Monday, April 06, 2009

10 films for the Aughts

Two of the film writers for the San Francisco Chronicle, Mick LaSalle and Peter Hartlaub, have published dueling "10 best films of the decade" lists.

To my way of thinking, it's a mite early for this. After all, the decade isn't over yet.

Then again, people get all squishy over lists, don't they? So, anytime is list time.

I use the word "dueling" above, not because Hartlaub and LaSalle hate each other (they may, but I don't think so — it's more an Ebert-Siskel rivalry), but because their lists have nothing in common. That's right: Two major film critics compiled lists of the best 10 films from the past decade, and not a single film appears on both lists.

(For your reference, here's Mick LaSalle's list, and then Peter Hartlaub's list.)

As a former professional film critic myself, I couldn't resist taking up this challenge, premature though it may be. I always preface these things with the caveat that "best" is a subjective and ultimately ridiculous concept when applied to the creative arts. So, let's call this...

My 10 Favorite Films from the "200x" Decade

1. Sideways

Funny, vulgar, touching, winsome, outrageous... I could keep stacking the adjectives, but none of them can completely express my affection for this film. Paul Giamatti's Miles is the person I would probably be if I drank. (Which is yet another good reason why I don't.) Virginia Madsen's soliloquy about the deeper meaning of wine may be the sexiest sequence in any film this decade — and she delivers it while vertical and fully dressed.

2. The Lord of the Rings trilogy

Peter Jackson's three-part cinematic thunderbolt may never be equaled, in terms of its sheer size, scope, and groundbreaking spectacle. As a longtime fan of Tolkien's magnum opus, I don't see how The Lord of the Rings could have been delivered to the screen any better or more faithfully — in spirit, if not in minute detail. (See: Bakshi, Ralph.) Perfect? Perhaps not. Seven levels of awesome? Heck, yeah.

3. Children of Men

No film I've seen in the past ten years moved me as powerfully as this darkly haunting slice of science fiction by Alfonso Cuarón. Children of Men strikes some of the same notes as Minority Report (another film I liked very much; surprising, since I'm not a fan of either director Steven Spielberg or star Tom Cruise), but it strikes them with more genuine emotion, and less hyperslick flash.

4. Memento

The first truly great film of the decade, Memento is noteworthy both as a dazzling achievement in cinematic storytelling (often imitated, but never approached) and as the revelation of one of the period's signature filmmakers: Christopher Nolan, who went on to direct Insomnia (an underrated flick, spoiled only by too hefty a dose of Robin Williams), Batman Begins, and The Dark Knight.

5. Spirited Away

Not only the best animated feature of the decade, but one of the finest animated films of all time. Hayao Miyazaki is sometimes referred to as "the Walt Disney of Japan," but this astounding, heart-wrenching film demonstrates just how inadequate that label is. It's not as much fun as many of Miyazaki's other pictures (it's hard to top Castle in the Sky, Kiki's Delivery Service, or the masterful Princess Mononoke in that department), but not every animated film has to be fun.

6. Best in Show

The funniest comedy of the decade, hands down. Will Christopher Guest ever make another movie this good?

7. Lost in Translation

I fully expected to hate this movie. I detested Sofia Coppola's pathetic attempts at acting, and her previous directing turn (The Virgin Suicides) left me cold. Plus, Bill Murray wore out his welcome with me way back around Ghostbusters. But its existential charm won me over.

8. Pan's Labyrinth

Like Jackson's LOTR, Guillermo del Toro's film sets a new high-water mark for technical achievement. More than that, however, it's an engaging and compelling journey into a world unlike any other. Many filmmakers are content to simply repeat the tried and true. Instead, del Toro chose to reinvent the fantasy film. Pan's Labyrinth defines the word "unforgettable."

9. Inside Man

I had a choice between two Spike Lee films here, Inside Man and 25th Hour. When in doubt, choose the movie with Denzel Washington in it. Especially if Jodie Foster and Clive Owen are in it, too.

10. Ocean's Eleven

Okay, okay. I'm allowed one low-brow selection. The true testament to Ocean's Eleven's greatness is that I've watched it more frequently than any other movie on this list, with the possible exception of Best in Show. I wish Steven Soderbergh hadn't followed it with two lackluster sequels (the middle film in the trilogy flat-out reeks), but that doesn't make the first one any less cool. Vegas, baby.

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Sunday, April 05, 2009

What's Up With That? #74: Why do you think they call it "dope"?

You could get more idiotic than this, but not much.

At the same time that this story is being reported:
Farrah Fawcett hospitalized; family gathers at bedside
This story is only one headline away:
Son of Ryan O'Neal arrested in LA on drug charge
In case you don't immediately tumble to the connection, Ryan O'Neal's son Redmond is also the son of Farrah Fawcett.

According to the Associated Press, the younger O'Neal — who just last week was kicked out of a rehab facility after failing a drug test — was visiting an incarcerated friend at a county jail in Castaic (northern Los Angeles County) when he admitted during a routine search that he was carrying methamphetamine. Redmond is currently being held on $25,000 bail.

Dude... your mom is in the hospital dying of cancer, and you're busted smuggling dope into a jail?

I believe Mr. T. said it best... I pity the fool.

And I hope that Ms. Fawcett, who's been battling the Big C for several years, survives this latest setback — at the very least, long enough for her son the moron to get out of the hoosegow to say goodbye.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

My awards show has a first name...

...it's O-S-C-A-R.

A few notes from last night's 81st Academy Awards ceremonies:
  • Pleasantly innocuous hosting job by Hugh "Wolverine" Jackman. The producers tailored the show to his strengths — he's a song-and-dance man, not a stand-up comedian. Jackman's style seems a better fit for the Tony Awards, which he's hosted several times, than for the Oscars, which attract a larger, more diverse audience. I doubt that the Academy Powers That Be will invite Hugh to host again, but I'm equally sure they're not sorry that they invited him this time.

  • I almost liked the smaller, more intimate set design. Having all of the nominees seated together and close to the stage worked well, especially for reaction shots when the winners were announced. The set-up did, however, give the event a confined, cramped feel. The Oscars need to be larger than life, not smaller than a breadbox.

  • Jackman's opening number with the cheesy props and Anne Hathaway — who is not a cheesy prop, despite her unsettlingly gargantuan eyes — was kind of fun. Billy Crystal has done similar openings to better effect in previous years.

  • Memo to Ms. Hathaway: If you have a preternaturally pasty complexion, a white evening gown is not your friend.

  • Memo to Nicole Kidman: Borrow Anne's memo when she's done reading it.

  • Best idea of the night: Using previous winners of the major acting awards to introduce the nominees. Some of the intros meandered on for a bit too long, and some of the choices didn't work as well as others. Overall, however, this was a gimmick worthy of repeating in future years.

  • Second-best idea: Queen Latifah singing "I'll Be Seeing You" over the traditional "Folks Who Croaked" montage. It added a touch of human warmth to an exercise that often just feels creepy and maudlin.

  • Among the winners, I was happiest for Kate Winslet, who has deserved to win at least a couple of times previously and came up empty.

  • Man, those people from Slumdog Millionaire were genuinely happy to be there.

  • Eddie Murphy seemed an out-of-left-field choice to present Jerry Lewis with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. They're both comic actors, but was there any other connection? Usually, they get someone who's a close friend of the awardee to give these special honors away. Maybe this was a sign that Lewis doesn't have any friends left in Hollywood.

  • What was up with the preponderance of dresses that looked like wedding gowns? Was someone getting married, and I missed my invitation?

  • Joaquin Phoenix is still wondering why Ben Stiller — and everyone else on the planet — is making fun of him.

  • Didn't win, but looked terrific anyway: Best Supporting Actress nominees Viola Davis and Taraji P. Henson. A couple of classy ladies right there.

  • Didn't win, but frightened small children anyway: Mickey Roarke and Tilda Swinton. At least Tilda comes by her looks naturally.

  • Hey, Amy Adams: Is that a necklace, or did you string together every bauble and bead at your local craft shop? You're lucky you didn't break a clavicle with that ginormous weight around your shoulders.

  • Speaking of ginormous: Angelina, please. The green stones. They are too large.

  • After seeing how much fun John Legend had singing "Down to Earth" surrounded by all of the Bollywood festivity of the two nominated songs from Slumdog, I'll bet Peter Gabriel feels like a moron for refusing to perform. And well he should.

  • I'll bet Bruce Springsteen would have enjoyed doing that bit too, had his song from The Wrestler been nominated, as it should have been.

  • Will Smith stumbled all over his TelePrompTer trying to give away the technical awards. Will, that Scientology foolishness is turning your brain into pudding.

  • Sean Penn, you are only about a third as cool as you think you are.

  • Am I the only one disappointed that Heath Ledger couldn't be bothered to show up to collect his Best Supporting Actor statuette? Hmm? He's what? Oh. Never mind.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

The L. Ron Hubbard School of Mathematics

Just in case anyone still needed proof that Scientology rots the brain:

In an interview published in the December 8 issue of Newsweek, Will Smith extols the virtues of his boon companion Tom Cruise, whom the Fresh Prince of All Media describes as "one of the most open, honest and helpful people I've met in Hollywood, or really anywhere."

Reporter Allison Samuels follows up: "No one else gave you that kind of support in all your years in the business?"

To which Will responds: "Well, Eddie Murphy and Bill Cosby reached out and really helped me back in the day, but they were older. Tom is my age..."

Umm, Will...

Tom Cruise is your age, but Eddie Murphy is "older"?

Will Smith was born September 25, 1968. Save the grab for your calculator: He's 40.

Eddie Murphy was born born April 3, 1961. He's 47. Okay, so he's older than Will — not as much as Bill Cosby, who's 71, but still, a few years older.

Tom Cruise was born July 3, 1962. That makes him 46... just one year younger than the apparently ancient Eddie Murphy.

Will: Put that copy of Dianetics down now, before your skull implodes.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bettie turns the final Page

Back in March, we had the sad duty of reporting the death of artist Dave Stevens, creator of The Rocketeer.

In that post, we observed that Stevens's fame will be forever entwined with that of 1950s pinup queen Bettie Page, whom Stevens used as the prototype for the Rocketeer's girlfriend Betty (note the different yet referential spelling). Stevens's work revived interest in the largely forgotten cult star, returning her to the spotlight after decades of anonymity.

Now, sadly, Stevens's muse has followed him into the next life.

Bettie Page

Bettie Page suffered a heart attack last week, leaving her comatose in a Los Angeles hospital. After having been kept on life support for several days, she passed away earlier today.

Ms. Page made her fame as one of the first models to transition from the underground pornography scene of the '50s into something approaching mainstream media. She was one of Playboy's earliest centerfolds, appearing in the January 1955 issue (one month before actress Jayne Mansfield).

Prior to her debut in Hugh Hefner's bunny rag, Bettie appeared in hundreds of ribald magazines, postcards, and non-explicit short films, many with sadomasochistic or bondage themes. She also posed for a series of pictures by Bunny Yeager, one of the first female pinup photographers. It was Yeager who brought Bettie to Hefner's attention. Thanks to her increased exposure (no pun intended), Bettie rapidly became the most popular pinup model in America.

In the late '50s, after her mentor Irving Klaw was prosecuted for distributing pornography through the mail, Bettie underwent a religious conversion and retired from modeling. She later attended several Bible colleges, and reportedly did some charitable and missionary work. She remained in relative seclusion until Dave Stevens, and other artists including Greg Theakston and Jim Silke, introduced the sunny-faced brunette to a new legion of fans. A 2005 film biography, The Notorious Bettie Page, featured Gretchen Mol in the title role.



It's unfortunate that when many people think of Bettie Page, their minds will automatically snap to the word "pornography." Unlike the porn stars of today, Bettie never performed sexual acts of any kind in front of a camera — unless one considers nudity itself a sexual act. Ironically, I first became aware of Ms. Page's career when, as a broadcast journalism student at San Francisco State University in the early 1980s, I wrote a research paper on the adult film industry.

Despite this connection, I, like many of her modern-day fans, really developed an interest in Bettie only after her image began to appear in Rocketeer comic books. My comic art collection contains — at least, so far — only one Bettie-inspired drawing: this Common Elements piece by Greg LaRocque, starring Phantom Lady and the Phantom Stranger. You'll notice that Greg's depiction of Phantom Lady bears a striking resemblance to a certain dark-tressed pinup idol.



Bettie Page declined most requests from photographers in her waning years. She preferred to be remembered as she was in her heyday.

I don't think there's any question but that she will be.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Another year, another injustice

Once again, People Magazine has stubbornly refused to acknowledge my animal magnetism by naming me the Sexiest Man Alive.

Apparently, animal magnetism counts, though, because this year's honoree is Wolverine.

Excuse me while I go sharpen my claws, and work on my Australian accent.

If the folks from Sexiest Middle-Aged Fat Guy Alive call while I'm out, take a message.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

What's Up With That? #66: Design on a Dyme

This apparently happened several months ago, but I first read about it yesterday over at Rocketship of the Mind (thanks, Sean!). So it's not really news, but if I'm just now hearing about it, it's news to me, right?

My wife KJ loves watching the endless array of home improvement programs on HGTV. One of her favorite shows there is Design on a Dime, in which teams of interior decorators reinvent rooms in people's homes using a maximum budget of $1,000. (I know, they should have entitled it Design on a Grand. Don't ask me why they didn't.)

At least, KJ used to enjoy that show until a year or two ago, when several of the featured designers were replaced with newer talent whom she didn't like as well.

Now, I've come to find out that one of Design on a Dime's former stars, one-time Disney Imagineer Lee Snijders, has embarked on a new career...

...as a purveyor of Internet pornography.

Lee and his paramour, a porn star-turned-photographer who goes by the name Jett Angel (I say "goes by the name" because I'm making the not-too-audacious leap of logic that there isn't a Mr. and Mrs. Angel somewhere in the American heartland who named their offspring Jett, thereby predestining her to a future in adult entertainment) have launched a Web portal called Goth Rock Girls, which according to a published press release, is:
an 'all-girl' punk rock porn site shot in hi-definition with a high end 'reality' format that shows the two producers as a power couple who bring these girls to life as they hold their cameras and direct the action.
Which is probably more than you wanted to know.

One can only wonder what thought process would take a guy from successful ventures in amusement park design, domicile decor, and mainstream cable television to creating... well... whatever that description was in the preceding paragraph. Fortunately, Snijders hastens to explain:
I tried to continue my relationship with HGTV by pitching them show ideas, but unfortunately they were not interested and the company did not renew my contract. I found myself auditioning for design shows with models and actors posing as designers while my competitors got their own shows on HGTV. With the housing market crash and being stereotyped as a budget designer, I stayed flexible, open minded, and moved on.
That's quite a move, all right.

I'm hoping that Lee didn't intend "flexible" as a double entendre. Then again, perhaps he did.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Like Grant took Richmond

The Dean of Bay Area newscasters has hung up his TelePrompTer.



Last night, Dennis Richmond — the longtime anchor of KTVU-2's Ten O'Clock News — signed off for the final time. Dennis spent 40 years at KTVU (the Bay Area's FOX affiliate, and a major independent station for decades before FOX), the last 32 of which saw him anchoring the area's lone "early" newscast with gravitas and aplomb.

As news anchors go, Dennis was solidly old-school. He rarely cracked wise, offered political commentary, or indulged in tabloid fluff from the anchor chair. In the immortal words of Jack Webb, Dennis stuck with "just the facts, ma'am."

His female co-anchors — and they were always female, beginning with Barbara Simpson in the late '70s, who gave way to Elaine Corral in the mid-'80s, who in turn stepped aside for Leslie Griffith in the late '90s, before perky Julie Haener snatched the job two years ago — came and went (mostly as they crept toward middle age, because that's how the broadcasting business goes), but Dennis remained constant, every night offering his sober and elegant delivery of the day's critical stories.

I would never hope to switch on the television and hear that World War Three had erupted. But if it had, I'd have wanted Dennis Richmond to be there to break the news, in his rich, reassuring baritone.

Now, when the Big One drops, I'll have to settle for Frank Somerville. Not that there's anything wrong with Frank — he's a fine reporter and anchor in his own right. But no one is Dennis Richmond.

Heck, they already named an East Bay city after the man.

Bon chance, Mr. Richmond. Thanks for all the news, good and bad. May your retirement be long, healthy, and fulfilling.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

CSI: Can't Sleep Intoxicated

CSI star Gary Dourdan got up close and personal with real-life law enforcement this morning in sunny Palm Springs.

Dourdan — recently reported to be exiting his role as crime scene investigator Warrick Brown at the end of the current season — was napping in his car when rousted by the Palm Springs gendarmerie. A search of Dourdan's vehicle turned up heroin, cocaine, Ecstasy, and various prescription drugs.

Way to go out on a high note, Gary. (Heh... "high note.")



I was sorry to hear that Dourdan was departing CSI, even though his character's screen time has been dwindling rapidly over the past few seasons. And I'm certainly sorry to hear about his current troubles, and hope the guy gets himself straightened out. He's a talented actor.

But seriously... he couldn't afford a hotel room? I know Palm Springs is a high-rent district, but Dourdan's gotta be making a chunk of change after eight years on television's top-rated drama.

I remember the first time I noticed Dourdan — costarring alongside James McCaffrey (in between stints on that classic '90s Knight Rider rip-off, Viper) in a short-lived series called Swift Justice. McCaffrey played Mac Swift, your stereotypical ex-cop, ex-Navy Seal hardcase turned private eye, while Dourdan tagged along as Mac's stereotypical streetwise police detective associate, Randall Patterson. It sounds exactly like a few dozen other shows you've seen before, but Swift Justice was a reasonably entertaining example of this well-traveled genre. McCaffrey and Dourdan shared a cool, intense Crockett-and-Tubbs sort of chemistry that made the show's handful of episodes worth watching.

Another smattering of Gary Dourdan trivia: Dourdan and his CSI costar Marg Helgenberger previously paired up in an unsold series pilot entitled Keys. The 1994 TV movie (it still turns up on cable now and again) was produced and directed by John Sacret Young, for whom Helgenberger had worked in her breakout television role, in the Vietnam drama China Beach.

Not to be confused with china white, Mr. Dourdan.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Poker's candle in the wind

Brandi Rose Hawbaker, the Britney Spears of poker, has folded her hand. Permanently.

She was only 26 years old.

Or somewhere in that vicinity.



The tragic act occurred more than a week ago, apparently, but news is only now getting around on the poker blog circuit. Brandi's suicide draws the curtain on a roller-coaster ride that seemed bizarre and outlandish even within a milieu that attracts — and thrives on — the bizarre and outlandish.

Like most poker aficionados, I first became aware of Brandi when she led the field for the first several days of Festa al Lago V, a 2006 World Poker Tour event. Although she ended up finishing a respectable 35th in the tournament (two places ahead of Jennifer Harman, widely considered the best female poker player in the world), Brandi's run as chip leader — coupled with her photogenic appeal and exhibitionist personality — sealed her date with demi-celebrity.

Attractive young women with actual talent come along in professional poker about as often as vegans dine at the Outback Steakhouse, so Brandi's advent on the scene set testosterone-fueled tongues wagging across the Internet. Sad to tell, Brandi's newfound fame came packaged with tales of self-destructive and antisocial behavior that rivaled those of Hollywood's tabloid darlings. These stories spawned persistent whispers about untreated mental illness, supported by online testimony from people close to Brandi.

The whispers, it seems, spoke at least a modicum of truth.

Neil Young once sang, "It's better to burn out than it is to rust." I'm not certain that I agree with him. Brandi Hawbaker, whether by conscious choice or karmic twist, apparently did.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore"

Sad news for the Famous Monsters of Filmland crowd: Hazel Court has died.

Yes, for real this time.



Hazel Court was an English actress who enjoyed a lengthy, if largely unspectacular, career in motion pictures and television. In the early 1950s, Court discovered her true calling, acting in low-budget horror films. She appeared as the female half of a young couple who move into a haunted house in 1952's Ghost Ship. This led to her legendary turn in the 1954 classic Devil Girl from Mars — Court played the ingenue, not the title character, in case you were confused. She was again cast as the innocent young heroine in Hammer Films' seminal The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957, and a scream-screen star was born.

In the early 1960s, Court costarred in several films produced by Roger Corman's American International Pictures, based on the twisted works of Edgar Allan Poe: The Premature Burial, in which Court played the duplicitous lover of scholarly Ray Milland; The Raven, which paired Court with a callow Jack Nicholson (yes, that Jack Nicholson) opposite terror titans Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, and Peter Lorre; and The Masque of the Red Death, perhaps Corman's most memorably Poe-etic opus, and almost certainly the best picture in Court's filmography.

Although she wasn't, to be brutally frank, an accomplished thespian, Court was attractive in that stereotypically wan, upper-crust English sort of way. Her porcelain beauty — and impressive displays of quivering cleavage — lent a certain austere charm to the films in which she starred. Without question, her performances garnered her a minuscule yet dedicated coterie of devotees, as this comprehensive fansite demonstrates.

Some years ago, when I was writing reviews for DVD Verdict, I brandished my critical pencil at an MGM double-feature disk showcasing The Premature Burial and The Masque of the Red Death. You can check out my review of these two Roger Corman masterworks (*ahem*) here.

In an odd touch of irony, just as I sat down to memorialize Ms. Court this afternoon, this T-shirt arrived in my mailbox, courtesy of the good folks at Woot!



I can't imagine a more fitting tribute.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Spitzer? I didn't even touch her!

New York Governor Eliot Spitzer just learned the danger of keeping an escort service on speed dial.

Spitzer publicly apologized today — albeit without specificity — for his involvement with a high-ticket prostitution ring targeted in a federal investigation. According to news reports, a wiretapped conversation revealed Spitzer soliciting the services of a professional companion in the employ of the ironically named Emperors Club VIP. The assignation allegedly was arranged in advance of the Governor's recent trip to the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel (possibly related to the notorious madam of similar name?) in Washington, D.C.



Can you imagine how this discovery must have played out?

I can just see some low-level FBI flunky sitting in a van wearing a Brooks Brothers suit and a set of headphones, nursing a Diet Pepsi and a bag of Cheetos, listening to the calls coming into the escort service.

Suddenly, his ears perk up. "That sounds like..."

He listens further.

"It is! That's Governor Spitzer! My career is totally made!"

And Day-Glo orange Cheeto dust goes flying everywhere.

Now here's the part that baffles me. According to the reports, Emperors Club VIP charges as much as $5,500 per hour for the services of its (ahem) staff. Call me naïve ("You're naïve!"), but seriously — what "service" could anyone possibly provide in an hour that's worth $5,500? That's practically a down payment on a house, for crying out loud.

Although, I suppose it's as that noted connoisseur of the world's oldest profession, Charlie Sheen, once remarked: "I don't pay 'em for sex — I pay 'em to go away afterward."

Unfortunately for Mr. Spitzer, he didn't pay 'em enough to use a secure phone line.

One last touch of irony: For his costly tryst, Spitzer appears to have registered at the Mayflower under the pseudonym "George Fox." Students of religious history will recall that George Fox was the founder of the Society of Friends, the sect more familiarly known as Quakers. [You can insert your own punch line here.]

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

I'm Karen for you, Valentine

Happy Valentine's Day to everyone in SSTOL-land! May you live in romantic times.

All this hearts-and-flowers talk has me wondering, though...

Whatever happened to local girl Karen Valentine?



Born and raised just around the corner from here in Sebastopol — then nationally renowned for its apple orchards (now mostly gone, as progress would have it), and later as the one-time residence of cartoonist Charles Schulz — Karen Valentine leaped into TV prominence in 1969 on the seminal academic drama Room 222. As perky, neurotic student teacher (and eventually, full-fledged faculty member) Alice Johnson, Karen quickly became one of 222's focal points.

For those of you too callow to recall, Room 222 broke significant broadcast ground back in the day. The show, set in an inner-city Los Angeles high school, boasted one of network television's first thoroughly integrated casts, headlined by African American actors Lloyd Haynes and Denise Nicholas (who was briefly married to soul singer Bill Withers). The plotlines often dealt with topical issues, such as race relations and the Vietnam War.

But let's face it: It was Karen Valentine we tuned in to see.

After 222 ended in 1974, Karen headlined a short-lived sitcom entitled — not surprisingly — Karen. She also made frequent appearances throughout the '70s as a celebrity panelist on the popular game show Hollywood Squares, before launching a decade-long career as the heroine in a skein of maudlin made-for-TV movies.

Although her IMDB listing reflects sporadic acting credits in recent years, I don't believe I've actually seen Karen in anything in 15 years or more. Unlike the remarkably similar Sally Field, who pushed beyond her youthful roles in Gidget and The Flying Nun to become a respected, Oscar-winning film actress, Karen never quite made the on-camera jump from bubbly, fresh-faced girl to mature, sophisticated adult woman.

Too bad, really.

Wherever you are, Miss Johnson, I hope you're enjoying your Valentine's Day.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Yes, I SAG, and I'm not ashamed

It would have been criminal for pop culture vultures not to watch the Screen Actors Guild Awards last night, if only because it may represent our only taste of Hollywood glitz all spring.

The SAGs received a special dispensation from the striking Writers Guild of America, eliminating picketing that would have prevented WGA-sympathetic actors (pretty much everyone in SAG) from attending, and allowing WGA members to write for the awards show without reprisal. The lack of such a waiver resulted in the cancellation of the Golden Globe ceremony earlier this month, and continues to threaten the Academy Awards.

As entertainment, the SAG Awards (called "Actors," despite the potential for ribald humor were they to be nicknamed "Saggies") usually fall somewhere between the Golden Globes and the Oscars. The SAGs lack the liquor-lubricated club atmosphere of the Globes, while being slightly less self-important and pompous than the Academy Awards. Because all of the SAG recipients are actors — no writing, directing, or technical awards here — most of the presenters and awardees are familiar faces, thus lessening the tedium somewhat. (I'm glad all of the anonymous behind-the-scenes folks get their just due at Oscar time, but I don't especially care to watch them get it.)

The SAG show always begins with several stars facing the camera and delivering brief and (supposedly) humorous summations of their careers, ending with the tagline, "I'm [STATE YOUR NAME], and I'm an actor." Some of the better riffs on this theme came this year from Sally Field ("I was in my first play when I was 12..."), Kyle MacLachlan ("I've ridden giant sandworms and tracked down Laura Palmer's killer..."), and the former Mrs. John Stamos ("I spent three films painted blue... I'm Rebecca Romijn, and I'm a model turned actor"). One of these years, I'd love to see them get a more refreshingly honest admission: "I'm Ben Affleck, and I'm stealing money pretending to be an actor."

None of the results were surprises. The cast of The Sopranos, taking their final collective bow, swept most of the TV honors. Oscar favorites Daniel Day-Lewis, Julie Christie, Javier Bardem, and Ruby Dee snagged the major film nods.

The one puzzle for me was the awarding of the Lifetime Achievement Award to Charles Durning. I mean, yes, the man has been around forever, and he's appeared in roughly half a million films and TV shows over his lengthy career. But was Durning really the most worthy possible recipient? Anyone at SAG ever heard of Nicholson, Streep, DeNiro, or Pacino? Then again, considering Durning's obviously frail condition last evening, maybe those other folks aren't close enough to death's door yet.

Speaking of death, it was nice to see that the show's producers managed to shoehorn the recently departed Heath Ledger into the annual "Everyone Who Died Since Last Year's Show" tribute montage. The Academy Awards has occasionally drawn criticism when a celebrity has passed away within a few days of the program, and the Oscar producers haven't altered the already completed memoriam, forcing the fans of the newly departed to wait an entire year to see their favorite memorialized.

For a year in which awards shows may be slim pickings, I was taken aback to see that more of the stars didn't bust out their most exciting evening wear for the SAGs. Instead, this proved to be a fairly conservative and sedate year for red carpet fashions. Viggo Mortensen outflashed most of the men in his black-with-red-pinstripes tuxedo, which, combined with his scruffy beard, gave him the air of a dissolute English pimp:



On the distaff side, Sandra Oh's strapless parachute affair, with its humongous magenta bow across the chest, probably drew the most quizzical stares:



Now let's see whether the WGA strike will resolve in time for the 80th Oscar show.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Curse you, Matt Damon

Well, it's happened yet again.

I've been passed over by People Magazine for the annual Sexiest Man Alive honors. This year, Matt Damon got the nod.

I'm so much sexier than Matt Damon, it's not even funny. Matt Damon looks like the dweeby kid brother of your best friend from high school. He's Good Will Hunting, for pity's sake.

That's the problem with America: No one knows real masculine pulchritude when they see it.

Anyway, here are the rest of the girly-men People thought were sexier than I was this year:

2. Patrick Dempsey (McBoring)
3. Ryan Reynolds (sounds like a Marvel Comics secret identity)
4. Brad Pitt (he's so two years ago)
5. James McAvoy (the wimpy doctor from The Last King of Scotland? really?)
6. Johnny Depp (is weird sexy?)
7. Dave Annable (I'll confess — I had to Google him; I'd never heard of the guy)
8. Will Smith (he got Jada's vote)
9. Javier Bardem (not fair; he's got that Latin Lothario thing going)
10. Shemar Moore (okay, yeah — he could play me in the SwanShadow biopic)

Ah, well. There's always next year.

Unless Clooney resurfaces.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Eternal nausea of the spoiled mind

It's Wednesday already, and I haven't touched SSTOL since the work week began. High time, don't you think?

Let's take a tour of the past few days' pop culture madness. You know the drill: Uncle Swan rips, you read. Onward:
  • Pretty, maybe; sexy... meh: Esquire Magazine has pronounced Charlize Theron the Sexiest Woman Alive. She doesn't do much for me (skinny and blonde is a fatal combination in my aesthetic), but I'll agree with the divine Ms. T on one thing: Reindeer Games, in which Charlize costarred with Ben Affleck, is a bad, bad, bad movie. Just knowing that the great John Frankenheimer — whose preceding film, Ronin, is one of my all-time favorites — directed this low-rent piece of trash makes Uncle Swan cry.

  • As if Oprah didn't have enough money: Oxygen, the women's cable channel cofounded by the ubiquitous Ms. Winfrey (you know, the one not called Lifetime), is being purchased by NBC Universal for $925 million. Stedman, as usual, was unavailable for comment.

  • Hey there, people, I'm Bobby Brown: Whitney Houston's ex is recovering from what's being called a "minor heart attack." That, apparently, is the new medical term for "crack overdose."

  • From the Unclear on the Concept Department: 20th Century Fox has fired director Xavier Gens for making his upcoming film Hitman — based on the gruesome video game of the same name — too violent for the studio's taste. Umm... what did they think a video game flick called Hitman was going to be like? The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh?

  • Stop me if you've heard this one before: Tom Sizemore says he's giving up drugs for good this time. "I'm not trading my whole life for some powder," says the actor, who's inhaled more dust than an army of coalminers. Yeah, I'll believe that right up until Sizemore's next arrest. Any minute now.

  • America's Got Liquor: David Hasselhoff fell off the wagon yet again. Everyone guard your cheeseburgers.

  • 48 is 24 times two: Kiefer Sutherland accepted a sentence of 48 days in the slammer following his recent DUI arrest. The deal brokered by the 24 star's legal team allows him to serve the first 18 days of the sentence during the show's holiday break in December, then the remaining 30 after the end of the season's shooting schedule. Could be worse, I guess: Kiefer's character Jack Bauer was a heroin addict a couple of seasons ago. Or was that Tom Sizemore?

  • Like a Band-Aid on the hull of the Titanic: The San Francisco Giants, still reeling after a 90-loss campaign that ended with the team mired so deep in last place they couldn't see the rest of the National League West with the Hubble Telescope, have dismissed hitting coach Joe Lefebvre and first-base coach Willie Upshaw. Given the Giants' anemic offensive production this season, I can understand firing the hitting coach. But the first-base coach? His entire job consists of swatting players on the butt when they reach base. Darn it, Willie: I warned you not to squeeze.

  • This just in: Marion Jones is marrying O.J. Simpson. She might as well — she's been doing The Juice for years. Thank you! I'm here all week!

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Doctor, my eyes!

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the video store: There's a Britney Spears sex tape floating around.

The guy who allegedly costars in the alleged amateur porn romp with the alleged former Mouseketeer says he hooked up with the Britster at the Four Seasons resort on the Big Island's Kohala Coast back in June.

"It was just normal sex, we didn't do anything crazy,"
says the Ron Jeremy wannabe. Nothing crazy, except for the video camera, I suppose.

This incessant rash of celebrity porn needs to stop, before some innocent party's retinas incur irreparable damage from beholding the wrong person in flagrante delicto. (Actually, that occurred already, after the widespread release of Dustin "Screech" Diamond's videographed sexploits.)

To this end, we offer Uncle Swan's Top Ten Celebrities Who Must Never, Ever, In the Name of All That's Decent, Get Caught Making a Sex Video:

10. Richard Belzer.

9. Ellen DeGeneres. Even if she kept the camera trained on Portia de Rossi the entire time.

8. Ryan Seacrest, or any of his American Idol cohorts.

7. The Geico Cavemen.

6. Donald Trump. Especially if his costar is Rosie O'Donnell.

5. Ralphie May.

4. Any member of the Osmond family.

3. Greta Van Susteren.

2. Abe Vigoda.

1. Joan and/or Melissa Rivers. (Ow! My retinas hurt just imagining that.)

BONUS LIST! Uncle Swan's Top Ten Celebrities Who, In All Likelihood, Have Already Made a Sex Video That You Really, Really Don't Want to See:

10. Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman.

9. Roger Ebert. (Remember, he used to hang out with Russ Meyer.)

8. Sue Johanson, the Talk Sex host.

7. The Olsen twins, either separately (ugh!) or together (double ugh!).

6. Fred Thompson and his trophy wife.

5. Andy Dick.

4. Flavor Flav and Tiffany "New York" Pollard.

3. Clint Eastwood and either Sondra Locke or Frances Fisher. (Seriously, Clint: What were you thinking, man?)

2. Gallagher.

1. Vincent Gallo and Chloë Sevigny. (Oops... too late.)

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

You wear my kufi, I'll wear your kippah

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins today at sunset.

Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, begins at precisely the same time.

Wouldn't it be awesome if all of our Jewish and Muslim friends got together this evening for dinner (kosher/halal, of course), followed by a big ol' group hug?

Well, it would.

And while my Muslim and Jewish friends are dispensing hugs, perhaps they could all give one to this guy. I think he needs a hug.

Britney could probably use one, too.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Why do they call it Hump Day, when most people make love on the weekends?

So I'm rifling through the news on this sultry Wednesday morning, and here's what leaped off the screen at me...
  • Speaking of sultry, Raquel Welch is 67 today. You gentlemen of a certain age will understand what that means. You gentlemen younger than a certain age... well, you should have been there, is all I'm saying.

  • Again speaking of sultry, Halle Berry is expecting her first child at age 41. I might be going out on a limb here, but I'll bet that's going to be one good-looking baby.

  • Former FOX and MSNBC anchor Rita Cosby's new book, Blonde Ambition: The Untold Story Behind Anna Nicole Smith's Death, alleges that Anna Nicole's baby-daddy Larry Birkhead and her attorney-slash-boyfriend Howard K. Stern were gay lovers. Lawsuits will ensue. Bill Cosby — no relation to Rita — recommended that all parties involved enjoy a Jell-O Pudding Pop and have a Coke and a smile.

  • Speaking of allegedly gay fellows named Larry, the distinguished gentleman from Idaho has decided that he may want to keep his Senate seat after all. That thud you just heard was the Republican National Committee fainting en masse.

  • Speaking of way-past-allegedly gay fellows named Larry, the Wachowski brother formerly known as Larry (as in the Wachowski Brothers of The Matrix fame) is now also formerly a Wachowski brother. He's now officially a Wachowski sister named Lana. I believe Matrix star Keanu Reeves said it best: Whoa.

  • Good to hear that Paula Cole is touring and recording again (with Mandy Moore, no less), after nearly a decade away from the music business. She's a terrific talent, and I hope her comeback brings her much success. That said, if I never had to hear "I Don't Want to Wait" again in this lifetime, that would be just dandy with me. It's tough being the father of a Dawson's Creek fanatic.

  • Not so good to hear that Kelly Clarkson is attempting to jump-start her aborted tour, previously canceled due to overwhelming ennui on the part of ticket-buying America, by playing smaller halls. You are so over, Miss Thing. Maybe you and Justin can still hang out.

  • They still love him in France: Jerry Lewis took another stumble down the long, dark road toward oblivion during his annual Labor Day telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, when he dropped the f-pejorative in a joke about a cameraman's gay family member on live TV. This is the same Jerry who, in a televised interview following the death of entertainment icon Merv Griffin, opined that Merv "deserved to die" from prostate cancer, because he didn't seek earlier and more aggressive treatment. Can you arrange to let him keep the change for his kids?

  • A friend gave the following report about Mary-Kate Olsen's recent adventures at a trendy New York nightclub: "Mary-Kate was wearing a see-through green dress. She was completely wasted, she was humping and grinding against a column with another girl. Then she was flailing all over the dance floor. Later, Mary-Kate made out with various questionable men while friends took pictures. She then fell over onto a table and proceeded to break every glass on the table before toppling over onto everyone sitting behind her." See what happens when you don't eat properly, kids? Your brain turns into Cream of Wheat.

  • This couldn't possibly be a worse casting decision: Nicolas Cage as Magnum, P.I.?

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Tuesday turkey trot

Uncle Swan here, blazing through a barrage of lightning-quick thoughts, observations, and emotional outbursts. Steady as she goes, Captain.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Musical Monday

It's a toasty July Monday here in Wine Country, and for whatever reason, everything in the news today reminds me of the lyrics of an old pop song. I'll show you what I mean...
  • Would Jesus wear a Rolex on His television show? For the second time in two weeks, someone who figured prominently in a research paper I wrote in college has shuffled off this mortal coil: first porn magnate Jim Mitchell; now Tammy Faye Messner, once better known as Tammy Faye Bakker, co-ringleader of the disgraced (no pun intended) TV ministry The PTL Club. And no, it wasn't the same paper — I wrote my senior thesis on televangelism.

  • You probably think this song is about you — don't you? Lindsay Lohan is bragging to friends about how she "teased those boys" in rehab by walking around the facility stark naked. At the same time, she's seeking legal assistance to ensure that nude photos taken by a former flame never see the light of day, fearing the pics might "ruin her career." Hey, Linds: Get over yourself. Soon. It's your asinine behavior — on and off set — that's going to slam-dunk your career, not a few salty Polaroids. Oh, and before you imagine that the entire world is eager to behold your bony frame in the altogether, I have a word for you: Cheeseburger.

  • I just had to look, having read the book. Were you among the legions hanging out on your local bookseller's doorstep at midnight Saturday, eager to snatch up your copy of the final installment in the Harry Potter saga? If so, then you, friend reader, need a life. Or a significant other. Or both. Rumor has it that J.K. Rowling is scouring the list of potential Potter titles I posted in this space a couple of years ago, just in case she gets a future urge to score another several million pounds.

  • Oh, Mandy — you came and you gave without taking. No one should be surprised that Criminal Minds star Mandy Patinkin abruptly quit the hit crime series just as filming was about to begin for the show's third season. Teleholics will recall that Patinkin pulled a similar stunt a decade ago, when he walked off the set of the medical drama Chicago Hope. Thomas Gibson, who costarred with Patinkin on both Minds and Hope, has got to be wondering what he did to deserve this. (Two words, Thomas: Jenna Elfman.)

  • Hello, Daddy, hello, Mom; I'm your ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb! Tony Award-winning stage actress Cherry Jones, probably most familiar to audiences as Matt Damon's mother in Ocean's Twelve, has signed to portray newly elected President Allison Taylor on the seventh season of 24. Let's hope she fares better as POTUS than Geena Davis did on the short-lived Commander in Chief. (Davis, incidentally, is rumored to be CBS's top choice to replace the aforementioned Mr. Patinkin.)

  • When you get that notion, put your backfield in motion. Speaking of POTUS, there was good news and bad news from the White House this past weekend. The good news: Doctors pronounced the polyps removed from President Bush's colon 100% cancer-free. The bad news: George W. will continue to be a cancer in everyone else's butt for another year and a half.

  • Well, I spent some time in the Mudville Nine, watchin' it from the bench. A truly sad story from minor league baseball: Mike Coolbaugh, first base coach for the Tulsa Drillers — the Colorado Rockies' AA affiliate — was struck in the head and killed yesterday by a line drive off the bat of teammate Tino Garcia. Coolbaugh played briefly in the majors earlier in this decade, with both the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals. He had taken the coaching position with the Drillers only three weeks ago. He leaves behind a wife and two children, with another baby due in October. Tragic.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

And you thought this only happened to Katie Holmes

Call it Identity Theft, NC-17.

A Houston woman named Kristen Syvette Wimberly is suing her former high school BFF, Lara Madden, who has built herself a tidy little career in adult films using the nom de porn Syvette Wimberly.

I think you can see the problem here.



The faux Syvette Wimberly (pictured above, in a rare fully clothed moment) has appeared in about a dozen motion pictures "for more mature audiences" made by porn entrepreneurs Vivid Entertainment, also named as defendants in the lawsuit. Predictably, Vivid management declined comment on the pending legal action.

The real Syvette Wimberly claims that the misappropriation of her handle for lascivious purposes has resulted in "humiliation, embarrassment, loss of enjoyment of life, emotional distress, mental anguish and anxiety."

Not to mention 20 or 30 blind dates, and numerous proposals of marriage.

I guess I'm fortunate that, to the best of my knowledge — not that I've done extensive research in this area, mind you — no male porn star has ever used my name as a pseudonym. That would be a huge burden to bear. So to speak.

Let this be a lesson to you expectant parents: If you give your child a name that sounds like a stripper or a porno queen — say, Syvette Wimberly — expect to see it splashed across a lurid DVD case someday.

Just hope that the photo next to the name isn't your daughter's.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

What's Up With That? #45: Baby, we were born to run

Sometimes, it's the little asides in a news story that catch my attention.



If you're a fan of American Idol — and perhaps even if you aren't — you've heard about the firestorm of controversy swirling around Idol contestant Antonella Barba (or "Barbarella," as I like to call her). As the Associated Press story goes, photographs of Ms. Barba can presently be viewed at various sites around this here Internet, showing the wannabe superstar topless on the beach, seated on the toilet, and — in some pictures whose veracity is apparently in dispute — engaged in activities that one does not discuss on a for-public-consumption blog like yours truly.

Personally, I couldn't care less about seeing Barbarella in flagrante delicto. It's bad enough that I have to listen to her uninspired attempts at vocal magic on Idol every week, until she gets voted off. I was, however, intrigued by this comment from Mark Dillon, a 17-year-old resident of Antonella's home town, Point Pleasant, New Jersey:
It's the way this town is: Everybody knows everything about their friends. At least half the people in this town have pictures of their friends on the toilet. I've personally seen at least 20. It's only because she’s on TV that they’re online.
Did I understand that correctly?

More than half the residents of Point Pleasant, New Jersey own pictures of their friends sitting on the toilet?

What the Jersey devil kind of town is this?

According to the city's official Web site, Point Pleasant has a population of 18,177. If young Mark Dillon speaks the truth, at least 9,088 of these folks are in possession of photographic evidence of their friends' excretory habits. If one extrapolates logically, it's fair to say that most, if not indeed all, of Point Pleasant's residents can therefore be observed with their trousers around their ankles, if one knows the right computers to search.

To which I can only say: Ewwww.

How did this peculiar local habit get started? Do Point Pleasanters take their own toilet photos, and then circulate them to their pals? Do they take toilet snapshots of each other? Is there a trading system? Do some folks' potty pics garner higher trade value than others? Do people in Point Pleasant emblazon their Christmas cards with images of themselves on the porcelain throne, instead of the family portraits common elsewhere in the U.S.?

Perhaps this isn't just a local phenomenon. Is this practice common where you live, gentle reader? Do you own pictures of your friends on the toilet? And, more importantly, do they have such pictures of you?

Your Uncle Swan wants to know.

He prefers, however, not to see.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Taking good care of the English Patient

Now we know why Qantas was Rain Man's favorite airline.

Giving new meaning to the term "Down Under," a female Qantas flight attendant proved to actor Ralph Fiennes that her idea of passenger service included more than a bag of pretzels and a magazine. Former police officer Lisa Robertson joined Fiennes in the lavatory and welcomed the two-time Oscar nominee to the Mile-High Club during a January 24 jaunt from Darwin, Australia, to Mumbai.



Says Robertson — who has since been terminated by the airline — "I was a bit shocked that he didn't wear a condom."

If that's the only thing that shocks you, Lisa, you must not have been paying attention. Of course, the fact that Fiennes went to India specifically to promote HIV awareness suggests that perhaps the prophylactically deficient Ralph hasn't been reading the literature.



When the story of her celebrity coffee-tea-or-me first broke, Robertson told Qantas officials that she had rebuffed Fiennes's water closet advances, and that nothing really happened between her and the lecherous Lord Voldemort. Now, Lisa admits that "she was the sexual aggressor," according to Fiennes's publicist.

In case any of you ladies were curious, Robertson reports that King Ralph "is a great lover." That's handy to know, in the event that you, as I, have dozed off during any of the somnolence-inducing flicks Fiennes has starred in over the past decade.

At least we know the man can generate a little excitement, given the right circumstances.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Nothing compares 2 Britney

Apparently, Britney Spears's new fashion idol is Sinéad O'Connor.



The Britster popped into a tattoo parlor in the San Fernando Valley last night, sporting a freshly chromed dome.

According to the tattoo artist who applied the new ink, Britney added a pair of lips to her wrist.

I'm not convinced that the bald look is really Britney. Next thing you know, she'll be on Saturday Night Live, shredding a photo of the Pope.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Canceled permanently: The Anna Nicole Show

Just when you thought her bizarre life story couldn't possibly get any more strange...

Anna Nicole Smith is dead at age 39.

The news is just landing on the 'Net as I type, but it appears that the one-time centerfold and reality TV star collapsed and died at the Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, Florida, where she had been staying since the beginning of the week.



Anna Nicole lived out a biography that would sound like pure fiction if you saw it in a TV movie on Lifetime. The Houston native with the million-dollar bust rose from humble beginnings as a teenaged bride named Vickie Lynn Hogan who shook her twin moneymakers for cash in topless clubs, to Playboy's Playmate of the Year in 1993. She became a national media presence as the spokesmodel for Guess jeans (and more recently, the weight-loss supplement Trimspa), and international tabloid fodder when she married 89-year-old billionaire J. Howard Marshall II in 1994.

When Marshall died — no surprise — the following year, Anna Nicole became embroiled in a decade-long legal wrangle with Marshall's son over the dead tycoon's estate. She appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court last May, as the Nine Old Folks reinstated a California judgment that gave Anna Nicole at least partial rights to the Marshall fortune. A month later, Marshall's son died.

Five years ago, Anna Nicole threw open the curtains on her personal life in the E! Channel reality series, The Anna Nicole Show. America watched as the platinum bombshell careened through her storied existence like a drunken bull in Tiffany's.

Last September, Anna Nicole's 20-year-old son Daniel died under mysterious circumstances in his mother's hotel room in the Bahamas. Only three days earlier, Anna Nicole had given birth to a baby daughter, Dannielynn, whose paternity remains the subject of controversy. Now, Anna Nicole herself has gone to join her beloved boy in that big fried chicken joint in the hereafter.

No doubt, we'll hear much more (more, probably, than we'll want) about Ms. Smith's untimely departure in the days and weeks to come. Like her idols Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield before her, she made a sudden — and early — exit.

Perhaps as much as any other human being one could name, Anna Nicole Smith epitomized the time-honored axiom: Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse.

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Newsom knew some, in the Biblical sense

The hot news here in the Bay Area centers around the resignation of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's reelection campaign manager, who decided to hand in his walking papers after he learned that the mayor had been slipping his wife a little "San Francisco treat," if you know what I mean, and I think you do.



Imagine: A guy getting all bent out of shape over something trivial like that.



As reported by the Chronicle this morning (and confirmed by the mayor himself at a press conference that ended moments ago), Newsom had an affair with Ruby Rippey-Tourk — at the time, his appointment secretary — about a year and a half ago. This was during the period when Newsom and his then-wife, FOX News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, were divorcing. Ruby's husband, Alex Tourk, has been one of the Gav's right-hand men for most of his political career. Several news reports indicate that the Gavin/Ruby tryst was pretty much an open secret at City Hall — everyone in the building knew who was zooming whom, except for the cuckolded Alex. But then, the husband is always the last to know.

Ruby apparently outed herself and Gavin to hubby as part of her 12-step rehabilitation for a substance abuse problem. I guess it's true what they say about those addict chicks.

I also suppose this clears up any lingering questions about the Gav's sexual orientation.

The best thing about the Newsom story for me is that Ruby Rippey used to be a news reporter at our local TV station, KFTY-50 in Santa Rosa. Whenever she came on, KJ and I used to have a good chuckle over her oddly alliterative name.

It certainly seems that the mayor gets around a lot, to put it mildly. Just a few months ago, we were hearing about his relationship with a 20-year-old coed at our hometown institution of higher education, Sonoma State University. The story was that when Gavin and his youthful hottie showed up at the grand opening of San Francisco's Westfield Center, it was apparent to those present that the young lady had been drinking, despite the fact that the legal imbibing age in California is 21.

Rumor has it that Ruby Rippey-Tourk (say that three times fast) may have a sexual harassment lawsuit against her former employer/paramour in the pipeline. Won't that trial be fun?

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Dude, your grandma's hot

Lovefilm.com — which, for the benefit of our North American readers, is the European equivalent of Netflix — polled its site visitors to determine the sexiest screen stars over the age of 50.

In a mild upset, Helen Mirren (age 61) edged perennial favorite Sophia Loren (72) and runners-up Meryl Streep (a relatively fresh 57), Judi Dench (72), and Diane Keaton (61) in the distaff race. Among male stars, Jack Nicholson (69) topped his fellow sagging stallions Sean Connery (76), Robert Redford (70), Clint Eastwood (76), and Danny Glover (a mere pup at 60).



What I find interesting about the ladies on this list — you knew I'd focus there, because that's how I roll — is that with the possible exception of screen siren Loren, all of these women have always been more widely recognized for their acting talents than their pulchritude. For example, Meryl Streep may well be the greatest American actress in cinema history, but she wasn't considered a sex goddess even in her younger days. (Anyone who ever saw Streep opposite Robert De Niro in Falling in Love — perhaps one of the worst romances in movie history — knows why.) The same could be said of Judi Dench on the other side of the pond.

Had I voted in this poll, Annette O'Toole (Superman's girlfriend-turned-mom is 54, in case you were curious) would have been at the top of my ballot. That Michael McKean is one lucky fellow.



Oh, by the way...

Annette asked me to remind you that today is National Gorilla Suit Day.



A little hot monkey love would not be inappropriate. Especially with someone over 50.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Not to be confused with the Perky Awards

I always chuckle — for two reasons — when the Screen Actors Guild Awards are handed out each year.

Reason One: The SAG Award is formally known as the "Actor." This is, without contest, the least imaginative award title in an industry that prides itself on cleverness and invention. Hmm... an award given to actors, by actors, for acting. What the heck — let's just call it the Actor, and be done with it.

Reason Two: The SAG Awards are pretty much the only occasion when you can use the word "sag" and have women take it as a compliment. In fact, given the universal eschewing of brassieres by the female attendees, they might as well call the awards the Saggies. Not only would the title fit, but it would look as though someone involved had a sense of humor.

Right, Marg Helgenberger?



What makes the Saggies — I thought of it, I might as well put it to good use — interesting to watch is the fact that, because all of the awards are given to actors, we only have to see the people onstage whom we tune in to watch. Let's fact it — no one outside of the winners' immediate families enjoys seeing some writer, producer, or composer pick up a statuette at the Academy Awards. It's the actors — of both male and female varieties, dressed to the nines — we want to check out. The SAG Awards give us all of the meat with none of the filler, so to speak.

The SAG Awards also are the only Hollywood honors that acknowledge the collective talents of an entire ensemble of actors. To win Best Picture at the Oscars, a film has to hit on all cylinders — great cast, great script, great direction. At the Saggies, since only the acting counts, a film or TV show can be recognized for the overall excellence of its cast, even if the other facets of the production aren't up to the same lofty standard. (Hence the Saggie for the actors in Little Miss Sunshine, a picture that no one in his or her right mind believes will win the biggest Oscar prize.) It's a concept I'm surprised that neither the Oscars, nor the Emmys, nor the Golden Globes have embraced.

So who won the individual Saggies, you ask? All of the frontrunners for the Academy's film acting categories picked up hardware: Helen Mirren, Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Hudson, and Eddie Murphy. Could this actually be the year that three of the four top acting Oscars go to African American performers?

In the television categories, the favorite suspects — House's Hugh Laurie, Ugly Betty's America Ferrera, and 30 Rock's Alec Baldwin — bagged three of the four Actors. The one wild card was Chandra Wilson of Grey's Anatomy, who seemed as stunned as anyone else in the room when her name was called for Best Female Actor in a Drama Series.

The Lifetime Achievement Actor (also known as the "Aren't You Dead Yet?" Award) went to Julie Andrews — who, thankfully, neither removed her top (anyone remember S.O.B.?) nor attempted to sing.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Brandy, you're a fine girl, but a lousy driver

Brandy — noted pop singer, sitcom star, and David Hasselhoff sidekick — was reportedly involved in a freeway accident last month in which a 38-year-old mother of two was killed.

According to the muckrakers at TMZ.com, Brandy told witnesses at the scene that the crash, in which Brandy's 2007 Land Rover apparently rear-ended the Toyota driven by the deceased victim, was her fault.



Brandy's publicist released this statement today:
Brandy was involved in a car accident December 30, 2006 in Los Angeles, where there was a fatality. She wishes to publicly express her condolences to the family of the deceased. Brandy asks that you respect the privacy of everyone involved at this time.
Reading the subtext:
Brandy hopes the deceased's family doesn't sue her britches off before a financial settlement can be reached.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Do you take one Golden Globe, or two?

Just for the record: My globes are not golden — they're frozen.

It's 24 degrees Fahrenheit this morning, here in what's supposed to be balmy northern California. Yes, I realize that those of you in the Midwest who have icicles dangling from your noses are thinking that 24 degrees sounds like a vacation in Jamaica. But for us warm-climate pantywaists, this is wicked cold.

Speaking of 24: Is there a compelling reason why the second half of the four-hour season premiere always gets scheduled opposite the Golden Globe Awards? Someone in Hollywood hates me. (Not you, Trebek. We have an understanding.)



At any rate, those funloving folks at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association handed out their annual Golden Globes last night. Among the highlights of the mutual admiration society banquet:
  • The easiest win of the night had to be Forest Whitaker's triumph for Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama. When two of the other nominees in an acting category are Leonardo DiCaprio (for both Blood Diamond and The Departed), the third is Peter O'Toole in a movie no one heard of, much less saw, and the fourth is Will Smith — an underrated actor, but no Forest Whitaker — heck, I could have won if I'd made a movie last year.

  • From the What Were They Thinking? Department: Sacha Baron Cohen winning Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Comedy for Borat. I'm guessing it was because Cohen was essentially playing a member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

  • Is it just my imagination, or does Renée Zellweger always look as though she smells something nasty?



  • I know they've both won practically everything it's possible for an actress to win, but it still felt good to see Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren pull down the Best Actress awards for film comedy and drama, respectively. Nice to see that someone recognizes that talented women remain worthy of great film roles past the age of 35.

  • So how do you feel if you're the great Jack Nicholson, nominated for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama, and you lose to Eddie Murphy? Knowing Jack, you're probably too blotto to care.

  • Speaking of saucy Jack, his daughter Lorraine served the honors as Miss Golden Globe. (Every year, the HFPA selects a second-generation starlet to hand the trophies to the presenters on stage. Such later luminaries as Laura Dern, Joely Fisher, and Melanie Griffith started their careers as Miss Golden Globe.) A word of advice to young Ms. Nicholson: No matter what Dad's ex-girlfriend Lara Flynn Boyle tells you, hon, a cheeseburger now and again ain't gonna kill you.

  • Congratulations to former American Idol also-ran Jennifer Hudson, who netted what will surely be the first of multiple awards for her performance in Dreamgirls. Take that, Simon Cowell!

  • Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima won as Best Foreign Language Film. Later, California Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger hobbled out on crutches to display his award-winning form as Best Foreign Language Politician.

  • Warren Beatty received the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award. Mr. Shampoo gave a ludicrous, rambling acceptance speech — I think he'd been chugging cocktails with Paula Abdul before the show — that seemed to last a lifetime, or at least as long as a Cecil B. DeMille spectacular.

  • House's Hugh Laurie capped his memorable acceptance speech from last year with yet another brilliant spiel when he returned for his second Best Actor, TV Drama trophy. They should let Laurie win every year, just to see whether he can keep topping himself. The guy should hire out to coach the other nominees on how to deliver a killer speech.

  • Nice to see both Kyra (One Degree from Kevin Bacon) Sedgwick and America (the Beautiful) Ferrera snag the TV Best Actress awards. Not only because they're talented performers who deserve the accolades, but also because it gave them the opportunity to step out of their plain-Jane TV roles and let the world see how gorgeous they really are. Both Sedgwick and Ferrera seemed genuinely excited and grateful to have won, and I, for one, was happy for them.

  • On the subject of America Ferrera, was I the only person in the audience not surprised that Ugly Betty scored the Best TV Comedy award? Remember who the voters in this venue are — foreign journalists. Ugly Betty is based on a telenovela that's been a huge hit in Latin America. It was probably the most easily relatable show in the category for many members of the HFPA.

  • Three of my favorite current TV series — Heroes, Big Love, and the aforementioned 24 — were nominated in the Best TV Drama category. All lost to the pretentious soap opera claptrap that is Grey's Anatomy. I told you Hollywood hates me.
And now, we present SSTOL's annual Golden Globe Fashion Awards:
  • What's Up With That Dress? Award: It's a tie! Our first honoree is Cameron Diaz, who not only dunked her head in a bucket of Shinola before the event, but also came disguised as either a Swiffer duster or a marine tube worm, I'm not sure which.



    Not to be outdone, nominee Rinko Kikuchi (Best Supporting Actress for Babel) appeared in a frock that looked as though she was preparing to stuff an truckload of pink aspirin bottles.



  • What's Up With That Suit? Award: Jeremy Irons, who apparently could not be bothered to change out of his bathrobe and pajamas to pick up his Golden Globe.



  • The "She's Not My Granddaughter, She's My Wife" Award: Media mogul Rupert Murdoch, proving yet again that a fat wallet and Viagra trump youth and good looks any day of the week, and especially on the red carpet. The hand that robs the cradle is the hand that rules the world.



  • Giving New Meaning to the Term "Golden Globes" (also known as the Drew Barrymore Award): We'll let the people decide. Dreamgirls' Beyoncé Knowles?



    Or Heroes' Ali Larter?



    Oh, what the hey — let's make it a two-fer.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

All your base are belong to me

Hey! I just found out that I've been named Time Magazine's Person of the Year!

All I can say is: It's about time (no pun intended) that the world acknowledged my inherent magnificence.

Go me.

This almost makes up for my being passed over every year for the past two decades as People Magazine's Sexiest Man Alive.

Almost.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I see London, I see France

To absolutely no one's surprise, the hottest Google search at this moment in history is for those infamous photographs of Britney Spears's unclad nether regions, shot surreptitiously during the Britster's recent night on the town with Paris Hilton, another party girl who's also been known to leave her drawers in the drawer, if you catch my drift.

Now, persons of genuine taste and discernment don't want to get snapshot in public with their erogenous zones flapping in the breeze. Let's be honest, though: Hollywood is a notoriously trend-intensive town. As soon as the rest of the Show Biz Kids catch wind (snicker!) of the attention Brit and Paris are attracting with their knickers-free shenanigans, everyone will be hanging their stuff out there for the paparazzi to capture.

To capitalize on this phenomenon, the online sports betting service BetUS.com has posted odds as to the next celebrity whose private parts will be circulating on the 'Net. In case you're interested in getting a little action down, here are a few of the current overs on the lack of unders (reported, of course, for entertainment purposes only), straight from the BetUS.com tote board:
  • Tara Reid or Janet, Miss Jackson If You're Nasty: 2 to 1.
  • Nicole Richie: 3 to 1.
  • One of the Bush twins (no pun intended): 4 to 1.
  • Jessica Simpson or Lindsay Lohan: 5 to 1.
  • Pink (again, no pun intended): 10 to 1.
  • Madonna or Eva Longoria: 20 to 1.
  • Halle Berry or Angelina Jolie: 50 to 1.
  • Chelsea Clinton (yikes!): also 50 to 1.
What's truly frightening about this egregious fad is that any number of B-, C-, and D-list celebs might resort to a bit of flash and dash in an attempt to drum up support for their flagging careers — including many whom no one (and we do mean no one) would want to see trying this stunt at home, or anywhere else for that matter.

As a public service, SSTOL's crack staff (hee!) has compiled a list of women who absolutely, positively, ought never to get caught going commando:
  • First Lady Laura Bush.
  • Oprah Winfrey.
  • Katie Couric.
  • Roseanne.
  • Either Laverne or Shirley.
  • The two ambiguously gay women from the Yoplait yogurt commercials.
  • Joan Rivers.
  • Melissa Rivers.
  • Pretty much anyone named Rivers.
  • Martha Stewart.
  • Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
  • Senator Hillary Clinton. Or any other member of the U.S. Senate.
  • Sue Johanson, the Talk Sex lady.
  • Bea Arthur.
  • Courtney Love (oops, too late).

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Curses, foiled again!

What?

I got passed over for People's Sexiest Man Alive again?

How could this happen? This is an injustice — a heinous, barefaced travesty, I say! How on earth could they rule that any other man on the planet is sexier than I am? How could...

Eh?

What's that?

George Clooney?

Oh.

Hmm.

Well.

Forget I said anything.

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Monday, August 14, 2006

40 is the new 28

Halle Berry, Academy Award-winning thespian (I said thespian, you wag) and arguably one of the world's most beautiful women — definitely the world's most beautiful woman named Halle — turns 40 today.



Man, I hope I look anywhere near that terrific when I turn 40.

What?

I'm how old?

Oh.

Never mind.

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Monday, May 22, 2006

How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?

Those laugh-a-minute folks at PETA have named music superstar Prince and actress Kristen Bell, star of the TV series Veronica Mars, as the world's sexiest vegetarians.

Now there's an oxymoron for you:

Sexy vegetarians.

Insert your own meat-eating punch line here.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I'm too sexy for this list

Apparently disproving the shopworn notion that everyone's attractive to someone, the Boston Phoenix independent newspaper has proclaimed comedian Gilbert Goffried, he of the perpetual squint and sandpaper voice, as the world's unsexiest man.

Others honored (if that's the right word) in the Phoenix's bottom five of masculine pulchritude include baseball pitcher Randy "The Big Unit" Johnson, film critic Roger Ebert, television shrink Dr. Phil McGraw, and news-talk maven Alan Colmes.

The Phoenix list goes all the way to 100. Therefore, there's plenty of room for such gentlemen of obviously questionable attraction as Wallace Shawn (#12), Carrot Top (#16), Rush Limbaugh (#42), Andy Dick (#47), and Ralph Nader (#94). Brad Pitt makes the list at #100, thanks to his allegedly poor personal hygiene.

I'm just grateful they missed me.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

I'm ready for my sex scene, Mr. DeMille

Europe's leading DVD rental service, Lovefilm (think Netflix with an accent), has released the results of its latest poll, in which film fans were asked to choose the sexiest scenes in film history.

As a public service — because he's civic-minded that way — your Uncle Swan counts down the top 10, along with his expert opinion on each of the finalists. (Expert on film, of course. What did you think I was an expert in?)

10. The Hunger. Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon in what most likely is the most famous lesbian vampire make-out sequence in the history of the movies. Sarandon may well be Hollywood's sexiest major actress, and Deneuve one of Europe's all-time beauty queens. Vampire women aren't my cup of aphrodesiac, especially — how turned on can you be by someone who wants to drain the blood from your body and transform you into one of the undead? But if that's your kink, you couldn't go far wrong with these two.

9. Mulholland Drive. Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring steam up the screen. I'm beginning to detect a pattern here. Must be something about seeing two beautiful women getting jiggy that really ignites viewers' fantasies. Male viewers, I presume, though I may be wrong about that. Personally, I thought the film was overrated, but Watts and Harring (she of Lambada: The Forbidden Dance) are definitely memorable.

8. The Fabulous Baker Boys. Michelle Pfeiffer sings "Makin' Whoopie" while crawling on her belly like a reptile all over a grand piano. This one would be at or near the top of my personal list, despite the fact that I don't find Michelle Pfeiffer all that attractive. She wrings every ounce of seduction out of that song, though. And that red dress should be in the Smithsonian.

7. Rear Window. James Stewart is awakened by a passionate kiss from Grace Kelly. You wouldn't necessarily think of Hitchcock and sexy in the same sentence, but this scene does the job. Hitchcock had a legendary fetish for icy blondes, but there's very little frigid about the future Princess Grace here.

6. Wild Things. The infamous car-washing scene featuring Denise Richards and Neve Campbell. In the words of Austin Powers, "Yeah, baby!" If Denise Richards could act, she'd be dangerous. She can't, of course. But what if?

5. Cruel Intentions. More girl-on-girl smooching, this time with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Selma Blair. Cruel Intentions — a latter-day Brat Pack retooling of Les Liaisons Dangereuses — is the kind of film that makes you want to shower before you watch it, while you're watching it, and after you've watched it. The characters are so thoroughly reprehensible that finding any of them sexy overextends my tolerance for ickiness. And this from someone who enjoyed both Valmont and Dangerous Liaisons, which are based on the same material. Adults behaving like sexual vultures is one thing. With teenagers, it's altogether different.

4. Betty Blue. A scene starring French actress Beatrice Dalle. I must confess that I haven't seen this one. But then, I'm not much for Francophilia.

3. Out of Sight. George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez locked together in a trunk. Another that would be on my list. It's not even a sex scene — it's literally two people talking as they're locked in a trunk. The way Clooney and J-Lo play it, though, it's smokin'. Out of Sight is, incidentally, a terrific film, and remains my favorite of Clooney's screen roles despite my fondness for Ocean's Eleven.

2. Brokeback Mountain. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal give the expression "cowboy up" a whole new twist. I haven't seen this yet, but I've seen plenty of other films starring either Ledger (I'm one of the rare film snobs who actually likes A Knight's Tale) and Gyllenhaal (who will always be Donnie Darko to me). Nothing in any of those movies makes me long to see these two guys engrossed in a liplock. But then, I'm funny that way. Or not. Depending on how you look at it.

1. Secretary. Speaking of Gyllenhaals, Jake's sister Maggie takes top honors getting her fanny spanked by James Spader. Brilliantly written, acted, and directed though it is, Secretary may be the most disturbed mainstream film (if indeed it can be called such) I've ever witnessed. What does it say about modern society that the scene considered the sexiest in cinematic history depicts a pathologically submissive woman being physically abused — albeit willingly — by a dominant male authority figure with sadistic tendencies? Wait... don't answer that. I probably don't want to know.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Happy happy joy joy

Happy Mardi Gras to those of you for whom that has significance. For others of us, every Tuesday is Fat Tuesday.

While we're in a celebratory mood, Happy Birthday to actress Rae Dawn Chong, who is not at all fat this Tuesday, but is most definitely phat every Tuesday. Who knew that stoned-out Tommy Chong would have something incredible like this locked away in his genetic code?



And Happy Fifth Birthday to my personal assistant Abby, who wishes I would just stop typing and give her a Milk-Bone, or better still, a crouton or tortilla chip. But I can't give her too many, or she'll get fat.

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