Sunday, March 22, 2009

News and Comment... And The Rest of the Story

Hello again everybody…

A few Saturday Nights ago, Trophy Wife and I were at home watching Momma Mia for the umpteenth time, and as Pierce Brosnan pierced my eardrums with his horrific singing, I took the opportunity to pull out my cellie and check the news update on CNN. That was when I found out that radio legend Paul Harvey had died. This column would have been more timely a few weeks ago, but this is the time of year when my late night computer time is spent scouring the web looking for baseball nuggets to prepare for my annual fantasy draft(s).

It’s amazing how Paul Harvey's commentaries were so popular for so long.. yet nobody else delivers that type of radio broadcast anymore... But you can bet that his style has inspired quite a few blogs and podcasts… So without further ado, let’s launch today’s column with a salute to Paul Harvey’s format of news and comment, and feel free to insert a dramatic pause wherever you feel necessary…

FACEBOOK – It’s interesting to see how many people truly loathe the new format they dumped on us a couple of weeks ago. I'm not that annoyed by it (although I just sent out a group email through it that I thought was just going to one person), but there were 2 features they removed that have basically moved it to the backburner on my favorite website list. First is the live feed that changed automatically every time one of your friends posted anything whether it was a status update or posting “Halloween” cross dressing pics as one of my buddies recently did…. The live feed was like a private real time newscast…

And the new friend announcements are also puzzlingly gone. For those of us in our very late 30s its fun to watch the updates to see names from our past pop up that are long forgotten, yet have suddenly rediscovered a mutual facebook friend. Others use it as a warning about people they want to avoid from their past who have just climbed aboard FB.... giving enough warning to adjust the settings to “block” the offending person from seeing your Facebook profile.

This may have been a very smart or very stupid idea. One friend suggested that FB is obsessed with Twitter. I am not a twitter-er, but I hear that the new FB is very similar to its competitor. But just because a website wants to remain competitive doesn’t mean it has to destroy itself to copy somebody else. Google acquired blogspot and it competes with Wordpress, but Google incorporated Blogspot into its own site and didn’t totally redesign itself to try to beat its competitor.

Also, FB has ads along the right column, so if you watched the old live feed, the ads never changed. But if you watch the new format, you have to refresh the page to update the feed which means – a new batch of ads! And if you want to see whos friending who… (sort of like Whos Zooming Who… a tune that will now crawl into your brain and haunt you for the rest of the day)… you have to go to each friends individual page and get that info there instead. Which means – more fb ads! Or… maybe these young 23 year old whippersnappers who run Facebook should be more focused on drinking and chasing chics instead of sinking the website with constant unnecessary changes.

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NBC? – Whatever happened to the TV network that used to rule the Nielsen ratings in the days of Seinfeld, Friends and Cosby?

While NBC falls apart,… CBS continues to amaze me with its incredible prime time lineup this season. Even Fox which has the American Idol juggernaut tweaks its lineup every few months. But CBS? I don’t think they have cancelled a show since they took away that fantastic Swingtown in September. Even that crazy Jennifer Love Hewitt talking to ghosts show chugs along and I don’t recall any changes CBS has made to its lineup this season.

ABC was in a similar NBC rut in ’04 but then they started airing Lost and Desperate Housewives and started having some water cooler shows. ABC may have taken a major step in the wrong direction by cancelling the amazing Life On Mars.. LoM is a remake of a BBC show… and the BBC original inspired a spin-off…. Perhaps ABC could undo its dopey mistake and do likewise?

But when it comes to NBC…. its prime time lineup has virtually no buzz. Its incredible how NBC gets great ratings from The Today Show and Jay Leno… yet nothing in between. By the way, did anyone catch Letterman this past week with the bit about the Madoff sitcom? The actress playing Mrs. Madoff wore a Trophy Wife T shirt and the “credits” showed that the sitcom was written by my Trophy Wife’s cousin Sheldon Leonard! Even NBC's daytime lineup is in the crapper with its lone soap opera Days of Our Lives on life support. (If NBC cancels it, the ghost of my mother will haunt that NBC executive and I don’t even think Jennifer Love Hewitt will be able to step in to help!) The only shows on that network that people talk about now are Heroes and Celebrity Apprentice.. with a little mini buzz buzzing about for The Office and 30 Rock. And even Heroes is taking a beating from its fans for losing its original charm and most people TIVO, VCR it, or watch it online since 24 is soooo much better!

Last week on Celebrity Apprentice,… Dennis Rodman got drunk, picked up some chics and didn’t bother showing up the next day at his team’s assignment at the Bridal Shop. Teammates knocked on his door and he refused to respond. He later said he had an “eye infection” due to an allergy to “cats”…. This was quite ironic because I happened to have a real eye infection and realized that when I called in sick on Monday, nobody who watched The Apprentice the night before would believe me… But… it was really an eye infection!

So what happens? Its time for Donald Trump to fire someone… and who gets canned? Tom Green! How does that make any sense if Green did what he was supposed to do, yet Rodman gets spared even though he was definitely not a team player. Rodman actually told Trump that if he was still a Chicago Bull, he wouldn’t have answered his hotel room door even if Michael Jordan was knocking.

I don’t like the regular Apprentice show, but I like the Celebrity Apprentice because its neat to see these famous people doing all these silly tasks. But as Trump was getting ready to make his decision, he realized that Green has fallen way off the radar, while Rodman remains a very interesting bizarre personality. And that was when Donald realized he had to make a decision… With the ratings for his show and the current fate of NBC riding in the balance, he realized that the show would be more entertaining with the former NBA star and that is why Rodman didn’t get the ax. Now, if The Apprentice was on CBS… would Green have been spared?

PAUL HARVEY – I bought a clock radio approximately 20 years ago at a store called Consumers Distributing. If you remember this odd store, they had catalogs in the store… you would check off what you want.. bring your sheet to the counter and then get your merchandise. Then, they got rid of the format and changed it to Consumers Express and turned it into a regular Kmart type store. At the grand reopening of the Roselle, NJ store in the late 80s, I was one of the first customers that very first day and I purchased a Sony Dream Machine clock radio that I continued to use for many years.

At one point around 2000, the AM stopped working so I started waking up to FM radio… mostly Howard Stern. But once Imus got fired by WFAN, and then rehired by WABC, I decided to buy an alarm clock with a functioning AM band to hear the new show. That Sony clock lasted almost 20 years, but it was time to ditch the last souvenir of the long closed Consumers Distributers/Express Stores. And once AM was back, I rediscovered Paul Harvey., whose News and Comment I used to listen to before my radio broke.

Every morning the new alarm clock would wake me up to the Imus show, and on Saturdays it would be Mark Simone’s weekend show. Paul Harvey’s commentary always came on at some point on Saturdays… as I tried to shake off the cobwebs of yet another crazy week at work in my weekly attempt to wake up for Saturday Morning synagogue services. The hourly ABC network newscast on Simone’s show was anchored by George Weber whose shocking brutal murder was announced on Sunday as I was finishing up today's column.

In recent years, the elderly Harvey’s appearances were not so frequent. I remember one morning Scott Shannon, a radio legend some notches below Harvey, filled in and with the glee of a school boy, happy that he was privileged to fill in for Paul Harvey. And over the last year, it was usually Paul Harvey’s son anchoring the broadcast.

On the Saturday that Paul Harvey's death was announced, I again woke up that morning half asleep and as I got the cobwebs out of my eyes, I again heard Harvey’s fill in. I did not know that this was the day that Paul Harvey would pass on, and more than likely he was somewhere up with the angels getting ready to broadcast his News and Comment over Heaven’s radio airwaves.

The Friday night before that fateful Saturday, as Trophy Wife was cooking yet another gourmet dinner… a little voice started chirping from the ceiling…. It was our detector announcing that we had a dangerous amount of carbon monoxide. I thought nothing of it.. maybe a battery issue? I opened a window and the woman’s chirpy voice stopped… But moments later… it started again. We called the fire department, and it turned out we had very high levels of carbon monoxide in our house due to a now discarded faulty appliance. The house was aired out, and the levels came down and it was time to eat dinner.

It’s a good thing we have those carbon monoxide detectors… and you should have them too. If we didn’t have one, we would never have woken up the next morning. And yet as thrilled as I would have been to wake up that Saturday morning to hear Paul Harvey News and Comment... I must admit that in retrospect, I am quite happy that on that particular morning… it was NOT Paul Harvey we were listening to!

And there you have ….. The Rest of the Story!

Now go check your carbon monoxide detectors!

Friday, March 06, 2009

American Psycho - A Movie Club Column

Well now that Christian Bale’s reputation seems to have survived his recent on set meltdown, it is time for a Movie Club column. Today we present Part II of our Bale movie series – American Psycho. It took me some time to write today's column, because after several trips to Blockbuster to rent this movie, I left with a different movie instead, because the only copy was always rented out… apparently by the same person! At one point, I asked the Blockbuster counterperson/resident film expert if this person believed in returning videos. Ironically, the main character in this movie – Patrick Bateman uses the concept of returning videos as his alibi for everything… including Murder!!

Here is a clip of the trailer…

It's tough to write a spoiler free column about this movie, but since it is about 9 years old, I am sure I won’t be giving away too much by revealing certain plot aspects. This is the Bateman portion of the Bateman to Batman trip through Bale’s career, and I think this movie cements his reputation as being the rare combination of a great actor AND a movie star… Unfortunately… there have been a lot of great actors who have not become stars.

The plot revolves about Bateman, a Wall Street rich boy who has been handed a silver spoon and a cushy six figure job although his mornings seem to consist of finding lunch reservations and his afternoons are spent finding dinner reservations – all of these at very expensive hoity toity restaurants. The shallowness of his dial-a-restaurant existence is not lost on Bateman. He admits he is a man devoid of emotion except for greed and disgust.

In the movie (and the book the movie is based on) Bateman “kills” a number of people… but I put that in quotes because despite numerous debates I have seen on this topic…. I don’t think he really “kills” all these people… I think its all part of a fantasy life he lives in his vivid imagination.

The first time I watched this movie… several months ago before I decided to write about it for NWOW, I spent most of the movie thinking he was to paraphrase Larry David and Mel Brooks, f'ing n-v-t-s. But when I watched it the 2nd time, I started looking at this as more of a dark comedy. My logic which some may disagree with, is based on a comment made by another character about seeing one of Bateman’s victims “alive”… although the argument could be made that within the context of the storyline, that person was really not seen alive. Incidentally, the American Psycho book is nowhere near as subtle, it is very clear that Bateman is a mass murderer.

The first time I saw this I was mortified… the 2nd time more amused, and I started to take notice of the incredible shallowness of these characters. These rich 1980’s Reagan-era Wall Street young hot shots sit around showing off their hoity toity business cards as if the quality of the ink and paper they are printed on are their status symbol mid life crisis convertibles. Bateman at one time tries to pick up a little money hungry lolita and when asked about his career, slips it in that he is into "murders and executions"; the woman's reply indicates that in her half listening state she thought he said the more common "mergers and acquisitions".

Bateman’s arrogance is breathtakingly incredible. He has a fiance who strangely wants to marry him while he carries on an affair with the mentally ill girlfriend of a guy named Louis whose beard is not necessarily on his face, and carries a little man crush for the muscular Bateman. Bateman runs into a hungry homeless guy in an alley and instead of tossing him a few bucks or a doggie bag,.. plunges his unused kitchen cutlery knife right into the poor shlub’s chest. . He later has dinner with a shallow colleague who never seems to be get Bateman’s name right… the two subsequently end up at Bateman’s apartment where he meets a bloody demise. Or does he?

When it comes to murders…. this movie sure knows how to make them look stylish. In the pre Ipod 1980’s, the rich people were discovering the evolving technology of cd’s… back in the early days when they were sold in bulky large packaging, I guess so they could fit into the old record bins at Sam Goody’s and all the other now defunct record stores. I remember a party on Long Island in the mid 1980s, these people were so rich that despite the fact that the house had an indoor pool, soda fountain, and futuristic computerized security system, what impressed me most was their incredibly large collection of these newfangled compact disks!!

When Bateman invites Paul Allen over to his ritzy Manhattan apartment that fateful night, he pops in a Huey Lewis CD, and goes into a Casey Kasem-esque monologue that actually provides a historical perspective behind the music selection being played. That is followed by Bateman attacking the poor guy, and then taking steps to cover up the crime. Later scenes will make you cringe the first time and chuckle during the 2nd viewing when he invites hookers and a co worker to his home and launches into Kasem-esque monologues about Phil Collins and Whitney Houston.

In one scene, Bateman is trying to squeeze a corpse filled bag into the trunk of a cab… only to have a shallow pal stroll by and remark about the expensiveness of the designer bag. Willem DeFoe portrays Detective Donald Kimball, whose investigation goes according to Bateman’s schedule… such as Bateman’s need to take his time pondering his alibi for the night of Allen’s disappearance… Bateman later agrees to meet the detective for a lunch date, at his convenience to discuss that aforementioned alibi. His total manipulation of the detective’s crime solving schedule, is the first big sign that these so called murders may not have really happened. Even the "Peace of Chaleef" on Soap was more efficient than this cop! Bateman also has a tendency to use the term “returning videotapes” as an alibi for murder... and also as an excuse to cancel plans with his long suffering fiancĂ©.

There are also some amusing scenes involving hookers who Bateman hires to act out his sexual fantasies. But not before more cringing lengthy music monologues, a Hitchcock-esque story telling device which evokes dread like the Jaws shark music… you know that something bad is going to happen. He also spends a lot of time looking in the mirror flexing while he engages in his 3-somes… those scenes by the way are more graphic on the DVD since it was cut out of the theatrical (and HBO) versions in order to get an R rating. And it really makes you wonder what hookers think of their crazy clients and all their strange requests. One hooker bolts out of the apartment when she realizes she is dealing with a freak... who chases her through the hallways butt naked!… I won’t spoil the outcome when Bateman tries to play javelin with a chainsaw.

Ultimately, Bateman is a bored guy… and it’s a testament to Bale’s excellent acting skills…(and very good American accent – unlike Pierce Brosnan in Mama Mia which we just saw for the umpteenth time) that he is able to create such a fascinating yet boring character. Bateman and his colleagues sit around all day really doing nothing… but while Seinfeld characters hang out doing nothing in a diner.. these characters just make plans to dine out.. but would never get caught in a diner.. or any place a regular person like myself would go to.… It’s incredible that a guy who eats all his meals at restaurants would actually have a knife set… or any food in his fridge… although a peek inside his fridge elicits memories of 1980’s mass murderer Jeffrey Dahmer.

Which actually raises the point of those who will disagree with me… If Dahmer could get away with killing so many… why not Bateman? But whatever the case may be, even though the movie is quite violent, Bale delivers yet again proving that he is truly one of our finest young actors in the 21st century.

Here is Ebert's TV Review

On a scale of 1 to 4 bladders meaning how less likely you would be to leave in the middle to go to the bathroom… American Psycho gets 3 bladders.

Next Movie: "The Prestige"


In our last column we ran Pumpstradamus's version of "Do a Dish".. a video I appeared in more than 20 years ago. Unfortunately, the original had been taken down from You Tube, but has been put back, so now you can see the original and the remake!

Here is the classic original...

And the remake with Pumpstradamus!