Sunday, November 21, 2004

The First Annual American Trainwreck Awards

Back in January, when Entertainment Weekly posed the question on their cover: "Can 2004 Get Any Weirder?" none of us had any idea how resounding the "Yes!" would be. I'm not sure if it's the leap year, the election or the impending apocalypse, but 2004 has been one of the wackiest years in pop culture ever and certainly one of the best for schadenfreude!

So when Saturday Night Live had the brilliant idea for an "American Trainwreck Awards" sketch, I decided to seize it as my own and run with it.

There have been so many trainwrecks this year, it's impossible for one blog to remember them all. Which is where you come in, dear readers. I'm seeking suggestions. The following categories are there to inspire, not restrict, so feel free to ignore classification, or even come up with your own ideas for categories. Also, don't get hung up on the term "trainwreck" -- if you feel more comfortable with "meltdown" or "disaster," plug those in instead.

E-mail all suggestions to And keep them coming until 2005.

Nominations will be announced on or around the one-year anniversary of Britney Spears' first marriage (and they said it wouldn't last!), with winners to be announced some time after the one-year anniversary of Britney Spears' first annullment.

And the Tentative Categories are:

  • Overall, Best in Show, Trainwreck Moment of the Year
  • Best Female Trainwreck
  • Best Male Trainwreck
  • Best Trainwreck by a Duo or Group
  • Best Trainwreck, Feature Film
  • Best Trainwreck, Album, Single or Tour
  • Best Trainwreck, TV
  • Best Reality Trainwreck
  • Best Live TV Trainwreck
  • Best Awards Show Trainwreck
  • Best Relationship Trainwreck
  • Best Trainwreck, Sports
  • Best Trainwreck, Politics
  • Best Foreign Language Trainwreck
  • Best Non-Famous Person Trainwreck, Circulated Online for All to See
  • Most Shocking Trainwreck
  • Least Shocking Trainwreck
  • Best Recovery from Potential Trainwreck

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Gem of a Hologram

The new Fat Albert poster caught my eye in the theater lobby the other day. It's a holographic image where the original cartoon characters morph into the live-action actors playing them in the movie.

Don't get me wrong. I still think the movie's going to suck. But that poster is pretty sweet.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

A Night Without Armor II ?

Doing what she does best: Writhing... I mean, writing. Writing.

"Honeymoon Poem" by Britney Spears

A honeymoon at last, to get away from it all
My assistant Fe gave me the call.

I remember it well, as she was smilin'
She said it was called Turtle Island.

I packed my bags light and quick,
Then grabbed my pink dress & favorite lipstick.

We hopped on a plane and took our flight
I slept really well, all through the night.

As we arrive, I turn and look out the door,
People are greeting us right at the shore.

A meal, a shower and some ice cream
Then I threw my man down, you know what I mean!

Magical nights filled with stars
Silence is golden, no running cars.

Private dinners, romantic fires
Little piece of heaven, whatever your heart desires.

Friendly "hellos" and never goodbyes
When you're having fun, oh, how time flies!

As we sit and prepare to make our part
I thank you, Turtle Island, with all my heart!

~ Britney

I would love nothing more than for this masterpiece to truly be the work of our nation's posteminent Poet Illaureate, but alas, I'm skeptical. I have my reasons:

1) Why was this poem posted on the fansite and not her official site,

2) In her most recent letter to her fans where she reports briefly on returning from her honeymoon, she seems to have taken to signing her missives simply "B," not "Britney."

3) I initially learned of this poem via IMDb News, always cause for doubt.

4) There just isn't that much poetic justice in the world.

5) Come on, that poem is sad, even by Britney Spears' ridiculously low standards.

Well, maybe not.

My theory is that this is just an overzealous piece of fanfiction crafted by some twelve year-old that was somehow mistaken for an authentic Britney communique. Regardless, Britney-haters everywhere seem to have no trouble believing this to be the work of Ms. Spears-Federline. I'm not sure if it's their simple trusting natures, wishful thinking or monumentally low opinion of her intelligence, but they are ridiculing her with abandon.

For her sake, I hope it turns out this ain't nothin' but a hoax.

For ours, I hope it's for real.

Then all she'll need is some guitar accompaniment from Anson Mount, and she'll have another hit single.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Old Habits Die, uh, Hard

(please don't sue me)

How did I know within the first minute of this week’s episode of Will & Grace that it was written by ex-Friends scribe Greg Malins, even before his "Written By" credit appeared on screen? Because of this gag:

GRACE: Well, I love the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Especially because if you cover up this part with your fingers (covers up part of museum brochure), you can make it say “fart.”
Of course, I knew of Malins’ fondness for fun with letters because of this:

Greg Malins would take a copy of the “Friends” script cover and blacken out letters to make it say penis. When he would blacken out the letters to say penis, Malins would say, this is the most important thing you’ll learn on “Friends”.
Ah, it’s good to see his sense of humor survived the transition to Will & Grace intact, if not in tact.

Oh, and while I was at Smoking Gun, I uncovered this report from the focus group screening of the Friends pilot back in 1994. I wish they had similar reports from other series to compare it to, but even on its own, it doesn’t look to good… for the focus group process. Friends wasn’t a show like Cheers or Seinfeld that took a while to find an audience… it gained popularity pretty much out of the gate (with only a modest boost from its timeslot). And its pilot actually holds up pretty well compared to a lot of shows’. Sure, the characters aren’t a hundred percent fully formed, but they’re relatively close to what they became (at least what they became in the first couple seasons). The stories aren’t as finely crafted as they would be and there are a lot more non sequiturs (as there were for much of the first season), but all in all, it’s a solid display of (most of) what would make the show so successful. So if the focus group couldn’t pick up on that, really, how much value should be placed on this method of evaluating pilots?

I particularly enjoy the Recommendations.

I’d heard before that the network wanted the producers to inject some older characters, which of course sounds ridiculous now. Though not as ridiculous as the suggestion to “Use Chandler’s dreams as a running bit on the show.” I’m not sure if they ever fixed the coffee house’s establishing shot, though I don’t recall ever being confused by it, and as for defunkifying Central Perk – that too goes in the bad idea column.

However, there were a few good recommendations, some of which were integral to the show’s success. Improving “the relationships and warmth among the characters” in particular helped endear these characters to millions each week, though I suspect the writers would have done this even without the feedback. But they could’ve used the reminder to “try to incorporate [Phoebe] more in the stories,” especially in the later years.

Finally there’s the suggestion not to “overdo sexual situations.” This one’s a draw. On the one hand, the sexual humor provided some of the biggest and most memorable laughs for Friends. On the other hand, it led to this.

Friday, November 12, 2004


Loath as I am to side with Sinclair Broadcasting or post-Nipplegate-FCC-fearful prudes, especially against a man I admire as much as Steven Spielberg, I’m afraid that in this case I do (or did, seeing as how it’s all moot now).

The fact of the matter is, Saving Private Ryan – in its pure, unedited format – is not appropriate for all audiences. Nobody would argue with that. In fact, many people (myself included) believe that the film deserved an NC-17 from the MPAA (certainly more so than sixty seconds of puppet porn). Its brutality is what makes it such a powerful film. I wouldn’t want to see that violence watered down in any way… but nobody’s forcing anybody to show this movie on network TV. Maybe, just maybe, some movies aren’t meant to be seen on network TV (interrupted by plenty of peppy commercials, no less)? Especially when the horribly graphic first 24 minutes air during the eight o’clock (seven o’clock central/mountain time) family hour. If you want to see the all-guts, all-glory edition, get off your cheap, lazy ass and rent the DVD.

And I wouldn’t even be so quick to hop into bed with Sinclair and company if it were just the bloody mutilation that remained intact. But I see no reason why the “adult language” in Private Ryan is necessary to preserve the integrity of the film (at least not any more necessary than in countless adult-oriented movies that have been butchered for mass consumption – have you ever seen the TV-friendly cut of Pulp Fiction – although you might think it’d be comically short, it’s actually unbearably long). Why should this film get a pass on the use of the unholy “F-bomb” just because it’s subject matter is important?

The reason: Spielberg. The man has power (which I won’t begrudge him at all – he’s earned every ounce of it). If he says “jump,” a network will say “how high can we bid?” He (and he alone) can demand “uncut” as a make-or-break part of his broadcast licensing – and actually get it. But to paraphrase Jurassic Park, just because he can doesn’t mean he should. Unfortunately, like his pal Bill Clinton, I think maybe he does it because he can.

He did the same thing with Schindler’s List. In Malaysia, the notoriously strict national censors wouldn’t allow nudity in any films. They wanted to show the film with everything except the sex scene, but Spielberg refused to cut it. I understand preserving the artist’s integrity (particularly with a bona fide masterpiece), but if the subject matter and message is so important (as I believe it is), shouldn’t he have been more concerned with getting it seen by as many people as possible at all costs (short of diluting the depiction of the Holocaust’s atrocities, which cutting the bedroom scene would not have done in the slightest)?

He also made the same “uncensored” contractual agreement for Schindler’s List with NBC as he made with ABC for Saving Private Ryan (though for NBC, there was the added incentive of getting the rights to Jurassic Park). This broadcast also resulted in a small amount of controversy, and again, I have to somewhat agree with some critics I’d rather not. In this instance, two of the most unsavory politicians out there (both, coincidentally, recent U.S. Senate candidates): Tom Coburn and Dr. Alan Keyes.

I didn’t become aware of this controversy until about a month ago when I saw Coburn (who has since been elected Senator by Oklahoma) debate his opponent, Brad Carson, on Meet The Press. In the midst of a series of allegations, Carson charged that Coburn had said “that Schindler's List is an obscene movie that pollutes young children's minds...”

Now, this caught my attention. I figured only a Holocaust-denier like Hutton Gibson would describe Schindler’s List, as a whole, “obscene.” So I decided to do some Googling to see if there was some context for this statement. It turns out, Carson (along with many others back in 1997) made a rather damning oversimplification of Coburn’s fairly rational point [which isn’t to say that Coburn hasn’t made his share of asinine comments – check out this, or this, or hell – all of these].

What Coburn actually said back in 1997 was this:

"I cringe when I realize that there were children all across this nation watching this program. They were exposed to the violence of multiple gunshot head wounds, vile language, full frontal nudity and irresponsible sexual activity."
First of all, he was talking about the NBC broadcast of the film, not the film itself (there is a difference). I could find no record of him calling the film itself “obscene.” Is he fundamentally wrong for thinking those things? Wasn’t Schindler’s List rated R for a reason? Now, he may have gone overboard in the intensity of some of his rhetoric (I’m not sure that in a world where Chevy Chase’s talk show aired for six weeks you could reasonably say that NBC’s broadcast of Schindler’s List brought television “to an all-time low”), but were his points not valid?

Not if you asked such raging liberals as Jack Kemp, William Bennett and then-Republcian Senator Alfonse D’Amato, who had this to say: “To equate the nudity of Holocaust victims in the concentration camps with any sexual connotation is outrageous and offensive.”

Um, my memory may be a bit fuzzy because I haven’t seen Schindler’s List since it was released in theaters, but wasn’t there a sex scene that included a shot of a naked breast (as a thirteen year-old boy at the time, that’s not the sort of thing I would’ve forgotten – though it may be the sort of thing I’d have invented) independent of the nudity in the concentration camp shower scene?

Edie Roodman, director of the Jewish Federation of Oklahoma City, went a step further than Senator D’Amato in logical incoherence, stating: "To equate nudity in the Holocaust to nudity does not make sense. It proves that we have not done enough education." It certainly does, Edie. It certainly does.

In light of all this criticism, Coburn backed down and apologized: "My intentions were good, but I've obviously made an error in judgment in how I've gone about saying what I wanted to say." Certainly if a Democrat made a similar error in judgment in the way he spoke, Republicans would be quick to forgive and not harp on endlessly about it… right?

I'm sorry, back to 1997… So with all this bi-partisan attacking of Coburn, who leapt to his defense? Alan Keyes. If you read his defense, the first paragraph actually makes some good points. Then the next three paragraphs are completely off-base and reveal that this is all about cynically smearing Hollywood and the motives behind Schindler’s List. But that first paragraph is pretty good.

What that whole storm of controversy (and to some extent, this most recent brouhaha over Saving Private Ryan) indicates to me is that we need to separate a movie from its subject matter when it comes to criticism. Somebody should be allowed to attack Schindler’s List – whether for its use of nudity or its alleged schmaltzy, overhandedness – without being deemed as anti-Semitic, just as somebody should be allowed to slam Malcolm X without being labeled a racist or Philadelphia without being called a homophobe. In the end, these are all just movies (however powerful, moving and meaningful they may be to many), not sacred texts. People also need to remember that there’s a difference between public airwaves and cable/home video/movie theaters, and that there’s a difference between government censorship (wrong) and corporate censorship (a responsibility) – something that critics of Disney’s decision not to handle the political hot potato that was Fahrenheit 9/11 lost sight of.

* * * * *

That would be all I had to say about that, based on the initial reasons I was seeing for some ABC affiliates not showing Saving Private Ryan

But then I started seeing new excuses, and now I’m turning into a conspiracy nut, sniffing out ulterior motives.

It’s interesting that there was none of this uproar when ABC aired the same uncensored film in the pre-Nipplegate years of 2001 and 2002. However, rather than Janet’s slip of the nip or Bono’s slip of the tongue marking the difference between those simpler times and now, it seems there may be another important distinction between the last time Private Ryan was broadcast and this time: We weren’t in the middle of an unpopular, Republican president-led war back then.

Take a look at this quote:

"Now, after much concern and discussion about family viewing over past months, and with Americans at war across the world, it is the vivid depiction of violence combined with graphic language proposed to begin airing at 8 p.m. that has forced our decision," said Lee Armstrong, the station's vice president and general manager.
What should “Americans at war across the world” have to do with preempting a film that has never been accused of anything less than honoring our soldiers?

That, coupled with the discovery that Sinclair stations are among those preempting the broadcast, reminded me of their preemption of Nightline in April (because Ted Koppel wanted to demean our troops by naming all the casualties). Now, I don’t want to sound like Michael Moore here, but is it possible that this isn’t about the “F-bomb” at all, but rather the “B.O.B.” (“Bombs Over Baghdad” for all you Outkast illiterates)? Are these conservative outlets so afraid of anything that might make war look like the hell that it is (even a war that’s nearly-universally regarded as one of this nation’s greatest moments) that they would banish a film that’s being broadcast on November 11 as a tribute to our veterans under the smoke and mirrors excuse of “moral values?” I honestly don’t know and can’t presume. But all of a sudden, Sinclair’s passing-the-buck, legalese explanation rings a little less sincere:

Accordingly, although we do not personally believe that this movie isindecent in any manner, we believe the FCC guidelines and ABC's refusal to delay the broadcast require us to preempt the movie. It is unfortunate that we felt compelled to take this action, particularly in light of the need to honor the memory of this country's fallen heroes on Veteran's Day. It is similarly unfortunate, however, that the actions by a small but vocal group of individuals in the past have influenced the FCC to the extent that broadcasters are fearful of exercising their First Amendment rights, lest they result in fines by the FCC or action being taken against their licenses. We ask that our viewers join with us in letting the FCC and our elected officials know that censorship is dangerous and that the current rules have gone too far.

Happy Veterans’ Day!

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Well, That Was Fast

In what may be the fastest theatrical release to home video turnaround ever for a major studio release (I'm pretty sure even Gigli took longer), Surviving Christmas is due out on DVD on December 21 - a day less than two months after its theatrical premiere.

I guess their original plan to have it remain in theaters long enough to get that holiday bump didn't exactly pan out. At least now, every family can "enjoy" the "film" on Christmas day in the warmth of their own home. Take that, Christmas with the Kranks!

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Green Screed

When are The Daily Show audiences going to stop laughing every freaking time Jon Stewart throws it over to some correspondent supposedly reporting from [insert remote location here], but instead standing in studio, in front of a green screen? Do they not get it when they watch at home? Does this feat of special effects wizardry so astonish and amuse them? Did they miss the HBO Making of Death Becomes Her in the early 1990s? I thought Comedy Central said that The Daily Show's audience was among the more intelligent out there -- what does that say about the rest of the couch potatoes out there?

I know there are worse things going on in the world right now, but honestly, it's really starting to irritate the crap out of me. Stop laughing! Please stop! You're hurting America (at least this American)! People standing in front of a green screen is not, in and of itself, funny. If it were, we'd all be watching Drew Carey's new show.

Thank you.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Random Simpsons Quote of the Day

"I've said it before and I'll say it again. Democracy simply does not work."

--Kent Brockman