Analyzing "State of the Union" addresses

An interesting website that examines in exhaustive detail - and with an ingenious graphic interface - every presidential "State of the Union" address since George Washington. At a glance, you can see (and compare) the word counts, the most frequently used words, and the relative grade-level of the language.

Hollywoodus celebritanius (Top 12 famous-person sightings to date)

For purposes of this survey, the Cheese Fry will only count sightings in a celebrity's natural everyday habitat (i.e. film festivals, screenings, red carpets, and backlot/production company appearances do not count).

1. Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore at the Starbucks counter in Barnes & Noble at The Grove. She’s talking to her kids, he’s just sort of standing there.

2. Then-L.A. Laker Shaquille O’Neal, sitting alone at the counter and having some hot tea at Jerry’s Famous Deli in Beverly Hills. He doesn't seem to want to be bothered by fans.
3. Jack Black, wearing a ratty hooded poncho at Koo Koo Roo on Wilshire. Suprisingly low key.
4. Steve Martin, sporting a helmet and locking his bike to a stop sign at the King’s Road Café on Beverly Blvd. Polite and quiet.
5. James Caan, holding sweaty court on several occasions with a group of macho bodybuilders at the Koo Koo Roo in Venice. Gregarious in a Sonny Corleone sort of way.
6. Oscar winner Helen Hunt, asking the ticket taker a question in the lobby of a movie theater in Van Nuys.
7. Fred Savage, playing flag football (and talking serious trash) in the Marina.
8. Martin Landau, stepping off an elevator at the Hollywood Arclight theater parking garage.
9. Mr. Bean Rowan Atkinson, sipping from a bottle of water waiting for a screening of Apocalypto to begin at the Hollywood Arclight. Usher: “Hello everyone!” Rowan: “'Allo.”
10. Greg Brady himself, Barry Williams, carrying a drink across the lobby of the Loews Santa Monica Hotel in a grungy long-sleeved T-shirt.
11. Nashville power couple Garth Brooks and Tricia Yearwood, getting seated at the Jerry’s Famous Deli in Westwood. They look like two pudgy suburban parents.
12. Kung Fu’s Keith Carradine, standing in the X-ray line at the LAX airport. Snatch the boarding pass from my hand.


Shaken, Not Stirred: Ranking the James Bond films

The Best
1. Goldfinger (1964) – The obvious choice. The quintessential Bond film balanced perfectly between edgy grit and wink-wink spectacle. The gadget-laden Aston Martin (Bond: “An ejector seat? You’re joking.” Q: “I never joke about my work, 007.”) points to the campy direction the series will ultimately take, but Oddjob is still perhaps the most scary and formidable Bond villain ever. The Fort Knox vault climax is sublime, as is Bond’s almost-death by laser beam. A pitch-perfect classic.

2. Casino Royale (2006) – A clever, thrilling reboot of the series exploring how Bond came to be 007. Despite silly outcries by fans that Daniel Craig was too short or too blonde, he’s quite simply the best Bond since Sean Connery, period. His Bond will kick your ass. Yes, the film’s too long by probably 30 minutes, but it’s that lengthy epilogue that’s so crucial to Bond’s evolution: a sudden turn in Bond’s romantic relationship with hottie Vesper Lynd hardens his heart and sets him on a path to become the ruthless agent we all know he will be.

3. For Your Eyes Only (1981) – The high point of the Roger Moore films. After the delicious, so-bad-it’s-almost-good absurdity of Moonraker (see #9), the producers wisely thought it best to strip Bond to the basics and send him on a bare-knuckles mission. With its revenge motif, there’s an undercurrent of anger here that gives the movie unexpected gravitas. Bonus points, of course, for the Sheena Easton theme song.

4. From Russia With Love (1963) – Like Dr. No (#8), this second Bond film is much more a traditional sort of cloak-and-dagger Cold War espionage thriller with Russian defectors and assassination plots. A series highlight is the claustrophobic fistfight between Bond and bad guy Robert Shaw on the Orient Express. The producers do what they do best, casting as a “Bond girl” an actress no one hears from again – in this case, luminous Italian actress Daniela Bianchi.

5. Live and Let Die (1973) – A curious artifact of the 1970s, influenced clearly by that era’s pop culture interest in “black power,” whether it’s the mean streets of Harlem or the supernatural jungles of African voodoo. With its small scope – it’s almost entirely set in the U.S. and involves organized crime bosses rather than Dr. Evil-style megalomaniacs – it’s an unusual Bond film. It’s also a mixed bag. For every inspired touch, whether it’s the Paul McCartney theme or tragic psychic Solitaire, there are missteps, such as the cheesy inclusion of a Southern-fried Louisiana sheriff.

The Very Good

6. You Only Live Twice (1967)
– Respect is due the film that features the villain’s lair in a phony volcano staffed with hundreds of loyal - and faceless - henchmen, all ready and willing to lay down their life for reasons unknown. All hail the birth of the spy movie cliché. This kind of ridiculous comic-book exaggeration – the bad guy, Bond nemesis Blofeld, is hijacking manned space capsules… while they’re in orbit (yes, you read that right) – is what people think of when you say James Bond.

7. Die Another Day (2002) – You can tell a lot about a person by whether or not they like this film, the last one to star Pierce Brosnan. It all seems to come down to Bond’s invisible car. Do they embrace that fanciful gadget or roll their eyes and crave more realism? Though the invisible car is a symbol of excess to many, this is Brosnan’s best Bond film thanks to a plausible (and fairly coherent) plot preying on very real tensions between North and South Korea. Having Halle Berry doesn’t hurt either.

8. Dr. No (1962) – The one that started it all. A fairly small and simple spy movie with some topical space-race sci-fi thrown in, looking at it one would never guess that a 40-year film franchise was being born. Bond here is a pretty dark guy – after questioning a bad guy and extracting useful information, Bond kills him in cold blood. Ouch. Even with the fun touches, like the slinky introduction of Honey Ryder (it’s tame now, but apparently in 1962 Ursula Andress’ little white bikini was a huge deal) or Dr. No’s metal hands, this film is really more of a historical artifact than anything else.

9. Moonraker (1979) – File this one under so-bad-it’s-genius. The producers are desperately trying to cash in on the Star Wars craze and the result is a train wreck. It’s hard to know where to begin, whether it’s turning the previous film’s feared villain (Jaws) into a sappy good guy, mounting a ridiculous outer space laser battle with armies of astronauts, or simply going for a cheap laugh at every possible opportunity. Villain Drax may be the most insanely ambitious villain ever – his plan is nothing short of global Armageddon so he can repopulate the earth with his master race. Textbook definition of guilty pleasure.

10. Thunderball (1965) – An important film in the Bond canon because of complicated story rights that allowed producer Kevin McClory to remake the film as Never Say Never Again in the 1980s with Sean Connery. Seen today, there’s a lot that is familiar in the movie, particularly the brilliantly simple stolen-nuke-for-ransom plotline, and the climactic underwater battle doesn’t age particularly well. But in 1965, this film was incredibly successful around the world – in fact, by some measures it was the most popular film ever released up to that time. If Goldfinger suggested Bond could be huge, Thunderball showed how huge.

11. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) – The Pierce Brosnan films typically suffer from plot impenetrability (which is why the next two entries on this list are both Brosnan titles – exciting and slick, but mostly forgettable). The storylines are complicated, the villain’s motives convoluted. This one’s no exception. All one can really say is that the villain’s a Rupert Murdoch billionaire who’s trying to sell more of his newspaper tabloids by causing global trouble. The film does benefit from some extra oomph in Michelle Yeoh’s casting as Chinese agent Wai Lin (the producers are again chasing pop culture trends, here bowing to the popularity of martial arts and Asian cinema).

The Just Okay

12. Goldeneye (1995)
– This is Pierce Brosnan’s first outing as Bond and he surely felt a lot of pressure to revive a series that had laid dormant for six years. But his easy charm and suave edge is the perfect antidote to Timothy Dalton’s sourpuss take on the character. This is a lot of people’s favorite Brosnan film, but the plot (evil agent wants to destroy London out of revenge) is needlessly dense, as if the filmmakers think to make a good spy thriller one had to confuse the audience. Extra credit for Famke Janssen’s great villain with an ever greater name (Xenia Onatopp).

13. The World Is Not Enough (1999) – Now we’re at that mushy middle point in the list where very little separates the good from the so-so. Yes, Sophie Marceau’s character Elektra provides a nice double-cross and there are some groovy action scenes, but one must also endure the improbability of Denise Richards as a physicist named Christmas Jones. Points must also be deducted for offering up a villain – Renard – who feels no pain (think of the possibilities!) and then relegating him to second-fiddle status. He really should have been the main bad guy.

14. Octopussy (1983) – The last great Cold War-inspired Bond film set around the tensions of divided Germany. The stakes are high, the action urgent, and the plot (for the most part – the whole Faberge egg thing sure takes a long time to pan out) dense enough to be engaging rather than confusing. Strangely, the title character and her India-based circus is perhaps the film’s weakest element. But poor old Roger Moore’s really starting to show his age.

15. License to Kill (1989) – Poor Timothy Dalton. So misunderstood, so unloved. After the increasing silliness of the Roger Moore films, especially A View to a Kill (see #21), there was really only one direction to take the franchise: serious and dark. The Living Daylights (see #19) came first, but this Dalton film is the better one. It’s a surprisingly satisfying movie but one that never fully connected with audiences. Maybe it was the darkness of the story – Bond quits MI5 to kill a South American crime lord (another craven attempt to cash in, this time it’s pop culture interest in the Colombian cartels) to avenge the torture of a friend. Or maybe it’s that Dalton is so stone-faced. Either way, it’s one of the more underrated Bond films.

16. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
– A mediocre entry in the Roger Moore era that shamelessly copies the basic plot of #6 You Only Live Twice (bad guy steals superpowers’ goods hoping each will blame the other and launch World War III). It’s a derivative formula, energized here only by the unusual (and terribly underutilized) element of Barbara Bach’s character, a KGB agent forced to work with Bond, who recently killed her Soviet lover in the line of duty. Extra points for the “Nobody Does It Better” theme song and the white Lotus Esprit that turns into a frickin’ submarine.

The Forgettable

17. Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
– This one gets low marks simply because Sean Connery looks so out of place, what with his hairpiece and all. The producers lured him back after the failed Lazenby Experiment (see #21) and he really just seems to be going through the motions. It’s the same old thing. Again, supervillain Blofeld’s plotting a worldwide disaster (he’s building a giant laser) for his own financial gain. There’s a bit of fun to be had in a Las Vegas subplot, but it’s mostly a tired and mechanical exercise.

18. The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) – File this one under so-bad-it’s-terrible. This is one weird film. Just about every element is out of whack, from the shrill and ludicrous theme song (whatever happened to Lulu?) to the casting of blank-eyed bimbo Britt Ekland as the bumbling Bond girl to using, with a completely stone face, a third nipple of all things as the distinguishing characteristic of the film villain. There’s something in here about solar energy (a timely nod to 1970s energy politics) but it’s really a strange story of how a famous underworld hitman wants to kill 007 out of professional pride. Oh yeah, and "Fantasy Island’s" Herve Villechaize is in it. Must be seen to be believed.

19. The Living Daylights (1987) – The first film in the post-Roger Moore era is a fairly joyless affair. Timothy Dalton’s relentless frown doesn’t help. The plot (more defections, assassinations, and political backstabbing) is complicated the point of being absolutely baroque, so determined are the filmmakers in crafting a “real” spy thriller. Even reading a plot synopsis just now for this post, the Cheese Fry was hard pressed to figure out what the hell the point is. Trivia item: upon release, much was made of Bond’s out-of-character monogamy in the film, clearly influenced by the era’s AIDS fears.

20. A View to a Kill (1985) – Silly and pointless. There’s a lot that feels just wrong here, whether it’s Christopher Walken doing his usual weirdo schtick as a white-haired villain with a Lex Luthor-style plot to create earthquakes in California, Grace Jones strutting her weirdo look as Walken’s androgynous henchperson (who seems to belong in another, stranger movie), or the big climax taking place atop the Golden Gate Bridge with some very shoddy rear projection. And then there’s the sight of wrinkly 58-year-old Roger Moore macking with a sleek 31-year-old Tanya Roberts. Yes, the Moore era had to end here. The Duran Duran theme song is a guilty pleasure, however. Ed. note: here again a Bond film plot is echoing pop culture, this time it’s the booming PC craze that seems to have influenced the film’s Silicon Valley storyline – maybe it’s needlessly mean-spirited to suggest the Bond producers chase pop culture to maximize audience interest; perhaps instead one should look at the twists and turns of the series as an inevitable reflection of the time from which it came. If so, then the Bond films might offer an interesting way to chart evolving cultural concerns, interests, and fears of the West. Hmmm.

21. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) – It’s a part of the Saltzman-Broccoli-Eon canon, but it really doesn’t feel like a Bond movie, does it? It’s not George Lazenby’s fault. If he’d been allowed to continue, the Cheese Fry might have fonder feelings for this film. But his one-shot performance unavoidably makes this film the bastard stepchild of the series. Which is too bad, because Bond’s relationship and marriage (and eventual tragic widowhood) with Diana Rigg’s Tracy DiVincenzo gives this film an emotional center only Casino Royale ever successfully developed.


"Previously on Heroes..."

“Six Months Ago”
Cool: One of the more interesting moments in this flashback episode is getting a glimpse of Eden’s hedonistic life in which she does whatever she wants whenever she wants thanks to her Jedi Mind Trick skill. (Poor Matt suffers yet another indignity when she makes him go eat a box of donuts.) But then she meets HRG and his Haitian sidekick and for the first time, someone tells her no.
Huh?: The Niki/Jessica subplot continues to plumb new depths of tedium. Now we learn that Jessica is Niki’s dead sister, which suggest more of a strange Stephen-King-style supernatural possession element, rather than a genetic superpower mutation. At the very least, this Jessica personality would seem to be rather rationally explained as some kind of multiple personality disorder. Is she in the right show?
Best Line: “I wanted to be important.” – Gabriel Gray, who will soon dub himself Sylar and become a hero-killer. This one line sums up the show’s entire appeal in the way it cleverly taps into our daydreaming wonder – as we’re stuck in traffic, dealing with a broken photocopier at work, or scrounging for extra coins to buy fast food – about what it might be like to be truly extraordinary.
Rising: Matt, a sad-sack guy in desperate need of a break. His repeated failings of the detective test, it turns out, isn’t because he’s dim-witted. He’s lot dyslexia. Which makes one wonder if his mind-reading is a mutation designed to help compensate for an inherent limitation. Could the hero mutations be a kind of strange survival response (e.g. the first time Nathan flies is to escape a car accident)? Hmmm.
Attention must be paid to the show’s appropriately moody music, with twangy Indian motifs surely designed to evoke Chandra and Mohinder Suresh.
Cooler: As Niki/Jessica’s found out, it can be hard to put a bullet into a shapeshifter like D.L. Darn things just pass right through. But the first bullet wounds D.L., which suggests he has to consciously decide to “liquefy” himself. It’s not a default setting. Yes, the Cheese Fry is a nerd.
Coolest: HRG, it seems, has a boss.
Best Lines: “I’ve died before. It’s no big deal.” – Claire, who has and it wasn’t.
Rising: Claire, who gains more audience sympathy in being so perfectly isolated by her dad’s efforts to put a lid on her secret. The Haitian’s wiped everyone’s memory of her healing ability, including Zack, who was presumably her one and only friend (a strange concept given her status as popular cheerleader, but we’ll let it go). A teenager’s worst nightmare: no one understands her.
Falling: Hiro, who’s getting a little too self consciously cute with his squishy teleporting face, wide-eyed gee-whiz innocence, and stereotypically clunky English (see last week’s exclamation of “Greato scott!”). It was charming at first, but it feels more and more like the writers – and actor Masi Oka – are in on the joke.


Things you probably didn’t know about your local multiplex theater (c. 1989)

* Torn ticket stubs get saved. Each day’s stubs goes into a plastic bag. And there are a lot of little bags in one of the storerooms. Not sure why.

* It’s true – if you can befriend someone who works at a theater, they will be able to get you in for free. Easily.

* The oil used to make the popcorn is horrible for you. (A classic employee exchange: “That oil’s the second worst thing you could possibly put into your body.” “What’s the first?” “Poison.”) It comes in steel canisters and is the consistency of cold Crisco. You have to shove a giant heating rod into that goo to melt it down and liquefy it enough to pop corn in it. Mmm.

* You will get mercilessly mocked and ridiculed once you leave the concession stand counter, especially if commit one of these three sins:
1. Insist on getting the popcorn that’s coming out of the popper (even better, you want to wait for the next batch)
2. Complain about the prices, as if the minimum wage worker serving you has any control over that
3. Decide that the time to finally look at the selections and make a choice is now, standing at the register, rather than the previous 15 minutes when you were standing in line

* The “butter” is probably just butter-flavored oil. Yuck.

* The best time to theater-hop (buy one ticket, stay all day) is probably during the day when it’s slow. No one cares.

* Theater carpets have intricate patterns to hide popcorn crumbs.

* The big multiplexes have only one projectionist to handle multiple screens and projectors. And projectionists are often pretty weird people. One in particular often slept at the theater – one corner of the booth was set up with a cot and blanket. He was particularly weird.

* A lot of the people working in theaters aren’t to be trusted. They’re working long hours for very little pay. They’re desperate and unscrupulous. One disgusting (and ingeniously complicated) scam involved selling to customers drinks in paper cups pulled from the trash to steal candy. In other words, to get one of these knuckleheads a free box of Raisinettes, you’d be drinking your Mr. Pibb from a cup someone used earlier in the day.

* Cleaning the theaters is the worst job in the whole building. No one wants that job and it’s because people like you are so damn messy. What a bunch of pigs.

* The cheese sauce that goes with your nachos gets saved every night. It’s poured into a big plastic 5-gallon drum and stored in the refrigerator. And when you’re pouring that hot cheese sauce into the drum and the steam floats up into your face and fogs your glasses, it smells like vomit.

* The hot dogs get saved every night, too. They can sometimes become fossilized. If you want a hot dog, just go to a baseball game.

* This is the pecking order for employees. At the top are the managers and assistant managers, who usually wear dressy clothes (i.e. a cheap tie) rather than the polyester uniforms. The most skilled and trustworthy regular employees will work the box office where the highest volume of business happens. Below them, the next skillful and trustworthy people work the concession stand counters (and only the best of that group are assigned to run the cash registers). At the very bottom are the idiots, slackers, and new hires. These are the ushers who clean theaters, tear tickets, and float around doing odd jobs like bring you more ice during a big rush.

* Stories about finding used condoms in the theaters after a show, thankfully, seem to be apocryphal. But ushers do find wads of cash, sometimes a lot.

* For the last time, THX has nothing to do with the movie. It’s a quality-control system for the theater speakers and acoustics. Idiots.


"Come on and Zoom-Zoom Zoom-a-Zoom."

You'll either remember this from your 1970s childhood, or you won't.