Thursday, February 26, 2009

Frost/Nixon - Hollywood Finally Gets It Right

The tag line of Ron Howard's ambitious new film, Frost/Nixon, tells us quite a lot about what was otherwise a refreshing and sympathetic look at President Nixon:

"400 Million people were waiting for the truth - Their legendary confrontation would revolutionize the art of the confessional interview, change the face of politics and capture an admission from the former president that startled people all over the world . . . possible even including Nixon himself".

Well, not exactly. After the first of four segments, viewers were bored to tears, and tuned out for the rest of the interviews. The climactic scene of the movie - when the intrepid Frost (Michael Sheen) pins Nixon (Frank Langella) in a corner, causing the disgraced former President to fall into an endless moment of reflective silence followed by a semi-confession of sorts - is utter hog wash. Nixon revealed nothing new in the interviews, and virtually all major news networks were unanimous in their opinion that Nixon had bested the ill prepared, and at times star-struck, Frost. If you're doubting this, here's some excerpts from the major newspapers the day after the supposedly historic "gotcha!" moment:

What did Watergate super-sleuth Bob Woodward think?

“a much-touted television interview which shed little new light on the scandal.”

Hmm. What about Haynes Johnson, a colleague of Woodward's at the Washington Post?

“Last night’s program was billed as a dramatic and historic encounter between Nixon and his opponent, the relentless David Frost. It was nothing of the sort. . . . By the very end of the program, Frost looks as though he’s swept up by the Nixon responses. . . . The tables have been turned. Frost had met his match.”

What about you the supposedly exotic liberal foreign intellectual papers? Surely the Times of London must have seen the interview through different eyes? Nope.

“It was clear that David Frost let Mr Nixon escape in the interrogation . . . [Frost] finds less adulatory coverage this morning than his advance men expected. . . . [W]henever the matter strayed from his clip-board of notes he was not informed enough to counter some of Mr Nixon’s most brazen revisions. The main mysteries of Watergate are still intact.”

Public sympathy for Nixon actually increased after the interviews. Americans were somewhat more forgiving when they discovered that the President's chief motivation for lying about when he actually found out about the break-in was more out of loyalty for his friends than it was to protect his office at any cost. Some may justifiably find this behaviour inexcusable regardless of the motivation, but why doesn't anyone direct the same outrage at President Kennedy, who we now know ordered his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, to bug the offices of Martin Luther King Jr?

So why did Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind/Angels and Demons), in tandem with one of the sharpest screen writers in the business, Peter Morgan (The Queen, Last King of Scotland), fudge the ending on what was otherwise the first refreshing look at Nixon in over a quarter of a century? The kindest explanation is that the building tension throughout the movie needed a dramatic climax - the so-called "money shot". A more plausible explanation is that Hollywood liberals can't refrain from the annoying tendency to be gripped by media hubris, or what James Bowman called "the saga of media triumphalism".

The good news is that movie breaks ground that no other Hollywood director - let alone media personality - dared to break before.

President Nixon was a kind, loyal, intelligent, witty and wonderfully eccentric - if somewhat insecure - man. To it's credit, Peter Morgan and the hypnotic Frank Langella capture all of these traits beautifully. This is the first movie in which Nixon is not a villainous cartoon caricature. Nixon is portrayed much like every aide and advisor who worked with him described - the kind of guy who despised the snobbery and intellectual elitism of what Jefferson called the "natural aristocracy", and who treated everyone from Henry Kissinger to the guy who washed the windows with respect. A White House janitor recalls that Nixon always remembered his name and the birthdays of his children. Nixon showed an interest in everyone. He found the tiniest details of people's lives fascinating. He inspired a unique and heart-felt loyalty from his staff and advisers, a quality that Kevin Bacon portrays with wonderful sincerity.

The movie partially redeems itself at the end when Frost pays Nixon a farewell visit at his villa:

"Those parties of yours. The ones I read about in the papers. Tell me, do you actually enjoy them?", asks Nixon.

"Yes, of course," replies a befuddled Frost.

"Really?", wonders Nixon. "You have no idea how fortunate that makes you. Liking people. And being liked. That facility you have with people. That lightness. That charm. I don’t have it. Never have. Makes you wonder why I chose a life which hinged on being liked. I’m better suited to a life of thought. Debate. Intellectual discipline. Say, maybe we got it wrong. Maybe you should have been the politician. And I the rigorous interviewer."

For all of what the movie gets all wrong, it's more than made up for with what the movie gets completely correct - and it's a must see for that reason alone.


(Quotes from Bob Woodward, The Washington Post, and The Times of London were researched by National Review Online's Fred Schwarz)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Travis Goes Bananas

OK, I have a confession to make: I think I'm a bad person. Not "Battlefield Earth" bad, but bad enough. What has driven me to all this self-flagellation? What could cause such dark introspection and self recrimination? The answer is simple - a crazy chimpanzee.

Unless you're a character on Lost who decided to stay on the Island, or some crazy rich celebrity who has his news carefully edited for him, you must have heard about the former celebrity chimpanzee who went nuts.

How could a story about a former celebrity chimp who went crazy make me a bad person? Because I cannot read or watch anything about what was, in actuality, a horrific event without breaking into fits of uncontrollable laughter. Even now, I'm starting to giggle just writing about it.

On Monday, former Hollywood animal superstar Travis the Chimp was given a mild sedative, Xanax, which caused the usually good natured 200 pound simian to literally go "ape-shit", and savagely attack his owner's friend. So frenzied was the attack that Travis ripped off the poor gal's face and both of her hands. Travis was chased by police, and eventually shot dead. Looks like his days of riding tricycles, smoking cigarettes, and ripping people's faces off are over.

This is awful, right? Nothing funny here, correct? Nothing to see here folks, keep moving along. I can't control it. It's like comedic kryptonite for me. I'm terrified I'm going to overhear someone talking about it at work, setting in motion fits of uncontrollable and inappropriate laughter.

Now, some of you may, with some justification, ask the question; "How would you like it if a former Hollywood chimpanzee superstar took a Xanax and ripped your fiancee's hands and face off?" Well, I wouldn't be able to respond, because I'd already be falling into fits of uncontrollable laughter. But it gets worse.

I was starting to get over my childish reaction to this terrible tragedy when yesterday Fox News released the 911 tapes. For most people, this made the event even more horrific. For me? It caused all the self-control I had managed to muster to come crumbling apart like a stale Dorito, and restart the vicious cycle of monkey giggles all over again. Here's an excerpt:

Travis can be heard grunting as she cries for help: "He's killing my friend!"

The dispatcher says, "Who's killing your friend?"

Herold replies, "My chimpanzee! He ripped her apart! Shoot him, shoot him!"

Truly, there must be something wrong with me. I try to soothe my guilty conscience by reminding myself that I help people with addictions and deliver meals to seniors, but that's little comfort when I start to chuckle every time Fox posts a new update on the terrible Travis tragedy.

At last reading, the Associated Press is reporting that Travis appears to be a repeat offender. Leslie Mostel-Paul claims that in 1996 Travis bit her hand and tried to pull her into a moving vehicle. Crazy little monkey bastard. See? There were even early warning signs this chimp was bad news.

I guess this is kind of like that scene in Pulp Fiction when Vincent accidentally blows the head off the guy in the back seat when the car hits a bump. Everyone in the theatre was laughing nervously, because they felt a little guilty for laughing at all, even though the scene was meant to be funny.

Not sure how to wrap up a post that deals with chimps gone bad, except to quote Charlton Heston when he uttered that immortal line from Planet of the Apes;



Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Blogging by Numbers Time!!!

It's that time again - That special time when the alpha and the omega merge; When kittens and dogs march in unison and helium balloons gently lift giggling children up in the air; That special time when it rains gumdrops and gummy bears and you don't have to wait until December to watch season 5 of Lost on DVD; It's blogging by numbers time!!

1 - How are you liking your "Hope and Change"? The President and part time saint, Barack Obama, who one month ago was proselytizing about how we have to stop living in a climate of "fear" and start living in a climate of "hope" and bi-partisanship, spent the last two weeks telling the world that unless his stimulus bill is passed - RIGHT NOW - horrible things are going to happen, and everyone better stop disagreeing with him if they want to get anything accomplished. Well, he got something accomplished, all right - A monstrous $800 billion spending bill that has little stimulus and a lot of pork barrel spending and broken promises. Over $500 billion of the stimulus package contains nothing in the way of job creation, and the rest of the money is to be carelessly thrown at a hodge-podge of baffling projects that the President admitted "may" create "some jobs" 2 years from now. If it's going to take 2 years, what's the rush? What about the President's often heard campaign promise that he would show where every single dollar he spent was coming from? That's going to be one hell of a long press conference. The great "unifier" has Canada and the EU in a panic over his broken promises on free trade, and global markets are in a frenzied free-fall as the details of this awful package are coming to light. At least Russia and Iran still trust you, Mr. President.

2 - Memo to Arlen Spector: You are off my "jellies of the month" Christmas gift list, you treacherous little crap-weasel. May you be run out of office to retire in shame - slime bag.
3 - Imagine you're a Hollywood hot-shot executive who just put down F. Scott Fitzgerald's whimsical short story based on the humorous observation by Mark Twain that youth is wasted on the young. Now suppose, instead of handing this kind of light-hearted and fanciful subject matter to someone like, say, Tim Burton (Big Fish, Edward Scissorhands) or Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition), you hand it over to guys like David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club) and Eric Roth (Munich, and The Postman). What do you get? You get a really long, boring movie written and directed by two guys who are incapable of understanding the essence of the subject matter. The tragedy of Benjamin Button is that it could have been a magnificent gem, had it been given to the proper people. Instead, we get a mildly retarded Brad Pitt narrating his simplistic "Gump-isms" in a film weighed down with stilted acting, drab cinematography, and an uninspiring score. You know a supposedly light-hearted movie released on Christmas day is in trouble when it starts off with a scene of a barely coherent lady dying in a New Orleans hospital bed as hurricane Katrina begins to roll into town. Barrels of laughs, I tells ya! It was kind of like watching a two and a half hour version of Baz Luhrmann's "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)", narrated by a young Gomer Pyle.

4 - I think Nancy Pelosi keeps aging at bay by drinking the blood of puppies.

5 - National Review just released it's list of the top 25 conservative movies of the last quarter century. Somewhere in a padded cell, James Bowman is screaming "THEY'VE ALL GONE MAD WITH POST MODERNIST VIRULENCE!!"

6 - Gourmets say that really good bread doesn't need butter. I do not prescribe to that ludicrous notion.

7 - I can't have butter anyway because I've already lost 16 pounds on Simply For Life and I don't want to find them.

8 - I'm going to be 36 on Sunday.

9 - You guys go ahead and eat your stupid butter-laden toast. I don't want any....actually, I really do.

10 - Valentines day is coming up and I just wanted to tell my fiancée and associate editor, the lovely Miss Claire, that I love her - and I don't tend to love editors, as a rule.

Have a great weekend and check out a great band that my good buddy Ace recommended. Also take a minute to read his indispensable blog.



Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Tax Fraud And More Change You Can Believe In!

Last year in my hometown, several people living in an exclusive neighbourhood successfully lobbied the city council against building a homeless shelter near their subdivision. The shelter, the citizens bemoaned, would only bring crime, drugs, and rapid property devaluation to their community. It was no small irony when, a few months later, several members of the community were arrested on charges of having marijuana growing operations in their basements so massive they would have made Willie Nelson blush. It seems they were supplying the drugs and crime by the bucket load, all by themselves (here comes the segway!).

Now, in President Obama's Washington, the sanctimonious ivy league liberals who have been using that mysterious, ill-defined spectre known as the "the rich" as their whipping boy for the last 25 years are starting to feel a little like those folks who got caught with all that pot in their basements. It would appear that the President has traded in his old gang of criminals and terrorists from Chicago for a new gang of tax cheats and liars from the beltway.

First came Governor Bill Richardson. On December 3rd, President Obama nominated Richardson for Commerce Secretary. One month later, Richardson reluctantly withdrew his name after it was revealed that he was under investigation by a grand jury for pay-to-play kickback schemes. How could Obama's vetting team not have known that Richardson was facing the prospect of an INDICTMENT?

Next at bat was Treasury Secretary nominee Timothy Geithner - the supposed economic whiz kid who was so good at his job that he managed to hide reporting over $100,000 in unpaid taxes and used a clever loop hole involving the statute of limitations to avoid paying lots more. He was finally approved by the Senate review committee on January 26th - on the 30th anniversary celebrating the premiere of the "Dukes of Hazzard" on CBS (no point to make there, just an interesting piece of trivia. You may insert your own jokes at will).

Then came the big hitter, the guy who put the "prick" in the expression "sanctimonious little prick" - Health and Human Services nominee Senator Tom Daschle. Senator Daschle's years of loud mouth bullying quickly changed to meek pleas of shame after it was discovered that Mr. Clean cheated the IRS out of $134,000. Insiders are saying that there is strong pressure from both sides for Senator Daschle to step down. As we go to print National Review is reporting that Daschle has stepped down. If he had blood, he'd be blushing.

Finally, but not the only, and surely not the last, is a lady by the name of Nancy Killefer, who was to be the first to hold the newly created position of "Chief Performance Officer". I don't know what a "performance officer" does, but it appears one thing they do not do is pay their taxes. Killefer withdrew her nomination after it was revealed in the press that she failed to report employment taxes on household help, and that the IRS had placed a $1000 lien on her house as a result of the unpaid taxes.

Is this the "Change!" President Obama promised to bring to Washington? Is this the result of what Senator McCain warned about when he spoke of then Senator Obama's inexperience? In any case, the lovely Miss Claire, my fiancée and associate editor, put the whole mess in razor sharp perspective when she said;

"How did this politician - who supposedly made it out of Chicago clean, despite associating with what seems like every corrupt human being in the city, with no knowledge of the corruption surrounding him - manage to track down a bunch of corrupt politicians nationally to bring into his political family? These people must gravitate towards him, longing to purge themselves of this corruption, knowing that only the mighty OBAMA can cure them of their malignant disease."

I think that says it all.

Have a great week everyone. I think Willie Nelson said it best when he sang this.