Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Hidden Gem - The Comebacks (the best ZAZ-type spoof in years)

I can't speak to the 84 minute theatrical cut, but the 107 min unrated cut of The Comebacks is the real deal... a real satire that mocks the conventions of its genre rather than just making its actors play dress-up from this famous movie or this unrelated pop-culture item. The film is basically a spoof of the underdog sports dramas that have popped up in succession in the last several years. And, low-and-behold, it's an actual spoof. There is a real linear plot with actual characters who are allowed to have character-based jokes There are next to no pop-culture references, the film references are actually used to set up punchlines, the script is 'original', and the movie is just plain funny. This is not Airplane! or Top Secret, but it sure as heck isn't Date Movie either. On a specific note, Carl Weathers is every bit as funny here as he was in Arrested Development back in the day. It's well-worth seeking out for a cheap rental.

Scott Mendelson

What Obama should have said about Farrakhan...

More reasonable choices for Obama's response to the whole Farrakhan non-issue:

1) No sir, I do no reject his endorsement. I welcome anyone who wishes to support me and my campaign. I have based my campaign on bringing different-minded people together and I will continue to do so. I cannot and will not choose which opposing viewpoints are acceptable for those who wish to vote for me.

2) In the same way that voters may vote for me despite not agreeing with me on every issue, it is not my duty to vet each and every supporter in order to make sure they agree with my views on every matter of would-be substance. If I reject money or support based on one issue, then it is then my duty to make sure that I don't accidentally accept money or support from someone who has a less-than-insightful position on another issue.

3) If someone who has abhorrent ideas and/or takes part in abhorrent activities, I will still take their money and say thank you. First of all, I can't vet every cent I get. Second of all, I'd rather a group I disagree with spend their money on my campaign then spend that money doing some activity that I don't agree with. That's 'x-dollars' less that they have to spend on whatever activity I didn't support in the first place.

Who's religious endorsement is scarier for the Jews, again?

Let's make this one quick...

Barack Obama has been raked over the coals for the last few weeks because apparently he has received the unwanted endorsement of Louis Farrakhan. Farrakhan is, of course, the former Nation of Islam leader who has been quoted many a time saying various anti-Semitic things ('Hitler was a great man' 'Judaism was a gutter religion', etc) in and out of proper context. For this, Obama was forced to renounce, denounce, announce, and pronounce his disavowal of Farrakhan's naughty beliefs in regards to Jews.

John McCain actively sought and publicly rejoiced in the endorsement and support of reverend John Hagee, arguably the most powerful mega-church evangelist in the country. This is a man who did and still does believe that Catholicism is 'the great whore' and 'a false cult system'. As for Jews, he has no issue with the Jews, as long as they are willing to help Israel unite so that the Rapture can occur, at which time all the Jews will either convert to Christianity or be killed. For this, McCain sowed up the primary count in Texas, winning the state last night and clinching the Republican nomination.

One unwanted endorsement of a long-forgotten icon with anti-Semitic leanings caused an immediate media field day. While another sought-after endorsement of one of the most powerful religious leaders in the country, one who happens to be an anti-Catholic bigot and sincerely hopes that all the Jews will either die or be converted, caused barely a peep outside of the liberal blog sphere within the first week.

Might this be a preview of the media treatment to come? After all, the only politician that the media seems to swoon over more than Obama is John McCain. If they have already chosen sides, then Obama, if he is the nominee, may end up with no better press treatment than John Kerry or Al Gore.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Real-Life Imitates Fiction...

Whether by coincidence or by design, the entire 2008 presidential election has felt like a remake of the last season and a half of The West Wing. Playing Jimmy Smits (the minority populist underdog, who shoots straight and doesn't want to be a conventional candidate), we have Barack Obama. As Gary Cole, the slightly more establishment candidate who is the front-runner for much of the primary season, we have Hillary Clinton. As Alan Alda, the elder GOP congressman who seems like a liberals' wet dream of what a Republican would be like, we have John McCain (of course, McCain is for all intents and purposes, conservative Republican, but that's not the narrative at this point).

Like The West Wing, the GOP nominee scored the convention earlier than the Dems. In fact, in the thrilling season finale of season six, the Democratic primary goes all the way up to a brokered convention, where Smits and Cole fend off the surprise entry of Ed O'Neil, a popular dark horse candidate (Al Gore?). Smits wins the nomination, but only because he impresses the current president (Martin Sheen) enough to have Sheen broker a back room endorsement deal with the teachers union.

Here's the scary part... in the original storyline, Alda was supposed to defeat Smits in a general election. This was changed only after actor John Spencer died of a heart attack in December of 2005. The producers felt that the double whammy of the death of Spencer's fictional character (Smits' vice-presidential nominee) as well as the defeat of the populist liberal candidate would be too much for the show's liberal viewership (truth be told, after the stolen 2000 election, the fictional world of the West Wing became, by default, such a liberal fantasy that is was occasional painful to watch). Should Obama secure the nomination, let's hope that the narrative differs from both scenarios.

Horray for Brokered Conventions?

Well, as most of you know by now, another would-be Super Tuesday (Super Tuesday II or mini-Super Tuesday, as pundits called it) has come and gone, with nothing much changed. On the Democratic side anyway, it still seems to be a tie-game. Yes, Clinton 'won' both Ohio and Texas, but due to the proportional representation of delegates, her winning margins aren't significant enough to radically alter the delegate count (for example, Obama more or less thumped Clinton in Vermont, winning 60% to 38%, yet he only wins 8 delegates to her 5). Basically, punditry aside, most of the states have had statistical dead-heats in relation to delegate counts.

Unlike most of my fellow political watchers, I'm excited by the idea of a brokered convention. First of all, it's going to make terrific television. I'm sure the networks are salivating over what will likely be record viewership for any party convention in recent history.

Second of all, as one of many Democrats who were annoyed at how John Kerry was instantly annoyted the nominee as the result of winning on Iowa caucus, I've taken much pleasure in how the campaigns have dragged on a bit, to a point where literally every state will count and every vote matters. Granted, I'm as saddened as the next lefty that Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, and Dennis Kucinich barely made it past the starting gate, but the level of high drama and real competition is refreshing. This is democracy in action, folks. It's complicated and it's messy. If having a brokered convention is the cost of every state having their say, then so be it.

What we, as Democrats, must do, is keep the media narrative focused on the idea that we have two exceptional candidates who have passionate followings. We are voting for the one we like, not against the one we don't.

We also must remember that this race is far from over. Clinton and Obama both have solid chances to win this thing. Just like how the media created the narrative that Bush had won in 2000 and that Gore was just being a spoil-sport in demanding that all the Florida votes be counted, the media has created the narrative that Clinton can't win and should drop out now for the good of the party. They are more or less tied at this point, yet no one calls for Obama to drop out at this point, nor should they. This one is going into extra innings, so pass the peanuts and hot dogs.

The Onion Movie lives!!

In the category of never say die, we have a trailer for the long-lost Onion movie. Originally made in early 2005, it has sat on a shelf at 20th Century Fox for almost exactly three years. The reason? It's quite terrible. I actually saw this one at a test screening, way back in March 2005. As a longtime (11 years or so) fan of The Onion newspaper, I was as curious as anybody as to how they would translate the dry, journalistic humor into a feature film. The answer? Poorly.

Of course, I only can speak to the cut I saw, but all of the bits in this trailer are familiar to me. It tries to be a new-fangled Kentucky Fried Movie but lacks the discipline and sharp humor that separates the best Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker spoofs from, well, anyone else's spoofs. It's boring, it's condescending, and it's genuinely bad enough to make you feel ashamed to admit you're a fan of the paper. But, here's the weird thing. The cut I saw was only about 50 minutes, not counting credits. So, unless they are releasing this as a short-feature, there is sure to be new material. As much as I loathed my first viewing, I am curious to see what three years has wrought. That's the bad part about test-screenings... even if the film is terrible, you're still a little curious as to how the final cut turns out.

Nothing to fear but an Obama defeat in November?

Much has been discussed in recent days on whether or not Hillary Clinton is playing on fear, specifically with the infamous '3am' online commercial. Frankly, I think it's a perfectly valid line of attack. The ad is soft, with light music and 'reassuring' images. It's not like the ad suggests that there are scary wolves just out of range, waiting to eat your children if John Kerry is elected. In theory, there will be circumstances, both dire and not-so-dire when the president will have to make important decisions at 3am (apparently, Bush responded yesterday by claiming, to the surprise of about 19-24% of the populace, that he just lets said calls go to voice mail).

The Obama camp quickly responded with a similar ad (basically claiming, not without merit, that the 'red phone' moment came in 2002, and those who voted for Bush's authorization of force against Iraq blew it). Also making the rounds is video of a rousing speech that Bill Clinton gave in 2004, basically stating that if one candidate appeals to your hopes and the other appeals to your fears, vote for the one that appeals to hope. He was right then and his sentiments are right now.
The problem is that neither candidate is really playing on fear. If the 3am ad was intended to frighten, it would have been darker, the voices would have been ominous, and Hillary Clinton herself would not have appeared in the ad (she certain wouldn't have appeared, looking calm, collected, and not the least bit worried about whatever that 3am call was (maybe it was the inside scoop about New Line).

Hillary Clinton's campaign has always been about experience and Barrack Obama's campaign has always been about judgment (ie - being smart versus being wise). To presume that any remotely substantial campaign ad is automatically an act of fear-mongering is naive and hurtful to the process. Granted, Obama's rhetoric has been closer to the classic FDR speeches. But, perhaps Clinton is the one who is truly afraid. Not that she will lose but that Obama will lose the general election.

Much has been made about how cutthroat Clinton has been since South Carolina. She of the alleged dirty tricks, baiting statements, and leave no man alive strategies. Most of the punditry has been focused on the simplistic notion that she is simply power mad, determined to achieve the presidency by any means necessary as some form of manifest destiny. That may be true. She may very well think she's entitled, as if this is her reward for dealing with 12 years of the most misogynistic, savage, wrongheaded attacks one can imagine from the opposition party.

But, what if it's more complicated than that? What if she is being as aggressive as she is because she is afraid for the party? I believe that both candidates are well-placed to take the White House in 2008. But she may not. If she honestly believes that Obama will lose to McCain, then it is her duty to pull every string, to try every trick, and call in every favor to make sure that she is the party's nominee. Because, in her mind, the only we thing have to fear, is a John McCain presidency. On that , we agree.

Scott Mendelson


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