Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Big Wave Surfer Salmon

OK, they are not really salmon. They are some of the world's best surfers, as depicted in the NY Times, waiting for a monster wave in very large, roiling surf on the North Shore of Oahu. Thirty to Fifty foot waves are predicted. Now pull back from the photo and take it all in at once. These surfers really are salmon headed upstream. The dream of the perfect wave seems to rank right up there with the urge to spawn as motivation. These guys are not just paddling up some major hills, they are risking life and limb, just like those Alaskan salmon swimming up the rapids amid the hungry grizzly bears.

The Big Wave competition was cancelled on Monday due to, what else, big waves. On Tuesday Greg Long nosed out Kelly Slater to win. The second day story includes several more great shots of, you guessed it, big waves.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Headline Crawl 7

U.S. Economy Lost Only 11,000 Jobs in November - As Good As News understands why this is actually good news, but aren't there 11,000 people out there saying, "ONLY?".

Pastrami's Canadian Rival - Really? That flat, ham-like breakfast meat that the Canadians duped us into buying by calling it "bacon" is now going after the pastrami market? What will they call it this time, Canadian Corn Beef?

Killer With Low I.Q. Executed in Texas - They couldn't find anyone in Texas with a high I.Q.? Execution not as inhumane as it sounds if you compare killer's I.Q. with Texas average instead of national average.

Hugh Hurt, Jr., Engineer Who Studied Motorcycle Accidents, Dies at 81 - a man predestined to his job: figuring out who hurt junior.

CIA Authorized to Expand Use of Drones in Pakistan - The tricky part is getting one sworn in as Pakistan's President.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Peru's Biggest Losers

Peru's Fat Stealing Gang, Crime or Cover Up? A gang of thieves slaughters Peruvians in the jungle, steals their fat, stores it in empty Inca Kola bottles and sells it to Italian buyers for $60,000 a gallon? I'm voting cover up. At those prices the fat gang could get rich with voluntary live donors on one trip to the Biggest Loser set. The Peruvian National Police Chief has just fired General Felix Murga, his chief criminal investigator, who claimed to have arrested the fat gang. Apparently some Peruvian officials now believe the fat gang story is a police fabrication to cover murder squads run by - surprise - the police. Because of the great detail in the original story - Inca Kola bottles, a specific per gallon price, Mafia buyers, who doesn't love this stuff - As Good As News is going with a slightly more complex version of the cover up analysis. First, the murder squads were law enforcement personnel extorting money from cocaine growers and/or dealers who are plentiful in the Peruvian jungle. Second, that fabulous cover story about gangs of fat thieves was composed by the very imaginative former Peruvian intelligence chief (and former de facto dictator) Vladimir Montesinos, who, from his plush jail cell, continues to manage a diverse, highly profitable, public/private partnership that takes every opportunity to abuse power for a buck (or a Peruvian New Sole). Third, General Murga is a fall guy, not necessarily an innocent fall guy, for an operation that includes at least a few active, senior government officials in addition to Montesinos.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

GDL Status Report

Initial Report from the office of the provisional Secretary of Defense, Ginger Defense League:

Today's New York Time's story on the arrest of a handful of ginger baiting and beating bullies in Southern California provides a new level of visibility for the oppressed redhead - a great opportunity for fundraising and political action. It also creates great peril for the secret defense branch of the GDL. A brief update on current actions follows:

- Liason with local law enforcement in Southern California leads to arrests, excellent results achieved through secret, targeted communications with gingers holding senior LLE positions;

- Vigorous follow-up with NY Times required - See California: Boys Detained After Prank -would this be a "prank" if gays or African-Americans had been assaulted? This will require more than a letter to the editor, volunteers to assemble in alley behind shebeen 1AM tonight;

- Facebook Group "National Kick a Ginger Day, are you going to do it" finally taken down - how many Gingers had to die for this nightmare to end. Facebook executives totally unresponsive, usual "not responsible for content" bs - Ginger Bill Gates has expressed some interest in buying Facebook and dismissing current management team;

- Armament purchase negotiations are moving forward with consulting assistance from the Continuity IRA;

- In a joint initiative with the GDL Treasury, progress continues on obtaining a slice of Scottish North Sea oil revenues - Scotland's position as host to the highest per capita ginger population makes the GDL alliance a politically popular security measure in Scotland, but these funds will evaporate instantly if any hint of the GDL's undercover operations comes to light;

- Rupert Grint continues consideration of role as GDL spokesperson. Tight security for these meetings has, to date, averted all media coverage.

Monday, November 30, 2009

WFBI?

Blogger, Accused of Threatening U.S. Judges, Was Reportedly Paid by the F.B.I. - Internet radio host and blogger Hal Turner is about to stand trial for making death threats on Federal judges. His defense? The FBI made me do it.

"Turner's FBI connections began in 2003 with the Newark-based Joint Terrorism Task Force and continued on and off until this year, according to the newspaper [the Bergen Record]. He claims his postings and other inflammatory statements were part of an undercover operation to ferret out violent left-wing radicals."

Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh could not be reached for comment. A publicist who has worked with Mr. Beck on several past projects noted, "Glenn never told me anything about the FBI, but he was always saying the most provocative things, stuff that just didn't seem to make any sense. And then there was all the crying, like there was some great weight on his chest he just couldn't get out from under. Of course, if Glenn was using his show to set up right wing radicals, he would never be stupid enough to admit it. It would be like painting a target on his back."

An FBI spokesperson declined to comment on the New Jersey trial or any specific undercover action. She did confirm that the Bureau was always exploring for new paths to identify potential criminals before they acted and she could not rule out the possiblity of interagency cooperation between the Bureau and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Ruby Sunrise

The Ruby Sunrise, produced by The Theater Project, features the intriguing story of a farm girl (Ruby) who nearly invents television, but instead produces and inspires a daughter (Lulu). Twenty-five years later Lulu writes her mother's story and fights the system to get the truth, not to confused with the facts, on the air. The story breezes through a lot of history: some early stirrings of women's liberation; the invention of television and it's anticipated impact on mankind - until TV's potential is fully realized as the perfect medium for the sale of soap; the blacklist; the Automat; and, with assistance from a projected backdrop, the real original Ray's Pizza. OK, the Automat and Ray's Pizza weren't all that central to the plot, but I was hungry. Through it all, Mother Ruby, daughter Lulu and some occasionally weak willed accomplices fight with persistent vision to overcome mankind's flaws, in a theme the script drives home a little too persistently at times. Fortunately, the believable characters, entertaining story and some advice on doing what you can realistically do from a drunken old character actress overcome any hint of preachiness.

The real joy here is the uniformly high quality of cast, direction and production. There are no weak links. Jenelle Sosa, as Ruby (Theater Project regulars will remember her extraordinary performance in Fully Committed), Jen Plants, as Lulu, and Rick Delaney, as Tad (veteran television writer who becomes the vehicle for Lulu's story, her lover and finally her coauthor) deserve special mention for outstanding performances in demanding roles - what the heck, so do Norleen Farley, who captured both the bitter old aunt and the alcoholic character actress to a T and Jaclyn Ingoglia who nailed the difficult task of playing a bad actress just badly enough so it was funny real, not funny farce.

Just two shows left, Saturday, Oct. 17 and Sunday, Oct. 18, 2009. See it at Union County College, Cranford, NJ. Brown Paper Tickets or 800 838 3006

Monday, October 12, 2009

Love Simple

Love Simple is an indie that's a romantic comedy with an ending, a real ending that resolves the story,not just a point in time when the film stops, a happy ending no less - is this possible? Before checking "indie" in your OED, take note. The other indie symptoms are all there: creative core of college pals; handheld camera; entire feature length film shot in 14 days with catering by Mom (bologna sandwich and lemonade anyone?). The result is well worth watching.

The primary romance features Adam and Seta. It might be love at first sight, but if truth is beauty, this is one ugly couple, as both lovers are lying through their teeth. Adam's a thirty-two year old undergrad living with his Dad. Seta is sick. Neither feels like facing the prospect of another quick dump. This could get treacly, especially given Seta's illness, but it's well paced and well played, particularly by Patrizia Hernandez, and the result is far more engaging than the average studio romance.

There's more love in the air here. Adam's pal Jesse has a one night stand with Seta's roomate Keith (Keith is the Brooklyn counterpart of a boy named Sue, played very capably as a comic straight man, er whatever, by Caitlin Fitzgerald.). Cynics Jesse and Keith then counsel Adam and Seta on the perils of romance while falling for each other. No spoiler alert lapse here, you will see this one coming from a mile away. Finally, Adam's life is on hold because he's caring for his sick father, a case of "simple" love that provides some interesting contrast.

The comedy is a little choppier than the romance, with more risk and greater potential. Writer/first time Director Mark Von Sternberg handles some gender reversal bits very deftly in the latter stages of the film, but the bro banter generally felt flat instead of funny. Several comic scenes were set up as potential diamonds, then mined for cubic zirconium. The visuals were consistently rewarding, but the funniest moments would have been better with a crisper set up and an occasional zinger. Only Israel Horowitz as James (Adam's father), seemed really at home delivering a humorous line. The comedy's not perfect, but promising. Several scenes were truly funny, even the cubic zirconium was pretty good and we will be forever grateful that Mr. Sternberg eschewed the Lucille Ball approach to the unmasking of Adam and Seta, settling for quick pain rather than a slow, and painfully unfunny, sequence of ever expanding embarrassment.

Love Simple is worth renting or seeing with a date. The trick is to find it. The linked site will have news on distribution.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Whip It

Producer/Director Drew Barrymore's comic take on roller derby, Whip It is not so much funny as fun. There's a very deep, talented cast featuring stars known for drama (Julitte Lewis) playing over the top for laughs while comedic veterans (Daniel Stern, Kristen Wiig) play it very straight. Ellen Page as Bliss (Roller Derby name - Babe Ruthless) drops most of the Juno-esque wise cracks and manages reasonably well as the lead. Page and Marcia Gay Harden carry the heaviest loads in advancing a predictable coming of age plot - Bliss grows restless living her mother's dream in a tiny Texas backwater, until uninhibited freedom in the form of roller derby and romance beckon on a visit to Austin. Jimmy Fallon, basking in a custom fitted part as the outrageous roller derby announcer "Hot Tub Johnny Rocket", maintains the comedy momentum in a film that would be flat without him. Fallon, and those great roller derby names - think Eva Destruction, Jaba the Slut (I am still working on my own Roller Derby name, visit the Whip It link and come up with yours) give this film it's zing. Maybe the outtakes during the closing credits fooled me, but this seems like a movie that the cast loved making and it shows on the screen. Go ahead and see it or rent it. You won't remember much, except that you had a good time.

Also screened last night for later review - Lbs - a cinematic precursor to The Biggest Loser from the same team that brought us Amexicano. Watch this space for a full review later this week.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Boys Are Back and Bright Star

Bright Star - Fanny and Keats meet - not all that cute. Keats is too poor to marry. Romance blossoms nonetheless. Keats dies. Slowly. Very Slowly. You will begin rooting for Keats to die after fifteen minutes and this movie is six hours long (well it seemed like six.) By the half hour mark you will be ready to pull the switch on Keats yourself.

The Boys Are Back - Clive Owens leads an engaging cast in an outback indie. The Boys Are Back shows two boys dealing with death and abandonment as father Clive struggles to run a loose ship without sinking. A good beginning and surprising middle make it worth renting despite the classic indie non-ending.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Sorrow on the Third Hole

Part 3 - Part 1 posted on August 12, 2009

After a night of tossing and turning in angry frustration Hugo Chavez, The Mighty Wind, had a plan. If these grass cutters, these brainwashed slaves to the capitalist running dogs, wanted a fight they would get one. Summoning the heads of the army and air force into his office, he pointed to a detailed topographical map of the Caracas Country Club:


"Here, near the green on the second hole and along the beginning of the third fairway, are the areas fortified by these roaches, these groundskeepers, who would stop the revolution so they can lick the hand of the Yankee loving imperialist duffers. Your mission is to eliminate these areas and everyone on them, while preserving the second tee, the third green and the upper half of the third fairway. In one stroke I will break the back of the counterrevolution and combine the second and third holes,
reducing the Caracas Country Club to a seventeen hole course. Then when I retire, well of course I will never actually retire, the Venezuelan people will always need me as dictator for life, but when I start to look for other interests, I will be able to shoot lower scores."


In the Greens keepers stronghold behind the second green, Renaldo looked as grim as the smog ridden Caracas dawn. The elation of yesterday's victory was fading fast as the reality of the odds - a fleet of lawnmowers facing a real army led by an utterly ruthless egomaniac who would snuff them out like a candle just to avoid embarrassment - set in. To make matters worse, Bertina, the heroic beer cart girl hurt in the surprise attack on the first hole, needed a doctor badly. Renaldo passed among his men, arranging for one group to carry Bertina out on a stretcher improvised from an old blanket and two Big Bertha drivers and releasing the men in small groups with instructions to slip quietly through the woods towards the fourth hole, then disperse and head for home.

Renaldo gave his final instructions and left with the group carrying Bertina. The last three greens keepers were still waiting patiently when the sky began to buzz. Six eyes looked skyward, seeing nothing but a gray haze against a backdrop of gray clouds. The buzzing grew louder, then the first plane appeared just as the woods erupted - light and sound crashed in every direction as trees flew apart and turned into projectiles. The planes kept coming, wave after wave, turning back for another run and another, and the woods and the second green and part of the third fairway and the three greens keepers disappeared.

Renaldo looked back in horror, but what had he expected? The Mighty Wind was nothing if not a predictable bully. Even the greens keepers who had made a successful retreat would never be safe, the records of the Club would give Chavez their names, addresses, families. Renaldo realized there would be no simple end. With a sigh he fished his cell phone from his back pocket, and fumbled to pull a scrap of paper from the innermost compartment of his bulky wallet. In the dim light he looked back and forth between scrap and cell phone, dialling carefully. After several seconds he spoke quietly into the phone:


"Mr. Woods, sorry to call so early, hope I didn't wake you.
...................................


Glad to hear the first nine went so well. Tiger, I hate to
bother you, but I really, really need help here."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Chavez Surprised on Second

Part 2 - Part 1 posted on August 12, 2009

The Chavez strike force encountered shocking resistance on the 200 yard par 3 second hole of the Caracas Country Club yesterday. The special forces team had used the night hours to import a fleet of inflatable assault craft on which they expected to sail smoothly over the piranha infested water hazard to an easy landing on the beach, the large bunker surrounding the terraced green. Groundskeepers, inspired by the beer cart girl's spirited defense of the first hole yesterday, had something else in mind. Apparently this band of brothers was more worried about losing their paycheck than maintaining solidarity with The Mighty Wind Who Would Rule Venezuela For Life. Working under cover of darkness the greens team filled the greenside bunker with quick lime. The Chavez forces paused in confusion as the first wave waded ashore into the bunker, then recoiled in horror as their boots began to burn. After allowing the first twinges of doubt to blossom in the strike force, Renaldo, head greenskeeper at the Club, turned them into fear with the wave of a towel that brought a fleet of speeding attack mowers out from their hiding place behind the green. The mowers swept relentlessly down on the strke force, never slowing, racing through the panicked soldiers like so many blades of tall grass on a beeline to the beached prows of the assault craft. As mower blades met rubber the craft began to deflate violently, launched back into the water hazard by the jet propulsion of compressed air suddenly rushing through puncture wounds. The special forces teams still on the boats were suddenly knee deep in water, piranha infested water, and sinking fast. The mowers circled back on the beached assailants, the engines roar drowning the screams from the boats. On this day the Chavez forces would not triumph. Renaldo, taller and younger than most of the men on his crews, had grown up on the golf course as an assistant groundskeeper's son in Southern California and returned to his homeland for the chance to become head groundskeeper at a prestigious club. Now he exhaled deeply for the first time in hours, relieved that his plan had succeeded, the Club was safe, for now. The Mighty Wind could only roar in frustrated rage.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Chavez Attacks Caracas Country Club


Forces commanded by The Mighty Wind - Generalissimo Hurricane Hugo Chavez - announced victory in the first battle of the recently declared war on the Caracas Country Club. This stirring defense of the proletariat (occasionally described as a sneak attack, but only by colonialist lackeys reporting from outside the boundaries of Venezuela) began only yesterday, but the Venezuelan troops have already captured the first hole, a par four playing 380 yards from the white tees with a line of trees on the left and bunkers on the right. The Chavez strike force, an elite squad of special forces personnel, overcame fierce resistance from two fairway bunkers, a steeply sloped, closely shaved green and Bertina, an attractive teen operating a beer cart as a summer job, to reach the green in less than five minutes. Bertina, who's blond hair and blue eyes proved a Dutch ancestor would appear if her family tree were shaken hard enough, was so startled by the attack that she veered her brews cruiser directly at the leading edge of the commando force. Vincente, the dark, lithe commander of the strike force, fretted as she sped straight at him. Generalissimo Hugo would not hesitate to bury her with a burst of automatic fire, but Vincente was not Generalissimo Hugo. He turned his humvee directly toward Bertina and began firing, far over her head. At the last second, Bertina swerved, glancing off the corner of Vincente's jeep and spinning to a stop. Bertina was stunned, but only for a moment. In the confusion created by scores of spraying beer cans she raced to the tree line near the first green. Vincente looked up from the melee created as his soldiers chased the rolling beer cans, saw Bertina still yards away from the trees and thought about chasing her down. With a small smile he looked down again and began to restore his men to order with a string of carefully selected oaths. As dusk fell, Hugo's Hombres established a command post and rested for the night. The second hole, a par three on a peninsula jutting into piranha infested waters, would present unique challenges to the forces of The Mighty Wind.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Just Resting My Eyes




A Look At Who Naps - Astonishingly, it turns out that 100% of C-Span viewers take naps.

The linked story on the results of a recent nap survey includes the mandatory paen to the power of the nap, and another line dear to my family's heart:

"Some people claim they are just resting their eyes when they are really snoozing."
If you need a little excitement to wake up, just head for Saratoga Springs.

2 Entries at Saratoga's Opener: Hope and Gloom - Gloom? The Spa has the horses, a neuro-science PhD turned trainer (Michelle Nihei, pictured) and a realistic chance that the winners of this years Derby, Preakness and Belmont will meet in the Travers in late August, a showdown of champions. Hmm, neuroscience - undetectable performance enhancing drugs - inside dope for the horseplayers who read the NY Times - who knows. The excitement just keeps building. What more could we ask? Well, suppose we dropped the Preakness and we were heading into Saturday's Jim Dandy as the third race of the triple crown, with all the top three year olds rested, healthy and full grown.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Headline Crawl 6

Homeless Families Could Face Eviction Over Rules - If this is not self-explanatory you should be reading another blog.

City Aids Homeless With One Way Ticket Home - Enough already. Indignant letter including choice excerpts from definition of "homeless" already en route to NY Times.


Iraq Force Soon To Be Coalition of One - Now that Mongolia is out of the picture, the coalition of the willing is, well, just US.


Plantations of Cacao Stir Bitterness - Yes that very dark chocolate can be a little strong, try mixing in a pinch of sugar.


China Pledges to Reduce Death Sentences - And the way to reduce a death sentence is....only kill the prisoner once?


Ireland To Accept Two Guantanomo Detainees - The decision followed extensive persuasion by Ambassador Dan Rooney, who says there is no truth to the rumor that the Irish concession followed a threat to arrange an Aras an Uachtarain visit for James Harrison. Rooney did grudgingly admit that both detainess weighed 280 pounds, ran a 4.4 forty and might be free within a year.

N.J. Man Facing Bribe Charges is Found Dead - Please NY Times headline gang, squeeze a name into these headlines. The families of half the politicians and lobbyists in the state read this thing and race to the phone in fear.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sztuckzi - Tricks are not just for Kids


In Stuckzi ("tricks" in Polish), young Stefek (Damian Ul) dreams of reconnecting with his absentee father. His cute older sister Elka (Ewelina Walendziak) misses Dad too, but she's mad enough and proud enough to steer clear of him until he makes the first move. Elka wants to quit mopping floors and land an administrative job with the big Italian company that has an office in her small Polish town.

Stefek thinks he can trick fate into changing his destiny, and maybe he can, although his magical efforts keep him perilously close to the railroad tracks and the trains that speed ominously down them. Elka plans to help herself, learning Italian, even letting her ambition get ahead of her loyalty to Stefek for one sorry moment.

Stuckzi follows the fate of Stefek and Elka, telling the story so visually that the subtitles are almost unnecessary. As Good As News enjoyed the movie, the characters, the pacing and the small Polish town setting. There is humor aplenty, especially in the eddies of life that swirl around Violka (Joanna Liszowska), the neighborhood slut, Elka's loyal boyfriend, the car-obsessed Jerzy (Rafal Guzniczak) and Jerzy's life coach Turek (Grzegorz Stelmaszewski), who expounds at length on a uniquely automotive theory of romance. Based on the quality of the humor that does come through, As Good As News suspects there was even more here for those who understand Polish, dulled in the lost timing and lost subtleties of the subtitles.

Subtitles or no, Tricks is worth renting. See it in the theater if you can go with a Polish speaking friend.

Monday, May 4, 2009

See THE ANSWER MAN? Yes!

Now when I talked to God, I knew He'd understand.
He said, "Stick by me and I'll be your guiding hand,
but don't ask me what I think of you,
I might not give the answer that you want me to."
Oh Well.

In The Answer Man, Arlen Faber (Jeff Daniels) talked to God, wrote up his notes, produced a book that captured "10% of the God market" then retreated into curmudgeonly hibernation for twenty years. Faber's awakening finally comes in two mysterious ways. A bad back leads Faber to a comely chiropractor (Lauren Graham). Romance ensues. Faber's desperation to rid himself of a collection of worthless self-help books leaves him indebted to Kris Lucas (Lou Taylor Pucci), an alcoholic book merchant who is equally desperate for wisdom. A bargain is struck. Faber coldly dispenses his godlike advice in response to Lucas's questions, on condition that Lucas must remove five books per question answered. Both plot lines march forward somewhat predictably to a hopeful, but not Hollywood sappy happy, ending. While the story is more than acceptable, it's only the beginning of the goodies in this film, a first for writer/director John Hindman.

First, let's talk about humor. Slapstick, sarcasm and sometimes scintillating dialog are scattered throughout to very good effect. Nothing says funny like a herniated disk and Jeff Daniels knows just what to do with one: listen to the same record over and over because he can't move to the turntable; get stranded by his agent because, well because he's been an asshole for twenty years; now listen to one single line of that same record over and over because a scratch develops; lastly, crawl slowly and painfully through traffic down a busy city street to the chiropractor and ask if you can go to the head of the non-existent line when you finally arrive. Well maybe one other thing does say funny like a herniated disk -a chiropractor's assistant, trying to drum up business by passing out leaflets while dressed in a foam rubber spine suit. Daniels and Pucci both play nasty enough to drop a snide bomb or two, but they keep it in check and neither becomes an object of hatred. While The Answer Man is not Juno (or The Gilmore Girls) there is witty dialog aplenty - the lines generate some big laughs, but not at the expense of believable characters.

Next, consider the characters. Faber wrote his book to deal with his father's struggle with Alzheimer's, but he couldn't cope with the book's success and his doubts about his own inspiration. Daniels captures both the harshness of Faber's stifled emotions and the humanity, the need and the hurt, they conceal in a performance made even more impressive because it's coming from a grumpy clown. Many will, aptly, compare this role to Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets, but Daniels's style puts As Good As News in mind of Walter Matthau in The Odd Couple. Interestingly, Mr. Pucci says he studied Jack Lemon to prepare for the role of Kris. The homework paid off, as Pucci is funny, desperate, proud, weak and sometimes strong in a demanding role that makes the movie more than just a Daniels tour de force. Despite her Gilmore Girls resume, Lauren Graham doesn't get to carry much of the humor load, in a role that is not written with the same depth as the male leads. The rest of the cast is very strong, with too many fine performances to single them out.

As Good As News recommends The Answer Man for viewing in the theater (where the audience laughter will add to the experience) or at home - and we are not just saying this because the director is a stand-up comic.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Final Chapters, New Themes

Fuji (Alberto Fujimori) is in jail for 31 years after a multi-year, twelve post campaign here at As Good As News. He's probably in jail for the wrong crimes, but that is the Peruvian way. We are not prepared to spring him just to demand that he be tried as a kleptocrat. What more can As Good As News really do?

The Texas succession movement is firmly and successfully launched, thanks to innumerable posts here and the timely intervention of Texas Governor Perry. The vision of a republic where public school classes in creationism are taught by evangelist ministers packing concealed six guns is so irresistable that Texas independence is now only a matter of time. As Good As News's work here is done, although we may be unable to resist an occasional progress report.

Norm never really caught the blogging public's eye, while Andy got more attention than he wanted. Both are quiet now, although the Norm & Andy series still garners an occasional comment from an Andy ex.

Doc Gurby's banking system escaped the financial crisis unscathed, in fact the financial crisis provides Turkmenistan with the opportunity to create a banking system. As Good As News will proudly remain the official blog of Turkmenistan, but don't expect much until the campaign for election to gengesh heats up this Summer.

What does it all mean? Time to create some new recurring themes. Watch for future posts on news developments in these areas:

1. Dump the Preakness. It's too close to the Kentucky Derby. A three year old needs more rest between starts. It's too short. If the best horse is boxed in, a mile and 3/16 doesn't offer enough time to escape. It's in financial trouble. Most importantly, no one really likes " Maryland My Maryland".

How can you replace a tradition like the Preakness? Move this triple crown classic to a track that's even older - Saratoga Springs. Adjust the racing season and race schedule slightly so the Jim Dandy becomes a triple crown event, run at a mile and 7/16 on the last Saturday of July. Pimlico has had a great run, but one visit to Saratoga Springs will convince doubters that the Baltimore track will make a nice shopping mall.

2. Let's Get Serious About Restructuring Mortgage Loans - Toxic securities comprised of bundled mortgage loans are toxic because of uncertainty. How many of the underlying mortgage loans will go into default, will we be able to cost effectively foreclose on the mortgages and sell the properties for anything resembling a reasonable price? If the owner of the toxic security can keep a high percentage of those mortgage loans performing by dropping payments to a level the borrower can afford, then you can value the suddenly not so toxic assets without even trying to guess at the cost of foreclosures, carrying costs and fire sale prices in a disastrous market, not to mention the benefits to the homeowner/borrowers, who will have a roof over their heads.

Why is the banking industry fighting to the death on a bankruptcy law amendment that would allow bankruptcy judges to adjust the terms of mortgage loans (as they now do with other loans)? There are valid concerns, but so far the banking industry, which certainly understands the benefits of a performing loan, doesn't seem to be mobilizing a successful mortgage loan renegotiation campaign on its own. Maybe the bankers should stop fighting and let the bankruptcy courts help them out.

Here's one approach that would help in a bankruptcy plan or a private renegotiation of a mortgage loan. If the borrower can't handle the payments without a principal reduction, then give him a principal reduction - at a price. The borrower must commit to pay a kicker, an agreed portion of the sale proceeds, to the bank if and when the house is sold.

For example, Borrower A bought his home for $200,000 in 2007 with a $170,000 loan from Bank. Now A is working only part time and the home is worth $130,000. Borrower can refinance at a lower interest rate, but he still can't afford the payments and he is ready to walk away (or stop paying and hang out for free for many many months until the sheriff shows up following foreclosure). Bank agrees to reduce the principal amount of the loan to $120,000 but only if Borrower agrees that when he sells the home he will pay-off the (reduced) mortgage loan and pay the Bank a kicker equal to 50% of any sales proceeds over $120,000. The kicker can be capped at $50,000 (the amount of the mortgage reduction) plus interest. Borrower stays in the home, Bank has a loan that is worth less, but it's a performing loan that it can value for financial reporting purposes, not a toxic unknown. Bank and Borrower will both benefit if the real estate market recovers, and even the value of the kicker (which would be very small initially) would show up on the Bank's books.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tortured

As Good As News has run too many posts to count on torture - just search this blog for "torture" - dozens of posts will appear and most of them, well at least 10%, are serious. Generally we are against torture and particularly upset with Dr. Yes and the other lawyers who strained to opine that interrogation techniques which, historically, had been prosecuted as war crimes are now OK.

Today, stirred by the overkill of coverage on the torture memos release (what's so new here MSM and where have you been for the last five years), for one day only, we will look for another side to the torture issue.

At least one form of torture, though cruel and fiendish beyond comprehension, will not violate the Geneva Convention, or any US law or treaty. The morality of this technique - well, we leave that to the judgment of our readers.

The prisoner is informed, truthfully, that if he can break par on a serious golf course he will be released, no strings attached. The prisoner is provided with equipment, lessons, unlimited practice time - in other words, a fighting chance to break par. The prisoner is then required to play 183 rounds in one month at Augusta National. No prisoner has won freedom. In fact, no prisoner has survived more than 17 rounds without breaking. By breaking we mean weeping like a baby, begging to return to Gitmo, offering the footnotes to Al Qaeda's long-term strategic plan. With waterboarding, you pretty much know it's going to be bad when they cover your face and you hear the water sloshing in the background. Only golf offers the tantalizing promise of the great shot, followed inevitably by the shank, snap hook, missed two foot putt, etc. Somehow the pain of the bad shot is always a surprise, even when it has happened a thousand times before. The more athletic prisoners get the worst of the golf torture, as the dream of freedom seems almost real on a hot streak, only to disappear, like an approach shot that lands a little hard on the wrong side of the green and slides gently into the adjacent bunker.

A second thought is stirred by Peggy Noonan's "sometimes it's better to just keep on walking" response to Obama's release of the torture memos. Didn't Goring say that at Nuremberg? When Jack Bauer saves Los Angeles by extracting the location of a dirty nuclear bomb from a recalcitrant terrorist in the heat of the moment, As Good As News will say "just keep on walking". When military and CIA interrogators seek legal opinions and cabinet level clearances for the use of torture as a regular interrogation technique- and get them - it's time for Nancy Sinatra, not Peggy Noonan. Dr. Yes, one of these days those boots are gonna walk all over you.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Song Sung Blue

Greg Kohs delivers his first film, a documentary that follows the lives of Mike Sardina, a very good Neil Diamond tribute act, performing as Lightning, who falls for Claire , a big blond with a big voice and a Patsy Cline repertoire. Together they are Lightning and Thunder, as they become Milwaukee celebrities in a career that hits its highpoint in an appearance before 30,000 fans at Summerfest, with Eddie Vedder singing along.

Offstage they sometimes seem like two goofballs. They don't have much time for their kids from prior marriages (two of whom live with them.) They live in a small house, made even smaller by clutter. They eat a balanced diet of Cheetos and cola and have a detailed career plan - make it big enough to move to Vegas. When middle age spread hits they address the problem...by chain smoking.

When Thunder is struck by a car while gardening in her own front yard, she loses part of her leg. This is the real beginning of Song Sung Blue, but Director Greg Kohs successfully incorporates so much material from performance tapes and the Sardina's older home footage that it seems like the beginning of the second act. The accident produces some instant publicity, but it ends up costing them gigs as pain, medication and money problems strain their marriage. Just as they seem to be rebooting for a life where they can survive by performing in small venues, Lightning's heart begins to give out. Even a quintuple by-pass can't keep him off the stage for long, but, it's only a temporary reprieve. Lightning's death, and a very touching gift from Eddie Vedder, give the film an emotional climax and an ending.

Through it all, Lightning and Thunder have a certain appeal. Sometimes it's the fascination of watching a train bear down on a school bus stuck at a rail crossing, but the film is not a freak show. Their love of performing and their love for each other is indefatigable and sometimes winning. Mike's illness also provokes Kohs into finally revealing Mike's history as a Viet Nam veteran and recovering addict, a man who went 30 years without touching heroin or alcohol despite a life spent in bars and clubs. Mike's inner strength isn't the only surprise. Step-daughter Rachel, who is consistently portrayed as a whining, ungrateful dope, writes and delivers a shockingly articulate eulogy at Mike's funeral.

Song Sung Blue has its moments. Mike's Neil Diamond covers are fun and very well-done. The arrival of Eddie Vedder's gift is a moment so exceptionally apt it's hard to believe it's in a documentry. However, As Good As News does not recommend the film for most audiences. Song Sung Blue spends the first 75 of its 85 minutes focused on the most cinematic foibles of the Sardina clan. Their love of each other and drive to perform makes them somewhat interesting, but doesn't generate as much empathy as it could. Mike's grit and Rachel's smarts didn't happen overnight in real life. The deeper character revelation packed into the last few minutes should have begun earlier in the film, the whole family would have been more believable, more like us, if we had seen some of those extra dimensions from the start.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Merry Gentleman

This Gent starts with a silent bang. Black clad Frank Logan (Michael Keaton) executes an unsuspecting victim in a hit for hire. Logan may work in a tailor shop, but with his grizzled silence, broken mostly by hacking coughs, he's no suave Man from UNCLE. The scene shifts to Kate Frazier (Kelly Macdonald), who stews and cries following a beating from her husband Michael (a cop played by Bobby Cannavale in a small but significant role), then flees to Chicago, where covering her trail means having no past. Logan, now sniping from a rooftop, spots Kate in her new office through his telescopic site, then shifts his focus to knock off his intended victim. After the kill, Logan steps to the ledge of his rooftop with uncertain intent, attracting the attention of Kate as she exits her office. Kate screams to disrupt what she views as an impending suicide, surprising Logan, who falls back onto the roof as his hat sails to the ground. Elapsed time - approximately ten minutes. Total words of dialog - less than 200.

The police are summoned and we meet Dave Murcheson (Tom Bastounes), a chubby but handsome, divorced, chain-smoking alcoholic who likes Kate and is worried she won't like him back. The pace slows slightly and the characters begin to speak, albeit occasionally and furtively. Kate suffers through the holiday party at her new office, stopping to buy a Christmas tree as she cabs home. Kate tries to muscle the tree into her apartment, losing a farcical wrestling match as she's pinned on her own stoop. A mysterious stranger comes to the rescue, but when the camera moves from black shoe to black slacks to black coat to ...Mr. Logan, I presume. Coincidence? OK, The Gent is noir, not neo-neo but it is moving along nicely with signs of suspense and humor. Four characters introduced and propelled into a pattern that insures they will meet again, dire consequences to follow.

Suddenly the film shifts into very low gear. That would be very low as in neutral. The story inches forward almost imperceptibly as the characters reveal themselves with small, usually subtle gestures. The mood turns reflective, literally. Key scenes include mirrored reflections of speaking characters, lights bouncing off water in one dark scene after another. Logan, Dave and Diane (Darlene Hunt) a friend from the office, all want to get to know Kate, who's having little of it. Finally Michael reappears and things start moving, at a measured but discernible pace, to a very non-Hollywood resolution.

This is Keaton's first film as a director and it has a lot to offer. The characters are nuanced and usually interesting, thanks to solid, sometimes engaging work by the entire cast, particularly Macdonald. Keaton's low key performance makes a tough sell - the hit man with no life but a soft spot for Kate - credible. As always, As Good As News appreciates humor and it's scattered throughout this film. Kate's wit appears several times. Ms Hunt and Guy Van Swearingen, as Dave's partner, contribute strong performances in character roles that carry much of the comic load.

Despite the film's assets, the pace on that long march after the fast start and before the ambiguous finish was so slow that As Good As News dropped by the wayside. Fans of indie character studies with a taste for suspense may want to rent The Merry Gentleman, but it is not for most audiences.

Texas Finally On Way Out


It took several posts here [there are too many to link, it turns out As Good As News has been undermining the Union for some time, just search this blog for Texas] to get the ball rolling, but Texas succession is finally getting some backing from that state's highest elected official. Governor Perry seems to view this as a low key threat, or perhaps he just thought it would be fun to pander to an angry mob. 49 other states are screaming, "Please Don't Throw Us Into That Brier Patch, Governor Perry!"

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Accent on Youth - Mad Comedy Scientists Create Romance With No Heart

David Hyde Pierce [revisits his award winning role as Niles Crane? - not entirely fair] milks every laugh from some witty dialog in the otherwise unremarkable Accent on Youth, a Manhattan Theater Club production now in previews. Steven Gaye (Pierce) is a playwright with a long string of successful Broadway comedies under his belt. After rounding age 51 ( or 53 or maybe it's 54) he writes a tragedy dealing with themes of December-May romance. Attempting to cast a leading lady, Gaye meets with a much younger old flame (Rosie Benton). Sparks fly. Gaye is prepared to chuck it all and flee to Finland with his renewed love when his (much younger, naturally) assistant Linda Brown (Mary Catherine Garrison) surprisingly declares her adoration. Gaye is smitten yet again, with inspiration. Suddenly, it's forget Finland. With a new first act inspired by Brown's revelation, the play succeeds. The former assistant captures the female lead in Gaye's new play and his life. Dickie Reynolds (David Furr) a handsome, inarticulate man's man, looms in the background as the male lead in that new play. Comedy ensues.

With sometimes inspired dialog and a few characters successfully walking the edge of farce, there are laughs present here. Pierce captures them with help from Rosie Benton and Charles Kimbrough (Jim Dial from Murphy Brown) as his valet. The predictable plot, thin characters, uninspired performances from Garrison and Furr and a somewhat one dimensional performance from Pierce himself don't generate much empathy, nor much joy when all is resolved. The result is a comedy that gets laughs, but doesn't explore any new ground and doesn't produce much of that Broadway non-black comedy staple, the emotional uplift.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pirate Problem Solved


Fuji Watch - Day 12 - Fuji is sentenced to 25 years for human rights abuses (these abuses included 25 killings by government controlled death squads). He was already serving a six year term for ordering an illegal search of the home of Montesinos, his intelligence chief and henchman. One likely result, 31 years is enough so that Fuji will never stand trial for turning Peru into a near kleptocracy (or at the very least, standing by and cheering for his bagman Montesinos) in the 1990s. Many who aided and abetted this broad conspiracy, including members of the elite who are still serving at high level jobs in government and the private sector, are breathing a sigh of relief.

Phil Spector - Now convicted of murder. Will he go over the Wall (of sound) or just scare the guards to death?

Pirates - Really? Pirates who capture ships, not just guys in costume who tell a lot of ARRRRRRRRRR jokes? Yes, Pirates. Pirates who kill people, not just a team that hasn't won anything since Barry Bonds left? Yes, Pirates. Pirates who take hostages and vow revenge, not just kids, and movie critics, who revel in illegal downloads? Yes, Pirates. What do we do, it's not like Somalia is going to stop them? It's all taken care of. What? The pirates have decided they would rather surrender to the French than run into any more Navy Seals.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Why Treeless Montain is different from One Tree Hill, coming to terms with the Neo-neo Realists and the Holden Caulfield School of Cinema.


OK, the title alone is too long to tweet, but hang in there. If you read this post you will be able to comment on A.O. Scott's recent NY Times piece Neo-neo Realism and the subsequent exchange between Richard Brody of The New Yorker and Scott. You will not necessarily be able to comment intelligently (since you will know only what I tell you), but when the subject comes up (and it will) you shall name relevant names to the wonderment of those around you who had you pegged as an unemployed beer taster on a busman's holiday.

Why should you come to As Good As News for a neo-neo realism primer? Because we'll cover it all in the form of FAQs. Take that Times and New Yorker.

FAQs sound too good to be true, does As Good As News actually know anything about neo-neo realism - most of your reviews seem to revolve around the question of whether Joe Sixpack will like a movie or not? Fear not. Through an unlikely chain of events, yours truly saw Treeless Mountain tonight, attended a Harvard Film Archive presentation of Goodbye Solo featuring a post screening discussion with director Ramin Bahrani on Saturday and watched The Little Fugitive on Wednesday. All three films play a role in the neo-neo realist debate, as do Wendy and Lucy, reviewed here, and Man Push Cart and Frozen River, viewed fairly recently thanks to the wonder of Netflix and my ever vigilant spouse. True, As Good As News takes Transformers (a dreadful movie with Megan Fox) over Truffaut, thinks Rossellini is a guy who married Ingrid Bergman and is not intimately familiar with the works of legendary Iranian indie filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami (does Iran even have studios). Unlike the rest of the Harvard archive audience, As Good As News has not taken the Boston University course on Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu (confused here, but only momentarily, with ouzo). BUT, with a writing class at the New School and a session at the Manhattan Comedy School under my belt (not to mention three dusty diplomas in the attic) I have the credentials to prove I can bs when necessary, so I can and will provide enough information to help you out in that potentially embarrassing bar room discussion.

I'll bite, what's neo-neo realism? That question may be the core of the Scott-Brody debate and it's too complex for comprehensive coverage here (1). One thing Ramin Bahrani said on Friday (he said it more eloquently, this is not a quote) goes to the heart of the question. His goal is to avoid any artifice in story or production that would be noticeable to the viewer. The movie might be set in an unusual corner of the world, but within the context of that setting everything should occur just as it would in real life. No plot twists. No against the odds happy endings. No special effects. No "acting". The writer, director, even the cast in a way, must be an invisible hand, guiding the story while rigorously avoiding anything that feels phony. The neo-neo movies that Scott and Brody have put into focus are blue collar (or underclass), character driven indies, but is there any theoretical reason why a neo- neo could not be a carefully crafted studio pic set on the polo fields of Saratoga Springs - rarefied, but real nonetheless? Maybe, there are no rules on defining neo-neo realism, but there is a tendency to include an element of social realism, limiting the field to the everyday lives of the proletariat.

Nothing phony - OK, now we get that Holden Caulfield reference in the title, but is MTV Road Rules neo-neo reality TV? A million monkeys banging on a million keyboards might produce...so MTV might..NO, NO, NO. Neo-neo realism is a narrative form. Character development and story exist under very complete, careful control (2). In fact, the directors tend to extreme control. Many use non-professional actors, keep the scripts (which are detailed) in high security lock-up, feed the actors their lines just before a take and then shoot take after take- until the actor is just too worn down to attempt anything phony.

So the neo-neo directors are in complete control of every detail in something that's supposed to be "natural", isn't that phony? Every storyteller has a point of view. Even Holden Caulfield was deciding subjectively who was phony and who wasn't, all the while establishing his own personae (and we won't even mention Salinger and the whole anti-Hollywood thing, it just gets too complicated). The point of neo-neo realism is not to achieve some abstract nirvana of anti-phoniness, the point is to never, ever seem phony to the viewer.

Nothing that SEEMS phony, got it. But are you telling me Michelle Williams didn't even get to see a script for Wendy and Lucey? No. Don't know for sure, but As Good As News is betting she read a script before she agreed to do the picture. Her performance was a bright spot in a dismal swamp. Similarly, Ramin Bahrani used professional actors (Red West and Souleymane Sy Savane) for the first time as the leads in Goodbye Solo. They got scripts and the results were two very strong performances. The whole avoiding "acting" by using amateurs and keeping the script secret schtick (3)may be more budget side effect than control issue. Let's see what happens when more of the neo-neo directors can afford to hire expert, established experienced (4) actors who expect to be partners in a creative process.

Why neo-neo, isn't it all just realism? Not clear. Brody points to The Little Fugitive (American indie pioneers Morris Engel, Ruth Orkin and Ray Ashley take the first chest mounted cam to Coney Island in 1953 and phoniness is scarce indeed) and asks the same question. Must we divide Less Than Zero, Last Exit to Brooklyn and Red Badge of Courage into neo-neo, neo and realism? If we accept a new label, do we risk limiting the artists working in that genre? Maybe no one will ever shoot that great, and totally realistic, movie about the polo set in Saratoga Springs because neo-neo realism will turn into a blue collar ghetto once the concrete sets around the definition. This is a point Brody makes in a more negative way, but let's view it as a plus. The best efforts of the neo-neos link to older traditions and show a curiosity about the unexplored corners of society, why wall off a new genre. If one accepts the "nothing that seems phony" definition , then a neo-neo picture can still have a big (but very carefully considered) budget, it can use stars, maybe even some (very carefully considered) special effects. So neo-neo is OK by As Good As News, provided it's not a blue collar ghetto (and we mean that in every sense, bigger budget pictures, middle and upper class subjects- all OK if treated properly). As a genre, neo-neo need not be about separation, but about restoration of the no phonies allowed ethic that can be applied with any budget to any subject if the artists are sufficiently dedicated and skilled.

Should I tell my new friends in the bar that I like neo-neo realism? It's your call. The neo-neos are choosing to abjure much of what most movie goers enjoy - the plot twist, the car chase, the leading lady more glamorous than real life, the sudden explosion of stars as the ship goes into hyper drive, the dialog that's just too funny to be true, etc. The neo-neos can and do make great movies that appeal to a fairly wide audience, but including the "phony" greatly expands the movie maker's canvas, the scope of stories and experiences the movie can bring to the audience. Audiences are willing to suspend disbelief and accept the phony, up to a point. The location of that point varies with the quality of the characters, the story and the production. Making the audience accept, even love, the "phony" has long been part of the job for most movie-makers. Making the phony "true", that is consistent with the characters and story the movie has created and thus believable to the audience, is an art too. So, do you want your movies to make you believe the phony or just give that phony up for a permanent Lent? Most will miss their phony, but in that bar room discussion, the neo-neos will be the hot team for the next few months.

Enough already, which movies should I see? Hard core Joe Sixpack should pretty much forget every movie mentioned in this post except Frozen River. Mellisa Leo deserved that Oscar, not just for Frozen River but for putting up with being cut out of the movie, but not the credits, in The Cake Eaters. If you are still reading this post, you are not hard core Joe Sixpack. Try two entries from Ramin Bahrani - Man Push Cart (a character study which has some extra impact in the post 9/11 era), then Goodbye Solo (a Winston-Salem cabbie butts into the life of a gruff passenger on a mission). Bahrani jumps into his stories, builds real characters without visible artifice and controls his narrative sufficiently to add suspense. Still interested? Follow Mr. Brody back to the origins. Revisit New York with Engel and Orkin in The Little Fugitive and (and/or Weddings and Babies, Lovers and Lollipops) while the NYC of Man Push Cart is fresh in your mind. If you are still with the program, try Treeless Mountain - a slow-paced, mostly melancholy story with very real and somewhat likeable main characters (two young Korean girls), a discernible storyline and an ending that will not require you to consider suicide. Under no circumstances should you see Wendy & Lucy. It is a darling of the festival circuit. Michelle Williams does deserve all the praise she has received, but the plot is like watching a turd in a toilet bowl after it has begun circling. If you are hungry for more neo-neo, then try something As Good As News has not seen (yes, you can use the links and actually see what Scott and Brody have to say) or see one of two outliers reviewed here - Canvas or The Black Balloon, both are very realistic stories of families dealing with medical problems. Both are only borderline neo-neo candidates because they show a little bit of artifice in establishing the ability of the family to cope with reality. However, the bright side is a realistic bright side and it's not stretching too far to consider these films, particularly Canvas, for membership in the neo-neo club.

(1)(2)(3)(4) - footnotes? you must be crazy, those numbers were just a feeble effort to get Spiro T. Agnew alliteration credit.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Sleep Dealer - It's Not About Black Market Halcion


Sleep Dealer is a story of connection and disconnection set in a future so near it's already the land of the possible. Memo (Luis Fernando Pena) is a bored young man living on a milpa (everyone but me apparently already knew this is a farm where corn and beans grow symbiotically in the same field) in very rural Santa Ana, Oaxaca, Mexico. The town is arid, its river dammed into a reservoir guarded by an electronic perimeter, its water sold locally only by the liter for an exorbitant price. Memo's father dreams of the river's return. Memo dreams of getting away.

Memo hacks into the universe just to hear something that's not Santa Ana, but intercepts the signal from the reservoir security system, igniting disaster for his family. A drone military aircraft, piloted from San Diego by Rudy (Jacob Vargas), a new recruit on his first mission, terminates an aqua terrorist attack on the reservoir with extreme prejudice. The terrorist is cleverly disguised as a thirsty native trespasser and the incident is broadcast on live network TV. The next day Rudy, operating via nodal connections that link his neural system to the drone's controls via the Internet, goes after the site of that signal interception. Memo is visiting relatives, but his father is home.

Memo needs work to support what's left of his family. He takes the bus to Tijuana, meeting Luz (Leonor Varela), an attractive writer with connecting nodes like the drone pilot. The Mexico-US border is closed - with a forbidding wall that extends across the beach and out into the ocean - but Tijuana looks the same. Would be crossers don't need to jump the fence, just enlist a coyotek to implant nodes, show up at the cyberfactory and plug into a net that allows them to labor by operating robotic tools anywhere in the world. Memo gets off to a rocky start. At Luz's suggestion, he prowls the town square for black market nodes, but he's left stunned and broke by a mugger posing as a coyotek.

Luz nodally uploads the memory of her meeting with Memo onto Trulife, a universal blog that seems to accept direct sensory input from its posters, while imperiously prompting them to try again when they dissemble. Luz's other memories aren't selling lately, so when the post on Memo gets a hit and a request for more, she's happy to oblige. She finds Memo in town, hooks him up, literally, with nodes and a job and stays in touch, gathering marketable memories. Memo grows on Luz, while the mysterious subscriber always wants more. The ending may be predictable, but As Good As News will not spoil it here.

Sleep Dealer is worth seeing, at home or in the theater. Do not go with false expectations. It was shot in Mexico, in Spanish on a low budget. You will be seeing subtitles, not billion dollar special effects. Despite the budget, Sleep Dealer is very successful at creating a completely believable futuristic aura, in part because Director Alex Rivera, Producer Anthony Bregman and Associate Producer Mark Russell get tremendous bang for their buck, in part because the sci-fi relies on very credible, incremental extensions of the present. A first world country uses it's drone air force to protect a private water reservoir across the border. The ability to focus the drone attack on a small target is technologically spellbinding, but target selection seems to fall in the unsupervised purview of private industry. The war on aqua terror is mass public entertainment, while the Internet has grown adept at capturing and micro-marketing inner moments (note to twitter - its the marketing that's micro - not the posts). The net and robotics have combined to create an outsourcing model that transcends geographic borders, making physical barriers at those borders all the more possible. If this all sounds like a Law and Order episode, ripped from the headlines, give Mr. Rivera extra credit, he wrote the story in 2001.

There's not much room for character development. Memo, and particularly Luz get beyond simple stereotypes, Rudy not so much. Futuristic setting aside, the plot is simple and serviceable, but sometimes awkwardly paced. These problems, especially the fact that Rudy is critical to the story's resolution but never fully developed, make for a few slow moments and an ending that's not totally satisfactory, but see Sleep Dealer anyway. The story and the characters are good enough, the setting will give you much to think about.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

SNL Finally Goes Too Far




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-Yes it was just a Saturday Night Live sketch on the government nationalizing the entire economy and making some tough calls, but even in comedy universe, there is no possible way that the Giants and Cowboys stay in business while the Steelers get thumbs down from Obama. Mass boycott announcements to follow. Girly named Lorne Michaels will now feel the wrath of Steeler nation, starting with a friendly visit from Jack Lambert guesting next week in a skit on Terry Tate, Office Linebacker.

The real crime was the next item in the catalog of who survives - the stroke magazine category. To really make this work SNL should have had Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler all survive (which would have made stroke magazines the only category with no casualty), noting that Hustler was borderline but had saved itself just in time with an extraordinary Miss April from Arkansas then thanked Bill Clinton for his extensive assistance in the stroke magazine selection process.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Jerry's CineKids in Shall We Kiss

As Shall We Kiss opens, Couple A meets classic. Beautiful A-1 asks for directions to a cab stand. Handsome A-2 gives her a lift and almost cadges a goodbye/thank you/it won't mean anything but what might happen kiss. Instead A-1 begins a tale about the danger of a single kiss. The video jumps into A-1's story of Couple B - B-1, a beautiful lab scientist, and her platonic friend and long-time confidant, the handsome, but slightly geeky, math teacher B-2.

[Spoiler Alert - As Good As News is about to reveal much of the plot of this movie and its only funny line. Do not hesitate to read on, As Good As News is also about to recommend that you do not see Shall We Kiss. As Good As News will, however, continue to protect the identity of the cast.]

B-2 is suffering a mysterious malaise brought on by terminal horniness. He suggests, at tortured length, that he can think of only one cure, "but it's unthinkable, but it's..............." His pal B-1 invariably responds, "You can tell me, really, what is it..........................." This extended discussion produces the only discernible humor in a film billed as a comedy, B-2's surprising and well timed revelation that he has already tried a visit to a prostitute in his search for a cure.

The cure B-2 wants is a kiss from B-1. This leads, shockingly, to immediate sexual infatuation, made irresistible by the efforts of B-1 and B-2 to resist. Did we mention that B-1 is married? The tortured attempt at comedic dialog turns into a tortured attempt at comedic mutual seduction. B-1 and B-2 will try intercourse, just to establish the lack of attraction. Guess how that turns out. Finally, they must deal with the problem of B-1's husband. Their concern for his feelings leads to delay and an intricate plan, but the plotting makes the once likably romantic B-1 and B-2 seem sneaky and cowardly, while the delay exacerbates an already serious pacing problem.

A-1 finishes her story, alone in her hotel room with the hopeful, but not pushy, A-2. Both are committed to other partners (we take mercy on the reader by omitting A-2's story about couple C) and conflicted about how to end their night. As Good As News will not spoil this ending (since it is not completely predictable), but you may find yourself singing a few bars from the Casablanca theme.

The cast is engaging, for a while. The story is interesting, for a while. When he's not trying to be funny, the screenwriter/director (and co-star in the role of B-2) does a great job of omitting scenes that aren't needed to move the story forward. Sadly, predictability kills this video's pacing and comic potential, predictability aided and abetted by the impact of cultural differences and subtitles. They can translate the French dialog into English subtitles, but they can't make me like Jerry Lewis.

Woody Allen v. Jerry Lewis - Post-script - to those puzzled by the many comparisons elsewhere of Shall We Kiss to the comedy of Woody Allen; to those concerned that they might miss something memorable; Be not troubled. Yes, both feature a writer/director/star. Yes, this video, like Woody's comedies, spends much time talking about sex, with very little actual sex and much frustration. Woody's talk about sex is filled with witty dialog, most memorably, the one-line skewer of Woody's own potency, magnetism, etc. The theater erupts periodically with laughter. There are no lines in Shall We Kiss that cause the audience to laugh out loud. You will hear only the Silence of The Yawns.

Yes, this video, like Woody's comedies, blends farce with sophistication. Woody's farce is zany, unpredictable, coming out of left field, sometimes coming out of the visiting teams locker room. Think "Suck out the poison". Shall We Kiss surprises only in B-2's visit to the prostitute (a math tutor who requires her customers to shower before sex and prohibits kissing). Most of the farce in Shall We Kiss hammers away on a single note - we will try not to want sex while we have sex thus making us want sex more. The execution does not involve yelling, cowering or mewling, but the repetitious enlargement on the single theme owes far more to Jerry Lewis, another writer/director and star (sometimes starring in multiple roles), than Woody Allen, and the average ugly American audience (moi included) will spend little time laughing and much time shaking heads at the exit door while grumbling "That was very French."