Thursday, July 29, 2004
Are there any significant experiences you have had, or accomplishments you have realized, that have helped to define you as a person?
I am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice. I have been known to remodel train stations on my lunch breaks, making them more efficient in the area of heat retention. I translate ethnic slurs for Cuban refugees, I write award-winning operas, I manage time efficiently. Occasionally, I tread water for three days in a row.
I woo women with my sensuous and godlike trombone playing, I can pilot bicycles up severe inclines with unflagging speed, and I cook Thirty-Minute Brownies in twenty minutes. I am an expert in stucco, a veteran in love, and an outlaw in Peru.
Using only a hoe and a large glass of water, I once single-handedly defended a small village in the Amazon Basin from a horde of ferocious army ants. I play bluegrass cello, I was scouted by the Mets. I am the subject of numerous documentaries. When I'm bored, I build large suspension bridges in my yard. I enjoy urban hang gliding. On Wednesdays, after school, I repair electrical appliances free of charge.
I am an abstract artist, a concrete analyst, and a ruthless bookie. Critics worldwide swoon over my original line of corduroy evening wear. I don't perspire. I am a private citizen, yet I receive fan mail. I have been caller number nine and have won the weekend passes. Last summer I toured New Jersey with a traveling centrifugal-force demonstration. I bat 400. My deft floral arrangements have earned me fame in international botany circles. Children trust me.
I can hurl tennis rackets at small moving objects with deadly accuracy. I once read Paradise Lost, Moby Dick, and David Copperfield in one day and still had time to refurbish an entire dining room that evening. I know the exact location of every food item in the supermarket. I sleep once a week; when I do sleep, I sleep in a chair. While on vacation in Canada, I successfully negotiated with a group of terrorists who had seized a small bakery. The laws of physics do not apply to me.
I balance, I weave, I dodge, I frolic, and my bills are all paid. On weekends, to let off steam, I participate in full-contact origami. Years ago I discovered the meaning of life but forgot to write it down. I have made extraordinary four-course meals using only a Mouli and a toaster oven. I breed prize-winning clams. I have won bullfights in San Juan, cliff-diving competitions in Sri Lanka, and spelling bees at the Kremlin. I have played Hamlet, I have performed open-heart surgery, and I have spoken with Elvis.
But I have not yet gone to college.
Wednesday, July 28, 2004
It also reminds me one of my biggest anxieties: Automobile trouble. Specifically, I dread going to the mechanic and being told it will cost a ridiculous amount of money to fix my car. I've been burned once by less-than-scrupulous mechanics, and so I'm very wary. It's not that the car breaks down a lot, or that I don't trust the garage we started going to nearby the house we bought, but the anxiety pervades.
I often fantasize about a life without an automobile. Currently, I live in Jacksonville, which is so spread out that you simply cannot get by without a car. Perhaps one day we could move to a small village in Europe where everyone rides bikes or walks. The town square would be the center of everything and where all the shops are. My wife and I could go to the cafe where I would drink coffee and read the paper while she enjoyed a pastry and her book. There would be no cars to watch, just the local villagers who would walk by and say hello to us as they passed.
Then, suddenly, from out of nowhere, the Nazis strike! Soldiers emerge out of doorways and spray the villagers with machine gun fire while we duck for cover behind overturned tables. A captain barks orders at his men to round up the survivors into the cafe and hold them there. A tank lumbers into view on the other side of the square with an SS officer standing up inside the turret. It comes to a stop facing the cafe and the officer climbs out to address the people inside.
"This village is now in the possession of the Third Reich," he shouts. "You will be shortly..."
The sound of something being thrown interrupts him, followed by the clanking of something metal falling into the turret. Flames shoot out of the opening and the screaming of the driver can be heard from inside. Molotov cocktails fill the air from second floor windows and the soldiers are quickly running for cover. The SS officer orders his men to approach the buildings as he removes his service pistol and leads them into the fray. More resistance fighters with their own machine guns empty out of buildings on the opposite side of the square. They kill most of the Germans before they can turn around and retaliate. The few who survive immediately put their hands up in surrender.
A cheer rises up from the villagers as the cafe owner opens several bottles of wine and passes glasses around to everyone for a toast. We have survived yet another day.
On second thought, maybe a little car trouble is not all that bad.
Tuesday, July 27, 2004
Leave it to another spy series to pick the idea back up again. Robert Ludlum's "Bourne" series has entertained his fans for years. Out of these books emerged "The Bourne Identity" in 2002 and "The Bourne Supremacy" in 2004. The first movie begins the story Jason Bourne, a deadly spy/assassin for the CIA who contracts amnesia after a botched job. Now he is desperately trying to evade his former comrades who are trying to eliminate him. Along the way, he hooks up with a gypsy named Marie who tries to help him recover from his disability. The second film finds him in hiding with Marie in India, where he is still plagued by flashbacks of a violent history he still cannot remember fully. Unfortunately for them, someone has framed him for the killing of two men in Berlin, and now he finds himself on the run again from the CIA as well as what seems at times to be the entire European police community.
Doug Liman directed "Bourne Identity" with an eye for character development as well as action. He wanted the movie to be first and foremost about the confused journey the protagonist goes on in search for his past. Marie, instead of acting as the obligatory love interest, goes along with him as someone who seems equally lost and wanting to join Bourne in finding a path. "The Bourne Supremacy" was directed by Paul Greengrass, who had recently directed the film "Bloody Sunday"about a massacre of an Irish civil rights protest in 1972. He brings the same grittiness to his tale of Bourne as he runs through the urban jungles of Berlin and Moscow.
Although the directors have changed, all the actors that survived the first film have returned for this one. Aside from the benefit of continuity, all the supporting players acquit themselves well with spouting out spy-language and looking intense. As for Matt Damon, the results are mixed. In the first he was a confused and panicky man who could fall into autopilot in order to dispatch villains with the greatest of ease. In the second, it's nearly all autopilot. He is motivated so strongly by revenge that he allows his lethal skills to take over entirely. After all, that's what they're there for. His unstoppable force of a character is cool to watch as he plans and improvises, but I would have liked to have seen some additional anguish shown by his character.
The action in both is different as well. In the first, Bourne is presented as a very quick and fluid fighter, disarming opponents and using their own weapons against them. It really is Damon doing all that stuff, albeit in a quickly-cut way to make him look more like Jackie Chan than he actually is. These action scenes are fun, exciting and well paced. The second film's action is darker as in the scene where Bourne meets up with a retired CIA agent and has to fight him hand-to-hand. The combat is brutal with no music to get in the way of it. Often, all you see are two dark silhouettes pounding on eachother against the white shaded windows. The final car chase pummels you along with Bourne as cameras catch the interior of his car as he is slammed into over and over again. This last scene runs a little long and you end up feeling as tired as Bourne by the time they are over.
The camera work in the two films should be mentioned. In the first, it is clean and crisp and the viewer can easily follow along with the action. For the second film, handhelds are used a majority of the time and makes for some jittery scenes. As I said, the director is obviously going for gritty, and this is part of it. However, some of the action is hard to follow with this technique and can easily lead to headaches (I felt the same about the first battle scene in "Gladiator" and the entire film "Spy Games"). For those of you who get motion sickness, you have been warned.
The movies work far better as one entity so that viewers can view the entirety of Bourne's character arc. Apart, "Identity" functions as an above average thriller with a brain and "Supremacy" works as a slightly less effective one that is still thrilling.
"The Bourne Identity": Eight out of Ten
"The Bourne Supremacy": Seven out of Ten
Both films combined: Nine out of Ten
Monday, July 26, 2004
After thinking over several possibilities (Types Furiously With Two Fingers Man, Chicken Caesar Boy, I-like-Pork-Lo-mein-but-it-don't-like-me Man), I came upon Six Degrees of Anyone Man. I honed this power long before the Kevin Bacon variant of the game became popular, and I could do it with any two actors, and this was before the IMDb! My greatest accomplishment? I was able to link George Burns with Traci Lords in under three minutes! Take that, Spiderman!
Incidentally, for those who are interested, a similar skit was done on MST3K where they named off their own lame-ass superheroes.
One thing that should be said up front is that the salad is pre-made and sold in a plastic container. It may be fresh as of that morning, but not fresh as of that hour. Instead of being tossed, the dressing and croutons are kept in separate plastic containers for you to combine yourself. There were pitifully few croutons, but there was plenty of tangy dressing to compensate. The lettuce is fresh and nicely shredded, so tossing your own salad is much less of a problem than I thought it would be. The cheese is in the center, but there is plenty of it and it also blends well. Both dressing and cheese have a very strong taste, and this is what really makes the salad memorable. Finally the chicken, cut in long strips, are very tender and complement the salad very well. Finally, you do get one of Boston Market's great corn muffins to go with your salad.
The trend I have found with four of these reviews so far is that the cheaper, the better. I don't know if this trend will hold, but I can say that Boston Market's Chicken Caesar is a delicious salad that is definitely worth the money.
Friday, July 23, 2004
Case in point: There is a moment in Hamlet where Polonius sees Hamlet reading a book and asks what he is reading. Hamlet responds, "Words, words, words". It's a sarcastic reply, and I had seen it previously spoken very straight and monotone by various Hamlets. In the Mel Gibson version, the exchange is slightly different.
POLONIUS: What do you read, my lord?
HAMLET: (At this question, he bends down and studies the book closely while turning pages then stops) Words. (He turns some more as though searching) Words. (He turns a few more then looks up with a triumphant grin as if he's found the answer) Words.
Of course, leave it to Mel Gibson to make Hamlet more of a smart ass than he already is. The scene works just fine if not better. Eventually, another film or stage version will come along with another variation. Some will be good and some will be bad, but it is the nature of plays to be interpreted and explored. That's part of the fun.
So, how did I feel when my favorite movie of all time (which was indeed based on a play) was remade on film for the first time in over thirty years? In a word: Fascinated. The film is "The Lion in Winter" and it was first done in 1968 with Peter O'toole and Katherine Hepburn in the lead roles of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Recently, in 2003, "The Lion in Winter" was remade as a Showtime film starring Patrick Stewart and Glenn Close in the lead roles. It was an interesting experience watching the new version after watching the older one at least a dozen times in my lifetime, and I came away with some observations about both.
First, however, let me lay out the basic plot: The year is 1183 and Christmas is coming. King Henry II of England is having a Christmas court at Chinon Castle and has invited his three sons, his wife and the new King of France to join him. Earlier in the year, his eldest son Henry died in an accident and now the King has to decide upon a new heir. King Henry favors his youngest John, who nearly everyone else regards as an immature fool. Queen Eleanor, who has been imprisoned for the past ten years for staging a revolt against her husband, favors older and more experienced Richard. When they all finally converge, it will be a very bitter family reunion.
Chief amongst the reasons for this being my favorite film is the dialogue. It is sharp, smart, funny and incredibly quotable. It ranks equally with "All about Eve" in terms of great scripts (A film I have now mentioned twice in passing, so I should probably get around to reviewing it soon). Given this, shouldn't the new film work just as well as the old one? Well, yes and no. Again, the interpretations are different and this is sometimes good and sometimes bad. The best way to break this down is to take the seven principle characters and compare the two performances of each (You didn't really expect the review of my favorite film to be short now, did you?).
King Henry II (Peter O'toole and Patrick Stewart): It was Stewart's idea to do the remake so he coproduced the film. His love for the material motivated him, so as a fellow fan I applaud him for it. Still, I have to say that he may be the weakest performance of the new film. As good as Stewart is in general, he has a tough task in creating something as memorable as O'toole in the original. O'toole as Henry is a force of nature. He yells and growls and proves himself the Lion of the title, even though he has just reached 50 and is in his "winter" years. Stewart is too reserved and there is not enough of the passion in his performance. Perhaps after playing Jean Luc Picard for so long, this is the only way he can play a leader of men. The biggest comparison to make is Henry's "My life when it is written" speech to his three sons. O'toole speaks it slowly and softly and builds it to a crying yell which conveys his being torn apart inside. Stewart starts softly and build to sternness, as if the boys were simply very naughty, but really never treats the betrayals as anything more than an irritating inconvenience.
Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katherine Hepburn and Glenn Close): I had my fears about Close. Seeing advance pictures of the film, I could see they were dressing her exactly as Hepburn dressed in the original, and I was very afraid that she would attempt a Hepburn-type quaver to her voice and mimic her. Fortunately, this was not the case. Close brings her own spin to the character and enunciation, and it isn't bad. Compared to Stewart, she is far more emotional, but I still think she was too flippant at times compared to the words she was reciting. A key to the film is that, despite everything that happens and is said, there remains a deep love between Henry and Eleanor. Close comes closer than Stewart at communicating this, but Hepburn was closer still.
Richard (Anthony Hopkins and Andrew Howard) and Geoffrey (John Castle and John Light): I mentioned that Stewart and Close were more closed off emotionally than O'toole and Hepburn. If anything, the opposite is true for Richard and Geoffrey. In the original, both were very stiff at times. Richard would only show rage and sorrow at intense moments, while Geoffrey was entirely a statue. In the new version, both are more open. This is both good and bad for Richard. Two favorite lines are given a different spin:
Richard: "You hardly know me Johnny, so I beg you to believe my reputation: I am a constant soldier, a sometime poet, and I will be King."
John: "Just you remember: Father loves me best."
In the new one, it's delivered as a boisterous boast to John, to which John simply mocks back his favored status. In the older version, It's delivered by Hopkins coldly as a fact and a warning, to which John can only meekly spout back the only thing he has going for him. Other than this exchange, Howard gives Hopkins a run for his money in the role. He is believable as the ferocious warrior as well as the wounded son. I think Geoffrey is the one true improvement on character. Although he's described in both as a "device" with "wheels and gears", Castle takes this to literal truth. Light, however, shows the pain of being a rejected middle child and to what ends he is willing to go to make others suffer for it.
John (Nigel Terry and Rafe Spall): The people who remade the film retained the original film's script, which is an adaptation of the play. Some dialogue is switched around to different scenes and other dialogue is excised entirely. John suffers the most for this and comes off as even more of a dolt than in the play. His use is more of comic relief and to show Henry's love for him as blind. Although the character is supposed to be awkward, Spall played him too much in this direction, sputtering and stumbling and flailing his arms about. His very deep voice also got on my nerves after awhile. Terry, who would go on to play Arthur in "Excalibur", does many of the same things as Spall such as often hang his mouth open in confusion, but simply seems better suited for the role than Spall.
King Philip of France (Timothy Dalton and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers): Philip is meant to be cold and scheming, and both actors do this well. They are also supposed to have a feminine quality about them. Dalton was smooth and delicate as the young King, while Rhys-Meyers is damn near androgynous with his long shampooed hair and angular face. Although Henry constantly goads him about his youth, Rhys-Meyers comes off as more of a boy than Dalton does. Still, Dalton is the better actor of the two and is overall more convincing in the role.
Alais (Jane Merrow and Yuliya Vysotskaya): Alais is the sister to Philip and also Henry's longtime mistress. The land bequeathed to Henry is vital and he does not wish to lose her or it. She states herself to be a "pawn" in all the arguments that are made, and so she is. Hers is a small role, with her only real consequence near the end when she convinces Henry to commit a horrible act. Both actresses do well with what little they are given. Vysotskaya has a passing French accent, while the British Merrow doesn't even try one. Both do well with the role.
There are other aspects of the film worth mentioning. The castle sets for the original film were more convincing. The sets for the new one seem structured as if it were still a stage play with a central chamber where several big scenes take place and most of the other rooms stemming from it. The costumes for both are very good (the original won the Oscar for Best Costume Design). In the end, though, the actors do make the film, and the original still has the upper hand. If given the choice between the two, then pick the original. If you only have the new version to choose, then you should still see it. The script is too good, and the actors do a commendable effort with it. No matter what, the story itself is a must see.
1968 version: Ten out of Ten
2003 version: Seven out of Ten
Thursday, July 22, 2004
Dear Dr. Laura,
Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to best follow them.
a. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odour for the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odour is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
b. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
c. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev. 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.
d. Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?
e. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?
f. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Lev. 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?
g. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?
h. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev.19:27. How should they die?
i. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?
j. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? (Lev.24:10-16) Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev.20:14)
I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.
Your devoted disciple and adoring fan, Anonymous
Wednesday, July 21, 2004
"After four years more in this office I want people to look back and say, 'The world is a more peaceful place,"' Bush told supporters at a community college in Iowa. "Four more years and America will be safe and the world will be at peace."
Even those of us not in the "cynical and jaded" category knows that most campaign promises are BS. Still, it's astounding to see how high Dubya can shovel it. He didn't say the exact phrase, but the words are close enough together: World Peace. So, how did this happen? Did all of the Miss America contestants say their wishes simultaneously on stage, God heard them, and then told Dubya to get on the stick with this thing?
He sees World Peace in four years? One of the themes of his campaign commercials is that the difference between himself and Kerry is the difference of optimism vs. pessimism. Well, I'm all for optimism, but I think that Dubya's finally gone off his nut if he thinks he can achieve World Peace in his second four years after seeing the "progress" made in the first four. Hell, he'll be damn lucky to see Iraq at peace in four years time much less the entire world. George, a little pragmatism is not a bad thing.
I can only see this statement as a sign of desperation. He knows he's sinking in the polls, Iraq is still in chaos despite the handover, and it's now coming to light that Iran had more of a link to Al-Qaeda than Iraq did. Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to present the first war in history waged on the basis of a typo! Somewhere, Archibald Tuttle is laughing (three points to whomever gets that reference).
And if his numbers continue to decline, then start looking for a "Cure for Cancer" guarantee in the next few months.
The lettuce was a healthy green and plentiful. It was coated with a standard Caesar dressing that must have overpowered any Parmesan cheese as I don't recall tasting any. The chicken was decent tasting grilled strips, though many pieces were quite chewy. Finally, the croutons were of the cut-up garlic toast variety and were delicious. They had a buttery taste that lingered after you swallowed. They weren't stingy with these croutons, either, and they were easily the best part of the salad.
In the end, The Loop gives you a nice big salad with top-of-the-line croutons, but they need to work on their chicken a little bit.
Tuesday, July 20, 2004
On the other, there is Draco Malfoy. In the movie, his character is presented as much more of a child. When bad things happen to him, his actions are much more cowardly since, well, he's still only just a kid. In the end, he is a bully and nothing more (as much as Harry would like to think otherwise). In the audiobook, however, his voice is given a quality of upper class snobbery that makes him sound older than he is. He looks down on everyone, thinks his classes are a joke (except Potions, of course) and constantly talks about how great his father is and how he always takes care of him. The same words are in the movie as the audiobook, but the movie emphasizes his childishness while the audiobook simply presents him as full of himself.
Today, as I was paging through some articles I came across this one. Here's an excerpt:
Thirty years after teaching the class, Tsurumi said the twenty-something Bush's statements and behavior--"always very shallow"--still stand out in his mind.
"Whenever [Bush] just bumped into me, he had some flippant statement to make," said Tsurumi when reached at his home in Scarsdale, N.Y. "The comments he made were revealing of his prejudice."
The White House did not reply to requests for comment on Bush's time at HBS.
Tsurumi said he particularly recalls Bush's right-wing extremism at the time, which he said was reflected in off-hand comments equating the New Deal of the 1930s with socialism and the corporation-regulating Securities and Exchange Commission with "an enemy of capitalism."
"I vividly remember that he made a comment saying that people are poor because they're lazy," Tsurumi said.
Tsurumi also said Bush displayed a sense of arrogance about his prominent family, including his father, former U.S. President George H.W. Bush.
"[George W. Bush] didn't stand out as the most promising student, but...he made it sure we understood how well he was connected," Tsurumi said. "He wasn't bashful about how he was being pushed upward by Dad's connections."
Again, the words remain the same on the printed page, but what of two possible interpretations do you think old Dubya falls under? It's been well reported that he was an arrogant young man that frequently got drunk and provided his parents with no end of misery. He was eventually able to swear off the alcohol, for which I applaud him, but the arrogance is still there. Before, his sense of entitlement was from his Dad's name and his money. Now his entitlement is more complicated, coming from such varied sources as the Supreme Court, his corporate friends and no less than the Lord Almighty himself.
Amongst him and his inner circle is not a trace of humility, a noble trait that all men and women of character share. In the White House, Admitting any mistake is a sign of weakness and may tear at the fabric of their image of infallibility (as if it ever existed). Dubya's trademark smirk has become a symbol of his character: It demonstrates someone who refuses to listen to others and considers their input worthless on the very basis that it contradicts his own preconceptions.
I have a lot more Harry Potter to read, but I am already intrigued on how the series will end and find myself making predictions: Will Hermione and Ron finally get together? Will Harry vanquish Voldemort at the cost of his own life? Will Draco ever grow up? It is only the last point that I'm certain is inevitable. In books such as these the characters must grow. Children reading these books will take solace in the fact that the bully they face now will probably mature as they grow older, so all they have to do is to wait and be patient with them.
Well, I said probably. For others, we're still waiting.
"Bubba Ho-tep", the latest film to star Campbell, is many things. It's a poignant character study of an elderly Elvis Presley looking back on his life. It's a moving drama about the loneliness and desolation that can pervade over the residents of rest homes. It's a horror film about a mummy who is feeding off the easily available souls of the elderly. And It's a comedy about, among other things, Elvis and his growing friendship with a crazy old black geezer who thinks he's JFK.
None of this will matter for most of the people who see this film (and you know who you are), because they will only be renting that DVD for a 90 minute dose of Bruce. They want to see Bruce Campbell fighting the undead, being attacked by flying POV cameras, and uttering cool catchphrases. They get what they pay for, although Bruce playing an old man doesn't yield as much action as, say, "Army of Darkness".
Instead of non-stop action, there are a lot of quiet meditative scenes and mood setting in this place where people, essentially, go to die. The rest home itself ends up being the spookiest element since the ghoul costume is only adequate and the scuttering scarabs look too rubbery. The director, who's written and directed the "Phantasm" films, uses some quick cut montages when Elvis has a vision or is processing information quickly, which can set you on edge, but it's not enough to sustain tension.
The comedy that is blended with the horror only works half the time. As good as Ossie Davis is as the man who thinks he's JFK, most of his punchlines fall flat. Campbell's interpretation of Elvis, however, is much better. Campbell has taken the concept of an embittered King of Rock and Roll and run with it. His respect for the role has us laughing with Elvis and not at him. What results is an introspective character that, quite frankly, I would have loved to see in a movie without all the silly mummy stuff (I'd also love to see the characters in "From Dusk 'till Dawn" in a separate movie without vampires. So sue me).
I mentioned the whole thing about the loneliness of the elderly and, believe it or not, I think the film works best in this area. Early on in the film, Bull, who is Elvis's roommate, dies. Bull's neglectful daughter makes her first visit to the home since she dropped him. She sorts through his things and throws some of it in the trashcan. Elvis asks if he can keep some of them, so she obligingly digs the items out and hands them to him. One is a Purple Heart and the other a b&w photo of Bull from the war. Elvis lays there and stares at them for a moment. He didn't know him that well, and his daughter is obviously indifferent, so Bull essentially died alone. Kudos go to whoever thought of using a Purple Heart as a symbol of Bull. It completely conveys the richness of human life and how tragic it is that there was no one there to say goodbye.
In the end, this is a movie for Campbell fans. The good news here is that this film is deeper than most of what he's done and, in many ways, more touching than mainstream dramas. Here's to you, Bruce. Keep up the good work.
Seven out of Ten
Monday, July 19, 2004
Arnold "Skippy" Schwarzenegger says: "If they don't have the guts to come up here in front of you and say, 'I don't want to represent you, I want to represent those special interests, the unions, the trial lawyers ... if they don't have the guts, I call them girlie men."
First off, what does this phrase mean? Does it mean homosexual? Out-of-shape? Cowards? If Arnold really meant the last of these, then it would have made more of an impact if he had simply said "Cowards". The political arena is made up of a monotonous language that puts more people to sleep than invigorating them. Sad to say, John Kerry is often guilty of this. Dubya and his staff, on the other hand, have loved putting new buzzwords out there, giving them their own meaning, and getting the public to believe them (the ridiculous "activist judges" comes to mind).
"Cowards" has more force and immediate meaning. If Arnold had a real purpose of calling out certain Democrats, it would have been more effective. As it is, he falls back upon that tired tactic he hammered into the ground during his campaign of using a catch-phrase (one that's not even his, really) from his Hollywood days in order to jog people's pop-culture memories to recall their image of Arnold as the Action Hero. So for the cost of using this minor cultural artifact, he now gets accusations of sexism and homophobia in return. Nice trade off, there.
The end result is a perpetuation of this male macho posturing that currently extends from the Fraternity House to the White House. Amongst these people, the worst you can call a man is a fag, a c**ksucker or anything approaching the female. This isn't politics. This is juvenile locker room name calling. Adolescent-minded Republicans eat this sort of thing up, which is why Dubya is making such a big damn deal about gay marriage. He knows what buttons to push when it comes to his base.
George Carlin once said about this behavior: "It's all in the language they use; language always gives them away". Does Arnold know this too? I honestly don't know. His history of respecting women is shabby, and I wouldn't be surprised if he used the term "girlie men" for two reasons instead of one. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and say he's just resurrecting catchphrases again, but he better wise up and realize that statements like these will change his image from Big Hollywood Star to Male Chauvinist Pig before he knows it.
At age 67, he's still going strong cranking out HBO specials every few years or so, and I'm still a big fan. Although some of what he says is over exaggeration and not meant to be taken as good advice (i.e. Ignoring red lights and pedestrians while driving), much more of what he says is heartfelt and makes so much sense:
"And now they're thinking of banning toy guns, AND THEY'RE GOING TO KEEP THE F--KING REAL ONES!"You don't need to explain to me the reasoning behind such a ban, because I know the reasoning for it is sound. It also has to be recognized, however, that this statement is a chilling observation of how absurd our society has become.
I'm not going into depth on Carlin in this post. That's for future posts when certain points are more topical and worth discussion at that time. Suffice to say that Carlin's spirit has a strong role in my site, and don't be surprised at his popping up now and again.
Sunday, July 18, 2004
"The Thomas Crown Affair" is a remake of the 1968 film of the same name. Pierce Brosnan takes on the Steve McQueen role of Thomas Crown, an incredibly wealthy businessman who has decided to steal art, not for the money, but for the fun of it. Rene Russo plays the Faye Dunaway role of the Insurance investigator who immediately suspects him of the theft that starts the film. They are immediately attracted to eachother and she finds herself incredibly conflicted between her job and her attraction to him. Fortunately for her, she's still having a whole lot of fun in the process.
Brosnan and Russo were 46 and 45, respectively, when this film was made. Russo, in particular, got a lot of press for this at the time because she was doing her first nude scene (several of them, in fact) in her forties. She need not have worried as she is a match for Brosnan in sexuality. One of the first sights we have of her character is a lingering camera shot of her thigh-high black stockings and garter. In fact, some might say her sexuality is a little over the top, but I was willing to cut her a little slack. By the time the two get together, the sexual tension is so high you're surprised they don't rip each other's clothes off there and then.
The idiosyncratic music lends the film much of its charm (this can also be said of "Sneakers" and the "Ocean's 11" remake, which are also extremely enjoyable lighter-than-air caper films). When Crown is in action at the museum, he is accompanied by a clapping and Riverdance-type tapping, which mirrors Crown himself: constantly dancing circles around the authorities. The light tinkling piano that accompanies most of the film echoes the elite New York scene that the film takes place in.
As for the capers themselves, they are wonderful and slickly executed. You only really get the ones at the beginning and at the end, but both are so good that the film doesn't need more. In between, we get the physical and psychological tango between Brosnan and Russo as they fly over the autumn trees of New England, dine atop islands in the Caribbean, and other things that poor people like us wish we had the time and money to do. The location photography throughout is as gorgeous as the two leads, and you find yourself wanting to plan a vacation after you finish watching the film.
As in most caper films, there is a big plot hole in the final heist, but by then you don't care as you have been totally charmed by the two leads. This is some excellent escapism and is a showcase for two stars who know the meaning of the term "chemistry".
Eight out of Ten
Saturday, July 17, 2004
Nope, it came already as a B&W French film in 1953 called "Wages of Fear". When one thinks of French films from that period, one thinks of talkative character studies with people in Parisian cafes and not of thrillers. Indeed, the action in this film is atypical enough, but it also fits in plenty of character study as well. For the first 45 minutes, we are introduced to the characters and their meager existence. They have no money to get out of town, and the only big employer in town is the Southern Oil Company and they're not hiring.
The whole plot is laid out in one scene where the company big shots discuss how to get the nitro to a tremendous oil-well fire at one of their faraway rigs. They're losing tons of money for every minute it burns, so time is of the essence. They want to hire the stragglers because they have no family or Union for the company to answer to. In other words, they are expendable. The stragglers are eager to volunteer, though only four are eventually chosen. These men are willing to risk their lives for $2,000 a piece (roughly $14,000 a piece in today's money). Any way you slice it, that's a pretty cheap estimate of your own worth.
All this makes the trip all the more exciting now that we know these characters and how desperate they are. As could be expected, they encounter a number of obstacles including very narrow mountain roads, cracked concrete pavements and a boulder the size of an SUV in their path. It's incredibly exciting, and makes one wish that current action films could build tension as well as this one.
There is one big fault I find with this classic and that is the ending. Although I can see it as appropriate given a certain conversation earlier in the film about how young people can be reckless, there is a big difference between reckless and incredibly stupid. I'm all for anti-Hollywood endings, but they have to make a lick of sense for them to be satisfying.
Despite the ending, I definitely recommend the film, if only to prove to people that even a 1950's French film can be as exciting as the latest film out of Tinseltown.
Eight out of Ten
Friday, July 16, 2004
First off, they were out of rolls on this particular night so offered garlic toast, which they found later they were also out of. This was not a good sign. The lettuce was not extremely crisp and the pieces were a little too big for bite size. The croutons were an unimpressive store-bought brand. The dressing was a slightly sharp Caesar and was evenly distributed amonst the lettuce with the Parmesan. Finally the chicken, the best part, was an entire breast grilled and sliced into long pieces. The grilled flavor is strong and tasty.
Overall, it was only a so-so Chicken Caesar and is definitely not worth the price.
Thursday, July 15, 2004
Tomorrow I should be posting another CCR (And that doesn't stand for Credence Clearwater Revival).
Wednesday, July 14, 2004
The last film he directed was the perfect mystery thriller "Sleuth". Based on a stage play, the film involves a wealthy mystery novelist named Andrew Wyke, played by Laurence Olivier, and a beautician named Milo Tindle, played by Michael Caine, who is having an affair with the novelist's wife. Wyke has invited Tindle to his estate to "discuss" this situation, but it doesn't devolve into a fist fight. The novelist has a penchant for elaborate games and isn't unlike a child with an ant and a magnifying glass.
There is more, much more to this story than what I have said, but it needs to be seen, not talked about, to really be enjoyed. The secrets that are revealed are too good to give away, so you'll have to trust me on that. Furthermore, even after you have watched it once and know all the secrets, the film is still a joy to watch over and over again. The dialogue is juicy and both of the main actors are so much fun to watch. As Mankiewicz showed with "All About Eve", the man knew a sterling script when he saw one.
Alright, that's it. I'm not saying anymore. Go see it for yourself, and I promise you'll savor every bit of it.
Ten out of Ten
Seriously, she's a lovely woman that has given me so much joy. We've been married just over a year now, so we're still an incredibly sickening couple. In the event that we exchange any witty repartee, or some approximation thereof, I'll post it. In the meantime you could do far worse than tune into the ongoing adventures of Matthew and the Queen.
Tuesday, July 13, 2004
The lettuce is green, fresh and chopped into nice, bite-size pieces. The chicken is very tender and actually tastes like chicken. Both lettuce and chicken are evenly coated with a mild Caesar dressing that doesn't overwhelm it. Mixed with the dressing are slivers and chunks of Asagio-Parmesan cheese, which really give it a kick. The croutons are very chewy but go well with the salad. Finally, the salad is accompanied by a nice hunk of fresh bread (well, bread made that day, anyway). It's very good bread, but it can be very tough to rip apart by hand and certainly by teeth. It is crust and chewy and should not be attempted by those who no longer have their own teeth.
Overall, an excellent Chicken Caesar for the price and a filling meal.
But as for the Film Noir genre, even "Touch of Evil" was better in my mind than "Kiss Me Deadly", which features one of the first portrayals of Mickey Spillane's hard-as-nails detective, Mike Hammer. Hammer is a classic character who is a thug and a detective, usually in that order. He picks up a mysterious woman on the side of the road and makes brief conversation before finding out that there are bad guys after her. Before he knows it, she's dead, the car is totaled and he's beaten into a coma. When he wakes up, he's determined to find out what all of it is about.
A big fault of this film is the acting. Ralph Meeker, who looks like a cross between Marlon Brando and Charlton Heston, has the charisma and acting talents of neither. His tough guy facade is all he has, and even that can't hide the moments when he looks like he's reading off cue cards. This same tendency afflicts many of the other characters who deliver their dialogue as stilted lines with no real emotion behind them. Of the few actors who do, you know, act, there is the big villain, who is only revealed at the end and cannot go two sentences without making a reference to ancient mythology or the Bible. It is a simplistic way to characterize him as the "educated" villain, and is an example of the film's attempts at subtlety.
The film as a whole was also choppily made with some bad visual and sound editing. The very beginning has the woman on the road panting from the first time we see her to the end of the credits. It gets annoying after awhile, especially since it sounds like they had the actress "pant" once and simply looped it over and over again, often to a steady rhythm. The shot of the woman waving down cars also seems to be the same shot recycled over and over again. Such sloppy work is not a good first sign and does nothing for pulling the viewer into the story.
One positive to the film is the cinematography, which is essential to a good Film Noir. Cinematographer Ernest Laszlo, who did wonderful things with b&w photography in "Inherit the Wind" and "Judgment at Nuremberg", does some nice arty shots that catch the viewer off guard. My favorite was when Hammer enters a room bathed in shadows and walks up to his desk. He turns on the desk lamp and two thugs that had been sitting there are suddenly illuminated. It actually made me jump when I first saw it. Too bad there wasn't more of that.
Something should be said about the ending, so those who hate spoilers should beware this paragraph. Much is made on the DVD that the original ending is edited into the film. The other shorter ending is also included as an extra for comparison purposes. I had read that the included footage answers so many questions about the plot, but I sure didn't see that. All you find out from the longer ending is that the two main characters escape the exploding the house (the original ending left it more ambiguous as to whether they survive or not). It was just another annoying aspect to the film that had annoyed me already.
This is a film only for those who love Film Noir, and then just barely. All others should avoid it. If you want a good taste of the genre, start with "Out of the Past" with Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas. And then there's "The Killing", "Asphalt Jungle", "The Big Sleep", "Laura" and, well, you get the idea.
Five out of Ten
This morning, I logged on to Amazon to check on a pending order and then went to the front page. Usually, when I do this I just see small items alerting me to the pending release of a DVD that is related to one I purchased through Amazon before. They're not obnoxious, but they are there. This time, they have a new feature called a "plog" where the whole front page is nothing but chunky paragraphs listing "Fill-in-the-blank was released recently; We thought you'd be interested because you bought Fill-in-the-blank". Again, I have no real problem with this. However, here are some examples:
All in the Family - The Complete First Season was released just 7 days ago on July 6, 2004; We thought you'd be interested because you bought M*A*S*H - Season One (Collector's Edition).Nice comparison. Classic sitcoms from the Seventies, and I do like both of them. No problem.
The Name of the Rose was released just 7 days ago on July 6, 2004; We thought you'd be interested because you bought The Lion in Winter.Again, Nice comparison. Riveting dramas set in Medieval Europe. No problem.
Terminator 3 - Rise of the Machines (Widescreen Edition) was released today; We thought you'd be interested because you bought Looney Tunes - The Golden Collection.Hmmm. Uh, hmm. Well, I can't really say I see a connection here. I actually saw T3 in theaters and, I have to say, I enjoyed far more than I thought I would. However, I don't recall any scenes with Bugs, Daffy or any animated characters at all.
Maybe I'm looking at this the wrong way, though. I mean, in T2 and T3, you have battles between Terminators where stuff is done to them that no normal human being can take. The same could be said of Sylvester the Cat and Wile E. Coyote when they end up taking anvils to the head and falling from great heights only to get back up again and keep going...just like Terminators!
Still, I guess I must have missed the scene in T3 where Arnold Schwarzenegger slams into the brick wall onto which Kristanna Loken had painted the mouth of a tunnel.
Monday, July 12, 2004
And then there's "Spiderman 2", the long awaited sequel to the very good Spiderman. The original benefited from a good cast, namely Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, with the acting chops to give depth to their characters. The director, Sam Raimi, had a background of films that were, first and foremost, fun. This was a quality that comic book films desperately needed. Raimi's enthusiasm for the material was the same as Peter Parker's when he first discovers his powers. Yet Raimi, having also delved into darker human territory with his 1998 film "A Simple Plan", hinted at the character complexities to come with Parker and his alter-ego.
Maguire, still possessing that boyish charm, has even more to deal with as Spiderman in the sequel. Here's the thing that differentiates this movie from other comic book adaptations: His ongoing conflict between his personal and public personas is given equal weight as his conflict with Doc Ock. In fact, his introspection is often a larger part of the story than anything else. I have to admit that sometimes this went on a little too long, like some of Maguire's interior dialogue and Aunt May's speech on heroes. Having seen "The Hulk", I know that just as action can be emphasized too much in a comic book film, it is also possible to saddle the hero with too much angst and, thus, ruin the fun of the action. Fortunately, Raimi has achieved a balance here that is the closest anyone has yet come to since the first two "Superman" films.
On a personal note, my biggest anticipation for this film was seeing Alfred Molina a Doc Ock. I had been a big fan of his since spotting him in small films like "Enchanted April" and "American Friends". When he started getting higher profile roles in films like "Boogie Nights", I still would never have guessed he would make it this high. Audiences who are just now discovering him are in for a treat. His is one of the great screen villains and a joy to watch.
By the way, for you Sam Raimi fans out there, youll find a lot of references to his earlier works in this new film (aside from the standard Bruce Campbell and Ted Raimi cameos, of course). The scene where Doc Ock terrorizes the nurses and doctors in an operating room is straight "Evil Dead", right down to the doctor reaching for a (medical) chainsaw to defend himself. J. K. Simmons newspaper chief and his rapid fire dialogue with his assistants is reminiscent of The Hudsucker Proxy, which Raimi co-wrote with the Coen Brothers. Finally, the whole series of scenes where a deformed scientist (Doc Ock) takes refuge in an abandoned and atmospheric warehouse, starts wearing a black trench coat and fedora, and restarts his lifes work with tons of hi-tech equipment in such a dilapidated setting is taken whole cloth from Darkman (of course, Doc Ocks situation is slightly more plausible than Darkmans due to the advent of internet shopping, but its probably best not to think about this at all).
Comic book fans have long known that, despite their reputation, they can deliver stories both exciting and meaningful. "Spiderman 2" delivers in spades, and makes me actually glad that there will inevitably be more sequels to come.
Nine out of Ten
Caesar salad, noun, a tossed salad usually made of romaine, garlic, anchovies, and croutons and dressed with olive oil, coddled egg, lemon juice, and grated cheeseWell, what the hell does Merriam-Webster know anyway, huh?!?!
The modern American Caesar Salad doesn't quite resemble this older recipe, but that doesn't make the new recipe any less valid. The common incarnation is composed of grilled chicken (natch), Romaine lettuce, Parmesan cheese, Caesar dressing, and croutons. It has proved so popular a salad that there are very few restaurants that do not serve either a Caesar salad as a side or a Chicken Caesar as a main entree.
Now, you'd think that such a simple recipe would be hard to screw up, but it can be done. I happen to very much enjoy a good Chicken Caesar Salad, so I plan on posting reviews of different ones at different restaurants, starting tomorrow with one of my favorites at Panera. Stay tuned (all two of you).
I noticed something interesting when I came back to my blog after so long. One of the reasons I picked blogspot was, aside from being free and easy to use, was that there was only one ad and it was unobtrusively at the top. The color scheme of the ad usually blended in, so that was also good. One other thing I discovered was how the ad scans for keywords in my posts and uses them to sell certain items like "The Godfather" DVD for my post on Brando.
I know some that are disturbed by this sort of advertising, particularly on Amazon, but I can't say that I am. The whole explanation of wanting to cater to specific consumer needs seems logical to me and even helpful. Griping about it these days seems futile since even Google, that search engine bastion of non-ads, will produce sales links related to your searches. Now it's true that some searches and keywords can be misinterpreted by computer AI, leading to uncomfortable ads. So, in closing, let this be a warning to anyone looking for cocktail recipes online.
Friday, July 02, 2004
I am not, nor do I mean to pass myself off as, a member of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Ahhhh. That's better. Now, if you really mean to assign meaning to that little acronym, here are some alternatives:
Finlandia Bicycle Institute
Fanatical Billiard Instructor
Frappuccino Buyers International
Floating Ballast Inventor
Fishing Barrels Incorporated
Fluorescent Beetle Inspector
I can think of no higher quality film that surpasses the concept of "chick flick" in my experience than "Pride and Prejudice". Created for the BBC, the miniseries has developed a justifiable reputation as one of the best adaptations of classic literature in recent memory. The story, set in early 19th century England, centers on the Bennett family and the constant activity of finding the right husband for the five daughters. The youngest three are really too young to be thinking of such things, so their main activity is to flirt and giggle at dances. But for the elder two, Jane (Susannah Harker) and Elizabeth (Jennifer Ehle), their clock is ticking and their mother is eager to find them a match. Suffice to say, these two daughters yearn for romance over wealth in their prospective mates, and they are often at odds with their mother and others in their intentions.
Which leads us to the actor and character that has become one of THE icons of romance in film: Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. For much of the film, he comes off as superior, aloof and stuck-up. This is Elizabeth's first impression and rightly so. We soon learn, though, that Darcy's attitude is only partly through his wealthy upbringing. The other part is his frustration with women who's only ambition is to marry well. He finds in Elizabeth a fierce intelligence and stubborn quality with which he is quickly enamored, despite parts of him who are averse at engaging with a lower class. There are many complications during the five hour running time but, as Geoffrey Rush says in "Shakespeare in Love", it all turns out well.
The script and performances are all perfect. The story flows smoothly with subplots weaving in and out of the main storyline until they all come together perfectly at the end. The actors are very well cast, particularly Firth and Ehle who have a wonderful chemistry together. Benjamin Whitrow and Alison Steadman are almost a movie into themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Bennett. They play their parts of hysterical wife and sensible husband like they've been doing it forever. Also, for fans of BBC comedy, it's hilarious to see Julia Sawalha as the immature Lydia Bennett. After several years of playing the intelligent straight woman to the two flighty stars in "Absolutely Fabulous", she gets to do some flightiness of her own here.
Do yourself a favor and see this soon. Take a whole rainy Saturday afternoon and watch it. This is truly a romance for everyone.
Ten out of Ten
In terms of film, his image had already been set in stone. By 1979, he could count the names Stanley Kowalski, Terry Malloy, Vito Corleone and Colonel Kurtz among those that would survive well beyond him. Of course, that's a very selfish way for his fans to view the man. Most likely, Brando didn't give a damn about his "legacy", but rather cared more for his "art". Talking about acting in these terms strike some as pretentious, but when it comes to movies like "On the Waterfront", you can't argue with the results. His "Method", which was adopted by many young actors in Hollywood back in the fifties and sixties, was a movement that classical actors chuckled at. The famous anecdote of Laurence Olivier talking with Dustin Hoffman about all his strenuous preparation for a role and then suggests, simply, "why not try acting, dear boy" perfectly illustrates this.
But if film proves anything, it is that there are NO absolutes to follow in filmmaking. Directors can be authoritative and dictatorial (From Hitchcock to the Coen Brothers) or they can be loose and improvisational (From Scorsese to Soderbergh) or they can be somewhere in between, yet they all can achieve movie greatness despite their different styles. The same goes for all facets of the process, especially acting. When these different styles come together, it is a learning process for all involved. That's not to say that it's always a pleasurable experience, but one does grow from it.
This is a lot of hot air from me on the occasion of one actor's death, but he influenced so many in Hollywood that a simple laundry list of his films would not suffice for his obituary. He was a force of nature, and his presence will always be felt. As for both his "legacy" and his "art", the young actors in Hollywood could do far worse than spend a weekend on the couch having a Brando-athon. Not a bad idea for the rest of us, too.
There were two other notable films Winner made before his big success, both starring Bronson and released in 1972. The first is the entertaining action film "The Mechanic" and the second is the bleak Western "Chato's Land". I say bleak because I really mean bleak, and it is obvious halfway through the film that there will be no happy ending to this story.
It begins inside a quiet saloon where an Apache Indian (Bronson) is sitting with a drink at the bar. An angry man sitting at one of the tables taunts him and eventually pulls his gun, but the Apache is faster and shoots him dead. He quickly, but calmly, exits the saloon, mounts his horse, and rides off into the desert. A posse is quickly formed lead by Captain Quincey (Jack Palance), a confederate civil war veteran, to go after the Apache. And within the first five minutes, we have the complete bare bones plot.
Although not entirely original, the film takes the vantage of the Apache as a good guy. A more accurate description is there are plenty of bad guys in the story that rank above him. These include Jubal Hooker (Simon Oakland) and his sons Elias and Earl (Ralph Waite and Richard Jordan). All three have a viscous streak that gets the whole group in trouble from the get-go. As the posse starts decreasing one by one, it is the Hookers, and not the sensible Whitmore, that prods them to continue, sealing their fate.
Because all the fat is cut, the film quickly pulls you and never lets go. When I said the film starts in the saloon, I meant just that. No credits, no titles, just straight to the bar and the shot that starts it all. And before you know it, we're out in the unforgiving desert made tolerable by the company of this large posse, as they themselves are also heartened by the number of their group. As their number dwindles, and they go even farther into unknown territory, we know what the outcome will be, and we can't tear our eyes away.
The familiar faces, besides Bronson and Palance, are James Whitmore as Joshua, who most people know for "The Shawshank Redemption" and Miracle Grow ads. Far more disconcerting is Waite as Elias, whom nearly everybody recognizes for his role as Pa Walton on "The Waltons" TV series. To see him play such a sadistic bastard the same year he started a TV role that would become one of the most beloved father figures of all time may be disturbing for fans of the show.
As I said, this is not a happy film. What it is is a fascinating, alternative Western with good performances and a story that will engross the viewer. If you love the genre, you should give this one a shot.
Seven out of Ten
Thursday, July 01, 2004
Lt. Giardello: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Baltimore, do as I tell you to.