- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Movie mystery

“Again and again, drab, formulaic comedies have been released to almost universal derision from the critics, and again and again these films have been smash hits at the box office. ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ … was a major hit, despite a flimsy plot, a telegraphed finale and a no-name supporting cast. ‘How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,’ a film so icky — and I do not use the word lightly — no red-blooded male could possibly sit through it, got hammered by the press yet cleared $100 million in a matter of weeks. ‘Bringing Down the House’ — ‘Bulworth’ without any redeeming qualities — got annihilated by the media but immediately became a massive success. … and ‘Just Married,’ a piece of paint-by-number schlock as facile and unimaginative as they come, also brought in the crowds.

“The uncharitable view is that the moviegoing public’s standards of taste have dropped to such an abysmal level that any dumb piece of fluff will automatically be a hit. But this is not true. Gwyneth Paltrow continues to churn out bomb after bomb. The exploitative Cameron Diaz vehicle ‘The Sweetest Thing’ was a dud. And Meg Ryan hasn’t had a hit this century. Clearly, the public has some lingering sense of discrimination, though what it entails is anybody’s guess.”

Joe Queenan, writing on “Bulletproof Twaddle,” in the May issue of Hollywood Life

Unreality TV

“Fox’s new series ‘Playing It Straight,’ the first gay-themed reality show to appear on network television, wins the race to the bottom. The setup: Jackie, identified … as an ‘innocent young girl’ with ‘small-town values,’ is isolated on a Nevada ranch with 14 strapping lads. Over the course of the season, she will choose a mate in traditional reality-show fashion, by eliminating two contenders per episode through a series of talking-head interviews and horribly uncomfortable televised picnics. The twist, revealed to Jackie in the season opener, is that an undisclosed number of these suitors are, in actuality, batting left-handed. …

“What’s saddest about shows like ‘Playing It Straight’ is their cheerfully apolitical disavowal of the actual lives of gay people, their staging of a context-free erotic competition that is utterly disconnected from any — dare I say it? — reality.”

Dana Steven, writing on “The Bachelors,” Wednesday in Slate at www.slate.com

Moyers’ world

“Bill Moyers, who will be 70 in June, grew up in east Texas and by the age of 30 was press secretary to the president of the United States. … Now he controls millions of dollars in foundation money (bequeathed by rich businessmen), has access to taxpayer-subsidized airwaves, and his wife on the payroll. Yet he is a profoundly alienated man. …

“His discontent extends far beyond the nation’s borders. The whole world is filled with injustice. … His discontent is guaranteed because he defines injustice so broadly. Inequality yields it automatically. ‘What has happened to the word equality?’ he wondered recently. … ‘You don’t hear it in the political lexicon anymore.’

“Inequality was supposed to have been cured by ‘democracy. … He seems to think of democracy as a substitute for socialism, as though all wealth naturally belongs to a common pool and a proper democracy would share it out equitably. …

“Lots of people in America are saddled with this unremitting, burning sense of grievance. You have to be both well off and well educated to reach that mental state.”

Tom Bethell, writing on “The Living Hell of Bill Moyers,” in the American Spectator this month

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