Monday, January 18, 1999

Trial Of The President

They have to sit there quietly and listen carefully and be constantly reminded to behave themselves. If they don't they're in serious trouble. I'm not talking about story time for the kids at the day care center. I'm talking about the United States Senate during this impeachment trial.

And they just can't do it.

Last Thursday -- on the first day, mind you -- while the House Republican managers (a/k/a 12 Angry Men) presented their case against Clinton, what were the Senators doing? Tapping their feet. Yawning. Passing notes. Eating candy. Nodding off. Checking to see if Strom Thurmond still has a pulse.

It's as if Justice Rehnquist is their substitute teacher. Pass the word -- everyone drop your books on the floor at 3pm!

Welcome to the wacky world of jury duty, Senators!

I've never served on a jury, although I always wanted to -- for one day, anyway. I was called for jury duty again last fall, but like many of the people on the panel, was rejected for the actual trial. Later, I asked one of the other potential jurors, an attorney, why he thought I had been tossed off. He told me that lawyers automatically reject two kinds of people for a jury: broadcasters and guys with beards. That means I got kicked in the butt with two feet.

I can understand the broadcaster thing. It's not because they're afraid we'll go on the air and tell their whole story. It's because, by and large, broadcasters are held in very low regard by the legal profession, and vice versa. Each profession feels that the other's place on the respect ladder falls one notch below circus people. Come to think of it, if the Bearded Lady had been there, she would have been chosen for that jury before me.

Anyway, back to the Senate trial, where the thrills just keep on coming. On Friday, Lindsay Graham warned his colleagues that "today won't be as exciting as yesterday." Which is like saying that John Tesh is not as exciting as Yanni.

Before this trial began, I thought it was going to be an amazing civics lesson, and that every social studies class in the country should be forced to watch it and learn from it. After a couple of days, I realize that would be a cruel and inhuman punishment to impose upon the nation's youth, somewhat akin to making them listen to Charles Grodin try to formulate a question without getting sidetracked. It's just the same old droning, over and over again.

What this trial needs is an Ollie North. Not the real Ollie, of course. But remember how boring the Iran-Contra hearings were until Mr. Righteous showed up in his Marine uniform with his potted plant attorney by his side? Suddenly, everyone was watching.

The only way we'd get that interest level going again is if Monica Lewinsky or Linda Tripp testifies in the well of the Senate. Come on, who's not going to watch that? I can see the college drinking game now: do a shot for every mention of the dress, and guzzle a pint of beer if someone says "cigar."

At the very least, it would be a bit of a relief from the parade of scowling old men we've seen thus far. This attack of the zombie elders is proof that term limits aren't such a bad idea, and maybe we need to extend them to the Supreme Court.

There's William "Doan's Pills" Rehnquist being sworn in by Strom "Older Than the Sun" Thurmond. These guys are ancient enough to remember when Jurassic Park was an actual vacation destination.

There's Jesse "I Roomed With Stonewall Jackson" Helms, trying to figure out how to get a tobacco company logo on the podium.

There's James "You Gonna Finish That?" Sensenbrenner, a dead ringer for one of those "Da Bears" guys (I know he's from Wisconsin, so it would be "Da Pack"). Every time he's speechifying I half expect him to start pounding his chest in a self-Heimlich maneuver until a two pound bratwurst comes spitting out.

There's Asa "Not Everyone From Arkansas Is Like That" Hutchinson, the only GOP manager who gives a good presentation -- although his impact is diminished somewhat by Henry Hyde and the other managers shouting out "Good answer!" as if this were some sort of political Family Feud.

Which, of course, it is.

At the beginning of the Senate trial, all 100 Senators raised their right hands and took an oath to be impartial jurors. Impartial? You could do all the DNA testing you want and never find an impartial chromosome in that chamber. In other words, they all lied under oath, didn't they? Oh, I guess it's okay if everyone does it.

In the meantime, it drags on and on. And we yearn for someone -- anyone -- to step forward and announce that "Our long national wet dream is over."

Sunday, January 10, 1999

Movie Sequels: Been There, Done That

Last year was the biggest grossing year in the history of movies. It was also a huge year for cruise ships. How are these two related? The travel experts say it has to do with the success of the movie, "Titanic."

That's right. So many people loved the idea of being on board a sinking cruise ship and then drowning in icy ocean waters, that they immediately called up Kathie Lee and asked if they could bunk in the stateroom with her and Frank. Funny, I don't remember cruise bookings going up after everyone saw Shelley Winters drown in Jack Albertson's arms in "The Poseidon Adventure."

Okay, I lied. None of the women who made these bookings wanted to room with the Giffords. They all wanted to room with Leo DiCaprio, or at the very least meet him on the bow and let him be king of their world. How disappointed they were when they got on board and learned that the closest they could get was a bald guy at the buffet who wore olive plaid stretch pants and whose zodiac sign was Leo.

But that's the power of the movies. And it explains why, logic be damned, James Cameron is now working on a sequel, "Titanic 2." So what if the ship sank and there's no chance in hell of getting Leo back? So what if the last movie sequel to take place on board a cruise ship was "Speed 2: Cruise Control," the movie that almost ended Sandra Bullock's career?

That's why I'm here to beg of the Hollywood hotshots to stop the madness. They have to finally realize that there are certain movie themes that should never be tried again, because they have already been covered from every angle, and you can't top the best of the bunch.

For instance, does anyone ever need to see another mafia movie? If you really have an aching for an evening with some wise guys, go rent a real classic. Go get either of the first two "Godfather" movies (but not number three, in which Sofia Coppola proves that she is the Fredo of the family) or Scorcese's masterpiece "Goodfellas," or the lighter side of the mob in "Prizzi's Honor" or the capper of a couple years back, "Donnie Brasco." If you're a filmmaker, you have to look at those five and realize that you'll never do it better. For proof, look at any TV movie like "The Last Don."

Fuhgeddabouddit.

Here's another genre that we can lay to rest: war movies. After all the battles that have already been fought on celluloid -- besides all the black and white classics, there's "Platoon," "Saving Private Ryan," "Courage Under Fire," hell, even "Rambo" -- I just don't need to see another Hollywood star wearing camouflage again. Frankly, I don't care whether or not Sean Penn saves Guadalcanal in "The Thin Red Line." At the very least, pick a different war! I have yet to see the definitive flick about the weekend we won back Grenada.

The same is true for the horrors of outer space. Over the weekend, I stumbled across "Event Horizon" on cable. Now, I like Laurence Fishburne and there was nothing better on, so I sat though it.

Guess what the plot was? Way out in space, the crew of a spacecraft is awakened from hypersleep and forced to deal with some sort of alien life that is taking over the ship and will eventually kill practically everyone on board, preferably in a gruesome manner. Oh, and the interior of the ship has that musty metallic look, and the crew is made up of a bunch of characters who just want to make it back to Earth but they don't dare bring this thing from space home with them.

Hello? Ring a bell? This was the plot to "Alien." And "Aliens." And "Alien 3." And "Alien Resurrection." which had the balls to bring back Sigourney Weaver from the dead just to keep the damn series alive. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that in the next one, they bring Roddy McDowell back from the dead to do "Beneath The Planet Of The Alien." Get your stinking tentacles off me, you damn dirty extraterrestrial!

Hollywood keeps going back to that same well. Coming soon to a theater near you is a movie called "Virus," with Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Sutherland, and Billy Baldwin. They don't even care if people think it's a blatant "Alien" ripoff. They're already running commercials for it with two cute tag lines: "It is aware" and "Humankind is history." Hopefully, humankind will be aware enough to realize that we've seen this movie before.

And they're not getting my seven bucks unless it's Jamie Lee in that dirty, drenched, too-tight undershirt. Of course, with creative geniuses like this at work, it's probably Donald Sutherland!