Monday, March 22, 2010

Just Some Stuff 1

– Who doesn’t love Sandra Bullock? What’s not to love? Right now, she is at the height of her career, fresh off an Oscar win for Best Actress in a wildly successful movie, The Blind Side. In my opinion, she has always come off as a genuinely sweet, feisty, good-hearted person who doesn’t take herself too seriously, who has a healthy sense of humor about her job as a movie star. That’s pretty rare these days, and that – combined with the fact that she’s very talented and quite easy on the eyes – has made her, to use a cliche, America’s Sweetheart. Since the release of The Blind Side, Bullock has made many talk show appearances in which she’s discussed at length her marriage to Jesse James and has expressed her love for and devotion to him.

Now we learn that during the shooting of Bullock’s Oscar-winning performance, James – a builder of custom-made motorcycles and star of “reality TV" show Monster Garage – made the beast with two backs with heavily inked stripper Michelle “Bombshell” McGee, whom he met on MySpace. Last week, James released a statement to People magazine in which he apologizes for causing “my wife and kids pain and embarrassment beyond comprehension.” The fact that he doesn’t state precisely what he’s apologizing for makes me think an attorney or two took a good close look at this statement before it was released and said, “Yeah, that’s okay, we can get around that in court.” In his apology, James stated, “I deserve everything bad that is coming my way.” That made me laugh out loud. This guy knows what’s in store for him. He’s no dummy.

Look, if you’re already a celebrity and you marry America’s Sweetheart, I have a little piece of advice for you. This advice does not come from personal experience. It comes from things like, oh, I don’t know – being conscious. The advice is this: Don’t fuck around on America’s Sweetheart!

My prediction? Once all the ugly, sordid details come out – and they will, more than you ever wanted to know –Jesse James and Michelle “Bombshell” McGee will become villains on a par with Osama bin Laden. It’ll be brief. It’ll last only until the next scandal, the next celebutard overdose or the next American Idol controversy. But for a brief time – the short period that makes up the extent of America’s squirrel-like attention span – it will happen. Hey, Jesse, you made your motorcycle. Now ride it.

But you know what’s most annoying about all of this? It’s being reported by the media as news! Which brings me to my next item ...


– Memo to: American News Media
Re: The definition of “news”

Please, tell me – how can you people breathe with your heads stuck that far up your asses? Do you know what news is? Do you even know how to spell news? American has reached such a low and wayward point that what we think of as the “news media” now includes snake-oil-selling circus ringleaders like Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Keith Olbermann and that walking, talking pile of tripe Rush Limbaugh, and angry, bitterly unpleasant people like Nancy Grace and Jane Velez-Mitchell, who divide their time between covering stories of lost children and the latest celebrity sex-and-drug scandals. This has happened for two reasons. First, we, the viewing public, have allowed it to happen and we should hang our heads in shame for it. And second because you people -- the so-called "news media" -- have dropped the ball. So, please ... pick it up again, dammit!


– Am I the only person in the country who doesn’t find it surprising that one of the guys who appeared as a bachelor on The Dating Game turned out to be a serial killer? The only thing that surprises me about this is that he’s the only one. At least, he’s the only one who’s been caught! I used to watch that show when I was a kid and I found most of those guys creepy.

When Rodney Alcala appeared on The Dating Game in 1978, he’d already been convicted of the rape of an eight-year-old girl. Prime dating material, huh? Host Jim Lange – who was pretty damned creepy his ownself – introduced Alcala thusly: “Bachelor Number One is a successful photographer who got his start when his father found him in the dark room at the age of 13, fully developed. Between takes you might find him skydiving or motor-cycling.” Or raping little girls!

If you’ve never seen The Dating Game, a hit TV show created by The Gong Show host and creator Chuck Barris, then you might not appreciate how darkly and disturbingly humorous all of this really is. It was a show that thrived on innuendo and double entendre. One young woman – the bachelorette – was introduced to three men she could not see and was given the opportunity to ask each of them questions that were designed to sound dirty and get stifled snickers from the studio audience. At the end of the show, she would pick one of the three and they were sent on a date at the show’s expense – and probably at their expense, too, in most cases.

When Alcala appeared on the show, the bachelorette was a young woman named Cheryl Bradshaw. One of her questions was, “What’s your best time?” Alcala answered, “The best time is at night. Nighttime.”

Cue the Psycho strings and alter the lighting so everything looks dark and menacing, please.

At the end of the show, Bradshaw chose the child rapist as her date. But ultimately, she refused to go out with Alcala. That’s not too surprising in light of remarks by Jed Mills, one of Alcala’s fellow bachelors in that episode. “He was creepy, definitely creepy.” But he got on the show, and then won that week’s bachelorette. Yay for the American dream!

Alcala has been a guest of the state since 1979 and was recently convicted of murdering four women and a 12-year-old girl. At the moment, police are going through more than 100 photographs found in Alcala’s storage locker. They’re more than 30 years old, these photos of smiling young women sporting the fashions of the day as well as some infants and toddlers, and police are wondering how many of them, if any, were killed by Alcala once he lured them with the promise of glamorous photos. In a little more than a week, police received calls from over 400 people from varying locations (as far away as Denmark) inquiring about the fates of their daughters and sisters and mothers and girlfriends, wondering if Alcala had been responsible for their disappearance.

The Dating Game was a seemingly harmless, if insipid, game show that had a long run back in the 1970s. Today, it seems that half of what’s broadcast on television falls into the category of “reality TV” (a misnomer that annoys the hell out of me) -- to say nothing of "insipid." Last year, Ryan Alexander Jenkins, a handsome, charming finalist on the VH1 “reality competition” Megan Wants A Millionaire, strangled his 28-year-old wife Jasmine Fiore and stuffed her corpse into a suitcase. He was formally charged with the murder but before he could be taken into custody, Jenkins saved everyone a lot of time and money by apparently hanging himself with a belt in the closet of a British Columbia motel room.

Think about the kind of people who are drawn to “reality TV” shows as contestants. These “me-me-me!” attention whores will say and do anything to get on TV. It’s hard not to wonder how many rapists or killers (or both) have been -- or will be -- cheered on by television audiences. “Reality TV,” indeed.


– An inscribed copy of the 2005 hardcover edition of my novel Night Life will go to the first person who correctly answers (in the comments section below) the following movie trivia question: Which movie actor’s salary shot up from $150,000 in 1994 to $7 million in 1996?


– I’ve been watching old episodes of The Avengers lately. If there has ever been a cooler, sillier, more playful and engaging series on television, I have yet to find it. It was an English series that began the genre later known as “spy-fi” because it blended elements of espionage with science fiction and fantasy. The Avengers ran from 1961 (one year before the release of the first James Bond movie, Dr. No) to 1969, making it the longest running series in that genre. The dapper, suave John Steed was played by Patrick McNee and had a number of partners over the years. In the first season, he was teamed with Dr. David Keel, played by Ian Hendry. But from 1962 onward, Steed kept company with lovely women. The first was Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale (1962 - 1964), then Diana Rigg as Emma Peel (1965 - 1968), followed by Linda Thorson as Tara King (1968 - 1969). The series remained popular in syndication and in the 1970s, it was revived as The New Avengers, in which Steed was teamed with a young Joanna Lumley as Purdey (who later went on to costar in Absolutely Fabulous) and Gareth Hunt as Mike Gambit.

My DVD collection of the series spans only the years in which Diana Rigg starred as Emma Peel. I have nothing against Blackman, Thorson or Lumley, but for my money, there has never been a woman on television quite like Emma Peel. She was a fashion setter, a woman who appeared somewhat dainty and delicate but who routinely kicked bad-guy ass all over the place. Her name was taken from the British film industry expression “M-Appeal,” or “man-appeal” – and Diana Rigg had that in spades. Mrs. Peel was sarcastic, playful, unflappable, always strong and sure of herself. She was the first person ever to do Kung Fu on TV. Even though the producers wanted her to continue using Judo like Honor Blackman before her (they didn’t know what the hell this Kung Fu stuff was), stunt coordinator Ray Austin secretly taught Rigg Kung Fu and slipped it into the show under the producers’ radar.

Although Emma Peel was married -- her husband Peter was missing and presumed dead -- there was a nice sexual crackle between her and Steed. The show remained ambiguous about the precise nature of their relationship, leaving it open for the viewer to decide. This viewer's opinion? Oh, they were so doing it.

During Rigg’s years on the show, The Avengers became more fanciful with each passing season. The villains grew more colorful, their aims and motivations more outlandish. But it always worked within the universe created by the series. It captured the crazy spirit of the 1960s like no other television series. If you’ve never seen it, get your hands on some episodes and check them out. And while watching, be sure to plant your tongue firmly in your cheek.


– The best movie I’ve seen in a while: Up in the Air starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick. I’ve come to trust Clooney’s taste in projects. He knows how to pick ‘em, and this one is no exception. The story of a man who fires people for a living and spends his life on planes traveling all over the world, with no permanent home, no family, no commitments or anchor, Up in the Air manages to be a movie that is thoroughly of its time and also a timeless story of the human need – no matter how firmly denied – for connection and stability, the need to be needed. It’s a perfect movie from top to bottom. And I think that Anna Kendrick is going places.