Monday, October 20, 2008


Prescient "Batman" episode nails the Obama-McCain race

Penguinformayor Thanks to YouTube, the below video of Batman's televised mayoral debate with the Penguin, from the "Dizzoner the Penguin" episode of Adam West's 1966 "Batman," is gaining new currency.

The clip, first uploaded in early 2007, has been picked up by several political commentators and compared to recent debates between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama.

Besides being an amusing clip on its own -- the great Burgess Meredith turns in a virtuoso performance as the Bilious Bird -- viewers have noted some chuckle-worthy parallels between this fictional debate and the real thing.

In last week's face-off, moderator Bob Schieffer asked the candidates about the smears and personal attacks that have become a significant part of the discourse as the campaign winds up.

"I think the tone of this campaign could've been very different," said McCain at the time. "And the fact is it's gotten pretty tough, and I regret some of the negative aspects of both campaigns."

Likewise, the Penguin starts out humbly enough: "Friends and fellow citizens, I want to give you my solemn word that there will be no mudslinging in this campaign. ... I intend to stick to the issues."

But with that disclaimer out of the way, the Penguin wastes no time in getting to his point. "Now what are the issues? There's only one issue: Batman!"

"I suggest that behind that mask, Batman is, in reality, a dangerous criminal. Why else does he wear a mask? Why else does he conceal his past? Would you think about that a moment, my friends? Whenever you've seen Batman, who's he with? Criminals, that's who!"

McCain makes a similar pivot, this time to the controversial subjects of Obama's association with former radical Bill Ayers, a founder of Weather Underground who McCain called a "washed up terrorist."

"Senator Obama chose to associate with a guy who in 2001 said he wished he'd bombed more." McCain then draws links between Obama and the community organization ACORN, which, he says, is "maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy."

It's probably a comment on the predictability of this presidential campaign that it was anticipated by a 40-year-old TV show populated by wacky caricatures. Same hack script, same hack channel.

Unfortunately, Penguin's brilliant plan hits a snag. Afraid that his lead in the polls is shrinking, he kidnaps the Board of Elections so the vote cannot be certified. This scheme backfires, and Batman turns up to rescue the hostages ("Pengy, you said we associated with criminals. So ... here we are." BOOM! POW! WHAMM!).

Batman is elected but resigns to allow the current mayor to keep his position. But not before one of the major parties calls to offer him the presidential candidacy for 1968 -- exactly 40 Novembers ago.

Exclaims Robin: "Bulging ballot boxes, Batman, that was some offer!"

-- David Sarno

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Rumors resurface of a Facebook music store

By David Chartier

As anyone who has held up a lighter alongside friends during a second encore can tell you, social networking and music are meant to sing together. MySpace reminded everyone of its roots last month with the launch of MySpace Music, and inside sources say that Facebook may finally rock out with its own duet soon.

Music has always been one of MySpace's shining features, so well-known that it's part of a supposed social networking divide. Long before News Corp. purchased it, MySpace became the place for independent—and increasingly mainstream—musicians to build a community with their fans. Now, with last month's introduction of a 5 million-strong catalog of downloadable and streamable songs from all the major labels and (arguably not enough) indies, MySpace finally took its next logical leap into becoming a full-blown social hub for music.

With Facebook's roots as a private bulletin board for college students, it has yet to cross into MySpace's territory when it comes to music. While additions in recent years of "Pages" have allowed users to become "fans" of products or musicians, Facebook has never held a candle to MySpace's integration of tools for artists to promote themselves and their music. Sure, Facebook's recently-opened platform has opened a few doors for users to stream music and share their favorite artists via apps such as iLike (with 5 million monthly users) and Rhapsody. But this middleware still means that music isn't an integral component of the Facebook experience.

If the New York Post's sources are on to something, Facebook may be about to take a serious step into becoming a music outlet. Not much is known about exactly how or what features Facebook will offer, but a Facebook music store or service would probably work along the lines of the rumors we reported in October 2007. In other words: not like MySpace's.

Digital music distribution is experiencing a resurgence of competition now that DRM has all but been eliminated (we're looking at you, iTunes Store), but we aren't banking on Facebook playing second fiddle to MySpace Music. Considering Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's reported reluctance to give up the same equity control to the labels that MySpace did to create its new store, the company would probably opt to partner with established services like iTunes Store, Amazon, or even Real's Rhapsody. Facebook has already tested these waters, too, with brief partnerships with iTunes and Ticketmaster. Why sweat it out with the labels when your best feature is a platform, and everyone else has already done all the licensing work for you?

Of course, anything Facebook introduces—be it a full-blown music store or branded applications from established outlets—will probably be at least marginally successful. Its chances for long-term growth for music sales improve when you consider the fact that Facebook just edged out MySpace in worldwide unique visitors in August. If Facebook wants to ensure a hit, though, it'll have to leverage its unique advantages of a rich, integrated application ecosystem and initiatives like its Facebook Connect platform that lets users take their data to other sites and services.

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Levi Stubbs: 1936-2008

The Four Tops' frontman was one of the great soulmen of the 60s and 70s, and a model Detroit booster as well.


Stubbs, far right, in concert with the Four Tops in 1967.

All of three of the superstar male vocal groups at Motown had a charismatic, supremely talented lead singer. So how come Levi Stubbs never gained the notoriety that peers Smokey Robinson of The Miracles and David Ruffin of The Temptations enjoyed? Stubbs passed away at the age of 72 last week in Detroit, after a long battle with cancer, robbing the world of another soulful singer, whose gravelly baritone propelled The Four Tops to the top of the charts again and again.

Maybe it was Stubbs’ humility that prevented him from taking the spotlight. During the long run of hits he, Lawrence Payton, Renaldo “Obie” Benson and Abdul “Duke” Fakir churned out for Motown in the 1960s and 70s, they all stood shoulder to shoulder. Motown founder Berry Gordy wrote in a statement, Stubbs “could easily have made it as a solo star, but his love and loyalty” kept the Four Tops “together longer than any group I know. His character and integrity were impeccable.”

The Four Tops were together for 44 years, and Stubbs sang lead on every single one of their 12 chart-topping hits. But make no mistake; The Four Tops were not a Motown invention. The group was founded in 1953 by Stubbs, a cousin to Jackie Wilson, and his friends as a jazz quartet in a Detroit High School. Originally The Four Aims, the group became The Four Tops after a year, went from backing up Jazz musicians like Count Basie to singing R&B, and never looked back, recording for Chess, Red Top and Riverside before hooking up with America’s hottest hit-making machine.

Songs like, “Reach Out (I’ll Be There),” “Bernadette,” and “Standing In The Shadows of Love” became ubiquitous classics on the strength of Stubbs’ urgent shouts and anguished cries. Always tough, but tastefully restrained, Stubbs’ vocals prompted Temptations singer Otis Williams to tell Levi “you are our black Frank Sinatra” for his ability to turn a phrase just as beautifully.

The ace songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland penned all of The Four Tops big hits of the Sixties, but their departure from Motown in 1968, while a turning point for the label, couldn’t keep the Tops off the charts. With other producers they had hits like “Still Water” and “River Deep, Mountain High.” And when Motown left Detroit for Los Angeles in 1972, the Tops refused to leave their native city behind. The Tops’ loyalty would be rewarded with a string of hits for ABC-Dunhill throughout the 70s and 80s, including the hit theme for Shaft in Africa, “Are You Man Enough.” All in all, they had 45 top 100 singles between 1964 and 1988, and the original members performed up to 200 times a year well into the 90s.

Besides being kings of Detroit, The Four Tops were also Motown’s most popular act in The UK, where Stubbs is rightfully considered one of America’s greatest soul singers, alongside other transatlantic stars like James Brown and Sam Cooke. Revered as a live act as well, the Four Tops constantly stole the show during star-studded Motown Revues with their carefully crafted moves and creamy harmonies really stood out against Stubbs’ gritty soul shouting.

And though he never released a solo album, Stubbs had his moment in the Hollywood, voicing the man-eating plant Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors, and singing the memorable “Mean Green Mother From Outer Space.”

Unfortunately, all but one of the Four Tops has fallen to cancer in the last 15 years, with Abdul “Duke” Fakir the lone survivor. Stubbs is survived by his wife of 48 years, Clineice, five children, and 11 grandchildren. With his passing, we’ve lost another one of the legends that shaped soul music. Even if he wasn’t Detroit’s biggest star, Stubbs was one of its greatest citizens, and he’ll be missed.

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Lost genius of rap back from the shadows

David Smith

You know the world is going crazy, the comedian Chris Rock said, when the best golfer is a black guy and the best rapper is a white guy (whatever next, a black President?). The black golfer was Tiger Woods, the richest sportsman in the world. The white rapper was Eminem. Remember him?

It is not so long ago that Eminem was being praised as a rapper of literary genius and decried as the greatest cultural menace in America. His mastery of a musical form invented by African-Americans drew comparisons with Elvis Presley and his linguistic vitality won unlikely fans such as Seamus Heaney and Zadie Smith. At the same time his lyrics, accused of glorifying misogyny, homophobia and violence, saw him branded Public Enemy Number One.

Then Eminem went 'missing in action'. Devastated by the loss of his best friend, DeShaun 'Proof' Holton, shot dead outside a club two years ago, he became increasingly reclusive. The vacuum was filled by unhappy rumour and revelation. His remarriage to his ex-wife, emblazoned on the front of Hello! magazine, lasted only 11 weeks before a second divorce. His estranged mother published a memoir calling him a liar. There were still parallels with Presley, but this time in the years of Graceland decadence: he was said to be depressed, crippled by writer's block and bingeing on junk food in his Detroit mansion. With his health failing and weight ballooning, one US tabloid claimed Eminem was 'starting to look like an M&M'.

Little wonder, then, that news of his first album for four years has electrified the ailing music industry and the rapper's persistently loyal fan base. Just when it seemed he was effectively retired, the 36-year-old is re-energised and at work in the studio. Now it is rumoured that the album, named last week as Relapse, is due to be released by Christmas.

Early word suggests that he is back at the top of his game, though of course the hype would hardly say otherwise. But there is no questioning the massive expectations generated by the second coming of the one who took rap from the ghetto to the suburbs.

A taster, 'I'm Having a Relapse', has already been leaked to the internet and begins teasingly, 'Guess who's back'. It doesn't take much guessing: 'How the hell did he manage to get more felony charges?/ He's already got life in jail now what the hell is his problem/ Well to be honest, the smell of these chronic leaves make me hella demonic/ They compelled me to kill this elderly man an'/ I get these panic attacks, pop a Xanax relax/ Tryna stick my fuckin' dick inside a mannequin's ass ...'

What remains to be seen is whether such lines still have the power to shock. Eminem was the bête noire of America's cultural conservatives, who feared his influence over the young and were glad to see the back of him. The 'culture wars', it was said, lost their impetus after the 9/11 attacks, only for 'hockey mom' and vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin to prove they never quite went away. But another shift in taste has been taking place: a decline in hip-hop's popularity means that Eminem, who has sold more than 70 million records worldwide, returns to a changed musical landscape.

'He's been gone for four years, which is an aeon in rap time,' said Sean Fennessey, music editor of Vibe magazine, whose readers have just voted Eminem the best rapper alive despite his long hiatus. 'He's the consummate rapper, incredibly skilful and thoughtful with a tremendously compelling story to tell. He was the first rapper who transcended racial consciousness to become a pop star. He's one of the most iconic musical artists for a long time, so his comeback is going to be big.'

A decade ago rap was generally the preserve of black men from the ghetto with a short life expectancy. Tupac Shakur was killed in a drive-by shooting in 1996, Biggie Smalls in similar circumstances a year later. Marshall Mathers (hence the M&M nickname), different race, similarly humble beginnings, burst on the scene in 1999 with the The Slim Shady LP, winning mainstream popularity and Grammy awards. His follow-up, The Marshall Mathers LP, became the fastest-selling hip-hop album in history and cemented his status as the Elvis of rap - a description he always hated.

His copious use of the words 'bitch' and 'faggot' aroused indignation on both sides of the political spectrum, threatening to put the entire rap genre in the dock.

Eminem's performing alter ego, Slim Shady, was accused of misogyny after hit singles such as 'My Name Is', which included the line: 'Ninety-nine per cent of my life I was lied to, I just found out my mom does more dope than I do.' Debbie Mathers-Briggs, who was 15 when she gave birth to him in Kansas City (his father left after six months), has denied the portrayal.

Eminem/Slim Shady also sang about killing his wife. In real life he married Kim Scott in 1999, only for the couple to divorce two years later. She later said he had driven her to try suicide because he made her feel like a 'piece of crap'. But they wed for a second time in 2006, appearing on the front of Hello! and doing nothing to remedy that magazine's fabled 'curse': this time the marriage lasted less than three months.

But Eminem's career seemed unstoppable with hits such as 'The Way I Am' and 'Stan' and a cabinet full of awards. He might have been the world's most controversial rapper, but his songs were praised for their theatrical verve, dazzling rhyme schemes and visceral drama. He was interviewed admiringly by the novelist Zadie Smith, while the poet Seamus Heaney said: 'He has created a sense of what is possible. He has sent a voltage around a generation. He has done this not just through his subversive attitude but also his verbal energy.'

Even his venture into film, the semi-autobiographical 8 Mile, confounded sceptics and won an Oscar for the song 'Lose Yourself'. After its release in 2002, CNN compared him to James Dean, and The Washington Post declared: 'He has the face of a bruised angel.'

His star began to wane with his last solo album, Encore, described as formulaic by critics. An alleged addiction to sleeping pills led to a spell in rehab. But it was the murder in Detroit of his sidekick, Proof, that stopped him in his tracks, as he recounts in an autobiography, The Way I Am, published later this month. Andy Greene, assistant editor of Rolling Stone magazine, who has seen a preview copy, said: 'He talks about Proof's death - it was just devastating. He says he took to his bed for a year and couldn't write and couldn't rhyme. He said he couldn't tour again without Proof.'

He reportedly spent four days in hospital last Christmas with pneumonia and heart problems, and also put on five stone. But recent public appearances suggest all that is behind him. Andy Greene added: 'There was a lot of confusion because he was off the grid completely. But he's one of the last true superstars of the music industry. If, as is reported, Dr Dre is producing most of it [Relapse], it will be a very big deal.'

Along with Dr Dre, Eminem is reportedly working with fellow hip-hop star 50 Cent on the new album. He was recently quoted as saying: 'For a while, I didn't want to go back to the studio. I went through some bad times but I'm coming out of those. It feels good ... I'm writing and producing again, banging out tracks - and the music just gets better and better.'

It will have to be. Hip-hop has endured a decline in popularity since his self-imposed exile. The wider fall in CD sales, under pressure from the internet, means it will be hard to measure Relapse against Eminem's previous albums.

Can he still sound remotely edgy, or will even his profanities now seem contrived and safe? Will it be worth the four-year wait? The music world holds its breath for the biggest comeback since the Spice Girls. It is safe to say the parallels end there.

Eminem: life and crimes

1972 Born Marshall Bruce Mathers III in Missouri on 17 October. His mother, Debbie Mathers-Briggs, was 15 at the time. His father left when he was six months old.

1997 Releases debut album Infinite, left, through independent label FBT. Dr Dre hears Eminem's second-place performance at the Rap Olympics in Los Angeles. He is impressed and later signs the rapper to his own label, Aftermath.

1999 Marries Kim, seen below with Eminem, the mother of his daughter Hailie Jade. Releases The Slim Shady LP through Aftermath/Interscope Records, including the hugely successful single 'My Name Is'.

2000 The Marshall Mathers LP is released. Features the single 'Stan', which samples little-known artist Dido.

2001 Divorces Kim, who says he drove her to the brink of suicide.

2002 Stars in semi-autobiographical film

8 Mile, for which he wins an Oscar for Best Original Song. Releases another album, The Eminem Show

2004 The album Encore reveals Eminem's softer side. Includes the song 'Mockingbird', dedicated to his daughter.

2006 Remarries and then divorces ex-wife Kim and loses his closest friend and fellow rapper, Proof, who is shot dead outside a club. Becomes a near recluse at his mansion in Detroit.

2008 Announces his intention to release another solo album, Relapse.

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The 10 Characters Who Need to Get Laid... Right Now!

By Karl Rozemeyer

Jason Biggs in American Pie
Jason Biggs in American Pie
Courtesy of Universal Home Entertainment

Jim Levenstein in American Pie
Most Desperate Moment: When soon-to-be high school graduate/virgin Jim (Jason Biggs) is told "third base feels like warm apple pie," he just can't resist a hot, freshly baked apple pie left on the kitchen counter by his mom. With his pants around his ankles, deep into the flakey dessert, Jim is discovered by his father, returning home from work early. Excruciatingly awkward pep talk from Dad follows.
The Money Shot: Having performed too quickly…twice…with a Czechoslovakian exchange student (Shannon Elizabeth), Jim ultimately loses his virginity to a flautist named Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), the horny girl from band camp who has already bedded her flute. Two movies, and a much bigger paycheck, later he marries her in American Wedding. Chump!

Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft in The Graduate
Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft in The Graduate
Courtesy of HFP/Lagardere Photo Archive

Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate
Most Desperate Moment: Recently returned college grad Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) reluctantly agrees to drive the wife of his father's law partner, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), home after a party. Mrs. Robinson begs Ben not to leave, tries to ply him with drinks, puts on some sexy jazz, tells him her husband won't be home for hours, and even gives him a glimpse of the goods. Framed by Mrs. Robinson's curvy leg, Ben utters the famous line, "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me."
The Money Shot: On the pretense of showing Benjamin her daughter's portrait in the bedroom, Mrs. Robinson encourages him unzip her dress and then slips out of more than her slip. Eventually, Mrs. Robinson and Ben Braddock become lovers for one steamy summer. Final score: Cougars: 1; Braddock: 0.

Kristen Johnson and Mike Meyers in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
Kristen Johnson and Mike Meyers in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
Courtesy of New Line Home Video

Austin Powers in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
Most Desperate Moment: Austin Powers (Mike Meyers) is shattered to discover that he's lost his mojo — the source of his toothy animal magnetism and spying skills — during a romp with the seductive and buxom Russian spy Ivana Humpalot (Kristen Johnson).
The Money Shot: After super-villain Dr. Evil shatters Austin's mojo into pieces, CIA agent Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham) reminds him that he never really lost his mojo in the first place. Then he nails her. The end.

Michael Cera and Jonah Hill in Superbad
Michael Cera and Jonah Hill in Superbad
Courtesy of Sony

Seth in Superbad
Most Desperate Moment: Plus-size high-schooler Seth (Jonah Hill) gets invited by super-hottie Jules (Emma Stone) to a party, which he views as a last-ditch effort to get a girlfriend for the summer. After a string of misadventures in pursuit of the booze a drunken Seth pours his heart out to a very sober Jules. As he leans in for a kiss he delivers a bone-crushing headbutt instead moments before passing out.
The Money Shot: While super-dork McLovin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) gets some lovin' at the party, Seth leaves unlaid. The next day while shopping for ill-fitting jeans he runs into a black-eyed Jules and offers to buy her some cover-up for her bruise. Love starts to bloom in the mall.

Isla Fisher and Vince Vaughn in Wedding Crashers
Isla Fisher and Vince Vaughn in Wedding Crashers
Courtesy of New Line Cinema

Gloria Cleary in Wedding Crashers
Most Desperate Moment: Yes, bachelor divorce lawyers John (Owen Wilson) and Jeremy (Vince Vaughn) are the ones that infiltrate weddings in order to seduce available bridesmaids, but while attending the lavish nuptials of the daughter of the Secretary of the Treasury, Jeremy becomes the apple of Gloria's (Isla Fisher) obsessive eye. When she zeroes in on him, there's no escape. Desperate not to fall into the clutches of a "psycho clinger," Jeremy rebuffs all of her crazed advances. Determined to make all his fantasies come true, Gloria sneaks into his room at night, bounds and gags him to the bed... and rides him like a bronco.
The Money Shot: Even after revealing to Jeremy that she misled him about being a virgin (because she figured that's what guys want to hear), Gloria breaks down the defenses of the ultimate bachelor and finally gets her man. More nuptials follow.

James Mason and Sue Lyon in Lolita
James Mason and Sue Lyon in Lolita
Courtesy of HFP/Lagardere Photo Archive

Humbert Humbert in Lolita (1962)
Most Desperate Moment: How desperately smitten — and creepy — do you have to be to agree to marry a leopard-print-clad, sexually starved, aging widow (Shelley Winters as Charlotte Haze) just to get close to her gum-chewing, soda pop-sipping 14-year-old daughter? Well, that's exactly what Humbert (James Mason) does when he comes looking for a place to lodge and his gaze falls upon the sweet, blonde Delores "Lolita" Haze (Sue Lyon).
The Money Shot: Soon after their marriage, Charlotte reads Humbert's diary and realizes he's been lusting after her teenage daughter all along. Upset, she tears out of the house and is promptly killed by a car. The path is now clear for Humpy to pick up little Lolita from Camp Climax (honestly) where she has been spending the summer, and they take a languorous road trip during which he introduces her to the pleasures he has so longed to explore. Gross? Perhaps. Illegal? Definitely.

The locker room scene from Porky's
The locker room scene from Porky's
Courtesy of HFP/Lagardere Photo Archive

Pee Wee, Billy, Tommy, Mickey, Tim, and Meat in Porky's
Most Desperate Moment: While watching the girls shower at the school gym through spy holes made into the tile at waist level, one of the guys shouts out, "Will you move it, you lard ass?" when his view is blocked by one of the more portly girls. Most of the girls flee the shower room, but a few stay to watch Tommy's proudest asset make its appearance through the spy hole. The attention Tommy (Wyatt Knight) desperately wants is not the type he gets when the gym teacher (appropriately named Beulah Balbricker) takes matters into her own hands.
The Money Shot: The less endowed Pee Wee (Dan Monahan) is one of the last to lose his virginity, so the guys all head out to Porky's where, they've heard, they can have sex with the strippers for $100 an hour. But when the guys are swindled out of their money and humiliated, revenge becomes as important as the quest to get laid. Pee Wee finally loses his cherry to slutty Wendy (Kaki Hunter, who would reprise her role in Porky's 2 and Porky's Revenge) on a bus.

Bo Derek in 10
Bo Derek in 10
Courtesy of HFP/Lagardere Photo Archive

George Webber in 10
Most Desperate Moment: Things for 42-year-old songwriter George Webber (Dudley Moore) and his girlfriend Sam (Julie Andrews) aren't going so well, so instead of having a normal middle-age crisis and buying a shiny red car, George obsessively follows newlywed bride Jenny (Bo Derek) all the way to Mexico where she's on her honeymoon. When he spots his perfect 10 on the beach emerging from the water in a gold one-piece, his infatuation with her — and America's obsession with corn rows on white women — reaches a fever pitch.
The Money Shot: When Jenny's husband drifts out to sea, asleep on his surfboard, George saves his life. While her hubby recovers in the hospital, George gets Jenny to spend more and more time with him and soon discovers that her marriage is less traditional than he thought. But as soon as he's gotten his 10, George finds his thoughts drifting back to his old flame. (The sequel about George returning to Samantha, 6.5, sadly, remains unmade.)

Little Darlings
Little Darlings
Courtesy of HFP/Lagardere Photo Archive

Angel Bright in Little Darlings
Most Desperate Moment: Following a fistfight in the bus on the way to Camp Little Wolf, savvy chain-smoking, smut-mouthed Angel (Kristy McNichol) and prissy pampered princess Ferris (Tatum O'Neal) both admit to being virgins. A part-time teenage TV commercial model bets her residual check of $100 (it was 1980, after all) that Ferris will be the first to lose her virginity, Angel announces, "You just lost a hundred bucks, sucker!" it's on!
The Money Shot: Ferris is an eternal romantic who hankers after wine and flowers and sunsets but is deflowered by a hunky, indifferent camp counselor. Meanwhile, Angel, who thinks sex is little more than a biological function, tries to do it with longhaired Randy (Matt Dillon) at the boathouse. She's awkward and embarrassed and stalls at the undressing stage. An angry Randy thinks Angel's a tease and leaves. But later, as her feelings develop, Angel discovers that sex involves emotions and willingly gives herself over to Randy. (Campers having sex with counselors? It was 1980 after all.)

Tom Cruise and Shelley Long in Losin' It
Tom Cruise and Shelley Long in Losin' It
Courtesy of HFP/Lagardere Photo Archive

Woody in Losin' It
Most Desperate Moment: When four fun-loving teenagers, including introverted and sensitive Woody (Tom Cruise in his first big screen role) and his oversexed pal Dave (Little Children's Jackie Earle Haley) hop into a red convertible and blaze across the border to Tijuana in order to lose their virginity, they stop along the way at a grocery store in order to pick up some Twinkies. Instead, they pick up Kathy (Shelley Long), a woman fighting with her husband, who hitches a ride with the boys so she can get a quickie Mexican divorce.
The Money Shot: Come on! Tom Cruise, a bunch of boys on the make, booze, Tijuana, and a bordello? You do the math.

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A black vacuum cleaner: Max Payne is dark, and sucks

By Michael Thompson

Based on early reviews, it sounded like Max Payne's movie adaptation was the worst thing to hit movie theaters since... what was the last Uwe Boll flick? Postal, right? Now that I've seen it, I can honestly say that it certainly isn't that awful. That being said, Max Payne is not the movie that will break the game-adaptation curse; it gets far more things wrong than it manages to get right.

Anyone who played through the original game and remembers its story will be disappointed by the hackjob done to it in order to fit things into a couple hours of screen time. There are a number of overlapping elements, but the plot in the movie is far less elegant than the games; too much time is spent trying to develop a pointless back story, and too many useless characters are randomly introduced and then discarded. Meanwhile, many major plot points are resolved extremely abruptly, only to have equally huge events take their place with no explanation.

Not only does Max Payne sport a rotten script, but it also seems incapable of delivering consistent action scenes. Some of the scenes are wonderfully shot, with both Max and his partner-in-vengeance Mona Sax looking appropriately amazing as they gun down their enemies. Sadly, most of the gunfights and combat simply feels clunky and amateurish, often making it difficult to follow what's going on. And no, before you ask, bullet time sequences do not make an appearance.

So what does the movie do well? Well, both Mark Walhberg and Mila Kunis do the best they can with the material. Not only that, but most of the actors in Max Payne are pretty decent: Beau Bridges, Ludacris, Nelly Furtado, even poor Chris O'Donnell with his five minutes of screen time comes across as believable. But where the movie shines–when it does rarely–is in the visuals department. There are several shots in the film which look fantastic, especially during the last half hour or so... the problem is that almost none of them feel like they fit into the plot. Yes, yes: the parts showing Max's apocalyptic hallucinations of winged Valkyries swarming about him during the final action sequences are lovely. No: none of us are entirely sure what purpose that serves.

Throughout the screening, I kept getting the feeling that I was actually watching parts of two entirely different different movies: the Max Payne that director John Moore wanted to make and the one that actually was made. The former, I think, would have resulted in something much more artistic, with some great comic book touches of style, and probably would have been a highly enjoyable viewing experience. What we have, instead, is a clumsy action movie with a nonsensical plot that teases us with glimpses at its unrealized potential.

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"Max Payne" shoots to top of box office roster

By Deena Beasley

Cast member Mark Wahlberg, who stars in the movie

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Action-packed "Max Payne" shot its way to the top of the North American box office, grossing $18 million during the video game adaptation's first weekend in theaters, according to studio estimates on Sunday.

The dark, atmospheric film, which stars Mark Wahlberg as a cop in search of the men who killed his wife and child, outshone Oliver Stone's much-talked-about "W.," which debuted at No. 4 with a take of $10.6 million.

"The estimates for 'W.' were all over the place," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Media By Numbers. "You can't really expect that a politically charged movie like that would take the weekend over a big video game adaptation with a movie star in the lead role."

"Max Payne" follows in the footsteps of games turned into films including the "Tomb Raider" movies starring Angelina Jolie, which were commercial hits but critically clobbered by gamers.

Stone's portrait of U.S. President George W. Bush was released by Lionsgate, a unit of Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.

Walt Disney Co's family comedy "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" was kicked to the No. 2 spot with a take of $11.2 million, bringing its total receipts to $69.1 million.

The civil rights era movie "The Secret Life of Bees," which is based on a best-selling novel, was a close No. 3, debuting with take of $11.1 million for the weekend.

"Max Payne" was released by 20th Century Fox and "The Secret Life of Bees" by Fox Searchlight, both units of News Corp.

The action thriller "Eagle Eye" slipped to the No. 5 spot on the list with a take of $7.3 million, bringing its total so far to $81.3 million.

"Eagle Eye" was released by DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc.

Summit Entertainment's teen comedy "Sex Drive," debuted at No. 9 on the weekend roster with a total of $3.6 million.

(Reporting by Deena Beasley; Editing by Bill Trott)

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VAULTS: 'Superman' going strong at 30


The fourth anniversary of Christopher Reeve's death [-] of cardiac arrest at the age of 52 [-] passed last week. The 30th anniversary of the movie that made him a distinctively irresistible new star, "Superman: The Movie," is approaching in December. Anyone who followed his tragically disrupted but heroic career recalls that it included some haunting connections to this part of the country.

The riding accident that shattered Mr. Reeve's spinal cord occurred during a cross-country equestrian event in Culpeper, Va., in May 1995. Washington had witnessed the auspicious Reeve debut as Superman and alter-ego Clark Kent during a national press junket that preceded the movie's theatrical openings in mid-December 1978.

After missing earlier, impractical opening dates in the summers of 1977 and '78, Warner Bros. was still racing the clock to prepare finished prints for a holiday season release. "Superman" was never previewed in a customary, cautious fashion with unsuspecting test audiences. A packed press screening at the Uptown (then under the management of Circle Theatres) became the movie's first exposure to a curious public. That happy unveiling was followed a few days later by the "official" premiere, an invitational benefit for Special Olympics at the Eisenhower Theater in the Kennedy Center.

The Uptown showing proved a memorable event for my family. Our eldest daughters, then 7 and 4, were among the youngest members of the audience. Our third daughter, a nursing babe in arms, probably was the youngest. We were sitting in the last row on the left side of the auditorium, a location that made it easier for my wife to slip into the lobby if the baby got restless, a recurrent condition during the first sustained sequence, where the destruction of Krypton was being underscored by ear-splitting sound effects. Richard Donner, the film's director, stood just inside the door throughout the screening, so he became an impromptu doorman for my wife during her exits and returns.

Once the galaxy-traveling plot reached Superman's small-town upbringing as Clark Kent, the baby was settling down and it was clear that the movie was nimble enough to switch styles from the portentous to the endearing and comic-heroic.

These proved the attributes that made it an enormous success in the winter of 1978-79, not to mention an abiding pleasure to this day. In the course of the interviews and archival material appended to Warner Bros.' two-disc DVD edition of the movie, leading lady Margot Kidder fondly remarks, "I think it'll work forever." I think she's right, and being there on the night the movie first demonstrated its appeal remains a vivid and cherished privilege.

At the time, I was especially glad that the "Superman" bet had worked out for Andrew Fogelson, who was supervising national publicity for Warners. I had met him a few years earlier when he was the studio's one-man advance team for a distinguished import, Jan Troell's "The Emigrants." Mr. Fogelson was responsible for the ingenious "Superman" campaign that emphasized the slogan, "You'll believe a man can fly."

In a way, the Fogelson team had underestimated the appeal of the movie's arduously contrived but ultimately beguiling flying illusions, which achieved a quality of romantic elevation and bliss that surpassed mere suspension of disbelief. It's fun to see Mr. Fogelson turn up in the "Making of ..." featurettes, recalling the famous slogan and explaining such shoptalk of the time as "negative pickups," alluding to deals between distributors and independent producers rather than unsavory sexual encounters.

For selfish reasons, I'm sorry that the DVD supplements ignore the Washington premiere, along with similar events that were staged in New York and London. I believe Warners had camera crews on hand for the press conferences — and presumably for the Eisenhower gala, which I didn't attend.

One of the amusing sideshows of the junket was Arnold Schwarzenegger, a ubiquitous presence at the hosting hotel although he wasn't a member of the cast. At the time, he was Maria Shriver's beau and roughly seven years away from a date with movie stardom.

Assembled for a video release in 2001, the supplements for "Superman" could use some updating and enhancing if a future anniversary edition is being contemplated. Mr. Donner shares a commentary track with screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, who was responsible for the final versions of a screenplay that began with Mario Puzo. The filmmakers often call attention to how much special-effects technology had changed by the turn of the century, due to the triumph of computer-generated imagery (CGI).

Completed about 15 years before the CGI transformation, "Superman" is now an invaluable monument to vintage effects work. It drew on an expansive and inventive, but sometimes hit-and-miss, range of handcrafted techniques, from matte painting and model construction to pyrotechnics and optical deception. The DVD set gives this tradition an appreciative farewell.

The recollections of Mr. Donner and Mr. Mankiewicz also enhance a number of famous scenes: Glenn Ford's simulation of the sudden demise of adoptive father Jonathan Kent; the breathtaking scenic resonance achieved during subsequent interludes at a hilltop cemetery and the Kent farm as young Clark prepares to leave home; the terrace interview between Lois Lane and Superman that becomes a preamble to their celestial cruise over New York City; Superman's rescue of the kitty from a treetop in Brooklyn Heights.

Of course, it's impossible to resist such inside stuff as Mr. Donner's quip about Marlon Brando's reliance on hidden cue cards. In the scene where the actor must muse at philosophical length to his infant son, resting in a tiny space capsule, the director confides, "That kid's diapers were worth a fortune, because Marlon's dialogue was written on them."

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