Monthly Archives: September 2008

Politicians take break from campaigning to do their jobs

When George W. Bush called Barack Obama to ask him to return to Washington to help pass legislation to help pay for Wall Street’s estimated $700 billion bill, I couldn’t help but chuckle. Obama has been roasted inside Republican circles over the last 4 years for paying more attention to his Presidential aspirations than passing any particular legislation.

The invitation also comes at an interesting time. The president has not been in the middle of negotiations with Congress, leaving that task to his Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

So why would Bush asking Obama for help now, resonate in any way other than as a political ploy to pull “Barry-O”, as no one appears to call him, off the campaign trail and up to a negotiation table? Bush clearly doesn’t care what Obama’s policies are, and it’s pretty clear at this point that the American public agrees. And since the Bush bus arrived at “Lame Duck City, population: 1” a long time ago, it’s feasible that a poorly constructed bailout bill could damage Obama’s credibility down the road.

The answer is that the US has arrived at one of those roadblocks that are steep enough to derail the entire country. The failure of all of the major investment banks won’t just harm the super-elite, but also the retirement plans of every middle class Americans. And saving America’s ability to invest is more important than bailing out the car companies, the airlines, or pretty much any other industry in this country.

This fact is especially important to the McCain camp, who suspended their campaign to fly back to Washington to participate in bailout talks. Because everyone gets screwed by the economy collapsing, it’s extraordinarily counterproductive to play the blame game. Therefore, Obama will look like he’s doing nothing if he merely barks talking points from the campaign trail, but will be painted as a follower by matching McCain’s decision to put legislation ahead of his executive interests.

So both candidates will be forced to put aside their feud in order to put the nation first. And if the bailout works, then both sides can claim a small victory. If the bailout fails, then George W. Bush will have one more gash across his face for the history books to tell about. But either way, the presidential candidates will need to hit the pause button on their campaigns, in order to back up their claims that they are qualified to lead our nation in a time of crisis.

Passing the Torch

Six months after an abrupt exit from the NCAA Tournament, The Georgetown Hoyas have entered a new era with a roster of players teeming with youth, talent, but also inexperience.

The departing Hoya senior class that featured Roy Hibbert, Jonathan Wallace and Patrick Ewing Jr accounted for roughly half of Georgetown’s points and rebounds, but more importantly, provided leadership and a return to prominence among the elite teams in the NCAA.

With G Jessie Sapp as the team’s only senior, the challenge for Georgetown will be to establish an identity of their own, in order to build a foundation for this year and next season. Hibbert, Wallace and Ewing Jr. were the three most efficient players last year, and provided most of the shots during crunch time, so unless somebody among the six returning Hoyas steps up, there will be a lot of confusion toward the end of games, when plays break down and shots have to be created.

Chris Wright will step in full-time to handle the point guard duties, but it remains to be seen what sort of depth will emerge to back him up. Guards Austin Freeman and Sapp will fill out a 3-guard starting luneup, with F DaJuan Summers, the second highest scorer from last year, returning as an athletic defensive forward. Summers will most likely be guarding the other team’s leading scorer, taking over duties from Ewing Jr., so it’s important that he not expend his energy as the team’s primary offensive weapon.

The center position shows more long-term than short term promise, as the Hoyas bring in Greg Monroe and Henry Sims, a pair of 6’10” big men who hope to fill Roy Hibbert’s massive shoes. But as true freshmen, it’s uncertain as to their short term potential.

So while a changing of the guard is exactly what is needed after a heartbreaking loss in the 2008 NCAA tournament, this Georgetown team will be force-fed minutes and shots without the veteran leadership of a senior class to tell them otherwise. The Hoyas have a lot of talent and potential, but it’s up to the new guard as to whether it will translate into success .

TV Shows: Seth MacFarlane

Seth MacFarlane, creator of “Family Guy” and “American Dad”, has an enviable dilemma on his hands. He’s currently the richest TV writer in Hollywood, and controls one hour of Fox’s primetime airwaves. But controlling both shows has overstretched his creativity, resulting in neither one reaching its full potential.

When “Family Guy” debuted, it was out and out hilarious. The random moments inter spliced into every episode were so laugh out loud funny that no one cared how much it stole from “The Simpsons”, or how unlikeable Peter Griffin was as a character. But as the show progressed over the next two seasons, there were improvements. Lois Griffin became a more interesting character, while the interplay between Brian and Stewie began to work on a variety of levels because a erudite talking dog and a sinister talking baby are largely a MacFarlane original creation.

But after Fox cut “Family Guy”, only to resuscitate it after soaring DVD sales, there seemed to be something missing from the earlier days. The random, inter spliced moments began to feel extraneous, and would often have little to no lead-in or relevance. This condition was eventually exposed by rival cartoon “South Park”, which managed to point to this fact with such witty satire that the random jokes no longer seemed funny at all. Now, whenever Peter begins a sentence with “If you think that’s bad, remember the time that I…”, this viewer can’t help but grind his teeth at whatever clip is slipped in for not much more than the purpose of filling up a 22-minute time commitment.

So after watching “South Park” completely undress “Family Guy”‘s writing staff in under 44 minutes, it became apparant that the “Family Guy” story structure willingly deviates from a linear plot in favor of occasionally stopping the episode to cut to parodies (and sometimes word-for-word reenactments) that often have no relevance and/or are entirely anachronistic to how old the characters could possibly be. It’s entirely possible that these random moments are viewed by many to be the high points of each episode. But it’s also entiely possible that focus groups have revealed that the average “Family Guy” viewer is either ADHD or high on Crystal-Meth.

When “Family Guy” returned to the airwaves, MacFarlane also brought “American Dad” with him. Set in fictional Langley Falls, VA, protagonist CIA operative Stan Smith is externally, the antithesis of Peter Griffin. He’s handsome, wealthy, and percived as intellegent. While Stan and Peter have basically the same IQ and though processes, Stan projects the persona of a confident, successful man living within a higher social class than what Peter will ever attain. Stan Smith’s CIA credentials and patriotic tendencies may have played a part into why Fox supported this show over other shows (see Futurama), but when he arrives home from work, he is met with a family that seems quite similar to Peter’s. Lois and Francine are practically long-lost sisters, Meg and Haylia each play the angst-ridden teenage daughter card, although “American Dad” hasn’t given up on Haylia’s character in the same way that “”Family Guy” did when they threw Meg under the bus.

Both shows also feature happy, oblivious sons who occasionally play a major role in the story, but otherwise defer to stronger characters, notably the non-humans of each show. Yes, technically Stewie Griffin is a human, but his sociopathic nature makes him more comfortable with Brian, a fellow outsider, simply because he’s a dog. MacFarlane tries to recreate the Stewie-Brian synergy with “American Dad” by introducing Roger, a talking alien, and Klaus, a talking fish who used to be an olympic skier. But because neither character is capable of being in public, the writers have to work hard to figure out acceptable ways of getting these characters into scenes set outside the house. This dilemma was solved for Roger by season two, by giving him an inexhaustable wardrobe of costumes, but Klaus still spends most of his time at home.

Where “American Dad” succeeds is in its committment to telling a story. There’s a beginning, a middle and an end, all of which have a semblance of connection, and never defer to flashbacks in order to emphasize a point. This method of storytelling is more suitable to Stan’s character, because he’s steadfast and in one memorable scene, explains to Roger that “I don’t learn lessons”. In a way, it’s far more honest, and gives the audience some respect for being willing to follow a story.

The ratings for “Family Guy” are noticeably higher than those for “American Dad”, but Fox positions “American Dad” before “The Simpsons”, instead of after. One of Fox’s TV scheduling flaws has been its unwillingness to stick to a decent show after “The Simpsons”. Every time a show performs well after “The Simpsons”, Fox switches the show to a different timeslot, assuming that it’s strong enough to make it on its own. That’s almost never the case (“The Simpsons” writers pointed this out in one episode), and yet Fox executives still wonder why their 8:30 time slot is so inconsistent.

An easiest way to glue viewers to Fox on Sunday night is to lead off with “The Simpsons”, because everything after that will seem good, even when it’s not. However, if Seth MacFarlane wants a show capable of carrying a night on its own, he needs to realize that his efforts to support two television shows are misguided. As it stands, “American Dad” has the better stories, while “Family Guy” has more slapstick laughs, albeit at the cost of every other element of the show. If he were to pick one of these two shows, and focus on applying plot and slapstick, he would have a product far more comparable in quality to “The Simpsons”. But because Fox certainly doesn’t care about show quality (see: any other show on Fox), and because Seth MacFarlane is getting two paychecks for working on two shows, it’s hard to see either of his creations recieving much critical success.

Sarah Palin

Thoughts from the Sarah Palin nomination:
It’s hard to pinpoint the thought process behind the Sarah Palin VP nomination. Sure, she’s a straight-up right-winger whose policies overlap with those of the old Republican guard. But she also has a vagina, which according to the recent boost in McCain’s polling numbers, is something the American public likes on its candidates.

But if Sarah Palin is such a good candidate, then why did the McCain campaign keep such a tight lid on its interest in her prior to the RNC Convention? Up until a few days before the convention, it seemed logical for either Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee to be the nominee. And if McCain wanted a woman on the ballot, why wasn’t Condoleeza Rice mentioned as more of a possibility?

The basic conjecture that I’m leaning towards is that McCain had someone else in mind, and switched to Palin at the last minute.

Wizards Fans Held Hostage by Arenas’ Knee

After undergoing surgery to remove debris from his knee, Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas is expected to miss the first month of the 2008-2009 NBA season.

Arenas, who signed a six-year, $111 million contract over the off-season, has wowed fans and coaches alike with his ability to score inside and outside. But knee injuries have limited him to less than 90 games over the past two years, including only four of Washington’s past 10 playoff games.

The balance between Arenas’ talent and his inability to stay on the court is beginning to tip towards the latter, as forwards Caron Butler and the recently-resigned Antawn Jamison will be forced to carry the scoring load until Arenas is able to return. And as each day passes with Gilbert sitting on the bench, the Wizards, who finished last season with a 43-39 record without their leading scorer, will face a steeper climb towards the top of an improved Eastern Conference.

Barring major injuries, it’s safe to assume that Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Orlando, Philadelphia, and Toronto will make the playoffs, which leaves only two spots open for the Wizards to fight for.

Fortunately, among the remaining teams, only Chicago and Miami appear to have made any substantial improvements, but Arenas is being paid $18.5 million next season. Is he really worth the price of $177,000 per game just for the Wizards to fight for a seed in the bottom half of the playoff race? The only person who can answer that question is Agent Zero himself, who currently can only do his talking from the sidelines.

Overrated Movies

Overrated Movies: Scarface

“I have no idea what a movie is” -Charlemagne

“Scarface” is one of those films that I can’t help but use to gauge someone’s taste in movies, as well as in some extreme cases, their overall competency. It’s not that “Scarface” didn’t have some decent moments, but with the way the film is often praised, it’s as if it invented the gangster genre entirely.

For those who have not seen Scarface and care not about spoilers, it’s a glamorous look into the life of drug lord Tony Montana (placed by Pacino) and how he rose from a penniless coked-up immigrant with a fake accent, to an absurdly wealthy American with a fake accent. The film begins with an extremely violent exchange, followed by some character building, followed by more bloodletting, followed by some international drug syndicate career advancement. Michelle Pfieffer appears here and there in the film as Tony Montana’s coked-out wife, and Steven Bauer plays the right-hand man, but supporting acting is rather inconsequential in the aim of the film, which is to give Al Pacino free reign to overact all over the place while his character slowly isolates himself at the top of a drug regime.

And overact he does. “Scarface” is like an “Al Pacino’s Greatest Hits” collection that cobbles together the riveting moments from his other films, almost all of which involve the scene or two in his movies when he starts to yell every line at the top of his lungs. Well, since this is a bio-pic, and because director Brian de Palma is just as overrated as his film is, Pacino is shouting at the top of his lungs for practically three straight hours.

So if every scene didn’t offer enough glitz to divert the audience’s attention from Pacino’s mug, there might have been disastrous results. Fortunately, Miami was the quintessential setting for a crime story in the 1980s. It offered warm beaches, scandalously dressed women, executives blowing uncut cocaine in middle of their business lunches, along with a large demographic of foreigners, all of whom were apparently readily able to sell you more cocaine. But as more executive producers began to incorporate Miami into their rotation of “cities that are acceptable to set a story”, the tread began to wear on the tires of the South Florida shore, and Miami became less of an exotic setting, which forced storytellers to start earning their paychecks again.

Fortunately for “Scarface”, pastel colors and cheesy synthesizers were still cool at the time of filming, so tossing them into every scene like a sprinkle of nose candy in your morning coffee, assuming there was an intermission from the night before, gave each scene a sense of progression to go with Tony Montana’s ascent to the top. The more pastel colors, and the louder the cheesy synthesizers got, the more successful Tony becomes. Eventually, the scenes got a little too overwashed with pastel to see clearly, and the synthesizers got a little too loud for Montana’s rivals to take, so it was time to send in an army of guys to kill ol’ Scarface.

With his mansion under attack, Montana fires back recklessly with his 12-round rocket-launching member, followed by the deposed kingpin diving head-first down a ski slope of powdery gusto into about 20 thousand semi-automatic bullets. It doesn’t matter at this point if the bullets are tearing through an empty chest cavity, his twitching heart having rocketed from his chest back in Act 2, because cocaine makes you rich and invincible. Scarface survived that attack, and lived a long and fruitful life, until he was blasted through the back by some dude who the movie implied was more tactical than the extras hired to overact their gunshot deaths. I suppose that’s the major lesson of Scarface: you can rise from nothing, build a multi-million dollar empire, snort a pound of blow every hour, bang Michelle Pfieffer, kill your best friend, and survive a swarm of bullets. Just don’t get shot in the back. Because your back isn’t invincible like your front.

Ranking a movie is a bit like milk. It’s fine when it’s at the right temperature, but when you let it sit on the mantle in your home, it will begin to sour. Scarface has gone sour because it’s been quoted, branded, remade, and wallpapering every college male’s bedroom. Tony Montana sitting confidently in a hot tub, smoking a cigar, may be a memorable image, but one decent scene in a movie paired up against the several billion mediocre scenes in the movie, give or take a few for approximation.

Movie Review: The House Bunny

Hot Garbage

The House Bunny is high on mediocrity, low on laughter

Anna Faris stars as Shelley Darlingson, a Playboy bunny who starts a new life as a sorority mom for Zeta Alpha Zeta, the lamest sorority on campus, and utilizes the art of the montage to makeover the sorority sisters. Once it becomes apparent that the sisters are smoking hot once they change out of their glasses and toned down outfits, they find the courage to stop a hostile takeover by the unexplainably snobbish villains from a neighboring sorority house. If this storyline sounds familiar, it’s because the writers seem to have stolen the script for “Revenge of the Nerds”, updated the soundtrack, and tossed in some y chromosomes.

Colin Hanks appears from time to time in the film as an intellectual do-gooder who doesn’t fall for Shelly’s slutty advances, causing her to realize that there is life outside of the realm of simply looking hot and partying. Faris does a slightly better job carrying the film than I expected, although she wasn’t funny, instead relying on her toned physique and skimpy attire to keep the largely male audience from noticing her rambling speeches and shallow life lessons. But when most of the bit part characters are either played by ESPN Sportscenter anchors or buddies of Adam Sandler, it’s pointless to criticize the acting too much.

Almost nothing in the storyline is authentic, and every major plot turn and character building scene can be spotted from a mile away. But in a way, the lack of authenticity underscores the one theme of the film, which is that conformity can be great most of the time, but must ultimately take a backseat to individuality.

“The House Bunny” is not much more than a rehash of the college movie genre, and feels like it was written with a mad lib book as a template. The good guys win, the bad guys lose, the laughs are few and far between, and the substance is nonexistent.