« March 2009 | Main | May 2009 »

April 2009 Archives

April 28, 2009

Republican overlords not so all-powerful anymore

Arlen Specter trumps Sens. Snowe and Collins

Arlen Specter came out as a Democrat! Hooray. He's the 59th Democratic Senator, so that will put the total to 60 if you count Al Franken, who will hopefully get seated one of these days (though Norm Coleman will keep stalling for all eternity if he can.)

Specter is the big hero today for Democrats and especially for moderates. Unfortunately, that makes the other left-leaning Republican Senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins from Maine, the big losers in this scenario. For the last few months they could call the shots and effectively decide what legislation got passed by how they voted, but that overlord-like power that Cushie noted earlier this year just evaporated like Rick Santorum's political career.

Senator Snowe sounds like she's just about ready to follow her mavericky Republican colleague to the other side. In the Times article, she says "We haven’t certainly heard warm, encouraging words about how they view moderates, either you are with us or against us... Ultimately we are heading to having the smallest political tent in history."

I'm glad that the Senator who switched from Republican to Democrat is a decent person and not a lunatic like the one that switched the other way.

April 27, 2009

Timely programming

Law and Order: CI, Michael Emerson

While flipping channels in a hotel room the other day, I landed on the Washington, DC version of My9 (which is called My20, and is just as bad) and an old episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Some darkly clever programmer picked the single episode of that show that would most freak everyone out last week, amidst the growing trend of people deciding to kill their families.

The episode is called "Phantom", and was from the first season of the show, in March 2002. It's about a seemingly respectable middle-aged man who gets caught living a lie and making fraudulent investments with his family's money when his elderly father starts asking to withdraw his cash. The man starts to panic, and finally tries to kill his young children so they won't learn the truth and despise him.

Familicide--ripped from the 2009 headlines! Creepy. And who plays the fraudulent schemer but BENJAMIN LINUS!

You can watch an edited version of the episode on YouTube that gives you all the good parts in under 15 minutes. Including a particularly awesome Vince D'Onofrio, talking down a shotgun-wielding Ben Linus in an absurdly melodramatic, yet oddly affecting, speech that shows all the best and weirdest aspects of his character. That show was better than I think I realized at the time.

Scary NY indeed

This morning I happened to be on the phone with someone who has spent decades as an airplane mechanic. He spotted the low flying 747, escorted by fighter planes, while we were on the phone. Mid-sentence he stopped and said "Oh My God." He confirmed what the audio above says: "that's not normal."

City room confirms that this was some kind of strange photo-op with an Air Force One lookalike and that “the photo op was approved and coordinated with everyone.”

Everyone, that is, except the people who were evacuated from most tall buildings in lower Manhattan.

April 23, 2009

Dieting for dudes

Skinny Bastards

The ladies who brought us Skinny Bitch are coming out with a version for the fellas, which is titled Skinny Bastard.

The original book for women was marketed as a dieting book, but turned out to be a well-reasoned argument for becoming vegan. Some angry would-be skinny bitches did not want to hear about animal cruelty in their dieting books, but it still sold 1.1 million copies.

The publishing company admits that they expect mostly women to buy Skinny Bastard on behalf of their menfolk. An article in the Times quotes the new, guy-oriented introduction: "Chances are, you haven't done so badly, despite the few extra lbs you're carting around ... But don't kid yourself, pal: A hot-bodied man is a head-turner."

But come on, what kind of man is going to buy a book called Skinny Bastard? The subtitle is pretty good: "A Kick-In-The-Ass For Real Men Who Want to Stop Being Fat and Start Getting Buff", but the title is terrible. There are loads of women out there who would love it if people called them "skinny bitch" behind their backs. And there's definitely a segment of men who would be into the "bitch" part, but how many men aspire to be called "skinny"?

So let's think of some better titles that might interest that special population of men who buy dieting books. A few thoughts:

Fit Jerk
Stud Asshole
Tight-Ab Prick
Sculpted Moron
Pumped Dick
Ripped Fuckface
Beefy Jackass

Wouldn't you rather buy those titles? Browse the Men's Health site for a few minutes, I swear this is totally what guys want.

April 20, 2009

Sleep Dealer

Sleep Dealer, Cybracero

I went to see a good movie that opened on Friday--Sleep Dealer by first time director Alex Rivera [official site]. It's only playing in New York and LA so far, but it got a pretty good review in the Times from A.O. Scott and hopefully will get to other cities.

The movie is about the near future when the US-Mexico border has been closed. American employers still hire Mexican workers for construction and factory jobs and to work as bus boys and in child care, but the workers are all lined up in warehouses in Mexico, manipulating robots in the US via wires connecting their bodies to a big, centralized node network. Glowing blue wires plug directly into workers' central nervous system through nodes that they get riveted onto their arms and backs (see the movie poster), usually on the black market by a "coyotek" (ha). We follow a young guy from Oaxaca named Memo as he comes to Tijuana to get some nodes and find work.

People also use their nodes for entertainment: they can connect directly to their computers to upload memories and make them available for sale, and can connect to other people during sex and achieve some kind of sexy psychic mind-meld.

There are lots of ideas here that we've seen before. People's life energy being used by sentient machines through sockets in their bodies is right out of The Matrix. William Gibson's Neuromancer has people connecting their bodies and brains directly to their computers. There's also some of David Cronenberg's eXistenZ (though the nodes in that movie were fleshier and more orifice-like, since Cronenberg loves weird orifices) and Strange Days, where people illegally sell their memories.

But Sleep Dealer goes beyond straight sci-fi with some interesting connections to real immigration policy and other ways that the US exploits Mexico. In the movie, American companies use workers' labor while offering no benefits of citizenship, decent working conditions, or basic safety. Sound familiar? The movie also shows the US owning most of the water in Mexico, charging local residents high prices and killing any suspected "aqua-terrorists" who try to get access to their own natural resource. In real life, the US uses almost all the water of the Colorado River, and the little bit that reaches Mexico is salty and gross.

The movie has some smart references to the US-Mexico bracero program that operated from World War II until the 1960s that allowed Mexican guest workers to take temporary jobs in the US with guaranteed minimum wages and benefits. The program was good for a lot of workers, but also encouraged some employers to hire Mexican workers outside the bracero program if they would agree to work for lower wages and no benefits, setting up the kind of exploitation that's still going on now. The factory where Mexicans go to plug in and work remotely in the US is called Cybracero (see Memo's uniform in the photo above.)

There's also a storyline involving a smart and beautiful writer that Memo meets, Luz, who starts secretly selling her memories of their encounters on TruNode, a market for other people's memories. When Memo finds out what she's doing, it reminded me of every blogger that's gotten fired or dumped for oversharing on their public website or Facebook.

The movie premiered at the 2008 Sundance and is only making it to theaters now. It's small and low-budget, but pretty smart and original in its take on ideas we've seen before. The Ain't It Cool News review from Sundance says "If this film is director Rivera's THX, I can't wait to see his Star Wars."

April 16, 2009


Puppetry of the Penis auditions

Reuters gets into some pantless photojournalism today at the auditions for a show called Puppetry of the Penis, which they generously describe as "performance art" in the captions.

Here's the slideshow. None of these shots would necessarily get you fired from work for looking at them, but they might encourage you to test out genital elasticity in ways you're not comfortable exploring.

My favorite:

Puppetry of the Penis auditions

Puppetry of the Penis is a show that originated in Australia (surprise!) as guy performing a collection of dick stunts (or "genital origami") on stage. It ran in New York for a while back in 2002, and was either very hilarious or very horrifying, depending on how you feel about a penis contortion trick called "weed-snipper". It's going to be at Comix on 14th Street next Wednesday, and the producers auditioned some new members for the show earlier this week.

A lone woman showed up thinking it was an audition for an actual puppet show for puppeteers who work with puppets that aren't their dicks.

April 14, 2009

Scary mug shots

Phil Spector, Melissa Huckaby, and Nina Myers

These are the booking photos for Phil Spector, who was just convicted of shooting Lana Clarkson six years ago, and Melissa Huckaby, the Sunday school teacher who was charged with kidnapping, molesting, and killing an 8 year-old girl and stuffing her body in a suitcase. Both are pretty freaky. Their upturned faces and Spector's wild eyes and Huckaby's blank ones make them stand out from your typical celebrity mug shot.

They remind me of one of the greatest shots from the first season of 24, in which we see surveillance video of sexy villain Nina Myers murdering her colleague, then looking up at the camera with a delightfully evil glare.

Nina Myers on surveillance on 24

You can watch the scene from 24 here, starting at 1:00. (The video has a terrible soundtrack, best to watch with the sound off.)

Movieline is back

Movieline Kevin Spacey cover

The 90's movie magazine Movieline is back, online only. The print magazine ran from 1989 to 2003, and it was a fun read. Looking back at it now, it serves as an interesting document about how people thought about movies and celebrities in our no-so-distant ancient past (for example, the 2003 "sex symbol" Kevin Spacey cover above, that frankly makes my skin crawl.) To help take you back, here's a 1996 cover with a quote from Heather Locklear about whether she or Teri Hatcher had the most downloaded images.

The original magazine was a good general-interest movie mag, but also compiled some smart and interesting lists, like their 1995 100 Best Movies Ever Made list, a few years before AFI started doing their own. They also did a 100 Best Foreign Films list in 1996. The Best Movies list has some good choices (Being There, In a Lonely Place) and included only 3 movies from the 90's. But one of those was True Lies. So I guess the magazine attempted to balance thinky film criticism with whatever was popular at the moment.

The new site seems to have a similar philosophy. They've got interviews with Emily Blunt and the guy who directed the new Grey Gardens, and also gossip about Leo DiCaprio and Zac Efron talking about heroin and a bit about Seinfeld porn. And stuff about TV like Parks and Recreation.

It looks like they're going for accessibility, balanced with some stuff for people who are really into watching movies and some stuff for people who are really into celebrity gossip. A bunch of the editors were hired from Defamer, which Gawker shut down as an independent site a couple of months ago. Hard to say if the world needs another site like this, but it's good to see the Defamer group is largely intact in a new home. Hopefully they'll resist the original Movieline magazine trajectory--in 2003 it changed its name to Hollywood Life, which was like a less interesting US Weekly that nobody read.

The new Movieline is owned by Mail.com, which is weird. Mail.com says that in addition to the email service they have "a growing number of essential online content destinations."

The Vault, an archive of all the print magazines, is coming soon. You can see a lot of old covers up there now, featuring a young Johnny Depp, a young Christina Ricci, and a really young Robert Downey, Jr.

April 10, 2009

Recession roundup

Abolish Money photo

[from NY Times Picturing the Recession series]

Here's a brief list of things people are doing right now as a result of the recession, besides the usual cutting back on expenses and getting canned:

April 8, 2009


Martin Starr and Jesse Eisenberg in Adventureland

Adventureland is writer-director Greg Mottola's follow up to Superbad, so I was expecting something in the same cinematic ballpark--maybe an 80's teen movie about horny kids trying to get laid at summer camp. Maybe a sweeter, slightly less kitschy Wet Hot American Summer with tons of hilarious vulgarity.

Totally wrong! It turns out writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were completely responsible for the dirty jokes and horndog hijinks in Superbad, and Greg Mottola was responsible for the sweet, wistful tone that runs through the movie, and for Bill Hader.

Adventureland is in fact about horny kids trying to get laid while working crappy summer jobs in the 80s, but it has more in common with Mystic Pizza than Meatballs. The main guy, played by Jesse Eisenberg, is an earnest virgin who reads poetry for pleasure and wants to find love and become a journalist. He combines some of Michael Cera's awkward, funny sweetness from Superbad with Jason Biggs' nerdy desperation from American Pie that results in a sort of pot-smoking teenage Woody Allen. He was OK. There are references to local ethnic tension just like in Mystic Pizza, but here it's between Jews and Catholics instead of Portuguese and whatever those rich assholes were. WASPs?

Also: great soundtrack. Here's an interview with Greg Mottola about how he decided which songs to use. We've got The Replacements, Velvet Underground, David Bowie, and Husker Du, which is all fine, but seriously, how many teenagers in suburban Pittsburgh were actually listening to Big Star in 1987? Big Star certainly gained a larger following through the 90's and now everyone who likes REM or Primal Scream knows them, but back then, the defining characteristic of the band seemed to be their abject commercial failure. Yet we've got the cool amusement park girl listening to "#1 Record" on her parents' hi-fi. It reminded me of a scene in The Wedding Singer, set in 1985, when Adam Sandler's character, a Van Halen fan, says he's been listening to The Cure a lot lately. There's just no way.

Adventureland also features some Falco, Poison, and Foreigner, mostly played over the amusement park's PA system and by cover bands at local bars, so there was some representation of 80s trash pop reality.

My favorite part of the movie was Martin Starr as a wise-cracking Gogol fan (above). He also played one of the geeks on "Freaks and Geeks", the excellent Judd Apatow/Paul Feig-created TV show that aired in 1999-2000. Actually, Adventureland is like an continuation of that show if the nerdy characters had come back to Michigan after college and found each other again--it's the same combination of smart kids stuck somewhere they don't fit in, meatheady bullies, horniness, and lots of weed. Greg Mottola directed a few episodes of the show, which was also set in the mid 80s, so there you go.

Next, Mottola is directing a new movie by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost called Paul, about two British comic book fans traveling around the US which is pretty much guaranteed to be great.

April 6, 2009

WWE indulges Mickey Rourke

Mickey Rourke punching out Jericho

This is a photo from WWE's Wrestlemania 25, taken last night in Houston. It's Mickey Rourke, a fake wrestler, punching out Chris Jericho, an actual wrestler. Or at least Jericho is an actual pro wrestler, which makes him a real fake wrestler, while Mickey Rourke is just a fake fake wrestler.

Since The Wrestler came out late last year, Mickey Rourke has been talking all kinds of smack about wanting to get in the ring and do some actual wrestling. As already has been very thoroughly reported everywhere, he got into professional boxing before he started acting, and again during his slow acting period in the 90's, and actually did OK.

Playing Randy "The Ram" Robinson in The Wrestler encompasses many overlapping levels of reality and make-believe for someone like Mickey Rourke, and the experience seems to have steered his second career away from boxing and toward scripted, choreographed bouts that you can watch on pay-per-view. On Sunday night, upstart whippersnapper Jericho challenged Hall of Famers "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka and Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat to a 3-on-1. He beat them all handily, then started taunting Mickey Rourke, who was in the audience.

Rourke then surprised everyone* by stepping into the ring and delivering some bare-knuckle boxing moves. From WWE's coverage: "The star of The Wrestler entered the squared circle, but soon decided he’d heard enough of Jericho’s relentless taunts. Rourke, a former boxer, swung a slew of heavy fists at his tormentor, finishing with a punch that dimmed the lights of the conceited Superstar and dropped both him, and his pride, to the mat." Then he walked off the stage in victory with Ric Flair, one of my childhood favorites.

Here's video, and some more photos.

It's probably psychologically dangerous to indulge the fantasies/delusions of a loose cannon like Mickey Rourke and let him out-perform guys who have been doing this since the 70's, but it makes for good pretend entertainment. Meanwhile, the Iron Man 2 insurers are wondering what they've gotten themselves into. Hopefully he won't get as submerged in his role in Stallone's South American mercenary movie The Expendables.

*not really

April 3, 2009

Anil Kapoor pretends to be Middle Eastern on 24

Anil Kapoor and Danny Boyle at the Oscars

A lot of us saw Anil Kapoor for the first time when he played the devious game show host in Slumdog Millionaire. He was one of my favorite characters in the movie while he was being subtle and mysteriously sneaky, but when he suddenly made that ham-handed outburst toward the end, like "I call the shots around here! That slumdog will never become a millionaire on MY SHOW!" or whatever, the whole movie sort of lost me.

Anyway: Kapoor is already a mega-star in India, and has been in about 100 movies over the last 25 years. He's alerady on the next step to fame in America by signing up to be a regular character on the next season of 24.

Luckily for him, he doesn't have to play a terrorist. Sort of unluckily for him, he does have to pretend to be from the Middle East, coming to the US as part of an anti-terrorism mission.

24 is good at recruiting Indian actors to play Middle Eastern terrorists. We've already had Kal Penn, who played a terrorist Ahmed Amar last season in one of the few storylines of that season that was good, and Anil Kumar, who played a villain named Kalil Hasan, the operative who stopped at the gas station that Kiefer then absurdly pretended to hold up in Season 4.

24 also casts Latino-Americans and Italians who all convincingly played Middle Eastern terrorists, so they don't get too hung up on ethnic specificity: if you have brown skin, you're in.

Anil Kapoor is a lot of fun to watch onscreen, so I think he'll be a good, scenery-chewing addition to the show.

April 1, 2009

Peabody Awards: Now With More Internet!

Onion News Network and YouTube

I love the Peabody Awards. It's always such a strange collection of TV and radio that gets selected every spring. The awards are for "electronic media", which for the first time this year, includes media that only exists online.

They've recognized some newspaper websites, including the NY Times website this year, and in the past gave an award to the Washington Post's Being a Black Man site. But this year they also gave awards to Onion News Network and YouTube. A fake news site and an ocean of crazy videos made by preteens in their bedrooms are now Peabody winners. I love it.

Here's the full list of winners this year. Some other cool winners are SNL for the political stuff, Washington Week with Gwen Ifill (yay Gwen Ifill), Lost, "King Corn" from Independent Lens on PBS, Breaking Bad on AMC, and the entire Turner Classic Movies channel.

The Peabody board has to vote unanimously for each winner, and they must be a group of people very willing to indulge each other's favorites, since the list of winners they generate every year is all over the place.

But I almost always like their choices. In the last two years, winners have included Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke, NPR's StoryCorps, Scrubs, the Planet Earth series on Discovery, an NBC-affiliate's coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings, and Project Runway.

Here's a list of recent winners.

About April 2009

This page contains all entries posted to Amy's Robot in April 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

March 2009 is the previous archive.

May 2009 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Powered by
Movable Type 3.35