Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hollywood and the Great Regurgitation

While stumping, politicians regurgitate the same litany of soundbites. Comedians recycle the same jokes in the same manner that Poison still plays “Talk Dirty To Me” at every concert; thirty years after they wrote that substandard and patently ridiculous song.

Why? Because good ideas are hard to come by. So until you come up with something better, you stick with what works. And if all else fails, grab someone else’s idea, rewrite it, repackage it and release it into the world anew. Hollywood has become a big fan of ‘all else failing.’

Remakes have been a dominant force, if not a syndrome, in the last decade. It’s getting worse too…though occasionally better. My initial intent was to slam the remake trend currently gripping the movie industry. And as one of the blogosphere’s top-ranked curmudgeons, this would be easy enough. But it would also be unfair and limited in its cinematic scope. Because sometimes, even in an industry as homogenized and nutless as Hollywood, they actually do it bigger and better the second time around.

Let’s start with Transformers. Michael Bay, love him or hate him, has taken an obscure 80s cartoon about transforming alien robots and turned it into one of the world’s most lucrative franchises. How? Easy. Just take ginormous CGI-generated robots that blow up a lot of shit while a few utilitarian homo sapiens spurt mildly amusing zingers. Throw in a quasi-hunky pseudo-douche named Shia and top it off with a vapid Megan Fox’s perky tits and glossy lips and voila…you’ve got a blockbuster.

A similar equation was employed with The A-Team but to less successful effect. Blow up a lot of shit? Check. Utilitarian homo sapien zingers? Check. Both the hunk and douche quotas were filled by a wonderful Sharlto Copley in the role of Murdock and by a shirtless Bradley Cooper who had me, even as a lifelong heterosexual, re-examining my aversions to penises and back hair.

Hollywood is a perpetually hungry beast that must be fed and sometimes fed the same meal repeatedly. Take The Hulk for example. Ang Lee did such an atrocious job that merely three years later, The Incredible Hulk was already in pre-production. Both grossed roughly of $250 million and both were underwhelming.

Sometimes though, Hollywood prefers to take a salisbury steak TV dinner and repackage it as a spamburger. The Karate Kid of 1984 was delectably terrible; one of those movies that you couldn't help but love at the time but one that has not aged very gracefully. Ralph Macchio was an unprecedented cheesedick. Miyagi rocked as did the soundtrack. Johnny and his Kobra Kai posse made karate both cool and menacing and yes, the crane kick finale was uplifting as hell. So how does one re-make what truly was a staple of 80s Americana?

Well, you’ve got to tweak the variables. Like a Montague to a Capulet, Macchio and Shue were star-crossed lovers. Jersey met Hollywood, sparks flew, emotions ran high, they played mini-golf and fell in love. But in a remake, you’ve got to up the ante. So turn the Jersey schmuck into a black kid and send him to Japan where he falls in love with a Japanese violinist. Gag, yawn, drift into narcoleptic slumber. But don’t hate it too much because it’s starring Will Smith’s offspring…which considerably minimizes the Macchio cheese-dick factor. And properly marketing a non-cheese-dick-laden reboot is enough to create a success, which the film actually was.

The horror genre has seen its three biggest breadwinners made over for the new millennium. Freddy, Jason and Michael Meyers have all had their turn and admittedly, none of their reincarnations were particularly awful. But none of them were particularly good either. And in the world of remakes, mediocrity is usually profitable and always justifies a sequel. Yes, the bar is that low. So crawl into the depths with the rest of us and enjoy the panoramic views and excremental odors that the gutter has to offer. 

Superhero films are perhaps the most successful of the reboots and the bar is consistently being raised, which is refreshing. Spiderman started the trend. Tobey Macquire created a sensitive, sympathetic superdweeb and Sam Raimi did a great job of taking the superhero and turning it into a multi-billion dollar enterprise. And it was so profitable, that only several years after its last incarnation, they are starting from scratch once again with yet another reboot on the horizon.

But the beacon of this trend that all cinefiles should follow is Christopher Nolan. He has elevated a genre, which is not an easy task. Nolan has taken the superhuman and made it empathetically human, presenting the superheroic while translating it into a heroic language that even the unheroic everyman can understand; in the process extracting remarkable performances and painting them with a visual palette never tapped by auteurs of this genre.

There is no end in sight to the industry-wide desire to resurrect and revamp. No matter how many times they mutilate past perfections like they have done with The Pink Panther franchise, they will continue doing so. In the coming years we can expect remakes of Back to the Future, Red Dawn, Robocop, Police Academy and, yes I’m serious about this, Short Circuit. If nothing else, maybe this onslaught will resurrect the hibernating  career of Steve Guttenberg.

Most of these films will suck, some will suffice and a few will actually succeed. Such is the trajectory of the cinematic orbit in which we are all helplessly adrift. It is as ubiquitous as blood and silicone tits in a horror movie. It is as unnecessary as a remake of Bangkok Dangerous. And it is as unavoidable as a piss-drunk LiLo plowing a Volkswagon into a playground in the middle of recess while filming Herbie 2: Relapsed and Reloaded. Until tomorrow provides better or at least respectable ideas, yesterday’s will just have to do. And maybe this isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe Steve Guttenberg does deserve a second chance. And even if he doesn’t deserve one, I think he needs one. Watch the video below and you will have no choice but to agree.

Article first published as Hollywood and the Great Regurgitation on Technorati.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Democratic Communication Breakdown

It's mid-October, which means two things. One, Snuggie weather has officially arrived. And two, the Democratic party has roughly two weeks to pull their heads out of their asses and drive home a message that just might prevent the Republicans from taking over a slew of mayoral and gubernatorial posts as well as both houses of Congress…a feat that will surely result in two years of political quagmire and legislative stagnation.

I am not confident that the Democrats are capable of averting this catastrophe and no folks, ‘catastrophe’ is by no means a hyperbolic expletive on my part. With a budgetary crisis, jobs evaporating and nothing remotely resembling clean energy legislation coming out of the GOP camp, a Republican Congress under a Democratic President would be a fucking disaster. 

To decipher why the Dems are such significant underdogs, one need look no further than its leadership. Nancy Pelosi is a hag; encapsulating all the shortcomings of post-feminist America. Her brashness and ‘my dick is bigger than yours’ pulpit demeanor are nothing more than attempts to overcompensate for her lack of vision and variagated deficiencies as House Leader. I don’t like her and if asked off the record, most Democrats in Congress would concur. She’s like that elementary school principle that smells like cat piss that nobody can stand but because of the position she holds, the entire teaching staff fears or at the very least tolerates.

Harry Reid, accomplished as he is, would sell his own grandchildren to get re-elected. An attribute he displayed in April by selling out his energy bill to focus on immigration; a blatant attempt to cater to the Latino electorate in the face of plummeting pole numbers. 

But tragically, the person most responsible for the Democrats' predicament is Obama himself. I say this not because I feel he has done a poor job but because a man once lauded for his oratorical prowess has continuously done a piss-poor job of communicating his agenda to the American public. And this failure has trickled down the ranks; mucking up every gear, screw and ball-bearing in the Democratic machine.

Obama/Reid/Pelosi: A Triumvirate of Ineffeiciency

With skyrocketing premiums and plummeting quality, Health Care reform was a necessity and from a legislative perspective, a monumental and historic achievement. This should have been a slam-dunk. But Republicans dominated the debate by pumping misinformation through every outlet from Fox News to the Tea Party circus. They did it so relentlessly that “death panels” and the fear of socialists kidnapping our doctors became more newsworthy than the fact that over fifty million Americans did not have any health care or that premiums had increased 78 % over the last decade while stagflation (stagnant wages and high unemployment amidst inflation) surged. 

Obama should have bought an hour on every network the day after the vote was cast and broadcast a Health Care infomercial that outlined in simple bullet points why this bill was in fact, a very good thing. Yes, the bill is 2,400 pages long but Democrats failed to simplify it and illuminate the positives in a way that the public could not only understand but get behind.

This proposed infomercial should have been followed by a continuous informational outreach initiative perpetrated by the President himself along with every senator, congressman, councilman, mayor and governor in the Democratic Party. The law was a victory for the average American and should have been marketed as such.

Leaflets, websites and commercials should have been deployed with the following ten bullet points:

-       The new Health Care Bill will provide healthcare to 32 million uninsured Americans.
-       It will also prevent healthcare providers from dropping their customers after they get sick.
-       It will prevent healthcare providers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.
-       It will prevent providers from raising premiums to unreasonable rates.
-       It will provide subsidies to help cover premiums for individuals making less than $43,000 a year and families of four with incomes under $88,000.
-       It will actually reduce the National Deficit by $143 billion over the first ten years and by $1.2 trillion in the next ten years.
-       It will force large businesses to provide coverage for employees and small businesses will receive tax credits covering up to 50% of employee premiums.
-       It will allow young adults up to the age of 27 to be covered by their parents’ policies.
-       It will expand Medicaid to cover more poor Americans.
-       It will establish a board to reduce excessive Medicare expenditures.

You see, these are all good things. And they are only some of the good things this bill does. And if one were bombarded with all these good things to the same extent they were bombarded with rumors of the ‘Viagra for sex offenders’ clauses that allegedly peppered the bill, one would have to conclude that the bill was in actuality, a very good thing. Yes, I’m using simple, mildly condescending verbiage but I’m being condescending towards Democratic leadership for failing to convince America of these facts.

The Dems have long since lost the propaganda battle on that issue and I am merely playing Monday morning cornerback here. But I am doing so because the Dems still have two weeks in which to not duplicate that misstep and adequately convey the information that just might sway voters back into their corners by November 2nd

They need to remind voters of how we got here. Why is unemployment so high? Why is the national debt so high? Where are these jobs Obama and his Federal Stimulus Package promised us? The answer to these questions could be provided in a very simple informational barnstorm that should have been employed by the entire Democratic Party throughout their campaigns. From day one, they should have reminded voters of the following eight fairly indisputable facts.

1)    The deficit is so high because Bush and a Republican Congress turned a budget surplus into a deficit by, among other things, cutting taxes for the rich during wartime, which, as any economist will tell you, is a big no-no. I have a Communications Degree and even I know this.  Republicans want to make those same tax cuts permanent, thus denying the Treasury $4 trillion in revenue over the next decade. The Stimulus Package that has added to this deficit was necessary and has only failed because it was not large enough to sustain long-term job growth.
2)    The financial universe imploded because of a lack of regulation and government oversight. Even after this happened, the Republicans did everything in their power to prevent passing of the Financial Reform Bill which aimed to, that’s right, prevent ANOTHER implosion of the financial universe because of a lack of regulation and government oversight.
3)    The equally debilitating decimation of the housing market could have possibly been averted by, and I know I’m a broken record player here, more regulation and government oversight. Yet in the wake of all this, what is the Republican Party still championing? Smaller government and less regulation.
4)    Republicans did and continue to do everything in their power to prevent the manifestation of the Health Care Bill, which does, among other good things, the ten good things on the list above. 
5)    Republicans oppose spending money on anything including stimulating the economy. A key to resuscitating a hemorrhaging economy is creating jobs, the biggest necessity facing our country. One great way to achieve this is infrastructural investments. Expanding high-speed internet access and improving our nations roads, bridges and schools would create considerable jobs but more stimulus expenditures are needed to facilitate this.
6)    Republicans continue to block any legislative efforts that would create clean energy and wane us off our reliance on foreign oil. Global Warming is not a myth and America cannot afford to be at the end of the pack in creating new, renewable sources of energy. We should be leading it.
7)    The last Republican congress also gave us the Iraq war, sanctioned terrorism and the violation of a multitude of civil liberties.
8)    The best idea the Republican Party has had since George W. Bush is Sarah Louise Palin. END OF FUCKING STORY.

This message should be pounded out incessantly through the upcoming weeks. Voters cannot be allowed to forget what Republican leadership has gotten them in the past. They are pissed off and they are scared. They are angry they lost their jobs and they want them back. They need to be reminded that Republican policy is the reason they lost them. If they still have their jobs, they are scared of losing them. They need to be reminded that the Republican Party will sooner protect corporate interests than those of the average working American. They need to remember. And it is up to Democratic incumbents and challengers across the country to remind them. They've got two weeks to do just that.   

Now get your asses to a booth people!

Article first published as A Democratic Communication Breakdown on Technorati.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Chinaphobia Enters the Political Lexicon

First, there was homophobia.  When news got out that grown men were not only engaging in unsanctioned bouts of Tummy-sticks but they also wanted to get married, every Republican south of the Mason/Dixon Line went running for their prayer groups.

Then, there was xenophobia.  The democratic nominee for president was half Kenyan and half…Hawaiian!?  Was he a Muslim?  A socialist?  A surfer?  A Zulu spearchucker?  Whatever he was, he was unfamiliar and there was much to fear.

And now, brace yourself for the latest fad in fear-pandering-for-votes strategery.  Break out the chopsticks and cadmium-based toys because Chinaphobia has arrived.  And guess what kids, it ain’t the GOP that’s peddling it.

In the hotly contested electoral battleground of Ohio, Democratic House congressional incumbent Zack Space launched an ad attacking his Republican opponent Bob Gibbs.  Watch the video below very closely; analysis to follow.

Okay, where to start.  So for a campaign ad to succeed, it must, in a span of thirty seconds, instill hate, fear or anger in the viewer to be directed at the desired target; in this case the target being Bob Gibbs.

Now, what are Americans most angry about these days?  Lost jobs.  What are Americans most afraid of?  Losing their jobs. 

That…and dragons.

Did you catch the dragon in that ad?  The image flickered across the screen so fast that your fear may have only subliminally registered at a subconscious level.  So if you missed it, here is the image freeze-framed.

Chinese Republican Dragon Incinerates 91,000 American Jobs

I don’t know about you but I thought I hated the Chinese when they were merely manipulating global trade by refusing to allow their renminbi to appreciate in value.  But now their dragons are steeling our jobs?  Fuck!  If you’re not outraged and petrified, then try screaming it.  THEIR DRAGONS ARE STEALING OUR JOBS!

Sorry, I get a little reactionary from time to time.  But as it turns out, I completely misinterpreted the mythological imagery utilized in this ad.  And after a comprehensive Googling of the word 'dragon,' I learned that they are fictional cratures and do not even exist outside of Hogwarts and Middle Earth.  So dragons are not stealing Americans’ jobs.  In fact, as the ad so eloquently points out, Bob Gibbs is “killing” them. 

Now here is where Zack Space should have really swung for the fences.  Why accuse Mr. Gibbs of merely “killing” jobs?  If your goal is terror-inducing imagery, don’t hold back.  Here’s a little something off the top of my head.  Let’s throw it out on the stoop and see if the cat licks it up.  “Free-trading Bob Gibbs killed 91,000 jobs, disemboweled them, raped their entrails, set them on fire and urinated on the ashes while reading exerts from the Koran.”  Mmmmm, doesn’t that just sing!

What's worse is that Space’s ad was not an isolated incident.  Spike Maynard, a Republican challenger from West Virginia utilized ominous Chinese music in his ad while accusing his opponent of creating wind-turbine jobs in China.   Gadzooks!  Wind turbines!  And our own Majority Leader Harry Reid ran an ad that showed images of Chinese factory workers and accused his opponent Sharron Angle of being a “foreign workers best friend” for supporting corporate tax breaks that encouraged outsourcing to China.  Fortunately, no dragons were employed or injured in any of these spots.  Thank Buddha because the last thing a highly contested senatorial campaign needs is negative press from PETA.   

Politics is sport.  Campaigns, especially at the regional level, are less about policy differences and more about which mudslinging, muckraking street fighter can deliver the  low-blow TKO.  Usually, this is the GOP’s turf.  And shame on Zack Space for treading all too efficiently on their territory.

This country has a rash of teen suicides, two wars, escalating debt, rampant unemployment and countless other problems to contend with.  The last things we need to worry about are dragons. 

Article first published as Chinaphobia Enters the Political Lexicon on Technorati.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Libations & Live Ammo: Together at Last!

Leaning to the left has always agreed with my political posturing and it has always been pretty easy for me.  Perhaps it wouldn’t be as easy if the right weren’t so goddamn crazy.

Exhibit A: Tennessee, Arizona, Georgia and Virginia have recently broadened the scope of the Second Amendment, allowing citizens to enter their favorite bar with a loaded gun.  Yes, you read that correctly.  In those states, you may now bring your gun into a bar. 


(Blogger’s Note: Every time you see words in all-caps, that is me SCREAMING)

Yes, it is technically illegal for said patrons to drink while strapped but since most weapons are concealed, there is no practical way to enforce this.  Who is or is not drinking and packing will most likely be revealed after and only after the first shot is fired…and by ‘shot’ I mean bullet, not Jaeger-bomb.

In the long and glorious history of booze, there has been an equally distinguished history of bad decisions; all aided and abetted by excessive consumption.  Personally, I have only woken up to the usual, day-after ‘Why did I fuck that girl?’ ‘Why did I tell off my best friend?’ ‘Why did I beat up that mime?’ regrets.  Never have I woken up in a jail cell with powder burns on my trigger finger.

I love logic.  And I love math.  They are both proven commodities and there is comfort in the security of an unflappable equation.  Here are a few to nibble on.

Tequila(7) + Miller High Life(8) = Bad Decisions

Tequila(7) + Miller High Life(8) + Glock(9) = Drunken Impromptu Gunfight Manslaughter Nonconsensual Prison Sex

The N.R.A. - Pistol-whipping the common sense out of America since 1871

Recent Supreme Court rulings have further strengthened the gun lobby’s mission to turn the U.S. into the “well-regulated militia” that the Second Amendment champions.  Thank you John G. Roberts court and thank you George W. Bush!  Even after you’re gone, we continue to bask in the afterglow of your contributions to our great nation.  In addition to the Supreme Court decisions, there are currently over 250 state lawsuits in progress aimed at trimming the fat off gun regulations.

How many more Columbines and Virginia Techs will it take for people to wake the fuck up? 

Last year, Starbucks also ducked the wrath of the gun lobby by allowing its patrons to, in certain states, openly carry firearms into their coffee shops.  This ‘open carry’ lunacy strikes me as, I don’t know, a terrible fucking idea. Is it just me?

I frequent Starbucks several times a week and I have never had to pull a gun to get my doppio macchiato.  Usually ‘please,’ ‘thank you’ and $2.48 is enough.  Furthermore, your typical Starbucks barista is a high school student or aspiring bartender.  The odds of Billy The Kid serving you your chai tea latte are slim.  And members of al-Qaeda are most likely not employed there either because, much like the New York Yankees, Starbucks personnel must abide by a very strict ‘no facial hair’ policy…which clearly prohibits all variations of the bin Laden pubic nest.
I have fired a gun before and I’ll admit, it was a lot of fun.  But what is it with card-carrying members of the N.R.A. and their desire to turn bars and coffee shops into the OK Corrale?  At what point in human history did we completely lose our common sense?  When did our legal system come to allow the archaic verbiage of the Second Amendment to supersede basic logic?  Is there no chance that we will some day successfully subvert the tremendous clout of the gun lobby?  Questions, questions, questions and not a reasonable answer in sight.
And someone needs to start answering these questions because, and this is not up for debate or discussion, carrying a loaded gun into a bar IS FUCKING CRAZY!  Defending or advocating a citizen’s right to do so IS EQUALLY FUCKING CRAZY!             

Some frat boy getting plastered and accidentally violating his “No Fat Chicks” credo is not a life-destroying accident.  Nor is some over-chardonnayed housewife going on a late-night, on-line shopping spree.  But waking up and finding out you are guilty of shooting a stranger over the outcome of a beer-pong match should not be a legitimate bar-hopping safety hazard.