Friday, August 31, 2007

Chris Benoit Fallout

Galley Friend A.W. sends us this story which suggests that the WWE might be a little spooked:

World Wrestling Entertainment, under fire since one of its top stars was involved in a double-murder suicide, announced the suspension of 10 of its wrestlers on Thursday.

They are being suspended for violating the WWE's "wellness policy."

Why now? Because:

A spokesman for the House Energy & Commerce Committee said Thursday that its commerce subcommittee will be holding hearings into the WWE in late September. The aide said a witness list has not been finalized.

Also looking into the company is the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Remember, you heard it here first.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

U.S. Open Notes

I love Richard Gasquet. His game is so fluid and elegant that it's probably the most aesthetically pleasing tennis on tour. I don't know a ton about him, but I'm inclined to like Donald Young because his game looks uncommonly graceful, too. A lot, in fact, like Gasquet's. So you can imagine how interesting their second-round match-up today at the Open looked.

Except that Gasquet didn't show. He called out sick.

I know nothing about the circumstances here, USA was reporting it as fever and sore throat. Maybe it was a lot worse than that. Maybe he was really, really miserable. Or has a pretty serious illness. Lord knows I'm terrible when I'm sick. Just miserable.

But this is the U.S. Open. That's why Rafa Nadal strapped it on to play yesterday despite having knee surgery the day before. Gasquet is one of the elite players, one of the few who has a chance to win a major. What's French for, "Lean into it, big guy."

No Country For Old Men Red Band Trailer

Whoa. Follow the link and then use the George Bush info Film Drunk gives you to get past the age verification and then strap yourself to a damn chair.

U.S. Open Notes

So here I am rhapsodizing of NJ tennis and the greatness of Mike Sell and who do I see on Universal HD last night, sitting in John Isner's box while the 6'9" monster moves into the third round? Mike Sell! I wonder how many generations of UGA tennis greats will be with him if he beats Federer in the third round.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Suze Is Back

It's that time of year again: I couldn't hand with the KSK guys during the off-season, but now that we're close to kick-off, I'm back on the bandwagon with this awesome, awesome post:

Oh Tom, look! It’s a boy! We had a boy! Or, to be more accurate, I had a boy. You didn’t do jack shit. He’s mine. All mine. In fact, I just came up with his name. I think you’re gonna like it. It’s John Edward Thomas Moynahan.

That’s right. John Moynahan, you heartless bastard. No Brady for you. Oh, were you hoping to continue your name on through future generations? Well then, you better start riding Gisele bareback, if you aren't already, you negligent prick. You don’t even get the middle name to yourself! Ha! I’m making you share it. In fact, I put Edward first in the middle name pecking order, just to piss you off.

No man betrays the Bridge and gets away with it.

In fact, I’m gonna make sure he grows up to be nothing like you. He’ll be generous, and responsible. And you know what else he’ll be? Gay. That’s right. I’m gonna raise him to be super gay. Positively flaming. Know why he’s named John? It’s after Johnny Weir. I’m gonna dress him in girly clothes, make him watch hours of Bette Midler movies, and send him to performing arts school. He’ll be hitting London discotheques by age 11. Shit, he'll be gayer than Hugh Jackman. And there ain’t shit you can do it about, you lecherous fiend.

Oh, did you want him to play football? Sorry. No football in the Moynahan household. No, I think he’ll be playing lacrosse. Lots and lots of lacrosse. He won’t care about touchdowns and fly patterns, because he’ll be too busy prancing around a field twirling a basket on a stick. Suck on that.

Oh, there's more. I can't wait until Eli has his first 3-INT game . . .

U.S. Open Notes

Sad news all around from the Open yesterday. First, Daniela Hotchukova got sent home in the first round. Second, Maria Sharapova began what will be an inevitable march to the finals because she's playing nobody between now and then. Let's get this straight: There are five women with a good chance to win the Open. The top four of them (Venus, Serena, Henin, Ivanovic) are all on one side of the draw. Just how much money did Canon drop off at the USTA's offices to make sure that it was the #1 seed, Justine Henin, who has to battle through Serena and then either Venus or Ivanovic to just to reach the finals. The USTA even hid Jelena Jankovic on her side of the draw, just to make sure Sharapova didn't have to see her. It's kind of disgraceful.

The other sad news was that Justin Gimelstob played his final Open singles match last night, losing in very competitive, high-quality, straight sets to Roddick. This may not mean much to you, but Gimelstob was the last small connection from my high school days to professional sports.

My alma mater, Moorestown High, was something of a tennis powerhouse in the early '90s. Our big stud was a guy named Mike Sell. Sell was a fun kid--I sat next to him in computer lab for a semester--and the best athlete I've ever seen close up. He could do anything. He was probably the best basketball player in school, ditto soccer. He probably could have been the #1 runner on the cross country team and a high-level 800 runner, too. He was legendary at ping-pong.

Also, he was the best tennis player in the state by a mile. Mike went to the University of Georgia where, if memory serves, he lead them to a national championship. He went pro eventually and was ranked as high as somewhere in the vicinity of #133 in the world. Last I had heard, he had retired and was doing some coaching, first of Monica Seles and then with the USTA.

Anyway, Sell was ahead of me in school and shortly after he graduated, Gimelstob emerged on the NJ tennis scene being billed as "the next Mike Sell." All of us who were Sell partisans looked at him with some sourness because of this, but he became a dominant high school player, a fine college player, and a good pro, finding his way into the third round of a few majors. A big guy with soft hands, he played great serve-and-volley tennis and gave great interview. Tennis players are not the brightest subset of athletes; Gimelstob is a smart, articulate, charming guy.

Now that he's stepping away from the game, none of my contemporaries who I knew of in high school are left in professional sports. And I'm feeling pretty old.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Dragon Wars

If you haven't done so already, go check out the site for Esteemed Galley Advertiser D-War. The trailer looks kind of awesome, like Volcano meets Reign of Fire.

Monday, August 27, 2007


From Galley Friend S.B., the trailer for the greatest, saddest, docu ever made--Darkon.

I can't actually explain to you what this is. You have to see if for yourself. But I will say this: It's only the second saddest thing I've seen in the last three days.

Infantilization Watch

Here's the abridged version of the Bloom County Islam flap:

A popular comic strip that poked fun at the Rev. Jerry Falwell without incident one week ago was deemed too controversial to run over the weekend because this time it took a humorous swipe at Muslim fundamentalists.

The Washington Post and several other newspapers around the country did not run Sunday's installment of Berkeley Breathed's "Opus," in which the spiritual fad-seeking character Lola Granola appears in a headscarf and explains to her boyfriend, Steve, why she wants to become a radical Islamist. . . .

The Washington Post Writers Group syndicates "Opus," and the Post is the cartoon's home newspaper. The syndicate sent out an alert about the two strips in question, according to Writers Group comics editor Amy Lago.

Sources told that the strips were shown to Muslim staffers at The Washington Post to gauge their reaction, and they responded "emotionally" to the depiction of a woman dressed in traditional Muslim garb and espousing conservative Islamic views.

There was also considerable alarm over the strip at the highest echelons of The Washington Post Co., according to the sources. . . .

"The strip came in and I knew we would have to send out an alert to all the newspapers," Lago said. "I do that fairly regularly with materials that might pose issues for local areas. ... We knew that because it was a sex joke, it could raise issues. And there is another client that has issues with any Muslim depiction whatsoever."

The Aug. 19 "Opus" ended with a joke about the late Jerry Falwell. . . .

Lago said she didn't flag newspapers about that strip because she didn't think readers would misunderstand the humor. . . .

But she did alert newspapers about the Muslim-themed cartoon because there was a question about whether Muslim readers would be offended.

"I don't necessarily think it's poking fun [at Islam]," Lago said. "But the question with Muslims is, are they taking it seriously?"

The "Opus" strip in question takes swipes at Islamists — a term used for radical Muslims — as opposed to moderate Muslims, she pointed out, but there was concern that the distinction wouldn't be clear.

Why wouldn't it be clear? Are Muslim readers--like the "emotional" Muslim staffer at the Post incapable of making such distinctions? That sound an awful lot like prejudice?

Unless, of course, it's true. The story continues:

As far as whether the Post and the Post Writers Group syndicate treated content about conservative Christians differently than it did content about conservative Muslims, it certainly could be taken that way.

"It appears on the surface to be a double standard," Burford said, "but at the same time, the climate of the world probably informs their decision with how to go forward with it."

Delicately put, no? So either Muslims really are incapable of making rational, reasonable distinctions, or there is a cultural double-standard created by Western secularists to protect Muslims and assail Christians. Either case presents an enormous set of problems for the West.

A Life Well-Lived

One of my favorite priests, Monsignor Bernard Gerhardt, died recently. The Washington Post gave him a beautiful and fitting obit, including a perfect final line.

Monsignor Gerhardt, who had lived at the rectory of the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle since 1958, said the 7 a.m. Mass at the downtown church for many of those years. A practical man of regular habits, he was known among his friends and colleagues for his thoughtfulness, willingness to listen and reluctance to rush to judgment.

That trait was useful in his position on the Archdiocesan Tribunal, a type of church court where Catholics apply for annulments of marriage, where priests seeking to leave the ministry come before a judge and where issues of canon law are addressed and interpreted. His standard response was " 'Let me think about that,' " said the Rev. George Stuart, who worked with him.

Monsignor Gerhardt served on the tribunal for 37 years, holding a variety of positions including chief judge. . . .

Susan Gibbs, director of communications for the archdiocese, said that Monsignor Gerhardt would always handle the "weird" calls that she received, especially those following the 1973 release of the movie "The Exorcist," when some young women were convinced they were possessed and needed an exorcism.

"He had a way of listening to people and making them feel better," Gibbs said. When distressed people approached him on the street, he would instruct them on how to feel better: Go into a Catholic Church, make the sign of the cross with holy water and quietly say a couple of the prayers that he provided. And if it didn't work, they should call him. . . .

Asked which was the most memorable of all the communicants he has served, Monsignor Gerhardt replied, "Brooke Shields."

A native Washingtonian, Monsignor Gerhardt graduated from Gonzaga College High School. He spent two years in the Army Air Forces near the end of World War II, training as a gunner after officials determined that his eyesight was too poor for pilot's duties.

After serving in postwar Europe, he entered the seminary at St. Charles College in Catonsville, Md., and graduated from St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore in 1949. He completed his theology studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome and was ordained a priest in 1953. . . .

In 1970, he received the papal honor, chaplain to his holiness, which gave him the title of monsignor. In 1978, he was named a prelate of honor and in 2002, he was named a protonotary apostolic, a rare honor and the highest non-bishop rank possible for a priest in a diocese.

"There was no arrogance about him," said Monsignor Thomas Duffy, his friend since seminary days. "He dealt with people who had broken marriages, broken dreams really, and he just showed a great deal of compassion and understanding. . . . He was not looking to find people guilty of something but trying to help them out." . . .

During his long residency at the St. Matthew rectory, Monsignor Gerhardt kept a schedule so regular that it amazed his friends. He rose at the same time each day, arrived at the office the same time and left at the same time. He ate the same breakfast -- cereal, two poached eggs on toast -- six days a week, and he once calculated he had eaten 44,000 eggs. On the seventh day, he had waffles.

He was a wonderful man. Kudos to the reporter, Patricia Sullivan, for doing him justice.

Meet the New Economist . . .

. . . same as the old economist. The National Association of Realtors recently replaced their in-house hack economist David Lereah. For a sample of his work, click here.

NAR's new economist is Lawrence Yun. Today NAR released some data which looks, to the untrained eye, kind of grim:

sales of existing homes dipped by 0.2 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.75 million units.

The median price of a home sold last month slid to $230,200, down by 0.6 percent from the median price a year ago. It marked the 12th consecutive month that home prices have declined, a record stretch.

Amidst all of this, the number of sales in the Northeast rose 1 percent over the the June level.

So here's Yun's analysis of the big picture:

"The rise in sales and prices in the Northeast region on a fairly consistent basis in recent months is promising because this was the first region that underwent sales and price weakness after the boom. Now, it appears that it will be the first region to climb back, indicating that other regions could follow a similar path."

What I don't get is why the media generally treats "economists" such as Lereah and Yun as though they're respectable academics. Aren't these guys more like the "scientists" working for Big Tobacco in the '80s and '90s?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Trailer City

Is it wrong to have such high hopes for a movie?

Casey Affleck's voice is just about perfect here.

Nobody Is Above the Law

David Lat is a golden god. Click here to here a song, commissioned by the big law firm Nixon Peabody, for internal use only. Only now it's out. And it's like a bad '70s used car jingle done by Earth Wind & Fire.

Some things you just can't un-hear.

All of this courtesy Galley Friend A.W.

From the Studio that Brought You the Videogame Movie . . .

Today's front page of the Washington Post wins first place for least appealing headline of the week:

Elderly Staying Sexually Active

Was anyone really wondering if 80-year-olds were having sexual intercourse? Did you just now picture 80-year-olds having sexual intercourse? (Reminds me of the old punchline: "Whatever it was, it needed ironing." But what was the joke?)

Feel the Heat

Went to see Heat on the big-screen at the AFI's Silver theater last night with Galley Friend S.B. I saw Heat in a theater in December of 1995, and I've probably seen it 20 times since then on what have been reasonably nice AV setups at home. And there's just no comparison. To pick just one aspect: At home, I had come to think of the final shoot-out on the airfield as anti-climax--for me, the movie ended as soon as De Niro kills Waingro and spots Pacino walking toward his car outside the hotel. From there we know how this story ends. Vincent can hit or miss, Neil can't miss once. On the small screen, their final set-piece feels unnecessary.

But on the big screen, with the roar of the jet engines literally shaking your guts, it's a totally different experience. That scene, with the glaring, white, runway lights nearly blinding the audience and the eerie stillness between landings. It's fantastic. And Heat remains, for me, one of the best films of the '90s and high-up on my all-time list.

So while breaking bread before the movie, S.B. and I were discussing what our top 5 crime movies would be, crime being reasonably narrowly defined. The loose list we cobbled together went something like this:

Godfather I
Godfather II

From there we diverged. I'd go with some combination of Chinatown, Layercake (believe it, it's that good), L.A. Confidential, and The Maltese Falcon, depending on the day. Yes, this is waaaay too weighted toward recent movies and it ignores, say, all of Hitchcock, mostly because I think of those films as being somewhat apart from the crime genre.

Your thoughts?

Clark & Michael

So awesome.

Be honest, you've always wanted to see George Michael topless.

Also, there's a cameo by Buster.

Also, also, it's amazing.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

King on JKR

No surprise that Stephen King has a great essay on Harry Potter--EW is a much better magazine than it needs to be and their hiring of King to write the back page a couple of years ago was the best move in journalism since Si Newhouse handed the New Yorker over to David Remnick (peace be upon him).

Among other things, King understands, and with great charity, the difficulty inherent in reviewing books for a daily paper:

Due to the Kremlin-like secrecy surrounding the books, all reviews since 2000 or so have been strictly shoot-from-the-lip. The reviewers themselves were often great — Ms. Kakutani ain't exactly chopped liver — but the very popularity of the books has often undone even the best intentions of the best critical writers. In their hurry to churn out column inches, and thus remain members of good standing in the Church of What's Happening Now, very few of the Potter reviewers have said anything worth remembering. Most of this microwaved critical mush sees Harry — not to mention his friends and his adventures — in only two ways: sociologically (''Harry Potter: Boon or Childhood Disease?'') or economically (''Harry Potter and the Chamber of Discount Pricing''). They take a perfunctory wave at things like plot and language, but do little more...and really, how can they? When you have only four days to read a 750-page book, then write an 1,100-word review on it, how much time do you have to really enjoy the book? To think about the book? Jo Rowling set out a sumptuous seven-course meal, carefully prepared, beautifully cooked, and lovingly served out. The kids and adults who fell in love with the series (I among them) savored every mouthful, from the appetizer (Sorcerer's Stone) to the dessert (the gorgeous epilogue of Deathly Hallows). Most reviewers, on the other hand, bolted everything down, then obligingly puked it back up half-digested on the book pages of their respective newspapers.

On the question of JKR's actual writing:

Talent is never static, it's always growing or dying, and the short form on Rowling is this: She was far better than R.L. Stine (an adequate but flavorless writer) when she started, but by the time she penned the final line of Deathly Hallows (''All was well.''), she had become one of the finer stylists in her native country — not as good as Ian McEwan or Ruth Rendell (at least not yet), but easily the peer of Beryl Bainbridge or Martin Amis.

Fly, Eagles, Fly

In a move sure to help them capture their fifth-consecutive Cap Management Trophy, the Eagles cut Jeremiah Trotter yesterday.

You can say what you want about winning "Super Bowls" and the silly, phallic "Lombardi Trophy." That junk is fine for the dinosaurs. But we live in a new age of sports entertainment. And in this new era nobody--nobody!--manages the salary cap like the Philadelphia Eagles.

Just win, baby!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

TV News

In October, for the first time ever, you'll be able to get ALL of Twin Peaks on DVD. Because of a complicated rights dispute, the all-important trailer was never released on DVD, only on VHS, so if you were trying to bring someone to the series before, they arrived in essentially hour three, which is like being dropped into the wilderness with no map.

Also, BSG is coming to HD DVD. I'm just sayin'.

Also, also, TV Guide has a super-excellent interview with Kristen Bell. Too many highlights to list here, but as a sample, she went to Comic Con and rode the Surfliner from LA to SD and claims that no one ever recognizes her.

Did I mention she was at Comic Con?

Dreamcast Lives!

Despite the fact that Sega has discontinued all support for a last-gen system that few people ever adopted, two new games are now scheduled for release for the Dreamcast.

HD DVD vs. Blu-Ray (cont.)

Paramount and Dreamworks Animation, which had previously released movies on both Blu-Ray and HD DVD, have now gone HD DVD exclusive.

This is a pretty big story, I think, particularly because of what it means for the fall and Christmas. If HD DVD is going to win the format war, they need to create a big gap in set-top players in the near future, maybe by the middle of 2008, because sooner or later the Blu-Ray player prices will fall.

I've thought all along that price-point, not content, would drive this race. Come Christmas, if there's a sub-$200 HD DVD, and Shrek the Third, Transformers, and Blades of Glory are all HD DVD exclusive, then I think the Blu-Ray camp is in a precarious position and has to hope that overall adoption stays low.

And that's the big question: How many people really need to go hi-def player in the first place? At the bottom of the Variety story, Sony claims that there are 60 million HD households worldwide. That seems like a very, very small number to me. And if I was the HD DVD camp, that's what would worry me the most.

AICN has some good reporting with interesting comments from Paramount people:

Next, I talked with Alan Bell, the Chief Technology officer for Paramount. He's been in charge of the technological decisions and realities for Paramount, since the advent of DVD. I asked Alan if he was happy with this decision, or if this was something that was being forced upon them.

Alan then went into a very complicated series of statements about how HD DVD was the format that makes sense for Paramount. It's not just a matter of the amount of space that one format has over another. That's a gross simplification between the two formats. You see, HD DVD was built upon... not just the technology of DVD, but the programming software and other aspects. When we began talking about the cost issues - Alan stated it's very very complex, but that the replication facilities that have been built for the mass production of DVD - it's much cheaper and simpler to convert for HD DVD mass production.

Monday, August 20, 2007


One of the benefits of food writing is eating. (Yes, I did just link to myself.) This is often done during an interview. At Restaurant Daniel, I had a madeleine that would've impressed Proust. At the French Culinary Institute, I sampled a consommé with morels out of Jacques Pépin's bowl. That said, it wasn't all haute cuisine. At some point during my interview with Pépin, the old-timer talked about the basics:

I tell young chefs particularly ... to work in depth rather than spreading out. By this I mean that you can take five very modern dishes, like a lobster roll and a hot dog and a hamburger if you want and a BLT sandwich or whatever, it doesn’t matter. There is always a way of doing it better. For example, in Connecticut where I live, on Route 1, there is a small place called The Clam Castle in Madison. It just opened in the summer.... The guy does a lobster roll with, what do you call it, a Philadelphia roll, the flat roll--we actually invented it in Howard Johnson--the hot dog roll. So he browned them on each side gently in butter. There is a nice crust on the outside. He opened it, put like close to half a pound of lobster in good butter inside, salt, pepper, a bit of lemon juice. And Jean-Claude [Szurdak], after over 60 years as a chef, he’d [come] back to Connecticut and said, “Let’s go have a lobster roll.” He will remember that lobster roll. Likewise you will remember the greatest hamburger or hot dog or anything. You can always have a better mustard. You can always have a better bread. You can always have a better little thing. So, for a young chef, try to work in that direction, to do things better, rather than inventing a combination that no one has ever had.

Last Tuesday I went to The Clam Castle on Boston Post Road in Madison, Connecticut. The place is sort of a shack adorned with fishnets and harpoons. And for $12.99, I did in fact have one of the greatest lobster rolls ever. The meat was succulent and falling off the sides. (On the other hand, I would skip the clam fritters.) I also could not resist getting The Clam Castle t-shirt, which has printed on the back: "For Clamergencies, call 203-245-4911."

I think I'm having a clamergency right about now.

Bill Maher: Rebel!

So Bill Maher has made a movie about religion. To be released around Easter. The documentary, tentatively titled Religulous, sounds unbelievably brave. After all, you've seen the enormous price people in Hollywood pay for even beginning to question the pieties of religious zealots. This is why we have artists--to speak truth to the powerful.

Anyway, Maher had this to say about the movie, "We talked to everybody. We went everywhere. We went to every place where there is religion. We went to Vatican City. We went to Jerusalem. We went to Salt Lake City. And I think I’ve insulted everybody!"

Christians, check. Jews, check. Mormons, check. Yup, that's everybody! There's no other important religious group worth mentioning that maybe deserves some fun-poking and that might react badly to being ridiculed. And thank goodness the film will be released around Easter and not some other holy period.

Nobody has seen the movie yet. And maybe Maher really is an equal-opportunity offender. But if he is, I'll be pretty surprised. After all, why go after a religion where offended believers really might kill you when you can get the same thrill beating up on people who never push back.

Update: More bravery from Britain's entertainment industry--" BBC drops fictional terror attack to avoid offending Muslims."

All Hail The Film Drunk

Any site that aims to supplement/replace AICN can only be a good thing. Here comes Film Drunk.

Another Wrestling Death

This time it's one of the guys from Demolition, the WWF's Road Warrior knock-off.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Spadea, I ain't afraid a ya'

I'm reading Vince Spadea's Break Point and if you have any affinity for tennis you absolutely must track down a copy. (Which is harder than it sounds.) You may remember Spadea from this:

Actually, his rhymes aren't bad. The prose in the book is less good, but Spadea's observations are worth the effort. I'll just tease you with this:

It's 1994 and the 19-year-old Spadea is in Scottsdale playing a tournament. Agassi is there, too. They had met each other before Spadea had gone pro and in Scottsdale, Agassi took the young Spadea out to lunch.

At TGI Fridays.

At Fridays, Andre ordered a chicken sandwich and fried calamari, and I thought, "This guy's roots. He's worth eight million dollars and he's eating fried calamari at Fridays?"

Andre knew the waitress.

Want more Spadea rapping? Here it is:

Grown-up HP Dust Jackets

Galley Friend B.W. sends us this fantastic link: Dust Jackets to wrap your Deathly Hallows in in case you're too old or too cool to be caught reading HP in public. These are just two of them. (Click the images to enlarge.)


Man beheads rattlesnake.

Snake bites back.

As it says in the Bible, "Whack all ye serpents who slither upon their bellies."

The Rick Ankiel Story

This item caught the eye of Galley Friend L.B. the other day and the unbelievable payoff last night was that Ankiel homered to beat the Padres in his major league debut as a player.

It's a really amazing story and he's a pretty impressive guy. Good for him and for the Cardinals organization for sticking with him.
Lt. Ed Exley: How's it going to look on your report?

Det. Bud White: It'll look like justice.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Restless Leg Syndrome--A Cure Better than Not Having the Disease?

I saw an ad for a drug that treats "Restless Leg Syndrome" last night and I was already laughing before they got to the side-effect disclaimer:

patients . . . have reported problems with gambling . . . and increased sex drive. . . . If you or your family members notice that you are developing unusual behaviors, talk to your doctor.

The Greatness of Philadelphia

The country's best sportstalk station--610 WIP--is now broadcasting from . . . wait for it . . . the Tastykake Studios.

Why don't you feast . . . on this.

Ever wonder what it would be like to have dinner with Joss Whedon? Find out here.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

I am a RealtorTM

From Galley Friend J.E. comes this awesome piece about two of America's Finest:

Two Beverly Hills real estate agents indicted for their alleged participation in a mortgage fraud scheme have been suspended by their employer, Prudential California Realty, and ordered not to conduct any real estate transactions until the federal case has been resolved. . . .

Last week, the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles indicted the real estate agents, along with two licensed appraisers, on multiple counts of conspiracy, bank fraud and loan fraud.

The foursome allegedly participated in a complicated scheme that involved inflating the price of several homes in order to trick banks into funding mortgage loans that were hundreds of thousands of dollars higher than the properties actually cost, according to court documents.

If Babajian and Grasso are convicted, they also could be subject to disciplinary action by the California Department of Real Estate, including the revocation of their real estate licenses, according to state law.

Egads! Losing their real estate licenes! What is this, Saudi Arabia?

Run, Jason, Run

Saw the Bourne Ultimatum last night and have some thoughts about the movie and the series in general, but first a couple of observations about pre-movie trailers:

The Kingdom looks really, really promising. And I know it's Peter Berg directing, and Michael Mann is only producing, but from the footage they show it looks like DP Maruo Fiore is doing a heck of an impersonation of Dion Beebe.

And then there was the teaser for the NBC show Bionic Woman. (You can see it here.) I haven't been this excited about a new TV series in a long time. Not only is BSG demi-god David Eick running it, and its got Katee Sackhoff, but it's also got Miguel Ferrer, too. Ferrer is a real talent, one of those actors, like Scott Glenn, Peter Coyote, and even the '90s Fred Thompson, who adds value to every project, no matter how small their role. With Ferrer, it's because of that voice and his quiet, kind of dangerous intensity.

David Strathairn is one of those guys, too. I've loved him since Return of the Secaucus Seven and I can't think of a performance that I don't like ("Now, I sense you're on your best behavior, but that's all I'll give you.").

All of that said, he's miscast as Noah Vosen in Ultimatum. The role of CIA heavy played previously by Chris Cooper and Brian Cox, doesn't fit him because he's not heavy. A snake, maybe, but not heavy. Which is what this role needs to be in order to have a worthy adversary for Bourne.

As for the rest of the movie, it's okay, but I can't understand the critical raves, which have been nearly unanimous. (David Denby actually sounded like he was day-dreaming about Matt Damon. Can't blame him, I suppose.) Maybe critics were trying to make up for missing out initially on how very, very good the first two entries in the series were.

I like those first two, Identity and Supremacy a whole lot and as a pair of action movies will put them up against any other pair you want to name from the last 20 years. Ultimatum, however, left me a little cold.

For me, the movie had two problems, one structural, one technical. The structural problem was the rampant anti-Americanism. I hate being predictable, but here goes: I get that the Bourne movies are anti-imperial; I get that the U.S. government is doing shady stuff at Langley and that Treadstone is a scary program; but the first two movie handled these worldviews with some real artfulness. Ultimatum has none of that. We've got Noah Vosen running around New York shouting for assets and agents--even analysts--to kill, kill, kill--Bourne, journalists, other CIA officers, whoever. He does all of this with the goal not of protecting national security or even his bureaucratic turf, but simply, as he puts it, "to win." Win what? Oh, I get it, that's the point. What a silly imperialist I am.

In the course of trying to win for no reason, the CIA executes innocent people with black bags over their heads and uses bombs to blow up cars in the street. Any of this sound familiar? At all? Like from the recent past? There's something peculiar about a culture which, faced with a terrible enemy, makes movies depicting the enemy's wretched crimes, but ascribing that behavior instead to their native land.

Everything about Ultimatum screams conscientious objector--right down to the end where the totally neutered Pam Landy character whimpers about how this wasn't the CIA she signed up for and Bourne shows another asset just how fracked up all this nonsense really is. Again, it's not the premise that bothers me, I think, it's how ham-handedly it's realized. The Pam Landy character was fantastic in Supremacy--a super-tough, crafty infighter who obviously knows how to throw down and is comfortable trading punches with the big boys. Here she's reduced to moping around and playing peacemaker in the service of the film's broader message. When your agenda starts wrecking you characters, there's something wrong. And Ultimatum's message, screamed from every stedicam, is, "The America I love would close down Guantanamo Bay!"

And then there are the technical problems. Part of the power of the first two movies was the novelty of Bourne's physical presence. Watch him working his way through the U.S. Embassy in Switzerland in Identity, for instance: He's deliberate and decisive to the extreme. That's what makes him so interesting. In action scenes, he actually looks like he's moving slightly slower than the people around him. His physical edge comes from his ability to move deliberately and with no wasted motion. In Ultimatum that economy of force is gone. He runs here, he runs there, he looks like any other action hero. After he leaves London, he becomes such a generic action movie trope that he might as well be in The Last Boyscout.

(Also, and maybe I'm showing my age, I had trouble at times keeping the logistics of the action straight--who's punching what, which car is going where, etc. The other two movies are so spare and are cut so cleanly that that's never an issue.)

This all sounds more unhappy than it's meant to--again, I liked Ultimatum alright, although I probably won't need to buy the glorious HD DVD. (Identity and Supremacy were the first two discs I bought for the new player.) And I want to make sure to give Greengrass (and whichever screenwriter(s) and Julia Stiles) this credit: The scenes between Bourne and Nicki are handled so artfully and beautifully that you can barely believe you're in the middle of a summer action franchise. With this material, they understand that not all questions need answers and not all motivation needs to be explained with words. That's great stuff.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

All Hail Jane Espenson

The New Republic is in all kinds of trouble, but in the midst of this they've scored a really nifty coup--getting Jane Espenson to write for them:

It's difficult to sell a show with hard sci-fi or fantasy elements. It doesn't matter that the biggest summer movies (Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Transformers, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) and book (Harry Potter again) are sci-fi or fantasy, or even that "Heroes" was the highest-rated new show on TV. Try pitching a purely sci-fi/fantasy show with a spaceship or an elf and see how it goes over. Put an elf on your spaceship and you might never recover. Even the SCI FI Channel seems reluctant, as they look toward a post-"Battlestar Galactica" era, to dive too deeply into Asimovian or Tolkienish waters. Non-cable networks are even more wary. And their reasoning isn't terrible. Networks are still in the business of broadcasting, not nichecasting. You simply cannot make a hit show by attracting only viewers who also attend Comic-Con . . .

It's a nifty little piece and comes with this kicker--Espenson even has a blog. Yay!

I'll break both your arms...

A daring art heist in Nice nabs a Monet. Sounds kind of awesome.

I can't really say why, but I find stories about art theft incredibly comforting.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

What's Cooking?

Apologies for not having blogged for quite some time. Over the last few months I've been up to my eyeballs in food writing. As a result, I have no idea what is happening around me and get my news and pop culture fix from my colleague's postings. (There was a Transformers movie?) This also means I have nothing au courant to contribute, unless anyone cares to hear my take on The Devil Wears Prada and Miami Vice, the most recent movies I've seen. (Alright, fine: Anne Hathaway is so hot. I turned to the Mrs. and said, "Have you ever seen Havoc?" to which she replied, "No, but you keep mentioning it." Good thing she didn't roll a 12. Loved Vice but would like to more about the firearms used in the film--for instance, what sort of shotgun did Jamie Foxx use in the final shootout?)

The fruits of my labor, so to speak, won't be seen for a couple of weeks (but will ultimately appear in The Weekly Standard). There were whole chunks of interviews I was unable to fit, so if there are any foodies out there, I've copied below an excerpt of my interview with Anthony Bourdain, which you might find entertaining:

VM: Do you watch Hell's Kitchen by any chance?

AB: I'm good friends with Gordon [Ramsay]. I really loved
Boiling Point. I think Kitchen Nightmares in England, the British show he made, is really the best show of its kind. I was really hooked on the last season of Hell's Kitchen. This one is just awful. It's embarrassing. None of these bed-wetters would be a viable candidate for employment in any restaurant I've ever heard of.

VM: But the winner of this show is going to run a restaurant.

AB: They couldn't run a popsickle stand. And it is immediately apparent to anyone that they larded the group with—they picked them for purposes of drama. It's so juiced for conflict and drama. You don't see the food. I kind of feel bad for Gordon who is extremely cool. I see this as kind of like, you know, a Mario and Alton Brown. These are three really, really smart, incredibly talented guys who are capable of doing so, so much better. It's amazing how much good Mario and Alton have done and how many good shows Ramsay has done. But I think it really caught up with him this year. He looks silly up there.

VM: How bothered were you on the show by Aaron, the large, 48-year-old Asian chef who was constantly crying?

AB: If he started crying his first hour, I'm saying, "Listen, you know, I'm real sorry things haven't worked out, clean out your locker, and get the fuck out." It's an alternate reality show. It's not a reality show. Again it suffers by comparison with
Top Chef, which I think is an excellent show. I'm on it, by the way, I'm one of the judges. But I really enjoyed doing the show, I really enjoy watching the show. I think it's fair. I think it's all about the food. For every success of a dumb competition show, a reality show, it opens the door for somebody to do something better. I mean, if it wasn't for all the dumb shows on Food Network, I probably wouldn't have one on Travel.

Trainwreck Alert

How psyched are you to see Shortcut to Happiness? I know I'm pretty riled up.

You may not have heard of the movie, which is finally leaking out into theater(s) this weekend, even though it stars Alec Baldwin and Anthony Hopkins and Jennifer Love Hewitt. Or maybe you heard about it by its former title "The Devil and Daniel Webster" Or maybe, you heard about it a few years ago, and just forgot. It was filmed back in 2001. It's no Ishtar or Heaven's Gate or Town & Country, but in its own way, Shortcut to Happiness is a perfect little distillation of failure.

Once upon a time, this was a high-profile project. Adapted from Archibald Macleish's play Scratch, The Devil and Daniel Webster was a remake of the 1941 film of the same name and was to be Baldwin's directorial debut. He would star with the venerable Hopkins and the hot Jennifer Love Hewitt. They began filming in early 2001 and then . . . disappeared. Investors went bankrupt and the film was in such terrible shape that it was put in the vault.

Eventually, a company called the Yari Film Group ambled up and bought the rights to distribution. Yari edited the cut so drastically that Baldwin took his name off of the project--you'll see the director credit listed as "Harry Kirkpatrick." And now, after almost seven years, the movie is being released into six markets in a handful of theaters.

If you see it showing in your town, don't miss it.

The Triumphant Return of Choose Your Own Adventure

Galley Friend S.B. is nuts for this: A special DVD version of Return to House on a Haunted Hill, where you choose the outcomes as you watch.

Color me skeptical. I'm still scarred by the Clue movie and its three alternate ending gimmick--pay full price to watch the same movie again, but with 10 minutes of different footage at the end!

I was such a sucker. Damn you Professor Plumb!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

All Hail Steve Boriss!

Galley Reader A.K. sends us this link to a new-ish blog The Future of News. Its written by Steve Boriss and it's definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Realtors, Mortgage Companies, and Malpractice

I often hear, particularly from my conservative friends, that the housing bubble is just a symptom of the market, that there's nothing intrinsically evil about it, that realtors are just doing their jobs, ditto mortgage houses, that all a bubble does is separate fools from their money, etc. There is a certain free-market comfort to these sentiments. Nonetheless, they're bosh.

The current bubble was built by realtors and mortgage operations giving loans to people who had no (financial) business buying property. These people have begun to default at an alarming rate, but the point is that this spending spree doesn't just wreck the individual who gets foreclosed, it hurts everyone in the market, because those soon-to-be-foreclosures drove up the price for everybody else.

Still, my conservative friends argue, it wasn't like the realtors and mortgage people were committing malpractice or anything. Maybe, maybe not. However they seem to have acted at least close enough to ambulance-chasing trial lawyers to have earned public scorn.

To wit, we have this fantastic story about a woman in the D.C. suburbs finding a lost wallet and using it to two mortgages (two!) to buy a $419K townhouse with no money down.

Yup, that's some darn fine due diligence there. And make no mistake, this sort of thing hurts everybody. Except, of course, the realtor! Bet they didn't have to give back their commission.

F-22 Goodness

Galley Friend B.W. sends us this eye-poppping footage of an F-22 doing what looks like coming to a complete stop in mid-air, then somersaulting around. Seriously, you can't believe this.

Click on the "Daily Videos" link, then on the little tab on the right with what looks like a page on it until you can select "Visitor Submitted." Then choose the "F-22 Raptor Pilot Coming to Oshkosh." It's a pain in the neck, but totally worth it.

Oh, and unless I'm mistaken, B.W. was frackin' there!