Friday, May 25, 2007

Music For A Long Summer Weekend

Camera Obscura - True Obscurity; Bloody Rambo; Movie News;Sanjaya Hoax

One legend in Hollywood lore is that an actor/actress who wins an Oscar follows the win with a role so strange in a movie so odd that it could scramble a viewers' brain. Some examples are Michael Caine's appearance in "Jaws IV" after winning one or Halle Berry's role in "Catwoman" following her win for "Monster's Ball."

But these all pale in comparison to the movie "Shadowboxer" with Helen Mirren, released just prior to her win in "The Queen." (NOTE: The director of "Shadowboxer", Lee Daniels, was recently in Tennessee, making the movie, called "Tennessee" which features Mariah Carey.)

Now I really love Mirren's work - she can plan darn near any part and bring something fantastic to the screen. But "Shadowboxer" is a movie that could kill a career, turn your brain upside down, and is nearly impossible to explain - just as it is nearly unwatchable. A viewing of the movie from start to finish should earn the viewer some kind of Endurance Oscar.

It's oddity and strangeness did compel me to watch it all, as I kept wondering just how strange it could become and with each passing scene it exceeded my expectations. Strange was just the beginning point of this odyssey into the bizarre. The cast includes some other notables, and more on that in a minute. First, let me try and lay down the schematic here.

It opens with a young boy toying with a real gun. Dad enters and warns him said gun is no toy. Mom looks on fearfully. Fast forward to the future and young boy is now a grown man, played by Cuba Gooding Jr (yet another Oscar winner who just can't seem to connect to good movies at all anymore). Gooding now enacts odd criminal plots with Helen Mirren, who, we learn as the movie continues via moody montages and artsy flashbacks, is both his step-mother and lover and teacher.

What is she teaching him? How to be a hitman. Seems Mirren is a top-tier hirtman. They share weird assignments and then she bathes Gooding when he's feeling low. Just one of many scenes which leave the viewer .... well, confused barely describes it.

Oh, and we also learn Mirren is dying of cancer. It's like some weird blend of a Lifetime movie and a Steven Segal script or something.

The daring couple get a contract to kill some other crooks who have angered their crook-boss, played by Stephen Dorff. Like Gooding, Dorff seems to have a knack for finding the strangest of scripts. In addition, the contract calls for the killing of Dorff's girlfriend, who is pregnant. (The girlfriend is played by actress, Vanessa Ferlito who had a short but excellent performance in the "Death Proof" portion of "Grindhouse", and in "Descent", and I hope she continues to find better films.)

As the crooks are killed off one-by-one, Mirren walks in on said pregnant gal and just as Mirren takes aim at her, the gal's water breaks and Mirren decides to help birth the child -- "Get some water and towels!" she tells her confused partner/step-son/lover Gooding.

Not to give too much of the plot and story away (yeah, like anyone other than me would watch this from start to finish) Mirren and Gooding take the mother and child to a new home with new identities and only take occasional hit-jobs to keep the family financially well off. "You take care of her!" Mirren says of their semi-adopted young woman, and then there's a scene where Gooding and Mirren get naked and do the nasty in a public park while blossoms and such flutter artfully in the breeze and Gooding then shoots Mirren in, I suppose, an act of mercy to avoid a painful death by cancer.

Other casting oddities here are Joseph Gordon-Levitt ("Brick", "The Lookout"), who plays a doctor to the criminal underworld and his girlfriend is hilariously played by Mo'Nique.

This movie almost falls into the neo-exploitation genre of movies like "Hustle and Flow" and "Black Snake Moan." And it absolutely qualifies as Obscure Find of the Month.



Quentin Tarantino showed an expanded full length version of "Death Proof", from the "Grindhouse" double feature at the Cannes Festival this week. Judging from reports, producer Harvey Weinstein says the full version is better.


Reviews are in for the new Coen brothers feature, "No Country For Old Men" by Cormac McCarthy and the reviews are solid. I look forward to this one big time:

Cinematographer Roger Deakins captures everything from mid-day open-sky vistas to claustrophobic night time urban action; in timing and tension, No Country for Old Men is one of the most suspenseful films the Coens have ever made, which says a lot. Cormack McCarthy's novel has also been impressively well-adapted -- improved and altered, but nonetheless full of McCarthy's clear, concise yet poetic voice."


Looks like the FOX network will try another sci-fi series. This time, it's a spin-off from "The Terminator" series called "The Sarah Connor Chronicles." A nifty preview reel was on YouTube earlier this week but got taken down. Sarah Connor will be played by Lena Headey ("300", "Brothers Grimm") and yes I have a crush on her. A future cyborg sent back to help the Connor family is played by Summer Glau, who was River in the series "Firefly." Sadly, given FOX's track record for sci-fi, this show will air four episodes and then be cancelled.


A preview which has been left on YouTube this week is for the movie "Rambo 4". Jeez, does Stallone look rough and old and rather ill. The preview also boasts buckets of gore and violence, especially the shot of a guy getting turned to hamburger meat while sitting in a jeep.Reports say they are fighting hard to keep it from being rated NC-17. And his co-star is the lovely Julie Benz, who was Darla in "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" TV show.


Clip of the week -- Was Sanjaya of "American Idol" a Joke??? Or is the whole dang show a joke at the expense of music itself ....

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Porn, Politics and the Internets

I have to share a discovery I made this week. I suppose it should not be surprising news to some, but it perplexes me.

Early this week, I mentioned the erotic encounter reported by Knoxville porn starlet Barbie Cummings and a member of the Tennessee Highway Patrol. The report was just too dang odd and inherently funny not to mention. Since then, this humble blog has been swamped at historical levels as readers sought details of the encounter. Visitors from every state and all US territories, from China, Europe, Africa, Australia, Asia, South America, and the UK all feverishly arrived here looking for info. I'm pretty sure if web access were available to penguins and polar bears, this blog would have crashed my server.

It's isn't news that there is porn and more porn in every corner of the internet. And I have pondered the ramifications of renaming this page Cup of Joe Porn just to drive traffic here, but I won't do that .... really, I won't.

And make no mistake, I am delighted that the abundance of visitors found this humble and lovable blog. But it is slightly disappointing that bajillions of people place a higher need on finding porn than on any other topic previously posted here. (It is worth noting too that the previous record holding post on these pages was the link to a page that features submissions of pictures of cats that look like Hitler. An insatiable desire to find Hitleresque cat pics and porn doesn't exactly boost my overall optimism in web-aware humans. It makes me wonder if there is some nefarious site of Hitler Porn which gathers billions of readers.)

And hey, if pixels of porn fill your personal needs, I hope at least such binary urges harm no one. And if only a teeny percentage of such web-walkers land here and decide to read some other posts available here or link to the sites I offer, then I am grateful for that, at least.

What I have learned does indeed add to my understanding of one peculiarity. Namely, how it is a U.S. President can be relentlessly excoriated, vilified and become an obsessive focus of humanity when linked to an episode of Oval Office erotic encounters -- as opposed to a US President who has distorted the Constitution, consistently and deliberately mislead the public and the Congress in national and international affairs, appointed incompetent leaders to jobs in emergency management and other vital offices, embrace secret prisons and generally ignore realities by the truckload. It appears such acts are just too boring and fleshy games of slap and tickle in the White House need little understanding by base minds.

It's as if the public expects a preponderance of corruption of power and blindly accept it as normal. Make the lie large enough and few will care. And scandal now is the domain of the mundane expletive or celebrity haircut.

Cable Bill Removed From Legislature, For Now

Reports say this morning that the bill to alter the laws regarding cable franchises in Tennessee has been withdrawn by it's sponsor. R. Neal has a good round-up of coverage on this action.

I hate to admit it, but I think it's a pipe dream to imagine the massive public opposition, along with the firm opposition from city and county governments statewide were the cause of this removal. I do think such opposition helped. The plan will be back next session, I am sure.

To me, that indicates the lobbying efforts from AT&T will fade from the front pages of media and blogs and will now become an assault on individual members of the General Assembly - in other words, they are going to try this again after they can harass members in private. That will also mean the company will be spending big bucks to inundate the residents of Tennessee with propaganda promoting their plan.

The fact remains, under current law, AT&T could, if they wanted, apply to cities and counties for franchise rights. The current law does not prevent them from seeking to become legal providers. The real question for residents and legislative members is why AT&T does not do so.

See also previous posts.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Creation of New State Agency Behind OK of Cable Bill?

A new law which takes the cable TV business away from local controls and local voices sailed out of the Tennessee Senate Committee yesterday and looks to be headed to a vote by the full legislature - which, I expect means it will be adopted and made law.

As I've written before, I have no opposition to AT&T wanting to jump into the cable business - but to make that decision only after state law is altered, only after local control of cable franchises has been removed, provides no benefit to the consumer and muddles the procedures for how such franchises would be held accountable.

Yesterday I mentioned some of the reasons the Senate Committee chaired by East Tennessee Republican Steve Southerland gave in to the pressures of the high-dollar lobbying by AT&T. Senator Southerland, along with Sens. Beavers, Bunch, Crutchfield, Stanley and Wilder. Voting no were Sens. Burchett, Burks and Tate.

A plan which would have allowed for the Tennessee Regulatory Committee to provide oversight of the requirements of the now all-but-approved changes to law was scrapped and instead and entirely new state organization will be created to "oversee" the law.

The new group (no mention of it's operational costs and impact on the state budget) will be made up of twelve members nominated by the Tennessee Municipal League (which had opposed the legislation) and the Tennessee County Services Association (despite that counties statewide voted to oppose the bill), and by the State Comptroller, the commissioner of the Dept. of Economic and Community Development, and the chairman of the TRA.

Just fascinating how opposition to the bill was transformed once some of those opposing it would now be part of a creating the special government committee.

In Tom Humphrey's report today in the Knoxville News Sentinel, he has this marvelous quote from AT&T president in Tennessee, Marty Dickens:

the Senate committee's vote demonstrates the legislators are listening to consumers"

I have heard precious few "consumers" advocate this bill. Highly paid lobbyists have been vocal, though, spending millions to push this bill.

And as Humphrey writes, opposition to the bill from Sen. Tim Burchett prompted AT&T to warn him that his opposition would cost him campaign contributions. AT&T attorney Joelle Phillips said nothing inappropriate was done, though, and that her company backs "less government, lower taxes and more freedom."

True, if you think adding a new level of state bureaucracy is "less government". The cost to the budget, unknown. Cost to taxpayers, unknown. Benefits for AT&T - large.

The bill may be voted on in the full legislature Thursday.

NOTE: Sadly, for the first time, my last email to my Senator, Steve Southerland, opposing the bill has gone unanswered.

UPDATE: R. Neal at KnoxViews has more on the topic, noting that despite local government requests for AT&T to go ahead and offer a plan without the new bill in place, AT&T declined.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Battle Intense on Flawed Cable Franchise Change

Once again today, state legislatures take up the issue of some very unwise changes to how cable franchises are provided and regulated. It's been the single most dollar-gulping lobby effort this year in state government, with current spending at just over $4 million. (And that's just the amount as of April of this year.)

Other reports note how intense the battle has become:

TV4US [an AT&T lobbying firm] has completed two resident mailings. One mailing included an 11-by-5 inch postcard carrying a tear-off postcard to be mailed back to the group. On April 3, the group delivered 14,000 of these return postcards to state legislators. The cards asserted that cable rates have gone down 28% to 42% in communities where competition exists. The cited source is a January 2006 Bank of America Equity Research study. The card asserts that reform laws in other states have brought lower prices and better services.

“The message is completely wrong,” said Stacey Briggs, executive director of the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association. The TCTA and municipal groups such as the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors are critical of such statements, questioning whether those rate estimates include unpublished, short-term acquisition rates. Cable incumbents also note that telephone companies, in discussing their video plans, state they don’t intend to compete on price.

Briggs said 18,000 visitors to the site have opted to send an e-mail or a fax to legislators, arguing against the telco-friendly bills pending in both chambers there.

Two weeks ago, TV4US supporters passed out pink plastic pigs in the legislative plaza in Nashville. The message: When pigs fly, cable rates will go down. Briggs said the effort played upon “consumer misconceptions” that alternative providers will charge lower rates. Few legislators are citing rate cuts as a reason to pass franchising reform, however, he said."

Today, and hopefully not too late, I sent an email expressing my strong opposition to the bill to Commerce, Labor and Agriculture Committee Chairman Senator Steve Southerland. While earlier emails with the Senator contained some doubts the bill would pass, he has over the last few weeks, supplied 10 amendments to the bill which seem aimed at insuring it's passage.

This is the email I sent:
Dear Sen. Southerland,

I appreciate your previous responses to my emails regarding the proposed change of state law for cable franchises. I remain completely opposed to this new law, for reasons detailed below.

However, I must first express some disappointment and confusion that all the amendments to the Senate bill 1933 were sponsored by you, as you sit as the Chairman of the Commerce, Labor and Agriculture Committee. Rather than standing opposed to this new proposed legislation, you seem to have added 10 amendments which instead attempt to encourage support for the bill.

Countless city governments, county governments (including Hamblen), and organizations like the Tenn. Municipal League have all adopted resolutions in clear opposition to this bill's passage -- did these same groups contact you and ask you to amend the bill for easier passage?

I note that while your amendments did include sections which would not hand over local control of rights-of-way controls, the language does include requirements that any customer must first file complaints about cable service to a city or county government, which would then forward the complaint to the cable provider, and that mediation would then move to the courts if resolutions could not be found. The state, which seeks by this bill to take franchise authority away from local control, is then utterly absent from addressing concerns of customers, putting all burden on local government.

Since locals would then be the ones responsible for any court costs in a losing effort, the locals would have little interest in pursuing such cases. The state, as these amendments make clear, provide no oversight to this plan for state-licensed franchises.

The current laws also require cable franchise holders to develop plans and strategies to expand, or build out, their services to insure the broadest and most comprehensive availability of services. This new bill eliminates such efforts. Since more and more businesses and communities must have internet access in order to compete in our growing global marketplace, to remove such incentives and guarantees will, I fear, only insure that the most rural of areas will be lacking. Rural areas, Senator, are your constituents, those you should be serving.

Also, as written, current cable and internet providers who have local franchise agreements, would now be able to make a state franchise agreement which would also eliminate the requirements to further or continue their efforts to expand services within a service area. How is such a change a benefit to residents and customers?

Could please explain why you found it necessary to add these 10 amendments, which seem aimed at shoring up support for this unwise legislation? Similar bills submitted to states nationwide have failed more often than they have succeeded.

Thanks for your time and your replies to my emails,
Joe Powell

NOTE: The TML Newspaper reports that a condition on build outs was added to the bill by amendment,however, as they report:

""The amendment only required to provide video to 25 percent of the households in which it provides telephone service. This minimal requirement could be fully satisfied by offering service
in just two of the state’s largest markets; providing no assurances
or protections for the remainder of the state. Moreover, the
build out amendment adopted last week does not provide for
any penalty should AT&T fail to meet this meager requirement."

A link to the Senate directory is here.
A link to the House directory is here.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Porn Barbie and the State Trooper

There just aren't many stories in the news in Tennessee about porn stars and the Highway Patrol, but li'l Barbie Cummings is changing all that.

On the Knoxville-based porn starlet's blog entry of May 7th, the actress claims she had a roadside romp with a patrol officer just outside of Lebanon. According to her, she pleasured the patrolman, who took pictures of said pleasuring, which she posted on her blog. (And fine, fine, if you wish to see the porn blog entry, [CORRECTION: after some thought, I decided it was bad ju-ju to link to a porn page here, sorry, If you are determined to find it you will, but I won't help!!], I warn you right now, this Barbie is not the one sold in stores, and her blog may make you want to wash your eyes out with bleach.)

Trooper James Randy Moss (heh heh -- 'randy") has been suspended as this event is investigated, although li'l Barbie appears in a Knoxville News Sentinel Article hoisting her copy of the ticket and says "I didn't get out of anything. It was not a trade. Just like a guy - he got his, and I still got the speeding ticket."

The KNS report has other nifty, joke-ready statements, like:

-- She gives her age as 21. (Yeah, once, for a year, about eight or nine years ago, she was 21.)

-- She says once she "advised" the trooper of her career, he let her sit next to him in his patrol car while he brought up her website on his in-car laptop. (So that's what they call it nowadays!)

I had really not noticed this story at all (yes, I avoid watching the local newscasters) until I noticed a dozen or so people searching for "Barbie porn highway patrol" and landing on my page, and found out the grim details. Of all the comments many web sites marking this roadside attraction, the one I liked best was from a fellow who said upon seeing the unclothed Barbie on her blog: "Man, she's not from the Tennessee Valley, she's from Silicone Valley."

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Most Conservative and Liberal Places in TN

A question has been posed by a sort of new resident to Tennessee, via KnoxViews, about what is the most Conservative place in Tennessee and what is the most Liberal.

Like one commenter mentioned on the KV site said, the 'corridor along I-81' is mighty dang Conservative, something I can testify about having lived along that corridor since about 1977. Having lived in Carter, Washington and Johnson counties, worked in Sullivan, Cocke, Greene and Hawkins and Hamblen and Jefferson -- indeed these are deeply Conservative places.

However, back in 2000, I had the chance to work in southeastern TN, in places like Bradley, Monroe, Meigs, McMinn, Loudon and McMinn counties. I kept seeing signs on main and back roads for the Army of God, and talked to many residents who were scary in their Rightness.

Is there a single answer for either question - most Conservative and most Liberal?

My snarky first response to 'what's the most Conservative place in Tennessee?' is this: it's the part that lies between Memphis and Bristol.

Snarky response to Most Liberal? The answer is my house and the houses of my friends.

However, even a label like Liberal doesn't really describe my home or those of my friends. To me, we have always had several things in common - we tend to be open-minded, tolerant and fearful of ideologies which demand lock-step agreement.

Since I was raised mostly in Middle TN and traveled some in parts West, I have noticed the state's temperament to be less Conservative as I moved in the Middle and West directions. Still, even that has changed over the last 10 or 15 years.

My ultimate response to the question of most Conservative has to be the entire 1st District. They have solidly backed hardcore Conservative GOPers for Congress since 1881, and only once since 1859 has the Representative not been a Republican.

It boggles my mind too, since the entire area has remained a low income, drop-out ridden, good-old-boy haven for over 100 years and there exists very little thought in the public to move past this point. I've been reluctant to admit it, but the residents seem to like it the way it is. So be it. It's their decision to accept the status quo.

Am I a Liberal or a Conservative? Well, like the old saying goes, it depends on who I'm standing next to.