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Monday, March 16, 2009

Monsters vs. Aliens: The Winner Ain’t the Audience…

Monsters vs. Aliens

Editor’s Note: In this column animation critic Joe Strike gives us our first review of Monsters vs. Aliens.

A few weeks back Jeffrey K came to town to hype his latest, first-in-3D animated feature Monsters vs. Aliens. Did you know (Jeffrey does) 3D is the third revolution in motion pictures, right after the introduction of sound, then color? Neither did I; in fact the film seemed more like the old paddleball in your face routine – which is literally how it begins. OK, I enjoy a meta-gag as much as the next guy, but after JK talked up what they were gonna do with the technology, I expected more than visual quotes. (And yes, the 3D was very cool-looking all the way through.)

Monsters vs. Aliens

Speaking of which, MvA is a return to DreamWorks’ ‘look how many pop-culture gags we can stuff into this thing’ philosophy. (And after the emotionally honest storytelling of Kung-Fu Panda, I was so disappointed.) Thus a top-secret UFO sighting is referred to as a “Code Nimoy,” and later on the order is given to “destroy all monsters” (the tile of one of those old Japanese monster-fests). When President Stephen Colbert (who’s much funnier on his own show) greets the aliens via a 5-note keyboard riff – it’s (ha ha ha, yawwn) the Close Encounters motif – but the ensuing hilarity is even more hilarityous when he switches into a rockin’ rendition of Beverly Hills Cop’s Axel F theme. (And they even managed to squeeze in John Williams’ E.T. along the way.)

Come to think of it, it felt like those visual quotes far outnumbered the pop-cult references: Reese Witherspoon’s meteor-induced growth into ‘Ginormica’ put a reverse spin on The Incredible Shrinking Man while simultaneously referencing Attack of the 50-Foot Woman; her expansion within the confines of a church = Wonderland’s Alice undergoing the same experience inside the White Rabbit’s house; her hand reaching, upside-down, directly into the audience, a lift from Hitchcock’s 3D Dial M for Murder; Reese’s desperate hanging onto the edge of a San Francisco building: Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo; an attack on (the film’s strangely redesigned version of) the Golden Gate Bridge: Harryhausen’s It Came From Beneath the Sea; blob monster B.O.B. oozing out of a doorway, just like the star of the 1950’s sci-fier The Blob

Monsters vs. Aliens

I guess I can’t blame the filmmakers if they’re as big a bunch of fanboys as I am, but the poke-in-the-ribs, ‘you know what we’re quoting’ routine gets tiresome after a while. Even so, there were plenty of laugh lines in the film that the audience enjoyed; the TV news film critic sitting next to me guffawed at Reese’s sleazy TV anchor-boyfriend’s remark that his audience expects “news, sports, weather and heartwarming fluff pieces.”

Okay, not every DreamWorks movie can be a Panda or even a Shrek I (where the pop-culture gags were fresh) but to me it felt like they weren’t even trying. The ‘growth’ (there I go again!) of Reese and her fellow monsters into emotionally committed friends was strictly by the numbers. And when the military rewards her with a reunion with her family, why do her monster pals tag along, other than to stuff some ‘monsters freak out her family’ gags into the movie? Throwing something illogical into the script just to keep things moving – even in an anything-goes fantasy film – does a lot to unsuspend my suspension of disbelief.

Monsters vs. Aliens

Joe is an occasional animation scripter and freelance NYC writer covering animation and sci-fi/fantasy entertainment. His work has appeared in the NY Daily News, Newsday, the New York Press and, as they used to say on Rocky and Bullwinkle, ‘a host of others.’ He is a regular contributor to the animation industry website awn.com, but it’s much easier to visit joestrike.com to see what he’s been up to lately.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: THE FOLLOWING FEATURE CONTAINS VIDEO AND DISCUSSION OF AN ADULT NATURE.

'South Park'/Comedy Central
Tom Cruise and Scientology are two of the many targets of "South Park"
The 10 Most Controversial 'South Park' Episodes
As the animated series begins its 13th season, we look at some of its most outrageous episodes

By Dave Lake
MSN TV



Trying to choose the 10 most controversial "South Park" episodes is like trying to choose the worst Rob Schneider movie -- there are just so many to choose from. But as the show begins its 13th season, on March 11 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Comedy Central, we thought we'd round up the episodes that have generated the most publicity over the years. And there have been a lot of them. Right from the get-go, this scathing satire, centered on four kids from South Park elementary, built a reputation on being an equal-opportunity offender, leaving no stone unturned and no topic too taboo. Many learning institutions in turn banned the show's merchandise from their grounds, and several countries have banned the show's broadcast entirely (we're looking at you, former Soviet Union), no doubt stoking the fires of its brainchildren, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. There were many amazingly offensive and amazingly hilarious episodes to go through, but we were up to the challenge of finding our 10 favorites, and we present them to you here with clips from each.

Episode: "Trapped in the Closet"
Season: 9
Controversy: The mother (or should we say motherf---er) of all controversial "South Park" episodes is no doubt this one, which skewers Scientology, Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and R. Kelly in one fell swoop. Dubbed Closetgate, Comedy Central, a network owned by Viacom, pulled a rerun of this Emmy-nominated episode, supposedly under pressure from Tom Cruise, who threatened to bail out of promoting his upcoming film "Mission: Impossible III," which was being released by Paramount, a division of Viacom. Isaac Hayes, who had long performed the voice of Chef on the series, and who also happened to be a Scientologist, quit the show abruptly just days prior to this episode's broadcast. He later returned, and this episode has seen multiple reruns.

Episode: "The China Probrem"
Season: 12
Controversy: The episode implies that "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" is a raping of the franchise by having the film's star, Harrison Ford, literally raped several times in the episode by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg in an variety of famous movie rape scenes. Favorite "South Park" haters the Parents Television Council cited the episode for "exploiting the sensitive topic of rape for a trivial movie satire."

Episode: "It Hits the Fan"
Season: 5
Controversy: Inspired by the saucy language of ABC's "NYPD Blue," the episode opens with the gang talking about "Cop Drama," a network show planning to air a scene with an uncensored S-word in it. "South Park" then drops 162 uncensored S-bombs -- that's one every eight seconds -- for the remainder of its 22 minutes, with a counter at the bottom of the screen keeping track of each one. But aside from the gratuitous use of language, the episode ponders a larger question: Why is it considered offensive when an animated comedy pushes the envelope via edgy language, while a serious drama doing the same thing is considered art? Another episode, titled "With Apologies to Jesse Jackson," pulled a similar stunt using the N-word.

Episode: "Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo"
Season: 1
Controversy: A Russian Pentecostal organization demanded that the Russian government revoke the license of the nation's oldest private entertainment channel after it aired this Christmas-themed classic from the show's first season featuring a singing, hat-wearing turd. The organization's appeal was flushed and the station's license was kept.

Episode: "Jared Has Aides"
Season: 6
Controversy: After Jared Fogle, the spokesman for Subway restaurants, visits South Park to discuss his weight loss, the boys misunderstand his methods for losing weight. Fogle explains it was a series of appointments with his personal trainer and his dietitian, his aides, which the boys misinterpret as his AIDS. The rest of the episode's plot revolves around Butters, South Park's favorite overweight kid, and his abuse at the hands of his parents after they think he's attempted a liposuction surgery on himself at home. Ironically, Comedy Central banned the episode, not due to its AIDS-related material, but due to its portrayal of Butters being abused by his parents.

Episode: "Scott Tenorman Must Die"
Season: 5
Controversy: Consistently voted one of the show's most popular and most outrageous episodes by fans, "Scott Tenorman Must Die" is notable both for the appearance of the band Radiohead as themselves (most celebrities are impersonated on the show) and the depths with which Cartman will go to seek revenge. In this case, feeding the titular character chili made from the remains of his parents. It is also, according to Stone and Parker, the first and only episode to not have two plots.

Episode: "Terrance & Phillip in Not Without My Anus"
Season: 2
Controversy: Conceived as an April Fools' Day prank, and fueled by the generous publicity received by the Season 1 cliffhanger, the second season premiere, which was intended to answer the question of who Cartman's parents were, instead focused on an unrelated episode involving the show-within-the-show characters of Terrance and Phillip. Fans were outraged, and as such Comedy Central pushed Parker and Stone to quickly create the real episode, which they did, and which aired three weeks later.

Episode: "Bloody Mary"
Season: 9
Controversy: The Catholic League protested the episode because of its depiction of a Virgin Mary statue bleeding from its rectum. It originally aired on Dec. 7, 2005, the night before the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a Catholic holiday relating to the Virgin Mary. There were conflicting reports that Comedy Central had agreed to not rerun the episode, however the network denies ever having agreed to such a demand. There was also outrage in New Zealand, where the nation's Catholic Bishops' Conference attempted, unsuccessfully, to stop the episode from airing.

Episode: "Hell on Earth 2006"
Season: 10
Controversy: In the episode, a guest at a Halloween costume party shows up as wildlife expert Steve Irwin with a stingray barb sticking out of his chest. After being confronted for wearing such a tacky costume, the guest turns out to be Irwin himself, and is subsequently removed from the party for not wearing a costume. The episode aired just weeks after Irwin died from having a stingray spine puncture his lung while filming a segment for a television show. Shortly after the episode aired, a friend of the Irwin family issued a statement saying the episode "goes too far too soon."

Episode: "Cartoon Wars Part II"
Season: 10
Controversy: In 2005, after a Dutch newspaper published a series controversial editorial cartoons featuring the Islamic prophet Mohammed that sparked violence in several countries, Comedy Central censored a photo from the episode that depicted the prophet appearing on an episode of "Family Guy." In its place, the show ran a title card reading "Comedy Central has refused to broadcast an image of Mohammed on their network." Aside from the political overtones, the episode also takes aim at "Family Guy" and its writers, as well as a network executive named Doug, presumably a dig at Doug Herzog, president of Comedy Central.

What is your favorite outrageous "South Park" episode? Write us at heymsn@microsoft.com and let us know.

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The Best Bionic Characters



As we recently reported, one-eyed filmmaker Rob Spence will be the next Bionic Man. The Canadian film whiz has crafted a prosthetic eye-masked camera to go undercover for a documentary about surveillance cameras he'll be filming. Spence's stroke of mad genius was partly inspired by the '70s drama The Six Million Dollar Man, in which Steve Austin, a brutally injured astronaut, is restored to life with the help of mechanical body parts.
Turns out, Hollywood loves an average-Joe-turned-superhero-via-machine. While audiences fear the Terminators (who have no human in them at all) they love Cyborgs, humans whose metal limbs enhance their abilities. To honor Spence and his eye-camera, we've put together a list of our favorite bionic men, women and, of course, bunnies.

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1. Steve Austin: Astronaut, a man barely alive... That is, until he's rebuilt and off to save the country. Mr. Austin inspired a series of machine-enhanced TV characters, including that lovely Bionic Woman.

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2. Cyborg: It's always tough when monsters cross experimental portals and kill your mother. It's even worse when the monster rips off half your limbs and flesh in the process. Thankfully, Victor Stone's father was able to build him a prosthetic frame, and the young Cyborg was off to join the Teen Titans.

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3. Mad-Eye Moody: Well, he's not exactly a muggle, but Moody's certainly very human, even if he can also see through walls with that swiveling blue eye.

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4. Cherry Darling: Rose McGowan's machine-gun-legged go-go dancer in Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror. Imagine dancing on that thing!

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5. Inspector Gadget: The absent-minded sleuth isn't missing any limbs or gifted with superpowers, but he needs to be up here, if only for his techno-savvy brain.

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6. Luke Skywalker: It's never a good idea to fight with daddy, especially if he's Darth Vader and there are light sabers involved. Poor Luke found this out the hard way, when his evil father cut off his hand in duel. Luckily for young Skywalker, the George Lucas deity running his universe gave men the gift of fashioning life-like prosthetic hands.



7. Buster Bluth: The Mitch Hurwitz god isn't as generous as the Lucas deity, so poor, seal-maligned Buster is only equipped with a hook (until he gets an awkward prosthetic, which his parents use in unmentionable ways). He's not exactly a superhero, but when he ziplines down that telephone wire, he sure looks like one ('till he falls through a glass ceiling, that is).

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8. Bionic Bunny: All right, he's not actually bionic; his only weakness is salt. But the heavily-merchandised bunny superhero from the children's fictional series, Arthur, deserves props, if only for his awesome name.

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'MacGyver' getting revived as feature film

By Borys Kit and Jay Fernandez

New Line is using twine, bubble gum and a pencil to throw "MacGyver" into development as a feature film.

Raffaella De Laurentiis, daughter of Dino De Laurentiis, is producing through her Raffaella Prods. along with Martha De Laurentiis and series creator Lee Zlotoff.

Dino De Laurentiis is exec producing.

"MacGyver" was a science-oriented adventure series that ran from 1985-92 on ABC. Richard Dean Anderson, later of "Stargate: Atlantis" and "SG-1" fame, starred as an incredibly resourceful secret agent for the Phoenix Foundation who frequently would escape from dangerous situations with ingenious and lightning-quick engineering trickery.

Two telefilms starring Anderson aired in the years after the show's cancellation. The character eventually achieved enough cultural penetration to become a reference for anyone attempting to jury-rig a solution out of household items. "Saturday Night Live" took the concept to the next level with its spoofs "MacGruber," starring Will Forte.

No writer is attached, but the studio hopes to find a script that can acknowledge how the concept has staked a place into pop culture yet still makes for a serious and fun adventure movie.

"We think we're a stick of chewing gum, a paper clip and an A-list writer away from a global franchise," said New Line's Richard Brener, who will oversee with Sam Brown and Walter Hamada.

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Please, No More Dark Superhero Movies


The Dark Knight was a massive hit, and Watchmen got great buzz (if not great reviews). But when Fox floats the idea of a "dark" reboot for the Fantastic Four, it's gone too far.

It's weirdly fitting that The Dark Knight and Watchmen look like they're going to end up serving the same purpose for movies that The Dark Knight Returns and, well, Watchmen served for comics twenty-plus years ago; namely, misdirecting creators into thinking that superheroes have to be "dark" and "realistic" in order to be successful. There's every possibility, of course, that Watchmen's theater bow will end up far lower than expected (That 78% drop this Friday doesn't look good, let's face it) and shift this expectation - just as there's the possibility that Warners and Fox execs are right in assuming that the mainstream movie audience really does just want grumpy, moody superhero movies. But somehow, I doubt both of those possibilities.

That Hollywood wants another Dark Knight is completely understandable, even ignoring the exceptional box office take of the movie; Chris Nolan's second Batman flick was artistic, sincere and adult (even if it was also twice as long as it should've been), and showcased a new way to approach superhero movies without traditional sensationalism and cliche, after all. But that doesn't mean that it needs to become the template for all superhero movies from now on. Part of what made Dark Knight work so well was that the darkness and the stabs at moral ambiguity were entirely in keeping with the world of Batman as we've all come to accept it in recent years. It wasn't an attempt to graft something that didn't belong onto the character - as, I think could be argued, Superman Returns tried to do with the "Lois has moved on/Clark is a stalker" angst that hit such a false note - but an indulging in the greyness that Batman has become increasingly surrounded in since his day-glo '60s TV show heyday.

(The same with Watchmen's grit, which was always in the source text. In fact, there's definitely an argument that what makes Watchmen unsuccessful to some degree - and, of course, there are all manner of arguments over just what that degree may be - are the deviations from the original, whether it be in plot of the slick glossiness that Snyder's movies seem to have no matter what.)

The original two Fantastic Four movies weren't financial failures, per se, but they weren't Spider-Man or X-Men, either; the reason for that, though, wasn't that they were too happy. Creatively, they were... fun enough in a "I'm half-watching them on an airplane because there's nothing else to do" way, perhaps, but they weren't really the Fantastic Four, either. The key to those characters and that series is, ultimately, still in the tone that was established in the first 100 issues of their comic - a strange mix of sentiment, soap opera and invention that, to be honest, is much closer to the Back To The Future movies (or, more obviously, Pixar's The Incredibles) than Fox's previous attempts... and something that's a million miles away from the "dark" reinvisioning that rumors are suggesting that Fox is considering.

(The mind boggles, in a way, at the idea of a dark Fantastic Four franchise; the characters are so amazingly undark - they're called the Fantastic Four and their main nemesis calls himself Doctor Doom, for the love of God; there's a childlike suspension of disbelief necessary to buy into the concept as something other than parody in general, surely? - that I can't really imagine how it would even work for an entire movie never mind the reinvention of a franchise. If it is being seriously considered, it speaks to the assumption that it's a result of desperation to keep movie rights than anything else.)

The key to successful superhero movies, ultimately, is in faith to the spirit of the original (Case in punny point: The Spirit may have shared character names with Will Eisner's comic strip, but little else, and was an artistic failure because of that. Of course, it was a financial failure because it was a terrible movie), but that point - maybe the real lesson of The Dark Knight, especially if taken in tandem with last year's also-successful, but much more playful, Iron Man - is perhaps lost behind the dollar signs that appear in movie executives' eyes whenever Dark Knight is mentioned, particularly in light of all the publicity push of the equally gloomy Watchmen. It's a shame, because the superhero genre - for all its faults - is something with so much more potential than any amount of gritty deconstructionist, "realistic" takes could properly demonstrate, and various characters already headed to the big screen - whether they're Green Lantern, Thor or even Captain America - deserve stories that are much, much bigger than real life.

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The Star Trek Happy Meal: To Boldly Burp Where No Fan Has Gone Before

Star Trek Happy Meals: To boldly burp where no fan has gone before...Having watched the original series since my early childhood one of my early disappointments in life was the 1979 film Star Trek: The Motion Picture: You have to understand for me this was like Beatles getting back together again, but then producing a bad disco album. So it’s not surprising that I’ve blocked most of my memories associated with that “film” out of mind. But one thing that that the Paramount marketing dept. got right was the merchandising, and in this case I had forgotten that fast food giant McDonald’s had created a series of Star Trek themed Happy Meals to coincide with the film. Shown above and below are commercials that promoted fast food for Star Fleet officers in training.

Star Trek Happy Meals: To boldly burp where no fan has gone before... Each Star Trek Happy Meals box art included comic strips and trading cards that you could cut out. The comic strip artwork was by illustrator Ron Villani who had quite a bit of fun with his subject matter:

Star Trek McDonalds Happy Meal comic strips: 1979 Box features: Kirk, Klingons, Klingon cruisers are destroyed by an energy burst from a giant cloud.

Star Trek McDonalds Happy Meal comic strips: 1979 Box features: Kirk, Klingons, Klingon cruisers are destroyed by an energy burst from a giant cloud.

Star Trek McDonalds Happy Meal comic strips: 1979 Box features: Spock, Federation The crew of Station Epsilon 9 witness the destruction of Klingon ships by a cloud headed for Earth

Star Trek McDonalds Happy Meal comic strips: 1979 Box features: Spock, Federation The crew of Station Epsilon 9 witness the destruction of Klingon ships by a cloud headed for Earth

But best of all each Happy Meal included a special toy communicator which included a comic strip that you could scroll through:

Star Trek Video Communicator: Star Trek Happy Meal Toy

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Fox Strips Bonus Materials From DVD Rentals


Fox Strips Bonus Materials From DVD Rentals Owning a DVD vs. renting; what’s the difference? At present nothing, but very soon that won’t be the case. According to Video Business, in an effort to give DVD sales a boost, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment will release two different versions of each movie, a premium version and a stripped-down one. The premium editions will be available for purchase and will offer bonus material in addition to the actual film. On the other hand, if you prefer to rent your movies, you’ll only be able to get your hands on the stripped versions, which will offer less material.

Fox has no plan to ease this strategy into effect. It’ll begin with box office heavyweights Marley & Me and Slumdog Millionaire which will be released March 31st. Every title will see different alterations. For example, the Slumdog rental will only come with the film and trailers, while the retail version will also have special features. When it comes to Blu-ray, the rental version will have everything the retail version does except for a digital copy of the film. In the case of Marley & Me, both the retail and rental DVD will have the film and bonus material as will the retail and rental Blu-ray versions. The only difference here is that the rental version of the Blu-ray edition will not come in combo pack form with a DVD movie and digital copy, as does the retail version. Following in Slumdog’s and Marley’s footsteps will be The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Wrestler, Notorious and Bride Wars.

Fox issued this statement addressing their plans: “We have developed product variations to feed different consumer consumption models and behaviors. For rental customers, we’re delivering a theatrical experience in the home while promoting upcoming releases; for retail [or sell-through] customers, we’re offering a premium product that expands the entertainment experience of that particular property to further enhance ownership.” While many do understand Fox’s effort, DVD retailers are already looking for ways to get around the restrictions. A popular method of doing so will be buying premium versions and then renting them out to costumers. Thanks to the First Sale Dotrine, there’s absolutely nothing prohibiting retailers from doing so.

I understand Fox needs to sell more DVDs, but this is not the way to do it. This new policy will only confuse costumers and upset them once they figure out what’s going on. Why not just think a little bit harder and come up with a marketing strategy to make DVDs more appealing to buy rather than rent? Considering there’s no profit without loyal customers, you’d think Fox could be a little more concerned with keeping buyers happy.

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Actor Ron Silver dies in NYC at age 62 of cancer

In this Aug. 30, 2004 file photo, actor Ron Silver speaks at the evening session of the first day of the Republican National Convention in New York. Actor Ron Silver has died in New York City after a two-year battle with esophageal cancer. The Creative Coalition Executive Director Robin Bronk says the 62-year-old, who co-founded the nonprofit, died peacefully in his sleep with his family around him early Sunday morning March 15, 2009. (AP Photo/Joe Cavaretta, File)

Actor Ron Silver, who won a Tony Award as a take-no-prisoners Hollywood producer in David Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow" and did a political about-face from loyal Democrat to Republican activist after the Sept. 11 attacks, died Sunday at the age of 62.

"Ron Silver died peacefully in his sleep with his family around him early Sunday morning" in New York City, said Robin Bronk, executive director of the Creative Coalition, which Silver helped found. "He had been fighting esophageal cancer for two years."

Silver, an Emmy nominee for a recurring role as a slick strategist for liberal President Jed Bartlet on "The West Wing," had a long history of balancing acting with left-leaning social and political causes.

But after the 2001 terrorist attacks, longtime Democrat Silver turned heads in Hollywood with outspoken support of President George W. Bush over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Silver spoke at the 2004 Republican National Convention, began referring to himself as a "9/11 Republican" and reregistered as an independent.

In an interview with The Associated Press a month later, Silver said his support for the war on terror was costing him work in liberal-minded Hollywood.

"It's affected me very badly. I can't point to a person or a job I've lost, but this community is not very pluralistic," Silver told the AP. "I haven't worked for 10 months."

His switch to a more conservative image threatened to overshadow an esteemed career on stage, television and film, along with his long history of activism, which included co-founding the nonpartisan Creative Coalition, an advocacy group for entertainers.

"He was a talented actor, a scholar and a great believer in participatory democracy," Bronk said Sunday evening. "He was an activist who became a great artist and his contributions will never be forgotten."

His big-screen credits included "Ali," "Reversal of Fortune," "Enemies: A Love Story," "Silkwood" and "Semi-Tough."

Besides "The West Wing," Silver was a regular or had recurring roles on such TV shows as "Veronica's Closet," "Chicago Hope" and "Wiseguy." He directed and costarred in the 1993 TV movie "Lifepod," a science-fiction update of Alfred Hitchcock's "Lifeboat."

Silver's Tony for "Speed-the-Plow" came in 1988, a year after he earned his first Emmy nomination, for the murder thriller "Billionaire Boys Club."

Silver still found work despite his conservative shift, appearing in episodes of "Law & Order" and "Crossing Jordan" and such movies as "Find Me Guilty" and the Ten Commandments comedy "The Ten."

He continued his recurring role on "The West Wing," joking that he faced some taunting over his views from co-workers on the show which took place in a fiercely liberal White House administration.

"Often when I walked onto the set of 'The West Wing' some of my colleagues would greet me with a chanting of 'Ron, Ron, the neo-con.' It was all done in fun but it had an edge," Silver wrote in a Nov. 15, 2007, entry of his blog on the Pajamas Media Web site.

Silver's on-screen work rankled liberals, too. He narrated 2004's "Fahrenhype 9/11," a deconstruction of Michael Moore's Bush-bashing hit documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11."

"Michael Moore and that faction of the party was one of the factors that did not let me support the Democratic nominee this year," Silver told the AP in 2004. "He is a charlatan in a clown suit."

Born July 2, 1946, in New York City, he was the son of Irving and May Silver. His father worked in New York's garment industry and his mother was a teacher.

Earning a bachelor's degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo and a master's degree in Chinese history from St. John's University, Silver studied drama at the Herbert Berghof Studio and the Actors Studio.

In the 1970s, he gradually moved from theater work in New York City into television and film. His early credits included "The Mac Davis Show," "Rhoda" and "The Stockard Channing Show."

Silver and ex-wife Lynne Miller had a son, Adam, and daughter, Alexandra.

Whichever end of the political spectrum his activism fell, Silver viewed such involvement as something of a duty for entertainers.

"I think there's almost an obligation," he said in a 1991 interview with the AP. "Many of us are very well compensated for work which a lot of people would love to do. And we also have a lot of leisure time in between jobs. ...

"They say that Hollywood is sex without substance, and Washington is substance without sex, so maybe the marriage of the two is mutually intriguing."

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press.