Friday, March 28, 2008

Camera Obscura: Most Bizarre TV Ever; Where's John Hughes?; Hank Kimball Meets Satan

The oddest moment in TV show history may well have occurred on March 4, 2001 in the pilot episode of "The Lone Gunmen", a spin-off from "X-Files", about three conspiracy-minded fellows who battle ... well, they battle conspiracies.

In their first episode (one of only 12 made) the trio discovers a plot by the government to crash an airliner into the World Trade Center, just six months before it actually happened. You can watch the full episode here online.

This week at the ongoing Paley Festival, the "X-Files" and "Lone Gunmen" creators talked about the odd coincidence:

It was freaky, and one of the weirdest things is no one really asked us about it," Carter says. "It had been imagined before, by many others."

"Condoleezza Rice is saying its an unimaginable crime -- hello, my pilot!" adds "Lone Gunmen" actor Dean Haglund.

"It made me angry," Spotnitz says. "It was not unimaginable. My first thought was ... 'Oh my god, I hope they weren't copycatting the Lone Gunmen, which they weren't. My next thought was: 'Why weren't we prepared for this?' "

Was it just a fleeting moment of unconscious absorption of ideas already being created in reality? All I know is, watching the episode is too eerie for words, especially as you see the lead characters grab the controls of the airliner and steer it past the steel and glass exterior of the WTC, missing it by inches.


A report in this week's LA Times (no, not that one) brought up a few memories and reminded me that once upon a time, the movies of John Hughes were hailed as classic cinema but it's been 17 years since he has stood behind the camera.

The creator of such teen comedies as "The Breakfast Club", "Sixteen Candles", "Home Alone", "Vacation", and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" has pretty much fallen into obscurity. He doesn't do interviews, he doesn't write or make movies although he is credited with influencing many movies today, like the story credit for new comedy "Drillbit Taylor".

I never really cared much for any of his movies myself, though most of my friends just loved them. It isn't that they were terrible movies, it was that they seemed to be trying way to hard to be trendy, hip and teen. And they really don't hold up very well after all these years, with a few exceptions.

"Vacation" still makes me laugh. Three bad sequels followed, but the original is a fine thing. The script was based on a short story Hughes which he published in National Lampoon under the title "Vacation '58". Also while working at Lampoon, he and writer P.J. O'Rourke created a hilarious parody of a Sunday newspaper for the imaginary town of Dacron, Ohio which was just genius. (This project was a sequel of sorts for the funniest high school parody of all time, Lampoon's High School Yearbook Parody also set in Dacron, Ohio in a school named for Tennessee's very own C. Estes Kefauver. I've had muscle spasms from the insane laughter which comes with reading that thing. Just reading the names under the tiny, tiny pics of all the underclassmen was one of the funniest experiences of my life.

Anyway, back to Hughes. His very best film is still "Ferris Bueller's Day Off", a celebration of non-conformity, the city of Chicago, of youth against authority, and of life itself. As the school secretary explains to the Principal about Ferris:
"Oh, he's very popular Ed. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebies, dickheads - they all adore him. They think he's a righteous dude."

Hughes is living in Chicago still, but without an agent and not seeking work in Hollywood at all. I'd like to think he's living a Ferris-style life, taking it easy, enjoying the good things in life and not worrying about what the kids are doing or what the adults are doing.


In the wee hours of the morning this Friday/Saturday on Turner Classic Movies Underground series, a fine thriller/horror story called "Brotherhood of Satan" will be shown and there is an odd story behind this movie. Released in 1971, the movie was produced by Alvy Moore, aka Hank Kimball from "Green Acres", and his partner L.Q. Jones. Jones was a regular in many Sam Peckinpah movies, like "The Wild Bunch", and in "Brotherhood" Jones cast his 'Wild Bunch" co-star Strother Martin as the leader of some aging, backwoods Satanists.

Moore and Jones made this movie and one other in the early '70s, the cult classic "A Boy and His Dog."

It's always seemed most curious to me how these two longtime character actors decided a bizarre Harlan Ellison story about a telepathic dog and another tale about a gang of old coots who worship Satan would be the movies they wanted to produce. Then again, Hank Kimball was one of oddest characters among the strange world of "Green Acres". The show remains as the best example of what would happen if "Waiting For Godot" were made into a TV show.


One more movie to watch for this weekend airs Sunday at midnight on the Sundance Channel called "Silk".

"Silk" is an horror/C.S.I.-inspired tale about the capture of some ghosts, but don't discard it just yet. Yes, Asian ghost movies are everywhere. But this one is very, very well made and comes wrapped in a weird blend of a police investigation and the science of anti-gravity devices. Seems a way has been made to create anti-gravity devices, but the device is powered by ghosts. Yes, I know, it's a weird idea to blend into a police story, but the fact remains the movie is quite good. It's never boring, is well acted and is loaded with creepy supernatural atmosphere.

Really, it's worth a look.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

More Bad News On Red Light Cameras

Bloggers have been noting that the traffic traps at red lights are bringing plenty of trouble. Mike Silence notes, as does Music City Bloggers, that Nashville and Chattanooga have been abusing the programs to earn more money.

And this week in Morristown, officials were told the presence of the red light cameras may actually cause more accidents while creating revenue:

The rigorous studies clearly show red-light cameras don't work," said lead author Barbara Langland-Orban, professor and chair of health policy and management at the USF College of Public Health.

"Instead, they increase crashes and injuries as drivers attempt to abruptly stop at camera intersections," added Langland-Orban, who said elderly drivers with slower reaction times are the ones most frequently involved in rear-end crashes at camera intersections.

In Greensboro, N.C., collisions at busy intersections jumped by 40 percent after the cameras were installed, according to the study. Studies conducted in Virginia and Ontario produced similar results."

Sadly, it looks like these scams continue to spread and only after dire results will cities rescind and reject them.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

An Old Friend Is A Rising Star

A new movie opening this weekend at the IFC Center is a film-festival favorite called "Shotgun Stories" and I am happy to see my old friend Mike Abbott playing a major part and wanted to help spread the word about this film. It's slated for a Nashville screening at the Belcourt in June.

I met Mike waaaay back in the early 1990s when he was just a young teen actor and performer living here in Morristown with his parents and going to high school, and since he began his career in earnest, he has found terrific success. I'm not surprised - he was a most energetic and inventive performer, somewhat fearless, and very talented. "Shotgun Stories" had a write-up today in the NYTimes, calling the movie: "The film is a here-and-now American potboiler and a stripped-down parable that can be appreciated by any culture."

The story is set in modern-day Arkansas and focuses on two clans of warring brothers, both fathered by the same man - once a raging alcoholic who did not even give his sons proper names, he abandons them, finds his way to sobriety and then starts another family. At his funeral, the two families, one stuck in poverty, the other more affluent, and immediately clash and begin a brutal feud. Mike plays the the role of a son named Cleaman.

The official website of the movie is here, complete with a very compelling trailer. The movie has earned very high praise from Roger Ebert, Variety (which called the acting here "pitch-perfect"), and has earned awards at numerous U.S and foreign festivals. Fine work by a first time director, Jeff Nichols.

And poor Mike says in his recent email he's had to travel to Italy for a screening at a Festival in Alba, saying "The cheese was good. The wine was even better." Yeah, I'm sure you're suffering, bucko. He also just got engaged (a moment captured by a NY television station as he popped the question in Times Square on New Year's Eve).

His alumni notes from the North Carolina School of the Arts has more on Mike's work:

Michael will be playing Brick in a '08 National tour of "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof" with Montana Repertory. Michael has appeared Off Broadway in productions of; "Othello", "Taming of the Shrew", and "Pudd'nhead Wilson"(Lucille Lortel). His regional theatre credits include; "Bat Boy:The Musical"(Portland Center Stage), "Dearly Departed"(Tennessee Repertory Theatre), and the World Premiere production of "BROTHER WOLF"(Traid Stage), among others. He has appeared in numerous workshop productions (including "The Duke & The Duchess" starring two-time Academy Award Nominee, Sylvia Miles), is a member of John Houseman's acclaimed 'Acting Company', and has appeared nationally as Elvis Presley (including The Kennedy Center and the HBO & BRAVO Networks).

Still, congrats go to the boy - sorry, Mike, you'll always be younger than me and thus a boy. He's been most successful on the stage in New York and I'm sure the movies will welcome his work. Keep your eye out for him. Oh hey - I did find this picture. He looks mean, doesn't he?

Battle To A Stalemate

The enormous cost of the full blown battle to a stalemate - aka the war in Iraq - is still being calculated, and sadly will continue to be tallied for years to come. A very comprehensive account of the pure symphony of bad decisions of the Bush administration was just presented on the PBS news show "Frontline" on Monday and Tuesday. Though if you have been only a tiny bit alert, you'll recall most of these very public fumbles of foreign policy. (And you can watch the 4 and a half hours of the program here online.)

Like many other Americans, I never thought moving into military action against Iraq, especially the way the Bush administration handled it, was good or just or intelligent. I write this today not to indict anyone, but to offer some hopefulness that the true nature of American ideals will emerge and correct our passage. I admit that I have grave doubts of such wisdom emerging. Perhaps, at best, we will simply reach the end of an era of failures.

We have witnessed years of consistently poor leadership, marked by emotional infighting and herky-jerky policies and strategies, which have left the nation in a war-ravaged mess. The cold reality with us today is that we remain years away from a clear resolution to the war. Pulling out now is no solution, continuing with current strategies (or the lack of them) is likewise no solution.

I am not one of those people who see the President as the sole motivator and source of all things good and bad in America. But to deny a constant pattern of failed and foolish decisions which had dire consequences is to ignore what history will soon confirm. His appointed leaders of so many agencies - from the Justice Dept. to FEMA - have left wide-ranging wreckage. His administration has demanded revisions to our notions of liberty with no sign of improvement. Far from it.

Not long after taking office, President Bush was quoted as saying that he and the Congress should strive to earn "from our fellow citizens the highest possible praise: Well done, good and faithful servants.". There's no doubt that whatever else is said, few will use such words to describe the last eight years of leadership.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

My Congressman Thinks I'm An Idiot

I received a bulk mail flyer from 1st District Congressman David Davis who sought to inform me on the actions I can take to decrease the price of gas and the cost of oil. He wrote about three ways I can "save gas", all of which indicate Rep. Davis thinks I am dumber than a stump, as if I had never ever considered these actions to improve fuel efficiency.

1. Drive slower. Or as he writes "Drive more efficiently. Aggressive driving, speeding and rapid acceleration lower your gas mileage by 33%." Jeez, really? If I had just gotten my learner's permit and sat behind the wheel for the first time in my life, his advice might be valuable. I wonder if he is aware that the most typical changes in automobile engines in recent years have been engines which accelerate more rapidly? I wonder if he knows the Model T got an average of 25 mpg, about the same average MPG found today??

2. Don't use your vehicle to transport anything. Or as he writes "Keeping unnecessary weight in your vehicle also reduces gas mileage. For every 100 pounds in your vehicle, your gas mileage can drop 2% and you can save 6 cents per gallon." Is he saying I need to lose weight and cut the current price of my gas from 3.26 to 3.20? Thanks. Since I am often faced with the issue of buying food or gas, I suppose I should eliminate food and get the gas and save 6 cents when I lose 100 pounds.

3. "When traveling long distances, use cruise control." Does this mean I must buy a new vehicle since the one I have does not have cruise control?

4. Make sure my tires are inflated. Here, he writes that if I don't have enough air in my tires, my mileage might decrease by 2%. Again, if I had never operated a vehicle before, such info might be useful.

The cover of the flyer features some shadowy person hoisting an AK-47, a ball of fire and an oil well. I am not sure what he means by this - is it that he is willing to spend American lives to gain control of foreign oil fields, perhaps decreasing the cost of oil by 5 or 10 % while expending vast sums of tax dollars and using American troops to take what we do not own?

Thanks so much, Rep. Davis. Your bulk mail delivery used untold amounts of energy for no purpose whatsoever. It did increase my blood pressure, but did diddly-squat to address the rising costs of oil and gasoline.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Obama's Hope, Limbaugh's Despair

The loud and not very illuminating arguments about Sen. Obama and former pastor Jeremiah Wright ignores an idea or two worth considering, as put forth by Steve Chapman at Reason - that however bleakly Wright sees America, Sen. Obama sees something much brighter and Wright supports him, not the other way around.

Chapman writes:

Wright apparently sees this nation as defective and divided beyond repair. Obama thinks the defects are only a part of the story, and that a unity transcending ancient racial distrusts is achievable.

What has fueled his candidacy is neither black anger nor white guilt, but a desire by people of different complexions to minimize the role of race in our society. In his book,
A Bound Man, Hoover Institution scholar Shelby Steele writes that Obama is "a living rebuke to both racism and racialism, to both segregation and identity politics... [H]e also embodies a great and noble human aspiration: to smother racial power in a democracy of individuals."

If the pastor truly believed his more vitriolic comments, he would have no choice but to treat Obama as a fool for aspiring to the presidency. Instead, Wright has been forced to entertain the notion that white people would choose a black male for the most powerful office on Earth.

When Ronald Reagan ran for governor of California in 1966, liberals attacked him for getting support from members of the ultra-conservative John Birch Society, which regarded Dwight Eisenhower as a Communist agent. Reagan responded, "If anyone chooses to vote for me, they are buying my views. I am not buying theirs."

A pertinent question is whether the attention given Wright will impact the Obama campaign. My gut tells me if a person were seriously opposed or seriously supportive to Obama, the pastor's views will changed nothing. However, the Senator's speech did, I think, provide more proof that his approach to government is far more hopeful than despairing.

For true despair, one need only witness the hearty despair voiced by Conservative Entertainer Rush Limbaugh in his "Operation Chaos" promotion. His goal - to create chaos in the Democrat nominating process by urging Republicans to register as Democrats and cast votes for Hillary Clinton in order to bolster her bid for the nomination.

His tactic is a good example of the "dirty tricks" of the Nixonian era (though the tricks are a part of the modern political era too). He seeks to avoid confronting issues and candidates with a debate of merit. As buffoonish clown, he ridicules without purpose, revealing a despair that his views (and those of his fervent followers) have no relevance in the current political world. Jeering at everyone from the sidelines where GOP nominee John McCain has banished him, he offers caps and shirts and other items for sale to equally despairing fringe-dwellers, hoping to line his pockets and keep some media attention as his commentary holds less and less credibility.