Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hey, This Ain't Hooters!!

As part of it's effort to promote their new Pike's Place Roast, Starbucks Coffee replaced their well-known green logo (below right) with a retro logo from the 1970's that featured a topless mermaid (or siren) as shown on left.

However, the new image (unlike the one below) was tweaked to be more modest and has the siren's hair covering her bare breasts.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Hide in Plain Sight

It's Baltar! He's the twelfth Cylon!!

That's the John the Baptist-like epiphany I had while watching last night's Battlestar Galactia, "Escape Velocity."

Appropriately, it occurred during Baltar's "Sermon on the Mount" speech as he preached about the Cylon god.

From the very beginning, Baltar's had "visions" of Six in his head that no one else could see.

At the time, I chalked it up to his own guilt induced post-traumatic stress syndrome due to the active role he took in the annihilation of his own planet.

However, visions turn out to be a characteristic exhibited in three known Cylons. Galen Tyrol Saul Tigh, and Six all have suffered the distraction of hallucinations. Furthermore, "the four" discovered that they were Cylons because they couldn't get the song "All Along the Watchtower" out of their heads.

Because BG tries to stay grounded in the logic of it's own internal reality, the simplest explanation for these strange, almost supernatural, occurrences is that it's a Cylon thing. This leads me to conclude that Baltar's one of them.

Of course, the good news is that finding out whoever the twelfth Cylon is, while a fun academic exercise, really doesn't matter to me. Whatever happens, I'm just enjoying the ride.

In it's final season, BG is doing a good job of wrapping up all the loose plot threads at a pace that doesn't seem to distract from the stories themselves.

The Sopranos, because of it's huge success (both critically and culturally), sometimes exhibited a self-awareness of the audience. BG, to say it mildly, has never had that problem.

I was worried that the relevation of the four Cylons being with the fleet all the time would turn out to be a weak "gimmick." But they've handled that quite well.

And, as usual, the politics of BG defy partisanship.

In "Escape Velocity," Laura Roslin, BG's analog for George Bush, is trying to enact tough security policies that she sees as necessary keep a lid on hostilities between certain religious extremist factions in the fleet.

Mischievously, Roslin, as characterized throughout the show, is no Neo-con. She was a teacher for goodness sake. Yet, as president, she's had to make some "pragmatic" decisions that, in many cases, went against her own philosophical grain.

Apollo, who has the luxury of NOT being the one where the buck stops, is free to rail against Roslin's often draconian policies on moral grounds. Sure, he's got a point. But he's just so damn self-righteous about it.

MOST of the time, when television shows engage in moral debates (think ANY episode of Boston Legal), there seems to be a clear cut winner. Sure, they'll toss the other side a bone to appear "even-handed." But, one can usually figure out where the writer's are coming from.

In BG, the morality play, like real life, is multi-faceted and often ambiguous.

If Roslin is Bush, than Kara Thrace (Starbuck) has become BG's metaphor for the anti-war movement.

"We're going the wrong way!" she shouts, each time the fleet, implementing Roslin's orders, makes a jump that apparently takes them in the opposite direction of Earth.

Starbuck perfectly epitomizes the frustration many in the real world have felt as they helplessly watch the United States get more entrenched in what they see as the quagmire of Iraq.

Yet, since Adama has given her a chance to find the "right way," she doesn't seem to have any answers and comes across as rather bitchy.

As I said earlier, call me heretical, but in the end, exactly what happens isn't important. It's the manner in which the gospel according to Battlestar Galactica is being told that I'm enjoying.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Every Day is Earth Day!

Relax. Everything's fine!

From Yesterday's Edmunton Sun:

No heaven on Earth Day - Wintry blast cools global warming fervour

So much for global warming. Earth Day festivities went ahead despite the blast of frigid weather yesterday.

Vendors and presenters from various eco-friendly groups, including Bullfrog Power, CO2 Reduction Edmonton and the local solar energy society, crammed into a lone tent in Hawrelak Park after a blizzard forced them to abandon their original locations.
Organizers crammed over 40 groups in a space that would normally be occupied by half that number. Presenters' booths were initially planned to have been spread out between at least five tents, with far larger displays.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Leave 'Em Wanting More

As a teenager, the Dean Martin celebrity roasts marked the start of my cynical side regarding "show business" when I realized that the shots of celebrities reacting to their fellow roasters were often strategically edited to create the impression that everyone on the dais found all of proceedings hysterically funny.

It was as if the Dean Martin producers thought that the audience would unquestioningly accept the fact that Nipsey Russell could be reduced to tears and uncontrollable laughter by a routine Rich Little performance.

I did notice that they didn't have to resort to this tactic very often during a Don Rickles performance. He was ALWAYS the funniest one there. That's understandable given that insulting people was his shtick.

In fact, a Dean Martin roast that didn't have Don Rickles, was a letdown similar to a John Ford movie without John Wayne (only more so).

That and his Tonight Show appearences still hold a very special spot in my memories.

So, I was sincerely excited about the Landis directed HBO documentary, Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project (2007), that mixes live recordings from Rickles' Las Vegas act, interviews with various celebrities (including Rickles himself), and clips from Rickles' work in television and movies.

A valiant effort, and seemingly a labor of love, the main problem I had with Mr. Warmth, like the Martin roasts, came down to editing. Landis tries to cram so much in that he is forced cut away from scenes just as they're getting good.

For instance, there's clip from a Rickle's appearance on an old Tonight Show where Frank Sinatra was the guest host. Sinatra asks Rickles who his favorite singer is and without missing a beat Rickles replies Dick Haymes. I'd love to have seen more of that interchange, but Landis cuts to something else.

All too often, that something else Landis cuts away to is not quite as interesting or funny as what he's just left to take us there. If I have a chance to see vintage footage of Don Rickles and Frank Sinatra jousting on air, who cares what comedian Bobby Slayton has to say?

On the other hand, Penn Jillette, comic magician, makes an interesting comparison between Don Rickles and The Sex Pistols, yet gets only one short appearance. John Stamos and Bob Saget, who both hardly talk about Don Rickles, end up with MORE onscreen time.

The dilemma Landis faced was understandable. In addition to segments of Rickles' stage act, old movie and television clips, Landis has to juggle a daunting list of "commentators" who make an appearance in Mr. Warmth. Including: Clint Eastwood, Robert De Niro, Richard Lewis, Sarah Silverman, Bob Newhart, Whoopi Goldberg, Steve Lawrence, Robin Williams, Roseanne Barr, Christopher Guest, Billy Crystal, Regis Philbin, Sidney Poitier, Kathy Griffin, Ed McMahon, James Caan, Joan Rivers, Jimmy Kimmel, Harry Shearer, Chris Rock, and Martin Scorsese.

But that doesn't excuse Landis from often making the wrong choices.

Fortunately, the DVD release of Mr. Warmth has extra material that includes some of the things that should have made it to the finished piece. Such as James Caan explaining how he channeled Don Rickles for his characterization of Sonny in The Godfather. Why that didn't make the final cut is a mystery. There's also a neat "extra" where Caan talks about working with Howard Hawks, John Wayne and Robert Mitchum on El Dorado (which, of course, was correctly omitted from the actual documentary).

I also wish Landis had spent a bit more time exploring the question of why Rickles can get away with a persona that, on paper, is so politically incorrect. Chris Rock touches on that idea when, while commenting on Rickles' act, says "of course, it's offensive...unless you're into comedy."

Mr. Warmth was informative, but it could have dug a bit deeper. Mr. Warmth was funny, but it could have been funnier.

Landis just needed to make up his mind.

The irony is that the best part of Mr. Warmth was seeing Rickles make the rounds on various talk shows promoting it.

In March of this year, he made a killer of an appearance on David Letterman's show with Denzel Washington (who elected to remain an extra segment just for the thrill of it).

The clips of that performance are proof that even at eighty, Rickles still has it.

Part 1:

Part 2:

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Friday, April 18, 2008

It's Not Me, It's Them!

Well, at least I now know it's nothing personal.

Last week, I neglected to submit an entry for the New Yorker "Cartoon Caption Contest #140."

However, my friend did. It was a decent submission:
"No cover charge if we get there by Thursday!"
True to form, the New Yorker's judges carved a trail of mediocrity in their selections:

  • "Forget Oregon. I'm going to Vegas." dull

  • "There's red carpets in them thar hills!" corny

  • "Indian casino. I'd say Comanche." huh? that doesn't even make sense!

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Euros for Lambs

Film star and animal rights advocate, Bridget Bardot gets fined a fourth time for "inciting racial hatred." This time because of her remarks criticizing followers of Islam for slaughtering sheep to mark the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha.

I guess being "progressive" depends on who's mutton is being gored.

From Reuters:
Brigitte Bardot on trial for Muslim slur

PARIS (Reuters) - French former film star Brigitte Bardot went on trial on Tuesday for insulting Muslims, the fifth time she has faced the charge of "inciting racial hatred" over her controversial remarks about Islam and its followers.

Prosecutors asked that the Paris court hand the 73-year-old former sex symbol a two-month suspended prison sentence and fine her 15,000 euros ($23,760) for saying the Muslim community was "destroying our country and imposing its acts".

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Power to the People

An interesting take on blogging and "fair use" from today's Detroit Free Press:

QUESTION: I want to put a Free Press article and photo on my blog. Do I need permission?

ANSWER: We are pleased if you put a link in your blog or Web site to an article on However, you cannot use Free Press stories or photos on your site, your blog or in an e-newsletter. Free Press content is protected by copyright law.

According to the U.S. Copyright Office -- online at -- "There is no specific number of words, lines or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission."

Hmm...I wonder if the Freep got permission from the U.S. Copyright Office for the quote?
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Monday, April 07, 2008

A Not So "Happy Meal"

The New Yorker savages my entry in their 139th Cartoon Caption Contest.

I thought my caption was a shoe-in for the top three this week:
"Dr Livingstone, I presume."
My biggest fear was that some other web-junkie would get to the site and submit it before I could.

However, it turns out that The New Yorker judges really weren't looking for "funny" in picking this week's "winners."

Maybe I'm REALLY bitter, but each one gets lamer as the list progresses:
  • "If he wasn't an internist he is now."
  • "Tasted kind of mediciney."
  • "I still have room for a second opinion."

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Happy Birthday DH

From Wikipedia:

On April 6, 1973, Ron Blomberg of the New York Yankees became the first designated hitter in Major League Baseball history, facing Boston Red Sox right-handed pitcher Luis Tiant in his first plate appearance. "Boomer" Blomberg was walked.

Naturally, the result of the first season of the DH was that the American League posted a higher batting average than the National League, something which has remained consistent to this day.

...and now you know the REST of the story.
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Heston Noir

Fuck George Clooney.

I know I shouldn't admit it, but his lame attempt at humor when stating that Charlton Heston had been absent-mindedly repeating the announcement of his Alzheimer's diagnosis has prevented me from appreciating any Clooney movie since.

I realize it was Heston's later conservative politics, especially his advocacy of gun rights as President of the NRA (a cynical PR move on that organization's part) which drew the ire of the new Hollywood stars. Many who seem to forget that Heston marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. too.

That said and for what it's worth, as a gun rights supporter, I cringed whenever I saw the elder Heston stumping for the cause. Sure, Michael Moore is a shameless self-promoter (and all around shit). But Heston took a bit too long to figure out that HE was the butt of a joke at the end of Bowling for Columbine.

Much has been written about Heston playing "larger than life" characters. Moses and Ben Hur of course. He also saved scores from disaster in Airport '75 and Earthquake. Even his role in The Omega Man has a Christ-like feel to it.

However, I generally appreciated the darker, more mortal and down to earth side of Heston's personna as exhibited in Touch of Evil, Planet of the Apes (how much more "down to earth" can you get?) and Soylent Green.

I wonder if George Clooney would have the guts to risk his "high-minded" film image to play the less than heroic characters Heston did in each of those films.

For instance, in Touch of Evil, as Mexican narcotics investigator Vargas, he's so consumed by the pursuit of corrupt cop Hank Quinlan, that he's oblivious to the torments suffered by his wife. At the end, Vargas knowingly engages in the same sort of questionable evidence gathering he despises in Quinlan to trap him.

By the way, regarding Touch of Evil, the New York Times obit incorrectly stated:
Another legendary Hollywood director, Orson Welles, cast him as a Mexican narcotics investigator in the thriller 'Touch of Evil"
Actually, it was HESTON, who had already been cast in the movie, that convinced Touch of Evil producers to give Welles the director's gig. Of course, one could argue that ultimately Heston didn't do him any favor as Touch of Evil effectively finished Welles' Hollywood career.

There's no scene more satisfying for me than when Vargas single-handedly mops the floor of a seedy border-town bar with bunch of sneering Mexican gangsters. It's shot in a style that I suspect influenced a similar scene in Michael Cimino’s Year of the Dragon with Mickey Rourke.

Then there’s the other part that Heston is most widely remembered for, the cynical, world-weary Taylor in Planet of the Apes.

When Tim Burton remade Planet of the Apes, he had Mark Wahlberg play Captain Davidson as the type of gung-ho guy that Heston’s Taylor would have mocked relentlessly in the original.

The only time Taylor laughs during the entire movie is AT one of his fellow astronauts who, in some futile attempt at patriotism, has planted a small American flag in the ground.

The irony for Taylor in Planet of the Apes is that one so down on humanity is ultimately forced to defend it in the face of the vicious ape oppressors.

At the end, when it's revealed that he's been home the entire time, Taylor is mad at his fellow humans for blowing themselves up. BUT, I’ve always felt that he was also more than a little bit pissed at himself for looking stupid after realizing that the apes he had argued with earlier about mankind were right all along.

Forget about the god-like characters who could part waterways and land crippled aircraft, it was the everyday bastards that Heston played for which I will remember him most.
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Saturday, April 05, 2008

Maul Madness: Round One Results

Round 1 results for Maul Madness 2008:

Region A
Rescue Me destroys the The Factor as Bill O'Reilly refuses to shut up and let his guests talk

Region B
The Office ends up on top in a close one against Soup

Winner of Region C faces winner of Region D

Region C
Gotta go with the Tuetils and American Chopper against the waning cop show The Shield

Region D
South Park routes Lost in a easy victory as the latter can't find it's way

Winner of Region E faces winner of Region F

Region E
The substance of Meet the Press over the vacuous and lame Law and Order

Region F
When legend becomes fact, print the legend. Mythbusters over Hardball with Chris Matthews

Winner of Region G faces winner of Region H

Region G
Battlestar Galactica easily whips Simpson-wanna be Family Guy

Region H
Simpsons pwns the mediocre self love fest of Keith Olbermann's Countdown

For Round Two, the victor in Region A goes up against winner of Region B

Region A:
Rescue Me vs. The Office

Region B:
American Chopper vs. South Park

Region C winner meets Region B winner

Region C:
Meet the Press vs. Mythbusters

Region D:
Battlestar Galatica vs. The Simpsons

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Everyone Was Capoeira Fighting

(posted as part of the 2nd Annual White Elephant Blogathon at Lucid Screening)

Only The Strong - 1993
Diretor: Sheldon Lettich
Starring: Mark Dacascos

Egads! Where do I start.

One of reasons that West Side Story seems dated today is the way it used dancing to symbolize gang fighting. Somehow, "jazz hands" just don't have the same street cred anymore.

In Only The Strong, a 1993 effort directed by Sheldon Lettich and starring Mark Dacascos, dancing isn't just used as a metaphor for fighting, dancing IS the way these thugs fight.

Our main character, Louis Stevens (Mark Dacascos), a former Green Beret (they're always former Green Berets aren't they) returns home from a stint in Brazil to find the old neighborhood in shambles.

A tattered American flag visible behind him, Stevens' old high school teacher and mentor, "Kerrigan" (that's how he's listed in the credits), struggles to explain Darwinism to a bunch of disinterested pupils who are too well aware of how the process of natural selection works (hence, the movie's title).

Stevens, who has mastered Capoeira, a rhythm-based Brazilian martial art form, gets thrown into the mix by beating up a local drug king pin on the high school playground. Seeing the students respond to Louis, Kerrigan decides to enlist him to help clean up the neighborhood.

The school board, portrayed as a mostly ineffectual bunch, approve of an experimental "boot-camp" where ten of the toughest "lost causes" are culled from the student body to be cured by the gift of Capoeria. Kerrigan and Stevens turn an old firehouse into a martial arts studio.

Even by nineties standards the ethnically diverse bunch don't seem ALL that tough. In fact, it appears that the worst infractions of one of the delinquents is that he plays his oversized boom box too loud.

Of course, this boom box comes in handy when Stevens incorporates it into his lessons that are accompanied by the tune "Zoom, Zoom, Zoom."

I hate to be nasty, but it turns out that Only the Strong's most important contribution to our culture is as the source for a Mazda ad campaign theme song.

To be fair, no one watched Fred Astaire movies for the drama off the dance floor. Likewise, nothing Bruce Lee ever did that didn't involve punching, kicking and nunchucks was really all that interesting.

So, I won't be overly critical of Only the Strong's narrative. Suffice to say, there isn't much of one.

That leaves me with just the fighting to judge.

I appreciate the physical talent required to practice this martial art form. And while I'd never say this to the face of a Capoeira master, the fighting in Only the Strong is quite weak.

I'll give them credit for NOT resorting to the sort of ridiculous floating in the air on wires trick that ruined the fight scenes for me in (take your pick) Charlie's Angels, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Kill Bill. The Matrix is the exception that proves the rule because the internal logic of it's premise ALLOWED for that sort of gravity defiance.

I'm also not a fan of the over choreographed battles in current films like the Bourne series, which have always struck me as fake because of their very perfection (plus the fact that I've never bought into Matt Damon as a tough guy).

For my money, two of the VERY best fight scenes in cinema was the hand-to-hand struggle between Sean Connery and Robert Shaw in From Russia with Love and near the end of Enter the Dragon where Bruce Lee beats up henchmen who ambush him in the command center. Both are well planned out, yet seem spontaneous.

Only the Strong suffers from the fact that, in addition to never using their guns, the bad guys politely wait their turn to get their licks in on the hero. Thus, giving Louis the chance to thump his way out of it.

Years ago, my uncle (a tough ex-sailor) and I went to see Billy Jack (a movie about a Green Beret who vents his frustration at the establishment with frequent displays of violent pacifism). I can still remember my uncle laughing and telling me the story about getting jumped by five guys who, for every single punch he threw, hit him with ninety-nine.

The other problem with the fights as staged in Only the Strong, is that the combatants seldom get close enough to actually hit each other. The battles consist of a series of random back flips and gratuitous cartwheels that occasionally get broken up by actual punches.

I've included a YouTube of the Only the Strong's final showdown.

I'll save you from having to watch the previous hour and a half and let you judge for yourself if it's any good.

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