Thursday, January 31, 2008

Democratic debate

Well, well. Anyone who was undecided who watched last night's debate and tonight's debate probably came out saying "I'm leaning Democrat." A week ago, the Democrats had a nasty debate (Obama: "Hillary was a corporate lawyer for Wal-Mart!" / Hillary: "Obama represented Rezko the slumlord!") and the following debate was very pleasant from the Republicans.

However, pleasant meant Romney was able to gain some ground on McCain, so McCain floated this lie about Romney's position on timetables. It saddens me daily that McCain's doing this and I've lost a lot of respect for him. I find myself hoping Romney wins the Republican nomination now. Last night it was clear McCain hates Romney's guts and was willing to play dirty. Romney showed his frustration at how personal the attacks have been against him. Huckabee continues to not admit he's trying hard to be McCain's VP.

What bothers me about what McCain did is it means anyone can throw out any accusation and just let stay in the news for days.

McCain: "Romney's a proud gay illegal immigrant."
Romney: "What are you talking about?"
McCain: "Here's a quote from you given in an interview in April 2006. You used the words 'proud', 'gay', and 'illegal immigrant' all in the same sentence. You're a proud gay illegal immigrant, my friend."
Romney: "Reagan would find this reprehensible."
McCain: "They're your words, my friend. Proud gay illegal immigrant. You started it when you ran an ad contrasting our positions."

Aaaanyway, Barack and Hillary acted like old friends at the debate, and I agreed with David Gergen's post-debate analysis when he said it was more like a conversation. Hillary's the front-runner; why rock the boat? Barack's catching up, gaining ground; why rock the boat?

I think if McCain's the GOP nominee, the Democrat will win in November.

So I can only hope Obama wins the Democratic nomination.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

GOP debate results

GOP Debate
First question to all four: Are we as a nation better off than we were eight years?

Romney goes first. He dodges it to talk about his record in Massachusetts which leads Anderson Cooper to say, "Are you running for governor or are you running for president?" It helps get Romney back on track to talk about the problems with Washington.

McCain says overall we're better off, but let's have some straight talk. Drinking game. A shot for every time Romney says "Washington is broken" and McCain says "Straight talk." McCain gets a little lost in the weeds talking about the subprime crisis.

Huckabee answers a little more coherently, saying we're not better off, and he says Congress may be more to blame than Bush, then rattles off some populist rhetoric about the little guy.

Paul says we're worse off, primarily due to our monetary system.

Second question: Romney, is McCain conservative?

Romney tries to list all the ways he and McCain differ with a friendly smile, mentions all the bad bills McCain co-sponsered with Democrats, and ends with a zinger about how if the New York Times endorses you, you're not a conservative.

McCain smiles back with a toothy grin that barely conceals his contempt for Mitt and launches into his conservative credentials before throwing out a bunch of numbers from Massachusetts to make Mitt look bad.

Romney says "Let me help you with the facts" and responds to McCain's response. This can't remain pleasant for long.

Huckabee points out this isn't a two-man race, which means it is a two-man race. Buuut by not being a front-runner, no one's attacking his record, so he gets to sing its praises.

McCain shows more knowledge on domestic issues when it comes to energy and sounds reasonable in addressing climate change. Then Romney points out how expensive the McCain-Lieberman environment bill will be.

Huckabee had a great answer on state's rights: "If Gov. Schwarzenegger is right, the other 49 governors will want to copy him. If he's wrong, then they can get in line to recruit those jobs he's lost."

Anderson cuts off Paul's answer, which is what happens when you haven't won a state yet.

Huckabee talks about his Eastern highway idea, which just doesn't ring real, then made a joke about building a Western highway. Romney chimes in about realistic infrastructure solutions

So far:
Romney - sounding the smartest
McCain - playing it safe
Huckabee - getting off good one-liners
Paul - largely ignored

Romney was able to lay out a strong illegal immigration platform, remembering to credit and applaud legal immigration.

McCain said he wouldn't vote for his own 2006 McCain-Kennedy bill were it to be up for a vote today. He said he will fight to secure the borders first.

Anderson asked all the candidates about Sandra Day O'Connor, whom Reagan appointed. Was she a good judge? Huckabee said "History will judge that" and then went on to make a passionate plea for a Human Life Amendment (make all abortion illegal). Paul said he would've appointed someone else at that time. McCain said he'd vote for Roberts-Alito type judges. Romney would favor Roberts-Alito-Thomas-Scalia type judges.

Anderson next quotes Peggy Noonan on how George W. Bush destroyed the Republican Party. Romney defended Bush and got some applause, blaming "Washington" more than Bush for the Republican Party's poor shape right now.

Romney gets another question, this time addressing the "timetable" smear from McCain. Romney: "Absolutely, unequivocably no." Romney hammers the point home by saying even raising the issue right before the Florida primary was a dirty trick Reagan would have found reprehensible, resulting in applause. McCain sticks with his "timetable" assertion, which is disheartening. Anderson even corrected McCain on his interpretation of the quote, and McCain said "timetable, timetable, timetable."

Looking at my previous post... John did not resist getting in pot-shots at Mitt, did not act above the fray, was magnanimous to Huck and the guys who dropped out. I don't think Hillary ever came up. His economic plans/ideas were platitudes. I dont think he did too well tonight. His timetable smear felt dishonest and petty.

Mitt ignored Mike. He couldn't stay positive because question #2 was about McCain's positions. He did have the best answers of the night, but his inspiration was as much anti-McCain as it was pro-Romney.

Mike did well, but then, the last Democratic debate when John Edwards did best, it didn't mean much in voting.

Ron got his standard "we never should have gone into Iraq" point out. Ron really has some good ideas, but they're so good, they will never get a majority support in Washington.

I think Ron Paul will get 5-10% in most of the 22 states.

I think Mike Huckabee might have gained a couple percentage points in a couple southern states.

I think Romney made the race a little closer in a few states.

I think with the endorsements by Giuliani and Schwarzenegger, it didn't matter than John McCain did not have a good night. Romney should win four or five states; Huckabee will win three or four states, and McCain will win over ten states, and while he won't have the nomination sewn up, he'll be close enough that Romney and/or Huckabee will drop out.

Final GOP debate predictions

Predictions for tonight's CNN Republican debate:

There will be the four remaining candidates. John McCain, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul. John & Mike will be kind and cordial with each other, gently pointing out one or two differences they might have; otherwise it will be like Mike is campaigning for John's VP spot, and John's leading Mike on that he has a shot of getting it.

Ron Paul will be largely ignored, but any unconventional position he takes will be met with one-liners from the other guys, most likely rehearsed.

John & Mike will team up on Mitt, taking shots at his wealth, his flip-flop on positions, and his negative attack ads.

Mitt will say "Washington is broken" at least five times.

John will perpetuate his dishonest assertion that Mitt was for timetables. (Man, that makes me sad he's doing that.) Mitt will dig at John for being for amnesty.

Advice for John: Resist the urge to get in pot-shots at Mitt. As the front-runner now, you need to act above the fray, like you've already sewn up the nomination. Be magnanimous. Focus on how your presidency would be different than Hillary's. Be ready with specific economic plans/ideas. You should also add some positive messages to your answers. Lately you've been focussing on "there will be more wars" and "those jobs aren't coming back."

Advice for Mitt: Ignore Mike. He's going to be on you all night. Focus on the positive and try to inspire. Namedrop. Spend more time on your differences with Hillary than John. Exit polls show your base consists of conservatives and people worried about the economy so give them something to cheer for.

Advice for Mike: Drop out. John's not going to pick you as Vice-President. Okay, you want to stay until Super Tuesday because it looks like you can still take a couple states like Georgia and Missouri. Do something that shows you're running for President, not Vice-President. Just singing John's praises while focussing all your vitriol on Mitt will not cut it.

Advice for Ron: You've been fun, but it ain't gonna happen. Drop out after Super Tuesday when you don't win a single state, then endorse a candidate so your passionate 5% following have somewhere to compromise go.

Now in a few hours, we can see what will actually happen.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Bush's last State of the Union

I had one thought repeating in my head as I watched. This is a lame duck president. He made it sound like he still had plans for his final year, but he couldn't sell it. He knows he has less than a year, and he knows not much is going to get done beyond a stimulus package. Democrats don't fear him and they will block whatever he wants whereever they feel like it.

Watching the Democratic response, I watched the Kansas governor thinking, "America would like to have their first female president. Just not Hillary."

Also, I don't think Obama should do any more two-man interviews with Ted Kennedy. I saw then together on Today and it reminded me of when George H.W. Bush gave an interview with his son in 2000. It made Dubya look younger and less-experienced just being there.

Rambo - Movie Review

RAMBO (**) - Starring Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz, Paul Schulze, Matthew Marsden, Muang Muang Khin and Ken Howard. Directed by Sylvester Stallone.

Sly said he wanted to do another Rocky movie because he didn't like how Rocky V ended things, and Rocky Balboa was a worthy final chapter to Rocky's saga. He also said he didn't like how Rambo III left that character. Well, for what it's worth, this is better than Rambo III.

I never saw Rambo II, and it's been forever since I saw First Blood and Rambo III, but this movie feels like it could have been made twenty years ago. The dialogue's weak, the characters are paper-thin, and it gives us exactly what we think it will. It sets up a situation for Rambo to go shoot up a bunch of bad guys, and then he delivers on that.

I thought Sly did a decent job inhabiting the character, and I liked some of his directing choices too. He did a few tracking shots that snuck up on me. ("Hey, that was one continuous take!")
The final climactic battle plays like any M-rated video game where body parts go flying when you shoot people. Not as riduculous as Rambo III, as it's trying to make a political point about the inhumanities going on in Burma, but still, it's a Rambo movie. The villains are sadistic thugs who are there to draw our ire until we root for Rambo to blow them away.

Monday, January 28, 2008

McCain v. Romney

For someone who likes both candidates, it's been depressing to watch them go after each other, particularly how "unstraight" McCain's "talk" has been lately. He's falsely accused Romney of supporting timetables at one point, even reading the quote on Meet the Press and twisting the logic of it to insist it's a valid attack point, then in response to Romney calling it dishonest and owing him an apology, McCain said Romney owes the young men and women in uniform an apology. How Clintonian.

If McCain takes Florida, maybe that'll put Charlie Crist ont he short-list of McCain's possible VP list. As long as it's not Huckabee...

Screen Actors Guild Awards

BEST CAST - No Country for Old Men
BEST ACTOR - Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
BEST ACTRESS - Julie Christie, Away From Her
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR - Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS - Ruby Dee, American Gangster
BEST STUNT ENSEMBLE - The Bourne Ultimatum

BEST CAST DRAMA - The Sopranos
BEST ACTOR DRAMA - James Gandolfini, The Sopranos
BEST ACTRESS DRAMA - Edie Falco, The Sopranos
BEST ACTOR COMEDY - Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock

Friday, January 25, 2008


Cloverfield - Movie Review

CLOVERFIELD (**1/2) - Starring Michael Stahl-David, Lizzy Caplan and Mike Vogel.
Directed by Matt Reeves.

It is Godzilla meets The Blair Witch Project. I've seen it described that way a few times, and that is the perfect description. I don't remember getting nauseous during Blair Witch though. I did wish I'd taken Dramamine in the middle of watching Cloverfield.

Shaky-cam has been getting used more and more for realism's sake. Paul Greengrass employs it to great effect, and my only problem with the last Bourne movie was the few times he used shaky-cam during action scenes where I simply couldn't tell what was going on.

Cloverfield is beginning-to-end non-stop shaky-cam. I loved the idea, the concept of this picture, and it would have been great if the guy holding the camera had put in a little more effort into being steady. But there are a lot of scenes of people running or walking on unsteady surfaces, or going up and down stairs, and about halfway through my stomach started lurching like I'd just spent to much time on the Tilt-A-Whirl.

One big help to the ecomony would be...

Our economy would be so much better off if we'd domestically drill for oil. Why won't we drill in the Gulf of Mexico? The Russians are drilling off the coast of Cuba. Why won't we drill in Anwar? I work with guys from Alaska. There is nothing out there. It is a barren chunk of ice. The price of oil would drop, our dependence on foreign oil would decrease, and it would buy us more time to try developing alternative sources of fuel.

Republican debate in Florida

The Republicans learned from the S.C Democratic debate to not be petty and shrill. Tim Russert and Brian Williams threw up several opportunities for the candidates to go after each other, and they rarely took the debate. The real signal was when Russert asked Mike Huckabee if he trusted Mitt Romney on his tax stance when he raised fees in Massachusetts. Huck rarely skips a chance to drill into Mitt, but he said it's up to the American people to decide if they trust him and then he moved on to talk about his own record.

Mitt Romney looked and sounded the most presidential, and he benefitted from the first half-hour of the debate being on the economy. Ron Paul's domestic outlook and proposals sounded like true conservatism. John McCain did some political name-dropping for who supports him.
When it comes to the war, Ron Paul was the only one who says the Iraq War was a bad idea and we never should have gone in. Mike Huckabee had the line about weapons of mass destruction: "Just because you didn't find every Easter egg doesn't mean they weren't planted." Mitt Romney made the distinction that the war went great when we went in, but it was badly managed afterwards.

When it came to the segment where the candidates ask each other questions, it was shockingly congenial. First question was Romney to Guiliani about China, but in asking his question, it was complex and detailed enough that he was really answering the question himself before adding a (?) to it and Guiliani was able to expand on it. Second question was a staggering softball from McCain to huckabee over the Fair Tax. Third question was Paul to McCain, and he asked about the financial markets, and McCain looked confused by the question. Fourth question was Huckabee to Romney where Huck got to demonstrate his support of assault weapons while trying to nail Romney on the Second Amendment, which Romney handled nicely. Next question was Giuliani to Romney about catastrophic insurance, an issue in hurricane-friendly Florida. No fireworks are going to happen here, which is good for the front-runners and for tomorrow's headlines.

Romney had the line of the night when he talked about how Republicans don't want to send Bill Clinton back to the White House with nothing to do.

Paul proposed a way to get rid of Social Security while still taking care of the elderly.

Huck had a cheap jab at Romney that fell flat about Mitt's sons' inheritance.

The last few questions were easy ones for each candidates.

The Florida polls show the order is Romney, McCain, Giuliani, Huckabee, Paul. I don't think the debate did anything to change that order.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

My Top Ten Films of 2007

In making a list, I look back and try to remember how I felt the day I saw them, the week I saw them, and how I think of them now. I've seen movies I loved at the time that fade quickly, or ones I liked but had a respect increase and grow the further I got away from it.

I have not seen these other movies making top-ten lists everywhere, (some due to them only being released on a handful of screens on the West or East Coast), so in three or four months, when they've hit DVD, then I feel my list could be redone and considered complete:

There Will Be Blood
The Diving Bell & the Butterfly
Into the Wild
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
4 Months 3 Weeks & 2 Days
Sweeney Todd
I'm Not There
Michael Clayton
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
The Savages
Gone Baby Gone

But of the 139 films I've seen in 2007, these were the best:

Honorable mentions:

1408, Away From Her, Breach, Bridge to Terabithia, Catch & Release, Disturbia, Eastern Promises, The Hoax, The Host, Hot Fuzz, Interview, Knocked Up, Meet the Robinsons, Music & Lyrics, Ocean's 13, Once, Paris Je T'Aime, Red Road, Rescue Dawn, Shoot Em Up, The Simpsons Movie, Stephanie Daley, Sunshine, Surf's Up, Talk to Me, Transformers, Waitress, Zodiac

The best 11-20:

3:10 TO YUMA - James Mangold gives his own touch to the Western, and this is the best one we've had since Open Range. Russell Crowe and Christian Bale give very different, but both very interesting performances as a killer and the lawman who caught him, respectively. This might have made my top ten if Ben Foster would have dialed it back a notch as Crowe's scene-chawing right-hand man, and had the ending been more believable.

AMAZING GRACE - The first time I thought it was okay. Then I watched it again and really appreciated what the makers were doing. They were able to convey the atrocities of slavery while keeping it in PG confines so all ages could watch and learn how slavery ended in the United Kingdom. Ioan Gruffudd demonstrates charisma he lacks in the Fantastic Four series, and there's great supporting work from Albert Finney, Ciaran Hinds and Michael Gambon.

BEOWULF IN 3D - I don't think DVD will do justice to what this was like on the big screen. Robert Zemeckis has improved the stop-motion animation technique he started in Polar Express, and while not flawless, it had great action and dizzying visuals. This should have got the third slot for Best Animated Picture above Surf's Up, although it wasn't the best of the year. Keep reading...

BLACK BOOK - I dig me World War II movies, and this is an interesting spy story about a Jewish woman who is able to get an SS officer to fall for her. Even after he learns the truth he wants to stay with her, and then we get genuine suspense as the war ramps up how these two are ever going to stay alive. Great performance from Carice Van Houten.

CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR - This movie had all the exuberance of 1980's patriotism, with only the slightest dark wink to the unintended consequences. Tom Hanks and Philip Seymour Hoffman make a great team as the Zelig-like congressman and the cynical CIA agent, respectively. One of the funnier movies of the year.

FRACTURE - The plot has faded on me (I remember it; it was just fairly routine) but the real treat is watching a great actor from one generation (Ryan Gosling) go toe-to-toe with a great actor from another (Anthony Hopkins).

FREEDOM WRITERS - This was not just another Dangerous Minds. Hilary Swank's teacher is someone you can believe actually changes lives for the good, and there are several dimensions given to her students.

HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX - They took my least favorite book from the series and made it one of the better movies. Daniel, Rupert and Emma improve with each film, and Imelda Staunton is a memorable villain. The parallels to national security paranoia are unmistakable.

THE KINGDOM - Solid, solid action picture only enhanced by being located in Saudi Arabia. I'm really enjoying the career trajectory Peter Berg has taken as director.

STARDUST - It's downright relieving to have an original fantasy-comedy come along that's good. It won't be quite as timeless as The Princess Bride, but it has a fun, constantly-moving plot, and Michelle Pfeiffer steals the show as the wickedest of witches.

And now...

... The Top Ten

10. THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM - This franchise forced James Bond to reinvent himself. Matt Damon is a thinking man's action hero, perfectly believable as a lethal weapon. Whodu thunk that when Good Will Hunting came out? I would be there ina heartbeat for a fourth, even though Damon has said he's done. Maybe that's best; leave us wanting more.

9. HAIRSPRAY - The most fun musical of the year, this is a vibrant celebration (I haven't seen it but does anyone think Sweeney Todd was more fun?). I don't want my 10-year-old daughter's constant playing of the soundtrack to subtract from me how much I enjoyed when I first saw it. Nikki Blonsky has a dream film debut.

8. PAPRIKA - There must have been some technicality that prevented this from being nominated for Best Animated Film, or maybe not enough voters actually saw it. This Japanese import reminds us how limitless a visual medium animation can be, held back only by imagination and focus groups. I don't want to overhype it, as it has many similar qualities to other anime movies, but it served as a great reminder to me what a cool genre this can be.

7. THE LOOKOUT - Joseph Gordon-Levitt, slavishly dedicated to the indie route right now, is turning into one of my favorite young actors. (He also headlined last year's underrated Brick.) Here he's a brain-damaged young man who's talked into helping with a bank robbery, at the very bank he works. it's a thoughtful drama that builds its suspense nicely.

6. NO END IN SIGHT - The definitive Iraq War documentary, this one really demonstrates that even after we invaded Iraq, there was a real chance to do things right and make it work, but inept leadership and poor planning led instead to quagmire. Everyone in the Bush Administration will admit "mistakes were made." This movie clearly lays out what they were and when, in an objective tone rather than a populist one. Four of the five nominated Best Documentary features are ones that make America look bad, but this one doesn't feel like it has an axe to grind. It feels more like it's saying, "Let's please, please learn from our mistakes."

5. AMERICAN GANGSTER - We watch Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe in movies to see them do their thing, and they're two of the best. Denzel relishes the rare chance to play the villain as Frank Lucas, the true-life drug kingpin of the 1970's, and equal time goes to Russell as the Serpico-like cop who brought him down. Denzel's half plays like a black Godfather, with family relations and business prospectives guiding him, and the occasional murder out of spite. Russell's half has the gritty feel of a French Connection cop-shop, where the only honest law enforcer pays for it. Solid supporting work from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Josh Brolin and Ruby Dee only enhance what two stars could carry themselves.

4. THE LIVES OF OTHERS - This won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 2006, but it didn't open in the US until February 2007. It's a great depiction of the banality of thought-control Communism in East Germany in the 1980's. There was an entire police force dedicated to spying on its citizens for anti-Communist sentiments. Ulrich Mare, who died last year, is the heart of the film, as a spy who leanrs to admire his subject, and must figure out how to keep him safe when he's recording everything he does. Some felt it was an upset when this beat Pan's Labyrinth, but as visually imaginative as that film was, this would have received my vote.

3. JUNO - Cynical wisecracks notwithstanding, this is the warmest and maybe funniest movie of the year. Ellen Page is peerlessly charming as the prego teen, and screenwriter Diablo Cody's debut has announced herself as a future voice to be recknoned with. I'm glad audiences are finding this.

2. RATATOUILLE - Pixar has a magic way with movies, churning out some of the most satisfying big-screen entertainment of the past 15 years. This cartoon rat is no exception. I admire Pixar for taking a not very marketable idea (who wants to see a rat cook?) and making it work beautifully. The voice work is fun, the animation is deep and rich, and it's another example of how family entertainment can have something for everyone.

1. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN - The Coens' best movie in years. It took me a while to figure out what the ending meant to me, but it stuck to me longer than any other movie this year. It's not often a movie will dare to deviate in its third act this much from what we expect. Shot after shot is like a framed picture. It's full of what I call "Coen moments" and keeps the suspense high even when no dialogue is spoken. I know the ending will frustrate some people, but its unexpected turns at the end are what will keep it relevant for decades in the crime/western genres.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

2007 Academy Award Nominations

Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood
Joel & Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton
Jason Reitman, Juno
Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell & the Butterfly

George Clooney, Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd
Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah
Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises

Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Julie Christie, Away from Her
Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose
Laura Linney, The Savages
Ellen Page, Juno

Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson's War
Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild
Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton

Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
Ruby Dee, American Gangster
Saoirse Ronan, Atonement
Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

Beaufort, Israel
The Counterfeiters, Austria
Katyn, Poland
Mongol, Kazakhstan
12, Russia

Surf's Up

Lars & the Real Girl
Michael Clayton
The Savages

Away from Her
The Diving Bell & the Butterfly
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

American Gangster
The Golden Compass
Sweeney Todd
There Will Be Blood

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The Diving Bell & the Butterfly
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

No End in Sight
Operation Homecoming
Taxi to the Dark Side

The Bourne Ultimatum
No Country for Old Men
3:10 to Yuma

The Bourne Ultimatum
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

The Bourne Ultimatum
The Diving Bell & the Butterfly
Into the Wild
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

The Kite Runner
Michael Clayton
3:10 to Yuma

"Falling Slowly," Once
"Happy Working Song," Enchanted
"Raise It Up," August Rush
"So Close," Enchanted
"That's How You Know," Enchanted

Across the Universe
Elizabeth: The Golden Age
La Vie En Rose
Sweeney Todd

The Golden Compass
Pirates of the Caribbean: AWE

La Corona
Salim Baba
Sari's Mother

At Night
Il Supplente
Le Mozart des Pickpockets
Tanghi Argenti
The Tonto Woman

I Met the Walrus
Madame Tulti-Pulti
Meme Les Pigeons Vont au Paradis
My Love
Peter & the Wolf

No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood both lead the way with 8 nominations each.
Atonement had 7.
Michael Clayton had 6.
The Diving Bell & the Butterfly, Juno and Ratatouille had 4.
The Bourne Ultimatum, Enchanted, Sweeney Todd and Transformers had 3.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Chris Matthews' Hardball Power Rankings

I guess this is a new feature Chris is doing on MSNBC.

1. Hillary Clinton - won Nevada despite the rumpus over the unions
2. John McCain - won S.C. and won a decent chunk of evangelicals doing it
3. Mitt Romney - first Republican to win three states
4. Barack Obama - needs to get another win before Super Tuesday
5. Rudy Giuliani - Rasmussen's poll has his long-time Florida lead vanishing, and he's even behind in New York

Mike Huckabee - he still only has Iowa, where 60% evangelicals put him over the top
John Edwards - only 4% in Nevada?!
Fred Thompson - Drew the line in the sand at S.C. and came in a distant third
Ron Paul - His base is loyal, but he only took second in Nevada when McCain, Huck, Fred and Rudy decided not to compete there

Duncan Hunter - dropped out
Dennis Kucinich - delusional
Mike Gravel - Delusional with a capital D

Smiley Face - DVD Review

SMILEY FACE (*1/2) - Starring Anna Faris, John Krasinski, Danny Masterson, Adam Brody, Jane Lynch, John Cho, Marion Ross, Michael Hitchcock, Danny Trejo, Rick Hoffman and Roscoe Lee Browne. Directed by Gregg Araki.

Anna Faris gives a tour-de-force performance in an otherwise big waste of time as a girl who's stoned the entire movie. This movie might be funny for people who've been high on pot, but I never have been, and this movie was pretty much about as fun as hanging out with someone who's stoned and owes you money you know you'll never see.

My interest also picked up a tiny bit when The Office's John Krasinski showed up as a nerd who has a crush on her, but those ten minutes do not make this thing worth it. I'd heard this was a hit at a couple film festivals, but maybe it was a hit with stoners who went to film festivals.

2007 Razzie Nominations

Daddy Day Camp
I Know Who Killed Me
I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry

Nicolas Cage, Ghost Rider
Jim Carrey, The Number 23
Cuba Gooding Jr., Daddy Day Camp
Eddie Murphy, Norbit
Adam Sandler, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry

Jessica Alba, Good Luck Chuck
Logan Browning & Janel Parrish &
Nathalia Ramos & Skyler Shaye, Bratz
Elisha Cuthbert, Captivity
Diane Keaton, Because I Said So
Lindsay Lohan, I Know Who Killed Me

Orlando Bloom, Pirates of the Caribbean: AWE
Kevin James, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry
Eddie Murphy, Norbit
Rob Schneider, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry
Jon Voight, September Dawn

Jessica Biel, Next
Carmen Electra, Epic Movie
Eddie Murphy, Norbit
Julia Ormond, I Know Who Killed Me
Nicholette Sheridan, Code Name: The Cleaner

Dennis Dugan, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry
Roland Joffe, Captivity
Brian Robbins, Norbit
Fred Savage, Daddy Day Camp
Chris Siverston, I Know Who Killed Me

Daddy Day Camp
Epic Movie
I Know Who Killed Me
I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry

Dane Cook & Jessica Alba, Good Luck Chuck
Any 2 of the 4 leads, Bratz
Lindsay Lohan & Lindsay Lohan, I Know Who Killed Me
Eddie Murphy & Eddie Murphy, Norbit
Adam Sandler & Jessica Biel, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry

Are We Done Yet? (rip-off of The Money Pit)
Bratz (rip-off of a toy line)
Epic Movie (rip-off of every movie it rips off)
I Know Who Killed Me (rip-off of Saw and The Patty Duke Show)
Who's Your Caddy? (rip-off of Caddyshack)

Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem
Hannibal Rising
Hostel Part II
I Know Who Killed Me

Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem
Daddy Day Camp
Evan Almighty
Hannibal Rising
Hostel Part II

Personally I think they're being too hard on Eddie Murphy. He did a good acting job, even if it was in a misogynist movie. Otherwise of the movies I've seen they've targeted, they are worthy of the Razzie.

Candidate issue quiz

I take this quiz every couple of months during election years, get a gage on how I feel abotu the issues. Last time I took, Ron Paul came out as my #1 so I guess it depends on what issues I'm focussing on when I take it. That's pretty much my order of preference anyway, except move Barack above Rudy.

1. John McCain (65%)
2. Mitt Romney (56%)
3. Ron Paul (54%)
4. Fred Thompson (53%)
5. Rudolph Giuliani (46%)
6. Mike Huckabee (45%)
7. Barack Obama (44%)
8. John Edwards (41%)
9. Hillary Clinton (39%)
10. Dennis Kucinich (27%)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Cloverfield gets January $$$ record

1. Cloverfield - $41 million - 1 wk (Par)
3411 screens / $12,019 per screen
2. 27 Dresses - $22.43 - 1 wk (Fox)
3057 / $7336
3. The Bucket List - $15.15 ($42.71) - 4 wks (WB) -21.9%
2915 / $5197
4. Juno - $10.25 ($85.38) - 7 wks (FS) -24.7%
2534 / $4044
5. National Treasure 2 - $8.15 ($198.03) - 5 wks (BV) -27.9%
2963 / $2749
6. First Sunday - $7.8 ($28.47) - 2 wks (SG) -56%
2213 / $3524
7. Mad Money - $7.7 - 1 wk (Ov)
2470 / $3117
8. Alvin & the Chipmunks - $7 ($196.38) - 6 wks (Fox) -24.8%
2962 / $2363
9. I Am Legend - $5.11 ($247.68) - 6 wks (WB) -37.6%
2525 / $2021
10. Atonement - $4.76 ($31.88) - 7 wks (Foc) +12.7%
1291 / $3686
11. There Will Be Blood - $3.12 ($8.16) - 4 wks (Par) +67.8%
389 / $8023

I can't but think if the Golden Globes awards had happened - the full 3-hour star-studded event of years' past - that Atonement and Sweeney Todd would have seen bigger box-office boosts.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Fractured parties

Both parties seem fractured right now, but in two completely different ways. The Democrats have the opportunity to nominate either the first woman or the first African-American presidential candidate. It's historic, and for the rest of the party's existence, they'll be able to say they were the party that did it first. But which historic moment gets to go first?

If Hillary wins, she'll probably pick Bill Richardson as her vice-presidential candidate, and there's another historic detail, the first Hispanic VP nominee.

If Barack wins, he'll probably find a Democratic governor somewhere, one that's a little older but doesn't completely overshadow him in the gravitas department the way Cheney did over Dubya.

When it comes to policies, it doesn't really matter which one wins, as they've voted the same way 93% of the time in the Senate. So it comes down to character, personality, and which historic moment gets to go first.

Personality-wise, Barack would win in a landslide against any Republican, and if Democrats care about controlling the White House in 2009, they'd wise up to this.

Hillary would galvanize the GOP no matter who their nominee was, because they do not want to go through the headache of having the Clintons on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue again. People forget how scorched the Earth was when they left.

John Edwards is still in the race because he has nothing else to do. He'll probably become a lobbyist, but a lobbyist for "the poor."

On the other side of the aisle, the Republicans have the unenviable task of trying to find the right spokesman to convince a nation to give them another chance after eight years of a president who did almost everything he said he wouldn't do in 2000. He made government bigger, and he had the opposite of a humble foreign policy. His neocon experts picked and chose their intelligence to get us into war with Iraq before Afghanistan was done or Osama bin Laden was caught. I believed them then. I believed there would be weapons of mass destruction found. There weren't. Even so, Iraq still could have succeeded had the post-war occupation not gone so badly and been managed so poorly.

So there's Mitt Romney, John McCain and Mike Huckabee at the top. They've each own states and are the top three in getting votes and delegates. Rudy Giuliani is still in play, with big states like New York and New Jersey favoring him. Fred Thompson needs to place at least third in South Carolina or it will demonstrate, yeah, he waited too long to get in. Ron Paul has a solid streak of support in every state, but it's never meant higher than fourth place, and I don't see any state out there that will rank him higher. Texas, maybe? Duncan Hunter should drop out.
The problem with the Republican candidates is that they do have a lot of differences. Romney has the best resume for handling the economy, but how would he really do with foreign policy? McCain has the best resume for foreign policy, but with his stands on campaign-finance reform and immigration, he's made many enemies in his own party. Huckabee's going the populist route, the second coming of Jimmy Carter. Giuliani has the most comprehensive tax plan, but is he too socially liberal and internationally hawkish? Paul has convinced the GOP he's crazy on foreign policy, even though a lot of what's he's saying makes sense. (Not the part about Lincoln dragging us into war to end slavery when it could have been handled a different way.) Then there's Thompson, who is the most well-rounded on conservative issues but finishing behind Paul in the last two states doesn't help him.

Despite these differences, it seems like their personalities matter more in the coverage they get. Mitt's going back to the type of campaign he wanted to run a year ago. He "found his voice" in Michigan. He tried filling the social conservative void when George Allen and Bill Frist fizzled out before they ever came close to declaring, and Rudy Giuliani and John McCain were the front-runners. No matter how he feels personally about issues like abortion and gay marriage, his record shows he has other priorities. Now he just seems like a panderer, a guy saying what he can to each crowd to please them, knowing he could do a good job if he could get hired instead going through this eighteen-month process of campaigning and building name recognition. How good are his chances at being president when his predecessor didn't do a lot of what he said he would do?

McCain has the straight-talk express. McCain's the underdog who got slimed in 2000 by evil special-interest groups. (The fliers about his "Negro baby" in South Carolina were just disgusting, in part because playing to people's prejudices worked.) McCain's the war hero, the media darling, the now-71-year-old man trying to win the nomination that many feel would have made the country a better place had he won it eight years ago. But once again, McCain is facing opposition from conservatives, relying on Democratic and independent votes in primaries to carry him. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck are all opposed to McCain, and their radio shows are #1,2,3 in the nation. (I think Dr. Laura or Michael Savage is #4).

Huckabee has a light sense of humor, demonstrated on his frequent Colbert Report appearances and his one-liners in debates. ("Jesus would never run for public office.") His line about politics being neither left nor right but up and down was taken from Reagan, and he sees that no one's really speaking to the lower middle class and poor people in the Republican party. He's flipped on some issues, like taxes, but gets extra credit for never changing on abortion. He doesn't seem to have much of a clue when it comes to foreign policy, and his passive-aggressive tactics can be wearying. If Huck and Romney are still viable after February 5, I'd expect some of his supporters to start the whole religion whsiper campaign again.

Giuliani has yet to make an impact. He talks about 9/11 a lot, but he has yet to be finish higher than fourth anywhere. Hm, same boat as Ron Paul.

Funny thing that, this system we have. Why do certain states get so much say in how candidates are picked? Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, Nevada, South Carolina... I remembe being bummed in 2000, on March 4, when my state had its primary but Bush had already sewn up the nomination. Now at least we'll be part of Super Tuesday.

Anyway, I can see the Democrats rally around Hillary, despite whatever bitter divisons they cause in playing the race card against Obama and the gender card for Hillary. I can see the Democrats rally around Obama. Whole-heartedly. I can see Edwards moving to Iowa this summer to try again for 2012.

With the Republicans, I can't see Huckabee bringing the party together. He isn't really a conservative, and everyone knows he's get clobbered in the general election. He seems to be running for the position of McCain's VP nominee anyway. I can see McCain bringing them together, though some would come reluctantly. I can see Giuliani bringing them together, even though the whole on-his-fourth-wife thing has some social conservatives harumphing. Romney could bring them together with cautious optimism, but right now national polls show he'd get clobbered too.

A month is an eternity in politics. But right now the way I see it, the only chance the Republicans have is if Hillary Clinton gets the nomination.

Juno - Movie Review

JUNO (****) - Starring Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons, Olivia Thirlby and Rainn Wilson. Directed by Jason Reitman.

I've heard many people say this is the Little Miss Sunshine of 2007. I disagree. I thought LMS was overrated but this is the real deal. Director Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking) and screenwriter Diablo Cody have crafted a delightful teen comedy in the tradition of Ghost World and MTV's Daria.

The dialogue is distracting at first. Everyone talks like they have 100 zingers at their fingertips. When Juno says to a clerk "Silencio, old man!" it sounds like a 29-year-old screenwriter told her to say it, but the movie finds its rhythm, and then the characters get comfy with the dialogue and we're able to settle in.

Let's put it this way. Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes had dialogue far too elaborate for a six-year-old, but that was part of that comic strip's charm. And so liveth they in the world of Juno.
Juno (Ellen Page) is a tomboy 16-year-old who gets pregnant after taking the virginity of her best friend Bleeker, played with tender insecurity by Michael Cera (Superbad). I think Cera's the funniest actor of his generation. (Can you name one better?) The look on his face when informed of Juno's condition is priceless.

Juno chickens out on getting an abortion and decides to put her baby up for adoption, finding the perfect match with yuppie couple Vanessa & Mark (Garner & Bateman).

The movie's observant about human behavior and relationships, and several actors get complex characters to delve into and play with. It makes me excited for what Diablo Cody will offer next.

Death Sentence - DVD Review

DEATH SENTENCE (**) - Starring Kevin Bacon, Garrett Hedlund, Kelly Preston, John Goodman, Aisha Tyler and Leigh Whannell. Directed by James Wan.

First off, I liked that they made the center of this vigilante flick a regular guy. Kevin Bacon's Nick Hume is just a suit-wearing family man who didn't ask for the violence that tumbles into his life when his son is murdered by a gang-member. I've never seen a Death Wish movie all the way through (didn't care for Charles Bronson) and I hated it when Steven Seagal made a couple movies based on the same general theme. Bacon gives a credible performance and has a generally believable arc as a guy in over his head who gets more and more inhumane as he must fight to keep the rest of his family safe.

There were also some nice touches from director James Wan (Saw). The parking garage chase scene was well done, for one, but there were also some continuous shots that pulled me out and made me admire Wan's technique more than just appreciate another level to the story. There were other times where I just had it thrown in my face this is from the guy who directed Saw. The underground hide-out where the gang spends their time was so dingy and poorly-lit, it might as well have a torture chamber in the next room.

The problem with the story is that the gang members are these generic yet ethnically diverse thugs who are cacklingly evil and deserve everything coming to them, and the cops are neutered to do anything about it. Whenever the movie focuses on the gangsters or the cops, it's boring. When John Goodman shows up as a scuzzy arms dealer, he commands the screen. But he's only in three scenes, so there it is.

The Brave One is a better vigilante film overall, though this one had the more believable ending, if you don't mind Hume getting in touch with his inner Travis Bickle before all is said and done.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Sunshine - DVD Review

SUNSHINE (***) - Starring Rose Byrne, Cliff Curtis, Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, Michelle Yeoh, Troy Garity, Hiroyuki Sanada and Benedict Wong. Directed by Danny Boyle.

The first hour or so is this beautiful space odyssey, where I thought 2007 was getting its own 2001. The final third, however, veers dangerously close to Event Horizon territory.

We meet an international team of eight astronauts in the near-future flying toward the sun. The sun is dying, but this team has a way of jumpstarting it. The explanation they had was one I was willing to buy and not think about, and now I can't remember the details, but trust me that it's better than The Core.

Director Danny Boyle (The Beach) allows the crew to wax poetic as they get closer, but then we learn the ship they are on - the Icarus - is actually Icarus II. They get a distress beacon from Icarus I, which has been lost for years.

As the crew gets closer to the sun, the odds of their own survival are looking bleaker as the odds of succeeding in kickstarting the sun become more real. The human factor, the unpredictably of human behavior, is always the question in survival, and Boyle and company have a lot of good existential arguments that leak out under the cloak of a sci-fi flick.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Golden Globe Results

BEST DRAMA - Atonement
BEST ACTOR DRAMA - Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
BEST ACTRESS DRAMA - Julie Christie, Away From Her
BEST ACTOR C/M - Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd
BEST ACTRESS C/M - Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose
BEST DIRECTOR - Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell & the Butterfly
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR - Javier Bardem, There Will Be Blood
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS - Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
BEST SCREENPLAY - The Coens, No Country for Old Men
BEST FOREIGN FILM - The Diving Bell & the Butterfly (France)
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE - Dario Marianelli, Atonement
BEST ORIGINAL SONG - "Guaranteed", Into the Wild

BEST ACTOR DRAMA - Jon Hamm, Mad Men
BEST ACTRESS DRAMA - Glenn Close, Damages
BEST ACTOR COMEDY - David Duchovny, Californication
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR - Jeremy Piven, Entourage
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS - Samantha Morton, Longford

Hillary lies on Meet the Press

MR. RUSSERT: When we arrived in South Carolina yesterday this was The State newspaper, and the headlines agree to this. And let me share it with you and our viewers: "Clinton Camp Hits Obama, Attacks `painful' for black voters. Many in state offended by criticism of Obama," and "remarks about" Martin Luther "King." Bob Herbert, in The New York Times, columnist, weighed in this way: "I could also sense how hard the Clinton camp was working to undermine Senator Obama's main theme, that a campaign based on hope and healing could unify rather than further polarize the country. So there was the former president chastising the press for the way it was covering the Obama campaign and saying of Mr. Obama's effort, `The whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen.' And there was Mrs. Clinton telling the country we don't need `false hopes,' and taking cheap shots at, of all people, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We've already seen Clinton surrogates trying to implant the false idea that Mr. Obama might be a Muslim, and perhaps a drug dealer to boot."
What is this all about?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, beats me, because there's not one shred of truth in what you've just read.

Um, really? So there's not a shred of truth that it's painful for black voters to hear the criticisms from Clinton's camp? Bill Clinton didn't call it a 'fairy tale'? She didn't jab at Obama for giving the country 'false hopes'? Her surrogates didn't try to implant the false ideas of Barack being a Muslim or former drug dealer? That was the first question of the interview, and she just swipes it away with a wave of her hand.

Then there's this exchange:

MR. RUSSERT: You say you've been deeply involved in the eight years of the Clinton administration. One of the powers given to a president is the power of pardon. At the end of the president's second term, he granted 140 pardons, including one to Marc Rich, someone who had been convicted of tax evasion, fraud and making illegal oil deals with Iran. Were you involved in that pardon?
SEN. CLINTON: No. I didn't know anything about that.
MR. RUSSERT: No one talked to you whatsoever?
SEN. CLINTON: No. No. Unh-unh.
MR. RUSSERT: His ex-wife gave $109,000 to your campaign.
SEN. CLINTON: Well, no one talked to me about it, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Nobody?
MR. RUSSERT: Your two brothers proposed people for pardons and you were paid money. One brother, you asked to give the money back.
SEN. CLINTON: That's right. That's right.
MR. RUSSERT: Were you aware your brothers were involved?
SEN. CLINTON: No, I was not.

They've been doing revisitonist history to say she was more involved then than they wanted to let on, but whenever it comes to Bill's bad decisions, she had no idea. Either way there's dishonesty going on, and it's just more evidence how polarizing she's going to be to the country if she gets back in the White House.

I may switch to Democrat this year just so I can vote for Obama in the primary.

Okur helps Jazz edge Magic

One of the Utah Jazz's problems this year has been the decline in production from Mehmet Okur. He wound up sitting out a few games due to injury,and now that he's back, he seems to be back to his old self. He had 29 points against the Magic last night, and 22 points and 17 rebounds against the Suns the game before. Can a Jazzfan hope against hope he'll be more consistent this year? They could use some of that on their road games, where the Jazz are 6-14.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Bucket List is #1 movie

Friday's box office numbers:

1. The Bucket List - $6.4 million ($7.82) - 18 days
2. First Sunday - $6.15 - 1 day
3. Juno - $4.6 ($61.85) - 38 days
4. National Treasure: Book of Secrets - $3.26 ($179.07) - 22 days
5. I Am Legend - $2.63 ($234.73) - 29 days
6. One Missed Call - $2.15 ($16.66) - 8 days
7. Alvin & the Chipmunks - $1.93 ($180.56) - 29 days
8. P.S. I Love You - $1.62 ($43.63) - 22 days
9. Charlie Wilson's War - $1.36 ($56.58) - 22 days
10. Atonement - $1.29 ($22.2) - 36 days
11. The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything - $1.13 - 1 day
12. Sweeney Todd - $1.06 ($41.72) - 22 days
13. In the Name of the King - $.97 - 1 day
14. The Great Debaters - $.75 ($24.03) - 18 days

Highest per-screen average belonged to There Will Be Blood on 129 screens.

The Bucket List is on course for a $17 million weekend. Not bad for a movie about two old-timers traveling the world while dying of cancer. It shows that Jack Nicholson is still a draw. First Sunday is another solid comedy opening for ice Cube. Juno is the sleeper hit of the season. National Treasure 2 will pass $200 million domestic eventually. I Am Legend will pass $250 million eventually.

Other new openings didn't fare too well. I think Veggie Tales have passed their peak in popularity, and so their second movie (Pirates) won't do as well as their Jonah movie,w hich wasn't that big a hit. But they do have a low budget, so in DVD sales they'll make their money back. In the Name of the King has a wild, weird cast for a medieval flick (Burt Reynolds? Ray Liotta?!) but it's directed by Uwe Boll, king of the terrible.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Fox News GOP debate in S.C.

I'm trying to find a full transcript of the last night's debate and haven't found one yet. Didn't want to spend too much time looking. I watched the second airing of it last night and I don't think I got the full debate. Commercials started in the middle of candidates' sentences. I read Fox News's summary of it but it has those subtle spins on how exchanges went and I'd rather just read the words as they were uttered.

That said, I did watch it, and this is what I saw.

Until now, Mitt Romney is the only one who's been running contrast ads with John McCain and Mike Huckabee, who've called truce to gang up on Romney. Last night, Fred Thompson realized he is one of two Southerners in the race, and the candidate he needs to take out most is Huck. Said Fred about Huck:

"He would be a Christian leader, but he would also bring about liberal economic policies, liberal foreign policies. He believes we have an arrogant foreign policy … he believes that Guantanamo should be closed down … he believed in taxpayer-funded programs for illegals, as he did in Arkansas. He has the endorsement of the National Education Association, and the NEA said it was because of his opposition to vouchers."

This morning on MSNBC, when asked about it, Huck said Fred needed to take his Metamucil. Ouch. So will he start calling McCain "Grandpa" when their truce comes to its inevitable end?

Now Rudy Giuliani's natural competition is John McCain, but he seems afraid to take him on. I think Rudy's just hoping Florida comes through for him and he can get some life breathed into his campaign. Fred saw how insignificant New Hampshire felt he was, and he came out ready to draw some lines in the sand. It certainly woke up Frank Luntz's focus group.

As usual, Ron Paul was the odd man out. The other five are very comfortable pointing out their differences with him, finding his foreign policy ideas crazy. You could hear that one section of Paul loyalists who cheered loudly when he made a point and booed if someone tried to get a zinger off on him.

Overall I thought Fred Thompson won the debate, if for any other reason, this was his coming out party. Fred has awakened. I think John McCain came in second. I know he's taken stands that a lot of conservative Republicans don't like (campaign finance, immigration reform, etc.) but no one can touch his war hero status, and he sounds very convincing when he discusses foreign policy or spending issues. Third and fourth was close between Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani. I can picture Mitt as president making these decisions and coming up with solutions (he says "change" a lot now, but he actually says what he'll change too). I just think his campaign advisors haven't been good for him. The lessons for future candidates is you can't run contrast ads in Iowa and New Hampshire. (In fact, if he doesn't get the nomination, he should probably move back to Michigan and run for governor there; their economy's one of the worst in the nation.) Rudy still hasn't done what he needs to do to demonstrate why he's a better option than McCain.

Ron Paul is so different than the other five, it's amazing how constitutionally based most of his ideas and how different he is from the rest of the field.

Huckabee looked flustered a few times. He's used to playing the victim when Romney swipes at him, but he didn't look prepared for what Fred unloaded on him. There was also a point where he was asked a snarky question about taxes and he said, "You know what I did? I governed." Well, Bill Clinton "governed" Arkansas too. Jimmy Carter "governed" the USA, too.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Combined GOP popular vote of IA and NH

Mitt Romney - 105,292
John McCain - 104,025
Mike Huckabee - 67,609
Ron Paul - 30,120
Rudy Giuliani - 24,492
Fred Thompson - 18,790
Duncan Hunter - 1,744

And the Democrats delegate count from those two states:

Barack Obama - 25
Hillary Clinton - 24
John Edwards - 19
Everyone else - 0

3:10 to Yuma on DVD

3:10 TO YUMA (***1/2) - Starring Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Peter Fonda, Gretchen Mol, Ben Foster, Alan Tudyk, Dallas Roberts, Logan Lerman, Luke Wilson and Vinessa Shaw. Directed by James Mangold.

The original Elmore Leonard story on which this is based is about 20 pages long and 55 years old. I read it not too long ago, and it was a decent short-story western. Leonard's style is still cool to read, even today.

I have not seen the 1957 Glenn Ford movie based on that story, so I don't know how much liberty this version took with that, but they did expand and change a lot about the story, and the original ending is better, cleaner, not to mention easier to swallow. I'll say that upfront.

Despite that and one distracting supporting performance, this is one of the best movies I've seen so far this year. The western as a genre is back, and as long as the maker don't MTV the thing, like in American Outlaws, it's a sturdy backdrop for entertaining stories.

Russell Crowe and Christian Bale are in my opinion two of the most interesting leads working today. Neither has a persona they're really trying to sell. They just become the character. Crowe is one of those rare real-men actors that Hollywood doesn't churn out as much any more, and he creates a wily bad guy in Ben Wade, a robber and murderer who feels unburdened by such inconveniences as morals or a conscience. Christian Bale, meanwhile, loses himself in the role of Dan Evans, a one-legged farmer about to lose his land but sees an opportunity to make the money he needs by escorting Wade to a train that will take him to federal prison.

Crowe and Bale play off each other nicely, and the supporting cast is pretty good. I enjoyed Peter Fonda (and I usually don't) as a Pinkerton hired-gun, Logan Lerman as Bale's sure-shot son, Alan Tudyk as the comic relief (this time a doctor) and Luke Wilson in a cameo as a ruthless miner. I actually wanted more of Luke Wilson's character, and how often does that happen?

I could not enjoy Ben Foster as Crowe's right-hand psychopath. There was something too twitchy and mannered about it, like an actor consciously trying to make it memorable. Otherwise it's the best big-screen western since Open Range.

Matt Damon in new Iraq film

Are we ready for Iraq War movies yet? Fictionalized films based on what's going on over there haven't done too well. Home of the Brave, In the Valley of Elah, Rendition, Lions for Lambs, Redacted... The Kingdom wasn't really an Iraq War film since it dealt with US and Saudi agents uniting to fight a terrorist cell in Saudi Arabia, and it gave an excuse to treat terrorists like they really are, not the generically-accented kind that get battled in movies like Collateral Damage and The Siege.

Now word has it Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass, the duo behind the last two Bourne movies, will collaborate on an Iraq War film, focussing on the search for weapons of mass destruction. Maybe by 2009, with a new president, US audiences will be ready to go there.

Bill trashing Barack too much

I found this little nugget and thought I'd pass it along.

Bill Clinton has never been a classy person. But I think his conduct over the last couple of weeks is tacky even for him. Think about it for a minute. Here is a former president going out on the campaign trail in the early primaries and trashing one of his own party's greatest new talents. Can you recall any other president doing such a thing in an election campaign? The abuse he has heaped on Obama both tarnishes his former office and cheapens his role as an elder statesman in the Democratic party. Donna Brazile has bravely pointed this out as well, noting that Clinton's abuse had some racial tinges to it:

"For him to go after Obama using 'fairy tale,' calling him a 'kid,' as he did last week, it's an insult. And I tell you, as an African-American, I find his words and his tone to be very depressing."

It could be argued that an exception should be made because his wife is running. But that seems to me to compound the offense. Supporting your spouse is one thing; trashing his or her opponent from the powerful position as leader of his party is another. President George H. W. Bush supported his son in his campaigns but never came near the attacks that Clinton has unleashed. And Bush Senior always insisted, as did his son, that he would not be involved in the politics of a second Bush administration. Clinton will be deeply involved in a possible future Clinton administration, just as his wife was in his. He is trashing fellow Democrats to extend his own power.

What we are witnessing is the corruption of nepotism and the abuse of a former office for the pursuit of dynastic power. Anyone who has ever followed the Clintons knows how unscrupulous they are. But even I didn't expect a former president to be as tacky as this. You want this kind of character back in the White House? You want another dynasty, defending itself and attacking others in the same party? You know what to do.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Obama would be wiser choice for Dems

I would think that a voter would want to take into account who could win in a national election. When you look at Obama's issues and compare them to Hillary's issues, they agree on more than they disagree. I would argue this election is more about the cult of personality than anything, and Obama has that charisma that could bring many independents and some Republicans to his side, especially considering in how much turmoil the Republicans are in trying to find an acceptable nominee.

Hillary Clinton is disliked by 49% of the population. That may hurt her feelings, but she does represent old-school, old-style politics, the kind that turns a lot of people off. I do not see her bringing more people in under the tent unless the GOP nominee screws up so badly, moderate and conservative voters say to themselves, "Well, at least it'll make history to have a woman be president."

Since 1980, there has always been a Bush or Clinton on the ticket. We have a two-family monarchy in US politics right now. I'm 34, and I barely remember Pres. Carter. Pretty much my whole memory is having one of the Bushclintons in office, and if we're going to look forward to the future, a clean break needs to be made. I think that's part of Obama's appeal.

A lot of Americans would like to have that historic moment when a woman becomes president. But most of them don't want it to be someone as calculating and Machiavellian as Hillary. So there's another historic moment they'd like, when an ethnic minority becomes president, and there's Barack Obama. Sunny, inspiring, seems honest, has a knack for communicating, someone who could actually unite the country. Yeah, he has a liberal record, and I'm a Republican, but I know if Obama gets the Democratic nomination, odds are I won't mind either candidate winning the general election (what a dream that would be), and if the wrong guy gets the GOP nomination against Obama, for the first time in my life, I'll vote for the Democrat for President.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Kucinich defeats Thompson

New Hampshire's famous for bucking trends, but one number that jumped out at me was that Kucinich's 1% was greater than Thompson's 1%.

Clinton - 39%
Obama - 37%
Edwards - 17%
Richardson - 5%
Kucinich - 1%
Gravel - less than 1%

McCain - 37%
Romney - 31%
Huckabee - 11%
Giuliani - 9%
Paul - 8%
Thompson - 1%
Hunter - less than 1%

I haven't heard if Alan Keyes was on the New Hampshire ballot or not. I think he did what he had to do to get himself on to one nationally televised debate so he could spout his views and now he'll disappear for a couple years again.

Worst Movies of 2007

Of the movies making worst ten lists, I haven't seen such gems as The Hitcher (20%), Gray Matters (10%), Kickin' It Old Skool (3%), Captivity (7%), I Know Who Killed Me (7%), BRATZ (7%), Daddy Day Camp (1%), Balls of Fury (25%), Death Sentence (16%), The Brothers Solomon (14%), Mr. Woodcock (14%), The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising (13%), Good Luck Chuck (2%), The Comebacks (1%), Hitman (11%), any of the After Dark Horrorfest 2007 flicks, and so on, (those percentages are their rankings) but of what I've seen, these were the worst:

Dishonorable Mentions:

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END & SPIDER-MAN 3 - They weren't that bad, they were okaaay, but they were the weakest installments in their trilogies and therefore disappointing. At World's End was at least 20 minutes too long and ended on a horrible note with Will & Elizabeth, and Spidey spent too much time angsting and not enough on Venom wreaking some havoc. They had the chance to kill the whiny MJ so Peter could go out with Gwen, and they didn't take it.

I also resented the waste of Paul Giamatti's time and talent in The Hawk Is Dying, but it only made about $4000 in theaters, so it didn't make my bottom twenty. Boo to Funny Money, Hannibal Rising and Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium as well.

The Worst 11-20:

Not quite bad enough to make my bottom ten, but still, they stunk. In alphabetical order:

ARE WE DONE YET? - With sequels in this franchise? Please say yes.

BECAUSE I SAID SO - Diane Keaton dithers and stutters her way through a melodramatic comedy about an overbearing mother afraid of letting her youngest daughter grow up. Keaton used similar tricks to great effect in Woody Allen movies and Something's Gotta Give, but here it's grating and artificial.

DOA: DEAD OR ALIVE - Actually it's Unconscious Or Alive. I think only a couple people die in the whole movie. This movie has to spend so much effort choppily editing fight scenes to make it look like these skinny chicks can beat up muscle-bound giants that it's impossible to get into the action. Even so, the movie has its tongue burrowed so far into its cheek, it gags itself a few times.

GHOST RIDER - I always thought American Beauty's Wes Bentley would amount to more than he has. He bites the Hollywood bullet here and plays the demon Blackheart (which sounds like a Care Bears villain), enemy to Johnny Blaze, played by Nicolas Cage as if confused he's in this movie at all. Some comic books are best left on the page.

HAPPILY N'EVER AFTER - You could say Happily N'Ever After is ripping off Shrek 3, and you'd be right, but neither were that funny. HNA looked and felt cheap; S3 looked great. Both had plots of fairytale villains taking over, and if only one of these movies existed this year, it still would've been disappointing. Sitting through two lost opportunities made it worse. This one didn't make my Worst Ten due to budget and expectations.

RISE: BLOOD HUNTER - Lucy Liu spins her wheels in this Blade/BloodRayne unholy thing of a movie. She's made undead by a couple vampires and now seeking revenge. Why did Michael Chiklis spend his time off from The Shield and the Fantastic Four franchise making this?

RUSH HOUR 3 - A bigger budget doesn't mean a better movie, especially in something so predictable as this. I'm sure they'll reconvene in five years for Rush Hour 4, and it will suck too.

VACANCY - When I think of leading men for horror films, Luke Wilson is not my first choice. Or thirtieth. The guy is better in off-kilter comedies (Old School, Idiocracy) or when he actually has a character to play (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Family Stone). Here, he and Kate Beckinsale play your standard couple-in-peril, but Frank Whaley is such a cartoony villain, between him and Wilson, it's impossible to feel suspense.

WILD HOGS - Four big stars plus one paint-by-numbers script equals big money apparently. I found it shallow and utterly predictable from opening credit to closing, and wished at any point in the movie, it would let something realistic or natural happen.

WIND CHILL - Dull, one-setting horror flick that would have been better suited to debut on the Sci-Fi Channel, between Mansquito and Ice Spiders. Surely Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada) has better things to do?

And now...

... The Worst Ten

10. SHREK THE THIRD - Pop culture references and poop jokes abound, in a franchise that's lost whatever charm it had. With all the money and talent involved, they should have been able to do better than this.

9. PRIMEVAL - There's something tonally wrong in a horror flick about a giant killer crocodile spending most of its time lamenting genocide in Africa. That may be an important issue to address, but is it appropriate in a giant killer crocodile movie? Regardless, the actors look lost in this movie. Prison Break's Dominic Purcell should stick to TV, and Jurgen Prochnow needs an agent who will rescue him from doing so many bad movies in a row.

8. BLOOD & CHOCOLATE - Underworld ripoff with a werewolf falling in love with a human, though the romance never sparks, and Agnes Bruckner is no Kate Beckinsale. Just another disposable MTV movie.

7. THE HILLS HAVE EYES 2 - Judging from this, Wes Craven is one of the last horror masters who views rape as entertainment. I know it's supposed to be repulsive, but when it's a mutant cannibal raping a National Guard female, there's just a new level of low there, especially when so much of it is typical horror-movie pick-em-off-one-by-one silliness. And of course, it leaves the door open for a Hills Have Eyes 3.

6. ALIENS VS. PREDATOR - REQUIEM - I was relieved when Paul W.S. Anderson did not return to the director's chair for this sequel, but the Brothers Strause aren't much better. Would it kill the cinematographer to actually light a scene? Would it kill the studio to actually hire some talent for this franchise? It's been 21 years since James Cameron made the last good Aliens movie. *Sigh*

5. CODE NAME: THE CLEANER - Cedric the Entertainer embarrasses himself as a janitor with amnesia who now believes he's a super-spy. Or is he really a super-spy? Either way, Lucy Liu kicks butt around him as he tries to piece together the conspiracy. It's one of those movies where I was wondering why the cast didn't have anything better to do.

4. PATHFINDER - Marcus Nispel directed this 10th century epic in the same style he directed the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. It seriously would not have surprised me to have Sheriff Hoyt show up with a sword in hand. Vikings, who all wear animal skulls and therefore might as well be Uruk-Hai warriors, love coming to the new world and slaughtering peace-loving Indians, but when one Viking boy hesitates to cut off an Indian's head, he's instantly disowned and left behind. Then fifteen years later, when the Vikings return, he magically remembers how to be an expert swordsman, not to mention his native tongue. Karl Urban, who has burnt off all of his Lord of the Rings karma with this and Doom and the Chronicles of Riddick, is the lead, and everything about the acting, directing, choreography and cinematography just punctuates how Apocalypto is a better film. (Hm, Daniel C. Pearl was the DP for AvP2 and this...)

3. SEPTEMBER DAWN - What could have been a powerful tragedy is torpedoed by melodramatic cliches and the filmmakers' clear hatred of the LDS faith in general.

2. HOSTEL PART II - The elements of the first movie that made it scary/suspenseful are tossed aside here. I mourn for those hundreds of screenplays that were ignored so this could be made, and I'm relieved Eli Roth has decided to try a non-horror movie next.

1. EPIC MOVIE - This isn't really a movie. It's more like The Rerun Show. Remember that show a couple years ago, where sketch actors redid scenes from 1970's sitcoms? Epic Movie does that here, except with broadly unfunny jokes from beginning to end. If Kal Penn spends 10 seconds drinking the yummy chocolate from Willy Wonka's river, how is it funny if he's then told it's from the sewage pipe? He didn't notice for 10 seconds he was drinking crap instead of chocolate? This movie thinks having someone dressed as Capt. Jack Sparrow is the entire joke. It puts a stake through the heart of the parody genre.

Daily Show / Colbert Report return

It was good to see Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert back on the air, but it also seemed clear they can't do this every day without writers. I'm 100% on the Writers Guild side and hope a deal can be worked out soon.

Huckabee's Catholic Problem?

There are two GOP constituents that Huckabee seems to be alienating. The Catholic vote and the Mormon vote. Huck's speaking at the anti-Catholic Cornerstone Baptist Church has apparently angered a lot of Catholics, fanning flames of distrust that have been there for, well, a long time. I've noted several places I'd prefer John McCain over Mitt Romney but would still be okay with Romney as the GOP nominee, and Huck's sly whisper campaign may have worked in Iowa, but it could mean trouble if he actually gets the Republican nominee.

Huck was the keynote speaker at an anti-Mormon rally held by the SBC in 1998. But in 2007 he claims he doesn't know much about them, then coyly asks "Don't they believe Jesus and Satan are brothers?" He's tap-danced every time he's been asked the question if Mormons are Christians, because the SBC would vehemently say No if he said Yes.

When you look at how close elections can get, and how red states like Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada are looking more purple, add to that Huck as the GOP representative. I think a vast chunk of LDS Republicans would rather vote for Barack Obama than a Baptist preacher they think believes they're all going to burn in hell forever. It could be enough to turn Utah and Idaho blue, and that would sure change the political paradigm forever.

I watched Chris Matthews' jaw clench when the religious test came up between Huckabee and Romney. A Catholic, Matthews was clearly upset that 48 years after JFK's speech, we still live in a climate where Romney's faith speech from last month was believed necessary.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Rush Hour 3 - DVD Review

RUSH HOUR 3 (*1/2) - Starring Chris Tucker, Jackie Chan, Max von Sydow, Hiroyuki Sanara, Yvan Attal, Tzi Ma and Philip Baker Hall. Directed by Brett Ratner.

The lack of imagination in the fight choreography this time around really shows how old Jackie Chan is getting. I also don't see where all the money went in its $120 million production budget. Are plane flights to Paris really that much?

Lee and Carter are back, and the whole time I'm watching Jackie, I can see what he's thinking. "I have no idea why Chris and Brett think this is funny, but I guess I'll trust them." Actually, Jackie, you're right. This isn't funny. The plot goes through the motions of a mystery, but I found the conspiracy in Wild Wild West more intriguing.

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Kingdom - DVD review

THE KINGDOM (***1/2) - Starring Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Ashraf Barhoum, Jeremy Piven, Danny Huston, Richard Jenkins, Ali Suliman, Kyle Chandler and Frances Fisher. Directed by Peter Berg.

Peter Berg is turning into a really good director. There are good directors I look to for art films (Coens, PT Anderson...), and for solid genre films (Ridley Scott, Michael Mann), and for both (Martin Scorsese). Peter Berg is ready to join the Scott/Mann eschelon in my book.

Berg directed the decent action comedy The Rundown, starring The Rock and Seann William Scott, which was as good as one could hope. He also did Friday Night Lights, one of the better sports movies of the last decade (so real in its drama it made me depressed). Now here is an action movie that has the thoughtfulness of FNL with Mann-esque shoot-outs. I really enjoyed it.

The opening credits give us a brief history of the relation between the US and Saudi Arabia. In certain areas, Americans are able to live freely in Saudi Arabia without being subject to the oppressive Muslim rules that apply to the Saudis. When terrorists target these Americans, an elite FBI squad is sent in to help the Saudi government catch the perpetrators.

The first half involves culture clashing between the Americans and Saudis, not really trusting each other. Once they're able to get on the same page, the hunt is on, and the intensity ratchets up. I appreciated a movie where I genuinely cared about the characters living or dying.

Jamie Foxx is in reliable form here, and I really enjoyed Ashraf Barhoum as the lead Saudi investigator, out to catch these men who kill in the name of his own religion. Berg knows how to pace a story and catch the small moments in the midst of tight action.