Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Makes the ♥ grow fonder

I'll be incommunicado for the next week (I know what you're thinking... "What else is new?").

So if you're jonesing for some Dish, now's a great time to check out our spawn, The Oscar Grouch.

And Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

War of the (Four Letter) Words

I hope this blog isn’t becoming too myopic, but the decency debates that have been waged all year may very well be the most important story in Entertainment this year, and the one with the most lasting impact on the future of pop culture.

Especially with Michael Powell’s latest comments regarding the Saving Private Ryan battle:

FCC Chairman Michael Powell has concluded the agency should not take action against the other 159 stations that aired the acclaimed movie because the language was part of accurately portraying the story about the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II, the FCC official said.

This may very well open the floodgates. Couldn’t the same rationale be used to defend the use of profanity or violence in any number of other movies that have been censored over the years on network television? Certainly the language in films like Boyz N The Hood or Goodfellas could be described as “part of accurately portraying” those stories.

Likewise, that rationale could open the doors for a show like Rescue Me or The Sopranos to air on FCC-controlled broadcast networks, or to push the boundaries further on 24, Law & Order, NYPD Blue, etc.

And then there’s the ambiguity raised by his emphasis on context (and seemingly, Importance). The definition of what is “Important” is much more open to debate than what is “obscene,” and if that argument is used to justify the condoning of ABC’s broadcast of Saving Private Ryan, expect it to open a whole other can of worms. Some may say that Mystic River is Important for tackling child abduction/molestation. Some may say that Beloved is Important for dealing with slavery. Some may say that Trainspotting is Important for portraying the ravages of drug abuse. All three are rated R and contain material that here-to-fore has been considered unacceptable for broadcast over federally regulated airwaves, but the FCC would be dragged into a very sticky debate over which is a more Important issue, slavery or World War II if Jonathan Demme sought to use the Saving Private Ryan ruling as precedent to get Beloved on the air uncut. Hell, who’s to stop Trey Parker and Matt Stone from claiming that Team America is an Important movie about war and international relations, or that South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut is an Important movie about freedom of speech where the language is absolutely relevant and accurate to the way that many fourth-graders speak?

It’s only just begun…

Saturday, December 11, 2004

(pop) Culture (a)War(d)s

Odd that Michael Moore’s appeal for the people’s choice is being discussed everywhere, but this grassroots campaign is much more under the radar, at least the left-wing Hollywood news radar I usually monitor.

I also find it interesting that a group calling itself the American Family Association, whose motto is “Promoting Traditional Family Values” is getting behind an R-rated, graphically violent film that says very little about actual “moral values” [which isn’t to say that, no matter what/if your faith, Jesus Christ himself didn’t have some good values to impart – he just doesn’t get a chance to do so in Mel Gibson’s film, probably because it was too hard to get the words out past his mouthfuls of blood]. Especially when The Passion of The Christ is competing in the Favorite Movie Drama category with a much more “family-friendly” film like Finding Neverland. Isn’t that the sort of movie their organization should be getting behind? In fact, the website’s movie reviewer gave it a glowing review, giving it the same four-star rating they gave The Passion.

So if they’re so desperate to send a message to Hollywood through the People’s Choice Awards (which I’m sure Hollywood cares a lot about – but that’s neither here nor there), why not chose a message that Hollywood should hear, like: Make more PG-rated live-action movies suitable for the whole family that don’t condescend, don’t bore, don’t star talking animals and don’t sneak in uncomfortable-for-adults sexual innuendo? Granted, after the success of National Treasure and Christmas with the Kranks, PG is finally making a comeback after years of being considered box-office poison. Still, Neverland isn’t doing quite as well in its limited release as it should be doing, and could use the publicity of the People’s Choice Awards a lot more than some $370 million-grossing movies.

Now, I didn’t love Neverland, but it was the only movie I could think of to take three generations of my family to the day after Thanksgiving and as rare as it is to please all of them, Neverland did. Isn’t that the sort of thing an organization called "American Family Association" should be promoting?

Unless of course by “American” they mean “Christian” (which I think they take as a given), in which case they should just come right out and say that promoting the “Christian Agenda” is more important to them than promoting the “Family Agenda” (to borrow their own terminology), which their pushing of The Passion over Neverland obliquely makes clear.

But maybe I’m being too hard on the AFA and presuming too much. Maybe they have no problem with “explicit violence” that’s “stunningly realistic” as long as it’s used in “a powerful movie with a powerful message.”

Oh, but wait.

And that was in 2002, when there were almost no complaints made by anybody.

However, surrounding the most recent airing, when everyone else (including certain pop culture bloggers) was decrying ABC’s decision to air Saving Private Ryan: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, the AFA’s rationale for outrage changed slightly.

In 2002, they had this to say about the unacceptability of the violence:

November was a big month for breaking barriers at Disney's ABC television network, beginning with a movie containing graphic violence and numerous uses of the f-word…

…ABC had crushed violence and language standards on network television…

…if ABC wanted to air the movie, the network should have edited out some of the most graphic violence and the profanity.

The explicit violence in Saving Private Ryan was also stunningly realistic: men cut in half or literally blown into pieces, intestines hanging out, faces blown off, arms ripped from bodies and extremely bloody scenes in which medics attempted to repair wounded bodies.

All in all, the criticism was pretty evenly balanced between concerns about uncensored violence and uncensored language. Fair enough.

Now here’s what they had to say in 2004 about the unacceptability of the violence:

We believeSaving Private Ryan accurately depicted what happens during fierce battles between two armies. The graphic depictions of atrocious injuries, mental stress, profane language, and brutality are likely common occurrences in war. But ABC crossed the line by airing at least 20 "f" words and 12 "s" words during prime time viewing hours!

We realize it is important for families, especially our children, recognize the sacrifices made by our loved ones during wartime. However, airing excessively profane language during prime-time television hours is not necessary to convey that sacrifice.

That’s it. Two years later, they suddenly have no problem with the violence – it’s all about the four-letter words.

Was this because of Janet and Bono? The “Values” election? Iraq? Or because some day they hope to protest some network airing a “cut” Passion of the Christ where’s He’s less cut up?

Don’t forget to cast your ballots for the People’s Choice Awards by December 13th. It doesn’t matter who you vote for (I didn’t vote for either Fahrenheit 9/11 or The Passion of the Christ – does that make me purple?)… just remember: Vote of Die!

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Other Fockers

So, Movie City News linked to this Universal Studios promotion, giving away a free trip to anybody with the last name "Focker."

Which got me wondering: Just how many Fockers are there in this country?

A White Pages search revealed ten such Fockers. Of these, four are coincidentally named "Gaylord Focker" and another two are named "Greg Focker." Something tells me that these six individuals weren't all born with these names (and certainly not the four Gaylords, unless there are some ridiculously cruel/stoned parents out there).

Which raises several questions about these faux-Fockers: Have they legally changed their names to honor their favorite comedy? Were they playing a joke on the phone company? Were their friends/enemies/frenemies playing a joke on them? And the biggest question of all: Why?

If I were a real investigative blogger (or had unlimited night and weekend minutes), I'd call these so-called Gaylords and ask them myself. But I'm not (and I don't). If any of you want to take it upon yourself to give them a ring, please report back here with your findings and you'll earn the coveted Pop Culture Petri Dish Gold Star.

As for the other four "legitimate" Fockers, they all live within fifteen miles of each other, suggesting that they're all related (or that the real estate agents in the town of Bryan, Ohio offered a similar deal to Universal's). This means that in all of America, there is exactly one family of Fockers (at least there's only one that would have their phone numbers listed... and I can understand why some might not be so brave) and that means that Universal may have officially sponsored the most exclusively-targeted promotion in history!

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Removing the Blindfold

In case you didn't guess six months ago, this was my early review of Closer. Most of my predictions at the time, regarding its reception, seem to be panning out - though I'm surprised by the number of truly hateful reviews it's getting from some critics, and I also think Mike Nichols is more likely to get nominated for an Oscar than I initially predicted.