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3 stars out of 5
It is difficult to know where to start. Jeffery Tambor is amusing as the head of an agency of unusual creatures, including a big red guy named Hellboy. This is a superhero movie made from a dark and weird comic book, so the film is dark, weird, violent, probably true to a mythology about which I know nothing, and full of sound and fury signifying nothing. There are just enough genuinely amusing (not funny, but amusing) moments to rescue it from utter banality.

The Wackness

3 stars out of 5
Ben Kingsley having simulated sex with one of the Olsen Twins is, by itself, probably worth the price of admission to this indie coming of age film, set in

New York City

in 1994. Josh (I on a dialup Internet connection, so can't look up the actor's name) is a patient of the psychologist played by Kingsley, who pays for his sessions with joints. It is an odd, disjointed character study, like so many indie films, with a few scenes of very simulated sex. I assume it is a memoir. Interesting, in the way most indie films are interesting, but not great. By the way, apparently, in 1994, whack meant bad and dope meant good. Josh is told by a girl, "I see the dopeness in the world. You see the wackness." Hence the indecipherable name of the film.


3 stars out of 5

It takes a lot of nerve to make a comic-book superhero movie for a hero that's never been in a comic book. So kudos to director Peter Berg and writers Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan, who have created an interesting character from scratch. Will Smith, possibly for the first time in his career, uses none of his usual charming and disarming ticks. To the extent we learn to like him as the title character, it is because of his character arc, not because of show-off acting. Charlize Theron proves again that she is a great actress, even in lightweight material, and Jason "Arrested Development" Bateman continues to show promise as an actor in amusing, if not funny, roles. In case you haven't seen one of the 10 million trailers and previews, Hancock is an alcoholic superhero who wreaks havoc and help in equal doses. In the film, he tries to get out of the gutter and find out who he really is. No spoilers here, but I thought the movie was reasonably well put together. I am inclined to agree with the title on an IMDB comment, however: "Fix the last act!" Of course, now that the film is released, it is too late for that, but the ending of the movie is frenetic, hard to follow, and, frankly, a little out of place. A few genuinely funny moments, a few touching moments. Worth the price of admission, but no one here need clear a space on their mantle for an Oscar.

Coquet on Drugging the Military, Dan Grobstein File

Dan Grobstein File

OPINION   | July 13, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist:  The Real-Life '24' of Summer 2008
Are we safe? As Al Qaeda and the Taliban surge this summer, that single question is even more urgent than the moral and legal issues attending torture.

OPINION   | July 15, 2008
Op-Ed Contributor:  Do You Want Sweat With That?
The $5-plus hot dogs that will be sold at Yankee Stadium for the All-Star Game bear little resemblance to the ones sold long ago at Ebbets Field.

"Barack Obama's super marketing machine"
He knows your neighborhood, your favorite products and even when you open your e-mail. How Obama is betting on vast, corporate-style voter outreach to win the White House.
By Mike Madden

Songs of the Bushmen

Bushmen_CoverImage Harry Shearer, who hosts Le Show, the best weekly public radio program you've never heard, has accumulated a number of his biting satiric songs about members of the Bush cabinet and turned them into a CD entitled "Songs of the Bushmen." The press release calls it a "savage and poignant musical satire." I know this, because the PR agency knew from my column that I'm a big Harry Shearer fan, so they sent me the picture, and the press release, and some sample tracks (I believe in full disclosure). I would have written about the CD anyway, but this a) reminded me to do so and b) gave me some good talking points. I am familiar with almost all of these songs, because Harry uses them first on his program. They are witty, original and devastating. Think Weird Al Yankovic, but with (mostly) original tunes, and a political point of view. If you've often thought it was long past time to make fun of Powell, Bush, Rove, Rumseld and Scooter, this is the CD for you. The song "935 Lies," is, by itself, worth the price of admission. Its available in stores (are there any more record stores?) and on Amazon, as well as being downloadable, legally, almost everywhere.

I am feeling extra good about Shearer and Le Show because I submitted an item for apologies of the week which got used on the show. A tip of the PSACOT chapeaux to Harry!

Political Briefs

  • Newsweek Polls: A Tale of Two Countries. If you want to conduct a fraudlent vote count and have the result accepted by the country, first you have to convince the country that the election is actually close among those who are going to vote.


by Craig Reynolds

Big bug in DNS: in the earliest days of the ARPAnet, the translation from typed server names to numeric addresses was specified by a simple text file, which was copied from a single designated server to get updates. As the network grew, this centralized approach was replaced in 1983 with the Domain Name System or DNS. You might think that after 25 years, most bugs would have been shaken out of this key bit of Internet infrastructure. But no: the recent discovery of a serious bug called cache-poisoning has lead to emergency repairs: DNS hole prompts synchronized patching effort by IT vendors,. See also Internet Bug Fix Spawns Backlash From Hackers and DNS researcher convinces skeptics that bug is serious.

Identity, privacy and neutrality: okay, sometimes I struggle with categories. Here are some items about protecting online identity from abuse, and online access from discrimination. A warning shot across the bow of ISP that would selectively block or delay certain classes of network traffic: F.C.C. Chief Backs Sanctions Against Comcast Over Blocking. How can rational corporate managers adopt a business model based on alienating your customers?: Viacom won't soon shed image as corporate bully and Time for a YouTube intervention ("Witness the latest episode of “Viacom vs. the Internet,” a long-running reality show in which a media behemoth holds fast to its antiquated business ideals while taking advantage of our increasingly tenuous hold on personal privacy, and accepting none of the responsibility for the resulting fallout.") Like an operation in 1984's Ministry of Truth, one blogger drops another down the "memory hole" Poof! You’re Unpublished. Double-plus-ungood!

iPhone: perhaps you heard about Apple's product launch this week? Some reviews: They’re out! The first iPhone 3G reviews. Some discussion of features, pro and con: Here's what the new iPhone can do, 10 Things the 3G iPhone is Still Missing and Pandora Brings Free Streaming Music to iPhone 3G. And several guides to the new App Store: The Hottest iPhone Apps, What's Good (and Free!) in the iTunes App Store and 20 Cool IPhone Apps.

Google: the Internet giant moved into multi-user virtual worlds, potentially crushing existing players in that space: Google Introduces a Cartoonlike Method for Talking in Chat Rooms, Google unveils a Lively virtual world and Google Announces Lively Online World. The downside of being called a "giant" is that you have a big bulls-eye painted on your back. Any bad news is big news: On Day Care, Google Makes a Rare Fumble "...Judging by what’s transpired, that’s what Google is fast becoming: just another company."

Technobits: Mysteries of time, and the multiverse --- Moon Water Found, Raises Questions About Origin Theory --- Coral reefs on 'slippery slope to slime' ---  Watermelon yields Viagra-like effects --- MIT spinoff dyes glass to make solar 'windows' --- Tuning out from content overload --- Human Mirror by Improv Everywhere --- the description in the NYT article didn't sound like my kind of thing, but Matt Harding’s dancing video is good-hearted fun.

Brick Lane

3 stars out of 5

I am not the first person to note that middle-class and working class people have virtually disappeared from American movies. Virtually any movie that pretends to be the least bit realistic is either about the rich or the super-rich. The exceptions are rare. So it is a pleasure to see working class life portrayed in loving detail in Brick Lane, set in London in 2001. After her mother's death, a Bangladeshi girl is married off to a middle-aged man she has never met, and whisked to London, where she leads a life of misery. Based on a controversial novel by Oxford graduate Monica Ali (Bangladeshi dad, English mom), it manages to make Islam seem simultaneously scary and familiar, in general and in the context of 9/11. It's rated PG-13 for very soft core sex and a little bad language. But no American under 13 would have the slightest interest in the film anyway. If you're not frustrated by occasionally unintelligible British accents, and enjoy a film that provokes more thought than mirth, this could be the one for you.

Legal music, Amma in NYC, Dan Grobstein File

My friend David Strom has posted A grown-up’s guide to legal music downloads.

Daniel Dern reminds me that Amma is in the Big Apple:


Dan Grobstein File

  • An interesting explanation of Obama's FISA vote:

    Because Obama voted for the FISA bill, it suddenly becomes a win-win.
    WTF am I talking about? Here we go.
    Win #1: If any of the above happens (and at least one will), he can prove a point: that Bush - with the tool he desperately wanted - still couldn't stop it. It will obviously need to be retooled, or even blown up and rewritten from scratch under President Obama.
    But here's the bigger take-away, which is Win #2: John McCain didn't even vote.
    With me now? With the scary specter of al Qaeda hanging over America, Mr. Strong On National Security wouldn't even cast a vote on such a pivotal bill. Suddenly, Obama has his ace in the hole. He voted to protect America while McCain pulled a no-show.
    Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, there's your dream campaign ad - signed, sealed, delivered, and ready for the October Surprise.