Thursday, September 30, 2004

If only all cataloging was this fun

In our wildest dreams, we anal-retentive organizers who call ourselves Librarians can see a future where the internet, and basic library collections, can be navigated in a straight-forward, engaging, visual manner. It would be something akin to the touchscreens that Tom Cruise uses in "Minority Report": Fast, fluid and nearly effortless.

In the meantime, I occasionally come across internet sites that have some element to them that is similar to this. Over at NASA's website, they have a collection of space-themed artwork. In keeping with the subject, the visual organization technique (called "Copernica") is that of a galaxy. For those of you who don't understand what I mean, go and visit. Make sure to go to the "Make Your Own" tab where you can enter a keyword and have a separate keyword galaxy form for you. Very cool.

Skippy of the Day: USA Today

Similar thoughts have been expressed by various news outlets and commentators, including Tim Russert on the "Today" show this morning, but I'm choosing a front page headline by USA Today (print edition) as the Skippy to represent them all:

Words May Fall Short In Debate: Gaffes Could Leave Lasting Impression
Consider this scenario: You work your ass off on a term paper for a professor. You have researched it for months and make many important conclusions. It is an "A" paper in every respect. The day after you turn it in, your professor gives it back to you with a "C-". He explains, between giggles, that although he thought your single Freudian slip on page 17 was hysterical and memorable, your paper was not supposed to be a humor piece.

Putting aside the fact that some professors can be real a**holes about such things, they are nonetheless fully in control of situations such as grading papers. They have the opportunity and an implicit duty to be fair. Journalists are in the same category. Tonight, we have the first of three Presidential debates. The news outlets are stating that although there will be important and vital issues discussed, slips of the tongue and verbal stumbles may unfortunately become the talking points the day after. There is a problem with this: The journalists control what become the talking points.

Those that choose not to watch the debates for whatever reason will tune in the next morning to see what happened. By their own admission, journalists are stating that they will choose to feature the most embarrassing 30 seconds out of 60 minutes of debates. Out of that same 60 minutes, there will also likely be impassioned statements of policy and principle on both sides that may better represent the majority of what was said by the candidates that night. The journalists have the opportunity and an implicit duty to fairly show these points to an audience looking for important reasons to vote for one candidate or the other.

I apply this standard is respect to both candidates. As much as I loathe Dubya, I really don't care if his tongue gets ties in its usual fashion tonight. However, I do make the distinction between being tongue tied and blathering on in a fashion that clearly shows that he doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. This is a case in point, though the quote loses something in print. You have to see the video of Bush blindly searching for an answer, any answer, to this subject he apparently was never briefed on. The same goes for Kerry if he's asked a question he's not prepared for. That's the way the debate ball bounces.

Ever since Nixon broke a sweat on the first televised debates, candidates have been scrutinized on these special occasions we hold every four years. Mrs. Mosley and I will be watching tonight and hoping that Kerry will be able to show those watching that he's not the man portrayed by Dubya in his campaign commercials. Heaven knows that both candidates have been shown as doofuses through selected clips in these TV spots. Let us all hope that, from this serious and thoughtful format tonight, those reporting on it do not result to the same tactics.

"Hey Big Spender!"

What do you think my wife's reaction would be if she came home to find I had maxed out all of our credit cards to buy a flashy security system for the house? OK, now what would be her reaction if she discovered I was told by several experts beforehand that the system would never work properly?

I rest my case. Now tell me again why this nimrod should be re-elected?

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Review: "All About Eve" (1950)

What makes a movie great? I have heard that, because film is primarily a visual medium, all films should be able to be enjoyed and understood just as well with the sound off. I can see where this argument is coming from, but I don't quite agree with it. The film making process has morphed into so many different forms over the years, and narrowing it down to one style or one method simply isn't possible. Besides, where would the screenwriters of the world be without sound, and there are certainly some screenwriters and scripts so good that they should survive until the end of time.

With "All About Eve", it's easy to fall into fawning superlatives. The story in brief: Margo Channing (Bette Davis) is a popular stage actress surrounded by good friends and a good life, yet her advancing age makes her somewhat insecure. Enter Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), a starstruck fan that worships the ground Margo walks on. Because of Eve's rather sad little life, Margo agrees to help by hiring her as an assistant. Eve is incredibly grateful and Margo enjoys her ego being stroked. But Margo soon starts to suspect that Eve has darker motives than she lets on.

"All About Eve" has rightfully earned a place in moviegoers hearts for its dialogue. Here is a sampling of some choice lines:

Margo Channing: Bill's thirty-two. He looks thirty-two. He looked it five years ago, he'll look it twenty years from now. I hate men.

Addison DeWitt: You're maudlin and full of self-pity. You're magnificent!

Lloyd Richards: How about calling it a night?
Margo Channing: And you, pose as a playwright? A situation pregnant with possibilities and all you can think of is everybody go to sleep.

Lloyd Richards: You've developed a certain cynicism since you've been married to me.
Karen Richards: I developed that cynicism the day I discovered I was different from little boys!

(My favorite line, which is prompted when a depressed and drunk Margo requests a funerary song be played for the fifth time at Bill's birthday party)
Bill Sampson: Many of your guests have been wondering when they may be permitted to view the body. Where has it been laid out?
Margo Channing: It hasn't been laid out, we haven't finished with the embalming. As a matter of fact, you're looking at it. The remains of Margo Channing. Sitting up. It is my last wish to be buried sitting up.

(And then there's everybody else's favorite line)
Margo Channing: Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night!
When I said it's great dialogue, you'll notice that I didn't say "natural". For that later category, you would want to turn to such revered scripts as "Chinatown". Rather, "All About Eve" is filled with clever dialogue spouted by clever people. Since these characters work in the New York Theater, we can believe them as real characters who are also constantly witty. The same could be said for the more recent "Wonder Boys", where the verbose characters are mostly part of academic and literary circles. Both worlds are presented in a believable fashion, so we can accept them, their characters and their words.

The actors are all fine in their roles. It is said Bette Davis had a lot in common with Margo Channing, particularly in her insecurities. Davis will always be remembered for this role, and it is a perfect showcase for the intelligence and charisma that was unique to her. One other actress that is often noted is the very young Marilyn Monroe in the supporting role of Miss Caswell. Like the art-imitating-life situation with the Davis role, Monroe plays a gorgeous and somewhat vapid actress just starting out. However, those that may giggle at the similarities between Monroe and her character should watch her in this film before judging. She displays a superior talent at comedy that we would later be seen in "Some Like it Hot".

The film does have a few faults. One has to laugh at the rear screen projection work they use for the simple scene of two people walking down the sidewalk (the title for best film with worst rear screen effects, however, will always be held by "The African Queen"). Also, some modern audiences will automatically think that something is up with Eve when we first hear her gush at Margo. In all other respects, the tone and sensibility of the film holds up as something that could have been made yesterday. In fact, it seems that at least once a year I hear a story about a remake being planned. Without that dialogue, though, any remake would be severely lacking.

The film is a classic. It features charismatic people speaking brilliant dialogue and all I can do is smile whenever I watch it. You will, too.

Ten out of Ten

Chicken Caesar Review: Joseph's Italian Restaurant

Instead of going to a chain this time around, I visited a local place called Joseph's Italian Restaurant on Baymeadows Road. I had been there several times before and loved their pizzas, but this time I took a crack at their Chicken Caesar. The salad, which cost $7.45, is composed of Romaine salad greens, Caesar dressing, smoked chicken and home made croutons.

You'll notice there is no cheese in the ingredients, which is a pity. There was a shaker of Parmesan at the table, but cheese should be added while the salad is tossed for the full effect. The dressing was surprisingly weak. I like for the dressing to not be strong and overpower everything else, but this dressing was downright watery. The lettuce was fresh and chopped and well tossed with the dressing. The chicken was in many small pieces, which was nice. It also had a very strong smoked flavor, almost to the extent that it tasted like BBQ. It was definitely the dominant flavor of the whole salad. The croutons appeared to be fresh and were in pieces equal in size to the chicken, but not flavored or spiced in any way.

For such an expensive salad, there really should have been more oomph to it. A little cheese could go a long way in this particular salad, and the dressing recipe should definitely be reconsidered.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

(Mostly) Everything must go

Mrs. Mosley and I decided on Chinese take-out for dinner on Saturday night, so I drove out to make the order and bring it home. While waiting for my order, I wandered outside the restaurant and walked along the other shops in the strip mall. One of these was an independent hardware store that I had gone to several times since we moved into the neighborhood last year. Becoming a first-time homeowner forces you to become much more familiar with hardware stores. It was a nice place, and far more convenient for me than Lowes and Home Depot, which were much farther from my house.

Well, the place went out of business about a month ago, a fact which bummed both of us out when we saw the sign taken down. Of course, I get depressed when I see any business go belly up, but particularly so for something like a hardware store, which fights the good fight against the big boys. I peered through the window and saw all the rows of shelves completely cleaned out. Cardboard boxes that displayed sprinkler heads and PVC pipe fittings were all emptied. Every single piece of merchandise that could be resold was cleared out. Then, I peered over to the register at the front and saw one item that wasn't taken by the previous owners.

A glass jar filled with miniature American flags on cheap wooden poles.

There's something about that I'm sure that is poetic or ironic or symbolic or some damn thing. I'll leave the imagery for you to figure out.

Jeanne, Jeanne, The Dancing Machine!

Well, the good news on my end is that Jeanne skirted Jacksonville and we pretty much endured Frances-lite because of it. My house lost power at 5:30pm Sunday and got it back at 8:00am sharp Monday morning, for which Mrs. Mosley and I were very grateful.

The bad news is that my cubicle at work got flooded, again. The carpet is beginning to smell of wet dog and I'm seriously wondering if maintenance will do anything about this since we're scheduled to move into the new building in less than six months.

Right now, I'm still a bit sleepy and cranky, but this too shall pass. Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Today's Number is "FIVE" : "5"


...and Jeanne makes FIVE. Suffice to say, we Floridians are fed up by now. We would give all our orange groves over to frost bite if November 30th could get here sooner and we could say goodbye to Hurricane season.

Since today's number is Five and all, I am presenting to you the 5ives website. It provides me with some great laughs whenever I visit it, and that's something we could definitely use right now.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Review: "Hero" (2002)

You notice that year up there in the title? That does indeed say 2002, yet this film just opened here in the States in late August. Miramax purchased the film for American distribution two years ago (no doubt to capitalize on the success of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"), but sat on it instead of putting it in theaters right away. Critics, who have almost unanimously praised the film, have been asking why it was delayed. After seeing it in the theater last month for myself, I think I may know why.

"Hero" takes place in China back when it was still divided into many different countries. A powerful King (Daoming Chen) takes the initiative to unify the separate countries into one by brute force. This has made him many enemies, and he is pleased to hear that a man known only as Nameless (Jet Li) has claimed to have killed three of the most powerful assassins that oppose the King. For this feat, the King grants Nameless an audience in order that he may be rewarded and tell his story. The story that is told is eventually followed by two other versions, and these slowly reveal what actually happened to the three assassins and who Nameless really is.

After viewing the magnificence of the Forbidden City in the opening segment, we are mindful that we are watching a very well done artifice. The massing of soldiers along pathways and rushing around in unison puts one in mind of "The Last Emperor". After being introduced to the King, Nameless begins his tale by describing his fight with the assassin Sky (Donnie Yen). This battle, which is fought in a rain-soaked courtyard, is for my money is the best fight sequence in the film. It also makes the special effect of slow motion raindrops more thrilling than a similar attempt in "Matrix Revolutions".

Nameless then tells of his infiltration of the calligraphy school where the assassins Snow (Maggie Cheung) and Broken Sword (Tony Leung) were staying. It is here where the multiple stories take place and we are presented with different color schemes in order to differentiate them. This use of color reminded me again of "The Last Emperor" where colors were used to great symbolic effect, albeit to symbolize different things. It is also here, with the assault on the school by literally thousands of arrows, that those of us who read reviews invoking "Crouching Tiger" realize that we're not in Kansas anymore.

"Crouching Tiger" existed in a world where everything appeared normal, but was inhabited by a handful of warriors that could do extraordinary things. "Hero", liberated from reality by it's monochromatic color schemes, surpasses reality with even more extreme gravity-defying feats. The treetop battle in "Crouching Tiger" is topped here with a battle on the surface of a placid lake. The combatants jump up and down on the surface, using their swords like oars to push themselves upwards into thin air. To be sure, "Hero" gives you things that most moviegoers have never seen before.

"Crouching Tiger", for all its wire work, functioned as a conventional film that was equal parts action and drama. "Hero", on the other hand, is less concerned with narrative and more with presenting a work of art. Action scenes, aside from the first one I mentioned, are not as exciting due to the pacing of the individual scenes and the film overall. I'm not saying they are boring, but rather that the filmmakers are more interested in painting beautiful pictures than speeding the audience's pulse. In the end, "Crouching Tiger" appeals to a wider audience than "Hero" does, and I'm guessing Miramax realized this.

This is not a criticism of the film, but rather a caveat. Film fans like myself tend to go weak at the knees at such films and never consider the general audience. I've heard similar things about "Lost in Translation" last year, a film equally praised by critics that left some audience members scratching their head wondering what the big damn deal was. Fortunately for these films, they have the virtue of something familiar for the audience to hold onto (Bill Murray's antics for "Lost" and Jet Li's fighting for "Hero"). It is possible for general audiences to enjoy "Hero", but they should know exactly the kind of film their going into.

The ending was a bit surprising to me. Self sacrifice is a theme that comes up so many times in Chinese and Japanese film that you'd think I would see it coming by now. The ending also had the virtue of imbuing additional meaning to the actions and characters we have just spent two hours with and brings the film to a more satisfying conclusion. It's a film that I, or anyone who gets a chance to see it, will never forget.

Eight out of Ten

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Review: "Seabiscuit" (2003)

Even fifteen years later, I don't think that Ken Burns realizes what effect he's had on popular culture. The accomplishment of "The Civil War" is nothing short of incredible. It is an 11 hour historical documentary that is endlessly informative and watchable. All across the United States, people were suddenly interested in this period of American history when they previously weren't. Some of the factors that make this documentary so perfect are the haunting music, the vivid pictures, and the engrossing voice of narrator David McCullough. For many of us, this is the gold standard of accessible American history.

When audiences went to see "Seabiscuit" in the theaters, they were once again being taught an American history lesson by David McCullough using still photos and music. The still pictures eventually segue into the actual film, but McCullough remains, and the still photos return throughout. "Seabiscuit" is the story of a racehorse during the Great Depression that was once considered a hopeless loser, then became one of the greatest racehorses of all time. Seabiscuit is assisted into his place in history by jockey Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire), trainer Tom Smith (Chris Cooper) and owner Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges). Through Seabiscuit, all three of them find renewed purpose in their downtrodden lives.

And so, as McCullough tells us, did the country as well. His deep tones convey the importance of the story before he finishes his first sentence. People needed an underdog to root for more than ever before during the Great Depression, and they found him in the form of Seabiscuit. There were more than a few film critics who found this theme overplayed in the film and that it was too sappy for it's own good. There is a difference, though, in manipulating the audience and telling a story sincerely, and I think "Seabiscuit" is able to straddle that fine line quite well. What results is a movie that draws you in so much that you cease to care that something is reaching for your heartstrings.

All three of the lead actors acquit themselves well here. Jeff Bridges, who for the second time in his career is playing an optimistic automobile tycoon (the first was "Tucker: The Man and his Dream"), must have gotten some serious deja vu on the set. Still, he is never less than a magnetic presence on the screen. Tobey Maguire should also be used to the "little guy who makes big" role after his turns in the "Spiderman" films. The anger and frustration he displays is a little harsher than I've seen in his previous roles, and it's clear he wants to go darker earlier in his career so that he's not forever pegged as the smart, shy type. Chris Cooper ages himself quite a bit as Smith and in his silent way is more of a presence than the more exuberant Bridges and Maguire. He also gets some wonderful opportunities to illustrate his character, such as when this man of the west has trouble sleeping on a mattress and ends up going outside the house to sleep on the ground, staring up at the stars.

The story of Seabiscuit is a slice of Americana that works better than most modern attempts. It may not be in a league with the great Steinbeck films "The Grapes of Wrath" and "Of Mice and Men", but the story it tells is very much worth telling. It is a part of our history that, once again, we are happy to have discovered.

Eight out of Ten

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Skippy of the Day: Lewis Napper

In a recent exchange of emails, my in-laws have been discussing a document called "The Bill of Non-Rights", which has been attributed to State Representative Mitchell Kaye from GA. In reality, according to the Snopes website, it was written by Libertarian Lewis Napper of Mississippi. It's been a favorite email forward among conservatives, yet I find myself agreeing with some of it. As for the rest of it, well, let's say it's extremely misguided. Shall we begin?
ARTICLE I: You do not have the right to a new car, big screen TV, or any other form of wealth. More power to you if you can legally acquire them, but no one is guaranteeing anything.
I have never proposed those things be guaranteed, nor any liberal that I've ever heard, so where the hell this guy is coming from with this, I don't know.
ARTICLE II: You do not have the right to never be offended. This country is based on freedom, and that means freedom for everyone -- not just you! You may leave the room, turn the channel, express a different opinion, etc.; but the world is full of idiots, and probably always will be.
This particular article betrays it's Libertarian origins, since most conservatives can't stop themselves from proposing bans on this book or that movie. "Turn the channel"? That's what George Carlin has been advocating for years! Conservative are more likely to view this point in terms of "Political Correctness". Ever since a few overzealous liberals went on the PC kick back in the 1990's, Conservatives have used the term as an all-purpose bugaboo to smear liberals, whether the term applies to a given situation or not. Make no mistake, however, that Conservatives have a lot more to fear from Article II than your friendly neighborhood Liberal.
ARTICLE III: You do not have the right to be free from harm. If you stick a screwdriver in your eye, learn to be more careful, do not expect the tool manufacturer to make you and all your relatives independently wealthy.
Since we're human beings and all, there are some situations that need judgment calls, which is why we need, uh, Judges. Obviously, as most of the nation learned from that McDonalds coffee judgment years ago, there are a number of lawsuits that have little merit. Our judicial system, like our government, is imperfect but is the best we have yet to come up with. Sometimes a judge will give merit to ridiculous cases. Such is life in our imperfect system.

Conservatives, who generally hate shades of gray, would like to lump such class action lawsuits into one big ball and get rid of them. When John Kerry picked John Edwards as his running mate, conservatives immediately started to criticize Edwards for his career as a personal injury lawyer. CNN conservative talking head Tucker Carlson stated repeatedly and mockingly that Edwards handled "Jacuzzi" cases. The specific case that he's referring to is when a five year old was pinned to the bottom of a pool by a faulty drain and had most of her intestine sucked out. She survived, but will be feeding herself from an IV for the rest of her life.

So you tell me: Do you think there's a difference between a child sticking themselves in the eye with a screwdriver and a child being sucked into a faulty pool drain? If you do, then you might want to rethink your absolute ban on personal injury cases, lest you or a loved one encounter a company that compromises safety to save a few cents on manufacturing costs.

ARTICLE IV: You do not have the right to free food and housing. Americans are the most charitable people to be found, and will gladly help anyone in need, but we are quickly growing weary of subsidizing generation after generation of professional couch potatoes who achieve nothing more than the creation of another generation of professional couch potatoes.

Ah, the biggest threat to American life as we know it: The welfare mother. As if every Liberal's' prime motivation when they wake up in the morning is to prop up people like this. The welfare mother is an example of someone who abuses the system and abuses their rights. As with the class action lawsuit example I gave, just because they are such abuses does not mean the system should be excised forthwith. To be fair, the wording of this article suggests that the system should be altered, not erased. This I agree with. It's a show of intelligence when someone is willing to take the time and effort of pulling the weeds instead of just scything the garden.

ARTICLE V: You do not have the right to free health care. That would be nice, but from the looks of public housing, we're just not interested in public health care.
Who among us would honestly give equal weight to giving away free flat screen TV's and providing free health care? Health care should be a citizen's right, not a privilege that is paid for by only those who can afford it. After all, there's never been a person in this country who has needlessly died from not having an entertainment center.
ARTICLE VI: You do not have the right to physically harm other people. If you kidnap, rape, intentionally maim, or kill someone, don't be surprised if the rest of us want to see you fry in the electric chair.
I totally agree with this one, except for the capital punishment thing. Anyone who states that they "want to see you fry in the electric chair" should have sharp objects taken away from them. The concept of bloodthirst is not and should not be in our system of justice.

Instead, put such criminals away for life. If there's no room, then move one of the minimal drug offenders to a rehab facility to make room for the murderer/rapist/whatever. I was about to add something about how prisons should also not resemble resorts, but the author beat me to it with the next article.
ARTICLE VII: You do not have the right to the possessions of others. If you rob, cheat, or coerce away the goods or services of other citizens, don't be surprised if the rest of us get together and lock you away in a place where you still won't have the right to a big screen color TV or a life of leisure.
I wholeheartedly agree. Prisoners don't need Cable TV or any other luxuries (except for the absolutely decadent luxury of health care, of course). And by the way, this article should apply equally to blue and white collar criminals.

ARTICLE VIII:You don't have the right to demand that our children risk their lives in foreign wars to soothe your aching conscience. We hate oppressive governments and won't lift a finger to stop you from going to fight if you'd like. However, we do not enjoy parenting the entire world and do not want to spend so much of our time battling each and every little tyrant with a military uniform and a funny hat.
I should note that the email forward that is going around deletes the above article in favor of two additional ones that I have listed (and addressed) below. As to why some Conservatives chose to omit this particular article, I am sure that I have absolutely no idea.

Can you feel the sarcasm?
ARTICLE IX: You do not have the right to a job. All of us sure want you to have a job, and will gladly help you along in hard times, but we expect you to take advantage of the opportunities of education and vocational training laid before you to make yourself useful.
There is some truth to this, and I'm sure there are a number of people that refuse to help themselves to re-training opportunities and such. However, when people specifically talk about the government helping to create jobs, one way is to keep corporations from acting in unethical and illegal ways.

Long before he became a household name, Michael Moore got his start with a documentary called "Roger & Me". In it, he details how General Motors started cutting jobs in the 1980's and moving plants to Mexico at a time when they were making record profits. The economic boomtown of Flint, Michigan became an empty shell of its former self. Some of the people interviewed take the same cold viewpoint held by Napper by saying that GM owes nothing to Flint.

However, our government does have an obligation to see that jobs are not needlessly shipped across the border. Our government does have a duty to reconsider tax breaks to corporations receive that act against the public interest. Our government does have the job of investigating shady accounting practices. So much damage can be done to a population by a government that simply looks the other way when corporations break the law. This sort of thing must stop.
ARTICLE X: You do not have the right to happiness. Being an American means that you have to PURSUE happiness, which by the way, is a lot easier if you are unencumbered by an over abundance of idiotic laws created by those of you who were confused by the Bill of Rights.
I agree with this one in general, but the last part seems to have a lot more going on underneath than what's being said. Since I don't exactly know what he's getting at, I can't really address it.

In addition to the original views of Mr. Napper, there have been two other articles added to his list over time. The following words are not his, but I thought I would address them anyway:

ARTICLE: This is an English speaking country. We don't care where you are from, English is our language. Learn it or go back to wherever you came from.
I agree with the letter of this law, but not the speaker's spirit. I think we've all had enough of the "go back to wherever you came from" rhetoric and bile from conservatives, or are the rest of you ready to go back to England/Germany/France/Holland/or wherever else you came from?
ARTICLE: You do not have the right to change our country's history or heritage. This country was founded on the belief in one true God. And yet, you are given the freedom to believe in any religion, any faith, or no faith at all; with no fear of persecution. The phrase IN GOD WE TRUST is part of our heritage and history, and if you are uncomfortable with it, TOUGH!!!!
Unless the Founding Fathers were still around in 1956, they had nothing to do with the presence of God in our current government. Due to the flames of paranoia that were fanned by Joseph McCarthy in the 50's, a trio of laws were passed in 1956 in order to defend (and differentiate) us from the "Godless Communists" of Russia: "In God We Trust" was placed on all U.S. currency, "In God We Trust" replaced "E Pluribus Unum" (out of many, one) as the country's motto, and the words "under god" were inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance.

As a side note, the Presidential Oath of Office does not mention God nor does it require a Holy Bible for the Oath. That was more of a tradition carried on by individual Presidents, and is therefore excusable. The laws passed in 1956, however, no longer have an excuse and also have no place in our government. It is a "heritage and history" that has far shallower roots than some conservatives would have you believe.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Reviews: "Earth vs. The Flying Saucers" (1956) and "20 Million Miles to Earth" (1957)

For those of you who saw "Spy Kids 2" (You know the one: It wasn't as good at "1" but was leaps and bounds above "3"), you might have gotten your biggest kick out of all the creatures that lived on the Island of Lost Dreams. When director Robert Rodriguez created them, he was doing a sincere homage to the works of stop-motion innovator Ray Harryhausen. His legacy has earned him fans across the generations who continue to honor him in current films (thus the name of the restaurant "Harryhausen's" in "Monster's Inc."). They speak to the inner kid in all of us.

Even in the minor B-films of the 50's, his work stands out as of that done by a grand master at his art. "Earth vs. The Flying Saucers" and "20 Million Miles to Earth" share a lot of traits in addition to both being worked on by Harryhausen. Both were produced by Charles H. Schneer. Both have Thomas Henry Browne and John Zaremba in supporting roles (playing the military brass and the scientist, respectively). Both even have actress Joan Taylor in the female lead role. Both also have ponderous opening narration and extras reacting badly to the fantastic effects they can't see. There are some differences to point out, though.

You may have noticed that I haven't mentioned the plots yet, and that's on purpose. Being cheesy 50's sci-fi films, the plot is besides the point, sometimes blatantly so. For the record, "Earth vs. The Flying Saucers" is pretty much exactly that. There are neato story developments concerning battery operated tape recorders and universal translators, but otherwise it concerns blowing stuff up really good. The aliens themselves are kind of goofy looking in their incredibly rigid spacesuits, but the saucers are more impressive as their simple design and the clean B&W photography shows them off to great effect. We also get to see them destroy historic buildings via sonic rays and, later, by falling out of the sky and plowing into them. Harryhausen has actually said this was his least favorite film. I can see why, but that doesn't mean it's not an enjoyable way to pass an afternoon.

The plot of "20 Million Miles to Earth" is slightly more complicated. A secret American spacecraft has crash landed near Sicily after a long visit to Venus. With it is a native Venusian creature that the U.S. government needs recovered from the crash in order to further their knowledge of Venus. The creature escapes, and both the American and Italian authorities are in pursuit. The creature, which bears some similarities to the Gorgon at the end of "Clash of the Titans", is a fully articulated humanoid lizard, complete with tail. As with many other of his creations, there is great effort to imbue this one with a personality: A lost, confused soul in a strange landscape. The Americans attempt to protect it from the Italians, who want the dangerous creature dead. Near the end, after it goes on a rampage culminating with the Coliseum in Rome, it's death sentence is assured. One doesn't have to look far into this film to see how much "King Kong" influenced Harryhausen when he first saw it as a young boy.

The finales, ultimately, are the most significant similarity between the two films. Both end with finely done flourishes, using the historic monuments of Washington DC and Rome as the final stage. The spectacle remains a strong presence in film history that can stand alongside the very best in CGI for inspiring awe and wonder. They serve as the perfect emblem for 1950's Saturday matinees and the joy of sitting in a cool darkened theater with a bowl of popcorn and ice cold cola. From the dinosaurs of Harryhausen to the dinosaurs of Spielberg, nothing can beat that feeling.

"Earth vs. The Flying Saucers" - Six out of Ten
"20 Million Miles to Earth" - Seven out of Ten

Hankies, Sledgehammers and Cake

Just when you finish with a couple of hurricanes, you get slapped with a cold. When that winds down, you get a weekend devoted to your parents' 50th wedding anniversary and a whole morning helping a friend knock out the dent in your car door. So, in other words, I've been busy. I'm hoping to get some fresh, flaky posts out of the oven later today. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Doing my part for the troops

About a two months ago, I came across a news item at Satellite News. It concerned a couple who formed a group to send donated "Mystery Science Theater 3000" episodes to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. For those who are fans of the now cancelled series, myself included, this is a great idea. Unlike a lot of television these days, MST3K bears repeat viewings, and there's nothing better than kicking back and watching these familiar wise-asses tear to shreds some cinematic abomination.

So, I sent in my donation about a month ago. Ideally, my copy of "Manos: The Hands of Fate" will find its way into the hands of a soldier/fan stationed in some urban nightmare like Baghdad. Then, when they get some down time, they can cue up the DVD on a laptop and think back to more relaxing times in front of the TV at home when a Bush war in Iraq was comfortably in the past and not the present.

Stay safe, folks.

Review: "8 Women" (2002)

People like to point to "Moulin Rouge" and "Chicago" as indicators of a revival in the Hollywood musical genre. This is both correct and incorrect. The spirit of the musicals that featured Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire was unabashedly upbeat, and some might say that it's an attitude that can no longer be featured in this modern world. "Chicago" was, for all its catchy tunes and dance numbers, a very darkly cynical film about murder, corruption, scandal and celebrity. "Moulin Rouge" was closer in spirit with it's opposing quartet of Beauty, Freedom, Truth and Love, but it felt more like an LSD (or absinthe, if you like) trip than the simple joys of Gene Kelly gadding about in the rain. So, has there been anything recently that's come closer to that feeling?

I would say the French film "8 Women" has come closest yet. Picture if you will a snowbound cottage somewhere in France. Within in this cottage are the eight women of the title, all of them being of some relation to the master of the house, Marcel. Suddenly, he is found murdered and all eight women begin to suspect one another. In true mystery fashion, the roads are all blocked and the phones do not work. So the eight women are forced to stay the night together, and in the process learn about one another.

There are eight musical numbers in all with one for each character. The styles range from teeny bopper ("Papa, you're behind the times", which is perhaps the most infectious tune), to sultry bar song ("What's the use of living free", where Fanny Ardant does her best "Gilda" impression, which is pretty damn good). Unlike "Chicago" and "Moulin Rouge", which both had a showbiz-type setting, this film is people just breaking out into song in the most ordinary of places. But all the songs are expressions of their thoughts, so we accept the contrivance.

Speaking of the setting, the film takes a step towards an old fashioned feeling by structuring itself like a lost Agatha Christie story. People who have been fortunate enough to see Christie's "The Mousetrap" on stage will definitely experience some flashbacks while watching this film. The cabin where all the action takes place is spacious, colorful, brightly lit and is undeniably a studio set, which is part of the charm. There are places where it even surpassing "Down With Love" in accomplishing that perfect Hollywood retro 50's look.

The look of the film is spot on with the classic musicals, but obviously the subject matter is not. However, with this film, the murder mystery and skeletons-in-the-closet plot elements are not the main thing. "Chicago" and "Moulin Rouge" had overarching themes (Celebrity and Love, respectively) in their plots. "8 Women" is all about the music and nothing but. Does it make it shallow? Some might see it this way. But the true mark of a good film is if it does its job effectively, and "8 Women" succeeds as entertaining escapism.

Some people are just going to be dumbfounded by this film. That can't be helped. But some people are going to gush all over this film because of its pure entertainment vibe, with a French accent. It's a lot of damn fun.

Eight out of Ten

Monday, September 13, 2004

Let. There. Be. LIGHT!

Mrs. Mosley and I decided to reward ourselves after six consecutive unhappy nights in our sweatbox of a house by staying in a B&B on Saturday evening. We ended up sitting in the big bed eating take out pizza and watching "That Thing You Do" on tape. This may not sound luxurious, but it seemed like it after our week of darkness.

The other purpose for this sleepover was to challenge "Murphy": If we plunked down $150 for a night at a B&B just ten miles from where we live, then maybe the lights would come back on while we were gone. Sure enough, when we pulled into our driveway Sunday morning, we found the porchlight on. Mrs. Mosley screamed her bloody head off in delight and I was just as thankful. According to the flashing clocks inside the house, the electric had come back on at approximately 9:45 am, about an hour before we pulled in. So, for those keeping score, we were out a total of 157 hours, just 11 hours short of a full week.

But this has all passed now. The fridge is restocked, the checkbook is balanced and all is right with the Mosley world.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Game strategies during power outages

If the following occurs: You and your wife arrive home after dinner on a Friday night to find that all but six houses in your entire neighborhood have power (and yours doesn't). Upon seeing this exasperating phenomenon, your wife becomes very distraught. You sit down with her to play a calming and hopefully distracting game of Yatzee. If all this happens, then DO NOT roll Yatzees on your first two rolls, even if its accidental. Your wife might...ahem...take umbrage to this.

In other words, to paraphrase C-3PO: "Let the Wifey win."

One Hundred and Thirty Two hours...

...and counting without power. Meanwhile, Ivan approaches.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Reviews: "Sliding Doors" (1998) and "Run Lola Run" (1998)

Movies that screw around with time and space often feel the need to spell out what's happening (including episodes of "Star Trek", where such things are par for the course). Even in such a basic formula like the "Back to the Future" films, there is a lot of time spent explaining how alternate realities work throughout. I'm not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, and I believe the entire Marty McFly trilogy stands on its own as solid entertainment. However, there is something to be said for conveying the information more subtly. Back in 1998, two very different films took a shot at this and both enjoyed some success at it.

"Sliding Doors" is the debut film of writer/director Peter Howitt. Our main character Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow) works for a Public Relations firm and has a boyfriend named Gerry (John Lynch) who is still working on his book. She's struggling as the sole breadwinner and her life is a little bit harried. One morning, she arrives at work and discovers that she's been fired (or rather sacked. Gotta love that British parlance). On her way back home, she misses her subway train...and then doesn't miss it. In one reality she arrives home to find Gerry having an affair with another woman, in the other she arrives after the woman has left and is none the wiser. And here is where two different Helens take two different paths.

This film is incredibly elegant and the director's light touch never confuses the audience within the two threads. Of course, this becomes easier once one of the Helen's gets her hair cut and dyed, and it was a nice way to further make the distinction between the two. There is no overt visual motif that the director uses to cut from one story line to another. It's all very deft, and the director (and the editor) should be commended.

Paltrow is charming in this film, as always. Between this and "Shakespeare in Love", I'm beginning to form a theory that only films that feature Paltrow with a British accent are worth watching. John Hannah, who plays the equally charming character James, is also a stand out. It's because he's so good here that I cringe whenever I remember the awfulness of his comic turn in "The Mummy Returns". Here's hoping he pops up in a mainstream film soon that doesn't feature The Rock as a giant CGI scorpion.

If there's a weak link in this film, it's John Lynch as Gerry. How either Helen or his mistress could ever be attracted to this inarticulate goofball is beyond me. As admirable as Helen is, one has to wonder how she could never be suspicious of this guy when his attempts to cover up his affair are so clumsy. Later on, she does start to wise up and makes a accurate comment about Gerry's speech devolving into a poor Woody Allen impression. Although this movie is filled with kind of likeable British folks one only sees in films like "Notting Hill", they still fit nicely into the world that the movie creates. Gerry's character, on the other hand, is cartoonish and out of place. In a film that I've praised for its deft touch, he's anything but deft.

Before you get the impression that the film is completely Hollywood with it's likeable characters, there is an ending that may surprise you. That is, there is one ending that surprises, and the other seems to come and pick up where the first left off. Again, very nicely done. And very entertaining.

"Run Lola Run" is the work of German writer/director Tom Tykwer and is a bit more off center than it's British counterpart. Lola (Franka Potente) is in her apartment when she receives a phone call from her boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu). It seems he has misplaced a bag of money that he owes some criminals and, if he doesn't get a hold of 100,000 deutsche marks in the next 20 minutes, he's a dead man. It's up to Lola to save his sorry butt, and due to various decisions she makes, we get to see three different scenarios play out one after the other.

Unlike "Sliding Doors", these realities are not intercut with each other. We get to see the first scenario play out, and then we rewind to the phone call and see the second and then finally a third. There are a lot of different film making techniques at work here. Some animation is used at certain points. At other times, a quick series of still photos are shown illustrating the future of individuals Lola bumps into along her journey. Whereas "Sliding Doors" used the unusual setup to tell a pair of conventional stories that intertwined, "Run Lola Run" is all about using unusual techniques to tell unique stories. This is what impressed critics the most when it was first released and rightly so. It's a feast for movie buffs, and it's also simply a lot of fun.

Potente is a magnetic presence as Lola. This was her breakout film, and she would go on to impress American audiences with turns in "Blow" and the two "Bourne" films with Matt Damon. Here, however, she is the focal point with her flaming red hair and pumping arms as she runs down endless German streets. Potente is also given the chance to give depth to her action heroine through pivotal scenes with her Father, who is a bank manager and is one of the obvious places she starts her quest for the money. In many respects, Potente is fully up to the task of providing the emotional core of the film.

At first blush, Manni may seem as much of a doofus as Gerry when he leaves the money on the train, but there is some nice fleshing out of his character. In between the three scenarios are a pair of intimate scenes where Lola and Manni lie in bed together and talk. These really do a lot for illustrating their relationship, which is very key to the plot when you consider what Lola is willing to do for Manni in order to save him. No such scenes exist between Helen and Gerry save one where he takes her out for a night on the town, and all this really illustrates is that Gerry is a fun guy to go drinking with.

Although the alternate realities plotline connects the two films, the first is really a romantic comedy and the second is an avant garde type thriller. Both, however, are very good at what they do and should not be missed.

"Sliding Doors" - Eight out of Ten
"Run Lola Run" - Nine out of Ten

Laura Ingalls Wilder can kiss my pasty white butt

I'm sorry. That was uncalled for. But when she wrote all her quaint little stories about living the simple life before electricity, she didn't know about the humid sweltering swamp known as Florida.

As of this post, my home has been without power for 84 hours straight, with no solution in sight. The most irritating aspect to this whole situation is that most of the surrounding neighborhoods (and all of the businesses) are up, yet my isolated section is cloaked in pitch black. The current prediction from the Jacksonville Electric Authority is that we (we being the remaining 10 percent of Jacksonville households still without power) will probably have the power back up by, ugh, Monday.

So this is to warn all, and any, readers of this blog that if I seem a little grumpy lately, It's not just because of the presidential race.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

"From White Castle to the Nile"

During the hurricane, we were left to kill time in the humid darkness. One of the things we did was listen to the constant radio reports on the storm. Having discovered the joys of audiobooks several years ago, it had been ages since I last listened to the radio. Mrs. Mosley will every month or so start asking me about some cute commercial she's heard only to stop short before finishing and say, "Oh, that's right, you don't listen to the radio". Well, I finally caught a radio ad over the weekend, and I would call it more frightening than cute.

Mrs. Mosley and I sat at a table playing Yatzee by candlelight (isn't that romantic) and I heard a commercial jingle play for a pest control company. The tune was light and jumpy with several women singing together about "bugs" and punctuating the end of every line with the word "bugs". It took me perhaps two or three seconds to recognize it: It was the song "Girls" off of the legendary 1986 album "Licensed to Ill" by the Beastie Boys.

The Beastie Boys?!?! I sat there with my jaw open. Mrs. Mosley thought I was simply taken by how goofy sounding the jingle was. I then explained to her the tune's origin and how incredibly surreal it was to hear such a song as a friggin pest control jingle! It's not that the song has incredible artistic merit or anything. In fact, the song is incredibly misogynist and even the maturing band members have said that they consider it a song done by immature kids. I'm surprised a company would want to tap into that connotation. Years ago, when Disney released "The Tigger Movie", TV commercials for it were done to the popular tune "Semi-Charmed Life" by Third Eye Blind. The people who put together the commercial apparently only chose the catchy song for its cheery tone and didn't bother to listen to the lyrics and discover that the song is about doing crystal meth. Of course, the tune is the thing, and it does have a bouncy quality to it.

The outrage is subsiding. If Quiet Riot can be used to sell potato chips on TV, then the Beastie Boys selling house fumigations is an obvious next step. Still, having grown up with that album, It's hard to fathom the amount of time that has passed to allow such a song to be considered for this purpose. I just hope I'm too senile to care by the time they use Marilyn Manson to market deodorant.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

And now, as promised, The Labor Day Weekend From HELL!!!!!

So, let's begin at the beginning.

Saturday didn't really count as far as the Hurricane Frances was concerned as the storm hadn't reached us yet. People were still getting prepared and you could see storefronts boarded up with plywood with "WE ARE OPEN" spray painted on the front. Otherwise, Mrs. Mosley and I treated it as a normal day off.

Come Sunday, people were in the final stages of digging in. In the morning, I went to the nearest grocery store and found it closed. The second was open, but the intercom announcement stated that they would be closing at 10 am sharp. People inside were getting last minute items and were dismayed to find out they couldn't get to the open freezer cases that had been closed off with sheets of plastic. I managed to get some waffles for breakfast and returned home, where we both stayed for the rest of the very rainy day.

It was only that night, when we attempted to do three electrical things at once, when the great God Murphy struck us down with his Rule of Law. Namely we (a) put a load of laundry in, (b) put a batch of brownies in the oven and (c) put "A Beautiful Mind" in the DVD player. The power went off and on a total of five times in the span of 30 minutes before it went out for good just after 9 pm. Still, we still hadn't flooded, we had plenty of candles, and we found that an open bedroom window provided a slight cool breeze to compensate for our lost AC. Oh, and the brownies survived as well.

Monday was nothing but rain and wind. Mrs. Mosley and I passed the time playing Yatzee, snacking on saltines & cheddar, and taking deep naps. By 3pm, we were both in need of a shower (well, OK, me more than her), so we decided to venture to her mother's place on the other side of town, which still had electricity. Of all the downed trees we saw along the way, the biggest was just a block from our house and completely blocked off the main road into the neighborhood. All that was visible was a ten foot wall of leaves, as if a crazed gardener had quickly planted a hedge maze there. In a sign that some people refused to let the storm change their lives, pinheaded pricks with cellphones mindlessly glided through intersections where the lights were not working. Despite road hazards such as these, we reached her mother's house safely. Once there, we availed ourselves to her laundry room and feasted on Chicken a la King for dinner. We also brought with us two pounds of thawing chicken breasts from our nonfunctioning fridge in order to cook them before they went bad. All this went rather well and we headed back to our house at about 7:15...

...and found that our electric was still out. It was an even starker contrast to be in a home bustling with people and functioning appliances and then, just 30 minutes later, to be in a place that is dark and dead. Later on, we found out from the radio that tornados were sprouting up in our area. No sooner had we started looking for an interior bathroom, hallway or room without windows that we realized our house didn't have any of those (future Florida home buyers take note). Our house survived the length of the tornado watch and we eventually got to sleep.

Which brings us to this morning. The electric was still out, but we both had to go back to work. Mrs. Mosley got out quickly to take advantage of her building's cafeteria. The joys of hot food quickly subsided for her as she tangled with the insurance people over the phone about a roof leak that developed during the storm. I, on the other hand, arrived at work to find that several parts of the building had experienced leaks from the rain...including my cubicle.

In the end, Jacksonville only got hit by the outer edges of the storm. However, instead of just passing us and getting it over with, the hurricane curved up around us so that we had a very prolonged period of wind and rain. It was miserable for a lot of people, but it could have been much worse. So blessed be the city workers, the weather forecasters and the police officers for helping us all get through this nightmare of the weekend.

Oh, and brownies helped too.

It's raining and I'm wet

The worst of Frances is over, but there is a LOT of cleanup here in JAX. As of 9:30 this morning when I left my house, we were still without power. A more detailed post on the Labor Day Weekend from Hell to follow soon.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Skippy of the Day: The Cincinnati Post

This entry did not start with a quote but a current news item. I knew there would be a certain kind of response to this news, and it didn't take me long to find one in the Google News Search:

"France may have thought it purchased some sort of immunity from terrorism by opposing the invasion of Iraq, and it might have done so if terrorists were other than incorrigible opportunists." - The Cincinnati Post (Editorial) 9/2/04

First off, let me put my two cents in to the whole head scarf ban in French schools: I disagree with it. The ban, which also covers other religious accessories such as large crosses and Jewish skull caps, is absolute nonsense and France should be ashamed for it. Imagine that: I'm a disagreeing with the policy of a country when I had previously agreed with them on an entirely different policy. Liberals, as well as those people with even basic intelligence, are able to do that. All others should be careful, otherwise they might bruise something.

Now, having said that, what kind of moron do they have writing editorials at the Cincinnati Post. France, and all the other countries that opposed the war, did not do so in order to seek immunity from terrorists. The editor's glib comment that terrorists are "incorrigible opportunists" is absolutely right, and it's for this reason that his assertion on France is absurd. France, Russia, Germany and many other countries opposed the war because they saw that it would create more terrorists than it would eliminate. More to the point, their goodwill with us was for the capture and punishment of those responsible for 9/11, and the Iraq invasion had nothing to do with that worthy cause.

Further on down this editorial is a mention of Spain, which is a country that Conservatives love to point to and yell "appeasement" until the cows come home. What they conveniently forget is that, even before the train bombings and the election, the country was wavering towards an Iraq pullout. The people of Spain saw how badly the occupation was going and realized that the American president was an extremely misguided person. The fact that some of their citizens were being held hostage at the time was an unfortunate coincidence. Just because the terrorists demand something of a country that the country was going to do anyway is no reason not to still do it. Only an immature and petulant leader would think that. After all, Dubya announced earlier this year a plan to pull all US troops out of Saudi Arabia, which happens to be one of Osama Bin Laden's chief demands of the US. Now who's doing the appeasing?

The editorial ends with a quote by Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who can share the Skippy credentials for today, which states, "The French are deluding themselves if they think they can remain outside of this". No one can remain outside this. Terrorism is a problem of the whole world, and we need to all get on board. But just as a slick politician who will insert a controversial last minute rider to a bill that is sure to get passed, Dubya proposed the Iraq war and dared others to oppose him on threat of being alienated. Fortunately, most countries called him on it, and they are the ones that can stand tall for what they believed in and refusing to be bullied by a larger power. It's called "Integrity", and that's something the terrorists cannot touch.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Going to extreme lengths

Last night included trips to various stores to get last minutes supplies for Frances. I stopped by Publix (which is the nicest of the grocery chains down here in the South) to pick up some odds and ends. As I stood in line behind a woman with 243 items, my eye wandered to the sides where they put the impulse items and spotted something called Dog-E-Licious Ice Pudding. Basically, this is ice cream for dogs, but with no harmful dairy ingredients.

My question is this: Why is this in the impulse buy section?

I had never heard of it before, and perhaps that is why it's there: To let more people know about the product. And maybe I would have gone with that explanation if I hadn't just passed by the canned goods aisle and seen the shelves nearly decimated. And so my devious little mind concocted a store manager who saw his canned goods swiftly depleting and decided that the lesser known products might be purchased by some of the more last minute, desperate shoppers.

It's not like it's real dog food with beef gravy and all of that. Hell, it might even taste good to humans. Still, the very connotation is enough to gross me out and I'd imagine this would apply to most people. But, you know, desperate times and desperate measures and all that. Fortunately, I'm happy to report that we are now fully stocked with food and water.

And the kitty food will be strictly regulated to the kitties.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Joel Coen's wife is a Category Four and heading straight for us!

Oh, wait. Wrong Frances.

Didn't we just do this two and a half weeks ago? Well, it's happening again. This time, however, the hurricane in question does not have to go through 200 miles of land mass before it gets to us in Jax. If it does hit us, then it will be at full strength. As we did before, we're currently gathering supplies and making contingency plans for evacuation. But the real panic will not be until Friday and Saturday. In the meantime, we'll still be going to work and I'll be updating my blog as if everything was normal and we weren't out of our gourds with worry.

Have a nice day!

Yaphet Kotto Quote of the Month: September 2004

Yaphet Kotto holds the distinction of being one of the very first humans to die at the hands of that great H.R. Giger creation made famous in "Alien". In this scene, he discusses with Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) their options now that the creature is loose on the ship:
Ripley: When we throw the switches, how long before the ship blows?
Parker: Ten minutes.
Ripley: No bulls**t?
Parker: We ain't outta here in ten minutes, we won't need no rocket to fly through space.