We've already seen our country torn apart by senseless squabbles, seen justice get really, really perverted, and lost one of our nation's finest moderators today–isn't it time for us to finally come together? After all, this is supposed to be the year that we commit to rebuilding and strengthening as a nation, yet the news has been full of the exact opposite: impending strikes, cheap digs, hurtful comments, and giant steps backward for former pioneers who once upon a time bridged the divide. As the ironically named War asked, "Why can't we be friends?" Is it because you're so stupid? Well, if it's any consolation, we're willing to overlook that for the sake of fostering harmony. Come over here and heave those dry sobs into the warm bear hug of Friday Buzzkills. Then maybe we'll go get some ice cream.
- Hey, remember how much fun we all had during the writers' strike? All those great books you finally finished, and all of the meaningful bonds you forged with your family because you weren't telling them to shut up during The Office? Remember how every week you'd click on Newswire and read some hand-wringing report stemming from some bitter soundbite offered by a picketing writer or huffy studio head? Wouldn't it be great if we could do that all over again? Well, in sequel- and remake-crazed Hollywood–whose sense of nostalgia, judging by proposed projects like this My Tutor update, has both the historical perspective of a mayfly AND doesn't factor in whether anyone actually enjoyed the original–the old is always new again, so it's already time to be looking at extending the strike franchise into a summer tentpole: According to the Alliance Of Motion Picture And Television Producers, a de facto strike "limiting the green-lighting of features and disrupting pilot production" has already begun as the June 30 end of the Screen Actor's Guild's contract looms and the threat of work stoppage becomes all the more likely. Many of those in the post-production community, still smarting from the writers' strike, characterize the possibility of a SAG strike as "catastrophic," since the possibility of working with game and reality shows–a lifesaver during the writers' strike–is out of the question, considering all of those employ SAG talent to throw to commercial break in between offering disingenuous encouragement. Luckily most of the TV shows you love are unaffected at the moment, but already many film producers are racing to wrap their projects before the deadline, or even signing guaranteed-completion agreements as a contingency plan, which leads to perhaps the biggest buzzkills of all: Strike or no strike, we're not getting rid of G.I. Joe, Transformers 2, High School Musical 3, or Lindsay Lohan's Labor Pains. Just once, couldn't they try to put a positive spin on things?
Alvin And The Chipmunks? Wouldn't it be great to see that hollow CGI-meets-live-actor-mugging-to-two-tennis-balls-against-a-green-screen format applied to something else you used to cherish as a wee innocent babe, before postmodernism sucked all the joy out of everything? Well, in blah blah blah Hollyblah, your childhood is like Jodie Foster in The Accused, and you know, maybe it shouldn't have walked into this bar with its Smurfs hanging out. Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation have announced plans to produce an Alvin-like "hybrid" version of Belgium's original blue man group The Smurfs with a script from Shrek sequel scribes David Stem and David Weiss, all but guaranteeing that the film we be full of soon-to-be-dated pop-culture references and colored by an ironic detachment that exhausts itself trying to be "hip." And as if that weren't depressing enough, a statement from Columbia co-president Doug Belgrad ("We're very excited to introduce a new generation to Papa Smurf, Smurfette, and the other smurftastic Smurfs") offers an early glimpse of how smurfing painful its inevitable ad blitz will be. Holy smurfing smurf will it ever.
- But the return of The Smurfs does have one bright side: Its vision of a utopia where people are judged according to their most accessible character traits rather than the color of their skin is an excellent model for the kind of harmony we're supposedly striving for in the Obama age. Too bad those crusty Gargamels at Fox News have to come down and spoil all our singing and dancing and harvesting smurfberries with their very un-smurfy racism: Wrapping a stellar two weeks that saw Fox News commentators making hee-larious jokes about "knocking off Obama" and anchor E.D. Hill wondering aloud if The Obamas' affectionate bump was a "terrorist fist jab," a Wednesday interview with conservative columnist Michelle Malkin was tagged with the graphic "Outraged liberals: Stop picking on Obama's baby mama." As Salon columnist Joan Walsh points out, "'baby mama' is slang for the unmarried mother of a man's child" before wondering, "Are they racist or just clueless?" (Perhaps a little from column A ?) Still, we're positive that the hiring of affable loser Mike Huckabee as a political commentator will help make things a little more likeable and enlightened around the Fox News pen–at least until every piece on Obama is accompanied by Huckabee grabbing his bass and slapping out the "Theme From Shaft."
- Speaking of steps backward for race relations, it's been a rough ride for that reluctant symbol of social injustice and racial tension Rodney King, whose well-documented dalliances with alcohol, PCP, and spousal abuse have finally reached that most embarrassing of breaking points: A guest shot on VH1's Celebrity Rehab. King's simple, poignant words, "Can we all get along?"–which framed an eternal question on the politics of race and remains the go-to mantra of a society struggling to make peace with itself–will now be reduced to an ironic punchline, cued up to accompany clips of professional privileged dick Sean Stewart picking fights with American Idol reject Nikki McKibbon and returning champion Jeff Conaway yelling incoherently at everyone. But at least he'll have the batshit wisdom of Gary Busey to turn to when things get especially rough, as Busey–a reformed addict and confirmed preachy asshole–has agreed to come in and berate everybody with hostile non-sequiturs and pompous declarations about Jesus until they're finally scared straight (or right back to the bottle, whichever).
- We're not sure if this qualifies as a step backward for black men, men in general, or just yet another in a long-line of PR misfires that can't be qualified as a "step backward" without getting into some quantum physics, black hole shit, but Usher's bizarre campaign to counteract rumors about his marriage shows no signs of stopping, quickly going from amusing to embarrassing to "fuck, dude, do you maybe want to lie down for a while?" Usher's quest to quash all the negative comments–which most of the world wasn't even aware of until he went crazy on TRL (see below)–continues with an upcoming article in the July Vibe in which he, in a long paranoid rant that stops just short of asking each and every reader if they want to step outside, wanders off into a WTF tangent that blames lesbianism on the dearth of good men like himself. "Women have started to become lovers of each other as a result of not having enough men," he bravely says, before boldly challenging both the nation's familiarity with the news and its overall appreciation of black love with, "Are you not studying the stories? Wake up! Black love is a good thing." We're not sure what "stories" Usher is referring to (possibly episodes of The L Word?), but we're pretty sure his "all you ladies need is some good deep dicking" theory of lesbianism might earn Usher some more "haters" out there–which will only mean more stupid comments clarifying his earlier stupid comments, until Usher's too swept up in issuing idiotic statements to sing "Love In This Club." (Or maybe that's a good thing?)
- For thematic reasons, it's tempting to characterize Arsenio Hall's fall from celebrity grace as a step down for the black man: After all, for a brief period in the early-'90s, the success of Hall's self-titled talk show was seen as a major step forward for African-Americans, but coming off a career high that saw him influencing the course of a nation by having Bill Clinton whip out his saxophone, Hall has become persona non grata lately, outside of a couple of cameos here and there. But even worse than his somewhat noble fade into obscurity is the announcement of his decidedly ignoble return to hosting as the face of cleverly named candid camera show Funniest Moments on MyNetworkTV, the bottom-drawer Fox spin-off that's home to household favorites like Celebrity Exposé, Street Patrol, and the Flavor Flav sitcom Under One Roof. According to its press release, Moments will "ride the wave of the YouTube and online video craze with a series capturing life's most outrageous moments caught on tape" (or, as Arsenio might put it, "Things that make you go 'hmmm' right before you cry yourself to sleep. I was friends with Eddie Murphy, you know"). Still, it could be worse. Dude could be doing a Chunky A reunion tour.
- As much as Arsenio might seem like the walking dead these days, at least no one literally unearthed him from the grave–not like Judy Garland, anyway, who will have her bones dug up and digitally reanimated for Running Subway's new Judy Garland In Concert, a touring show launching this month that combines a live orchestra with video footage of Garland singing and even providing "segments of patter." The not-at-all-creepy Garland employs the same technology as Subway's popular Sinatra show, an example of which was seen in last month's Grammys when Ol' Blue Eyes was woken from his eternal rest and forced to duet with Alicia Keys like some kinda common schnook. Of course, as exploitative as it may be to bring celebrities back from the dead and put them through the paces of a live show they have no say in, we can understand their reasoning. After all, a video Judy Garland is always going to sound perfect, and she's far less likely to show up soused on booze and barbiturates. Still, if you're so hopped up to see Judy Garland live, what's wrong with putting Rufus Wainwright in a skirt?
- We're hoping that the "no rest for the famous" credo stops soon, before somebody gets the go-ahead to pull a little CGI wizardry and, say, force an eternally young James Dean to make proto-emo eyes at Jessica Alba in some high-concept, cross-generational rom-com. (Note: We now own that idea, and we're willing to sell.) And we'd definitely put our foot down on seeing someone like Paul Newman transformed into anybody's plaything; sadly, it seems as though the estimable actor is inching ever closer to being put away in that proverbial toy chest, with announcements issuing from the AP and L.A. Times this week that Paul Newman's suffering from terminal lung cancer. Even sadder, the proudly private Newman's attempts to dismiss the reports have been met with a defiant "nuh-uh!' by the AP, which issued a terse statement saying it "stands by [its] story despite Newman's hedging." While Newman's friend and business partner A.E. Hotchner did a little "hedging" of his own, saying only that he has "a cancer of some sort in the lung area" before remarking that Newman's "going through a good period," Oregonian film critic Shawn Levy, meanwhile, who is currently working on a Newman biography, had a far more dire prognosis: "I suspect I'll be writing an obituary before I hold a copy of my book in my hand." [Thanks to Defamer for the tip.]
- Author Eliot Asinof, who died this week at the age of 88, wrote more than a dozen novels and non-fiction works in a long career that also included stints on films and TV shows such as Maverick and Wagon Train, but his crowning achievement was unquestionably Eight Men Out, the story of the 1919 "Black Sox" scandal that was later made into a 1988 movie. While he was primarily a behind-the-scenes guy, Asinof's own tale had a couple of fascinating, Zelig-like twists that put him at the center of history: He was blacklisted during the McCarthy era–reportedly for signing a petition saying that Jackie Robinson should be admitted to the major leagues–which led to him being forced to work under other writers' names. Later, he also dated star Rita Moreno, which led to a dinner with Marlon Brando and Brando's sister Jocelyn. At that meeting, Marlon Brando and Rita Moreno left together, beginning a relationship that would span more than a decade; Asinof, meanwhile, ended up marrying Jocelyn. Asinof's last novel, Final Judgement, is due to be published later this year.
- Jimmy Stewart was the broken heart and soul of It's A Wonderful Life, but Frank Capra's movie couldn't have achieved half its pathos without Stewart's desperate adult self being contrasted against the spunky enthusiasm of the actor who played the childhood version: Bob Anderson, who died this week at the age of 75. Born into the business to a family of editors and production managers, Anderson had already starred in movies like A Tree Grows In Brooklyn and Gentleman Joe Palooka before being cast as the young George Bailey in the Christmas classic, where he memorably endured the drunken slapping of H.B. Warner, playing the druggist whom George stops from making a fatal error. (In a 1996 interview Anderson said, "He actually bloodied my ear. My ear was beat up and my face was red, and I was in tears.") After a few more small roles in Samson And Delilah, A Place In The Sun, and others, Anderson served in the Korean War, then went on to do production work on films and TV shows like The Apartment, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, and I Love Lucy, but–thanks to holiday reruns–Anderson will be eternally 13 and full of adolescent gumption.
- Italy's postwar Commedia all'Italiana genre had many masters, but few had the finesse and satirical bite of director Dino Risi, who died this week at the age of 91. In movies like the seminal The Easy Life–often cited as an inspiration for films like Easy Rider and Sideways–and the Sophia Loren-starring Scandal In Sorrento, Risi riffed on hypocrites and hedonists with a lightly comic touch and a subtle hint of sadness, working with the finest actors of his day and topping the box office again and again. In 1975 he was nominated for two Oscars for writing and directing the original Scent Of A Woman, a movie that finally earned Academy gold when it was remade in 1992 and Al Pacino "hoo-ah"ed all over it.
Have a super weekend!