I’ve stuck with Showtime’s Homeland through three seasons of thick and very thin. To highlight one of the shallower reasons for doing so, see exhibit A: brooding yet hot CIA black ops guy Peter Quinn, played by British actor Rupert Friend. Other reasons — especially on a Sunday night when it competed with AMC’s The Walking Dead and HBO’s Boardwalk Empire — wore thinner and thinner as this third season, which concluded last night, wore on. It seemed that the main purpose of Homeland this year was to discover the new Showtime series in the next time slot, the skillfully written and acted Masters of Sex dramatizing how William Masters and Virginia Johnson chose and pursued their field of research (and each other).
But the main storyline this season gave me a sliver of hope that if President Obama finds out things by reading the morning paper, maybe he’d learn a bit about the Iranian regime as portrayed in some of Homeland‘s episodes. Regime stooge Majid Javadi, played by Tehran native Shaun Toub, is a brutal man who arrives in America to track down his ex-wife and kill her with a broken bottle to the throat after shooting his daughter-in-law to death — justified, he coolly reasons, because she broke Islamic law and fled from him. Javadi is later recruited as a double agent by the CIA with the hopes that he can go back and become commander of the Revolutionary Guards.
When Nicholas Brody (Damien Lewis) crosses the border into Iran on a CIA mission, he is lauded and paraded by the regime. The Tehran government is portrayed as welcoming a character accused of committing a large-scale terrorist attack on U.S. soil — after knocking him around a little bit to ensure he’s loyal to jihad — and giving him asylum. The Iranian regime is also accurately portrayed in the show as giving safe haven to al-Qaeda — in this case, the widow of a fictional al-Qaeda commander. After Brody is caught he’s promptly executed, strung up on a crane before murals of the Ayatollah Khomeini and a desecrated American flag as crowds cheer on the death of the agent of the Great Satan. It’s a tense, cold, horrifying scene, and it left me hoping that it would make some viewers hit the Google — where they’d find at least two dozen, with likely many more unrecorded, have been hanged this year alone in Iran for the crime of moharebeh. This general law encompassing heresy, offense against Islam, subversion and cooperating with foreign governments has been used to dispose of those the regime finds inconvenient: government opponents, dissidents and protesters, gays, and ethnic and religious minorities.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) just said that his chief of staff is under investigation for child porn.
“I was just informed by the United States Senate legal counsel’s office that law enforcement agents are conducting a search of the personal residence of Ryan Loskarn, the chief of staff of my Washington, D.C., office regarding allegations involving child pornography,” Alexander said in a statement.
“I am stunned, surprised and disappointed by what I have learned. Based on this information, I immediately placed Mr. Loskarn on administrative leave without pay,” he added. “The office is fully cooperating with the investigation.”
Alexander named Loskarn, a former staff director for the Senate Republican Conference, his chief of staff two years ago.
Loskarn’s Hill career began in 2000 in the office of former Rep. Wally Herger (R-Calif.). He has also worked for Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) as well as the House Rules Committee.
Sailors off the Horn of Africa have actually found a use for Britney Spears songs:
Her hits are blasted out to deter kidnap attacks, merchant navy officer Rachel Owens revealed.
Spears’s chart-toppers Oops! I Did It Again and Baby One More Time have proved to be the most effective at keeping the bandits at bay.
Second Officer Owens, who works on supertankers off the east coast of Africa, said: ‘Her songs were chosen by the security team because they thought the pirates would hate them most.
‘These guys can’t stand Western culture or music, making Britney’s hits perfect.’
…Ms Owens, who regularly guides huge tankers through the waters, said the ship’s speakers can be aimed solely at the pirates so as not to disturb the crew.
‘It’s so effective the ship’s security rarely needs to resort to firing guns,’ said the 34-year-old, from Gartmore, near Aberfoyle, Stirling.
‘As soon as the pirates get a blast of Britney, they move on as quickly as they can.’
Steven Jones, of the Security Association for the Maritime Industry, said: ‘Pirates will go to any lengths to avoid or try to overcome the music.’
He added: I’d imagine using Justin Bieber would be against the Geneva Convention.’
Somali Pirates, by the way, is the name of a punk band in San Diego — but Britney is surely greater torture on the ears of would-be hijackers.
Wikipedia announced today that it’s investigating “as many as several hundred” users who may have been paid to promote organizations or products on the massive online encyclopedia.
“Our readers know Wikipedia’s not perfect, but they also know that it has their best interests at heart, and is never trying to sell them a product or propagandize them in any way. Our goal is to provide neutral, reliable information for our readers, and anything that threatens that is a serious problem. We are actively examining this situation and exploring our options,” Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, said in a statement.
Wikipedia said it has already blocked or banned more than 250 user accounts for “non-neutral editing.”
Available in 287 languages, Wikipedia contains more than 29 million articles contributed by a global volunteer community of roughly 80,000 people.
“Editing-for-pay has been a divisive topic inside Wikipedia for many years, particularly when the edits to articles are promotional in nature. Unlike a university professor editing Wikipedia articles in their area of expertise, paid editing for promotional purposes, or paid advocacy editing as we call it, is extremely problematic. We consider it a ‘black hat’ practice. Paid advocacy editing violates the core principles that have made Wikipedia so valuable for so many people,” Gardner said.
“What is clear to everyone is that all material on Wikipedia needs to adhere to Wikipedia’s editorial policies, including those on neutrality and verifiability. It is also clear that companies that engage in unethical practices on Wikipedia risk seriously damaging their own reputations. In general, companies engaging in self-promotional activities on Wikipedia have come under heavy criticism from the press and the general public, with their actions widely viewed as inconsistent with Wikipedia’s educational mission.”
I started my education in Catholic school, where I was lucky to get a start with phonics, foreign languages and the spelling bee. Nail polish wasn’t allowed but critical thought was encouraged, with a heavy grade-school emphasis on compassion and generosity toward others. Not all students sent to a Catholic school are Catholic, and each one I attended featured a curriculum that studied different religions and stressed the common ground of shared values. The only negative learning experience I can remember is a school librarian not wanting me to check out science books she thought were too advanced for one so young.
Living in California in seventh grade, I was pulled out of Catholic school and sent to public school for the first time. First came the culture shock — being clad in plaid day in and day out doesn’t give you much guidance on how to dress, never mind that 1988 wasn’t exactly a banner year for fashion anyway.
Once I slowly got the hang of those vile acid-washed jeans with zippers on the ankles (and bows, in case anyone is trying to forget), I got the hang of staking out my place in this new world. And I did the best thing possible: made friends who were supposedly bad for me. Yes, we did things like flip through issues of Cosmo at the drug store, pass notes in class and talk a lot about boys, and sneak in to watch Pretty Woman, which was the only thing bordering on not legal (though I don’t see an MPAA-ratings police at theaters). I learned how to do makeup, went through the awkward junior high dances where friends matchmake (“my friend thinks you’re cute…”), and had my first big crush on a boy from one of those dances (the song: Def Leppard’s “Love Bites”).
And though the education itself was fine — as was the teacher who thankfully told me that even though I was 8th-grade-awkward I’d be better looking my freshman year of college (trust me, I held onto that) — the greatest education came from meeting people who were so different. My dear friend Heather’s life was a complete mess: her mom was in prison for drugs and prostitution, her stepfather had raped her, she lost her virginity when she was 10 years old. Yet as hopeless as her world was around her, she was always keen on being there when others needed a shoulder, ready with a smile and a joke, and being a veritable encyclopedia on Guns ‘N’ Roses. I learned more from Heather about resilience and kindness than I did about Axl Rose.
The best learning experiences we have in school aren’t always the ones adults would have picked for us.
It’s also an extreme reminder that school serves as a necessary refuge for many, many kids whose parents range from mediocre to functionally nonexistent. You may decry these families, both single- and two-parent, or futilely try to convince less-than-stellar parents that they’re not the model families they may make themselves out to be, but the fact remains that kids need a place to escape and grow into adults.
What Books Does PJM’s Washington DC Editor Bridget Johnson Recommend for 2013?">What Books Does PJM’s Washington DC Editor Bridget Johnson Recommend for 2013?
I’ve noticed the requests to bring back Furry Friday, and what can I say other than it’s been a crunch of busy news cycles that bring me to 8 p.m. on a Friday with no furry text and work still left to do. There’s also been a lot of bad news out there, so what better to interrupt our cycles of chemical weapons, terrorism, and perpetual Washington infighting with something every lover of furriness can appreciate: bunnies.
Last year I moved into a bigger place along some of the Beltway’s ubiquitous urban woods, and also lost a few of the animals I’d previously written about due to old age: rat, guinea pig, hamster. Instead of getting more rodents, I wanted to bring different critters into the mix.
Checking out a new pet store in the neighborhood a year ago, I paused by their bunny pen, surprised that a chain pet shop was selling rabbits. The enclosure was tiny, the bunnies were without any hay, and the workers didn’t know which were male or female. Naturally, they called every breed thrown together “dwarf bunnies,” to lure kids wanting a tiny fluffy thing and mislead parents into thinking they wouldn’t get too big or take up much space. I noticed one cowering in the corner away from the lops and lionheads — a little Havana rabbit with grey feet bottoms that looked like he hopped through dust. The saleslady handed him to me, and as I rubbed behind his ears he gave me this definite look: Get me outta here. I always believe in adopting before buying, but I considered this a pet-store rescue: not only was I going to get him the nutrition, healthcare and space he needed, but I was saving him from being bought for some kid who’d probably pick him up by his cottontail before the family decided he was past his 15 minutes of Easter-gift fame and turned him into a shelter, like so many other unfortunate bunnies.
So Napoleon Bunaparte came home with me. The next morning, I took him to the best exotics-only vet in the area, which happens to be close to my home. Napoleon weighed in at a pound and was estimated to be eight weeks old. A couple months later he was old enough to be neutered, and lost an entire ounce when they took those away from him.
I’ve long admired the Amish from the time, years ago, I saw an old Amish couple in an artisans’ mercado in Tijuana haggling like ninjas with a guy selling blown glass. What’s not to love about a self-sufficient community with a staggering 95 percent success rate in starting businesses and about people who load up on gravy and pie yet make health professionals jealous? And perhaps the greatest point of admiration: the kindness and concern that the Lancaster County Amish immediately showed for the wife and family of the monster who gunned down 10 of their girls in a schoolhouse in 2006, killing five before taking his own life.
It’s just a little over two and a half hours from the D.C. area up to the heart of Pennsylvania’s Amish country. I’m not sure why I never made the trip before in nearly five years on the East Coast, except I didn’t want to be one of those tourists perceived as gawking at the plain people while contributing to the vehicular traffic making the roads a bit more perilous for the horses and buggies. This congressional recess, I decided I needed a bit of time around people who don’t give one whit about federal politics. Off to Amish country I went.
I knew there was a 20 percent chance of rain on Friday, but there was a 90 percent chance of more annoying tourists on Saturday, so I chanced it with the rain and got sprinkles. I arrived early in Intercourse, Pa., and first stopped at the oh-so-touristy Kitchen Kettle Village so the puppacita could stretch her paws. She enjoyed lots of flowers to sniff, stores to wander in and out of, the occasional piece of fallen kettle corn and staring at Amish men washing buggies and caring for horses used for tourist rides. I wasn’t opening my wallet for the higher prices and gaudy tourist items like the T-shirt that proclaimed “Virginia may be for lovers, but Pennsylvania is for Intercourse.” I vowed then and there that I would only buy from the Amish on this trip. And so with a list of tips about good roadside locations in hand, my GPS and I set out to find the best of Intercourse.
Not that GPS is necessarily needed — if you want to keep it real in Amish country, just follow the horse apples.
Seven Washington state Democrats are calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to “respect the will of voters” in states that have legalized marijuana.
Holder said in February that his department would soon unveil a policy on how to deal with Washington and Colorado, whose voters approved marijuana possession in limited quantities and regulated production and sale of the plant.
Lawmakers says that seven months after voters approved Initiative 502 in Washington state, the DOJ dragging its feet on a course of action has left “residents, businesses, and investors in a state of uncertainty.”
Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), Denny Heck (D-Wash.), Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), and Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) requested that Holder “announce this course of action as soon as possible to assure our citizens that they will not be penalized by the federal government for activities legal under state law.”
They asked Holder to exercise his “significant discretionary authority by choosing now to pursue preemption of these laws” or prosecute state residents. The lawmakers also want to make sure banking laws aren’t used against pot proprietors who do business in a method other than cash.
“Businesses looking to enter this new market and invest in and add jobs to our economies are seeking the security that your decision would provide,” they wrote. “Further delay will slow the potential for economic advancement and could lead to wasted resources, two outcomes that can be avoided with a prompt announcement by DOJ.”
“During a time of constrained federal resources, we believe DOJ has higher priorities than the pursuit of legal action against persons in compliance with the laws of the states.”
image courtesy shutterstock / EpicStockMedia
China publicly congratulated “bright idealistic” NSA leaker Edward Snowden for exposing “the bleakest moment yet in the history of the Internet,” and said in the Xinhua editorial that he’s welcome in People’s Republic.
China doesn’t mention that it holds 69 bloggers behind bars, according to the latest Reporters Without Borders statistics.
“The case indicates that through outsourcing and contracting, Big Brother is breaching the fundamental rights of citizens by getting unfettered access to their most personal communications,” says Xinhua.
“As the case unfolds, there are many things to worry about. How do we make sense of the fact that the market and the state colluded in the abuse of private information via what represents the backbone of many modern day infrastructures? How do we rationalize the character of Snowden and his fellow whistleblowers? How do we understand the one-sided cyber attack accusations the U.S. has poured upon China in the past few months? To what degree have foreign users of these Internet services fallen victim to this project?”
The official government mouthpiece called the case “a rare chance to reexamine the integrity of American politicians and the management of American-dominant Internet companies, and it appears that while many of these individuals verbally attack other nations and people in the name of freedom and democracy, they ignore America’s worsening internal situation.”
Vice President Joe Biden drew parallels with the movie Deliverance while addressing a benefit dinner for a volunteer legal group that helps domestic violence survivors.
Biden’s daughter-in-law, Kathleen Biden, is a co-chair of the group. Calling him “Pop,” she introduced the veep to the crowd packed with even more Bidens.
According to the White House pool report, he peppered his speech with family stories and told the audience that his granddaughter implores him to stop referring to them as his daughters in public because “people will think something’s wrong.”
“All you women out there: Daughters are wonderful. Granddaughters are better,” Biden said. ”When they’re 12 to 14, a dad puts his beautiful little daughter to bed. And then the next morning, there’s a snake in the bed.”
Biden talked about his work in Congress on the Violence Against Women Act when he brought up the Deliverance reference.
“After those guys tied that one guy to the tree and raped him, man-raped him in the film, why didn’t the guy go the sheriff?” Biden asked. “They don’t want to get raped again by the system.”
Former President Bill Clinton, who just joined Twitter this month, applauded the decision of NBA player Jason Collins to come out as gay.
Collins, a center for the Washington Wizards, wrote a lengthy piece for the May 6 issue of Sports Illustrated explaining his decision.
“I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, ‘I’m different.’ If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand,” Collins wrote.
Many well-known names quickly rallied to his defense on Twitter, including Clinton.
“I’m proud to call Jason Collins a friend,” Clinton tweeted, linking to a longer statement at his foundation’s website.
“I have known Jason Collins since he was Chelsea’s classmate and friend at Stanford. Jason’s announcement today is an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT community,” Clinton said. “It is also the straightforward statement of a good man who wants no more than what so many of us seek: to be able to be who we are; to do our work; to build families and to contribute to our communities. For so many members of the LGBT community, these simple goals remain elusive. I hope that everyone, particularly Jason’s colleagues in the NBA, the media and his many fans extend to him their support and the respect he has earned.”
Jason Collins quietly paid tribute to Matthew Shephard, a young gay man who was murdered in 1998, when he changed his number to 98 in 2012.
— Michael Skolnik (@MichaelSkolnik) April 29, 2013
It was obvious. Jason Collins is the only guy in the NBA not defending a paternity suit. #gaydar
— David Burge (@iowahawkblog) April 29, 2013
Picture a lovely California spring day, mid-1990s. I headed up to the Sierras with a friend in a 1982 Plymouth Reliant K car to meet up with my boyfriend and his fraternity brothers at a rock face they liked to climb. We’d missed them at the original spot and had to come back down the dirt, one-lane road that snaked up the hill. I carefully tried to ride the stiff ridges left by more adequate cars along a muddy stretch. I felt the K-car start to sink to the side, slowly becoming mired in the muddy grooves. Dusk was near, and in the interest of not becoming bear appetizer I jumped out the car, mud rising past my ankles (there went my white Keds), and had my friend slide behind the driver’s seat. I pushed as she hit the gas, the car eventually lurched out of the sticky mud, and I landed face-first in said mud.
Fast forward to my first new car, a 1995 Ford Escort GT. A friend and I decided to hop in the hooptie for a spontaneous road trip to Monterey. I found a brilliant shortcut across the Coast Ranges on my non-AAA-quality road map that should get us there in no time. When the road quicly turned dirt, I just kept on going. And going, with clods of hard dirt banging against the bottom of the car. Until the road was washed out, at which point we had to turn around and go back.
And I also can’t forget the time when I was reporting from near Campo, Calif., at the Mexican border, plowing through the dirt not-quite roads in a 2003 Camry when I heard someone following me in the desolate area frequented by drug traffickers and had to peel rubber to lose them.
In short, I have a long, illustrious history of taking vehicles into places they just aren’t built to go.
So when it came time to trade in my 2007 New Beetle convertible — first step was getting over the emotional attachment to Herbie, who brought me to the East Coast from L.A. and even had a stint in Denver where he got fitted with Blizzak tires — I decided to give in to my adventurous nature and get a car that could make it over a speed bump without bottoming out.
Being in Rome withdrawal back in 2010, I was anxious for another good historical series from HBO (and those in Rome withdrawal may have noted that Ray Stevenson, who played Titus Pullo, surfaced this season as a Ukrainian bad guy with a British accent on Dexter, another favorite show of mine). Plus, no Quentin Tarantino fan would turn down the opportunity to watch Steve Buscemi headline a series. To be honest, I almost didn’t make it through the first episode, which was directed by Martin Scorsese and relied on self-indulgent historical recreation boardwalk shots.
Season Three started well, but the personal subplots that carried the mob family in The Sopranos became a drag for Boardwalk. Nucky Thompson (Buscemi) was annoying as he paid ill attention to his business while trying to “rescue” yet another woman, this time a flighty actress who fell victim to that ill attention when she was killed by a bomb meant for Nucky at the supper club. Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale) began the season on a scary note, but as his reign of terror continued he was often a comical stereotype of an Italian gangster. Micky Doyle (Paul Sparks) was annoying because he’s supposed to be, but got a head-scratching amount of business responsibility this time around (one of the season’s best lines came from Eli Thompson, played by Shea Whigham, when Mickey was sent to pick him up from prison: “Let me ask you something, Mickey. How the f*@k are you still alive?”). And Margaret Thompson (Kelly Macdonald) was annoying as all get out as she squabbled with Nucky, went on her family planning crusade, then ironically didn’t think about her own birth control when she had sex with her husband’s handsome Irish right-hand man.
There simply wasn’t enough of the best characters this season, though some got their story arcs broadened a bit.
Retail stores are opening earlier than ever to try to catch the wave of Black Friday shoppers — see disgruntled Wal-Mart employees for more information and kvetching — but a scan of the ads thus far isn’t offering too much incentive to risk life and limb at a midnight — excuse me, 8 p.m., whatever — store opening. A few retailers even started their deals online today (probably a boon to public safety), and many more will put their deals online starting Thanksgiving so shoppers can sit at home in PJs bloating on turkey instead of sitting in a pup tent outside Best Buy.
There are the standard cut-rates on third-tier flat-panel TVs. Wal-Mart is selling an iPad for the same price that the Apple store charges, but is throwing in a $75 gift card with purchase. Other stores are offering “doorbusters” that amount to 25-50 percent off or so. In other words, nothing you can’t find in winter and summer clearance periods.
Yes, I’m a huge fan of off-season shopping. I’m also a longtime advocate of the bargain hunt, considering I’ve always been a fashionista label-snob but have always drawn a journalist’s salary. And even when I started making more money, I was set in my ways: Why buy regular price when redlines exist? Hunting for bargains, with years of strategy and wins under one’s belt, is a sport of sorts. Unfortunately, days like Black Friday are turned into a full-contact sport — see the case of the Wal-Mart worker trampled to death in 2008. And there’s a bit of disappointment, as a fiscal conservative, to see people throwing things in the cart en masse that may not be the best deal after all.
So in the interest of shopping diplomacy, here are a few things to watch as you shop.
Here’s Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), looking good as a 2016 contender, on rap in the December issue of GQ:
GQ: Your autobiography also has to be the first time a politician has cited a love of Afrika Bambaataa. Did you have a favorite Afrika Bambaataa song?
Marco Rubio: All the normal ones. People forget how dominant Public Enemy became in the mid 80s. No one talks about how transformative they were. And then that led to the 90s and the sort of East Coast v. West Coast stuff, which is kinda when I came of age. There’s a great documentary on Tupac called Resurrection about the last few years of Tupac’s life and how he transformed. And, ironically, how this East Coast rapper became this West Coast icon, back when all that Death Row/Sean Combs stuff was going on. Hip Hop’s 30 years old now and it’s crossed over and sort of become indistinguishable from pop music in general. You know, many people say Nicki Minaj is a rapper, but she’s also a singer. Kanye’s another guy who’s also a rapper, but his songs aren’t pure rap anymore. There’s also all these collaborations going on, which confuses everything. You know you’ve got the guy from Miami, Pitbull, who’s on TV selling a car and then he’s advertising for Dr. Pepper.
GQ: Your three favorite rap songs?
Marco Rubio: “Straight Outta Compton” by N.W.A. “Killuminati” by Tupac. Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.”
GQ: Is there a song you play to psych you up before a vote in the Senate?
Marco Rubio: I’m not like an athlete. The only guy that speaks at any sort of depth is, in my mind, Eminem. He’s a guy that does music that talks about the struggles of addiction and before that violence, with growing up in a broken family, not being a good enough father. So, you know that’s what I enjoy about it. It’s harder to listen to than ever before because I have a bunch of kids and you just can’t put it on. But in terms of psyching yourself up, I don’t have time for that. You know you can’t put on earphones and the storm the floor and vote [laughs].
GQ: So, Pitbull’s too cheesy?
Marco Rubio: His songs are all party songs. There’s no message for him, compared to like an Eminem. But look, there’s always been a role for that in American music. There’s always been a party person, but he’s a young guy. You know, maybe as he gets older, he’ll reflect in his music more as time goes on. I mean, he’s not Tupac. He’s not gonna be writing poetry.
I feel totally bonded with Rubio now — N.W.A. made No. 3 on my 20 Best Rap Songs list and Eminen made #5. “Killuminati”? Rubio is totally gangsta. That can’t hurt on the campaign trail.
What’s the most wonderful thing about this time of year? Is it putting Brach’s Pic-a-Mix at the top of the Halloween candy bowl to save the Kit-Kats at the bottom for one’s self? Is it dressing up as Big Bird with a binder full of bayonets (so I’m guessing will be the Beltway costume of choice this year)? Is it enjoying one last fun holiday before the Holidays With Pressure arrive?
It’s the TV, of course. It’s several straight nights or even a whole month (thanks, AMC) of getting to watch Donald Pleasence face off with Michael Myers.
The one. The only. The Donald.
Pleasence, of course, played Dr. Sam Loomis, archenemy to evil-brat-all-grown-up Michael Myers, in John Carpenter’s original Halloween (1978), 1981′s Halloween 2, 1988′s Halloween 4, 1989′s Halloween 5, and Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995).
I give you 10 reasons why Donald Pleasence is that awesome — besides, obviously, being a great actor bringing a touch of class to a low-budget enterprise.
- The person in a horror movie who always knows what’s afoot while other don’t believe him always deserves a modicum of respect.
- He knows bullets can’t take down Michael Myers, and advises others of the same, but still keeps trying. Determination.
- How many other shrinks in trenchcoats do we have as movie action heroes?
- The best lines. Sheriff: “I have a feeling that you’re way off on this.” Dr. Loomis: “You have the wrong feeling.”
- The delivery. “We are talking about evil on two legs” sounds more awesome coming from Donald Pleasence than anyone else.
- His indestructibleness rivals Myers’, who can’t seem to kill his childhood psychiatrist with explosions, window tosses, etc.
- He never descends into weepy hysterics at the sight of Myers, but confronts and even challenges him: “Now you’ll come, won’t you, Michael?”
- You really root for Donald Pleasence. (And Jamie Lee Curtis, as well.) Whiny camp counselors being stalked by Jason in the Friday the 13th series? Not so much.
- He’s a man about it. “Michael? Why now? You waited ten years. I knew this day would come. Don’t go to Haddonfield. If you want another victim, take me. But leave those people in peace. Please, Michael?” Before he curses at Myers and pops .50 caliber slugs at him.
- He was the inspiration for Dr. Evil yet is the best fighting force against “evil on two legs” Myers.
Each year at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, the packed house is reminded of the scientific and intellectual contributions Israel has made to the world. I’d suggest adding Oren Peli to the list for creating a horror franchise that has actually remained satisfying and reasonably fresh (and oh-so-profitable) through three sequels.
The Paranomal Activity series has remained a guaranteed box-office success without recessing into the torture-porn subgenre — exactly where the Saw franchise went after the first film had a suspenseful twisting storyline. Nor does the PA family rely on pricey special effects to deliver the spooks: The first film — directed, written, and edited by Peli — cost a whopping $15,000 to make and raked in nearly $200 million worldwide. Peli returned to produce the next three while handing the directing reins to others.
Many have tried the found-footage genre with widely varying degrees of success. The original Paranormal Activity was released a decade after the wildly successful Blair Witch Project, which made nearly $250 million worldwide as one of the most successful independent films ever. Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 didn’t fare so well, and plans for another sequel fizzled. Cloverfield used the found-footage framework for a monster attack; Quarantine for a runaway apocalyptic virus. Most attempts at the style have found cult followings at best, like the gem Grave Encounters that riffs on the explosion of ghost-hunting shows on TV today, most notably Ghost Adventures on the Travel Channel.
In the PA series, the ghosts have often been effects that you could pull off with fishing line, and they’re still scary. They don’t exactly reach the dramatic sweep of The Shining, or the apocalyptic terror of 28 Days Later, but they do the job for which they were created — being a creepy popcorn movie sans a comical Jason or Freddie running around.
In Paranormal Activity 4, which opened at late screenings last night to the tune of $4.5 million (and it cost $5 million to make), a new subgenre is introduced to put a twist on the classic PA formula: the creepy child.
The creepy kid has a hallowed tradition in horror films, from Damien in The Omen to Toshio in The Grudge and the Children of the Corn. Paranormal Activity 4 serves up another creepy little devil in the form of Robbie, the kid from across the street who wanders into the neighbors’ treehouse, and meanders robotically with a blank face.
There’s little mystery as to who Robbie’s “mom” is, as we’re reminded at the beginning of the film that Katie split with her nephew Hunter at the end of Paranoramal Activity 2. But there are even twists from this assumption.
Who says Hollywood isn’t wading into political terrain anymore? Before the start of Argo today, my local theater showed a trailer for a remake of Red Dawn. But instead of Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen fighting red commie Soviets who invade their town, teens including Tom Cruise’s son Connor will be fighting off an invasion of red commie North Koreans.
Hooray for the implausible scenario but at least plausible bad guys in a town that has reduced the pool of politically acceptable villains to the milquetoast bad generic Europeans with Julian Assange hair (a la Alias) and the occasional Somali pirate. Pyongyang’s buttons will burst with pride at the thought of bringing Washington state (not Colorado, as in the original, but I guess it’s closer for a financially strapped fighting force) to its knees, and Kim Jong Un will likely screen the movie in Kim Il-Sung Square in honor of dear old departed movie-buff Dad (editing out the ending where they invariably lose).
So I was especially intrigued to see how Ben Affleck and Co., institutional Hollywood to the core, would handle the Iran hostage crisis.
Especially as Iran is currently up to more dastardly (nuclear) deeds and time has shown that the Islamic Revolution has only sown hatred, anti-Semitism, and global insecurity.
Especially as time has shown that the Islamic Republic still holds Americans hostage — see the 2009-2011 detention of hikers Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer, and Joshua Fattal after they likely didn’t cross the border in Kurdish mountains.
One couldn’t have predicted this in scheduling the film’s release date, but the opening scenes of protesters burning the American flag and scaling the walls of the embassy in Tehran are eerily reminiscent of scenes we saw just weeks ago out of Cairo, and the storming of the compound brings a chill when thinking of Benghazi.
The film opens with an abridged timeline that points the finger at the U.S. for installing Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who ushered in “an era of torture and fear” and began “a campaign to Westernize Iran.” This mini-history left out the role of the Islamist movement and its motivations to forge a theocratic state.
The opening sequence of Argo, as the Iran hostage crisis begins, is similar to the sequence of terrorists storming the Israeli athletes’ dorm in Munich. Whatever one thinks of the substance or direction in the rest of the movie, these scenes stand on their own, displaying the chilling brutality of terrorism without any further explanation needed.
The militants ransacking the Tehran compound find an Ayatollah Khomeini dartboard, which is pretty awesome and predictably infuriates the bunch. They also find the documents hastily shredded when embassy staff couldn’t get an incinerator to do its job, and the Revolutionary Guards task a bunch of children to piece together the shreds, sweatshop-style. What Washington fears they’ll soon realize is that six staffers slipped out in the chaos and made their way to the Canadian embassy.
The reaction from a head spook back at the CIA wanders into the “but we must’ve deserved it” territory – also familiar territory these days.
“What’d you expect?” one character says. “We helped a guy torture and deball their entire population.”
The agency comes to the conclusion that they must “send in a Moses” to extract the six Americans — exfiltration expert Tony Mendez.
While watching Return to the Planet of the Apes, Mendez, played extremely well by Affleck, comes up with the “flamboyant cover identity” through which he believes he can get the Americans out of Iran. He enlists the help of veteran make-up artist John Chambers, played by John Goodman, to set up the fake sci-fi film Argo that would need a Middle Eastern landscape. “So you want to come to Hollywood and act like a big shot without doing anything?” Chambers quips. “You’ll fit right in.”
With the not-so-subtle timing of its theatrical release, would The Campaign pick Barack Obama or Mitt Romney for president?
Actually, if you went by the strongest political theme in the surprisingly bipartisan script, this movie would cast its ticket in favor of a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent who comes ready with every catchphrase in the book about cleaning up Washington: former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer.
After all, the villains in this tale are a pair of bankrolling Motch Brothers (subtle, eh?), played by John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd, who hatch a cockamamie plan to get a pet candidate into Congress so they can “insource” Chinese sweatshops into a rural North Carolina district.
But for being directed and produced by Jay Roach, who also made the HBO movie Game Change, the mega-happy ending (as Wayne’s World would call it) doesn’t favor the side you might expect it would. In fact, the film takes great pains to keep both sides of the aisle in the theater seats, as it’s one thing to show a message movie on pay cable and quite another to compete for summertime crowds at the box office.
The cameos, however, are like a who’s who of MSNBC primetime, with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer as the moderate anchor (in a rather funny performance, considering the “stories” he deadpan reports) and Dennis Miller coming from the right. (Missing: politician cameos, even as small as John McCain in Wedding Crashers or as plenty as in Dave.) Instead of blatant hyperpartisan digs at either side, the script puts Hangover-style humor first, mocking recent political incidents second, and any political message further down the line.
From the previews, I expected a send-up of the Christine O’Donnell vs. Mike Castle or Joe Miller vs. Lisa Murkowski races. Instead, it was more along the lines of a folksy Tea Partier (implied, but not implicitly stated or inferred by any Gadsden flags or “mama grizzly” lines) vs. John Edwards-meets-Anthony Weiner.
Rep. Cam Brady (D-N.C.), played by Will Ferrell, begins by repeating his mantra for a standard campaign stump: “America, Jesus, freedom.”
“What does that even mean?” the Democrat says. “Shit, I don’t know.”
Brady pays $900 for a haircut and texts photos of his pubic hair to his groupie mistress. He kisses up to voter constituencies by telling each one that they alone are THE backbone of the nation. He’s a lush with a potty mouth, temper issues, and the morals of a peanut. And, coincidentally, he’s mentioned as a possible pick someday for vice president.
Marty Huggins (Zach Galfianakis), a small-town tour guide in fair-isle cardigans with little to recommend him other than a powerful dad, is hand-picked by the Motch Bros. to be a Republican challenger to Brady, who expects that, as usual, he won’t face any challengers at all — but whose favorability ratings become vulnerable when he accidentally leaves a racy message for the mistress du jour on a churchgoing family’s answering machine.
I once chatted with an actress at a wrap party in L.A. who was around 80 years old and had just done a goofy spot in a TV commercial. “I just like to do fun roles,” she said, beaming, clearly enjoying every minute of it.
And that is a huge key to the charm of TNT’s Dallas reboot, which wrapped up its first season with a bang last night. The veteran actors who reprised their roles from the long-running soap — Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing, Patrick Duffy as Bobby Ewing, Linda Gray as Sue Ellen Ewing (who’s now running for Texas governor), Ken Kercheval as Cliff Barnes — are having such a blast doing it that their enthusiasm is infectious. The series has a quick pace, is nicely written with some cheesy lines but good twists and turns, and is perfect guilty-pleasure fare for a Wednesday night.
But the best thing about the show by far is the return of the original J.R. The ten best things about Hagman’s character, then, have been each of the ten episodes of this first season (with new episodes due in January).
I was too young to watch the original run of Dallas. Because it was so culturally ingrained, though, I still felt the palpable suspense about who shot J.R. (though I didn’t know exactly who DID). Still, I wasn’t all that jazzed when TNT announced a reboot of the classic primetime soap. At first, the greatest value was in seeing energy reporters on Twitter criticizing whether the show was accurately portraying drilling and methane harvesting. But I broke down and caught some on-demand episodes — and watched the first three all in a row.
The show has evil Venezuelans, an alternative-energy subplot that isn’t politically pushy (Christopher Ewing, the brains behind that, turns out to be just as devious as the others), and a gentle reminder that if one ever gets a facelift to tell the doc not to pull as tightly as Gray’s doc did.
I figured I would know what was supposed to fill the cage of my late rat, Red, when I saw the furry little critter. And if you just fell in love with the mug above, you’ll understand.
I didn’t expect to get another guinea pig, though the cage that Red came with at the shelter is technically a guinea pig cage. There was already the G-Pig caucus in my casa, Sen. Furry Reid (D-Nev.) and Rep. Piggy Hoyer (D-Md.). They fuss and fight over hay and have a stuffed elephant toy that they throw around. They’re a hoot.
And then I came across the little guy above. He had been kept in one of those little solo glass display boxes in a pet store for a year. A year.
At the end of last month, I took the puppacita on her first plane ride. She did a great job, of course, and wasn’t freaked out by any of the noises or newness. I discovered that a tiny, sweet chihuahua with her tongue hanging out the side of her mouth snaps TSA agents out of their grumpiness and that meaty treats for pups make it through security — and, for some reason, both at Dulles and LAX I was singled out for the explosive-residue-on-hands test while holding the puppacita (no full-body puppa scans). On the way out to L.A., the flight attendants (and the other passenger in the row) let Chi-Chi sit in the middle seat; she only went under the seat for takeoff and landing. Passengers in surrounding rows started passing me their iPhones to show off pictures of their dogs. And the puppacita slept most of the time, until the flight attendants came around with the basket of JetBlue snacks — she’s a fan of popcorn and the like, so the opening of bags made her perk right up. Unfortunately, Dulles was the only airport on our stop with a doggie bathroom area past the security checkpoints, but the puppacita managed to hold it through our Boston layover on the way back and make it home.
While waiting for a red-eye at LAX, though, I started to see tweets about some evil storm that had whipped through the D.C. area. I messaged my pet-sitter to see if there was anything I should know; her last stop at my place had been that Friday evening before the derecho and she was leaving on a camping trip the next morning. Little did I know at that point that staying in L.A. — or, like my pet-sitter, running off to the woods — would have been a better option that flying home.
I wasn’t too worried because my place never loses power, even during the 2010 Snowmageddon. After arriving at Dulles (and letting puppacita use the fake fire hydrant), I was almost to the parking garage when a TSA agent told me there had been a furious storm the night before; parking payment machines weren’t working and neither was cell service at the airport. Driving home from the airport, I had to stop for multiple traffic lights that were out. I noticed cars stranded along the side of the road. My car started to flash a heat warning. Even though the A/C was cranked up, puppacita started to pant — which she never does unless she’s overheated, a rare occurrence. Nothing helped until I took a bottle of water in the car and poured it over her.
At home, I discovered that my whole complex was out — though the condos and adjoining center of restaurants and shops next door had power. A transformer that fueled my complex had been taken out by the storm, and with a quick trip around the corner I saw the pole and wires at the edge of a wooded area littering the ground. The temp was only 79 when I walked in, but would get much worse. I arrived back when all of the neighbors had fled and filled up local hotels, when local friends were also out of power, and when my pet-sitter was no longer around to help with care.