Screenshot from HBO's magnificent "Band of Brothers."
Two Hollywod execs having lunch:

“Harv, did you ever see ‘The Singing Detective”?

“No, I hate musicals. Even that Moulin Rouge thing. Wife loved it. I went downstairs and watched boxing.”

“Saw it the other night. Well, part of it, the thing’s six hours long. Saw enough to know it’s brilliant. Part 40s detective story, part childhood recollection, part hospital drama, and all these great old songs you never heard. It’s arty enough that it ought to suck, and I mean we’re talking Oscar-nod-for-art-direction and nothing more suck, but the writing and acting and directing are so brilliant you can’t look away.”

“So option it. Have you had the salmon here? I had the sea bass once. It was dry.”

“No, that’s not it. They already remade it. Horrible. We're talking afternoon entry in a Canadian film-festival bad. I was thinking about the director. I have just the script for him.”


“It’s a story about five people thrown together in a world they never made, forced to burrow to the center of the earth and light off some nuclear bombs to rebuild the planet’s magnetosphere. It’s called ‘The Core.’”

Well, of course I had to see “The Core” - stuff blows up, there’s a fancy ship, the world’s in peril, etc. Could be a great bad movie. Could be a bad good movie. But alas - it was simply a mediocre mediocre movie. Hillary Swank, who seems to have been in the last 32 movies I’ve rented, looked peculiar here - cross-eyed, straw-haired and rubber-lipped. Movies like these require you to believe that her character is, at age 23, the second-best pilot (of anything!) in the world. I doubt her character flew fighter jets; she looked as if she would liquify if she pulled half a G. Stanley Tucci was on hand, adding some flair, even though he now acts entirely with the corners of his mouth. He smoked, so you knew he was the morally compromised character. This made me think: wow, it's been 20 years since anyone was killed in a movie with an ashtray. In the old days, a bad guy could snap, pick up the 10-lb glass ashtray from the table and bean someone. No more. The era of the ubiquitous ashtray is certainly gone; we're reduced to Stanley-Tucci characters ashing on the floor and getting nasty looks from people, even though the world is ending in three months. Okay, well, maybe so but I don't want to die of cancer in two, thank you. As if the announcement of the end of the world wouldn't cause everyone who'd ever inhaled to think:
well, that's that; Pall Mall Reds, please. Now.

Like all techno-thrillers, the movie required much typing; at one point the hideous, rat-like hacker character (name: "Rat") had to break into a system in Alaska, and he did it with seconds to spare just by sweatin’, swearin’, scowlin’ and typin’. That’s all you have to do to shut down anything anywhere in the world: use your computer to “get inside,” then type as quickly as possible until the words ACCESS GRANTED appear on your screen. At this point you will have complete access to all the schematics, and if you type quickly enough you can find the crucial valve or switch. (It’ll blink green.) Then type some more and turn it off!

The movie contains some disaster-movie set pieces of particular ineptness - the pigeon attack in Trafalgar Square is just ridiculous, and it’s edited in such a way that the impact of six pigeons on a double-decker bus appears to tip the entire thing over. When they do get around to destroying a city, it’s Roma - bonus points for originality, but destroying the Coliseum by lightning? How? Why, but striking it so many times it glows, then explodes. Okay. Fine. Then they blew up the Victor Emmanuel monument, which is an obscure a landmark to most Americans but eminently blow-upable anyway.

It’s good to know we could construct a ship capable of visiting the earth’s core - and have it ready to go, with custom launch pad over the Pacific, in three years. The deleted scenes are interesting, because every single one belonged in the movie, and showed that it was quite possible to have made a better film than the loud, long , formulaic yawn they finally released. The director’s commentary is telling - Amiel seems to agree with the dumbing-down of his own movie. Hollywood will do that to you, eventually. What, the audience really didn’t think I needed both thumbs? Okay, well, saw one off. The right one? Well . . . no, you’re right, I can cash a check with my left hand.

Final verdict: if it’s midnight, and it comes on cable, and you don’t have to get up tomorrow, and you’ve had a few, and the only other option is HBO’s “Real Sex Outtakes: Seabiscuit Edition” , sure. Give it a look.

Every election cycle we get The Call: hello, this is the group that presumes you believe as we do; please vote. Sometimes it’s a political party. Sometimes it’s my union. Tonight I got an interesting call on the answering machine - a fellow following up on a house-call paid by one of the MPIRG kids. The guy asked for my wife by name, described the person who’d come to our house, and named the issue: reducing coal-fired electrical plant emissions. I remember the meeting. I made the mistake of engaging the young woman about the efficacy of wind farms, and told her I supported less coal and more nukes. She informed me that the electricity generated by Minnesota wind farms could supply the entire electrical needs of the lower 48, and at that point I said, kindly, that she’d just spoken absolute nonsense, and I wished her a good night.

So now this organization several months later calls up our house, matches my wife’s name to our phone number and residence, and wants to follow up on the conversation. Wow. We’re in their database.

CITIZEN ACTION is what Caller ID says. Hmm.

This isn’t MPIRG; their phone number is different. Some googling about turned up the connection - I was called by a local chapter of the Progressive Action Network, which appears to be telemarketers for progressive causes. The “jobs” page gave me the Minnesota chapter, and their phone number is the same as the one on Caller ID. Keep in mind that the guy on the phone identified himself as a member of MPIRG, not Citizen Action. <artejohnsonvoice> Innnnteresting. </artejohnsonvoice>

Now it gets fun. The email for the number that called me is If you go to that site, you’re redirected to the PAN site. If you whois the site, you find that the site registrant is the Citizen Action Membership Center at 328 East Hennepin. But the contact info for Citizen Action is an address on North 12th Street. But! Below the Citizen Action entry on the PAN site is another PAN client called “Minnesota Clean Water Action,” whose address is 326 E Hennepin.

My point? My point is this: the CIA used Joe Pesci, Ed Asner, Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Oldham to kill Kennedy! Or, just having offices in the same vicinity is not proof of nefariousness. Oliver Stone would love this stuff. Me, I got bored when whois googling on administrator names led to yahoo discussion groups about out-of-date DNS info.

So I’m going to call them back tomorrow, and ask them: “I’m curious how you matched a phone number, a specific name, an address, and referenced a particular conversation. Because if the Justice Department did to you what you’ve done to us, your breakfast would be running down your pants leg.”

I suspect there is no vast left-wing conspiracy here. Stay tuned; details tomorrow.

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