Friday, June 30, 2006

The prayers of millions...answered!

Star Jones-Reynolds has left The View, her much-maligned morning show, in a flurry of dishonor and melodrama. This proves beyond a doubt that jinxing works--even from great distances.

Mind you, I don't really watch the show and, therefore, have no actual stake in what happens on it, but I just hate Star Jones so darn much. She has ruined countless E! Red Carpet Specials for me, and she must pay. She also got the wickedly funny Kathy Griffin kicked off the E! Red Carpet shows as well, which only clinched the hatred for me.

Let's put aside the sweet feeling of triumph over one's perceived enemy for one minute, though. A replacement must be found, one who can fill Star's substantial ass-groove on that floral-print sofa (do they sit on a sofa? I imagine Star must need some super-sized accommodation). Rosie O'Donnell was a horrible choice to replace Meredith Vieira, so producers have to play catch-up here. Clearly Rosie was part of a clever scheme to boot off Star, so the next pick must be legit--and entertaining. Here's my unsolicited advice (I give no other kind):

Pick someone funny! I'm not talking Joy Behar funny, here. Actual laughter must be induced. Perhaps the producers could, in an ironic twist, replace Star with Kathy Griffin, the woman that Star had booted off "her" E! Specials. I don't know if any of you watch My Life on the D List on Bravo, but it is so incredibly funny. Kathy Griffin ruthlessly gossips about celebrities, and continues to out Clay "Gayken" on a regular basis. Her Oprah impersonation alone should get her the job. Come to think of it, Griffin should just replace Joy Behar.
Have a truly young voice on the show. Elisabeth Hasselbeck may be the voice of a generation, but not my generation. Yes, she was on Survivor, but her views belong on an episode of Leave it to Beaver. In fact, I think she stole her conservative look from one Barbara Billingsley! If you're going to bother catering to different age demographics, try picking a 20-30-something that is more like a Bush twin, less like a Bush First Lady.

Pick someone accomplished (but not too accomplished). I often wonder how these View women got their jobs. They've contributed very little to society/culture/politics/journalism in their own right. Walters and Vieira were the only ones with any cubicle cred to speak of. I'd like to see a host that has done something to earn their place on the show. However, you need to be careful of the Star Jones-Reynolds self-promotion factor. You don't want the host continuously plugging his/her newest book, single, or TV movie. I would go with a celebrity who has been out of the spotlight lately.

Pick a man. This would be the ultimate transformation for the show. What better way of infusing some new blood (and topics) than by adding a male perspective? I'm hard pressed to think of a man who would go willingly into that shrill henhouse, though.

Have a rotation of regular guest hosts. Who doesn't love a good guest host? You get variety, and you don't have to worry about viewers getting sick of one annoying host over time. It's always fun when Regis and Kelly do this. Plus, it ups the show's chances of getting real celebs to do the show for a short while.

Even though I will only see the show on my pretend-sick days off, I am curious to see who is brave/stupid/desperate enough to take this job. I'm also eager to see what form Star Jones-Reynolds' thirst for money and fame will take. Celebrity Boxing? Children's Show Voice-over? Only time will tell.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

RIP Aaron Spelling

In memory of TV producer Aaron Spelling, who died over the weekend, I am going to list some of his finer contributions to the world of television (at least the ones that aren't WAY before my time).

Beverly Hills, 90210: This is where it all started for me. I was probably a little too young to watch 90210, but I enjoyed every silly minute of it. Donna's struggle with "virginity," Andrea's desire to fit in with the West Beverly gang despite the fact that she was poor, Jewish, and 35 years old, Luke Perry's forehead lines underscoring his equally inappropriate age for a high-school-themed show; 90210 had it all. Who could forget the scandal when, over the summer, Kelly (Brenda Walsh's best friend) slept with Dylan (Brenda's boyfriend)? And the arrival of Tiffani "my name isn't Kapowski" Thiessen was shocking. I'd have to say that my favorite ridiculous subplot was the Steve-taking-steroids after-school-special stuff. Watching Ian Ziering trying to act like he had more than the bare minimum of testosterone was hilarious.

Melrose Place: The much-beloved spin-off of 90210, Melrose Place came to surpass its predecessor in my heart and mind. Can you blame me? No school, no parents, just steamy love scenes and outrageous betrayals. Despite my deep resentment for Heather Locklear's impossibly flawless appearance, I knew that when she came on screen one, or more, of the following things would happen: someone would get called a bitch, a saxophone-accompanied makeout scene would ensue, or Amanda Woodward would swear to ruin somebody. Saturday Night Live once did a spot-on skit about Melrose Place (with host Heather Locklear) that still makes me laugh--"I'm a very important executive at D&D Advertising," indeed. Plus the show brought us a pre-Desperate Housewives Marcia Cross, who played the insane Kimberly. I'm still waiting for Cross to rip off her wig on the red carpet someday, revealing a hideous cranial scar. That would be awesome.

Models, Inc.: Yet another Spelling spin-off, this one involved Amanda Woodward's Mom running a modeling agency. For some reason all of the models lived together, creating all kinds of catfights and romantic mishaps. I have absolutely no proof, but I'd bet that this show was the inspiration for America's Next Top Model. Think about it. While the show was short-lived, it brought us some soon-to-be-famous faces and many memorable moments. For example, one supermodel dies in episode one, then another model pops up out of the blue who looks exactly like her, yet is not her identical twin!! Linda pushes her rich, overprotective boyfriend down the stairs--by accident! The show also introduced me to a little-known actress named Carrie-Anne Moss, who would later star in the Matrix films. I still think she looks better with long hair, but then I suppose she would have out-prettied Keanu. No one out-pretties Keanu!

And The Band Played On: Just so you don't think I'm entirely without substance, I'm recommending this movie about CDC doctors during the earlier stages of AIDS research. This TV movie was made in the early 90's, way before actors like George Clooney started lecturing the public about AIDS. The cast ranged from established talents like Anjelica Huston and Ian McKellen to lower-rung actors like Matthew Modine and non-actors like Phil Collins. To be fair, the movie isn't great, and can be heavy-handed at times. I would recommend the book of the same name before the movie, but at the time I didn't know a great deal about the politics behind AIDS research. Any information, however melodramatic in its delivery, can be useful. Besides, who doesn't love Matthew Modine? I'm thinking of copying Jiminy Glick and buying 2 dogs, one named Matthew and the other named Modine.

While Aaron Spelling wasn't strong on PBS-style TV, he knew how to entertain. Entertainment is often minimalized by cultural critics, but I believe that it is of tremendous value to an audience that is looking for some relief at the end of a long day. CNN (or Fox News, or whatever news network won't make me get angry e-mails) doesn't quite deliver this. So I celebrate the work of Aaron Spelling, and hope that either Darren Star or his non-union Mexican equivalent can take his place.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Your fugitive's name is Melquiades Estrada

Knowing full well that my husband expects me to see the craptacular Nacho Libre with him this weekend, a few days ago I made him rent the indie western The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. Both movies are at least partially set in Mexico, and that appears to be where the similarities end. Nacho Libre is the tale of a "Mexican" who joins the local wrestling circuit to raise money for a monastery, and Three Burials is a story of alienation, friendship, and redemption. Guess which one I will be recommending?

Set in Texas ranch country, Three Burials is centered around the death of Melquiades Estrada, a Mexican (played by an actual Mexican-American) ranch hand who befriends Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones). Before he died, Melquiades conveniently told Pete that he wants to be buried in his hometown of Jimenez, Mexico. He also gave Pete Durable Power of Attorney and made him the beneficiary of his Living Trust--not really, but it's just as likely as the subject of your funeral preferences coming up in the course of conversation. Since the movie rocks, though, this detail can be overlooked. After a few quick flashbacks, Melquiades is killed by a disgruntled Border Patrolman (Barry Pepper), and Pete takes it upon himself to punish the guilty man and honor his promise in one fell swoop.

The punishment itself is extremely fitting. Pete kidnaps the Border Patrolman, whose name is Mike, and makes him travel into Mexico on horseback with the corpse of Melquiades, for the purpose of burying him in his hometown. Given Mike's violent tendencies toward illegal immigrants, this destination is an appropriate site for his redemption. Both men experience a great deal on this journey, and the story reaches a simple, unexpected conclusion.

The quiet beauty of the film is emphasized by the breathtaking landscape in several scenes. According to IMdB.com, Tommy Lee Jones used his own ranch property for some of the shots. There is a desert scene that is particularly moving, because it reminds you of how isolated the characters are, both physically and psychologically.

The cast is equally impressive. Tommy Lee Jones once again displays the incomparable talent that led him to win an Oscar for a movie based on a TV show (The Fugitive). Can you imagine if that happened today? The Oscar goes to...Johnny Knoxville for Dukes of Hazzard! Barry Pepper dives right into a thoroughly repugnant character, a brutal racist and a lousy husband, and manages to hold the audience's concern. The underutilized Melissa Leo of Homicide: Life on the Street is excellent as the village bicycle (see Austin Powers if you don't get the reference), and Dwight Yoakam has a few noteworthy moments as the local sheriff. I was worried when I thought the actor playing Melquiades Estrada was also the locksmith-with-a-heart-of-gold in Crash, but I was, thankfully, incorrect. Never see Crash! I can't stress that enough.

This movie reminded me a lot of Unforgiven, because it is a straightforward, honest, character-driven western. There are small bursts of action, but the plot is sustained by the characters' internal progress. People make choices (or not) and people change (or not), each with a different result. There is no "6 months later" scene to resolve leftover issues or answer difficult questions. I greatly appreciated the succinct, matter-of-fact ending. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is an amazing film and will hopefully become a classic once more people are exposed to it.

Is Nacho Libre destined to become a classic? I'll have my "no" answer for you next week.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Not Without My Puppy

I recently read an article on MSNBC.com about a man who rescued his puppy from the jaws of an alligator. I have almost no commentary on this piece, except that it made me cry like the silly girl that I am. Here is the text--I think everyone should read about this example of heroism:

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - The phrase "you lucky dog" takes on new meaning in Coral Springs, Florida.

Michael Rubin heard cries from his 6-month-old golden retriever, Jasmine, which had ran ahead to the edge of a pond near a construction site Monday, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.
When he went to check on her, he saw the puppy's head inside an alligator's mouth. The intrepid Rubin jumped right into the water and started beating the gator with his fists.
The reptile which Rubin estimated was about 7 feet long refused to let go and started rolling in the water with Jasmine still in its mouth.

"I thought she was dead," he said. "But at that point I wasn't going to let him have my dog."
He eventually pried the dog loose and rushed her to an animal hospital, where she was treated for cuts and puncture wounds. The puppy is now home, doing fine, Rubin said.


First of all, this guy is a badass. It sounds like he didn't even hesitate to take on an alligator, an animal that has been killing Florida residents left and right. Secondly, this is an incredible show of devotion to one's pet. Rubin even thought the dog was dead, but he didn't want his best friend to be eaten by a vicious predator. I think it's amazing when people risk their lives for their pets, and vice versa. I've never loved another living thing like I love my dog, and the bond between a pet and a human is truly special.

Lando (my Scottish terrier) and I wish Jasmine a speedy recovery, and give mad props to Michael Rubin. Best wishes.