Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Skippy of the Day: George W. Bush (again)

I truly didn't mean this feature to dwell on Dubya so much, but he does bring it on himself. Anyway, here's the laundry list:

"This enemy attacked not just our people, but all freedom-loving people everywhere in the world. The United States of America will use all our resources to conquer this enemy. We will rally the world. We will be patient, we will be focused, and we will be steadfast in our determination. ... This battle will take time and resolve. But make no mistake about it: we will win." - 9/12/01, George W. Bush

Asked "Can we win?" Bush said, "I don't think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that the those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world." - 8/30/04, Interview with George W. Bush

In a speech before the national convention of the American Legion, the president will make it "crystal clear" that America will win the war on terrorism, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. "Not only are we winning it, but we will win it," McClellan said in describing Bush's speech. - 8/31/2004, Article on George W. Bush
On it's surface, this is yet another flip-flop by Dubya. Well, that's what happens when he veers away from his memorized talking points and his neglected logic circuits kick in. Fortunately for him, Dubya's staff got him back in line the next day. But the damage was already done: Bush was actually caught on tape telling the truth.

But let's look at his "create conditions" part of the quote. Soon after it became clear that WMD's would not be found in Iraq, Bush began putting far more emphasis on spreading democracy in the country (You're supposed to forget his promise that if Saddam gave up all his weapons, then Dubya would leave him alone). I can see how people would like this idea, although I find it ironic when Republicans start promoting the spread of democracy in other countries when they had no interest in it before. Most of them, especially Dubya, couldn't give a damn and were coddling dictators right and left. We count among our "Coalition of the Willing" some people high up on Amnesty International's most wanted list, including Uzbekistan. I guess if you're willing to lend an airbase to us for our Iraq invasion, we'll ignore you're practice of boiling people alive.

But I digress. In terms of building a democracy in Iraq, Dubya and his administration went about it like a first time gardener with a big bank account: He used a bunch of expensive equipment and threw a lot of seeds, but didn't bother learning a damn thing about, you know, actually growing plants. The administration thought it would be simple, leading Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to state that we would be greeted as liberators by the Iraqi people and showered with rose petals. Instead, we pushed our way in, botched the reconstruction, pissed off a lot of people, and gave the country back to the people in a poor and fractured state. These are not the actions of someone who knows how to, or even cares about, rebuilding a country.

In terms of the fight against terrorism, Bush was right when he said that winning isn't even possible. What we can do is ramp up our security and make sure its tougher for terrorists to hit us. These kind of methods do not connote a "war" but rather a "struggle", which is what it is. You cannot win this struggle, which is something people didn't want to hear after 9/11. They wanted to WIN. So it became a "War on Terror" which morphed into the "Iraq War": A visual spectacle of high tech weaponry and territory occupied. So the initial invasion was won, but the subsequent occupation went back to a struggle, and people saw soldiers dying by the hundreds. They did not like this state of affairs, and still don't.

The Republicans want a world of absolutes, and that includes the safety of America. It's not happening, folks. We can do our best, but there are no guarantees. We cannot be completely safe. We cannot stamp out terrorism forever. We cannot win. Yet, we can prevail, which is not the kind of chest-thumping patriotic nonsense that Republicans like. Dubya has said before that he is a good president because he takes unpopular actions. No, I'm afraid there is an even more unpopular alternative that Dubya should take, and the step he took recently will probably be as far as he will venture down that path during an election year.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Reviews: "Victoria & Albert" (2001) (TV miniseries) and "Mrs. Brown" (1997)

Although the monarchs of old did not withstand the scrutiny and paparazzi that the current royal families do, their private lives were none-the-less the business of far too many people, many of whom worked for them. Queen Victoria, the matriarch of the British Empire who ruled for over six decades, was beloved by her people, so much in fact that she was nearly smothered by it. There have been two major filmed looks into the life of Queen Victoria in recent years, and one conveniently segues into the other, providing an interesting portrait.

"Victoria & Albert" begins shortly before she attained the throne in 1837. Victoria (Victoria Hamilton) is only 18 when she inherits the throne of England from her now deceased uncle King William IV. Her assimilation into her new job is slow but gentle. Her advisors take her hand and lead her through her now daily duties. After her first two years on the throne, her advisors endeavor to find her a husband, and they find a likely candidate in Prince Albert (Jonathan Firth) of Germany. The two shortly thereafter marry, and Albert finds himself in the awkward position of being a husband with no real duties. And this is just the first of his concerns.

The film puts aside politics almost entirely in favor of the growing love story. Albert married Victoria more for power and social advancement than anything else, and he was advised that love would come later. Victoria, on the other hand, was madly in love with him and had her suspicions of his real feelings towards her. In the end, they both practice a lot of patience in order to get what they want, and it ended up making one of the strongest royal marriages that the British have ever seen.

I have to say that, for a 200 minute miniseries, this film seemed awfully short. It seemed that there were too many thing being left unexplored. Even the children, who get a perfunctory introduction during a Christmas scene, all but disappear save eldest Bertie, who goes through the motions of a standard troubled youth subplot. I would have liked to have seen more of Victoria, as the film seemed to be more about her husband at times. Even the bookend segments, from which the story unfolds as Victoria's flashback, seemed short and slight. The character of Albert was the more interesting due to his awkward position as the Queen's husband, but I felt there was much more to Victoria's story than what was shown.

"Mrs. Brown" picks up several years after Albert's death. Victoria (Judi Dench) had famously remained in mourning in perpetuity, and instructed her staff to dress appropriately. Her advisors have begun to worry for her and soon hire a Scotsman who was a favorite of Albert's in order to take care of the horses and coax the Queen into taking in some fresh air. John Brown (Billy Connolly) is all for it, perhaps even more so than the advisors. Mr. Brown turns out to be a very stubborn and arrogant sonfoabitch, indeed. Almost immediately, he takes steps to become the Queens chief confidant and servant. He takes the place at the head of the servant's table and orders other people around, including the Queen's son. He devotes himself utterly to her, approaching a level of paranoia later in his life.

If Victoria's staff were nervous about a German prince possibly meddling with state affairs, one can imagine how they felt about John Brown. Brown succeeds in drawing Victoria out of her funk, albeit without a change in mourning clothes. Victoria begins to see him as an extension of Albert as he is the only one brave enough to question her prolonged mourning. It was this ability and enthusiasm to challenge her that she heavily relied on, until he made one request too many, and he was downgraded to just one of the servants. We do not see how this affects Victoria, but John Brown takes his broken heart and simply devotes himself to her even more, hoping that the devotion itself is enough for him to go on.

Judi Dench, the grand Dame of British film, can play a queen in her sleep. Billy Connolly, however, is the one that really shines. The former stand up comedian has gone into more and more interesting waters acting-wise in his progressing career. Although the second film is named for Victoria (rather, the mocking nickname that people gave her after she began her controversial relationship), I find myself more intrigued with Mr. Brown. Much like Victoria's staff, the audience finds itself asking, "Who is this mad Scotsman?". It's a fair question. What makes him intriguing is that we never really get to know him completely. He's a three dimensional man who's motives, aside from serving his queen, are not clear. Did he see himself as merely a subject, best friend or defacto husband? Trying to read this man is the most enjoyable aspect of the film, and Connolly makes it possible.

Queen Victoria ended up having two strong men in her life, ones that she turned to for solace, comfort, advice and trust. We learn a great deal about them and a little less about the Queen. I'm very glad to have met Albert and John, but they have had their day in the sun. I yearn now to learn more about Victoria herself.

"Victoria & Albert" - Seven out of Ten
"Mrs. Brown" - Eight out of Ten

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Discworld and Lucasworld

It's weird how you sometimes look for simple, well presented information on the net and have such a hard time finding it. It took me about 20 to 30 minutes this morning to find a webpage with Discworld character profiles for my earlier post. And because the site is so well made, here's a second link, this time to the homepage.

Similarly, I came across this page earlier. It has a very simple breakdown and analysis of the changes made to the original Star Wars trilogy coming out on DVD next month. For me, the completely changed Jabba's place band and song is what pissed me off the most. But there's alot more to hate amongst what is listed, and the author who wrote it does a pretty good analysis.

This may be the last post until Saturday, so have fun with the links.

Mythical beasts and other housepets

After fiddling with our digital camera and the photo editor, I have finally finished off the photos for the right side of the blog.

The fourth picture is of our two cats, Gandalf and Ozymandias. Before she met me, Mrs. Mosley had another cat she named Theadosia. It has been a tradition of hers to name her cats unique quasi-mythical sounding names. I've been very happy to continue this tradition with her.

Pictures of our future pets, Mononoke, Dumbledore, and Ridcully will be posted as soon as they become available.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Review: "Robin And Marian" (1976)

To paraphrase Douglas MacArthur, heroes do not die, but rather fade away. At the end of "The Adventures of Robin Hood", we see Errol Flynn take Olivia de Havilland in his arms and run off, presumably, into the sunset. Actually, most of the movie versions of the Robin Hood tale end this way, with Robin fading away with his lady fair. But, if the cinema of the Seventies taught us anything, it is that even our most revered heroes can be flawed and that nothing in life is as easily wrapped up as in a Hollywood ending.

We begin "Robin and Marian" many years after Robin Hood helped Richard the Lionhearted retain his throne from the treacherous Prince John. Now Robin (Sean Connery) and Little John find themselves in the desert wastes of Arabia helping to fight the Crusades, and they have both become frustrated by the war and their King. Robin and Little John soon return to England only to find it a changed landscape. Sherwood is overgrown, the Sheriff of Nottingham (Robert Shaw)is effectively running things, and his merry men are fewer and much older since they left. Most surprising of all, Marian (Audrey Hepburn) is now a nun inside a convent. Robin now slowly realizes that you can never go home again.

James Goldman, who also wrote my favorite film "The Lion in Winter", covers familiar territory here. As in that previous film, this is the story of two larger-than-life people who are approaching their twilight years. Unlike that film, the dialogue here is not as snarky or clever, which is probably for the best. Also unlike "The Lion in Winter" is how these characters fight themselves more than eachother. They are coming to grips with growing older in a changing world, and all three of the main characters have different ways of tackling that problem.

For the roles of Robin and Marian, you can hardly do better that the charismatic powerhouse of Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn. They have a tender chemistry together, not unlike Peter O'toole and the other Hepburn during the quieter scenes of "The Lion in Winter". At the time it was made, this was Audrey Hepburn's first film in nine years. Audiences then were treated to the sight of a young beauty who had grown old gracefully and had lost none of the magnetism she had decades before.

Like the aging characters themselves, the movie can tend to be slow and awkward on its feet. I would fault the film for this, but I believe that it is intentional. Director Richard Lester wanted this movie to be the opposite of previous Robin Hood tales by showing the brutal reality of these characters. Nothing that they plan, whether it is the escape from a castle or a final battle with the Sheriff's men, goes as well as they hope. It's an entirely different Robin, and some may be turned off by it. But for others, they will be rewarded with this wonderful tale of what happens to legends and heroes.

For true fans of Robin Hood, this film just has to be seen. It is a tribute to the stories that many of us grew up with and, like those stories, will not easily be forgotten.

Eight out of Ten

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Skippy(s) of the Day: Joe Ponder, Ken Cordier & Paul Gallanti

What was once a fringe group out to discredit John Kerry, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth now have name recognition in ways they never imagined. In one of their ads, two of their group talk about Kerry's testimony before Congress concerning atrocities he witnessed being committed by U.S. soldiers in Vietnam. The transcript of the ad follows:

John Kerry: "They had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads. . ."
Joe Ponder: "The accusations that John Kerry made against the veterans who served in Vietnam was just devastating."
John Kerry: ". . . randomly shot at civilians. . ."
Joe Ponder: "It hurt me more than any physical wounds I had."
John Kerry: ". . . cut off limbs, blown up bodies. . ."
Ken Cordier: "That was part of the torture, was, uh, to sign a statement that you had committed war crimes."
John Kerry: ". . . razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Ghengis Khan. . ."
Paul Gallanti: "John Kerry gave the enemy for free what I, and many of my, uh, comrades in North Vietnam, in the prison camps, uh, took torture to avoid saying. It demoralized us."
John Kerry: ". . . crimes committed on a day to day basis. . . "
Ken Cordier: "He betrayed us in the past, how could we be loyal to him now?"
John Kerry: ". . . ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam."
Paul Gallanti: "He dishonored his country, and, uh, more, more importantly the people he served with. He just sold them out."
One thing becomes obvious right from the get-go in this ad: They are not questioning the claims themselves, but the fact that Kerry made them. By this notable omission, they are accepting the fact that atrocities did occur in Vietnam. So given this, and the fact that the subject has been thoroughly researched and written about in the 30 year interim, let's just take the atrocities as indisputable for the sake of this discussion.

Unity is vital to the armed forces, especially in times of war, but it has its limits. People in law enforcement and the military believe in standing by their own and defending each other, even when one or more of their number are criminals and guilty as sin. These people wish to project an image of invulnerability and strength. The reality of such institutions, which are composed of human beings and therefore fallible, is anything but.

When a crime is committed by a member of such an organization, the powers-that-be usually handle it from within or, tragically, look the other way. What should happen is it should be made public. The punishment should be swift and visible to all. Show people that such behavior will not be tolerated. A display such as this will convey the image of an institution which is willing to recognize mistakes and correct them. This is a true show of strength.

Now let's look at these statements one by one, shall we?

"The accusations that John Kerry made against the veterans who served in Vietnam was just devastating. It hurt me more than any physical wounds I had."
Kerry was not fingering all soldiers for these crimes. When Joe Ponder complains of being hurt, either he is confusing the whole group with the bad apples, or he has some things he did in Vietnam he's not proud of. If the later is true, then his guilty conscience has nothing to do with Kerry.

"That was part of the torture, was, uh, to sign a statement that you had committed war crimes."
Those who signed statements did so not because of John Kerry, but because of being tortured by their captors. If their spirit was so broken by simply signing a piece of paper under coercion (and it's not like the International Court was high on their worry list at the time), then what else could the captors have done to them? Does that mean they would stop believing in God if they were forced to sign a paper stating such? Would they forever feel like traitors to their country if forced to urinate on the American flag?

The prisoners of Abu Ghraib were forced to place shoes in their mouths and pantomime homosexual acts. They were forced to do these particular things because they are anathema to the Muslim faith. For those who survived the prison, do you think for a moment that they have they stopped believing? No. Faith is stronger than that. Apparently, Ken Cordier's more upset at signing a meaningless piece of paper than knowing of hundreds being slaughtered like cattle.
"John Kerry gave the enemy for free what I, and many of my, uh, comrades in North Vietnam, in the prison camps, uh, took torture to avoid saying. It demoralized us."
John Kerry was telling the truth. It's not like Kerry was giving out battle strategies or any information that was valuable to the enemy. He was stating to the American people what they probably didn't know and what the people fighting on both sides in Vietnam probably already knew. Their captors wanted confirmation of this. If the prisoners were innocent, they could say so and that would be that. I'm not naive enough to claim that this would end their torture. However, they could go on with a clear conscience. This may not sound like much, but I imagine that there was little else for the soldiers kept captive to hold onto.

"He betrayed us in the past, how could we be loyal to him now?"
Again, he is confusing the whole military with the criminals, unless he is of the later as well as the former.

"He dishonored his country, and, uh, more, more importantly the people he served with. He just sold them out."
No, Mr. Gallanti, he was serving his country in yet another capacity: As it's conscience. He witnessed soldiers mad with blood thirst, and he stood up and said that this must stop because this is not what this country stands for. It made some people uncomfortable to hear all this from Kerry and they condemned him for it. And regarding those people, I'm sure Mr. Kerry didn't very much give a damn. Neither do I.

Eventually, we must ask ourselves what would have happened if Kerry had not spoken out, as these veterans would have preferred? The old adage of Evil occurring when good men stay silent applies here. He could have looked the other way in respect to the actions of his fellow soldiers, but that would not have made the army any stronger or made the war more successful. These men might, might have been spared an iota of their torture at the possible expense of more civilian casualties in Vietnam. I guess we all have our priorities.

The true dishonor lies with the soldiers that committed the crimes, and the Swift Boat Vets should be angry with them and not at Kerry. Instead, they appear on talk shows and denounce a brave soldier simply because they don't believe in his current politics. It is a tragedy to see that misguided gleam in their eye as they yearn to shoot the messenger.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Review: "Sabrina" (1954)

For some actors, typecasting is a fact of life in Hollywood. Some actors were simply born to play and excel in certain types of roles, and there is no shame in admitting that other roles may be beyond them. Humphrey Bogart wasn't really what you would call pidgeonholed in terms of his career. He had played good guys and bad guys, detectives and thieves, and many others in between. But even he had some roles that, well, were best left to others.

The title character "Sabrina", played by Audrey Hepburn in her second starring role, is a chauffeur's daughter. She's infatuated with the young gigilo David Larrabee (Holden) on the estate her father works for. Her father sends her to a cooking school in Paris so that she can grow up a little and forget about David. After two years, she has grown into a mature and breathtakingly beautiful young woman, but she still yearns for David. She returns to the estate in order to pursue David, but his older brother Linus (Bogart) is determined to get rid of her. Linus eventually finds that getting her back to Paris may not be as simple as he thought.

The making-of documentary on the DVD mentions that Cary Grant was originally cast as Linus. He had to drop out at the last moment, and Bogart was brought on to take his place. Mrs. Mosley and I watched this together and, true Grant fanatic that she is, commented that she would have rather seen Grant in the role. Even setting aside her personal preferences, she has a good point. Bogart is nowhere near convincing as a serious businessman, and even less convincing when his character "loosens up" near the end. His rough features and manor are at home on rainy New York streets, war-torn Morocco or a tugboat in Africa. Grant could do a lot with a nicely cut suit, a pair of glasses and a briefcase, and we the audience are left to wonder what could have been.

Holden, on the other hand, surprised me. Going in, I thought that he would be the one to be out of place as the shallow playboy David. You can hardly blame me after having been exposed to his smart, tough guys in "Stalag 17", "The Bridge over the River Kwai", and "The Wild Bunch". Yet he did surprise me, and I'm delighted to say that he ends up being more likeable than Bogart, eventhough he's the womanizer. Humphrey didn't know what hit him.

And then there is Audrey. It's a cliche, but its true: There will simply never be another one like her. The charm she effortlessly exudes blows out of the water nearly all the actresses working today. It's not their fault, of course. Charm like hers can only come naturally. Just take a look at the scene between Sabrina and David after she gets back from Paris. Most red-blooded males with any sense would give anything to be William Holden at that moment, driving his little sports car and chatting away with this radiant beauty. Hepburn is what movie magic is all about.

One other item of note is the set design. Being the super rich mogul that he is, Bogart has an incredibly expansive office. Outside of Hepburn, the office may be the most memorable aspect of the film with it's multi-branched conference tables, remote controlled doors, adjacent bedroom and even a kitchen stocked well enough to prepare a souffle. Many scenes occur here, and the director makes interesting use of the space and furniture that is available.

Audrey Hepburn is the star of this show, and its for her you'll want to see this film. Her character's stay in Paris allows the girl Sabrina to blossom into womanhood, and we should thank the city of romance for that. As for Bogart, well, he'll always have Paris, but not for this film.

Eight out of Ten

Friday, August 20, 2004

I know she's-a-coming AND I'm baking a cake.

Today starts Mrs. Mosley's birthday weekend, so we'll be avoiding anything resembling work for most of the next 60 hours. I'll be back to posting on Monday with more film reviews, CCR's and the wit and wisdom of Dubya. Don't wait up.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

"The Power of Christ Compels You!"

Imagine a being that was intelligent and good. Then imagine an evil force coming into that being's life and taking possession of them. This force changes much of what made the original being good and twists it into an unrecognizable thing that is intent to ruin the lives of others.

The plot of "The Exorcist"? Yes. But also the saga of the making of "Exorcist: The Beginning".

Recently, I wrote a review of the film "Mishima" and mentioned the talented co-writer and director Paul Schrader. Schrader was hired several years ago to write and direct a prequel to the film, "The Exorcist". Now, obviously, much of the motivation that fueled this film was by capitalizing on the popularity of the original, the popularity of horror films in general, and the novelty of the "prequel" concept.

Against my better judgment, I was intrigued. I had liked the first film and have seen it several times in the theater. Also, I thought the character of Father Merrin, played by Max Von Sydow, would be a great character to get to know more of. Tantalizing bits of his past were given in the original, and a fleshing out of it was an interesting concept. The sequels failed for, among other things, focusing on the child Reagan. However, as is pointed out in my favorite review of the original film, it is called "The Exorcist", not "The Exorcised".

So, the idea was sound and a good director/writer was attatched. What was needed next was an actor to fill Merrin's shoes. For this, they chose Stellan Skarsgard. Although he's not been the lead in many productions, he's been doing solid work and has become recognizable through major roles in "Good Will Hunting", "Ronin" and recently "King Arthur". Plus, like Sydow, he's Swedish and seems to carry the gravitas that Sydow seemed to do so well (I guess playing chess with Death will do that for you).

Wow. What was suddenly a potentially very bad idea looked to have some promise.

After Schrader had finished putting it together, he presented it to the people at Morgan Creek Productions. They, in turn, told him that there wasn't enough blood and gore in it. They expressed bewilderment despite the fact that Schrader had said in several interviews during production that it was to be more psychological and atmospheric. So, they fired Schrader and hired Renny Harlin to re-direct the film. They also brought in Alexi Hawley, who according the IMDb had never worked on a movie script before, to retool what Schrader had written. All told, the new version contains about 10% of the footage Schrader shot. They dropped characters and added new ones, such as former Bond Girl Izabella Scorupco. You'll recognize her from all those pop-up ads for the film where she holds a candle that illuminates her sweaty bare skin and parted full lips. Ugh.

It's a typical Hollywood story, isn't it? But it still breaks my heart when stuff like this happens. The only compensation to this story is that the studio, who apparently believe in "waste not, want not", will release Schrader's version separately on DVD, but not theatrically. I am torn on whether I should see the Harlin version in the theater or not. I'm very picky with my movie ticket money these days, so probably not. However, when both of these films hit blockbuster, I'll be renting them. The comparison should be very interesting, and rest assured I'll be posting that on Acrentropy sometime next year.

In the meantime, movie fans should be aware that, like "Alien vs. Predator" last week, "Exorcist: The Beginning" is not being screened ahead of time for critics. This usually means that studios have little confidence in positive reviews. Also opening tomorrow is the low budget "Open Water". It has been screened by critics and is being hailed as one of the scariest films this year. So we have these two horror films battling for the spot at the top of the box office this weekend.

I know the likely outcome, but I can dream, can't I?

Skippy of the Day: George W. Bush

Forgive me, this quote from an AP article is over a week old, but it bears looking at. I follow it up with a statement made by Dubya four months ago:

"The really rich people figure out how to dodge taxes anyway." George W. Bush, 8/9/04

"And in my budget, I proposed a 10.7 percent increase to make sure that tax cheaters are found, make sure the IRS gets after those who don't pay taxes; make sure that the system is fair for those of us who do pay taxes. We want everybody paying their fair share. If I'm going to pay it, I want somebody else to pay it, too, if they're obligated to pay." George W. Bush, 4/15/2004
Alright, lets get some things out of the way first. Let's put aside the classic argument between Liberals and Conservatives about taxing the rich. I'm not going to get into the economics of it, though Reagan's "Trickle-Down Economics" theory seems to have died the death of all bad theories. In the end, I still believe that some of the taxation burden should be shifted from the lower and middle classes to the rich, but I'm going to leave the particulars of this argument to the economists.

Let's also put aside the stark contrast between the two statements. The second quote is from a Tax Day photo op to reinforce that piddly tax break that most Americans received. He said this particular statement in order to push some exciting, crime fighting language into something as boring as taxes. The end result is that it's yet another flip-flop by the man who seems obsessed with them in other people but completely ignorant of his own. In other words, business as usual.

Instead, let's focus solely on the first statement. For a man who talks a lot about character, is this the message he really wants to put across to people? If this logic were applied elsewhere, then it calls into question his commitment to American security. I mean, once upon a time, terrorists on planes carried guns and hijacked them in midair or on the tarmac. Security was put into place to make sure guns are kept off of the planes. So the terrorists took flight lessons and brought $5.00 boxcutters on board and achieved the exact devastation they wanted.

If we were to place this analysis in the Dubya Rationalmatic 2000 (patent pending), then we would get this statement: "The really devoted terrorists figure out how to dodge security anyway." Short version: Because criminals are persistent, law enforcement shouldn't put forth the effort to stop them.

I mean, there have been numerous arguments by Republicans about not taxing the rich: The rich are already overtaxed, Taxes across the board should be lowered, It discourages small business growth and so on. All of these points can be discussed in a rational matter. But telling people that there's no point because they'll weasel out of it anyway is an incredibly childish and lazy position.

I can only surmise that the Bush campaign has finally gone off its rocker. Perhaps the best thing that comes from this quote is the opportunity for voters to respond with questions such as this: "OK, you don't feel the need to pursue law breakers. So...what are we paying you for again?"

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Review: "The First Great Train Robbery" (1979)

As with most couples, the movie tastes of Mrs. Mosley and myself vary greatly. It has been a weekly challenge to find films that I think she will be interested in. Occasionally, I will venture from the tried and true genre of romantic comedies in order to present her with something different. So, in considering the films I already know she likes, I'll take Sean Connery from "The Hunt for Red October", exciting heists from "Ocean's 11" and a British period setting from "Sense and Sensibility". I'm proud to say this combination worked perfectly.

Written and directed by Michael Crichton, "The First Great Train Robbery" is an incredibly fun adventure and heist film. Set in Victorian England, Sean Connery plays a high class thief who wishes to steal a gold shipment off of a moving train. For this effort, he recruits the woman he loves (Lesley-Anne Down), a master pickpocket and key forger (Donald Sutherland) and an escape artist (Wayne Sleep). With his team set, he goes about stealing the keys to the vault and then figuring out how to get to it once the train is in motion. There are many complications, but none are too difficult for good old Sean.

Like the recent version of "Ocean's 11", these people may be rogues, but they're damn charming rogues. The details of the robbery are always interesting and just this side of believable, but it's the people pulling it off we are really interested in. Connery, who with this role continued in his successful bid of shedding his 007 image, became a character similar to Bond but with less scruples. Down does well with her sex kitten role. And Donald Sutherland, who seems to be everywhere these days, has great chemistry with Connery as they argue and scheme.

Connery exemplifies the cool-under-pressure ringleader that Clooney also did so well in "Ocean's 11". There is a scene where Sutherland, exasperated by the extra security recently added to the train, gives a tirade about how the whole heist is now ruined and asks what Connery's character is bloody well going to do about it. His simple, one sentence answer is definitely not what you would expect. Needless to say, his solution works. You'll just have to see it to find out what it is.

I mentioned how the mechanics of the heist are believable enough, and this is remarkable as most films of this type have at least one element that doesn't make sense (i.e. the flyers in "Ocean's 11", the final missing painting in "Thomas Crown Affair"). However, one of the crew does get caught by the police at the end. The reason he's caught is somewhat odd. Unless the chief copper who spotted him had a Ashcroftian level of suspiciousness, there would be no practical reason for him to be suspected. There is a further twist after he is caught that is also far fetched, but these are minor quibbles in such an airtight film.

This film is downright fun, and one that is easily enjoyed in repeated viewings. Settle down on the couch with your loved one and bowl of popcorn and give it a try.

Eight out of Ten

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Review: "Robot Carnival" (1987)

The phenomenon of Japanese Anime has pretty much broken into the mainstream these days (Hell, there's an entire Anime DVD section at Target, for crying out loud). I discovered it over ten years ago when I saw "Akira" for the first time. It was mind-blowing to me then, and like a lot of people drawn to Anime, I was hungry for more. Back then, there weren't a lot of titles to choose from, but there were interesting titles to be found if you looked hard enough.

"Robot Carnival" is an anthology of stories, all concerning robots, from different animators of the time. It's a format that proves to be a good introduction, and was used to great effect with the "Animatrix" DVD released last year. A breakdown of the stories:

"Opening" and "Closing": A wonderfully animated piece that is split in two and placed as bookends for the film. It tells the simple story of a rural country that suddenly receives notice of the Robot Carnival coming to town. But is that a good thing?

"Starlight Angel": A fluff piece of the style that mirrors much of the Anime aimed at the Japanese teen set and younger. A girl goes to an amusement park and indulges in a fantasy where a friendly, brave robot saves her from an evil robot.

"Cloud": In the most arty segment, it shows us the progress of a robot boy slowly walking across a beautifully changing landscape until he's walking into the clouds themselves.

"Deprive": This is an action film and looks like so much television Anime that have been making it to DVD lately. Nothing incredibly interesting here.

"Franken's Gears": A new twist on the "Frankenstein" tale as a sweet, eccentric old man creates a monster who deals both of them a tragic blow from not knowing his own strength. The design of the robot in particular is equal parts frightening and sympathetic.

"Presence": This is my favorite segment and is also one of the most beautifully animated. An engineer who builds a companion for himself to compensate for his rather cold wife finds that it's more than he bargained for. The tale sounds creepy, but it's actually very sweet and sad.

"A Tale of Two Robots": Easily the funniest of the segments, the setting is turn of the century Japan where a festival is about to kick off with the unveiling of a giant wooden robot. However, the five people controlling it (who are all textbook Anime characters) encounter a crazed American with a robot of his own. What follows is an incredibly awkward robot battle that destroys most of the town.

"Nightmare": This segment, about a small robot trying to evade an army of destructive machines invading it's city, aims to be more of a mood piece. It's similar to the "Night on Bald Mountain" segment in "Fantasia", but doesn't measure up to that Disney piece.
Like "Animatrix", this anthology is a very mixed bag. I mentioned "Fantasia" before, and it's also a good comparison as most of these segments are more music videos than anything else. Not that there's anything wrong with a string of music videos to animation. I happen to love both "Fantasia" films, myself. But if you're going to base your animated short films on music, it should be good music. Most of the music here is pretty cheesy 80's elctronica, such as the music for "Starlight Angel". The exception being the music for "Presence", which is as good as the animation itself. The simple piano piece is haunting and fits the story beautifully.

I would say that this is a good intro to Anime, but the genre has grown so much in the fifteen plus years since this was made. As it stands, "Animatrix" is probably a better introduction. "Robot Carnival" remains of interest to those who are really into the genre, and contains three segments that may even appeal to non-Anime enthusiasts.

For "Franken's Gears", "Presence" and "A Tale of Two Robots": Nine out of Ten
For the film complete: Six out of Ten

Review: "Amateur" (1994)

I've never been to New York, but I plan on going soon. Even when I go, however, I don't think I'll ever experience the New York of film without actually living there. I'm not talking about the New York we see in big films like "Ghostbusters" or "When Harry Met Sally", just to name two. I speak of the arty New York of SoHo, Greenwich Village and Chelsea you see in independent films; The bohemian New York of "Kissing Jessica Stein", "Happy Accidents" and, most notoriously, "After Hours". This is the kind of offbeat New York that would be most interesting to me.

"Amateur" is definitely an offbeat New York kind of film. It's also impossible to describe the plot without it sounding totally bizarre, so I'm not going to even try. A man named Thomas wakes up in an alley with no memory of who he is. He is taken in by Isabelle, who used to be a nun but is now a nymphomaniac who writes fiction for porn magazines (except that she is still a virgin and has yet to publish anything). With her help, he finds out that he is a criminal with a history of violence. His girlfriend and porn actress, Sofia, is now on the run from two sadistic accountants who works for the crime lord that used to employ Thomas.

Got all that? Despite the lurid description, the film is not what you think. The film is all talk and little action. There is some physical comedy in the second half when one character goes mental after one of the accountants tortures them (It's more zany than it sounds). Other than that, it's characters sitting and reciting too clever dialogue while maintaining a straight face. Two examples:

Thomas: "How can you be a nymphomaniac and never had sex?"
Isabelle: "I'm choosy."

Sofia: "So I'm an article of trade?"
Kurt the Accountant: "Yes. A useful thing in terms of classic capitalism. I studied economics, I know what I'm talking about."

When I first watched the film, I thought it was hysterical. On repeat viewings, however, it comes off a little stiff and...yes, I think I can say this, pretentious. The movie wants the whacked out comedy and for us to see the characters as real people. The former works, but the later doesn't, no matter how much serious subtext you put in the last line of dialogue. Still, it can be a lot of fun while it lasts.

These kind of New York films play like old episodes of "Law & Order": They recruit lots of local struggling actors who sometimes go on to be bigger names. In the case of "Amateur", there are blink-and-you'll-miss-them appearances by Michael Imperioli of "The Sopranos", Tim Blake Nelson of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and Parker Posey of "You've Got Mail".

It's definitely not for everyone, but it's a good rental for those looking for a comedy out of left field. And a follow up viewing of "After Hours" couldn't hurt, either.

Six out of Ten

Chicken Caesar Review: Atlanta Bread Company

The Atlanta Bread Company is roughly the same type of Bakery/Cafe/Sandwich shop that Panera is. They would have to do a lot to measure up to Panera's salad, though. Their Caesar Salad contains romaine lettuce, Parmesan cheese, croutons, their special Caesar dressing and is complemented by a dinner roll. The salad costs $4.69 and Chicken can be added to it for another $1.20, making the total $5.89 for the entire salad.

Due to time constraints, I had to get this salad to go. When I got it home, I found it was not tossed and the dressing was in two plastic containers. I'll give the place the benefit of the doubt and assume they normally toss it for people who dine in. The dressing, of which there was plenty, is their own recipe and is more oily than creamy. However, it did spread well and was tangy with a hint of sweetness. The lettuce was fresh but cut into large pieces. The bowl that it came in, however, was very deep, and allowed for an easy tossing of the salad. The croutons were good, but it felt as if there may have been some hard seeds inside them. This would be form the bread they used, I imagine. The chicken, being an addition to the salad instead of a component, was nothing special and was sparse. Most disappointing was the dinner roll that came with it. Being a bakery like Panera, I expected the bread to be fresh. Instead, it was hard as a rock and not very flavorful.

This place has nothing on Panera, and needs to work on their salads (and, sadly, their bread as well) if they ever wish to compete.

Monday, August 16, 2004

"I hide in the stairway, and I hang in the curtain, and I sleep in your hat."

Tom Waits is one of my favorite singers. Not many people know about him even though he's been in the business for about 40 years. In addition to recording albums, he occasionally pops up in films. In 2004, he has appeared in movies both esoteric (chatting with Iggy Pop in "Coffee and Cigarettes") and popular (crooning a bar song as Captain Hook in "Shrek 2").

One of the reasons I like him is that he's one of the most evocative singers on the planet. The world his songs portray is the urban postwar American landscape full of all-night diners, flea bag motels and beat up bus stations. It is a film-noir kind of world populated by alcoholics, two bit criminals, and beatniks. His lyrics paint such vivid pictures, authors should be snapping up his music to study him.

I've been listening to him in the car lately and remembered two moments of cultural connection I had earlier this year. There is a song called "9th & Hennepin" on his 1985 CD "Rain Dogs". Here is a portion of the lyrics:

"And no one brings anything small into a bar around here
They all started out with bad directions
And the girl behind the counter has a tattooed tear
'One for every year he's away', she said."
I first heard this song last November. About three months after that, I watched the movie "Harvey" and heard Jimmy Stewart say the line, "nobody ever brings anything small into a bar". About three months after that, I read a 1992 sci-fi book called "Destroying Angel" by Richard Paul Russo. In the book, the protagonist asks a waitress about the tears tattooed on her face, and she responds that she has "one for every year he's away". The protagonist then thinks to himself that he's heard that line somewhere before.

So we have a 1950's Jimmy Stewart movie that inspired a 1980's Tom Waits song which in turn inspired a 1990's neo-noir detective story: From movie to song to book. It's funny the way pop culture works sometimes. And I'm sure that Waits would feel as home drinking in a bar with an eight foot rabbit as he would in the trash strewn alley of a futuristic, yet decaying, San Francisco.

In the end, it all makes for some great storytelling.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Review: "Millennium Actress" (2001)

The culture that we are currently a part of, those people who were born and lived after 1900, were reared on the media of television and film. Obviously, this is true for some more than others. But for most of us, when we hearken back to our past, we sometimes see our memories in terms of the action, horror, drama and comedy that we were and are so fond of. Poignant events take on the gloss of a Hollywood production, perhaps even with a soundtrack to further set the tone.

"Millennium Actress" is a sumptuous looking Anime film that uses this concept to wonderful effect. The plot concerns a filmmaker and his cameraman doing a documentary on the life of a famous actress named Chiyoko. The now elderly woman lives in seclusion but allows these two men to come visit and talk to her. As she recounts her memories, she often blends what has happened to her with the events of some of the films she has made, and the two men see her past and her fiction commingle as they themselves are thrust into her narrative.

Early on, we learn that the teenaged Chiyoko helped a fugitive with whom she immediately fell in love. She had known him for less than a day before he had to run off again, leaving only a mysterious key. Chiyoko keeps the key and vows to find him. He told her he was going to Manchuria, and she decides based on this sole fact to take an acting job in Manchuria that has been offered to her. Thus, he helps to guide her life's path.

It is her obsession with this mysterious stranger that is the solid thread that runs through her entire life. All the film scenes that we see mesh with her past reflect her pursuit of this mystery man even when, we suspect, that was not the original plot of the individual films. I cannot help but think that some digressions might have been welcomed where other aspects of her life intercedes here and there. I suppose that is the quality of memory in terms of film: One solid plot line to drive all the way through.

The re-creations of Japanese films will be a special treat for film buffs. We get tastes of period epics, martial arts films, space exploration pictures and even the Godzilla series. The exciting disorientation that one experiences going from scene to scene is hard to explain. The closest I can come is to compare it to the chase scene through the subconscious in "Being John Malkovich". The funniest line comes early when the cameraman is still not quite aware of what is happening. Chiyoko is on a train in Manchuria with the two men when it crashes, and she goes to open a door to get out. When she slams it open, she steps out onto the veranda of a Japanese palace under siege. The cameraman, who follows her out and is bewildered by what he is now seeing, yells out, "Where did Manchuria go?".

The message of the film, in the end, is an old one: It is the journey, not the destination, that is important. Although her life was filled with painful longing, you cannot say that she didn't live a full life. We end up seeing it all alongside the two men and feel very much as they do: to view such a life in both the real and fictional aspects is a true privilege and treasure.

Eight out of Ten

Charley came a knocking, but he didn't come in.

It's morning in Jacksonville, and everything is pretty calm. Mrs. Mosley and I slept through what was supposed to be the worst of the hurricane (between midnight and 2am) and we didn't hear a peep, not even from our easily frightened cats. We turned on the news when we got up and heard all about the damage in Fort Myers and how Charley is now heading for the Carolinas. We've survived another one.

You know, if I were the type that became easily jaded, then I'd be getting frustrated by now. I'm sure there are others in town that already are. Within my lifetime of thirty years, Jax has been threatened by some major storms, but they always go around us. People rush out to Home Depot in droves and buy plywood by the pickup truck load and as much bottled water that can fit in their SUV's and brace for impact, only for the impact never to occur.

The last really big storm that almost hit Jax was Floyd back in 1999. At the time, I was renting a house with two friends from college, WW and KC. When the warnings came, we sprung into action. WW actually went out to buy a portable generator, which was not all that portable when we loaded it into the car. We also bought plywood, which is the true indicator of whether or not your serious about storm preparation. We boarded up all the windows and brought inside all yard items that could become projectiles. All three of the places where we worked had shut down for the day the storm was to hit, so it was a matter of sealing ourselves up inside and waiting.

The power never went out, yet we kept most of the lights out for...spooky ambiance? Who knows. All three of us stayed at our respective computers for most of the day. The skies remained dark and ominous, but no strong winds or horrendous rain ever came. And the next day, it was back to normal with the addition of taking a crowbar to the plywood.

Jacksonville is like that. Geographically, we are in the armpit of the eastern coastline (Check out a map if you think I'm exaggerating). Although this oddity may or may not be the reason for it, most of the hurricanes that pop up sling around and slam into the Carolinas, whose residents must really like living there if they like putting up with this crap year after year.

Talking like this may just be tempting fate. Hurricane season is far from over and tropical storm Danielle is warming up in the Gulf. It may be a good idea to leave that lawn furniture in the shed, after all. Better safe than sorry.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Battening down the hatches

You may have noticed my home city and state over there on the right. It's not the best place to be right now, although it's a damn sight better than Tampa. Friday the 13th is treating us with Bonnie and Charley. Bonnie, well, she no longer lies over the ocean. And Charley is making a B-line for Jax. So Mrs. Mosley and I are making preparations with bottled water, canned foods, batteries, flashlights and such.

We'll see you folks on the other side.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Spoiler Sport

My biggest hope for this year (even surpassing my hope that "Ocean's Twelve" doesn't suck) is that John Kerry wins the Presidential election. Given that, I'm going to say something very contrary to what most liberals are saying these days: I have no problem with Ralph Nader running again.

You see, even though his ego has seemed to surpass his ideals lately, I still like Ralph. He has been a champion for the common good for a long time now, and he has rightly earned his place in history. I also think he would be dandy as president (though his current foreign policy experience roughly equals Dubya's when he moved into the White House). Do I think he has a snowball's chance in Hell of winning? No. This is not the year for a third party candidate to run and win. That year may not even come in our lifetime. That doesn't mean, however, he shouldn't run. Democrats have been saying that he could repeat the debacle in 2000 by siphoning enough votes from their candidate to make the election too close for comfort.

First off, I don't think that will happen. One of Gore's biggest problems in 2000 was that he agreed too much with Bush, particularly in the debates. Voters who wanted someone different went to Nader. This year, such a comparison is not easily made with Kerry and Bush, and Nader is having trouble getting on the ballot in as many states as before. Nader will make a dent, but nearly as big as in 2000.

Second of all, the Democrats really have no place to complain. Why? Two words: Ross Perot. Let's look at the numbers:

1992 Election Results
Clinton - %42.93
Bush - %37.38
Perot - %18.87

1996 Election Results
Clinton - %49.24
Dole - %40.71
Perot - %8.40
As I much as I liked Clinton, it needs to be recognized that the man owes a great deal to Perot for throwing a wrench into the works. He probably would not have been elected were it not for Ross, and I'm sure that the name of Perot has become pariah within the Bush family.

I mentioned above that Nader would not make as big a dent the second time around. The Perot analogy bears that out. One could guess that half of those who voted for Perot the first time had come down from the dizzying excitement of third party revolution and conceded that their votes would be wasted on Perot a second time. This, combined with four charismatic years of Clinton, drew to the incumbent enough support that, even if Dole could count Perot's votes as his, Clinton would still (conceivably) win.

If we see a comparable exodus with Nader this time around, then odds are they will go to Kerry. Michael Moore, who has been Nader's most vocal supporter, has even gotten onto the Kerry bandwagon.

(Side note: I was going to make a crude joke about Moore being Nader's biggest fan...literally! Seriously, Nader has said as much in interviews that he's worried about Moore's weight and so am I. First of all, it's unhealthy. Second of all, it makes him look freakish at times when he's photographed, which is just that much more ammo for those who hate him. Finally, how does he expect to run down these GOP geezers for interviews in his next documentary if even eighty year olds can outpace him?)

There is one last point to make. It's been noted in numerous articles that Bush supporters with deep pockets have been throwing a lot of money into the Nader campaign for the purpose of repeating 2000. Republicans have also been submitting signatures in order to get him on the ballot in several states. Obviously, he cannot help who signs his petitions. But he can reject the money for what it represents. If his running has the effect of repeating 2000, then so be it. That is how the system works, for better or for worse. However, for him to take money from those who have no desire to see him win is wrong on an ethical level, and Nader should clearly see that.

Nader used to run on ideals and it was THAT Nader I was referring to when I said he'd make a great president. The man I see today, however, is more cryptic. Has power corrupted him to the point where he'll take any money that's offered and accept any publicity he can get? It looks that way. If that's the case, then a win for Kerry will be doubly as sweet come November, for he will have defeated not one but two opponents with shady motives and ruthless ambition.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Don't touch anything. The paint is still wet.

"Acrentropy" has now become a symphony in blue, and a little easier on the eyes than the previous template. I found this new one, called "Snow and Ice", on the Blogskins website. I give special thanks to its author Nakaithus, who created an elegant and simple layout that was perfect for me. New posts to come, including my two cents about Ralph Nader. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Review: "Juggernaut" (1974)

You know, I'm not a drinker by any means, but when that classic question comes up of "What three people, living or dead, would you love to have dinner with?", I usually respond that I would have an all-night bender with Peter O'toole, Richard Burton and Richard Harris. Not only did these bohemians contribute some extraordinary charm and talent to films in the sixties and seventies, but they also seemed like they would be a LOT of fun to hang out with.

Harris, who passed away last year, will be best remembered by the current generation as Albus Dumbledore. But way back when, He was able to hold the attention of audiences without a fuzzy beard and half moon glasses. In "Juggernaut", he plays an explosives expert who is air-dropped onto a cruiseliner that has been sabotaged with identical bombs throughout the ship. Occasionally, the film drops away from his efforts to follow the London police in their pursuit of the bomber. In addition to these action-packed plotlines, we have a third that deals with a nervous crew as they talk and wait for the terror to be over.

Predictably, the best part of the film is the bomb diffusing. Unlike similar films, there are no digital timers counting down and although there is a "which wire do I cut" moment, the experts have to do a lot more before they get to that part. You see, each intricate bomb is identical and all of them are sealed inside steel drums. Harris's team splits up and work on several bombs simultaneously as directions are communicated over walkie-talkie. Not only is this practical, it also ratchets up the tension and dwindles his team down before long.

Back on the mainland, a pair of recognizable faces lead the pursuit for the bomber: Superintendent John McCleod (Anthony Hopkins aka Hannibal) and a representative for the cruise line, Nicholas Porter (Ian Holm aka Bilbo). Their pursuit of the man who's so confident as to leave taunting messages inside the drums for the diffusers is typical enough, but still exciting. There is also pressure by higher authorities to pay the ransom and be done with it, which makes for some tense exchanges. It reminded me of "The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3", which should be reviewed on this site any day now.

The mini-plots concerning the passengers can tend to drag. I'll give points to the director for making these people as ordinary as possible, but that doesn't necessarily make them interesting. An exception to this is Shirley Knight as an American woman having an affair with the ship's captain, played by Omar Sharif. Knight, who has popped up more recently in "As Good as it Gets" and "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood", is really a striking presence in terms of beauty and intelligence. Watch her as she interacts with the activities director late in the film. She's simply wonderful to watch.

And then, again, there's Harris. His Anthony Fallon follows a familiar Harris character pattern: a brilliant individual who also tends to be a stubborn bastard. Harris is interesting enough in small character studies. One can imagine how well he shines in such an intricately well-plotted thriller. Harris is the man, and if I were to ever come across his spirit, the first thing I'd do is buy him a Guinness.

Seven out of Ten

Monday, August 09, 2004

A Crack in the Shell

I had a busy weekend (for me, anyway). The next big thing for Acrentropy is a template change, which I'm searching for right now. Expect to see the switch within the next day or two.

Friday, August 06, 2004

So, Mr. Cream Cheese Frosting, we meet again.

Mrs. Mosley and I have been on a diet for over three weeks now. We are both overweight and have tried over and over to lose with poor results each time. Eventually, we found a method that plays to our strengths and has proven very effective. Simply, we record every single thing we eat during the day on a website account, including all the nutritional information. Most of all, we watch the calories, and make sure we don't go over our allotment (2200 a day for me, 1600 a day for her). So, by meticulously tracking this information, we keep ourselves in check and it has resulted in astounding weight loss for both of us. I call it the Anal Retentive Diet.

Anyway, yesterday was a stressful day for both of us at work, so we decided to splurge a little and visit this fancy restaurant nearby called The Brick. She had the Scallops and I had the Sirloin (Sorry, no Chicken Caesar on the menu), which were both very tasty. Then we decided to split a dessert, which we chose to be carrot cake. This slice of cake ran $5.00 so, for a restaurant like this, I expected something pretty puny. The slice they eventually brought out was the roughly the size of a toaster.

We both dug in and found that it was gooooooooooood (yes, I think a dozen o's accurately describes it). Both of our bodies, having been deprived for so long, rediscovered the absolute decadence of sugar again. Of course we've both had sugar during the diets, but never in this sinful amount. The frosting really got me and, 15 minutes after we finished it, I had a major headache starting. I'm not saying it wasn't worth it (it definitely was), But it's amazing how your body reacts to something you used to have every day but have now decided to prohibit it from.

There's no really big moral here, folks. I guess I'm just saying it was a kick-ass carrot cake.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Review: "Oleanna" (1994)

There are some screenwriters in Hollywood who have made their career out of being distinctive from everyone else. I don't mean unique subject matter, necessarily, but the way characters talk. Quentin Tarantino is said to have started the trend of characters talking incessantly about pop culture, though his imitators are so numerous so that it's no longer his individual trademark. One screenwriter whose scripts will never be mistaken for anyone else's is David Mamet.

"Oleanna" was the fourth film Mamet wrote and directed. It was originally a stage play concerning just two characters: A college professor named John (William H. Macy) and his student named Carol (Debra Eisenstadt). In the midst of purchasing a house, John has several long conversations with Carol in his office. The conversations specifically concern a grade she received, but it is also about his teaching methods and his character in general. Through some ill-chosen words that John says, Carol becomes convinced that John made a pass at her, and she lodges a complaint against him. For John, it only gets worse from there.

When I first starting hearing about Mamet, the biggest comment I heard was that his dialogue was very natural sounding. Folks, this is a load of crap. Don't get me wrong, I like most of what I've seen of Mamet and the dialogue is often great. But natural? No. It has a rhythm that is almost musical when spoken by the right actors, but it's not like any conversation I've heard. One particular trait to Mamet's scripts is the focus on a particular item by the characters. The name of the item is often repeated ad nauseum so that the word is ringing in your head after its all over (i.e. In "Glengarry Glen Ross" it's "The Leads", In "Heist" it's "The Gold"). There really is no such item in "Oleanna", but the dialogue is still pure Mamet.

The biggest problem here is Eisenstadt. According to the IMDb, the role was originally played on stage by Mamet's wife, Rebecca Pidgeon. Having seen her in action in other Mamet films, I think she would have done a much better job. As it is, Eisenstadt is completely wooden for the entirety of the play. She speaks lines without any motivation and comes across as quite dense. At first I thought this might be because she is playing a young girl in college who is still awkward and naive. In the second half of the film, the character goes through a change by obtaining confidence and strength, yet her delivery of the dialogue is unchanging.

From what I've read of the stage play, the major reactions from audiences can be divided along gender lines. The play is commentary on sexual harassment and political correctness. For that perspective, I think the play is interesting. But, once again, I also think Eisenstadt's performance sinks it. I can summon up no sympathy for the character, and this is not because I'm male. I think Macy's character is a bit of a shmuck himself, but at least he's convincing. Eisenstadt sounds as if she's playing a tooth in the school play about gum disease.

Because even bad Mamet is pretty good, I recommend this for his fans. For all others, do yourself a favor and rent Glengary Glen Ross (with the provision that you're not offended by constant swearing). It's a great Mamet script that is performed by such greats as Jack Lemon, Al Pacino and Kevin Spacey. Now those are some guys who can deliver dialogue.

Five out of Ten

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

How do YOU spell relief?

In the beginning, the ad above my blog searched for keywords in my posts and used those in ascertaining certain materials to sell. Thus, for the longest time, it was selling Marlon Brando posters (for the obituary I wrote up) and "Pride and Prejudice" stuff (for the "Pride and Prejudice" review, natch). These remained unchanged over weeks and weeks eventhough I had posted all sorts of different material since then. I was waiting for a different movie title to appear up there when it finally did change today...to salad dressing. Salad dressing and gas prevention.

That's what I get for talking so much about roughage.

So, in the interests of changing these subjects, may I present your Keyword Kavalcade!

Criterion Collection!
Mystery Science Theater 3000!
Ben Folds Five!
Denis Leary!
Terry Pratchett!
Law & Order!
Fiona Apple!
The West Wing!
Gore Vidal!
and, last but not least, LEGO, LEGO, LEGO, LEGO, LEGO!

Ah, I feel better now.

Skippy of the Day: Tom Ridge

No, I'm not talking about the specific terror warning. Enough people are already discussing it and deciding whether or not it's a case of the sky falling. Instead he have a different little number from Tom Ridge. Take it away, Tom! A one and a two:

"But we must understand that the kind of information available to us today is the result of the President's leadership in the war against terror."--Tom Ridge, 8/1/04

"We don't do politics in the Department of Homeland Security."--Tom Ridge, 8/3/04
First, a digression. There was an incident that happened to Mrs. Mosley and I three years ago when we were still dating. We were eating at a restaurant and a large, well built police officer came over and starting talking very pleasantly to us. The conversation was small talk about how we were such a cute young couple and how it did his heart good to see us happy together. After several minutes of this, he slyly segued into a religious spiel and handed us a Christian tract (A tract that, contrary to his very pleasant demeanor, was pretty much wall-to-wall fire and brimstone).

At the time, this ticked me off and I said as much later on in the car. Mrs. Mosley expressed bewilderment at why this would annoy me so much. The reason was not that he was soliciting for his faith and his church. The reason was not even that he was doing it inside a restaurant. The reason was that he was doing it while in uniform. Even when he's off duty, as long as he wears that uniform he is a representative of the government. Furthermore, unlike such innocuous government positions as clerks and secretaries, he's entrusted with the public's protection.

Now I'm not saying that if I were to argue with him in the restaurant, then he could have possibly reached for his weapon. Nonetheless, the intimidation factor is still there. The officer knew that he would get more attention, and respect, by wearing the uniform while delivering his pitch. That, my friends, is an abuse of power and he was probably smart enough to know that.

Ridge should stick to giving terror warnings (i.e. his job) and that's it. If he thinks that his boss does such a super job, fine. He should say it during his off hours or, at the very least, do it at a campaign event, not at a press conference to announce an elevated terror warning. The last thing an American population paranoid of terror needs to hear from a man in authority over their safety is, "Vote for my Boss...or else!".

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Opening Night

I don't get out to the theaters much anymore. The convenience and economy of home video makes it easier just to stay home. When I was younger, I would usually go out to matinees when the crowds were light and there were perhaps me and two dozen more people in the theater. Both of these are good ways to go these days when moviegoers have gotten ruder and louder.

However, there is something to be said for going at night when the theaters are packed and you can sense all the human beings around you as you watch the film. Some films I have seen really benefit from a large audience. The "South Park" film was one I saw on opening night with a half dozen of my friends. The vibe in the crowd was clearly that of fans of the show, so it was a positive feeling going in. Once the film started with it's "Beauty & the Beast" parody musical number, everyone in the audience was laughing until their cheeks hurt and were certain that the evening would be memorable, and so it was.

There is another capacity-audience anecdote I have that I'm fond of. I saw "A Time to Kill" in a preview screening a week before it was released. Again, the theater was packed, and next to my aisle seat was a married couple in their early forties. At one point in the film, the defense team discusses the director of the local psychiatric hospital whom the prosecutor will be putting on the stand. Through their conversation, they make him out to be a bit of a sleazeball. Not long after this, the scene in the courtroom begins and the audience gets their first look at him. There is a gasp and scattered laughter throughout the theater as they discover it's actor Anthony Heald, easily recognizable by his double dimpled chin and his role as the sleazeball director of a psychiatric hospital in "Silence of the Lambs"! I was laughing along with the couple next to me and the guy leans over and asks:
Guy: "Is that?"

Me: "Silence of the Lambs?"

Guy: "Yeah!"
And we started laughing all over again. So, I suppose it really comes down to the movie you pick, but the opening night experience still has some merit.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Skippy of the Day: Dilbert's Boss

The daily meeting at Dilbert's company produced this nice little exchange:
Boss: "We've had a bad year, but management is committed to staying the course."

Dilbert: "Question: Did you just say our leaders are receiving huge compensation packages to keep doing what doesn't work?"

Boss: "No. The way I said it, they're visionaries."

Dilbert: "So...They keep doing what doesn't work...and they see visions?"

There is more to this than just a simple jab at Bush (Or Bushes, really, since they have both beaten that "stay the course" line into the ground during their respective Presidencies). The Republicans have been really big on this "Consistency" issue regarding John Kerry. Their thinking is that the "waffle" monicker worked so well on Clinton, they should use it again.

First off, the Bush administration shouldn't be throwing stones in glass houses. Second of all, there's a big difference between (a) changing your mind due to new evidence and (b) changing it due to the political winds. Unfortunately, an example of (a) is Bill Clinton's push to allow homosexuals into the military. Personally, I loved the thinking behind this: It told Republicans he wanted to stop the legislation of morality in our society and bring more focus on important issues like the economy and health care. The thinking was sound, but the strategy behind it was not. The military, a longtime Republican stronghold, balked at this move and brought their force to bear. In the end, Clinton relented to political pressures, implemented that silly "Don't ask, Don't tell" policy, and the Republicans tasted first blood. The rest is history.

The fact is, Kerry probably does both (a) and (b) at one time or another, as most politicians do. Ideally, you get someone into office who has done more of the former than the later, and I think Kerry fits into that category. Human beings (presumably) have brains in which to think out our problems in order to look at all the facets and possible solutions. The dangerous option is to have someone who states they have a singular vision and that nothing but nothing will change that. If that were exactly what we needed as a country, then we could get a damn computer to do it. And anyone who has watched the old "Star Trek" series knows what happens to civilizations where the computers take charge.

The biggest flip-flop that the Bush commercials keep talking about is the decision to go to war. Some people questioned the whole war rationale for a number of reasons, but Kerry made the call based on evidence that only later turned out to be seriously flawed. I didn't think he was right to do it, but he still did it and he'll have to live with that. Now that he has realized what an error it was (and is now seeing how poorly Bush has run things since the successful initial invasion), he's coming out to say that he was wrong and the war was wrong. Good for him. It would be nice to actually have a president who actually acts humble as well as talks about it.

In the case of the Iraq war, The facts are these: Bush is the one who instigated this war on false pretenses and Kerry is one (of many) who agreed to it based on that evidence.

But if we're talking about waffling, let us not forget the biggest waffle of all, folks. Burn it into your minds before election day:

"The most important thing is for us to find Osama bin Laden. It is our number one priority and we will not rest until we find him."- G.W. Bush, 9/13/01

"I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority."- G.W. Bush, 3/13/02
Bush's bigger context for that second quote was that since Bin Laden's chief sponsor (Afghanistan) had been taken care of, he was less of a concern in their view. That is cold comfort for the many families of victims who see that infamous bearded image as the one person responsible for their shattered lives. So much for "Dead or Alive", and so much for closure.

Review: "Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters" (1985)

People are awfully cynical when it comes to the meaning of Art. It's a cliche that's been played out in so many sitcoms: The protagonist visits a modern art museum and views a piece alongside some intellectual-looking snob. The snob conveys to the protagonist what the piece is trying to communicate only for the protagonist to chuckle, make a snide remark and walk away. The audience makes a connection, because most people just don't understand that kind of stuff or, more often, truly believe that it's complete bunk.

People with that mindset will not enjoy "Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters". The film concerns the life of Yukio Mishima, who was one of the most respected authors in Japan after World War II. Most people here in the U.S. have probably have never even heard of his name, but here are a pair of names you would recognize: Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas. These two directors were great admirers of the author, and when they heard about a possible film, they made sure that it was made by helping to produce it.

The film is divided into three portions that cut back and forth between each other: The first, in b&w, focuses on Mishima's last day on earth (November 25, 1970) and the careful preparations he made for it. The second, in color, are flashbacks to important times in his life and his progression from a struggling author to a Japanese star. The third portion is what most people remember from the film. Three of his stories are dramatized in vibrant colors that most people haven't seen since Dorothy wandered into Munchkinland. The comparison is appropriate as these segments are highly stylized and beautiful to look at. Not only are the stories used to give examples of Mishima's work, but they function also as reflections of the author himself.

Director Paul Schrader is most known for the legendary scripts he has written for Martin Scorsese such as "Raging Bull" and "The Last Temptation of Christ". Often in the films he has written and directed, he has dealt with characters that possess emotional hurricanes inside their charismatic exterior, and "Mishima" is no different. As with many artists, Mishima was a conflicted person who was constantly examining his own life and looking for meaning. He thought he could find meaning by merging his art with physical action, which leads to his final day and an event that is still remembered by those Japanese that were around to hear about it.

As I mentioned, the cinematography and art direction is stunning. I actually first learned about this film through seeing clips of it in "Visions of Light", an excellent documentary about the history of cinematography. The clips were so striking and different, I sought out the film very soon after. Seeing these segments in their entirety did not disappoint, and it was a great way to show how artists see their world in unique ways.

Composer Philip Glass has been criticized for being too esoteric in his music (one "South Park" episode made a big joke out of his electronic keyboard fueled songs). Still, with the right film, the music can be very powerful. In "Mishima's" case, it fits like a glove. Some might remember hearing the "Mishima" main theme at the ending of "The Truman Show". Indeed, Glass scored this film as well and decided to reuse this music at the emotional high point of the story.

I highly recommend this film to those who seek a challenge. To all others, you don't know what your missing. You may want to at least check out the three story segments. The images are unforgettable.

Nine out of Ten

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Yaphet Kotto Quote of the Month: August 2004

Yes, kiddies, Yaphet Kotto can proudly claim that he is one of the select few to play a Bond villian. "Live and Let Die" was the first appearance of Roger Moore in the role, and Yaphet gives as good as he gets:

James Bond: My name is Bond. James Bond.
Mr. Big: Names is for tombstones, baby!