Tuesday, October 30, 2007

On Paper, it's Deanna Pappas (Bachelor 11 review -Brad Womack)

Two moments of foreboding stood out for me during the home visits. The first came when Sheena Stewart stepped into the hot tub with Brad and more or less asked him “Did my mom annoy you?” to which Brad assures her that he had a great time with his horoscope obsessed, Peg Bundy channeling , romance projecting future mother in law. Bad sign number one- if they edit your home visit so it appears like he spent more time with mom than you did. Bad sign number two-if mom notes that the Bachelor is a Scorpio just like her husband and now “We’re all ready to get married”. Bad sign number three-they show you on camera saying that you think everything went really well. Sign number four-they show the Bachelor lying to you.

There’s reading astrological signs and there’s reading the “plain as day” signs. Sheena getting caught by the shore patrol for reckless jet ski piloting foreshadowed Sheena’s silent dad and non-stop talking mom getting to know Brad by towing him scary fast on that rubber raft. It wasn’t chemistry, it was math. Sheena plus twenty five years equals Sheena’s mom. I’m not sure what Brad plans to do with that romantic poem about all his moles and hair patches now, but I suspect that after that encounter with mom it sure reads a lot scarier.

Moment two happens with Bettina Bell on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Just in case you were wondering, Abraham Lincoln didn’t go to college and he sometimes participated in public wrestling matches of the non-college sanctioned variety. Brad appears to be looking for some assurance from what may have been the most judgmental home visit ever and Bettina tells him, “Well on paper, I don’t look so good either," more or less appearing to say "Well, I think you're an uneducated bar-owing loser too, but I'm a divorcee so that makes us even."

Prior to the seemingly disastrous home visit, the camera shows Bettina saying that she thinks a lot like her Dad. Professor Dad, who looks something like Detective Munch from Law and Order CSI (Richard Belzer), being the smart guy that he is (is this the guy?) tells the national tv cameras, “Her first husband was really wonderful.”

Here’s a simple test? Who’s smarter? The guy who owns four bars but didn’t happen to go to college or the guy who utterly humiliates his own daughter on national television. It felt like watching a version of the Jeremy Irons-Juliette Binoche movie, “Damage” with gay overtones.

Another small matter, Bettina’s parents are divorced. Bettina was divorced. Brad talked repeatedly about how he fantasized about a big welcoming family. I don’t think, “Hey nice talking to you, I’ve got to go walk the dog” sends that exact message. Btw, I’m always nervous about these families where the Bachelorette is way better looking than all other members of the family.

In the meantime, what’s the over under for number of therapy sessions for Bettina’s family? After lines like, “Dad, one of your own daughters didn’t finish college!” (if you’re wondering, it’s not Bettina.)

Of course, the elephant in the room is why didn’t they show Bettina defending Brad in front of her family or even afterwards. Talk about your rough edits! As strange as this seems though, I have this feeling that she somehow makes the final two (consider the fact that Brad maybe doesn’t have the best relationship with his own divorced dad). No kiss on the mouth, no match for all the things Brad says he’s looking for, all these snarky comments about the other ladies, yet she keeps moving on. Mrs. Chancelucky took a quick look at the bikini shots from Cabo and said “It’s obvious to me. He wants the time in the fantasy suite, then he’ll dump her.”

I’m not so sure. For one, the show does like to set up good girl vs. bad girl finales. Second, the edit appears to be building unresolved physical tension between the two for that big kiss. If it works though, I just have some words of advice.

1) If you do invite the ex-husband to the wedding, I suggest you sit him way in the back next to dad.
2) Don’t let Bettina’s stepmom or biological mom write the wedding notice for the newspaper.

I have to confess that I missed parts of the Jenni Croft visit. My daughter wanted to watch CSI reruns and I lost the struggle for the remote. My wife insists that it’s more than a bit weird for a middle-aged man to be fighting to see the Bachelor. I missed the whole Little Miss Sunshine portion of the visit, but caught the straight-talking Grandmother, the down home Dad who gives Brad the “thumbs up”, and Jenni’s mom making like Olivier in Marathon Man with shampoo instead of a dental drill.

Yes, the physical chemistry between Brad and Jenni remains strong, but the only topic of substance Jenni seems to talk about is her cheerleading career. When Dad congratulates her for “making the team” mid-visit, I was genuinely disoriented. Was this that Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader reality show or was it the Bachelor?

If I had to call a winner at this point, it would be Deanna Pappas. I’m often wrong about these things and this year’s edit has been genuinely weird, especially that 2 on 1 date with Jade Beazley. Brad, who claims not to be much of a drinker himself despite owning all those bars, is shown having 4 shots of Ouzo ( could be a looped edit) and then gets to pretend to be John Colbert in the Hellenic celebration portion. The big thing though was that she was the lone Bachelorette whose home visit was edited to appear as if she were moving closer emotionally to the Bachelor.

1) Emotional showing of the photo album of dead mom along with trademark guitar music.
2) Dad actually has a meaningful conversation with Brad about what Deanna’s been through.
3) Deanna and sister get to show off Deanna’s balanced view of the show.
4) Brad reminds folk that he grew up in Atlanta too and it feels like coming home. Add in his bits about warm family celebrations and that kiss at the end.

mini-note After Bettina's family take on bars, it just happens that Deanna Pappas works part time as a bartender. Chad Womack's wife was also a bartender.

Deanna starts looking pretty inevitable both on paper and on videotape. Of course, I may have just had too much ouzo.

Sidebar: Bachelorettes Fight Back

One of the more interesting developments this season has little to nothing to do with anyone on Bachelor 11. It appears that at least a few of the ladies from Bachelor 10 have fought back via blog (interesting in its own right) against Mike Fleiss’s humiliate and manipulate style of editing. Kate Brockhouse, Bevin Powers, and Tina Wu have all posted about the experience and two of them are reviewing the current edition of the show. Bevin Powers and Tina Wu are both on Brockhouse is on blogger.

Andy’s women were probably the best educated and most personally accomplished set of Bachelorettes in the show’s eleven installments. I suspect that even Professor Bell would approve of some of them and I suspect Tina Wu would absolutely destroy him in an intellectual exchange. The group apparently bonded, minimized the catfighting that the producers often thrive off of, and decided not to be intimidated by the various non-disclosure threats made by the producers. It’s definitely interesting reading and it brings a whole other level of “reality” to reality television.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

God of Luck- Ruthanne Lum McCunn (book review)

It would come as a shock to most Americans to learn that slavery did not end with our Civil War and the thirteenth amendment. In fact, some one million Chinese slave laborers were brought to the Americas through what the Chinese called the “Pig Trade” from 1850-1900. Most of the men were kidnapped and died either on the passage over or while working under horrific conditions in Latin America cutting sugar cane, harvesting guano, clearing jungles, or mining. As someone who has tried to follow the history of the overseas Chinese, I knew nothing to little about this iteration of the slave trade until I read Ruthanne Lum McCunn’s God of Luck, a fictionalized version of this shameful episode. The book is especially timely because the intercontinental trade in slave labor did not end with the Chinese “Pig Trade”, it still exists in various forms in different parts of the world including the United States.

For the last twenty five years, the San Francisco-based McCunn has filled a unique niche as a historical novelist. While most historical novels dramatize well-documented events and people (think Doctorow’s Ragtime or Gore Vidal’s Burr ), McCunn has specialized in exploring material that escaped the history books. McCunn’s first two novels rescued Lalu Nathoy (Polly Bemis) and Lue Gim Gong from historical obscurity. Nathoy was a Chinese woman who came to California as a slave yet found a way to lead an independent life in the American west (A Thousand Pieces of Gold). Lue Gim Gong was an agronomist who arguably saved the Florida citrus industry after being brought to North Adams, Massachussetts as a strikebreaker for a shoe factory (Wooden Fish Songs). Her third novel, The Moon Pearl, chronicled a little known 19th century Chinese women’s cooperative that achieved economic and social independence by using their natural advantages in cultivating silk worms, ironically one of the symbols of Chinese civilization. The group even worked out the institution of same-sex marriage more than a hundred and fifty years ago. God of Luck is the fourth installment in McCunn’s continuing documentation of the creativity, courage, and tenacity of real ordinary people. In the process, she has given ordinary Asians of the 19th century a face.

God of Luck is nominally a sequel to The Moon Pearl in that Ah Lung and Bo See, the married couple who take turns narrating the story, come from the same community of silk cultivators. Ah Lung is kidnapped by the slavers when he goes to the market in the city. Bo See works with the silk worms as she tries to figure out a way to rescue her husband. One of the book’s most effective metaphors comes from the fact that silk worms are sensitive to agitation. Bo See spends much of her portion of the narrative planning ways to reunite with her husband rather than giving in to accumulating panic and despair. Her capacity to continue working with the silk worms dramatizes the fact that these men were ripped away from real families, families who often were not passive victims. Bo See is all at once tenacious, cunning, and devoted, further underscoring the cruelty of the traders. One of the book’s ironies is that Bo See and Ah Lung honor the Chinese God of Luck, but they don’t really depend on his intervention.

McCunn describes Ah Lung’s ordeal vividly and at many points movingly. Her descriptions of the slave ship (many of the ships used in the “Pig Trade” were the same vessels used in the African slave trade two decades earlier) and her portrayal of the experience of the captives and captors alike feel like the product of experience and direct observation. This is no accident. McCunn used thousands of pages of Chinese, Peruvian, and European primary sources including hundreds of pages of court testimony to get the details right. God of Luck provides a wealth of original information about how the trade was made to look like voluntary-contracted labor, how the men ate, slept, lived and died on the passage to the Americas, and how the captives frequently fought back and mutinied.

Once Ah Lung lands in Peru, he is forced to collect guano on a rocky island in the midst of thousands of screaming sea gulls, unbearable heat, overpowering odors, and a frightening death and disease rate. In the meantime, his captors make him “work off” the cost of a passage to which he never agreed. McCunn’s picks up one of the more ironic aspects of the captivity, the overseers are former black slaves. The “Pig Trade” involved, possibly for the first time in history, people from all the continents. It’s the shadowy precursor of what we now call the emerging “Global Economy” with its dependence on what amounts to internationalized slave labor. Like his wife, Ah Lung is no victim. He uses his wits and chooses his moments carefully.

One reviewer of God of Luck misguidedly complained that the story does not build to a climax. McCunn does not seek to write conventional page turners. When the “adventure” aspect of the story is rooted in fact as it was in Thousand Pieces of Gold, she is quite capable of making the “plotlike” elements fly. McCunn honorably refuses to divert the reader with a heroic plot filled with dramatic coincidences and feel good happenstance that either couldn’t or didn’t happen. In short, she refuses to treat her subjects as a ride at Disneyland or as a draft for a movie script. Instead, she has offered up a long overdue memorial to their courage, resourcefulness, and suffering unembellished by the literary equivalent of special effects. I also have to say that the kidnapping, abuse, and death of hundreds of thousands of people is dramatic enough for my taste and much more authentically riveting.

This is not to say that she doesn’t often write beautifully, but on the continuum of the historical novel it’s fair to say that McCunn chooses history. As a result, all four of her novels stand as more or less definitive chronicles of otherwise neglected aspects of the experiences of the Chinese in the Americas. To her, the real drama is the fact that her subjects and their experiences deserve to be remembered and honored on their own merits. God of Luck is not only a fine addition to McCunn’s body of work as arguably the most prolific Chinese-American fiction writer of her generation, it deserves to be read and discussed widely in the context of the plight of the millions of people working in dismal conditions across the world.

note: For the sake of disclosure, it's been my privilege to know Ruthanne Lum McCunn personally for some fifteen years. Not only is she one of the most prominent (deservedly so) Asian-American novelists going, she's a gracious and generous friend (something of a rare combination with successful writers and artists :}) I'm not sure if she'd take this as a compliment, but my own fiction writing was very much influenced by her interweaving of dramatized events with documented social history.


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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Albus Dumbledore Tells All (a really odd Karl Rove Adventure)

Albus Dumbledore perfects his potion for gaydar

I was sitting in a bathroom stall at a local restaurant the other day when the guy next to me touched my foot with his wand, the magical kind not the body part. I ignored it, but couldn’t ignore the reappearance of his wand just below the stall wall and his saying “Accio, Accio.”

My foot started moving towards his and I said “What the hell?”

The guy on the other side, who sounded rather like the late British actor Richard Harris then said, “My humblest apologies, mistaken identity. I didn’t realize that you were a muggle.”

“Well, you should keep your wand to yourself, especially in public places.”

So I start thinking, if you’re both gay and a magical person how are you supposed to feel about being called a “fairy”.

“No, I don’t consider it offensive in the right context. I am, of course, a wizard, but yes there are fairies who happen to be well, “fairies”.

“Look, it’s not nice to read people’s minds in public places.”

“My apologies again.”

“You know this is really interesting, not that kind of Larry Craig-shoe tapping interesting, but would you mind if I asked you a few questions?”

“Larry Craig is strictly a muggle. He’s not even a flub, though I have heard that he has fans in Slytherin.”

“Okay, got to ask. Is it true that Voldemort, I mean he who must not be named, was modeled after Dick Cheney?”

“Only the creator knows that.”

“Wow, I didn’t know you were religious.”

“I meant J.K. Rowling.”

We agree to head out the bathroom dore and take a seat at an outdoor table on the street side of the restaurant. I order a coke and Albus has chilled pumpkin juice and vodka.

“I didn’t know you drank.”

“We’re not allowed to in the book. It is a children’s story after all.”

I nod.

“But how does that fit with you’re being gay?”

Albus takes a deep breath, “I like to think of it as the fantasy version of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

“To tell you the truth, I did have to wonder about Professor “Flitwick” and whatever Nearly Headless Nick was doing in that bathroom.”

“That was Moaning Myrtle.”

“But you catch my drift. I mean what else are we going to find out? Did Hagrid do HGH? Was Snape making LSD in his potions class to make those poor kids see Boggarts and whatever else? It’s pretty obvious to me that the Malfoys were doing coke.”

“You have to understand, I can’t comment on these matters directly. One never knows if Rita Skeeter is around somewhere, but it’s absolutely not true that Parvati Partil and her sister had anything to do with David Vitter. Also, Hermione was not based on Hillary Clinton.”

“Professor Dumbledore, you’re a character in a children’s story. What next, Ron Weasley has two mommies?”

“Well, actually Neville Longbottom does have two patronuses.”

“I’ve heard that his patronus was bigger than Milton Berle’s.”

“Please….I thought you wanted to talk seriously.”

“Look, I’ve read Bettleheim and I understand that children’s stories may have all sorts of themes that children aren’t ready to discuss overtly, but may already be thinking about. Still…I like to think of bedtime stories not having any suggestion of anyone doing anything in bed with anyone else. I mean, I don’t have to read Little Red Riding Hood as a menstruation parable.”

“Nothing of that sort happened in any of the seven books.”


“So it’s okay to pretend that all characters in children’s books are strictly heterosexual. Look at Bert and Ernie, Yogi and Boo Boo, Batman and Robin. Do you really want to know what’s going on in any of those households?”

Dumbledore offers me a lemon drop.

“Did you know that Bullwinkle is female? And what is that bit with George of the Jungle’s two wives? And yeah, what are the implications of Peter Pan?”

“I think you’re beginning to grasp what I’m saying.”

“Do the students at Hogwarts have to take Sex Ed?”

“The Ministry of Magic won’t allow it. They believe in abstinence education. It’s still defense against the dark arts instead of defense of marriage though.”

“So Professor Dumbledore, why is that that American politicians are less realistic about sex and sexual differences than writers of children’s books?”

Albus looks up at the ceiling then nods wisely.

“You did notice something about the Potter books?”

“I guess not.”

“Well, it mentions a lot of countries, but oddly there’s no mention of the United States.”

“I hadn’t thought about that.”

“And you did notice that Harry Potter is a much saner world, even with my pensieve out of the closet?”

One of the people in one of the photographs on the wall behind us motions towards me. I point it out to Albus.

“You do know that all the death eaters who escaped from Azkaban went somewhere?”

“You mean they’re in America working for…..”

“Let me put it this way CL, have you ever noticed that Tom Marvolo Riddle and Karl Rove have almost exactly the same family histories?”

With that question, Albus Dumbledore disapparated from my life, but I have to say he did it very stylishly. In the meantime, I just wish I knew what that hissing sound was in the background every time Dana Perino talks to the press.

Rebecca Traister Salon Article on the revelation

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Right Reasons (Bachelor 11 review Brad Womack)

My wife insists that it’s very strange that I follow the Bachelor forums at, Nineof hearts, Joker's Update, etc. I do it at least partly because people there are so good at “sleuthing”. Anyway, I caught this item about the circumstances of Chad Womack’s proposal to his lovely wife Dillon. Apparently they didn’t meet on Elimidate or Meet the Parents. They met the old-fashioned way, she worked for him as a bartender. In the meantime, I've convinced my wife that I hang out on those message boards for the right reasons. In this case, it's to get odd news items about the show rather than to find a woman who wants me for me as opposed to having a chance to be mentioned on my blog with all the celebrity that comes with that.

So, Chad tells Brad that he really liked Sheena then Brad apparently plans a one on one date with Sheena Stewart. What do we see? There’s a floor lined with rose petals-check. There are all these surprises including an expensive set of earrings courtesy of a Chopard product placement-check. There’s Brad doing his version of an emotional confession-sort of check. Finally, note that detail about how Chad had kept and put on display every note and card that Dillon had ever written to him. When Sheena shows Brad her poem that talks about the moles on his arm, the hairs sticking out of his nose, and that boil underneath his armpit, Brad asks for permission to hold on to it.

We’re talking serious copy cat courtship here. In the meantime, Sheena is the only lady standing who hasn’t suffered from a Mean Girls edit yet. Brad’s soliloquy about being an awkward guy who keeps repeating himself because he’s so nervous etc. also happened to be the closest he’s come on the show to talking about his actual feelings.

Despite this evidence, I’m not completely sure that Brad and Sheena are going to be doing doughnuts on their wave runners as they motor off into the sunset. For one, there’s that rather odd footage of Sheena’s mom looking or sounding slightly drunk with the two of them on the home visit. For a guy who keeps talking about “family”, it was the least family-like of the previews. At least that’s compared to My Big Fat Greek Bachelor Home Visit, the refugees from the Scarlet Letter who masquerade as Bettina’s much less attractive parents (think Mary Delgado’s family) and act horrified to learn that Brad owns not just one but four bars, or Jenny showing Brad how she won Little Miss Sunshine, Kansas prior to bringing him home to Krisily’s grandmother. Mostly though, I’m just not comfortable with the whole “Chad made me do it” theme with the Walnut Creek interenet executive.

As a Bachelor stalker, I sometimes read articles about the participants and then as the show unfolds I have these moments of sudden recognition. For instance, last week I linked an article about Hillary Reisinger which just happened to mention that she was headed to India to work as a volunteer. Mmmmm…..After the edit she got on the show and some of the things she inflicted on herself as in Bettina as a used car and her x-rated poolside fantasies about Brad, is it a shock that she’s going to be looking for her lifemate a mere twelve thousand miles away from home in a country that still practices arranged marriage. I still say that a Hindu version of the Bachelor would be terrific. Could you imagine the Bachelor gone Bollywood? Brad would come out strip off his shirt while twenty women would break into a song and dance number behind him in the middle of his one on one dates.

I know it’s more the exception than the rule, but there are thirty or forty occasions a season when the producers lapse into breathtakingly bad taste. Advertising Hillary’s meltdown was one of those. So the woman was upset and managed to miss Brad’s “let’s be friends cue”? No, Brad wasn’t exactly subtle about it, but a few minutes earlier she had been straddling his shoulders in the pool and he did say things like “I have more fun with you than anyone I’ve met” and “I’m totally comfortable around you.” Still, that rose ceremony dress looked like she was channeling Terri Garr from Young Frankenstein.

She was guilty of hearing what she wanted to hear and ignoring everything else. Certainly other people do that, in fact it’ll likely get you a job as a White House policy consultant these days. The show made her out to be Glen Close from Fatal Attraction. Is it just an accident that Hillary happened to be the one remaining woman with a profession?

It does seem that every year there’s one left in the final six who for want of a better term gets completely ignored in the edit. For some reason Kristy Katzmann literally got nothing to say during this installment. We got to see her sitting by the pool refusing to act like a horny teenager around Brad. Fwiw, I was really impressed that Jenni was able to carry Deanna on her shoulders for an extended length of time during the mock fight scene. Given what they did shoot of the Illinois acupuncturist, I also understand why she was reluctant to do the slip and slide given what was likely to slide out.

Last week, Brad told Kristy that she might be too “refined” for him. She sure didn’t work too hard to prove otherwise. Also her exit was noticeably cool for this stage of the show, “Hey Brad, nice knowing you. See you around some time.”

She got no pre-rose one on one. She got no one on one time during the pool date. Did she piss off the producers? Did she confess that she just wasn’t interested? Did she refuse to act judgmental and provide the show with video fodder in those staged gossip sessions? Perhaps she’ll show up on a special edition of Leonard Nimoy’s “Reality TV Mysteries”. Kristy Katzmann of Bachelor 11-Was She there for the Right Reasons?- Why did she suddenly stop talking to Brad, did his tongue turn the wrong color?

In the meantime, the producers appear to be setting up a “war” between the other three ladies. Last week, Bettina lectured Jenni on treating her time on the show as a game instead of an attempt to help Brad determine his true romantic destiny. This week Jenni returned fire on Bettina with the ultimate Bachelor insult, “She’s not in it for the right reasons.”

Actually, Bettina’s been shown being very clear about wanting a serious relationship with Brad. In fact, it’s been a bit too clear. Jenni, however, was suggesting that Bettina should never have dared to be comparatively critical about her one on one date with the “sexiest bachelor ever” (though wasn’t it interesting that this was the first installment not to bring that up). Just because Sheena came through the door in new evening gown with diamond-encrusted earrings (did she get to keep them because she mentioned the company name?) to talk about her date, that’s no reason for Bettina to comment on just getting a picnic and a ride in a fake gondola. After all, all time with Brad is precious.
Obviously, Bettina’s being jealous in the moment is a sign that there’s something seriously wrong with her. Fwiw, I thought it was tacky for Brad to comment on Sheena’s earrings in front of the other ladies. You want to rub it in a bit there? Also, I have this question. Why does the show want the ladies to "ooh" and "ah" over necklaces, earrings, gowns, trips, etc. given by the show through the Bachelor, then suggest that you should only want the "Bachelor" for who he is?

Brad’s kissing ethics also seem a bit weird. First Deanna rather classily resists the impulse to start making out with Brad during their poolside one on one time. She said that she feels it’s not right to do it in front of the other ladies. I know it might have been the edit, but Brad is then shown pulling Jenni away for one on one time and all but jumping on her in that hammock left over from Meredith and Ian’s installment. He does later kiss Deanna fairly passionately at the pre-rose ceremony. In the meantime, does Jenni ever actually talk to the guy?

Play this all against, the whole slow boil technique that Brad seems to be working with Bettina. The show is making her appear to be the one who has fallen so hard that she can’t hide her jealousy of the other ladies, yet so far they’ve only exchanged a kiss on the cheek. That said, the edit kept doing these close-ups of all this very telling hand interaction between the two. Did she answer him when he asked if she’d dated since her divorce?

One can watch the show on many levels. Andy and Tessa wound up reviving the show because they got both an actual romance and Andy was faced with a genuine choice between Tessa and Bevin. This season appears to be about the “guessing game” aspect of the show as in how well can they hide Brad’s final choice. In the process, Fleiss has worked too hard to build up the drama factor especially between the ladies. As a result, three of the final four are limping in with significant claw marks. So this is what it looks like,

1) Jenni Croft has Bevin-like physical chemistry with Brad, yet she’s hardly been portrayed as someone who wants to get married, have a family, etc. any time soon.
2) Bettina Bell seems to be looking for love and looks like a cross between Brad’s own ex and his sister in law. There’s a possibility for a slow build romance, but she’s been shown to be sarcastic, jealous, and not completely on the level. i.e. her reaction shot after protesting that she was just joking was great reality tv. There’s also the whole matter of Brad’s awkwardness when she talked about having deeper feelings for him than she’d had with anyone.

3) Deanna Pappas has a kind of “you want a relationship with a real woman” appeal, but that two on one date edit was so far over the top in the way she was competing for rather than relating with Brad. She does have the thing of being a bartender at night though, which just might appeal to the copy cat part of Brad's personality.

4) Sheena alone has no negatives. She did a great job recovering from the fall down the stairs, Fleiss really likes ripping off Pretty Woman for some reason. They established some physical chemistry with the kiss and the pre-rose dance. The issue is that Chad seems to be the only one who’s enthusiastic about the match. I’m not sure that the viewing audience has been given anything to relate to with her. That is unless you write iffy love poetry on binder paper.

5)Brad remains impossible to read. Is he that bland? Does his taste in female personalities really vary that much? He keeps saying that he’s looking for a wife, but he’s offered no clue about the sort of wife he might want. On the other hand, maybe he'll propose to Dillon Womack in the most unforgettable final rose ceremony ever?

As we head into the final four, I'm the one who's starting to wonder if I'm still watching this show for the right reasons.

btw, for those interested in how the show works, I'm recommending Kate Brockhouse's blog. So "shut up" already :}

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Eastern Promises (Movie Review 2007)

She’s never seen any of the Lord of the Rings movies, but my wife has a thing for Viggo Mortensen. A couple weeks ago, she tricked me into seeing Eastern Promises by telling me that she’d heard a review on the radio about a new movie that had a very explicit love scene between Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts. “You like Naomi Watts, don’t you?” she asked.

“Only because she looks like you dear,” I tell her.

“She looks nothing like me,” she protests, but she says it with a little bit of a smile.

“Yes Dear,” I say, “You’re completely right, you actually look more like Julianne Hough.”

“You look exactly like Viggo dear.”

“Do you think I look more like the Viggo in Walk on the Moon or the Viggo in History of Violence?”

“That depends. Would you rather have me be Diane Lane or Maria Bello?”

Anyway, it was a nice day on Sunday, our daughter was at work at the ice cream parlor, it had been something like eighteen months since my wife and I had seen a movie in a theater together alone, so all that contributed to our walking down to our local movie theater. Well, it was all that and the prospect of seeing Naomi Watts make like Maria Bello in History of Violence which also paired Viggo with Canadian director, David Cronenberg (Dead Ringers, the Fly, Rabid).

We stopped at the ice cream parlor to say “Hi” to our child and get ice cream at a discount. I was standing in front of the glass that separates customers from hundreds of thousands of calories worth of butter fat when a woman stepped in front of me. I moved over about three feet so I could look over at least half the selection, the woman moves her body so I can’t see. She seemed to be afraid that I’d get served first.

Naturally, we get to the nearly empty theater before any other customers. Our local theater has 8 screens, but the rooms for most of them are smaller than most people’s living rooms. With the rise of HDTV, the screens may be smaller than my friend Richard’s new state of the art home theater. As the first two people there, we find a place strategically located in the middle of the thirty seats there. Two women come in and promptly sit all of two seats away from us. Why do people do this? I take a closer look at the woman on our right. Naturally, it’s the lady from the ice cream parlor who sits there hunched over in her overcoat. I’m tempted to ask her what flavor she wound up getting, but then think better of it since she can still plop right in front of us.

Anyway, I spent the first thirty minutes of the movie trying to figure out how there’s going to be any kind of hot sex scene between Viggo and Naomi Watts. I don’t consider this a spoiler. If you have any thoughts of going to see Eastern Promises in the hopes that you will see Naomi Watts naked in a bed with Viggo Mortensen, there is no such scene. If, however, you want to see a good gangster movie that includes parts of Viggo you’ve never seen before, I recommend this one.

Like David Lynch, Cronenberg has a knack for extending the genre movie into the artistic. With horror movies, he found ways to make “body” horror both scary and mesmerizing at the same time. I still remember the scene of Jeff Goldblum throwing up his food and eating it like a fly or Jeremy Irons showing Jeremy Irons his new tools for working on the female parts of deformed women. In History of Violence, he took the “revenge” movie last explored really well by Sam Peckinpah and choreographed it in a way that made the violence look quirkily beautiful. In particular, there was the odd grace of Viggo Mortensen’s character transforming into a kind of Charlie Parker of the gang hit in the movie’s early pivot scene and his movie son’s discovery that he’s made of the same stuff that Cronenberg turned into a moment that managed to be disconcerting and resassuring all at once. The hard thing about Eastern Promises is that Cronenberg promises to take the gangster movie into rarified but still well marked territory. Unlike horror and revenge movies, the gangster movie gone artsy’s been done a few times. Cronenberg’s no longer trying to leapfrog Phil Kaufman’s version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, we’re talking film noir, Coppola, Scorcese, and the Sopranos.

Like jazz, there’s something quintessentially American about the gangster movie, a tradition that starts before Edward G. Robinson and culminates with the first two parts of the Godfather trilogy. Perhaps the most striking thing that Cronenberg does is to shift the Gangster genre out of America. It’s set in a part of London that feels more Russian than English. The movie itself drops in a number of clues about the emerging multicultural London including the fact that Watts’s former boyfriend was black. He also seems to purposely cast non-American actors. Watts is Australian. Armin Mueller-Stahl (Shine, the Music Box, Avalon, Colonel Redl) is East German. Vincent Cassell (Elizabeth and Read My Lips) is French. Mortensen is both American and Danish, with a large part of his formative years spent in Denmark. Almost perversely, Cronenberg has them all play some variation on Russians exiled to London.

The movie itself drops a Hitchcock plot, innocent well meaning person’s own best traits put her right in the path of the devil, into a world thick with atmosphere. A good half of the scenes are set in a sumptuous Russian restaurant, the front for Armin Mueller-Stahl’s wide ranging gangster enterprise, a place where Lenin’s revolution never seemed to have happened. Cronenberg drops an assortment of gangster and movie conventions around this. Theres’s the hit in the Barber shop a la Moe Green, the body drop in the Thames from Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend, the moment where a character shows his charm by playing the violin, a variation on Eisenstein’s baby carriage in the midst of mayhem, bits of Rosemary’s Baby, and a number of takes from Donnie Brasco including a “butcher shop” scene.

(minor spoiler warning)
The Donnie Brasco thing is no accident. A good part of Eastern Promises consists of a glimpse into the world of the double agent, a theme that Scorcese recently explored in The Departed which was a near frame by frame remake of the Hong Kong movie, Internal Affairs. Mortensen is excellent in the role. He’s always made great use of his mournful yet magisterial face. This time though, he manages to convey a sense of inner complexity that I haven’t necessarily seen in other movies. There’s a scene with Watts in which she confronts him about the very real horrors of his cohorts and he’s forced to improvise a line about “Slaves being slaves” in which you really feel the pain of his having to stay in role as henchman to the devil. He also uses just a few strokes to maximal effect, Cronenberg is not a big dialogue guy, to bring out a feeling of how far he’s gone to get this far inside including a suggestion of bisxexuality.

There is a problem though. Donnie Brasco, the Departed, and Good Fellas kept the focus on the decent insider trying to make his way in a world ruled by an inverted morality. Cronenberg chooses to jump back and forth to Watts’s innocent bystander plot and tell it from her perspective. While it’s done well, Eastern Promises frequently feels like two movies. As Cronenberg tries to wrap the paired stories up, he falls short and as a result crosses the line from homage to pastiche. Instead of coming together, the two plot lines just whimper out with large unexplained chunks and a final shot of Mortensen stolen straight from Godfather One. Watts (I Heart Huckabees, 21 Grams,the Painted Veil, the Ring) isn’t left with much to do but to look either pained or righteous at various times.

That said, I hasten to point out that Eastern Promises may not make it as a gangster movie with artistic pretensions, but it still works as a gangster movie. Cronenberg builds the sense of menace expertly throughout the movie. Throat slashings alternate with cream cakes. Cherubic looking little girls crosscut with scenes of Russian women sold into white slavery. After several scenes of loving preparation of the richest imaginable Russian cuisine, the viewer gets reminded that it’s being made by people who trade twelve year old girls for truckloads of white wine. The violence in the movie is constant and graphic yet Cronenberg makes a point of having no weapon in his movie more lethal than a linoleum knife. Viggo’s bathhouse fight scene is choreographed as well as any fight scene I’ve seen at least since the initial scene in well, History of Violence. Even if he doesn’t quite transcend the genre, Cronenberg remains a terrifically vital filmmaker. In particular, I don’t think any director has done more to make the body a special effect in his movies. In this one, Cronenberg gets off on Russian gangster tattoos and there’s a scene with Mortensen that’s in parts erotic, scary, and baroque.

In any case, I’d recommend Eastern Promises for Viggo, Peter Suschitzky’s thickly claustrophobic camera work, Muller-Stahl’s turn as a villain with old world values, Polish Director Jerzy Skolimowski as Watt’s coarse but also shrewd uncle, and a tight but imperfect script that artfully implies more than it actually says. Just don’t think of it as a date movie where you’re going to get inspired to go home and make out afterwards. I still can’t believe she tricked me like that. In the meantime, my wife keeps showing up with a razor while I’m in the shower.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

It's Not a Game Jenni (Bachelor 11 review Brad Womack)

My wife called the reality check police last night on me. Somewhere well before that helicopter date and maybe just a bit after Bettina Bell (is this the same one?) lectured Jenni Croft on the higher duties of Bachelorettedom, they burst into my living room.

“Okay, Mr. Chancelucky, you mind if we call you “CL”, we want you to put that remote down on the coffee table and walk away from the tv.”

I complied immediately.

“Please don’t hurt him…” Mrs. Cl pleaded. “He’s a nice man, but he takes this way too seriously. Last night, he wouldn’t let us go to sleep until I could explain why it was that the sexiest bachelor ever never manages to have anything to say.”

“That’s not fair Dear. You’re the one who told me that women really get turned on by guys they can talk to. This guy can’t say anything other than “I really like it that you want to fall in love with me.” The only thing that seems to make him sexy is that the ladies try to get him to take his shirt off a lot.”

“Well, you might want to lift some weights once in a while.”

“Mam, we don’t interfere in domestic disputes. Is your husband reality challenged?”

“Of course, he is.”

“Am not.” As I said it, I found myself staring longingly at the remote on our living room rug.

“CL, even if you don’t have Tivo, lets you watch the show online in case you happen to miss any parts.”

“Then explain the fact that you started screaming at that helicopter date.”

“Okay, okay. First, may I point out that helicopters use aviation fuel. If the thing just landed and it’s parked next to where you’re having dinner, you’re going to smell nothing but burnt petroleum. Second, maybe it’s just me but ever since 9/11 being on top of a tall building terrifies me. The President has spent the last 6 years telling me that terrorists might blow it up any minute if I ask any questions about the war.”

“You know lady, I sort of see his point. The tops of high rises aren’t that romantic now. And come to think of it….helicopters are pretty scary. Every couple weeks, they crash for no apparent reason in the Middle East.”

“Okay, what about the way you were shouting at Jenni Croft five minutes ago? “She’s in it for the wrong reasons. She’s in it for the wrong reasons.”

“Well, it is very disturbing that she wanted Jade Beazley to come home with the rose from the two on one date instead of Deanna simply because Deanna was more serious competition. It's wrong that she treats it like a game.”

“It’s a tv show, dear. It is a game. They usually break up within six weeks of the show anyway.”

“It’s a reality tv show. You should know that Bachelorettes serve a sacred trust. It’s not a game. They’re like priestesses, placed on tv to help Brad Womack discover his best connection with a carefully selected group of delusional nut cases.”


“Well, Jenni’s prettier than Bettina.”

“No way, for one thing Jenni looks like Tina Fey from the nose down. Second, what sort of guy falls for giggly, flirty, cheerleader types?”

Mrs. CL stares at me.

“Oh gee, I forgot. You went to a boy’s boarding school.”

The reality check policeman shook his head at us,”Look, do the two of you think you can work this out yourselves?”

Mrs. CL shook her head vigorously. “You know Bettina is divorced.”

“Okay,” I shriek “This is 2007. The women on this show are all in their twenties. That means that half of them are the products of divorced families. Why do they act like she just announced that she’s had a sex change operation when she tells them she’s been married before? What kind of reality is this supposed to be?”

“You know I dated a divorced woman once. She even had two kids.” The officer breaks in.

“So do you think Bettina is the hottest one?”

The officer scratches his head at first,”Yeah and that thing she did with the feather boa in Improv. She’s no Elizabeth McQuern, but it was great to see someone so uncomfortable with the thing just go with the flow like that. You know, that sort of thing tells me a lot about a woman.”

“I don’t believe this. I call you in to help get my husband back to reality and you’re worse than he is.”

“What did you think of the anti-cheerleader subtext of Hillary’s improv bit. I say it gets back to Jenni and she winds up taking offense at the dumb cheerleader stereotype? Jenni confronts her, then Hillary hangs a noose around Jenni’s collection of roses suspended from the ceiling of her room. That’s why Hillary goes home.”

“Geez, I’m not sure. That really was shocking the way they tell you on that preview about her leaving the show.”

“I heard that Hillary Reisinger swindled someone in a used car deal.”

“Officer, look. This is the thing. I was watching the show and rooting for Deanna and the producers totally turned on me. They make her this total control freak. Instead of spending time getting to know Brad, she spends her entire time interrupting and one upping Jade. She even snoops on their one on one time just like Krisily Kennedy. Did you see how aggressive they made her when she tells Brad that she really wants to stay?”

“Dear, it’s just a tv show.”

“But, where’s the romance this time? It’s like all of them are flawed in some serious way. Deanna’s bossy and blunt. Jenni’s an airhead. Sheena Stewart’s lips don’t curl when she smiles. Bettina called Jenni “a slut”. He’s clearly not that into Kristy. Don’t even get me started on Hillary. If I were Chad, I’d be telling my brother to get the hell out of there after you get time in the fantasy suite with Bettina and Jenni. I’m sorry, I just lost it for a little bit.”

“Okay, Mrs. CL. Let me ask you this. Did you and your husband watch the after the show encore with Rock of Love by any chance.”

“Sure, with the winner telling Brett Michaels that he was really more into the stripper who got his name tattooed on the back of her neck?”

“Your husband was given bad dose of reality television. It happens sometimes. They start hallucinating acting strange. You just have to ride it out. He’ll be all right. Maybe the two of you should turn off the television for a week, go for a walk, maybe talk to one another instead. Take one of these roses every four hours and drink plenty of liquids.”

The reality check police slip out of our front door. Mrs. Chancelucky and I sit alone in the living room staring at the remote then one another in silence.

Jenni: oddly, she continues to get a favorable edit. I still don’t get the bit with Bettina calling her a “liar”. I vaguely remember her telling the others that Brad didn’t kiss her during their one on one time, but I’m honestly not sure. It actually seemed the ladies were mostly joking around during that whole bit.

My take is that there’s going to be some big moment with Brad where the “game” thing comes up. Option two is that Brad really does want her to move to Austin, it was after all the first question he asked Jade and Deanna.

Kristy Katzmann: Brad thinks she might be too refined for him? Sure, whatever.

Steffi: Five years is a very long time to go without a date. No wonder she did the body shot with Brad when she got the chance. On the other hand, if you can do that why can’t you talk to the guy about personal matters?

MacCarten: She actually seemed sort of honest and intelligent. Why do the ladies think their not being able to “open their hearts” to Brad is somehow their shortcoming? Should you open your hearts to a guy whose most profound utterance in 4 weeks seems to be “I really like the fact that you want to be here too. That means a lot to me.”

Jade: I never did figure out the actual source of the friction between Jade and Deanna. It was interesting that they had both lived in Nashville. I wonder if they knew Travis and Sarah. You knew Jade wasn’t going to get too many more roses after she tried to tell Brad about Jenni’s Modeling portfolio.

Hillary: I figure that she gets to be the star of this installment’s Ladies Tell All episode.

Sheena Stewart: I hear that she’s secretly been seeing Chad.

Bettina: I actually thought she was pretty funny doing improv. I saw a picture of Chad’s wife who might have been a little more plastic looking, but Bettina comes the closest. I thought Deanna was the winner up to this week, but Brad’s body language has been “saying Bettina” the last couple episodes. Oddly, he’s very affectionate with Jenni when he’s alone with Jenni, but in the scenes with Brad, Jenni, and other ladies, it’s sometimes like Jenni's not there.

Well, it’s been real.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Identity Theory (Bachelor 11 Review Brad Womack)

Wow, was that the most shocking identical twin cocktail party episode ever on the Bachelor or what? I suppose that’s just the sort of thing that happens when you have a guy whom even Circus ringmasters call the sexiest bachelor ever. Boy, what some people will do to find the best connection ever! That had to be the most superlatives of any Bachelor episode ever. Fwiw, it also had to be the most bitch-faced reaction shots on any Bachelor episode ever. Amazing, I tell you, just amazing, maybe the most amazing ever?

Okay, did you notice? That wasn’t me. It was my identical twin blogger, Lancechucky. He uses more semicolons than I do , talks a little differently, but somehow knows more about the bachelorettes and the show than I do. We're doing a homage to the Patty Duke Show. Anyway, those of you who didn’t notice right away that it wasn’t me, I’m kicking you to the curb. It’s obvious to me that you couldn’t have been paying enough attention to me if you couldn’t tell the difference between Chancelucky and Lancechucky. Anyone who really cares about me for me would know that I have a small patch of blonde hair underneath my right sidebar. That’s right, it’s all about me. I want to make sure that you know every single detail of me.

Do they like sell ersatz Bachelors for seventeen dollars on the sidewalks of New York? “Hey, lady, you want an Aaron Buerge? I can give you a great deal.”

“That’s not Aaron Buerge, it just looks like him.”

“Okay, okay, it’s not the real Aaron Buerge, but this one’s even better. It doesn’t look at other women. Look, if you buy my Aaron Buerge knockoff for twenty dollars, I can give you a free fake Jesse Palmer. That one comes with a bonus one way ticket to New York City.”

“Why don’t you throw in that fake Prince Lorenzo.”

“I would, but that’s the real Lorenzo Borghese. If you buy a case of dog shampoo, we throw him in to the deal.”

Good god, Brad! Do you want a stalker or a girlfriend? The issue is not whether or not they can tell the difference between you and your semi-identical twin brother. It’s whether or not, you can tell the ladies apart. On that circus date for instance, I was having trouble figuring out which brunette in a red dress was chatting you up at any particular moment. They started this installment with an interesting premise. Brad Womack was the hardship bachelor, the guy who had started wealthy, been poor, worked on an oil rig, and who then through hard work and spirit opened the Chuggin’ Monkey. This was the Bachelor goes Coyote Ugly.

So, where the hell is the inner Brad Womack? Does he say anything at all about himself, his values, or who he really is? If Chad Womack really were more physically identical, they could have put him on the show for a couple installments and most of us would never have known the difference. Btw, I thought Average Joe did the same routine better when they dressed the model-like woman up in a fat suit to test the guys. It was still good tv. I just thought they should have let Chad give a rose.

Speaking of potential stalkers, Brad didn’t score any points with me by giving Hillary Reisinger a rose on their one on one date. It’s possible that they gave the woman a Bevin Powers edit, but I watch enough Ben Stiller movies to know that any woman who goes from giggling hysterically to crying at any given moment isn’t a good bet to wind up with the guy at the end of the movie. I’m sure she’s different professionally, but if that’s the way she is in either the operating or the emergency room as a nurse, I’m going to Cuba with Michael Moore. Shortly after the what do you want bit where she says “I want to be crazy in love” then breaks into tears, any sane bachelor would be getting ready his “I really think you’re a terrific woman….” Speech.

Instead, Brad winds up giving the woman a rose and kissing her not very romantically after they talk about that candy-colored dandruff you stick on ice cream sundaes. Perhaps, he was afraid that if he didn’t give her the rose, she would have highjacked the plane back from San Francisco. Making the whole pity rose even more questionable, Mike Fleiss later indulges us with post-date sequences of Hillary, claws out, calling the other women names. I think we might have our villain for the season, unless it’s Jade.

Jade: Does she do anything other than say nasty things about the other women in any of the episodes?

Steffi: What name does she really go by? What happened to the whole Argentina angle? Was she the one who was telling Brad how much she admired her dad because he did triathlons? Didn’t they tell her that Andy was the last Bachelor?

Lindsey Maclaren: Why do women who have maybe spent two hours around the Bachelor start asking them detailed questions about weddings and engagements? I was hoping that Lindsey would surprise Brad back just before the rose ceremony by revealing that she too was an identical twin and then breaking out with Yellow Rose of Texas with a voice that even Simon Cowell would praise.

McCarten: I rather liked her comment about not needing a rose. “Some people need a net, some don’t.” The other bit about “Being herself” because it was the only self etc. may have been a bit beyond me but it did help extend the twin metaphor thing. I confess, I’ve only gotten a couple chapters in to that new philosophical tome, “Zen and the Art of Bachelorette Maintenance.”

Jenni Croft: She may be the first woman to get a first impression rose whose stock actually rose (pun intended) in the next couple shows. I’m surprised no one mentions the obvious. Trista Rehn was like Jenni Croft a Miami Heat dancer. Of course, Jenni got traded to the Phoenix Suns along with Gary Payton and a lifesized poster of Shaquille O’neal.
I did like her tumbling run at the circus. I also thought her, career over Bachelor love play was very smart. It let Brad know that she has a life, things she wants to do other than just being the girlfriend of a guy who owns four bars. She has priorities of her own, like shaking her body parts in front of fourteen thousand people forty one nights a year.

Solisa Shoop: When did stripping get so mainstream? I take it the woman was there for a couple episodes of comic and other forms of relief. I’m not an Andy Baldwin fan necessarily, but I can’t see Andy letting one of the women give him a lap dance on a sailboat. Mmmmm….maybe Gary Hart can get back into the national eye by being the Bachelor. How do I put this? There’s a bit of a Charley O’connell vibe coming off of Brad, instead of say Byron Velvick, Andy, or Travis Stork.

Deanna Pappas: You notice how Brad says her name right at least once each episode now. Okay, the big thing is that the preview had her saying she “hated” one of the other ladies. There was also the exchange with Hillary telling her “mile high” tall tale while Deanna listened in the pool. I’m pretty sure this was just to throw viewers off the scent. Just a guess, but they’re overselling the physical chemistry with Jenni and trying to plant some doubt around Deanna.

Kristy Katzmann: Her sailboat one on one time seemed surprisingly natural. She also scored major points with Brad by taking one look at Chad’s tongue and saying “Mmmmm…..your ch’i is very different, you’re not Brad.”
Actually, she didn’t say it that way, but if she had it would have been a major boost for her eastern healing business. That must be proof that she must be on the show for the right reasons. :}

Sheena Stewart: Every time her name comes up, I start humming “My baby takes the morning train.” How weird is that? Before they had mp3 players, some of us actually had to listen to the car radio and AM at that.

I liked the whole sequence with the wave runners and the shore patrol. I was hoping they would have cuffed her and taken her in. They could then have crosscut to the remaining ladies on the boat and had a couple of them saying,”Well, to be honest, I’m glad she’s going to be in jail for the rose ceremony.”

The big thing though was that she went from being pretty non-descript in the first two installments to a sudden contender because she knows the color of the hair under Brad Womack’s ears. Ordinary people might be a little creeped out by that, but not Brad.

Sarah: Every time she was on camera, I thought she was another one of the brunettes.

Bettina Bell
: “I fell in love on the back of a wave runner”, yikes! What would have happened if they had put her on the back of Sheena’s wave runner? The two could have gotten a regular feature on the Ellen Degeneres show.

She finally confessed to having been married before. Did anyone notice that Bob Guiney was married before and the show treated it as an asset because it made Bob more sensitive and more serious about the process? When the Bachelorettes have been married before, Fleiss turns them into damaged goods.

Of all the “I’ve been married before” reveals on the show, I think Brad handled it the worst. First his immediate reaction made the woman feel even more uncomfortable and insecure. Second, he gives Kristi the rose for the date. Finally, he makes her wait to the end for her rose. Again, it might be editing, but he sure isn’t being very sensitive to the woman’s insecurity about the divorce thing. It made it almost look like he was enjoying torturing her.

In the meantime, I think Bettina comes off as one of the more genuine of the ladies in both senses. She’s honest, hasn’t been shown saying mean things about the others (there aren’t many of those left), and most of her body parts look like original equipment.

random thought:
I know we're not supposed to talk about serious issues in these recaps, not that it always stops me, but there's a disturbing recipe emerging on the show. For the last 4-5 installments the mix always includes one of the following.

1) bimbo slut
2) mean one who spends most of her time telling the camera catty things
3) delusional individual
4) emotional basket case
5) someone with a secret (child, divorce, parents who don't watch the show)

Sometimes, they make the final four like Trish. Sometimes they don't. I'm just not sure what it says about Mike Fleiss's beliefs about women. btw They often use the same casting mix in soap operas.

Until next week,
Lancechucky (the real one)

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Chancelucky SVU Couch Potato Edition(Law and Order)

My daughter’s gotten into Law and Order SVU lately. Thanks to Netflix, we have access to the first six seasons through their experiment with direct online distribution on our home computer. btw All tv is far better without the commercials. Now when the three of us want to relax as a family, we turn down the living room lights, get comfortable, fire up windows explorer 7.0, and then watch 45 minutes of investigations and prosecutions of gruesome sex crimes. If you have a 17 year old still at home, this is not most people's idea of "family time" but it has worked.

Seventeen years ago, before Law and Order became the Network Primetime crime franchise that it is, I got a letter from Dick Wolf productions trolling for writers who had attended boarding schools in New England. It happened that Sam Waterston, one of the stars of the original Law and Order (also the even better series Fly Away Home) which had either just started airing or was about to air and wasn’t any kind of primetime institution yet, went to my high school. In any case, my alumni office had me listed as someone who wrote. I called the assistant producer whose name was on the letter and started off by telling her that I wasn’t a member of the screenwriter’s guild.

I have a bad habit of being up front about things like that instead of pitching my strengths in these situations. I also wasn’t sure that I wanted to write for the movies. They first told me to send some of my prep school stories, then changed their mind before I sent anything. The movie turned out to be “School Ties” with Brendan Fraser and Matt Damon, which was vaguely about anti-semitism at a school vaguely like the one I went to. It didn’t do especially well, nor did I really hit myself over the head afterwards and say “Damn, if only I had helped to write that movie about ringers and anti-semitism.”

Who knows what might have happened had I pitched myself a bit harder. Little did I know that the Dick Wolf ‘s other project would turn into this crime/courtroom juggernaut. I often wonder if I had begged a little harder, if they might have needed a screenwriter/scriptwriter who happened to have a law degree. Of course, if any of this had happened and I had gotten into the world of helping with Law and Order scripts, my daughter surely would have had no interest in the program. Teenagers are just oppositional like that. When I worked for George Lucas, the rest of my family refused to take any interest in Star Wars and none of them even visited Skywalker Ranch during my year there. I did get my wife to go to the Christmas party at least. Anyway, it could have been Law and Order Reality TV Unit.

You think, I’m projecting maybe a little too much ? It was , after all, a single letter looking for screenwriters who knew boarding schools firsthand a mere seventeen years ago.

Now that the family has watched something like 20 episodes together, I’ve discovered that I rather like the show. It’s well written. It raises serious social issues and appreciates the complexities. It manages to stay entertaining from a what next who dunnit standpoint, though the writers love red herring evidence and suspects. It’s not the best tv show ever even of the crime and punishment variety (Hill St. for one was better), but I’m fine with my kid watching this instead of Flava of Love or Six and a Half Charlie Sheens,

It happened that in one of the episodes we watched last week, Fred Thompson showed up in his recurring role as the District Attorney of the New York-based Law and Order shows. No one ever seems to mention that if Thompson’s TV Character were real, he was likely working under Rudy Giuliani and the US Senator for the state was Hillary Clinton. Instead of a debate, a primary, or even an election, they could just have a very special episode of Law and Order. Perhaps they could have another US Senator who got arrested at an airport for disturbing the peace in a bathroom stall. The matter comes to a senator whose husband was once accused of having sex with an intern. In the meantime, the mayor of New York is having affairs with two different women. Benson and Stabler show up at DA Thompson’s office to discuss the matter while parts of his wife pop into the office minutes before the camera finds her face.

Instead, the actual episode I saw was a complex look at abortion rights, spousal rape, and fetal alcohol syndrome. Fred Thompson’s bit was to cut his SVU deputy DA out of the deal (my family agrees that they liked the tall-slender- model like -blonde, DA’s better than the tall-slender Red Haird DA (sorry Bella) ) and agree to pursue a court order that would monitor an alcoholic mother’s drinking during the term of the pregnancy. I suppose that was more than mildly political. In fact, the episode had a great deal to say about the actual needs of the baby and the mother having little to do with the fight. In the episode, various groups jump in to posture for legal positions that favored whatever they were advocating. The actual psychological impact on the people involved barely mattered.

I suppose that was the oddest thing. Law and Order SVU actually had a more nuanced and humanistic view of the abortion question than our public political discourse. Saddest of all, Fred Thompson, the character on the tv show, came off as way wiser, better informed, and much more sophisticated on the abortion issue than Fred Thompson the candidate.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The One with the Modeling Portfolio (Bachelor 11 Brad Womack #2)

So why didn't they tell us whose betting style Brad liked?

The key to great reality television is editing and Fleiss et. al. were certainly on their game when Solisa Shoop, the former American Idol contestant from Georgetown, Texas invited Brad to do a body shot in her east Texas hill country. One disjointed crosscut later, Solisa is using her alone time with the Bachelor to tell him that she’s a Christian with very clear belief in morals and values. That’s followed by Solisa beachside announcement that she just happens to be comfortable with her body.

In the meantime, Bettina Bell, the California divorcee, enhances the drama by voicing her outrage to the camera. Apparently, she didn’t approve of Solisa’s reenactment of the communion service at Our Lady of the Big Ta Tas. So, here’s what I don’t get. Thirty minutes later we see Bettina afraid to confess to Brad that she’s been married and divorced already. Okay, the guy had his tongue buried somewhere near a complete stranger’s cleavage the day before and you were there. Now you’re afraid that he’s so conservative that he won’t give you a rose for having been divorced? Either you know he doesn't care about things like that or you shouldn't care if wants to give you a rose or not.

American mating rituals are filled with double standards and double binds. It’s possible that Bettina did read “the sexiest bachelor ever” perfectly accurately. He does appear to be a cipher. He's equally intrigued, as he confesses, by women who are wildly aggressive and those who are more reserved. He doesn’t appear to have radar for the gossipy ones. One of the turning points for Andy Baldwin’s image last season was when he cut all the ladies who tried to talk negatively about the other ladies on the ski date. Brad gives Jade Beazley a rose anyway even after she tries to play Iago with Jenni’s modeling portfolio. Even worse, he keeps Hillary who broke into Jenni’s suitcase to look at Jenni’s modeling portfolio. Should I mention that he also kept McCarten Delaney who accused the stretcher-bound Michele Leavy of conniving for a pity rose? Naturally, he also keeps Jenni. Bottom line, this guy is all over the map.

Obviously, I don’t know Brad Womack from Adam, even if it’s Adam Mesh from Average Joe. Still, I worry about the guy’s, for want of a better term, self knowledge. I mean, let’s talk about McCarten (if she doesn’t get a rose I suggest she look up Sean Phillips, the Chargers linebacker who came on the show to put a late hit on Jesse Palmer) and the wipe away kiss. The San Diego lady appears to kiss Brad way too early, he pulls away, then wipes it off, she calls him on it, and he gives her a rose anyway. I’d say encroachment, pass interference, and maybe even personal foul all on the same play. Brad on the other hand can’t even read his own body language. Instead, he’s asking his new best friend forever, Sean Phillips, for dating advice. “Hey Man, which one of the ladies did you like, Man…Thanks Man….You’re the greatest Man.”

Who the hell talks that way anymore? You’d have to think life was some sort of extended beer commercial to talk that way. Either that or you’ve spent a lot of time rousting drunks from your bar at four in the morning. Mmmmm…. One other possibility, it's a white guy talking to a black man and taking great pains to sound down with it.

If Brad wanted genuinely good advice, he could have talked to Andy Baldwin’s friend Gatsby (Mitch Thrower) who also happens to live in San Diego. Just a rule of thumb
on this show, if they ever bring on the friends or “guys” to help give the poor bachelor guidance, their advice invariably sucks or is totally meaningless. Most of the time it’s “Wow, there are some great ladies here. I don’t envy you, Dude. You’ve got some tough choices to make there” or it becomes apparent that the friends have better chemistry with the ladies than the Bachelor as happened during Travis’s season. Seriously, what are the odds that Brad’s even going to invite Sean Phillips to the wedding reception? Fwiw, the way the Chargers are doing this year, Sean’s going to have lots of free time right after the New Year.

I do respect Brad for not giving in to the pity rose thing. I do think someone should check to make sure that one of the ladies, probably Jade, didn’t push Michele down those stairs, but you could tell that Michele was in trouble after that first hug. Brad didn’t hug her back much. It’s also not a great idea to use your alone time to say in consecutive sentences, “I want to get married and have kids and by the way I’m the oldest lady here.”
Perhaps, it was the concussion, but 34 year old bachelors don’t normally get hot and heavy over biological clock chatter on the first date.

It was a different but same sort of thing for Mallory. The editing made it look like Brad didn’t like the fact that she didn’t think about having a “job” in her fantasy. I don’t think that was it. Even breakfast in bed was an okay fantasy, but she lost him when she told him that in her fantasy he was making it for her then described exactly what he would have to include in that breakfast in very precise detail. Talk about your “high maintenance” warning signs. For any women reading this, if a guy asks you about your fantasy day, lie. It shouldn’t involve his doing household chores, you’re going shopping or to spas, or getting back rubs from him or anyone else. Tell him you want spend the day in bed or on the beach doing mutually pleasurable things repeatedly and continuously to one another. If he believes you at all, he’ll propose in like two weeks.

I think Erin made a mistake right from the beginning by telling Brad in the opening episode that she’d broken her face twice while playing touch football. That only works for Marsha Brady.

So we’re down to twelve and I still don’t know much about Brad or most of the ladies and that’s a bad sign. I believe that reality tv especially reality dating shows are still about the characters. So far, there’s been so much emphasis on “the craziest ladies yet” and the “sexiest bachelor date ever” that I’m not feeling a story much less a romantic story. I did enjoy the whole bikini date, but by the end of the evening I was still going which blonde was that who’s talking now? The alone time they did show was often incoherent and they showed so much catty behavior my list of ladies to vote off is way longer than the list of possible ones to root for at rose time. If I had to give Brad advice, it would be to show up for the show say forty five minutes early and offer a rose to Julianne Hough.

DeAnna Pappas: she’s being sold as the normal sane one. Even Sean Phillips liked her. While I liked the bit about I was with a guy for five years and he cheated on me as a story line, let me ask a question here. If you really have issues about being with a guy cheating on you, why would you go on a tv show where the man of your dreams dates twenty five women at the same time then invites four of them for alone time in the fantasy suite?

I’d say she looks like the favorite though. Btw, I’m always wrong.

Jenni Croft: When I was single and someone you were dating tells you that she has a modeling portfolio, that generally was not a bad thing for most guys. What next, “You know she posed for Playboy once?” Yeah, that’ll make Brad lose interest.
There’s obviously strong physical chemistry between Brad and Jenni a la Andy and Bevin and Lorenzo and Aghnese.

Solisa Shoop: Is this a little more x-rated rerun of Desiree from Lorenzo’s season? Did Joe Francis give Mike Fleiss some free footage from Girls Gone Wild? I wonder if she did body shots with Ryan Seacrest?

Estefania: They keep changing her name. Was she the other one who did body shots with Brad?

Lindsey: Okay, I’m going to wow him with my body on the beach date then tell him that I don’t do wild stuff in the hot tub. I’m not the aggressive type either, singing the Yellow Rose of Texas, well.., that was an aberration.

Kristy Katzmann: I know you were in this installment somewhere. Maybe her tongue was the wrong color that day.

Sarah: When Brad gives her the rose on the beach date, was I the only one who was totally baffled? Did they talk? Did she do anything? I think she did help serve drinks and I think they had one on one time to discuss how she's fun and he's serious and wouldn't it be great if they could mix and match?

Sheena Stewart: Which blonde is she?

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Monday, October 01, 2007

The Front of the Motor Home (Clarence Thomas 60 Minutes)

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas, has just written his memoirs, My Grandfather’s Son. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but Sixty Minutes did a thirty minute feature on Justice Thomas last night to help promote it. Yes, this is the same Sixty Minutes that went after George W. Bush’s military service during the 2004 election. It’s a little tricky to do news features on sitting justices. For one, as a matter of ethics they can’t discuss specific decisions of the court. They also have to take care to limit their comments on topics that might come before the court.

Instead, I learned that when the justice is not writing opinions that claim that anything that isn’t literally in the Constitution is unconstitutional, he likes to motor home in a forty foot long RV. As metaphors go, this one was fascinating. Thomas’s predecessor, Thurgood Marshall as counsel for the NAACP in the fifties, played a key role in getting blacks out of the back of the bus. Here was Justice Thomas not only sitting in the front, he was the driver and owner. Fwiw my mother and stepfather are avid motor homers. Still, the image of Justice Thomas traversing the country in a sub 10 mile per gallon vehicle at a time like this seemed characteristically out of step.

Segment host, Steve Kroft, definitely didn’t hit very hard. He’s the same guy who did the Bill and Hillary Clinton adultery interview back in 1992. He also didn’t hit especially hard on that occasion. There was, for instance, no mention of how close the confirmation vote was for Clarence Thomas. In addition, they let him tell his side of the Anita Hill story without a suggestion that there might be another side. They also never mentioned that nominee Thomas had the lowest rating ever of any prospective justice from the American Bar Association at the time of his nomination. This isn’t unusual. There are just certain things Supreme Court Justice can’t do or talk about in a television interview.

Certainly, it was interesting to see the way that Justice Thomas grew up. His father left when Clarence Thomas was two years old, his mother couldn’t support her two sons, and Thomas and his brother were raised by his grandparents, hence the title of the book. Sixty minutes did not mention that Thomas's older sister, Emma Martin, stayed behind in Pin Point, Georgia. The show also didn't mention that Thomas has been married twice. In fact, they didn't mention that he has a sister. According to Thomas, his grandfather was extraordinarily stern, putting his grandsons to work constantly, and insisting that his own word was gospel. Thomas supposedly acquired a belief in hard work and personal discipline above all else from his grandfather.

His grandfather also stressed the importance of education and Clarence Thomas attended Catholic school where he decided that he wanted to enter the priesthood. According to Thomas, he left his training for the priesthood after he overheard a white member of the order say that the assassination of Martin Luther King was a good thing. When Clarence Thomas returned home, his grandfather kicked him out (My Grandfather's Son indeed) Thomas then became a radical in his time at Holy Cross, but remained a very good student. From there, he went to Yale Law School where he was troubled by his perception that he was being treated differently because of affirmative action. After graduation, the only job he could find was with John Danforth, a Missouri Republican.

The twin experiences of Yale and working for a Republican converted Thomas from being a radical to being a conservative Republican. Once that happened, Thomas started getting jobs easily. He told Kroft that he went through five confirmation hearings (most political appointments have to be confirmed by the senate) in a ten year period after he came to D.C.

Thomas flatly denied all of Anita Hill’s allegations and reiterated his belief that his use of the phrase “high tech lynching” during his own confirmation was appropriate. He also took the rather surprising view that the fight over his nomination had been covertly about his refusal to state a clear position on abortion. According to Kroft, Thomas believes that the constitution did not include any mention of abortion, actually modern therapeutic abortion didn’t exist at the time, and the matter is therefore an issue for the individual states. Kroft did not bring up the fact that television, automobiles, telephones, antibiotics, health insurance, and the internet also did not exist at the time of the framing of the constitution.

At one point, Kroft mentioned that Justice Thomas has actually written his “share” of opinions during his tenure. He, however, omitted any mention of the number of lead or majority opinions that Justice Thomas has written, nor did he mention any opinion in which Justice Thomas’s words have been considered a definitive statement of either the constitution or the issue in question.

Somehow, I suspect that history is going to be much harder on Clarence Thomas than 60 Minutes.


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