Friday, December 14, 2007

Best of the Top Ten of 2007 Lists

My vote for the most fascinating Top Ten List of 2007 goes to this blog post.

No celebrity mishaps, heartwarming movies or significant failures. As the post says:

Science doesn’t take away from the beauty of nature. It enhances it, multiplies it."

Camera Obscura - Legends of Good, Bad and The Dark

I was floored last week when a videotape mysteriously appeared here at the house, as it was in fact a bootleg copy of The Strangest, Weirdest Movie Ever Made. It took some time to puzzle out the tape's origins, and my thanks to it's provider are most heartfelt and sincere. Still, it troubles me some that the arrival of the tape came so quickly after I had written about it. Weird.

The movie? It's called "The Phynx" and it matched the hype for horrible. Make no mistake, I have indeed sought out and viewed some heinous, awful crap over the course of my days and "Phynx" is likely the worst. It not only met, it exceeded my expectations for bad. Questions as to why it is not available, why it disappeared are easy to answer - every star, living or dead, most likely has people devoted to crushing any appearance or copy of this film. (Read this for more info.)

It is a monument to awfulness, an endless cascade of weirdness. One scene I particularly liked was the arrival of a Phil Spector character to help record the first album for the band called The Phynx - a fake CIA-created rock band which has a secret spy mission to go to Albania and rescue famous celebrities being held hostage. Then there was the non-nude, government sanctioned Orgy Scene. And likely the most shocking thing was the truly awful music made for the movie by the legendary songwriting team of Leiber and Stoller.

The videotape now rests in a place of honor here at the house. And remember, If You Seek It, You May Find It, But Don't Blame Me If It Haunts You Forever.


I've become addicted to reading the blog Cinematical and have added it to my link list. This week they gave us the Worst Christmas Movies list. One in particular which tanks with spectacular badness is the 1988 movie "Scrooged." On the plus side, it is the only version of "The Christmas Carol" which features Miles Davis. On the negative side ... well, it is all bad really, and only having a few seconds of Miles playing trumpet doesn't save it. Tops for Worst Christmas Movie is "A Christmas Story." The entire list is here.


Cinematical, in honor of the new adaptation of Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend" helpfully offers a list of Stupid Things The Last Man On Earth does. Some examples:

2. They Don't Check to Make Sure They Are, In Fact, The Last Man on Earth

7. They Walk Around With Clothes On:

"OK, maybe none of you want to admit it, but a lot of us like walking around naked once a while in the privacy of our own homes (as long as no one else can see us). Usually, it's not a pretty sight, but it's comfortable and the human body is a beautiful thing. In the trailer, Will exercises without a shirt, but otherwise keeps his clothes on. This makes no sense. If I'm the last man on earth, I'm stripping down and dancing for the first three days, at least. Freedom!"

A mostly positive review for Will Smith and I Am Legend is here.


I finally got to see a movie which came highly recommended, the 2006 film "Notes On A Scandal". I was not eager to see it originally, expecting a wallop from Histrionic British Women Overacting. Boy, was I wrong.

Judi Dench plays an icy, hateful teacher who is drawn to the new art teacher, Cate Blanchett. The movie begins with Dench's character narrating from her diaries about the world around her, and quite quickly becomes a furiously told tale of mangled emotional lives. Screenwriter Patrick Marber knows this playing field quite well (see "Closer", the break-up movie to end all break-up movies).

Savage, realistic and full of acidic commentary on class, the movie also delves into the headlinges with a plot line of a teacher and student affair. But mostly it celebrates the fantastic acting of the two lead actresses. Dench, especially, is quite remarkable.

Two negatives from the movie - the Phillip Glass score is annoying and I found the ending a bit too abrupt and pat. But don't let that stop you from watching.

Horror Movie Find of the Week: "The Dark" (2005).

The director of the sly and fun werewolf movie "Ginger Snaps", John Fawcett, turns to a more serious ghost story with "The Dark." Based on ghostly aspects of Welsh mythology, the movie stars Maria Bello and Sean Bean, an estranged couple whose daughter's life gets caught up in the old myths.

The movie is an old-fashioned scare fest, perhaps with too many zinging orchestral stings at every turn and creepy shadow. Still, the movie is rich in atmosphere and the subtext of a mother and daughter relationship turned sour adds a nice touch.

One odd point - when your husband rents a house on a dangerous cliff where there is a monument to the poor folks who committed mass suicide at that spot, it is definitely time to move.

Oh and by the way -- have you got my Christmas present yet???

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Official Confesses Crime

In a surprisingly candid moment, an elected county commissoner in Dyer County spoke about how the county government has been operating:

So you mean to tell me we've been breaking the law all these years?" asked Walker.

"Yes, we've broken the law in the past as it stands now," said Hill.

"I don't know how any legislation got passed with that," said Walker. "It's happened because of a whole lot of discussion on the telephone and between people."

The commission then voted to support "diluting" the state law, to allow for officials to meet and decide public policy in secret and without public notice.

Why the sudden concern?

After all, these commissioners (and those who elect them) think that an admission of being guilty of a crime is acceptable if an elected official makes the admission in a public meeting.

Burning Issues

Who knew? I had no idea the key political issue in the race for the Republican nomination for president was the following: "Do Mormons believe Jesus and Satan are brothers?"

Um ... and this has what to do with leading American government? Oh sure, it gives copyeditors a chance to write headlines like "Huckabee Sparks Religious Flap." (And just what makes a 'religious flap' different from a regular flap?)

A religious scholar quoted in a Reuters report said: "
Spiritually, all God's children are brothers and sisters, so Huckabee would also be the brother of Satan," said Francis Beckwith, who teaches a course on politics and religion at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

Whoa! Talk about a negative attack!

Will the next burning issue a reporter brings forward be "Could God make a rock so big even he couldn't lift it?"

Political campaigns for national office (and the press covering them) today seem to hold fast to the 5 basic rules of playing dodgeball, as cited by Patches O'Houlihan: duck, dodge, dip, dive and ... dodge.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More on AT&T's Plan To Avoid Local Fees

All the noise and furor (and millions spent lobbying state legislators) from AT&T demanding Tennessee law be changed so that AT&T does not have to negotiate with cities for franchise contracts (depriving them of revenue from fees and handing over control of rights-of-way) is apparently not important in Mississippi. In that state, they seem to have no problems working community by community, just as all cable providers currently operate.

R. Neal has the details in this post and notes as well that Georgia gave AT&T what they wanted and as many as 200 families in Atlanta will benefit.

Also, Stacey Briggs, executive director for the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association, has challenged claims from AT&T that it takes too long to devise local franchise contracts:

Briggs also challenged statements made by Morton that city-by-city franchising takes 13 months. AT&T has been invited by some Tennessee communities to deploy competitive cable services and those municipalities have promised expedited franchise negotiations, Briggs said, but AT&T has not filed for local franchises in the state, investing its capital instead in a statewide solution.

An AT&T media representative did not respond to a request for comments on Briggs's letter by deadline Thursday."

Some background on the issue and the stance taken by State Senator Steve Southerland, chair of the committee reviewing the proposal from AT&T, are here.

UPDATE: North Carolina went the way of state-regulated franchises, with some poor results:

Beware of legislation promising "competition." A bill passed by the General Assembly last year that was intended to jump-start competition in the cable TV industry has had the unforeseen consequence of costing the state and local governments across North Carolina millions of dollars in lost revenue. And six months after the law went into effect, that promised competition is nowhere in sight.

The Video Service Competition Act was passed with the promise that telecom companies such as AT&T and Verizon would leap to provide video services across the state. (Video is the new term for cable TV, to catch up with the technologies that deliver it. More and more, Internet, video and voice—formerly phone—are delivered through the same pipes.) The companies would offer competitive pricing and give consumers used to relying on one, or no, service provider, choices in service—if only the state would make it easy for them to get in the game. Under the old system, a cable TV provider would negotiate with the city, town or county where it wanted to provide service. But the phone companies didn't want to negotiate town by town, so they pushed for a statewide franchise system with little, if any, oversight. There's no approval process, and as long as the paperwork is filled out correctly, the state is required to accept the company's plan.

The bill's main opponent, the League of Municipalities, backed down after lawmakers reassured the group that the revenue local governments collect from cable TV taxes—money that goes into the general fund to pay for basic services, such as fire and police—would stay the same.

But according to figures from the N.C. Department of Revenue, local governments have received 27.8 percent less across the board under the new system."

Read the entire article here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

On Creating "It's A Wonderful Life" For the Stage

I was recently interviewed by Bob Bell at WRJZ radio about the stage show of Frank Capra's "It's A Wonderful Life", which I directed for the Morristown Theatre Guild. My thanks to WRJZ for the publicity and you can hear the interview by clicking here.

You have three more chances to see this most heartwarming Christmas story - Dec 14, 15 and 16 - at First Presbyterian Church, and you can make reservations just by calling 423-586-9260.

Several creative decisions were in my brain as we began to create this live stage version: it had to be done in black and white (just like the movie); using a children's caroling chorus to start the show off would set a perfect tone for the story; and the end of the show would change to vivid color since poor George Bailey decides his life is most wonderful after all.

I also wanted a very central image in the set to be of the town of Bedford Falls, the setting of the play. Most fortunately, a local artist (and Guild board member) named Pamela Andrew took an image I'd found from the movie and made an enormous 12' by 8' backdrop from it. Her work is truly impressive, as you can see below, although just looking at this backdrop without the proper stage context really does not do enough justice to her many hours of work:

I like the way it looks like an old Christmas card from the era of the movie, and it does add a real sense of place to the show.

I also have to add many thanks to the cast, crew and the Theatre Guild board for allowing me to work on this show. In the past, I have directed shows that were mystery thrillers and some comedies too. So the real challenge for me here was to help shape a production which is pure family wholesome goodness, and not let it be cheesy schmaltz. I must say too that the work of the cast, who tirelessly put themselves into this world of Bedford Falls, have made the characters very real and personable, all of which, in my opinion, keeps the show realistic and humorous.

Monday, December 10, 2007

What Secrets Were In The CIA Video?

Questions about a CIA videotape of interrogation of some suspected terrorists - like what happened to the tape and who saw it and who ordered it destroyed - are sure to occupy many people.

Thankfully, Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly has some insight into what we already know about one of the prisoners interrogated, Abu Zubaydah:

So here's what the tapes would have shown: not just that we had brutally tortured an al-Qaeda operative, but that we had brutally tortured an al-Qaeda operative who was (a) unimportant and low-ranking, (b) mentally unstable, (c) had no useful information, and (d) eventually spewed out an endless series of worthless, fantastical "confessions" under duress. This was all prompted by the president of the United States, implemented by the director of the CIA, and the end result was thousands of wasted man hours by intelligence and and law enforcement personnel.

Roundup of Tennessee Bloggers

A new regular weekly fixture at TennViews is worth sharing with all of you.

A weekly sampling from some of Tennessee's best and brightest bloggers:

• 10,000 Monkeys and a Camera: Huckabee stumbles, Clinton needs better friends

• Andy Axel: Fall Heron, plus Good little lapblogs

• BlountViews: Hometown poll not kind to Lamar Alexander

• Cup of Joe Powell: Christmas TV season preview, plus Joe has the incredible Sidewalk Politics video that's been making the rounds

• Enclave: Tennessee in another Top 20

• Fletch: Two men and a truck

• KnoxViews: KnoxViews 2007 Year in Review, plus W settles an old score, and Holiday shopping humor

• Lean Left: Weak-minded Huckabee

• Left of the Dial: Geek-o-rama, plus Bad boss

• Left Wing Cracker: TN Supremes should decide open meetings law

• NewsComa: No solar eclipse in government

• Pesky Fly: Impeach Hillary

• Progress Nashville: The blog business model and TV Guide, plus Missing Bill (no, not that one)

• Resonance: Expert advice on not getting shot in random mall shootings, plus "Serious" Primaries

• RoaneViews: 20,000 tons of nuclear waste

• Russ McBee: Carbon dioxide reduction not as expensive as we're being told, plus Candidates: Speak to the working people

• Sean Braisted: (at TennViews) The obstructionist Senate

• Sharon Cobb: Is Pelosi hurting Clinton?, plus I know what you did in nursery school

• Silence Isn't Golden: Mitch McConnell's unfortunate remarks, plus Regent Law School needs a better recruiter (this is hilarious, keeping in mind that Regent is the law school supplying the Neocon cabal with legal foot soldiers who come up with crap like it's ok to lie to Congress)

• Southern Beale: TN GOP bunker mentality

• Tennessee Guerilla Women: Harriet Miers knew

• TennViews, by Persimmon: Corridor K

• Whites Creek Journal: CIA: American heroes

• Women's Health News: Make your holiday donations count for women