been turned into a movie. And, in fact, the movie is not exactly the book that Adams wrote. But that's OK in its own way. For one thing, remember that Adams wrote much of this screenplay, though Karey Kirkpatrick did some revisions on the final draft. And Adams himself was known for extensive revisions of his work. The novel, for example, has a lot that wasn't on the original radio series, and the resulting BBC television series takes out stuff from both the book and the radio show and adds still new stuff. What we end up with in the movie is, I'd say, about 70 percent of what was in the book, with some brand-new stuff (including the ending), a pumping-up of the romantic tension between Arthur (played by "Office" alum Martin Freeman) and the aforementioned girl Trillian (Zooey Deschanel, maybe the best name for an actor today), and a couple of references to later "Hitchhiker" novels. It does not go as nuts, as say, Sydney Pollack did with "The Firm," where he basically redid the entire second half of John Grisham's novel to give Tom Cruise an excuse to run around downtown Memphis like a maniac. (Not that it didn't work for cinematic purposes. But I digress.)

As for the casting, Adams was on record that the only character who had to remain British for the film was Arthur himself (what, did you think I meant the American version of "The Office"'? Silly rabbits!) Thus, Mos Def plays Ford Prefect, and the hilarious Sam Rockwell plays President Zaphod Beeblebrox, complete with second head and third arm. But the essence of the overall movie remains British, from the voice talent (Stephen Fry, Alan Rickman and Helen Mirren, for example) to the overall sense of humor. Ironically, that may be a drawback to how "Hitchhiker's" does on this side of the swamp, as a lot of English comedy movies struggles to find a footing here unless the title contains the words "Monty Python" somewhere. And an inside knowledge of the book is very helpful to getting some of the bits, which could go a long way towards promoting literacy, if you think about it. But the filmed vision of Douglas Adams' most lasting creation is not the unmitigated disaster it was rumored to be. I liked it, and I hope you will, too. And if you don't, well, there's always "Battlefield Earth."

3 stars

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

"The Interpreter"...

I have to give to "The Interpreter," the latest political thriller from director Sydney Pollack - it tries very, very hard to be intelligent. And it just about makes it despite the inherent flaws in this tense story of assassination, ethnic cleansing and the bad things that happen when you hear something you're not supposed to. That's the conundrum Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman, fragile and beautiful as ever) finds herself in when, while retrieving a bag she left in the sound booth she works in at the United Nations (she's a translator), she overhears a cryptic plot to kill an embattled African dictator. Of course, the whispered machinations are in a rare African dialect called Ku - and, of course, that's one of the several languages Silvia speaks fluently, having once lived in the same nation that is now run by said dictator, a peacenik-turned-despot who is headed to the U.N. to try to save his hide from claims of genocide and possible charges from the war crimes tribunal. That coincidence is the beginning of a twisty plot that is unwound through the eyes a Secret Service agent with the great motion-picture name of Tobin Keller (Sean Penn, haggard) that eventually uncovers that there's more here than just another assassination plot - and more than just another interpreter.

Kudos for Pollack, who has done this before ("Three Days of the Condor," anyone?) for keeping things interesting, for delving into hot-button territory (i.e. Rwanda, Sudan), for expert use of the United Nations building (first time it's ever been used in a movie) and for some good acting, including Catherine Keener in the otherwise-thankless role of Penn's wise-cracking partner. (She has the funniest line in the movie, easily.) Points deducted, however, for some wicked obvious holes in the plot, including an ending that borders on both the obvious and the preposterous, maybe the worst photograph ever used in a big-budget movie (it's real in the flick, but it looks anything but in my eyes), and especially the fact that Pollack and the writers couldn't help but insert the prerequisite sexual tension between Kidman and Penn - a plot point made even more idiotic because of a very recent and very sore spot in Penn's life. Still, I recommend "The Interpreter" because it definitely isn't boring - and it isn't "Guess Who."

2 1/2 stars

P.S. As God is my witness, nearly ever time Kidman opened her mouth and used her clipped South Africanesque accent, I got Meryl Streep in "Out of Africa" in my head. If Kidman had said that she grew up on a farm in Africa, I was storming out of the theater.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

A sign of our times

In a true measure of the information superhighway - or maybe just naked commerce - within hours of the election of Benedict XVI as pope, more than 200 items relating to him for sale or bid. This includes editions of newspapers, announcing his election, that won't be published until tomorrow.

Say, if the world ends overnight, does that mean that bids on those newspapers would be disqualified?

Monday, April 18, 2005

Lance Armstrong to put away yellow jersey

Well, it's official - after this summer's Tour de France, Lance Armstrong will hang up his bicycle for the last time. Now, retirement announcements by athletes are to be taken with a very large grain of salt - how many times did Michael Jordan, Mario Lemieux and nearly every pro boxer north of Hilary Swank walked away from their games only to return months or years later? But somehow I believe Armstrong when he says that he will put the bike shorts away for good. Indeed, I wonder why he doesn't just say bye-bye now? What else does he have to compete for. This is a man who has achieved just about everything possible in his field. You can't shake a stick at someone - the only one - to have won six straight Tours de France, the crown jewel of the sport. That alone would put Armstrong among the best sportsmen of the past decade. Add his miraculous survival from testicular cancer and the fact that he goes home every night to Sheryl Crow (hey, can't let that other testicle go to waste), and he's practically a cycling god.

I just hope that Armstrong's departure has nothing to do with the constant allegations that he's on the juice - not that I believe them, 'cause I don't. But Lance may be thinking, 'Do I need this hassle?' And, frankly, he doesn't. But no matter what the reason, Armstrong has earned the rest and the right to do with the rest of his life what he will. Even if that means he ends up hosting "Saturday Night Live."

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Meow ... Ka-Pow! (Or, why Florida may not be the weirdest state in the nation)

It's been a weird 24 hours in the human multiplex, weird enough where you really, really, want that conclave in Rome to get started, like, now in order to give us a diversion from the wackiness that is permeating our existences. So weird, in fact, that the news that Britney is indeed carrying the Federline child seems almost normal, yo. But the news out of Wisconsin may take the unholy cake, at least for this da. Seems that the state best known for Brett Favre, Fonzie and cheddar may soon have another distinction to hang on its mantle - as the only state of the union to make hunting stray cats legal. Hunting, as in "get the gun, Momma, there's a couple of wild calicos outside."

Seems that an advisory poll conducted by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has determined that a majority of state citizens is in favor of removing stray cats from the "protective species" list (or, more accurately, making them "unprotected") and thus fair game for the outdoorsmen who don't get enough of a challenge out of taking aim at the deer, turkeys and occassional illegal immigrant that run wild through the forests. All of this is the brainchild of one Mark Smith of La Crosse (see, one man can make a difference), who insists he's not a cat hater but, he told the local newspaper, "if you open the door and kick your cat out at night, you've changed its status." (Profound, no?)

Any kill-the-kitty law is far from a certainly, but it's only a matter of time until the folks at PETA climb onto this puppy - and, perhaps, until some ambitious schmo publishes a feline-centric cookbook. Waste not, want not, you know. Meanwhile, Carli Hiaasen, the Miami Herald columnist who writes such blisteringly witty satiric novels about his home state, may want to consider setting his next book in a more northern location - unless he figures that the Midwestern folk in Wisconsin may be a bit too odd even for him.

Cubs-Padres game rained out today in Chicago ...

I don't know ... is it a bad sign when your team is only a week into the season and you're already looking at a rainout as a great situation because it means they can't lose that day? Or is it just the typical start of a Chicago Cubs season? Yeah, yeah, I know that it is just a week into the new season and the Cubs are only 3-4, hardly the peak of any death throes. But I'm a Cubs fan, so leave me alone!

Tomorrow, a doubleheader. Oooh, a chance to lose twice.

Pedro Martinez - Flip-Flopper

Yeah, just like a politician. A few days, New York Mets pitcher and supporter of little people Pedro Martinez said in a typically well-thought-out statement that he didn't want the World Series ring he earned last fall as a member of the Boston Red Sox. Then, within hours of yesterday's glorious ring ceremony before the Sox' home opener, he did a bit of damage control by telling reporters that he'd take the ring, adding "I thought I did what I had to do to earn a ring with the Red Sox."

You're right, Pedro, you did do what you had to do to earn the ring - except, maybe, want the ring in the first place. What a joke this guy is. It may seem like a typical boorish thought by a typical modern pro athlete, but he also dissed all of the loyal fans of Red Sox Nation (yeah, a whole nation!) who have been waiting literally all of their lives for a chance to even see a World Series ring with the Sox logo emblazoned in diamonds. As a die-hard fan of another long-suffering baseball team that has been seeking the final glory of October for nearly a century, Martinez' words sting even more.

So I say to Pedro, who now wants his jeweled talisman, "Nuts." If I were the Red Sox brass, I'd take Martinez' ring and raffle it off to a lucky Boston fan. Because it seems like any of them would appreciate it more than this tool would.

P.S. Negative points for Martinez for now playing for the Mets. Yuck.

Random Thought

Yeah, the more than I think about it, the more I have to agree that that Big King-head guy in the Burger King commercials is kinda creepy. But not as creepy as Hootie was in that odious, brain-washing Bacon Cheedar Tendercrisp Ranch chicken sandwich commercial for BK. Thankfully, as I haven't seen one air for a while now, perhaps Hootie has been put out of his misery.

Mariah Carey - American hero

I always knew there was something special about Mariah Carey - OK, maybe just something - but I just thought it was her great pipes, her quirky behavior and her penchant for being 95 percent naked at nearly all times. Well, I stand corrected. Turns out that, while we were praising the firemen and police officers who bravely ran into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, we were neglecting maybe the biggest hero of that whole tragic situation. Witness:

>Superstar Mariah Carey can see a positive side to the critical-mauling and poor sales of her Glitter film and soundtrack album - it cheered up Americans following the September 11th attacks. The semi-autobiographical film was released only a month after the singer's much-publicized breakdown and ten days after the terrorists attacks in New York and Washington DC. Carey tells the New York Post newspaper, "The problem was Glitter was about a diva moment. It was too close to my life. Another thing that people don't remember about Glitter is that it came out the week of 9/11. The movie became a pressure release for everyone dealing the intensity of the attacks. Glitter was the safe joke of the day."<

Well done, Mariah, for taking our minds off of the misery and heartbreak of the worst attack on American soul with your mediocre acting skills. If we had known about your powers, we could have dropped you off in the middle of Baghdad wearing just a loincloth and platform heels and flushed Saddam out of his hole six months sooner. We'll remember you next time something else blows up real good.

Friday, April 08, 2005

The funeral of Pope John Paul II

All-nighters really aren't my bag anymore, especially since I put in my fair share in college, so staying up to watch the funeral for John Paul II last night (1 a.m. L.A. time!) wasn't necessariliy a good idea on a physiological basis. (Let's just say that my Friday turned into a nap day.) But I'm so glad that I did it. I'm not a big fan of organized religion in general and, in my bloated little mind, there are times when I think even God has trouble with a lot of what's done in His (or Her) name here on earth. But you didn't have to be a regular churchgoer to be totally moved by the experience of viewing the Pope's services. The chills and the emotions were striking, the spontaneous reactions of the huge crowd of pilgrims exhilirating. I was particularly moved when the ministers of the Eastern Orthodox Church prayed in their own way over John Paul's coffin; I was halfway expecting the rabbis and imams who also were in attendance to get their turn, but that probably was pushing it for what was a Christian service. And bravo to CNN to keeping their commentary sparse, unlike what I heard happened on some of the other networks, including one that chatted all the way through the stirring and eerie Litany of the Saints. This is one "instant event" I hope hits the DVD market sooner rather than later - with the proceeds going to charity, of course. (Idiot that I was, I didn't tape it.)

Monday, April 04, 2005

Matt Drudge Is Trying to Save Us from Ourselves

Matt Drudge, America's more respected journalist, points out on his "news" site that for the weekend just past, in which Pope John Paul II left this earthly plane, the number one movie at the box office was the stylized action flick "Sin City," and that such film includes - spoiler warning, please - "a Cardinal as cannibal, in league with a serial kiler who reads the Bible ... a cross in just about every scene" and that the movie "includes a scene in which Bruce Willis ripping a man's penis off." Gee, you think Drudge is trying to make a wizened comment about the state of American morality or somethin'?

Seriously, don't you wish Walter Winchell was still alive so he could eat this joker's liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti?

Cubs Update: Opening Day, Yay!

Final Score: Cubs 16, Arizona 6. At least for one day, Chicago fans say, "Sammy who?" But Zambrano doesn't get the win after being lifted after 4 2/3 innings and more than 100 pitches. He then gets ejected for arguing pitch calls with the umpire, though one wonders why the ump bothered. See, when a baseball player leaves the game, he can't come back! :)

So the Cubs are in first place, at least for one day. There is joy in Mudville.