TV/media in the 2000s: 10 (or so) key voices in left/right political media

Politically speaking, the aughts have been one long, strange trip. Just think about what we’ve seen this decade: a disputed presidential election in 2000, the largest terrorist attack in world history occurring on U.S. soil in 2001, followed by two wars, the partial erasure of New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast, a congressional changing of the guard, the election of the first African-American president as well as the first with a foreign-sounding name, and the probable passage of a health care package which, depending on your point of view, is either historic, a mystery, a bit of a sham, or the first step on the road to a Stalinist U.S. of A.

Bubbling beneath all of this has been a series of remarkable changes in the world of media — television, movies, radio, and this thing we call the Internet — that have had a fairly profound impact on politics and, therefore, on real life. What follows are my choices for the ten most interesting and/or influential figures in the realm of political media. To try and slightly compensate for my obvious liberal bias (my side is far more facty, I tell ya!), I’ve got five spots each for conservative and liberal media figures respectively and I’ll be alternating and counting down from the bottom.

#5 Conservative

Trey Parker and Matt Stone — It’s possible that most regular viewers of “South Park” have little idea that Parker and Stone are self-described Republicans and I’m sure most of you don’t think of it as that much of a political show, even though rather subtle and often quite penetrating and/or infuriating thoughts about politics run through many, if not most, episodes. That’s because, like all great satirists, they are just as good at poking holes in the pretensions of their own side as that of the opposition, and their social liberalism puts them so at odds with the increasingly extremist faction that now controls much of the Republican party that some could easily mistake them for liberals. Actually, right now it’s easy to imagine them ditching the party indefinitely, along with any number of smart fellow conservatives who have already done so publicly.

parker-stone

Still, conservative and/or anti-liberal messages are often found on episodes of “South Park,” including attacks on such personal friends of the pair as George Clooney. Indeed, as early as 2001, famed blogger Andrew Sullivan described himself as a “South Park Republican.” (Sullivan is now one of those smart conservative ex-Republicans I mentioned above.) And, of course, there was no stronger, and certainly no funnier, attack on the antiwar efforts of the American left than “Team America: World Police” which had marionette versions of Michael Moore, Alec Baldwin, Matt Damon, and Janeane Garofalo working in tandem with North Korean madman Kim Jong-il in his plans to destroy Western civilization.

Since the film’s release in 2004, more doctrinaire conservatives have tried to follow suit with such liberal-bashing comedies as “An American Carol” and “The 1/2 Hour News Hour,” a truly wretched attempt to craft a conservative alternative to “The Daily Show,” but only Parker and Stone have been able to bash liberals and their ideas and make targets like Alec Baldwin love it.

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Chills win as the “Paranormal” phenomenon grows

paranormal activity

It was a weekend of surprises at the box office. The most pleasant for those of us who prefer a chill up the spine to a gag reflex was the outstanding performance of “Paranormal Activity,” which handily defeated the dismemberment sweepstakes of “Saw VI” despite being in over a thousand fewer theaters than its horrific competitor.

As documented by Carl DiOrio of The Hollywood Reporter and the bean counters of Box Office Mojo, Paramount’s extremely wise ultra-ultra-ultra-low-budget paranormal pick-up earned an estimated $22 million as it expanded to 1,945 screens this week with a outstanding per screen average of $11,321. That’s compared to an estimated $14.8 million for the latest “Saw” entry (two more are still scheduled, including the inevitable 3-D installment) with a per screen average of $4,875, less than half of its spooky competitor.

The irony in all this is that, now that critics have had to paid their shekels to see the unscreened “Saw VI,” not only has it gotten better reviews than the last few entries — which is, of course, not the same thing as getting good reviews — it turns out to have at least an attempt at political content with a plot that involves both the sub-prime mortgage and health care debacles.

Seems to me that Lions Gate really had nothing to lose by screening this for critics and the political angle might have generated a bit more interest. “‘Sicko‘ for real sickos! ‘Capitalism: A Hate Story’! says Geekboy Moonraker of ‘Ain’t it Bloody Disgusting'” might have at least captured a bit more attention. Though, reading Owen Gleiberman‘s highly negative review, it’s interesting to note that both “Zombieland” and “Saw VI” do call attention to our nation’s obesity epidemic.

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Sony’s “Zombieland” and “Meatballs” satisfy at the box office

zombieland

“Zombieland” led our carnivorous movie weekend and met expectations almost on the nose with a horror-comedy-curse breaking estimate of $25 million on it’s opening weekend, thereby breaking the back of one of the most irritating box office canards of recent times. Another misunderstanding being promulgated by Nikki Finke, who is back with all vitriol-guns blazing this weekend, is that star Woody Harrelson was box office poison, but the “zom-com” was so appealing it did well anyway. Personally, I have a hard time with the whole notion of once popular stars becoming antithetical to good box office, but that’s a complicated rant for another day.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
The #2 spot went to “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” which showed some really meaty legs and dropped a terrific 33% in its third weekend with an estimated $16.7 million, says Andrew Stewart of Variety and everyone else. Once again, the only sure thing in Hollywood is a family film that parents enjoy watching themselves, and 3-D, at least for the time being, is a proven deal-sweetener for the right kind of movie. By the way, both “Zombieland” and “Meatballs” are from Sony, which means there’ll be delight at the old MGM lot in Culver City tomorrow.

And, as if the prove my point about family films and 3-D, this weekend’s third top grosser was the Disney/Pixar double-feature 3-D retreads of “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2.” Not at all surprisingly, the combination of the two beloved animated features was an appealing entertainment value to parents and fun for kids, getting a very solid $12.5 million in just under 1800 theaters. It’s more impressive when you consider that the entire package runs 174 minutes, plus trailers. Considering the limited number of 3-D screens, both “Toy Story” and “Meatballs” doing so well is an interesting development.

After that, we have a bit of divergence from what I wrote in my preview post, in that the #4 film is the Ricky Gervais vehicle from Warners, “The Invention of Lying.” It brought in a modest — but possibly sufficient, given the budget — estimated $7.4 million via just slightly over 1700 screens. I’m going to guess that the growing cult of comedy demigod Gervais plus the film’s easy-to-grasp and inherently amusing premise, as well as the strong and well known supporting cast, gave it enough of a bump to beat the crowded low-end competition this weekend. Beaten by a pug nose was the much higher budgeted ($80 million) Bruce Willis science-fiction film “Surrogates,” with somewhere in the neighborhood of $7.3 million.

Ellen Page and Juliette Lewis in The well-reviewed and, you’d think, appealing sports comedy, “Whip It” disappointed with a mere $4.85 million estimated despite a strong cast led by Ellen Page, and Drew Barrymore’s involvement as both director and cast member. However, the studio is hoping that this underdog will benefit from word of mouth and ultimately win the big game with an unexpected surge. Who doesn’t love an underdog?

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