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We Are Siamese, If You Please

Walt Disney has a lot to answer for – and I’m not talking about secret Nazi affiliations or cryogenics. Ever since bringing Tristan home from the hospital, one of the most common questions we are asked is how are our cats reacting.

This is not your garden variety, “how are the pets doing?” question either. Why? Because our two kitties are Siamese. Ever since Lady and the Tramp came out in 1955, the relationship between babies and Siamese cats have been tainted. In the film, Si and Am prowl about Lady’s house, wreaking havoc and terrorizing the goldfish. Hearing a newborn they head up the stairs, singing:
Do you hear what I hear?
Ahhhhrr... a baby cry!
Where we finding baby
There are milk nearby!
If we look in baby buggy
There could be
Plenty milk for you,
And also some for me.
I am here to refute this uncalled for slur against the gentle, albeit loud, Siamese. Our boys have been nothing but friendly. Of course our friend’s Siamese is a crazed beast who makes Bucky Cat look like an, um… pussy. I wouldn’t let him anywhere near my kid. But I’m sure it’s just an exception to the rule.

Here is the clip, in Japanese for extra weirdness.

I Only Want What I Can't Have

Champagne corks must have been popping when U.S. theatre chains started banning Death of a President from their screens. The controversial film, which looks back at the future fictional assassination of George W. Bush in a faux documentary, has been shut out of three major chains – over 16,000 theatres.

There’s nothing like telling people you can’t see something to drum up interest in exactly that. This was not going to be a movie that people were going to flock to, so this kind of action will have two positive effects for the film. Firstly, it will generate heaps of free publicity as people write about the ban (guilty as charged) and secondly, it will concentrate the audience in fewer venues making it appear more popular, like a bar with a huge line outside. Controversy sells, and these chains are helping more than they think. The same goes for CNN and NPR, who both rejected ads for the movie this week, due to its content.

“That's a really striking statement,” said director Gabriel Range. “I think some of the theatre chains have decided that it's an opportunity for them to take a moral stance, and I find that questionable.” He’s right of course. The only reason that people shouldn’t go and see DOAP is that it isn’t a very good film. It has one provocative concept – the shooting of a sitting president – and has no other follow up. Range calls it “an engaging and compelling portrait of the post 9/11 world we live in." I call it a dull procedural that tells us less about the world we live in than any daily newscast.

Once Bush is shot, nothing too eye-opening happens. There is a rush to judgment that the assassin is Muslim (much like the Oklahoma bombing in ’95) and a naval battle group is set to Syria but told to stand down (unlike the post 9/11 invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq). As for the fascination over the mixing of current footage and actors, do the critics not recall Forrest Gump or ever seen an example from the current mashup phenomenon? Melding two disparate sources together to create a new work is nothing new.

It’s all about using controversy to push a product. The Toronto Film Festival got in on the act when DOAP was awarded the 15th annual Prize of the International Critics. Festival programmer Jesse Wente was on the CBC on Friday talking about the film and said the TIFF screenings were full, which of course they were as almost all screenings are full. I was at the premiere and it was in one of the smaller theatres at the Paramount. And the head of the critic’s panel said they awarded a film that "irritated us a lot," and “questions our conventions of making and seeing films." Not for it being a great film, mind you. Much like Cannes’ Palme d'Or often highlights edgy films, the Toronto film fest won’t be hurt any by consorting with contentious filmmakers.

Nothing sells like forbidden fruit of course, something Harvey Weinstein knows well. His company is distributing the other film that involves George W. Bush – the Dixie Chick’s Shut Up & Sing. NBC and the CW network have refused to air ads for the documentary about the reaction to Natalie Maines’ assertion that she was “ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas.” NBC said it could not accept the ads as "they are disparaging to the President."

Faster than you can say “free speech,” Weinstein had a press release in hand: "It's a sad commentary about the level of fear in our society that a movie about a group of courageous entertainers who were blacklisted for exercising their right of free speech is now itself being blacklisted by corporate America.” Of course this is the film people should see – an actual documentary about the “post 9/11 world we live in” and the sometimes negative effects of speaking out. This was a great film that also debuted at the Toronto film fest and unlike DOAP, actually has something to say. If you go and see one anti-George Bush film, go and see this one. Sex may sell, but so does controversy.


What is it with celebrities? Aren’t they satisfied with our adoration, obsessions and money that should have been spent elsewhere? Some of them have artistic ambitions beyond their films and music.

Pop Life Art
has a huge list of celebs (actors, singers, musicians, athletes, etc.) that create fine art paintings, drawings and photographs on top of their day jobs. Below are paintings from Johnny Depp, Lucy Liu, David Bowie, Viggo Mortensen, Natalie Merchant and Pierce Brosnan, but not in that order. Care to take a stab at gussing who's who? The prize is, umm, you're a really good guesser.

Meet the New Boss, Same As the Old Boss

I appear to have a naively misguided belief that there are creative impulses at work in the movie industry, in which writers, directors, actors and producers are attempting to create, if not art, at least original entertainment. That’s why I’m disheartened at the return of some creaky old heroes to the multiplex. Among the never-say-die characters shuddering back to life are The Terminator, Detective John McClane, Rocky, Rambo, Indiana Jones and some nasty dinosaurs.

I loved each one of the original films and in the case of Indiana Jones, all three of the series, but when they have been laying fallow for many years and are now coming back with fours (a sixth in the case of Rocky!) it is time to say enough. Who is funding Sylvester Stallone’s rage against the dying of the night? What 60-year-old could return to professional boxing or professional soldiering for that matter? The last versions of those films were 16 years ago (Rocky V) and 18 years ago (Rambo) and I don’t recall anyone clamouring for new chapters in their lives.

Bruce Willis’ return in Live Free or Die Hard is almost as problematic, as the plots and titles are becoming equally clunky. In his early 50s, it is reasonable that McClane is still a working cop, no matter how improbable it is that he stumbles upon yet another elaborate scheme – this one involving terrorists and computers. If Willis is going to keep playing the same character, he should do it in other films, a lá Sin City.

The Terminator is going back to the future, sans Schwarzenegger, to tell the tale of Skynet and the apocalyptic nightmare humanity has in store. Prequels are a handy trick to explain away the absence of the star who appeared in the original film and may also explain the lack of an audience. The flick could do okay if they spend Arnie’s salary on new special effects. As I haven’t even seen the third incarnation, I’ve got no interest in this one either.

As for Jurassic Park, hasn’t this storyline been exhausted? We get it, velociraptors are brilliant hunters and the T-Rex is an eating machine. Sure, nature finds a way, but how hasn’t this island been wiped off the map? Perhaps some get lose during a cargo transfer to some uber-rich guy’s private reserve, resulting in Jurassic Park IV: Dinosaurs on a Plane. We should be so lucky.

The only one of the bunch I’d be interested in is the one that seems that furthest away from fruition. Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Harrison Ford have been unable to agree on a script since 1993, despite all of them being interested. Ford now is older than Sean Connery was when he played his father in The Last Crusade, but I’d still be willing to go on another adventure, as long as he wasn’t still chasing Nazis in the 1960s. If this one doesn’t happen, I will be satisfied with the trilogy as it is.

An Entertainment Weekly piece heralding the return of these films suggested that in new hands, film series can be reborn in the same fashion Christopher Nolan breathed new life into Batman Begins. But none of these characters are being torn down and rebuilt, it is just the studio returning to the same old mine and hoping there is still some gold left over. I just wish they would go and look for some new gems.

It’s the Sex Tapes That Got Small

I’ve always suspected the releases of celebrity sex tapes are no accident. You’re a mid-level celeb who has decided to film yourself getting some kinky action (because it’s only real if the camera is focused on you) and somehow, when your home is burgled, the only thing stolen is the sex tape. Amazingly, the dirty criminals who made off with your homemade smut are well connected to adult video distributors, who quickly market it all over the web. Denials and horror ensue, soon followed by a piece of the action.

My suspicion was confirmed recently when, inexplicably, Saved By the Bell geek Dustin Diamond turned up in a video threesome, making many wonder how he managed to get two women. Then his manager, Roger Paul, spilled the beans: "Dustin has been trying to escape the Screech typecast. So this may help me get more bookings." But will it really help his career or will it just add a few seconds on to his “Where Are They Now?” segment? Let’s take a look and see…

Rob Lowe
Way back in 1988, a sex scandal could actually derail a career. Lowe was a sizzling member of the Brat Pack until a tape of him having sex with two women, one who was 17, emerged. That was it for him until his career was revived in 1999 when Aaron Sorkin cast him in The West Wing. He destroyed that revival by quitting the show under the mistaken impression her was talented and he’s mostly disappeared since then. Look for a new sex tape soon.
Impact: Almost a career killer

Pamela Anderson & Tommy Lee
The fact that Pam Anderson had a sex tape came as a surprise to nobody. Anybody who wanted to had already seen her spread-eagled in the pages of Playboy. The pair cut a deal with the distributor of their 1997 vacation video and Anderson’s career pretty much continued on as usual. The tape was much more of a success for Lee, a fading rock star living off the tawdry legend of Motley Crue. Once his, um, talent was exposed he became a reality TV star, appearing in Tommy Lee Goes to College and Rockstar.
Impact: Pam – negligible; Tommy – definite career boost

R. Kelly
In 2002, the Chicago Sun-Times received a tape of singer R. Kelly allegedly having sex with an underage girl, which quickly found itself on the file sharing networks. Kelly was charged and is currently awaiting trial, but continued his prolific recording career, selling millions of albums.
Impact: None so far, but a trial could change that

Vince Neil
A tape of Vince Neil, the former lead singer Motley Crue (are we seeing a pattern here?) and adult film star Janine Lindemulder was, you guessed it, stolen in 1999 and made its way to the internet. Lindemulder went on to film more porn, while Neil got a few more minutes of fame as a cast member on The Surreal Life.
Impact: Neil – Reality TV joke is better than nothing; Lindemulder – same old, same old

Paris Hilton
If there was any question that a sex tape could make a positive impact on a career, Paris Hilton’s experience erases all doubt. The hotel heiress was little know outside of party circles and paparazzi photos when she was cast with pal Nicole Richie in The Simple Life in 2003. Just before the debut episode, ex-boyfriend Rick Solomon leaked some grainy footage of the pair’s explicit coupling. Massive media coverage followed, all of which made reference to The Simple Life, boosting the shows ratings. In a remarkable “coincedence,” the DVD of the video, now aptly titled 1 Night in Paris, was released just before the second season of The Simple Life, touching off another round of coverage for Hilton and the show. Paris has since become a brand name, appearing in films, recording an album and releasing books, perfumes and whatever else she can attach her name to.
Impact: Massive – she wouldn’t have near the profile without the tape, making it appear a legitimate career move. (See South Park’s Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset)

Colin Farrell
In July of 2005, Colin Farrell sued his ex-girlfriend and former playmate Nicole Narin to stop her from releasing a recording of a sex romp he had foolishly assumed was "strictly private and confidential between them." He has good lawyers, as other than a brief surfacing on DirtyColin.com last January, the tape hasn’t seen the light of day. It’s existence had little influence on what people think of Farrell, exemplified by one of my female friends who said she would gladly wrap him in plastic and ride him into the sunset.
Impact: None, save for some fantasy material

Kid Rock & Scott Stapp
Another of Pamela Anderson’s men, Kid Rock, and former Creed lead singer Scott Stapp recorded some playtime with four groupies back in 1999, with the footage hitting the web this February. Rock called Stapp an idiot for letting the tape get out and has filed an injunction to get it pulled.
Impact: Rock – none, and who’s surprised?; Stapp – people talked about him again, however briefly

With the exception of Paris Hilton, sex tapes don’t do much for anyone’s fame and fortune. While they are no longer career killers, they either have no impact or at best get you a shot at reality TV. Dustin Diamond’s manager may be waiting by the phone for a long time.

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You Lookin' At Me, Oscar?

Is an Oscar all that matters? Director Martin Scorsese is back in theatres with his mobster film The Departed, which is both a critical and box office success. Fantastic right? What more could you want? A little gold statuette, perhaps?

I don’t know that Scorsese sits awake at nights pining for an award that has never been, but if he isn’t, film writers are doing it for him. Wrote David Germain of the Associated Press last week: “Always a bridesmaid at the Oscars, Martin Scorsese is tied with four other filmmakers for awards futility: Five nominations, no wins.”

In an article titled “Has Scorsese finally arrived,” Ed Pilkington of the Guardian News Service opined that “he has not won the Oscar for best director, an honour that he has unashamedly coveted,” added later, “Come on Academy, give him his blasted Oscar.”

As a result, the relative merits of The Departed will be buried under a flurry of articles about how Scorsese is the Susan Lucci of the Academy – remember this goes on until February. It’s true that he has always been left empty handed when the director awards are handed out, missing for The Aviator, Gangs of New York, Goodfellas, The Last Temptation of Christ and Raging Bull. But he has had a stellar career, with a filmography anyone could be envious of. If anything, all it shows how wrong the Oscar voters have been – Kevin Costner for Dances With Wolves over Goodfellas anyone? An award would be fantastic, but it’s not the end all, be all it has been made out to be.

Of course it may not matter anyway. I do okay with my Oscar predictions, but I’m nowhere near the prognosticator that Nathanial over at Film Experience is. I think he tracks the races practically from the days after the statues are handed out and has an uncanny ability to pick the winners. According to his latest list, The Departed won’t even get a Best Picture nod, so Scorsese could be snubbed once again. Ah well.

Monster Mashups

There’s nothing better than spending a cold rainy day surfing other people’s blogs and posting your favourite finds in lieu of creating my own post.

I love pop culture mashups – the reworking and repurposing of entertainment icons until something new emerges fascinates me. It’s been going on for years of course – The Simpsons is built upon it, same with Family Guy, Robot Chicken and countless others.

Over at Worth1000.com there is a Photoshop contest of impossible tabloid couples, celebrities that could never have been together. Who hasn’t imagined Lauren Bacall, Johnny Depp and Marilyn Monroe out on the town? Or Elvis and Scarlett Johansson?

In (belated) honour of Friday the 13th and an early Halloween treat, there is Bubblegumfink’s set of trading cards for the first Friday the 13th movie. They are goretastic! They are all part of his series of cards that never were and never will be.

Popbytes pointed the way to Black Magic Thriller, a “spookylicious” mashup of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Santana’s Black Magic Woman.

One of my favourite sites, Gallery of the Absurd, takes on the growing field of celebrity fragrances. Who wouldn’t want Britney Spears’ Le Fromage L'Orange? Smells like cheese, tastes like cheese.

And one last one to wrap up the day, from Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law. What would happen if Fred Flintsone was in the mob? Meet the Dabba Don. (Thanks to The Hour for the heads up on this one.)

Hour By Hour

It takes something big to take on Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on their own turf. I can’t say for sure what they are, but I think George Stroumboulopoulos got tagged in his.

The Hour returned to CBC this week after a summer hiatus and a blink-and-you-missed-it run at reality TV in the U.S. for George. But The One did not stick to Strombo who is back not only as the lead primetime show on Newsworld, but as the 11 p.m. show on the main network. That’s one tough slot when you are targeting young news junkies, but a good move for CBC. They are already running the show once, so rebroadcasting it instead of a shortened version of The National makes sense and shows great faith in Strombo’s ability to pick up some younger viewers for the Mother Corp.

It’s the second season and not much has changed – which is just fine with me. He still talks, as the segment says, a mile a minute, jumping from North Korea to hockey stars and inane minutia of celebrity culture. What has changed is the website, which still has a few glitches, is a vast improvement from the clips-only version from last year. The previous night’s show streams on the site, so you non-Canadian readers can see what I’m talking about.

So can he take on Stewart? All I know is I don’t have to make the choice – I have a PVR. (And those of you landing here looking for studio audience tickets, go here instead.)

It Came From Saturday Night

When you sleep in four-hour cycles, the primetime schedule doesn’t have much meaning to you. I have praised digital video recorders as amazing tools many times, but it is a pop culture life preserver when you are a new parent. I’ve been recording everything and am trying to catch up. Some more thoughts on the season so far:

Back when the fall season was announced it was a surprise that there was not one, but two shows paying tribute to Saturday Night Live, which is hardly breaking comedy ground these days. The only thing I’ve heard people talking about SNL in the past couple of years is Ashlee Simpson’s lip synch and Lazy Sunday. Anyway, it seems after 32 years they are again some sort of cultural zeitgeist.

The Aaron Sorkin created Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is almost an exact replica of The West Wing, in terms of tone and pace. It is lightning quick and everyone is so damned sincere. It also appears that everyone who writes comedy are morose characters who never, ever laugh – clowns crying on the outside. I’ve seen three episodes so far and I’m willing to try more, but it could certainly lighten up a smidge.

Former SNL head writer Tina Fey’s 30 Rock, which debuted tonight, takes a very different tact, going for sitcom laughs to show the backstage workings of a live, weekly sketch show. Fey plays a head writer (natch) whose show is taken over by a network executive played by a bombastic Alec Baldwin, who is the best part of the show by far. It’s only been one episode so it may need to find its feet, but despite the different approaches, both shows are treading similar turf. Fey might have the comedy chops, but Sorkin has her on the writing.

This year we also decided to start watching The Amazing Race and I don’t understand why everyone thinks it is so, um, amazing – it seems more contrived than Survivor. All the players rush headlong towards a destination, freaking out along the way, only to be stopped at the entrance to a ticket booth that doesn’t open for hours. Soon all the teams have arrived and they all get on the bus at the same time, completely negating any advantage winning the last challenge had. How pointless.

I must admit that I do enjoy the image of the asshole American tourists (“I’m tired of talking to foreigners,” says Rob, while in Vietnam) and the conniving beauty queens – the casting is excellent. I just wish it were more of a race.

Who Taught You to Live Like That?

When is the right time to expose your child to the Dead Kennedys? Is the Forgotten Rebels’ Surfin’ on Heroin an appropriate lullaby? These are not abstract questions, but something I wondered while driving in the car with the six-day-old Tristan with the iPod on shuffle. He's already been surround by music during his few days on this world. We had the laptop in the delivery room and he came into the world listening to Metric, coincedentally arriving to Combat Baby.

Yesterday he sat in my arms while I was watching Robot Chicken and he seemed vaguely attentive as the Trix rabbit sold coke to the rest of the breakfast cereal mascots in a great parody of Blow. He’s not just getting pop culture moments, but meta references – not that they mean anything to him now. But I figure it will seep in at some point. I knew all The Beatles music when I was in high school, but not because I had listened to it, but because my parents had for years before. So I hope you like Sloan, kiddo.

Is that so bad? I don’t have any desire to hear in what manner the wheels on the bus rotate, or how many humps Alice the Camel (or Fergie for the that matter) has. That isn’t entirely true of course, as I will happily sing to Tristan, but I don’t feel the need to only play that kind of music around him.

So is there pop culture for babies? Is it those songs? Books that you read to them? I suppose I will find out soon. So far it’s just been stealth marketing. To date, Tristan has two outfits with Winnie the Pooh on them and an offer for Winnie the Pooh books that come with a Tigger clock – all from Disney. He also has Clifford the Big Red Dog on a quilt and Sesame Street characters on his Pampers. Who are they indoctrinating, him or me?

You’ve Got Baby

We interrupt this blog to introduce the newest member of the Popped Culture family: Tristan Lyell Barker. He was in such a rush to get into the world, he arrived a full two weeks early.

Weighing in at a respectable six pounds and eight ounces, the little one was surprisingly quiet, considering his parentage. Tristan comes with the full compliment of fingers and toes, as well as all the other standard bits and pieces.

Mom – otherwise known as Gill – is doing very well and resting comfortably. I am wired to the hilt on coffee and nervous energy. We are both are overtired and in a vague state of shock that we are now parents.

In his first 24 hours of life, he’s already been mentioned on a scandalous blog (damn paparazzi!) and begun to be deluged by pop culture. Included in a welcome package dropped off in our hospital room were coupons for books by Dr. Suess (good) and Disney (not so much). At least McDonald’s hasn’t tried to get its claws into my child… yet.

It’s going to be an interesting journey for so many reasons, including all the new entertainment venues I’ll be able to explore. Who says I’m not in touch with youth culture?

How I Learned to Love the Numbers

Will Lost sink or swim this year? Can the castaways maintain the show’s red-hot status and avoid the sharks, both literal and figurative, that surround them? Only time and Wednesday’s premiere will tell us.

The greatest fear I have is that the show paradoxically becomes a victim of its own success. I love the drawn out mysteries – to a point. I was a huge fan of the X-Files, but by the time it came to revealing the secrets of why the aliens were on Earth, what happened to Mulder’s sister and who was the father of Scully’s baby, I no longer cared. I had moved on to the latest hot, new show in the timeslot – Alias – which is Lost creator J.J. Abrams’ previous hit. There is a lesson there and I hope they realize it.

There are a myriad of big questions to be answered (why are they on the island? what do the numbers mean? what’s healing the castaways?) but here are a few that I hope will be touched on soon:
  1. How was Locke paralyzed? We’ve gone two seasons and had multiple flashbacks with him but they have ignored a central part of his character.

  2. What’s with Lostzilla? Is the smoke monster the same thing that ate the pilot in the premiere, what Locke called the eye of the island?

  3. If Jack is the only surgeon on the island, how will he ever get the giant stick removed from his ass?

There is a great recap on Entertainment Weekly, but for the diehards may I recommend my friend Nikki Stafford’s recently published book Finding Lost. Nikki has analyzed every episode of the past two seasons and, more impressively, read every book that was referenced on the show from Dickens's Our Mutual Friend to Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. I only suffered through reading Bad Twin, so I have no idea how she managed.

Nikki also blogs Nik at Night, which I don’t think she does enough of, but I forgive her because she not only watches more TV than I do, but she also finds time to write about it, all while having a two-year-old. There was a good interview with her in The Star this weekend and a blog interview from last week, among other things.

If you happen to be in Toronto tomorrow night (Oct. 3 ), the official book launch takes place at Type Books, 883 Queen Ste. West, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. If you can’t make that, watch for her on eTalk Daily, tomorrow at 7 p.m.