Thursday, February 26, 2009

Top 10 Most Undeserving Oscar Winning Pictures of All Time

My lack of enthusiasm for "Slumdog Millionnaire" got me thinking. Surely there have been worse pictures to win an Oscar, right? Yeah, but just barely. Here's my list, with the worst of all time ranked #1:

10) 1949--"All The King's Men." I loved this film when I was a kid, because it's story of corruption and intrigue was compelling. But I viewed it again recently (not the lugubrious re-make with Sean Penn and Jude Law a few years ago) and was shocked at how dated it was. Today we expect our politicians to be seriously flawed, and government contract money is always dirty. Moreover, Broderick Crawford's performance is so over-the-top that it's laughable in retrospect.

9) 1956--"Around The World in 80 Days." The story of a 19th century balloonist who is on the run from authorities, but still has time to vacation in exotic lands, seems such a trifle that Price-Waterhouse must have miscounted the Oscar ballots. David Niven underplays as always, and that's good, but some actor named Cantinflas ruins every scene they are in together. This is a mess, and I have no idea what Hollywood was thinking when honoring this film.

8) 1958--"Gigi." The first of a whole slew of musicals ("West Side Story," "My Fair Lady," "The Sound of Music," etc.) to win Best Picture in the following decade, this is by far the worst of the lot. If you consider Maurice Chevalier warbling "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" entertaining, well...I don't know what to say. This held no appeal for me.

7) 2003--"The Lord of the Rings: Return of the Kings." Did you ever see those dorky kids, dressed in medieval costumes, playing "Dungeons and Dragons" in the park on a Sunday afternoon? That's what I felt like when I went to see this film. I walked out as soon as Wizard Gandalf made his first appearance. Elijah Wood played the hobbit Frodo...oh, hell, I'm embarassed to just say these names out loud.

6) 1952--"The Greatest Show on Earth." Beware of talkies made by Cecil B. DeMille. This picture is hopelessly dated. It might have worked as a documentary on circus carnies, but DeMille had to inject his heavy-handed melodrama. It is hard to watch Charlton Heston and Dorothy LaMour emote. And Jimmy Stewart, for some reason, plays a circus clown.

5) 2008--"Slumdog Millionnaire." Contrived, manipulative, and predictable...Dev Patel is not the worst actor I've ever seen, but close. (See my full review of this movie in a previous post).

4) 1992--"Unforgiven." Okay, I know this is Clint Eastwood's masterpiece, and his mea culpa to his violent past in films. But, when broken down, it is little more than a conventional oater. Gene Hackman, who was nominated in a supporting role, is simply awful. And the final shootout is too stylized and fake.

3) 1983--"Terms of Endearment." Though well-acted by all, this film is too "precious" for me. It would have been an amusing romantic comedy had the writers not taken the easy way to the Academy Awards by having the young mother die of cancer. Forced and cloying, this device makes all performances just too precious for words. Even Jack Nicholson, who, by the end, is sufficiently neutered to be palatable to the soap opera lovers.

2) 1996--"The English Patient." Skewered by a classic "Seinfeld" episode this film has become an homage to self-parody. It is too long, too contrived and too weepy to be taken seriously.

1) 1939--"Gone With The Wind." I watched the first ten minutes recently, and I was dumbstruck by the light-hearted playfulness of the opening sequence. As if David O. Selznick was returning us to the happy-go-lucky days of slavery. I've never been a southern sympathizer, yet GWTW tries to induce this sentiment in the viewer. Besides this, the acting is the epitome of superficial exteriorizing.

Next post will be the 10 most deserving films that got overlooked.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

"Slumdog Millionaire": Most Unworthy Oscar Winner Of All Time?

At about about 11 pm (CST) tonight, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences will hand out its Oscar for Best Picture to "Slumdog Millionaire," and I will throw my popcorn at the TV because I don't get the "Slumdog" phenomenon. The film was trite, contrived and predictable (did anyone really believe that Jamal and Latika would not hook up in the end?). The performances were pedestrian. And the "Bollywood" ending shattered any illusion that this film was to be taken seriously.

Don't get me wrong. There was some merit to the film. The graphic scenes of abject poverty in the slums of Bombay were moving and evocative. Ultimately, though, the director, Danny Boyle, used these scenes for his own exploitative purposes. The audience is hit broadside with the images of pitiable suffering, not to raise consciousness as part of an admirable character study or sociocultural epic, but merely to evince easy sympathy for hardscrabble kids who inevitably fall into pots of gold--one criminal, one coincidental. The irony is, the child stars, Azrahuddin Mohammed Ismail, 10, and Rubina Ali, 9, still live in grinding poverty. They want money, not Oscars.

The older stars, Dav Patel and Freida Pinto, were sufficiently superficial to facilitate the laughable happenstances of the plot. Patel, apparently, has only two expressions--wide-eyed bewilderment and wide-eyed wonder. Even he is stunned by his success, "I have been absolutely amazed at the reaction." Pinto, though a show-stopping beauty, is not much better. Her character seems largely unfazed by her rags-to-ill-won-riches-to-true-love journey.

This is almost overshadowed by the exhilarating direction. Fast cuts, provocative angles, and memorable images might have saved the day. But in the end, it was only an attempt to disguise the wooden performances and the ridiculous contrivances. Nonetheless, Boyle is a shoe-in for Best Director.

What clinched it for me was the sudden and shocking dance number at the film's climax. It shredded the last remnant of melodramatic sweep. I've been informed that this number has theatrical precedence, but for me it rendered all that preceded it unreal and inconsequential.

In this day of heightened Muslim-Christian tensions, is Hollywood reaching out to Islamic artists? Or is this just AMPAS's lame attempt to have life imitate pseudo-art? Whatever; maybe a real dog is finally having its day.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Kelly Wallace Interviews Me on BlogTalk Radio 2/23

In order to promote my book, Murder Of An American Nazi, my publisher has arranged for an Internet Radio interview of me on Mon. Feb. 23, 2 pm (central time). It will air on BlogTalk Radio, hosted by Kelly Wallace. Should be a fun 30 minutes, so listen in if you can. Here's the link for the live audio feed or streaming on your computer. A preview of the show has already been posted at this site:

I think listeners can call in to ask questions fire away if you want.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Origins and Consequences of Operation Mockingbird

So I'm sitting with friends yesterday, sipping coffee and eating breakfast, at a local cafe. It's a Saturday morning ritual attended by a select few from the neighborhood who form our inner circle. Coincidentally, they had all just finished reading my book, and the questions flew at me fast and furious. I took them one at a time and wound up going on at length about the CIA's subversion of the free press in America after World War II. My friends could not grasp the concept of mainstream media spouting CIA/military-industrial propaganda. They could not wrap their heads around the fact that the press, TV, publishers, and radio airwaves have been complicit in covering up the truth about the real history of this country, circa 1945 until...well...even today. Like children who had just been told there was no Santa, these friends scoffed at the notion. I laughed heartily, and then I figuratively held their hands and took them on a truncated journey through the labyrinth. I began with a quote from Jim Garrison, the brave soul who was reviled and character-assassinated for daring to take the CIA into court for the JFK murder: "In a very real and terrifying sense, our Government is the CIA and the Pentagon, with Congress reduced to a debating society. Of course, you can't spot this trend to fascism by casually looking around. You can't look for such familiar signs as the swastika, because they won't be there. We won't build Dachaus and Auschwitzes; the clever manipulation of the mass media is creating a concentration camp of the mind that promises to be far more effective in keeping the populace in line."

Then I gave them a history lesson. James Forrestal, Defense Secretary under Truman in 1948, implored the president to grant the CIA unlimited power to control or suppress freedoms in foreign lands. Truman, against his better judgment, relented because he was promised that this would reduce the possbility of communist takeovers and, thus, help avoid another world war. The CIA, of course, had no intention of only controlling information abroad. It created Operation Mockingbird to control the media at home. It was dreamed up by Allen Dulles and Frank Wisner, whose intention was to influence, through coercion, threat, blackmail, recruitment, or any other means, all branches of the American media. Wisner recruited Phillip Graham of the Washington Post to be his point man inside the newspaper industry. Graham, proud to do his patriotic duty, recruited journalists who had worked for military intelligence during the war--Russell Wiggins, C.D. Jackson, John Hayes, Alan Barth, and James Tritt. Eventually, Stewart and Joseph Alsop, the Luces (Henry and Clare Boothe) of Time/Life/Newsweek, Bill Paley of CBS, and A.H. Sulzberger of the New York Times joined the operation. Under no circumstances would these people investigate, print, or broadcast negative stories connected with the CIA. This despite the fact that the CIA was overthrowing duly elected leaders, both foreign and domestic; was drugging, brainwashing, and torturing its own unsuspecting citizens (MK-ULTRA); importing, protecting, and providing jobs to ex-Nazis (Operation Paperclip) who should have been tried and hanged at Nuremberg for war crimes; acting as procurement agents for large Wall Street interests; funding and training secret militias for right-wing paramilitary operations; and many more secret atrocities. The press and TV, instead, ran cute, fluffy stories about Ike's golf scores and LBJ's hounds. The only reason they turned on Joe McCarthy is because McCarthy tried to bring down one of their own--Cord Meyer. Meyer posed as a leftist so that he could infiltrate left-wing organizations and report on them to the CIA. McCarthy, a drunken, bilious mouthpiece for the right, was unaware of the line he had crossed...and so he became dispensable.

At this point my audience looked dazed and incredulous. So I wrapped it up with Wisner's own words: "I can play America like a grand Wurlitzer organ. The people will follow along with any tune I wish to play"; and I gave them a list of books to do their own research.

Next Saturday? More questions, I'm sure.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

KBR (Halliburton) is at it again--gets $35 million contract from the Pentagon

The news is as stunning as it is disturbing. KBR (Kellogg, Brown & Root...until recently a part of Halliburton) was awarded a $35 million contract for major electrical work in Iraq, according to the Associated Press, "...even as it is under criminal investigation in the electrocution deaths of at least two U.S. soldiers in Iraq."

How can this be? Where is Senate oversight of defense contracts? Why doesn't President Obama step in? KBR is robbing and murdering our citizens. While doing shoddy work that has killed our soldiers, KBR has already made $615 million on similar contracts. Why haven't these greedy, inept war profiteers been banned from receiving more of our money? According to federal law, the US government can ban companies in cases of fraud, antitrust violations (i.e., no-bid contracts which Cheney procured for Halliburton/KBR), bribery, tax evasion, or for actions that reflect a lack of business integrity or honesty. KBR qualifies to be banned on all these grounds.

And if you think this all started in Iraq, you're wrong. Halliburton/KBR's war profiteering goes back to WWII and Vietnam. I wrote of this in my book, Murder Of An American Nazi: "Halliburton began as Howco, an oil well cementing company in the early 20th century. When the Texas oil boom took off and demand for oil grew, Howco got rich. By the time the founder, Erle Halliburton, died in 1957, the company was worth hundreds of millions. They bought out the Brown brothers and Root in the 1960s. Brown and Root were LBJ's biggest financial backers. When LBJ became president he made sure Brown and Root and Halliburton got the contracts for building bases, airstrips, ports, bridges, piers, helicopter landing pads...hospitals and all sorts of other crap in Vietnam. They made hundreds of millions through cost overruns, waste and price fixing."

After Halliburton acquired Dresser Industries in 1998, Dresser's engineering subsidiary, Kellogg Company, was merged with Halliburton's construction subsidiary, Brown & Root (the "BR" of KBR). George and Herman Brown were close friends with LBJ, and KBR has kept close ties with other Texas politicians including Bush I and Bush II.

Halliburton/KBR has also made a fortune doing business with terrorist states like Iran and Libya. From page 127 of my book: "In the mid-70s they got more than $800 million to build naval bases in Iran... [and] Halliburton got a $25 billion contract from Qaddafi to build an underground pipeline in Libya. Halliburton even did business with Iraq in the late '90s. The oil-for-food program enriched Saddam Hussein by billions of dollars...[Halliburton's] subsidiaries signed a $100 million contract with Saddam to provide oil production equipment and services for Iraq...[back to Vietnam] Brown & Root/Halliburton's profits were over $300 million from '65 to '72 in Vietnam...None dared call it war profiteering for fear of being unpatriotic."

You can read more about this in Murder Of An American Nazi,,, or

You won't believe who was killed and what atrocities were perpetrated to make these profitable wars and corrupt contracts possible.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Rush Limbaugh: America's Goebbels

Here in the heartland, Rush Limbaugh is broadcast for three hours every day over the most far-reaching, and, thus, influential, radio station in the midwest--KMOX of St. Louis. The southern Illinois farmer doing his chores tunes in; so does the mailman making his rounds in the suburbs; so do the elderly confined to nursing homes in Jeff City; so do policemen in Hannibal, firemen in Evansville, and nurses in Joplin. And he hates all of you. All of you who work for a barely adequate wage, all of you on the government payroll, all of you who are female, brown, yellow, black, old, young, Hispanic, whatever. He hates you all. Just like Goebbels, who also got to spew his filth unopposed, on the only airwaves that could be heard in 1930s Germany, he hates everyone who is not like him--a white, middle-aged, corporate millionaire, filled with rage and utterly devoid of compassion.

This week he reached a new low, even for him. "I'm sick of...this so-called compassion for the poor. I don't have compassion for the poor." He, of course, loathes our new president, and openly lusts for Obama's failure. When criticized by a republican congressman, Phil Gringey, for this position, Limbaugh let loose on the poor congressman. (Goebbels could use his microphone to crush anyone--friend or enemy of the Third Reich.) Duly chastised, Gingrey made a humiliating mea culpa, and begged the almighty Rush for forgiveness.

In his ever hateful rhetoric; in his exhortations to move America so far to the right that it resembles neo-fascism; in his denigration of the poor, minorities, women, the aged, homosexuals; in his repudiation of all things gentle and glorious about this land, Limbaugh is our Goebbels. A malevolent, bilious presence on the airways, free to threaten, vilify, fearmonger, and propagandize. He answers to no one, and no cogent opposition is allowed...violating FCC fairness doctrines and all decent political discourse. The bully goes unchallenged, and, like Goebbels, all who dare dispute him are punished. He represents all that is shameful and reprehensible about this country--conscienceless, heartless, maniacal rapaciousness...and vicious intolerance.