Friday, June 16, 2006

I teach hip-hop down at the center

The Jessica Alba movie "Honey" is so full of specific cultural references that one almost needs a map to keep up. Alba (with her Gap-ad soulfulness) plays Honey, a dancer discovered at a club who becomes a darling of the NY hip-hop video making community.

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Did you know there's a difference between the dancing done in clubs and the dancing that kids do in alleys? I couldn't tell a difference, except one involves more spinning on the head.

There's also a storyline invoving Honey's attempt to open a dance center in her working-class Bronx neighborhood to get kids off the streets. Honey and her crew from the center throw together a benefit (which in the movie is 5 minutes long) to raise money, and the movie ends in a riot of cheering and feel-goodedness.

While Alba could be fun in a goofball epic like "Fantastic 4," she's not cut out for even this cookie-cutter melodrama in which she has to play a normal (though incredibly hot) person. The actor playing the video director who gives Honey a break is completely charisma free, and the talented Joy Bryant is wasted as Honey's best friend. Don't say you weren't warned. (image-mesfilms)

Friday, June 09, 2006

Zooey

My crush on Zooey Deschanel continues thanks to "Eulogy," though I wish the movie were better. Of all the movies where a man falls out of a tree and lands on a car in which Debra Winger is having lesbian sex,this one's the best.

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"Eulogy" concerns a family coming together at the death of the patriarch (Rip Torn, underused). The siblings (Ray Romano, Hank Azaria, Kelly Preston, Winger) all have their beefs with Dad, and all the actors are encouraged to ham it up as much as possible. Also in the cast is Famke Janssen as the partner of Preston's character. Janssen has way more to do here than she did in the latest "X-Men" movie.

Follow the above link to read about Zooey in the much better and weirder "Winter Passing." I haven't decided whether Z. is a great actress, but she does brighten up everything she's in. That's something. I really wrote this because I wanted to post this cool picture.

(image - tedstrong.com)

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Faithful Spy

Looking for a good summer beach read? I recommend "The Faithful Spy" by Alex Berenson, a thriller with a thought-provoking and ultra-topical premise.

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John Wells is a CIA agent under deep cover with al Qaeda. (That's meeting bin Laden deep cover) His superiors at the CIA have largely forgotten or dismissed him, especially in light of 9.11 . Wells is finally sent to the US as part of an elaborate terrorist scheme, he makes contact with the CIA but is treated as a traitor. The only thing he can do is try, on his own, to prevent another attack on US soil.

There's one more thing: Wells has converted to Islam. In addition to being a critique of how the CIA uses human intelligence "The Faithful Spy" looks at the differences between cultures, not just religion. The book's website is here.

Friday, June 02, 2006

'Big Love'

I'm very conflicted about the HBO series "Big Love," which airs its season finale on Sunday. For those not in the know, "Big Love" is the story of Bill Hendrickson (Bill Paxton).

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Bill owns 2 successful home repair stores in Utah and by all accounts would appear to be living "the American Dream." Except for one thing. Bill has been married for years to the lovely Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn) but is ALSO married to Nicki (Chloe Sevigny) and Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin). All three wives know of each other's existence and the family lives in three houses with a common backyard. That's right, polygamy.

Much of the story revolves around Bill's battle with Roman (Harry Dean Stanton), the "prophet" who uses Bill's stores for an infusion of cash at his rural compound. Roman has even more wives, including a teenager who gushes about her "pre-marriage placement" with the prophet.

We don't get too much backstory about Bill. We do know he was on the streets in his teens, an anti-polygamy activist who underwent a conversion when Barb almost died of cancer (Nicki, who is Roman's daughter, took care of her). The wives have their share of sisterly spats, but there's a great deal of gushing about how everyone is "linked in eternity."

But here's the point: all three women are completely subservient to Bill and only Barb works outside the home. Bill lives in a world where there are apparently no blacks, Jews, or gays; and he gets to go home every night and sleep with one of three willing women. The Hendrickson family is obviously driven by deep religious conviction, but the writers can't go too far down that road without alienating the audience.

"Big Love" will return for season 2, and I wonder if the show will play with the idea that Bill and Roman are really two sides of the same coin. HBO is no stranger to shows with unsympathetic main characters. If they don't explore the same territory with "Big Love<" then a flag of surrender has been waved in the culture wars.