Thursday, November 02, 2006
Boratmania! (Boratmania?)
He's almost here.

On Friday, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" opens in 800 theaters. Judging from advance press, the film -- starring Sacha Baron Cohen as his misogynistic, anti-Semitic Kazakh TV personality character -- appears to be the funniest comedy of the year.

"I feel like someone just played me 'Sgt. Pepper's' for the first time," "Simpsons" writer George Meyer told "40-Year-Old Virgin" director Judd Apatow at an early screening, according to Entertainment Weekly.

Whoa.

Reviews have supported Meyer -- the film is getting 93 percent favorable notices, according to review aggregator Rottentomatoes.com -- but, as the old saying goes, will it play in Peoria?

The Associated Press' Ryan Pearson observed that the character isn't an easy sell. "Surveys showed, essentially, that a chunk of the potential audience doesn't get it. They can't be bothered to tune in to this odd-looking fellow (on Letterman, CNN or elsewhere) long enough to figure out where his schtick is going," he wrote. "Borat's" studio, 20th Century Fox (which cut the initial opening from 2,000 theaters) hopes word of mouth helps build business.

I remember when "This Is Spinal Tap" came out in 1984. Though the film is now revered (and much quoted), it did only $4.2 million in business when it came out -- allegedly because too many people didn't get the joke.

Meanwhile, there's an equally cheeky movement to "Stop Borat." Some people do get the joke.

Other movies opening this weekend include "Flushed Away," an animated adventure from DreamWorks Animation and the geniuses at Aardman ("Wallace & Gromit"), with Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen and Kate Winslet providing voices for a tale of a spoiled mouse who ends up in the sewer system; and "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause," the latest in the series starring Tim Allen. Pedro Almodovar's "Volver," starring Penelope Cruz, gets a limited opening.

* * * * *

The obituaries for William Styron, who died yesterday at 81, justifiably focus on his status as a great American literary figure, one of the "young, muscular writers who lived hard, worshipped the craft and believed that through the Great American Novel, they could capture the world," as The Associated Press' Hillel Italie wrote in an appreciation.

But many readers -- even those who know Styron for his novels "Lie Down in Darkness," "The Confessions of Nat Turner" and "Sophie's Choice" -- are appreciating Styron for something beyond his storytelling talent.

In his 1990 memoir, "Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness," Styron wrote about his battle with depression, a battle that almost cost him his life. It is a powerful document, one of the best descriptions of the "storm of murk" (in Styron's words) that afflicts so many.

"The man who saved my life has left this earth," wrote one blogger. "What a gift," another said of "Darkness Visible."

A worthy testament.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Backing the Governator
In one of the most highly coveted political endorsements of 2006, actor Tom Arnold has announced where he stands on the California governor's race. Arnold is voting for Arnold ... Schwarzenegger.

Okay, so maybe nobody cares how Tom Arnold is voting. But it is interesting that Schwarzenegger's re-election bid (www.joinarnold.com) has won support from so many Hollywood types besides his "True Lies" co-star. Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, former Paramount Pictures chief Sherry Lansing, director James Cameron, Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman and actor/director Jon Favreau are supporting Schwarzenegger -- a Republican!

Is normally left-leaning Hollywood suddenly tilting to the right? Not exactly. According to political science professor Raphael Sonenshein of Cal State University - Fullerton, Schwarzenegger has attracted support in Hollywood by moving to the left on issues like stem cell research, global warming and an increase in the minimum wage. Many Hollywood Democrats are comfortable with his positions, so they're comfortable voting for him.

Phil Angelides (www.angelides.com), Schwarzenegger's Democratic opponent, can still count on some Hollywood support of his own. Barbra Streisand, Larry David and Rob Reiner are among the celebs backing his campaign. ...

Robert Redford won't be voting for Arnold Schwarzenegger for governor. He won't be voting for Schwarzenegger's opponent either. The reason: the California native isn't registered to vote in California, but in his adopted state of Utah.

That hasn't stopped Redford from campaigning on behalf of Prop 87, a California ballot measure that would tax oil production to fund research and development of alternative fuels. When I talked with Redford recently he joked that he will be voting "spiritually" for Prop 87, even if he can't cast an official ballot in the Golden State. (Watch celebrities enter Prop 87 battle -- 2:25)

For more about the 2006 election -- in California and across the United States -- see CNN's special election coverage.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Hatin' on K-Fed
Go ahead, hate on me, Kevin Federline said last week. I can take it.

You sure about that, K-Fed?

Britney Spears' hubby's album, "Playing with Fire" (Reincarnate), came out today, and the critics let fly.

"As an MC, he’s got decent flow and OK rhymes, but he’s just not believable -- and cred is hip-hop’s most essential ingredient." - Jed Gottlieb, Boston Herald

"$50 million can't buy talent." - Sonia Murray, Atlanta Journal/Constitution

"One day, either in this life or the next, Britney Spears will have to atone for unleashing Kevin Federline upon the world. ... [H]e's not nearly as shocking as he'd like to believe or as amusing as his haters would hope: he just comes across as a big boob." -- Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Allmusic.com

Only The Associated Press' Ron Harris appeared to have anything nice to say. "Hats off to K-Fed. There's a lot here to like," he wrote, praising Federline for having "some of the most sincere urban storytelling you'll hate to admit you like."

Most publications did worse than give K-Fed a thumbs-down; they didn't review him at all. Even Amazon.com, where the album had a sales rank of 4,919 as of 1 p.m. Tuesday, had zero reviews -- and Amazon's customers review everything. (Update, 3 p.m. Tuesday: One person has since posted an Amazon review, giving "Playing with Fire" one star and saying the criticism of him is justified. No Justin Timberlake pun intended, I assume. The album's sales rank has also fallen into the 7,000s.)

Also out today:
- "Bat Out Of Hell III" (Virgin), Meat Loaf
- "Endless Wire" (Republic), The Who
- "Closet Freak: The Best of Cee-Lo" (Arista/Legacy)
- "Can't Quit the Blues (Silvertone/Legacy), a Buddy Guy box set
- "Hard Workin' Man: The Jack Nitzsche Story Vol. 2" (Ace), a continuation of the fine anthology Ace began with "Hearing Is Believing" last year

And I'm intrigued by "Rockabye Baby: Lullaby Renditions of Nirvana" (Baby Rock), the latest in a series that also includes lullaby renditions of songs by Led Zeppelin, Tool, the Cure, Radiohead and Metallica. Newborns, start rebelling now.
Monday, October 30, 2006
Into the 'Black'
I first heard "Long Black Veil" on the Band's "Music from Big Pink." The song was a perfect, spare blend of words and music:

Ten years ago, on a cold dark night
There was someone killed 'neath the town hall light
There were few at the scene, but they all did agree
That the man who ran looked a lot like me.

The judge said, "Son, what is your alibi?"
If you were somewhere else then you won't have to die.
I spoke not a word although it meant my life
I had been in the arms of my best friend's wife.

For years, I assumed it was a traditional folk song, something out of 19th-century Appalachia. (If I ever checked the record label for a songwriting credit, I'd long since let my assumption overtake the truth.) Imagine my surprise when, years later, I found out it had been written. In 1959, yet.

Marijohn Wilkin, who co-wrote the song -- also covered by Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, Marianne Faithfull, the Proclaimers and the Move (!), among many -- died Saturday. She was 86.

She walks these hills in a long black veil
She visits my grave when the night winds wail
Nobody knows and nobody sees
Nobody knows but me.

Haunting.

We're not even going to bring up Elizabeth Taylor: The Reuters article on Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe's breakup observes that winning an Oscar for best actress is bad for your relationship. No cause and effect, mind you ... or is there? Perhaps Meryl Streep and Sissy Spacek, both in long-lasting marriages, can provide counseling.
In defense of Madonna
All aboard the Madonna-bashing wagon! Or at least that's the way it has seemed since we got wind that Madonna was with child -- an adopted child at that -- a child she and husband Guy Ritchie are adopting from the poverty-stricken African nation of Malawi.

"Madonna skirted the law!" her angry detractors roared. "She beat the system!" they huffed and puffed with the sort of indignity usually reserved for far more nefarious deeds.

OK. Let's take a breath here and play a little game we'll call "Change the name to protect the innocent."

Suppose it had been Oprah Winfrey who did what Madonna did. One day, this story goes, Oprah tells her audience she has decided to give a beautiful child a wonderful life. And not just any child. A child in Malawi, one of the poorest nations on Earth (as Madonna did), in which more than 1 million are orphans. A child whose mother died soon after childbirth. And as this story goes, the father of the child is willing to give up his little boy so he may live a life far better than he could ever imagine.

"But wait!" declares Oprah. There is more. "I am concerned about all the children of Malawi, especially the orphaned children," she announces to the roars of approval from her studio audience. And then Oprah also pledges to donate $3 million to orphanages in Malawi (as Madonna did). And given this is an urgent matter, she is getting on a plane pronto to pluck this poor child from Malawi while her assistants take care of the paperwork.

Does anyone doubt that the news stories that followed would bear headlines the likes of "Oprah To The Rescue!", "St. Oprah!" and "Oprah's Love Spares Child!"

The point is, of course, that those who are caught up in the pleasures of red tape and bureaucracy fail to fully absorb that, in the end, we can not forget the child -- in this case 13-month old David Banda. Let's not forget the child. After all, isn't that what really matters?

Prof. Stanford Mukasa of SW Radio Africa News gets right to the point when he writes, "The underlying motive behind this battle would appear to be the fact that Madonna has now been cast into the stereotype of her lifestyle as a pop diva."

So let's STOP the Madonna bashing and START thinking about David.
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