Saturday, December 30, 2006

Happy New Year!

OK, we're on our way out of town again...this time south to the Pasadena area to celebrate the New Year with friends. But no, we won’t be going to the Rose Parade, thankfully. Been there, done that (too many times). So here’s to a better year ahead. We’ll be back home in Big Ditch sometime on New Year’s Day, but in the meantime, let me share my favorite holiday party tip from huggable Rachael Ray:

“Use your top-loading washer as an ice cooler. When you are done with your party, put your washer on rinse, and all the water will be sucked out.”

Party on!


This past week’s glut of national mourning for Gerald Ford has, of course, renewed debate over his unconditional pardon of the Trickster. And that, in turn, prompted me last night to revisit one of my favorite, little-seen, 1980s movie classics — the late Robert Altman’s Secret Honor.

I saw the original stage production starring Philip Baker Hall (remember him as Seinfeld’s library cop?) in 1984 at the Los Angeles Actors’ Theater, a teeny 35-seat auditorium tucked away on a side street off Hollywood Boulevard. Hall’s solo performance was loud, profane, savage, and amazingly sympathetic. And I’ve always felt grateful that his “Nixon” was eventually captured on film. The movie sprung out of Altman’s University of Michigan filmmaking class and is a perfect translation of the Donald Freed/Arnold M. Stone stage play to film.

Secret Honor is one of the great political movies of the last half-century. It offers a conspiratorial view of history, one that most radicals will have no problem embracing, and the script brims with the in-depth research material that Freed is known for. In a way, this movie is complemented nicely by Oliver Stone’s 1995 film Nixon. Secret Honor portrays the former president as a simple player in a grander scheme, a puppet of the notorious, big-money “Bohemian Grove.” And his lonely, post-resignation “testimony,” delivered late one night at his retreat, pulls his whole political career into frightening focus.

If you’ve never seen Secret Honor, rush to Netflix and rent it immediately. Or do as I did a couple of years ago — buy a copy of Criterion’s DVD, which includes full-length commentaries by Altman and Freed, an interview with Hall, and about an hour’s worth of old Nixon film clips, including his Checkers and resignation speeches. The movie is not only worth viewing as a terrific film. It’s worth studying.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Rachael, 1; Raskin, 0

Phooey to Max Raskin and his slurs against Food Network cutie-pie Rachael Ray. I finally caught one of Ray's programs during the holiday, and I'm hooked on this gorgeous gastronomic goddess. Thanks, Max, for turning me on to the delectable Ms. Ray.

One nice thought about Gerald R. Ford

My dad stopped voting Republican for the first time in his life in 1976. He refused to cast a vote for “that bastard who pardoned Nixon” and voted Libertarian instead. Dad voted LP again in 1980 — for Ed Clark — then gave up voting for good in his remaining 22 years.

I never held any fondness for the 38th president, but I do credit him for turning my dear father against the political machine.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Xmas on Route 666

We'll hit the road this afternoon for my mother-in-law’s house, some 300 miles north of us, to spend four days for Christmas. Ironically, a 2003 movie titled Dead End arrived in the mail yesterday from Netflix. It’s something that Netflix “recommended” to me, based on earlier rentals. I think you’ll understand why the plot summary on the DVD’s sleeve deterred me from watching the movie last night:

“Dreading the drive he’s made to his mother-in-law’s house for Christmas for the past two decades, Frank (Ray Wise) takes a shortcut this year to save time. He’ll wish he hadn’t when he crosses paths with a strange woman who drifts through the forest on a killing spree; a driverless car transporting the bodies follows behind, and those who survive fall prey to insanity. Will Frank’s detour turn into a hell on earth he may never be able to escape?”

I’m glad we’ll have our dog Cheyenne in the car for this trip. But maybe I should slip a handgun under the front seat. Dead End can wait for my return next Wednesday.

Have a happy.

Rachael Ray: culinary statist?

I don’t watch the Food Network. Most of my TV viewing is divided between the news channels, Comedy Central, and various sci-fi diversions. But Max Raskin’s vitriolic attack this weekend on Food Network celeb Rachael Ray intrigued me. Writes Raskin: “As a human being, there are few things I hate more than Rachael Ray. ... [S]he deserves such anger, as only a libertarian can harbor, because she is nothing less than the physical embodiment of the state.”

Since I’ve never seen one of Ms. Ray’s programs and can’t judge her statist tendencies (re: food) for myself, I’ll just say this: I googled Ray’s name just to get a quick look at her “Joker-esque smile,” as Raskin calls it. She’s adorable! So much so that I may have to watch a few episodes of her shows and judge her statism for myself. I’ll file a report on this later. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Fight the draft!

Scott Campbell, the Selective Service System’s director for operations and chief information officer, swears his agency isn’t gearing up to resume the draft. But they’re making plans to test its draft machinery anyway, just in case Bush needs it. This just three days after Bush announced that he wants a bigger military.

While the Masters of War ready themselves for reinstitution of the draft, all radical libertarians should ready themselves to fight the draft now, before it gains any new foothold. As Jerome Tuccille wrote 36 years ago:

“The military draft must be regarded as the most brutal and unjust government institution in existence today. For here it is not a question of men’s pocketbooks and property being plundered by government; life itself — existence, the most valuable gift man possesses, without which all other freedoms are impossible — is under direct attack. Libertarians should align themselves with draft resisters throughout the country. They should set up picket lines around the draft boards; lend encouragement and moral and physical support to all young men who decide not to be inducted.” (Radical Libertarianism: A Right Wing Alternative, 1970)

I believe we can’t sit quietly and wait on this issue. Production of anti-draft flyers, pamphlets, and posters must begin immediately. Organization of anti-draft marches should commence now. Draft-resistance counselors should make plans to act on a moment’s notice.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Christmas miracle

One highlight of every Christmas: popping bubblewrap, which seems to make everybody not popping bubblewrap go absolutely apeshit. I'm in heaven!

Be sure to hit the "Manic Model" button.

For Mr. Bush..."The War Prayer"

After just six minutes of Bush’s news conference this morning, I was ready to drop the mistletoe and tinsel, throw back a shot of Jack Daniels, hoist my Glock 19, and crank up MC5’s classic “Kick out the Jams” on the stereo. (I actually prefer Rage Against The Machine’s cover of the song, but my MC5 albums are closer to hand.)

Almost four years and some 2,900 dead troops (and God knows how many Iraqis) later, Bush concedes that, well, uh, the U.S. isn’t “absolutely winning” in Iraq. In fact, he finally admits, the U.S. is neither winning nor losing. So we need a larger military. Of course. As the late Peter Boyle used to say each week on TV, “Holy crap!”

Let me recommend that everyone visit Uncle Warren’s Attic, the greatest “feel good” podcast in the whole goddamn podioverse, and listen to a wonderful reading of Mark Twain’s "The War Prayer." You’ll find it right here. It’s good for the spirit...and the nerves.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Happy birthday, Milla

My local paper reports, in its "celebrity birthdays" section, that today is Milla Jovovich's 31st birthday. I think I'll mark the occasion this evening by watching Ultraviolet for the sixth time in as many months.

As I've said before, cinematic freedom fighters don't come any better than Milla.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Note to Santa: "No thanks!"

Hat tip to Tom.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Keeping the world safe...

Writes Radley Balko: “Believe it or not, there was a time when people would have doubted a picture like this could have been taken in America. No one would believe it — probably some third-world despot or Eastern European dictatorship. In fact, it was taken in Durham, North Carolina by a college photojournalist, and recently won the ‘Spot News’ category of the College Photographer of the Year competition.”

Get the full story from Radley right here. And thanks, Claire Wolfe, for the tip.

He's coming back...and God help the guilty

The rumor floated around the Internet for the past few days, but now The Hollywood Reporter confirms that Sam Raimi (of the Spider-Man movies) and Columbia Pictures plan to bring The Shadow back to the big screen. They quote Raimi: “I’ve been a passionate Shadow fan ever since I was a kid and have long dreamed of bringing this character to the screen.” (Raimi’s 1990 movie Darkman was obviously inspired by The Shadow.) Michael Uslan, one of the producers, is also quoted: “My first comic-book writing gig in the ’70s was writing for DC’s Shadow comics. I had the chance to spend time with Walter Gibson and derive my understanding of the character directly from the original source himself. Working with ... the entire team at Columbia, I know I am working with the Shadow dream team.”

I’ve been a Shadow buff for 40 years, starting with rebroadcasts of the old radio shows, then graduating to paperback reprints of the pulps and finally the various comics versions through the 1970s and ’80s. Heck, I even liked Howard Chaykin’s revisionist take on the character, and I may be one of a half-dozen people who adored the 1994 Universal movie with Alec Baldwin. I’ll be thrilled to see a new Shadow film.

Haiku for heroes

I’ve written here before about SciFaiku, science fiction poetry inspired by traditional Japanese haiku. I’ve even written one or two myself. Now there’s “Heroes” haiku, inspired by the TV series. Heroiku?

Friday, December 08, 2006

It was 26 years ago today...

War is over, if you want it,
War is over, now

Happy Christmas

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Book Review: THE BLONDE

Last week, I piled high my praise for Duane Swierczynski’s heist novel The Wheelman [here]. But I was still wholly unprepared for his follow-up, The Blonde. Let me start with its opening lines:

“I poisoned your drink.”

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me.”

“Um, I don’t think I did.”

The blonde lifted her cosmopolitan. “Cheers.”

I haven’t been yanked into a story that fast since President Palmer took the big sleep in last season’s 24 opener. Now let me quote from The Blonde’s dust jacket:

It’s your typical love story. Boy meets girl. Girl kidnaps boy. Boy loses girl and is pursued by a professional killer carrying a decapitated head in a gym bag.

Well, yeah, kinda. But that description barely begins to touch what goes on in this novel. What The Wheelman did for heist stories, The Blonde does for noir tales of innocent men pulled into horrible, uncontrollable circumstances. It turns the genre on its head. No, it actually pulls the genre apart, mixes it with a punk sensibility, then reassembles it into something new and unexpected. Think D.O.A., the old movie with Edmond O’Brien, stirred vigorously with Michael Crichton. Think The Fugitive on crystal meth.

But none of those comparisons really work. The Blonde is something else entirely. It’s just hard to say what that something else is. A look at the book’s jacket would have you convinced that this is a typical hardboiled crime novel. But it crisscrosses genres faster than you can blink. And it literally ticks like a time bomb, its brief episodes clicking past with markers like “12:55 a.m.: Behind the Edison Avenue House” and “5:16 a.m.: Frankford El, Approaching Allegheny Station.”

The Blonde is terrific. Right now, I’m leafing back through it to see just how Swierczynski did what he did. There’s a lesson in these pages for aspiring writers of noir fiction.

After only two novels, I’ve added Duane Swierczynski to my list of “must read” crime authors, alongside Andrew Vachss, Dennis Lehane, and Richard Stark. He can’t crank out another book fast enough for me.

Monday, December 04, 2006

I'm just guessing...a government-maintained road?

Thanks, Tom Novak!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Armed, dangerous...and HOT

I’m still in a “list” kind of mood from Tuesday’s post of overrated movies. So on a weekend when I just can’t seem to get excited or worked up about much of anything else, I’ve decided to share my personal list of Ten All-Time Favorite Armed and Dangerous Hotties from TV and movies, with no apologies for political incorrectness. Here's the list, in ascending order, from #10 to #1:

10: Gail (aka Rosario Dawson, Sin City). I was stunned recently to discover that Rosario Dawson, over whom I flipped in Sin City for her portrayal of Gail, Dwight’s Valkyrie and the head of Old Town’s warrior prostitutes, starred a few years ago in the insipid live-action movie version of Josie and the Pussycats. Now there’s an actress with real range!

9: Miho (aka Devon Aoki, Sin City). Silent and deadly, this petite, sword-swinging, swastika-throwing she-devil is my favorite character from the Sin City movie and from the original Frank Miller graphic novels.

8: Trinity (aka Carrie-Anne Moss, the Matrix trilogy). Trinity softened a bit too much for my liking as the Matrix films progressed, but this black-vinyl vixen overshadowed everything else in the first one (the only movie in the series that really mattered).

7: Eowyn (aka Miranda Otto, Lord of the Rings trilogy). So adorable and cuddly at first glance, once Eowyn donned a helmet and unsheathed a sword, she kicked orc butt royally (as she should have, as niece of Rohan’s late king). Miranda Otto is a real highlight in the Jackson films.

6: Nikita (aka Peta Wilson, La Femme Nikita). A few years before they launched 24, the creators of Jack Bauer brought their own unique vision to a weekly TV series based loosely on Luc Besson’s 1990 movie La Femme Nikita. It ran on the USA Network for four full seasons and a very short fifth, and it starred Peta Wilson, whose babeability increases with the addition of each piece of killer weaponry. I own all five seasons on DVD and typically watch a few episodes every month or so.

5: Sarah Connor (aka Linda Hamilton, Terminator and T2). Do I really have to sing the praises of Sarah Connor here? Doesn’t it go without saying?

4: Maggie (aka Bridget Fonda, Point of No Return). Here’s something few people know about me: I’m absolutely ga-ga over Bridget Fonda. Always have been. And her portrayal of Maggie, an Americanized “Nikita” in the 1993 remake of Besson’s La Femme Nikita, places her near the top of my pantheon of action hotties. Point of No Return has been widely criticized as a weak remake. As Grandma used to say, pish-tosh. Few things are more exciting than watching Bridget Fonda dive down a laundry chute and come up with her guns blazing.

3: Violet Song jat Shariff (aka Milla Jovovich, Ultraviolet). Now it can be told. As one of three judges in 2006’s Hardy Awards for best freedom-oriented films, I alone was responsible for bestowing an award on Milla Jovovich for Hottest Freedom Fighter (Male Perspective). Yeah, it was me. Big surprise. Any regular reader of this blog knows I not only adored Milla in this year’s Ultraviolet but that I generally adore her in any role she plays.

2: Emma Peel (aka Diana Rigg, The Avengers). When I was in the seventh grade, I had two passions. The second one was Colleen, a dark-eyed, raven-haired sixth-grader with pouty lips who hung out with my sister. The first was Emma Peel. I can pinpoint the when and where of my first Mrs. Peel sighting: April 1966, age 11, in a San Francisco hotel room. I was vacationing with my parents, the TV was tuned to ABC, and there stood the leather-clad, martial arts goodness that was Diana Rigg. I was smitten immediately. When Emma finally said bye-bye to Steed during my eighth-grade year, my withdrawals were profound. Remember, we didn’t have VCRs way back then. I didn’t see Mrs. Peel again for, oh, almost 30 years. Now, though, I’m the proud owner of all 51 Avengers episodes that make up the 17-DVD Complete Emma Peel Megaset Collector’s Edition. Emma Peel marathons are not uncommon in this house.

And finally (drumroll, please)...

1: Beatrix Kiddo (aka Uma Thurman, the Kill Bill saga). Thurman’s Beatrix Kiddo (aka Black Mamba, aka The Bride) is, hands down, the ultimate armed and dangerous babe. No one else comes close. She could probably wipe the floor with all nine of the above ladies. The folks at Wizard magazine described Kiddo as a “bloody tidal wave of vengeance ... a master of multiple martial arts disciplines, skilled with every weapon known to man (or woman) and capable of surviving everything from a point-blank rock-salt shotgun blast to a samurai sword stroke across the back to strangulation with a lethal mace to burial alive.” Uma rocks mercilessly in both halves of Tarantino’s Kill Bill epic, the greatest revenge movie of all time and maybe the greatest action movie since The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Sometimes, on a quiet Sunday afternoon, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as watching Uma slash her way through the Crazy 88s at the House of Blue Leaves. Even when she’s drenched in the blood of her enemies, I find her irresistible.