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Idol Chatter

Idol Chatter

GQ on the Anticlimax Beat

posted by burb

The April issue of GQ, the magazine for dudes with elegantly mussed hair, baits us with the cover line, “The New Christian Sex Craze.” This continues a series of articles on conservative Christians, most of which have peddled fringey crackpots as just average Christian Joes. The sex craze in question, however, turns out to be the chastity movement, which writer Walter Kirn discovers with a visit to the L.A.-based Christian college Biola University and an interview with Stephen Arterburn, co-author of the Christian man’s no-sex guide “Every Young Man’s Battle.”

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Kirn, who admits that he grew up a sexually repressed Mormon, confesses a lot of admiration for both the boys of Biola—who use scotch tape and paper to hide Jennifer Aniston’s curves on magazine covers and talk dirty to one another to quell urges—and for Arterburn. He’s astonished at how chastity has become a form of rebellion, in which sex is ardently hoped for but delayed: “The new abstinence is not anti-sex but pro-sex, and that’s it’s ingenious selling point,” he writes.

Strangely, Kirn is the one who comes across as anti-sex: His repeated jibe against the passionate for Christ is that they are bound to be disappointed when the real thing happens.

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God to Steve Carell: Build an Ark

posted by donna freitas

Before he was the 40-year-old virgin, Steve Carell had a hilarious cameo role as the competition news anchor to Jim Carey’s Bruce in “Bruce Almighty.” Now, Universal Pictures plans to release a Summer 2007 follow-up called “Evan Almighty,” with Carell as its central character.

Evan Almighty” will see the return of Morgan Freeman playing the part of God, who informs Evan (Carell)–an anchorman-turned-politician–that a flood is coming so he must build an Ark in the style of Noah.

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In my opinion, Carell’s few minutes on screen during “Bruce Almighty” completely stole Jim Carrey’s thunder. That, together with Carell’s recent successes in “Anchorman” and “Virgin,” makes me think that “Evan Almighty” will be a Summer ’07 must-see.

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Tony Soprano’s Painful Path to Redemption?

posted by donna freitas

Dedicated “Sopranos” fans were shocked last week by the end of episode, the surprise shooting of Tony Soprano by his Uncle Junior (who’s gone a bit senile in recent years). Last night’s follow-up show focused–of course–on the aftermath of the shooting, as experienced by both Tony, through a series of coma-induced dreams, and as experienced by his family in their intense grief at the possibility of loosing him.

After last season’s downward turn in Tony’s character–when he was forced to live without Carmela’s constant presence and her capacity to keep him at least somewhat grounded despite his criminal tendencies–I can’t help but wonder: Is this shooting the beginning of Tony’s path to redemption? Is his suffering in a hospital bed a painful penance for his sins? Is Tony’s spilling of blood–something that often happens on the show to others but never in any significant way to Tony before now–a kind of Jesus-like giving of his own blood as payment for his past digressions and even those of his captains and heavies?

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Two significant things in last night’s episode raised this question for me. First were the dream sequences Tony experienced. In his dreams, Tony was a regular salesman with no criminal past who’s stuck on a sales trip trying to get back to his perfect-sounding family. In other words, Tony’s fantasy is of being a regular guy, not a mobster who is continually juggling his role as a hardened criminal and dedicated family man. What will happen if he comes out of this coma? Will Tony express the same desire to turn away from mafia life and set himself on a straight and narrow path like in his dreams? Will this near-death experience allow him to finally free that sympathetic, caring man we can all see glimpses of here and there throughout the entire run of “The Sopranos”?

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The second significant moment came from Carmela, whom I’ve always regarded as the moral compass and central religious figure on the show. Carmela recalls, while weeping at Tony’s bedside, when several years earlier, while she and Tony were fighting she told him he was going to hell. Tears fall down her face and onto her husband’s body as he lays there in a coma, and Carmela tells Tony that he’s a good man, that he’s not going to hell, that she is sorry for ever saying that. Are Carmela’s confessions, her forgiveness, and especially her tears a kind of “christening moment” for her husband? A renewed welcoming back into not only her family’s life, but also a baptismal renewal for his life and path in general?

Maybe I’m too optimistic. But maybe there’s hope for Tony yet.

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“Thank You For Smoking”: A Morality Farce?

posted by donna freitas

Within seconds after the opening credits of “Thank You For Smoking“–the new film directed by Jason Reitman, based on the novel by Christopher Buckley, with an all-star cast including Robert Duvall and William H. Macey–the film’s central character, Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), a successful pro-tobacco lobbyist, explains in voice over narration: “I front an organization that kills 1,200 people per day.”

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As the film progresses, Nick’s blunt self-awareness and string of self-associations and rationalizations about his job are never-ending. His alliances include membership in a group he refers to as “The M.O.D. Squad”–M.O.D. standing for Merchants of Death–which meets regularly for dinner and drinks. The group has a membership of three, and Nick tosses off the group’s name with a chuckle, as if it’s quaint. Nick’s role is as the “Merchant” representing Big Tobacco, while his two fellow “Merchants” represent the firearms lobby and the alcohol lobby, respectively.

In one of Nick’s stand-out moments, which is touching and reflective (insert sarcasm here), his son asks him about his job and whether or not any average Joe is qualified to be a tobacco lobbyist. Daddy responds to his son’s question with complete sincerity and a straight face: “No. It requires a certain moral flexibility.” “Moral flexibility,” of course, is one way of describing life as the “front man” for a product that kills 1,200 people a day.

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And yet, throughout the film, Nick Naylor somehow retains a kernel of sympathy from the viewer.

How does he do it? Perhaps it’s the father-son relationship that gives Nick’s character its redeeming quality, despite all the moral problems I have with his character and job. His dedication to being the best dad he can possibly be is evident throughout. He approaches fatherhood with all the tenderness, love, and effort one can hope for from a weekend-divorced dad, albeit in a rather offbeat, unusual manner (since most dads are not sincerely trying to instill disturbingly distorted pro-tobacco, lobbyist-tactic moral lessons into their kids). The father-son dimension in this narrative is amazingly well-developed and crafted, making the viewer care and empathize in a way that reminded me of Tony Soprano’s character: He is a man who wants desperately to be a good family man, yet who commits all these reprehensible acts.

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Or maybe it’s simply the comedy factor, since this film offers many laugh-out-loud moments, not least of which includes Nick’s son’s attendance at a school called “St. Euthanasius.” Rob Lowe puts in a few hilarious moments as a ridiculous Hollywood executive who dons a kimono when he’s alone. The humor overall is certainly dark, but not so dark that you feel disturbed leaving the film. Which perhaps is the biggest part of the problem: Nick Naylor as a character manages to charm–even seduce–the audience, with his regular-guy, dedicated-dad persona, in such a way that you almost want to forgive him. You almost want him to win–despite his horrific allegiances. Which means that somehow if you end up with the least bit of sympathy for Nick, you are de facto sympathizing with Big Tobacco and the firearms and alcohol lobbies by default.

It’s amazing what a persuasive character can do. Or is it just that there’s a little redemption in everyone–no matter what they stand for?

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