Saturday, October 29, 2005

Don't Cry For Me, Filipinos

There are many people’s lives worth remembering.

A few are even worth analyzing in depth. Maybe transformed into print or into paint. Perhaps even re-enacted on the screen or on the stage.

I can think of a few that have worked well. The play and movie “Amadeus,” for example. And Robert Downey, Jr.’s “Chaplin” was worthwhile. “Troy” was a fun movie—and we don’t even know if Achilles actually existed.

But there is one play the world truly does not need. And yet we are getting it anyway, courtesy of DJ Fatboy Slim (remember “Praise You?”) and David Byrne, formerly of the Talking Heads (remember “Burning Down the House?”).

Believe it or not, these two are writing a musical about none other than Imelda Marcos, former first lady of the Philippines and notorious owner of way, WAY too many shoes.

The play is going to kick off next March in Australia—a country/continent known for class. In the 1980s, we had Paul Hogan grabbing other men’s crotches. The 1990s brought us Aussie Michael Hutchence’s auto-erotic hanging suicide (coroner’s report notwithstanding). Recently, Russell Crowe, who apparently was pissed that the Sydney Olympics did not have a phone-throwing competition, decided to start the sport himself.

What has inspired these two to create this play? After all, Ferdinand and Imelda were booted out of office in 1986—it seems odd that now is the time to fill the growing cultural void of quality stage depictions of the spouses of deposed East Asian strongmen.

Call me crazy … but it seems to me the theater-going public would be better served by a focus on people that have actually impacted the world in the past decade. Here are a few suggestions:

1. A one-man show tying the most popular actor in Germany with that nation’s storied philosophical tradition: “Hasselhoff Reads Hegel.”

2. The story of the George W. Bush presidency … from an S&M angle: “Spank Me and Call Me Bush.”

3. A tale of love between a young man named Ashton and an older woman: “Mommy, Can I Have Some Moore?”

Unlike the Imelda Marcos play, at least one of these would be a shoe-in for a Tony.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Something Is Rotten in the State of Denmark

If my high school literature class and my occasional forays to the theater have served me well, it was in “Hamlet” that Shakespeare wrote the memorable line, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” And if he was incorrect about it then, he is being vindicated in late 2005.

Denmark does not normally hit the radar screen of average Americans. It hardly comes up for students of foreign affairs.

To be honest, even many Scandinavians forget that it’s there.

But all of that has changed. The Danes are wound up in a tale of royalty and international intrigue—and possibly something far more nefarious—because Australia is giving a first edition of the “Snugglepot and Cuddlepie” children’s book to the Danish crown prince and his wife as gift for the birth of their child.

According to Prime Minister John Howard, the 1918 copy of the “classic” Australian book is an “appropriate Australian gift” to the Danish prince and his Tasmanian-born wife.

At least that is what he would have us believe. My research suggests that this gift, this shameless attempt to publicize an old children’s book, may actually be the harbinger of a heinous plot.

Let’s start with the name of the book itself: “Snugglepot and Cuddlepie.” Does this sound like a great book for kids? The lead characters clearly nuzzle with marijuana—and hump pastries, à la Jason Biggs in “American Pie.”

Some may claim that these names are not really subtle references to such activities and try to convince us that the plot of the book is innocent and heart-warming. Carefully placed news reports, for example, say that the book actually does not promote drug use or strudel screwing but instead relates the adventures of babies living in gumnuts.

Yes, that says “gumnuts.”

Now I’ve heard of many different kinds of nuts—most of them from Christopher Guest’s character in “Best in Show”—but “gumnut” sounds more like one of Michael Jackson’s tricks to get boys to play with his beanbag, if you know what I mean.

So we have established that this cannot really be a good book. What is the real story behind this gift?

Some voices are saying that this present, in fact, may be the first step in a Canberra-Copenhagen conspiracy to corrupt the world’s children via bad Aussie literature, enabling Denmark to reassert Viking supremacy over Europe and Australia to play a global role befitting its status as a whole continent.

Simply put, the Danes want to pillage their neighbors like in days of long ago. Reports speak of a palpable gold lust in the early winter air of Denmark.

It cannot be a coincidence that the name of the Danish royal family’s founder, the Viking king Old Gorm, is an anagram for “MOR GOLD.”

From the Australian side, motivations also abound. It does not take a CSI team to notice that the land down under is not exactly dominating the world’s children’s book market. This PR offensive will increase sales of “Snugglepot and Cuddlepie”—fulfilling Australians’ “Harry Potter” envy.

And increased sales of this book will lead children worldwide toward idle lives of drug-doing and pie-poking, thus weakening other societies and allowing the Aussies to create an empire of their own—fulfilling Australians’ “Why Did Other English-Speaking Countries Get To Invade Places and We Didn’t” envy.

Of course, I could be wrong about all of this secret plan stuff.

Maybe the Australians are just giving the Danish royal couple a really rotten gift.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Warning: Rocky Road Ahead

I wonder sometimes what happened to some of the box office champions of the past few decades.

Just sometimes. Like, for example … on long plane rides while two smelly Indian girls jump around on the seats right in front of me, screaming back and forth at each other and throwing everything they can get their hands on and spitting food and drink over the seat backs onto my laptop … that’s when I'll come up with ANYTHING to think about other than torture, murder, and the “SPLAT!” a small child would make from 36,000 feet.

Not that such a thing would actually happen. Now excuse me for a moment while I grab a towel.

OK, much better. Now where was I? Ahhh, yes, musing on the “Where Are They Now” file of big Hollywood actors.

We know the whereabouts of Arnold Schwarzenegger—he is in California, with a tall, dark-haired beauty on his arm, currently on the edge of his political life. And we know the whereabouts of Tom Cruise—he is in California, with a tall, dark-haired beauty on his arm, currently on the edge of sanity.

But some other big draws of that era seem to be on the ropes in recent years.

Take Harrison Ford, who has not had a substantial movie since the mid-90s. Or Steven Seagal, who has not had a substantial movie since the early 90s. Or Pauly Shore, who has not had a substantial movie. These guys simply do not pack the punch they did back in the day.

Earlier this month, however, we received news about another actor who has not been delivering the knockout blows he used to in Hollywood. And maybe he is desperate, because Sylvester Stallone has signed on for “Rocky VI.”

A few things popped into my head upon hearing this news (as things are wont to do).

For one, consider the “art imitating life” basic plot: The retired Rocky will come out of retirement. Yes, it’s déjà vu all over again. This time, the aging boxer supposedly tries some low-profile matches in Philly but gets sucked into a big-time fight against a reigning champ. Hmmm, so Balboa has a taste of the ring in some small fights and ends up in the big match … right after Stallone got a bit of attention from a boxing TV show and decided to make another Rocky movie. Sounds like (yet another) mid-life crisis for the Italian Stallion—or, I should say, for both of the Italian Stallions.

I also could not help but think about the box office success, or more accurately the lack thereof, that this new film can expect. After all, “Rocky V” only made around $40 million, some $80 million LESS than its predecessor.

Not that US box office receipts always reflect relative quality. As Americans, we live in shame every day that the comically schmaltzy “Titanic” remains our country’s top grossing movie of all time. “The Empire Strikes Back” is the least-grossing film in the “Star Wars” series, and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” brought in more cash than “The Godfather.”

Even so, to put it plainly, neither Stallone nor the Balboa character that excited audiences so much in the 1970s and into the 1980s have the draw they used to.

Then, after these thoughts faded, my mind latched onto something I had overlooked for years. His name is Sylvester. SYLVESTER. The only other celebrity I can think of named Sylvester is the cat from those old TV commercials.

Stallone had better create one hell of a film and fight damn well for a 50+ year old—or else people will start calling this Sylvester a pussy, too.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

I am going away.

No, no ... not permanently. Far from it; just for one week. So stop the weeping. And the rejoicing.

Particularly the rejoicing--that kind of hurts.

While I am traveling for the next week, I will resist my base urges and will not blog and drive. Or blog and fly. Or blog and walk. Whatever I do for the next seven days, it will not involve posting blog entries.

So dive into my archives if you would like to read smart-ass perspectives on politics and pop culture. Or get your ass outside and enjoy the fall weather (northern hemispherians, that is.) Write some gems of your own for me to enjoy upon my return, and leave a comment here if I haven't seen your blog yet. I'll check your site out in a week. Really.

And I will have plenty of thoughts to share upon my return.

Until then ... be safe.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Best Rock Debut Albums

Staying on the music theme ... another list! No commentary this time--just my astute opinion, submitted for your approval (or mockery).

Same criteria as the last music list--influence, skill, listenability, and endurance--with a strong nod to innovation as well. One note: "Supergroups," made up of well-established members of other groups, are not eligible ... so even if they would make the list otherwise (doubtful), you will not see Asia or GTR here.

So here are the top 25 rock debut albums, judged by me.

25. Bad Company, Bad Company
24. Queen, Queen
23. The Cars, The Cars
22. Steely Dan, Can't Buy a Thrill
21. Stone Temple Pilots, Core
20. Tesla, Mechanical Resonance
19. Pink Floyd, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
18. Foreigner, Foreigner
17. The Black Crowes, Shake Your Money Maker
16. Ratt, Out of the Cellar
15. Iron Maiden, Iron Maiden
14. Kiss, Kiss
13. Chicago, Chicago Transit Authority
12. Aerosmith, Aerosmith
11. Boston, Boston
10. Pearl Jam, Ten
9. Rush, Rush
8. The Police, Outlandos d'Amour
7. King Crimson, In the Court of the Crimson King
6. The Doors, The Doors
5. Black Sabbath, Black Sabbath
4. Guns 'N' Roses, Appetite for Destruction
3. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin
2. Van Halen, Van Halen
1. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Might As Well Jump

We heard the rumors about Diamond Dave. And let’s be honest—we had mixed feelings.

Would it be funny, or just sad? Would this be a comeback, or simply a pathetic last step into post-Van Halen obscurity? Can a diamond truly rust?

Well, according to Roger Friedman of Fox News, it’s official—David Lee Roth will replace Howard Stern on Infinity Broadcasting when he moves to satellite in a few months. The rumors, this time, appear to have some truth behind them.

Although talk of The Roth playing some role with Infinity next year has been making the rounds for quite a while, we had been told that no one person would replace Howard.

I can see that; it would take several dreadful hosts to bore me as much as this pompous ass. This is the man, after all, who declared himself the “King of All Media,” despite the fact that his television presence is less prominent than Luis Guzman, his movie career has not exactly gone into orbit, and his musical offerings have been … well, they HAVEN’T been. What other media is he talking about: the voices in his own head telling him how great he is?

But I have already devoted more words to Howard than he deserves. Let us instead focus on Dave, who Friedman says will, in fact, be Stern’s replacement. In the late 70s and early 80s, he was a God. The man screamed, flipped, and pranced his way into the small circle of Legendary Front Men.

Not to mention into the panties of a few thousand groupies.

Can Dave be a good DJ? I have not heard his voice over the radio myself, but sources tell me that he has spent some time on the airwaves in the past couple of years and has not embarrassed himself. (Then again, this is the guy who performed the song “Hot Dog and a Shake,” so embarrassment really is not a deal-breaker.)

Despite my guilt in saying so, I hope he succeeds. In fact, maybe he can start a trend, spawning profitable and non-emasculating second careers for 80s rock stars. After all, a typical evening at a reunion concert ends with lament that these guys did not choose the noble course and try a new occupation.

Like real estate. Or used car sales. Perhaps TV/VCR repair.

If David Lee Roth can make this work, it will be the second time he has led men of his generation into a brave new world. Sure, this job is less exciting than fronting one of the all-time best hard rock bands ... but it does have one big advantage.

It keeps the 51 year-old Roth from strutting around in spandex again. So, please, join me in wishing Dave great success—behind the mike, where we cannot see him.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Me, Myself, and Miers

George Bush raised many Americans' eyebrows last week.

Not due to his failure to comment on the Katie Holmes pregnancy announcement. Nor because of his silence about the purported Nick-Jessica split. Nor by reason of his blind disregard to every citizen’s concern over Lindsey Lohan’s well-being after her oddly paparazzi-free car crash.

Instead, his largest surprise was his nomination of Harriet Miers to be the newest Supreme Court justice.

The left was shocked—perhaps disappointed—that he did not put forward a known conservative that they could bruise. And the right was disappointed—perhaps shocked—that he did not put forward a conservative that they could praise.

Some might say that our chief executive is an idiot for nominating somebody who has no judicial experience. But these voices would be sadly mistaken.

Experience shows that those who have not served on a bench still be effective and well-regarded high court members. Take Lewis Powell, the highly respected lawyer who served on the Supreme Court from 1972 to 1987.

Even many of the judiciary’s leaders have lacked judgeships. Remember William Rehnquist—you know, that guy before John Roberts? Never a judge before that.

How about John Marshall? Nope. Earl Warren? Same thing.

These facts, of course, have not silenced the president’s critics. They have other reasons to smolder.

You see, the left is angry because Miers has worked closely with the president for years but has no judicial record they can skewer. And the right is upset because she has no proven conservative credentials and Bush says that he did not ask her about Roe v. Wade.

Perhaps the president is a smarter man than any of us believed.

Does anybody really think that he would not be damn sure about her jurisprudential beliefs after working with her for so many years? Is it reasonable to assume that the nomination process did not prompt Bush to ask Miers about at least her general philosophy and views on major issues of the day?

It strains credibility to think that this was a thoughtless, knee-jerk action.

Bush has disarmed the liberals by nominating a successful career woman who garners nothing but respect from those she has worked with.

Like John Roberts, only in heels.

And with some conservatives fuming, it is hard for liberals to oppose her too stridently. Sure, conservatives will stomp and steam … but most republicans will get on board with the president. Many (if not most) democrats, although pissed off, will give Miers the thumbs-up either because of her conservative critics, her respectable resume, or her ostensible ovaries.

That makes the selection of Harriet Miers a very judicious political move.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Best Classic Rock Groups

My last list on hair metal albums was fun. A nice diversion. Good for a post while I'm writing in other venues. So, methinks, why not try another?

Others may disagree, but here are the top 25 classic rock groups of all time. Well, really the past forty years or so ... classic rock was not very well developed in 12th century China or ancient Greece.

Rating factors? Influence, skill, listenability, and endurance. (Which happen to be my character traits as well.)

25. Fleetwood Mac
24. Judas Priest
23. U2
22. The Eagles
21. Yes
20. AC/DC
19. Guns 'N Roses
18. Kiss
17. King Crimson
16. Queen
15. Deep Purple
14. Van Halen
13. Genesis
12. Pink Floyd
11. Cream
10. The Doors
9. Rush
8. Aerosmith
7. The Police
6. The Jimi Hendrix Experience
5. Black Sabbath
4. The Who
3. The Rolling Stones
2. Led Zeppelin
1. The Beatles

Monday, October 03, 2005

Lost and Found

One Wednesday night sometime last fall, I discovered a new show simply called “Lost.” And for the first time in a long time, I was hooked.

The program did not rekindle a Party of Five fetish—although, for the record, I would rather be stranded on the island with Jennifer Love Hewitt than Matthew Fox. Nor am I so enamored with the physical form of Kate that I suffer withdrawal if I don’t get my weekly cleavage-cam of the island’s most eligible bachelorette—although for the record, I would rather be stranded on the island with Evangeline Lilly than Matthew Fox.

Actually, I would rather be stranded on an island with Jennifer Love Hewitt and Evangeline Lilly than writing this right now.

End daydream. And … we’re back.

No, something rare draws me to “Lost,” something a show has not done in years. Quite simply, it challenges the viewer. It makes you THINK.

The success of the show, frankly, has shocked me.

After all, insultingly undemanding programs have dumbed us down to the point that we do not expect our multimedia entertainment to spur us to discuss. To ponder. To question. To think.

Take, for example, “Friends.” Millions enjoyed it; it was feel-good TV—if shallow, vain, two-dimensional creatures make you happy.

“Lost” strikes me as different. Despite some trite moments, the writers seem to care about the thinking audience. They put clues in strange places: Hurley’s reappearing Lotto numbers, for example. They let the characters evolve and devolve: witness Jack’s developing leadership and Sawyer’s one-step-forward, two-steps-back “growth.”

And best of all? The Question.

It has been on everyone’s brain since the crash, and It remains stuck there like a dryer sheet to a sock: What IS this island?

I have heard some theories—each of them intriguing. The island is purgatory. The island is Jack’s bad dream. The island is a government experiment. Interesting answers, all. Each makes you actually THINK, and each makes you discuss possibilities with friends, family, coworkers, or even convenient nearby pets. But each of these suppositions are, in turn, wrong, wrong, and wrong.

The way I see it, the island is the American television viewers’ collective brain—the creators, cast, and crew of “Lost” have crashed smack-ass in the middle of it. And all the demons, all the ghosts, and all the illusions of the island are simply the monsters left over in our heads from the crap we have subjected ourselves to for decades.

It is working. “Lost” has switched our minds on, and we are all the better for it.

Which is why I will carry the burden, why I will make the sacrifice, why I will volunteer to star in the spinoff:

“Lost II: Stranded with Jennifer Love Hewitt and Evangeline Lilly.”