Thursday, March 31, 2005
Believe me when I tell you that I do not mean to be unkind. However, I remain unsympathetic to the group of people wailing and moaning in front of a South Florida Hospice. They chose to sit and cry over the (legal) death of a woman none of them personally know and who likely could not discern one of them from a lamp post. Meanwhile, so many other strangers, who are just as much in danger of starvation, could be helped by some, you know, constructive actions. I guess it's more glamorous to be a drama queen for the cameras than it is to be an anonymous Samaritan.
But at least it's all at an end, now. Rest in Peace, Terri. Such deserved Peace has been a long time coming.
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
BLOCKBUSTER PAYS FINE FOR "NO LATE FEES" PROMOTION
Blockbuster on Tuesday reached an agreement with the attorneys general of 47 states to settle charges that it misled consumers with its "no late fees" promotion. The video rental company agreed to pay $629,000 to reimburse legal costs and to reimburse customers who were misled by the promotion. The case centered around Blockbuster's policy of charging a $1.25 restocking fee if customers returned rentals after eight days. "A fee by any other name is still a fee," Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said in a prepared statement Tuesday. "This case is important to remind advertisers that catchy slogans can be misleading and even violate the law." Blockbuster, however, did not do away with the fees, saying only that it intends to post more signs in its stores that the describe them and to print the information on sales receipts.
Several months ago, the local firm of "Harrell & Johnson", which advertises on the back of the local phonebook as well as on numerous commercials, all of a sudden changed to "Harrell & Harrell". The story behind this change broke not too long after, which seems to stem from a disgruntled partner being booted out.
Recently within the past week or so, another of the big firms, "Morgan, Colling and Gilbert", started running commercials, again with no acknowledgment of the change, for the new name of "Morgan & Morgan".
Good lord, folks. The lawyers are circling the wagons and only placing their solemn trust in their own kin. Best get the womenfolk to safety.
Although they did have it one the menu, I did not indulge in their Chicken Caesar salad on this particular occasion. However, being that it was reasonably priced I will probably return there one afternoon to sample it for a review.
Instead, we shared an appetizer of shredded fried fish with a creamy garlic dip for starters. We also shared a "Chocola-tini", which is composed of "Van Gough vanilla vodka, Godiva white chocolate liqueur, & cream de cacao". Very tasty.
Then for entrees she had the Grilled Tuna with whipped potatoes, baby spinach, lemon-garlic butter & chive oil, and I had the Fettuccini Alfredo with baby spinach, prosciutto & shitake mushrooms and shrimp. The dishes came quick and we made quicker work of them.
We topped all this off with a shared warm chocolate Belgian Cake with chocolate sauce & sweet cream (as well as a coffee for myself). The check, which came to us in a cardboard sleeve with "The Damage" printed on it, came to $88 with tip, which was cheaper than I imagined.
Afterwards, we came back home to settle in and watch Mansfield Park from Blockbuster, which was very good and perfect for the occasion (review to follow soon).
It was a lovely dinner and a lovely evening overall. Happy Anniversary, sweetheart.
Monday, March 28, 2005
The Good: The Maryland Senate passed a bill allowing unmarried couples (including homosexual couples) to have medical decision-making rights if they sign a domestic registry.
The Bad: Some IMAX theaters here in the southern states are refusing to show a film about Volcanoes because it makes mention of Evolution. These include theaters that are located in SCIENCE MUSEUMS!
The Good: Uh...well...I got nothin else. Pretty much par for the course these days.
Saturday, March 26, 2005
Afghanistan is now our enemy. The United States government forges close ties with Afghanistan's neighbor and enemy, Pakistan. In return for their help in fighting Afghanistan, we help them by reversing a 15 year ban and selling them hi-tech weaponry.
Message to India: When 2030 rolls around, let's do lunch.
She suggested that I write about Kyrgyzstan.
She suggested I talk about how by Sunday 10,000 protesters in Jalal-Abad burned police offices and took control of the airport and Mayor's office.
She suggested I talk about how by Tuesday the protesters controlled the cities of Jalal-Abad and Osh, and were also in control of regional administration buildings in Batken and Kadamzhay as well as the government offices in Kochkor.
She suggested I talk about how by Thursday the protestors had stormed and ransacked the government building in Bishkek and forced President Akaev to go into hiding.
And then she suggested that, after talking about all these monumental events, how I talk about how screwed up our priorities must be when the news is still dominated by a brain dead woman whom the law dictates should have been allowed to die a long time ago no matter what the Bush's think.
Sweetie, I couldn't have said it better myself.
Thursday, March 24, 2005
And since we're using irreverent humor to break the morbid mood, I might as well include George Carlin's thoughts on the subject du jour while I'm at it:
"People talk about, 'Aw pull the plug on me. If I'm ever like that. If I'm comatose. If I'm like a vegetable. Pull the plug on me.' F*CK YOU, LEAVE MY PLUG ALONE! Get an extension cord for my plug! I want everything you got: tubes, cords, plugs, probes, electrodes, IVs! You got something, stick it in me man! You find out I got a hole I didn't know I had, put a f*ckin plug in it! 'Vegetable' shit, I don't care if I look like an artichoke! Saaaaaave my ass."
Sometime in August, I will be conducting a class for my fellow librarians on Movie and Television research on the Internet. Obviously, the IMDb is going to take up a good size chunk of this, but there are many others I know of and probably a few I don't that I wish to include. To that end, I've been doing a lot of searching for new sites to use, and all of this will end up on a comprehensive website directory that I will install in a month or so called the "La-La Land Library".
I'll be keeping you posted on my progress, so stay tuned.
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
The emerging debate, carried out against a rush of court decisions and Congressional action, has highlighted a conflict of priorities among conservatives and signals tensions that Republicans are likely to face as Congressional leaders and President Bush push social issues over the next two years, party leaders say.
"This is a clash between the social conservatives and the process conservatives, and I would count myself a process conservative," said David Davenport of the Hoover Institute, a conservative research organization. "When a case like this has been heard by 19 judges in six courts and it's been appealed to the Supreme Court three times, the process has worked - even if it hasn't given the result that the social conservatives want. For Congress to step in really is a violation of federalism."Whatever the differences between between liberals and conservatives, the former can now wax nostalgic when the later were once, you know, reasonable and furthermore still cognizant of their core principles. Daily Kos has more.
Stephen Moore, a conservative advocate who is president of the Free Enterprise Fund, said: "I don't normally like to see the federal government intervening in a situation like this, which I think should be resolved ultimately by the family: I think states' rights should take precedence over federal intervention. A lot of conservatives are really struggling with this case."
Some more moderate Republicans are also uneasy. Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, the sole Republican to oppose the Schiavo bill in a voice vote in the Senate, said: "This senator has learned from many years you've got to separate your own emotions from the duty to support the Constitution of this country. These are fundamental principles of federalism."
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
"Memnonia" by Kernel
"F44-03" by Nathanael
"Herakles" by Jeff
and finally "Kalashnikov" by Leonard
Bravo, Gentlemen. You make me positively chatruse with envy, and you also give me heights to shoot for.
No, all this is not going to develop into a rant on Dubya's whole anti-Social Security traveling circus. Rather, I was driven to write this post after recently reading this and this at Daily Kos. This is a discussion that Mrs. Mosley, her mother and I have had several times: The fiscal irresponsibility of your average U.S. citizen. This is not really news, of course, but I'm thinking of a specific phenomenon that Kos touches upon.
Back during World War II, soldiers on the front lines were given tons of cigarettes for free and they in turn were all soon smoking like chimneys. When they got back to the States, they were seriously hooked. Similarly, teenagers enter college campuses these days being bombarded with offers of free gifts for signing up for credit cards, only to dig themselves deep into debt. I entered my first year of College back in 1991 and then again for Graduate school back in 2001. If anything, the situation had gotten worse in the intervening decade.
Considering the conditions of the Second World War, you can argue that the stress relief cigarettes gave soldiers was a godsend, despite their eventual drawbacks. Such an argument cannot be made for college students because there's no real need for them to have credit cards. If there were truly a need for funds to go towards housing and food, then the parents can handle that. Most of these teenagers have no education in terms of what repercussions such frivolous behavior can bring on. And like the lung cancer that afflicted veterans of the Great War, these students will be paying for the consequences of their spending for years and years to come.
It's nonsensical that there aren't mandatory financial management classes in schools nationwide in order to prepare these kids. When teenagers ask that classic question of how math classes will help them in their daily lives when their older, why not show them by having a class where these lessons have specific applications. Teach these kids how to balance a check book and fill out a 1040, for crying out loud. Teach them how the stock market works and how to save money for retirement. Most of all, teach them all about credit ratings and how vital it is to stay out of debt. And with the recent passing of the Bankruptcy Bill, it's more important then ever to inform these kids how this stuff works.
At the very least, it's a helluva lot more important than friggin woodshop.
Monday, March 21, 2005
Friday, March 18, 2005
My first posting will be my review of "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead", which I first posted on Acrentropy back in October. You can see it on Blogcritics here. Go have yourself a visit over to their site, and tell'em Alonzo sent ya.
When it comes to Jim Carrey, whom I have said before tends to overdo it, his funniest line in all the films I've seen him in is a straight one: "What on EARTH are you talking about? Who are you talking to?!". The delivery and context of that line, given seriously by Carrey as Truman Burbank in "The Truman Show", gets me laughing every time I watch it.
Such is the case with the straight faced delivery of the dialogue by two very minor characters in "Fargo". I distinctly remember seeing this in the theater when it first came out and laughing harder at that scene, particularly those last few lines, than I've rarely laughed before or since (For those who haven't seen it, this scene takes place outside in the snow, which is a constant and overwhelming presence in this film).
Mr. Mohra: So, I'm tendin' bar there at Ecklund & Swedlin's last Tuesday and this little guy's drinkin' and he says, 'So where can a guy find some action - I'm goin' crazy down there at the lake.' And I says, 'What kinda action?' and he says, 'Woman action, what do I look like,' And I says 'Well, what do I look like, I don't arrange that kinda thing,' and he says, 'I'm goin' crazy out there at the lake' and I says, 'Well, this ain't that kinda place.'
Officer Olson: Uh-huh.
Mr. Mohra: So he says, 'So I get it, so you think I'm some kinda jerk for askin',' only he doesn't use the word jerk.
Officer Olson: I unnerstand.
Mr. Mohra: And then he calls me a jerk and says the last guy who thought he was a jerk was dead now. So I don't say nothin' and he says, 'What do ya think about that?' So I says, 'Well, that don't sound like too good a deal for him then.'
Officer Olson: Ya got that right.
Mr. Mohra: And he says, 'Yah, that guy's dead and I don't mean a old age.' And then he says, 'Geez, I'm goin' crazy out there at the lake.'
Officer Olson: White Bear Lake?
Mr. Mohra: Well, Ecklund & Swedlin's, that's closer ta Moose Lake, so I made that assumption.
Officer Olson: Oh sure.
Mr. Mohra: So, ya know, he's drinkin', so I don't think a whole great deal of it, but Mrs. Mohra heard about the homicides out here and she thought I should call it in, so I called it in. End a story.
Officer Olson: What'd this guy look like anyways?
Mr. Mohra: Oh, he was a little guy, kinda funny-lookin'.
Officer Olson: Uh-huh. In what way?
Mr. Mohra: Just a general way.
Officer Olson: Okay, well, thanks a bunch, Mr. Mohra. You're right, it's probably nothin', but thanks for callin' her in.
Mr. Mohra: Oh sure. They say she's gonna turn cold tomorrow.
Officer Olson: Yah, got a front movin' in.
Mr. Mohra: Ya got that right.
Thursday, March 17, 2005
This many seem like an odd segue into a mention of John Ford's classic "The Quiet Man", but there is indeed a connection. First off, it should be noted that this film is one of Mrs. Mosley's absolute favorites, and it has become one of my favorites since I first watched it with her. I have since enjoyed it on many other occasions, and I have picked up on details in the film on each of my subsequent viewings.
The story concerns an American named Sean Thorton (John Wayne) who travels back to his ancestral Irish town of Innisfree in order to settle on his family's land. He has trouble adjusting to some of the cultural traditions, including the painstaking process of courting the lovely Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O'Hara). Mary Kate's powerful brother Squire 'Red' Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen) is dead opposed to the union and makes as much trouble as he can for them. Unfortunately for Sean, Mary Kate is so deeply rooted in the local traditions that she gives him as much trouble as her brother at times. But with a little help from the townsfolk, everything turns out right in the end.
This is a simple and fanciful tale, and it's filled with the colorful Irish village folk we've seen in countless films since then such as "Waking Ned Devine" and "The Matchmaker". But it was also made over fifty years ago in 1952, and some things that occur in the film would probably never make it in a film made today. At least, not a film that took most everything in such a light hearted manner. Take, for instance, when Red Danaher discovers some of the townsfolk's complicity in the scheme to get Sean and Mary Kate together. He accuses one of them in a pub.
Red Danaher: So the I.R.A. is in this too, is it?Then there is much later when Sean finds out that Mary has left in the early morning hours to catch a train and leave forever due to her shame of him for not fighting her brother. The classic sequence shows him charging purposely to the station, yanking her out of the train compartment, and sometimes pulling/sometimes dragging her along all the way into town so that they may both may once and for all confront Red Danaher. The townsfolk follow both of them in a gathering crowd and, at one point, a woman offers Sean her assistance.
Hugh Forbes: If it were, Red Will Danaher, not a scorched stone of your fine house would still be standing.
Michaleen Flynn: A beautiful sentiment!
Fishwoman with basket: Sir!... Sir!... Here's a good stick, to beat the lovely lady with.Again, I have to stress that both of the scenes are played with gentle good humor as is most of the film. This is fun. This is a lark. This is charming. And despite what some might think after reading those two quotes, I'm here to tell you it is all those things. I suppose it all boils down to the context, and these quotes in the context of the story and the time it was filmed are not as offensive as they may be in another story at another time.
The final note on all this is a piece of trivia courtesy of the IMDb. According to them, the city of Boston, Massachusetts censored one line in the film when it was first screened. The line is spoken by Michaleen Flynn when he spots Sean's broken bed on the morning after the honeymoon. He gazes at it and decrees, "Impetuous! Homeric!". Truth be told, this is my favorite line in the film, and it's interesting to note how Boston theater owners in 1952 were more scared of the implication of raucous, bed-breaking sex than they were fanciful mentions of terrorist bombings and spousal abuse.
But it's all uncensored in the DVD version, which is gorgeous looking and quite inexpensive anywhere your bound to find it. Give it a look if you ever have the opportunity. It's not an exaggeration when I tell you that they simply don't make 'em like this anymore.
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
"The Aviator" skips the traditional credits and goes straight to a scene from Hughes' childhood. In it, we learn of a Cholera scare he survived and how his mother protected him. Suddenly, we are taken to an airfield in the middle of the desert some years later where Hughes has just purchased the largest private air force in the world. It's partially in service of his directorial debut, "Hell's Angels", which took three years to make and was looked upon as an expensive boondoggle, much in the same way "Titanic" was in 1997. And also like that film, it became a blockbuster, and we are launched into Hughes' careers in business, film and most of all aviation, for all the good times and bad.
There's one absence that struck me early on in this film, and that was the lack of detail concerning Hughes's childhood. Rare is the docudrama that doesn't indulge in numerous scenes of a character's formative years in order to map out their psyche (Witness "Ray", who mayhap took one too many trips to that flashback well). With "The Aviator", we have a brief and subtle scene that alludes to Hughes' later phobias of germs, and that's it. This is all well and good concerning his eccentricities, but what of his passions? In case you didn't get it from the title, Hughes's true love was flying. And as we begin our viewing of his lifelong passion on that airfield, we are left wondering how he came to this adoration of flight. It's a notable and unusual omission.
But just as we are left wondering where his interest in flying started, we are not at all left wondering ourselves what there is to like about it. When he finally gets the number of cameras he needs for a dogfight sequence, we follow him in an open-air cockpit as he films planes buzzing in all directions all around him. It's the kind of chaos that seems lifted from a Warner Brothers cartoon, and would be a thrilling sequence to see on an IMAX screen. Equally as chaotic, but in a more frightening way, is the re-creation of his horrible crash in 1946. We are once again in the cockpit with Hughes as he plows through homes and fire erupts all around him. The film should be seen for these sequences alone in how well they are done.
Martin Scorsese must have had a ball filming this. Nevermind the thrills he got from doing a story about classic Hollywood after growing up with films of this era, but he also has some fun tweaking his film in ways that only movie buffs like him would recognize. As the film progresses, the colors and lighting of the film change in strange ways that are never explained. In particular is a golf game that Hughes and Katherine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett) engage in where all the grass appears to be a very bluish teal color. According to IMDb trivia, Scorsese shot certain scenes in the way color film was shot during the particular period of that scene, thus the miscoloration. Again, I doubt anybody who isn't a film buff would "get" this (Hell, even I didn't get it), but it's an interesting addition, nonetheless, and shows his passion for the material.
Having equally as much fun as Scorsese is DiCaprio, who goes through some interesting physical transformations as Hughes. DiCaprio is very much in the vein of method actors such as Scorsese regular Robert DeNiro. I was reminded of Jake LaMotta punching the walls in his jail cell in "Raging Bull" during the scenes of DiCaprio living in his screening room and mumbling to himself. For all the indulgences both DiCaprio and Scorsese take in these scenes, I found more memorable the segment that immediately followed where Hughes, shaven and cleaned up, takes on Senator Brewster (Alan Alda) at a government hearing. I have seen the original footage of Hughes during these exchanges, and DiCaprio nails the way Hughes takes over the proceedings by simple power of will and charisma and then puts the poor Senator in his place.
"The Aviator" also got a lot of attention for its supporting roles and it's easy to see why. Blanchett won an Oscar for her portrayal of Hepburn and her performance is quite deserving. She wisely doesn't do a full-on impression, instead doing a slight vocal lilt and providing the intelligent and confident manner that Hepburn was famous for on screen and off. Hepburn played a significant role in Hughes's life, and he returned the favor by protecting her once from the tabloids. Both of the self described misfits have a bond with each other that continues even after their breakup, and it lends another bittersweet taste to Hughes's story.
Of the briefer star appearances, there are a few notables. Gwen Steffani does indeed make a radiant Jean Harlow, but she does little besides stand and smile. Jude Law is very well cast as Errol Flynn, but is also given little to do. He shows up for a night club scene and then pops up only once more much later in a Hospital waiting room. Considering how little time and effort is invested in the character, you have to wonder why they bothered, except for the possibility that they just wanted to show off Jude Law. Finally, Willem Defoe makes a one scene cameo as a sleazy reporter, but its fair to say that he makes more of an impact than Steffani and Law combined.
I was rooting for Scorsese at the Oscars before I had even seen his film. Now that I have seen both this and "Million Dollar Baby", I can see why the later won. "Baby" just seems so much more together and complete, whereas "Aviator, as impressive as it is, fells like it's missing some vital pieces of the puzzle. I suppose such a description is all the more appropriate for a film about a man whose personality we are missing pieces of to this day.
Eight out of Ten
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
These observations should not be interpreted as a slight to Pixar, Dreamworks and all the other studios that are putting out superior CGI features. However, the death of hand drawn animation, though inconceivable to members of my generation, seems very possible. Disney, who was once the very definition of superior animation, actually closed it's hand drawn animation department in 2003 after the release of it's last feature, "Brother Bear".
All of this is getting around to something I noticed at the beginning of this year. While looking at movie schedules for a film to go and see, I noticed a title that I hadn't heard of before. Paying as much attention as I do to film releases, this was odd. It was called "Candyland", and I later saw a trailer for it at the local Regal theater. It seems the Regal theater chain has made a deal with an organization called Kidtoon Entertainment. This group pumps out very simply drawn animation, whose stories are quite innocuous and harmless, at the rate of one a month. They are in turn shown in Regal theaters at limited times on the weekend to market towards kids.
As uninspired as the animation appears, I can't help but admire how market savvy this is. They are putting into place G rated features at a time when such feature ratings are rare and parent's have become increasingly paranoid at what their kids watch. Furthermore, since each of these films are from the same company and change with each month, it has the potential of bringing in the same audiences month after month who have developed a sense of trust in the safety of material. Meanwhile, Regal risks little since it takes up one theater for a maximum of two days out of the week. It's a gamble, but they have to realize it's a gamble that can pay off big for the reasons cited above.
Despite all this, I have to wonder if such cheaply produced product is to be the last vestige of hand drawn animation in movies. Perhaps it will survive in other parts of the world, most notably Japan, but it may be close to death here. It's not as out of date as people seem to make it out as. It was just six years ago that "The Iron Giant" and "Fantasia 2000" were released, and I have no doubt that both of these are destined to become classics. Of course, it's also significant to note that both features had significant help from CGI in their creation. So perhaps the writing is on the wall.
That's a pity, but such is the way of the world. At the very least, we have our DVD's to look back on and smile from time to time. I think I'll settle in soon with my wife, watch the beautiful artistry of "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" and give my thanks for it. Tigger just wouldn't be the same on a computer.
Monday, March 14, 2005
Bob Schindler said his daughter's situation is "the inception of genocide". "What the Nazis were doing and what they're trying to do to Terri is the same thing," he said.Where to begin? Let's start with Wikipedia:
"Genocide has been defined as the deliberate killing of people based on their ethnicity, nationality, race, religion, or (sometimes) politics, as well as other deliberate actions leading to the physical elimination of any of the above categories."
Terry Schiavo's case does not fall into any of those categories, and her situation cannot be described by any rational person as that of genocide. She is one person who has been proven to be in a vegetative state that will not improve to any significant degree. I can only imagine the grief of a parent in the position of Mr. Schindler and how that grief over a period of 15 years can affect rational thought. It is for this reason that I cannot really be angry at Mr. Schindler, despite his poorly thought out words.
I can, however, be very angry at Robert Herring, who last week offered Schiavo's husband Michael 1 million dollars to cease his efforts on ending his wife's life. First of all, it's incredibly insulting for Herring to accuse, not by words but by the offer itself, that Michael's motivations in this wrenching case could be simply bought off. Michael's efforts, which have gone unchanged throughout the media circus, are quite clear: he's doing this out of love for his wife and to bring some closure to a tragedy that has been permitted to linger far too long. Second, it's stupefying that Mr. Herring would use his fortune to save one person who has no chance of a meaningful life when he could more easily help thousands who do. Of course, it is his money to do with as he pleases, but I find his actions misguided to say the least.
It must come down to this: Are Terry Schiavo's parents keeping her alive for the sake of her or for their own sake. The entire issue is so fraught with emotion that no one seems to be thinking straight any longer. The cardiac arrest that changed Terri Schiavo's life forever ensured that there would be no happy ending for her, but there can be a resolution that enables all parties to move on with their lives.
Just remember what Krusty the Clown says: "Give a hoot. Read a book."
Oh, I just realized that I didn't provide a hyperlink to said site, so I posted a variety below for you to choose from.
Saturday, March 12, 2005
I knew there was something I liked about that man.
Imagine this little sci-fi concept: The United Nations, with the backing of those nations that routinely condemn U.S. foreign policy, dispatches troops in order to replace our current government. They put the president and his cabinet on trial for war crimes as well as other infractions of international law. They make sweeping changes including the outlawing of firearms and capital punishment while making abortions and gay marriage legal. Most of all, they make a permanent separation of Church and State, excising all references to God and Christianity in our government.
A large portion of the population begin digging into forests, farms and anywhere else they can hide out and defend. They tell their family, their friends and themselves that they were right all along about the UN and how it was a great evil in the world that would someday come into their sovereign nation and try to destroy their way of life. They make plans, great plans, on targeting blue helmets through their gun sights for the rest of their lives, and they will be pleased to do it.
The UN publicly acknowledges that there will be resistance and they are determined to put an end to it. They will say that the ones who resist must immediately put aside their old narrow minded ways and embrace the progressive thinking that is the future of our planet. Those that do not will eventually be tracked down and taken care of. This is exciting stuff.
It also happens to be ludicrous. On a most basic level, the United Nations does not have enough troops to occupy a country as big as ours. They could never suppress the massive resistance that would form from such an invasion, despite the support the UN might receive in some areas. The people who would oppose their new laws would fight until their last dying breath. Even if the UN did grow a pair, they would know that such an action would be doomed to fail. Not because of the validity of their reforms, mind you, but because it would be the wrong method to effect permanent change. All it would bring is carnage.
Still, it makes for great fiction.
Thursday, March 10, 2005
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
This came to mind today as I handled a very busy desk at the library and received a call from a patron.
Me: "Good Afternoon. How may I help you?"
Her: "I was...wondering...if you had...this title"
Me: (long pause as I wait for her to give the title, then give up) "What is the title, Mam?"
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
One day last week, I found myself near a Toys 'R Us with time to kill. I stopped in and found the sale was still on, but all the LEGO was unfortunately gone. Then, at the bottom of one cart, I found a sort of knight-and-horse plastic kit called a Stikfas. The plain white box it came in had tapered edges and the very minimum of printing and graphics. The packaging is so basic and stark, it's positively European in design. Inside, the plastic parts all come attached in flat frames that are familiar to anyone who has ever put together model cars as a kid. with the help of twisting and a Xacto knife, you get the pieces out of the frames and can start putting it together with the picture-only instruction cards. There are more pieces than you can use in one creation, really, so you take you're pick of armor and weapons and then, Presto, you have a knight on horseback.
Now normally I would leave the toy reviews to these guys, but I felt a desire to comment on this odd little toy venture. Mega-toy corporation Hasbro created this series, and the blurb on the box proclaims it to be the next generation of action figures. This reminded me of some discussions I once had with my LEGO maniac friend Leonard. We discussed the whole Bionicle trend in LEGO and how the company was sacrificing the versatility of basic LEGO for a more marketable action figure line. If the proliferation of the Bionicle toys are any indication, then the shift in strategy was successful.
These figures are along the same trend, though these are going for both versatility in building as well as accurate anatomical movement. The legs and arms are designed so that limbs will bend only one way, just like knee and elbow joints. The ball and socket joints themselves, which is the kind used by Bionicle as well, were a little too loose. Posing became difficult as some joints wouldn't want to stay in the position I placed them. However, I do like the basic design and lack of features. There is a sheet of stickers that comes with it that you can apply at will to the shields, armor, face or whatever, but I've left my figure blank for now.
But the stickers, along with the uniform size ball and socket connections, encourage people to build whatever they like. One could see this as a positive thing to encourage creativity, but unlike Bionicle figures that will always resemble mechanical men, these parts will always resemble something that is flesh and bone. So although you can create mythical creatures and animals with it (this review suggests a centaur as an example), the more natural progression is to create models that resemble something out of Lovecraft.
This is not to say that this is a bad thing, but I think this toy will lend itself more to kids (and adults) with weirder than normal personalities. In the end, it's still a pretty cool model. And for 43 cents, I'm certainly not complaining.
Monday, March 07, 2005
Take, for example, the dark comedy "I Love You to Death". The wife of serial adulterer Joey Boca (Kevin Kline) has finally discovered his cheating ways. With the help of her mother and a friend from work, they plot to kill him. Unfortunately, every attempt fails for one reason or another. After an overdose of sleeping pills merely puts him to sleep, they decide to get drastic. They hire two pothead brothers named Harlan and Marlon (William Hurt and Keanu Reeves) to shoot Joey while he's sleeping in the bed.
I laugh so hard every time I think about these two guys wandering around the house and ducking low-hanging lamps. In this scene, they finally decide to shoot Joey. Of course, it's not as easy as all that.
Marlon: Where are you going to shoot him?Needless to say, they still shoot the wrong side.
Harlan: Right here, what do you think, I'm going to take him downtown?
Marlon: No. I mean where on his body?
Harlan: Well, I don't know. His heart I guess. Which side is that on, his heart?
Marlon: Oh, sh*t, man. I don't know. It's in there somewhere.
Harlan: (They both kneel down and Harlan puts his ear to his Joey's chest) I don't hear nothin'.
Marlon: Wait a minute. School.
Marlon: School, man. You know. Pledge allegiance.
Harlan: Oh yeah.
Marlon: (stands up and puts his hand over his heart) Hand over your heart.
Harlan: (does the same) Yeah, Right.
Marlon & Harlan: (simultaneously) I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America...
Harlan: (still speaking simultaneously, but struggling to remember the words) ...and to the Republic...under one invisible nation...
Marlon: ...and...to the nations under God...
Harlan: ...spacious skies and amber graves of liberty for all.
Marlon: ...bright stars would...deliver us from freedom.
Friday, March 04, 2005
"Creators Syndicate demands that you immediately cease and desist from your unauthorized use of the link to Bill O'Reilly's column on his website."An "unauthorized link", huh? Wow. I'm tempted to write a letter to Creator's Syndicate myself. I would ask them that if they were on a fictitious train in the Underworld, then which of many stops they would choose to disembark at.
In short, I'd ask them where in Hell do they get off.
What else is there to say about this story other then the guy who wrote the letter needs to be investigated for toad licking. That's the only explanation I have for a fevered mind that actually believed hyperlinks to be a violation of copyright law. And for those who would like a definitive word on the subject, you may find it here. Hyperlinking isn't illegal, and Creator's Syndicate can just bite me as well as bite all bloggers everywhere.
And allow me to close this last post of the week with these words:
Linkety, Linkety, Link Link Link.
"Devil in a Blue Dress" does not put us in the shoes of a hard boiled detective, but instead an earnest WWII veteran named Easy Rawlins (Denzel Washington). He used to work at an aircraft plant, but was recently dismissed and is now looking at a stack of bills on his new house with no way to pay them. Then a man named DeWitt Albright (Tom Sizemore) offers him big money for a simple job: find out where a woman named Daphne Monet (Jennifer Beals) disappeared to. Needless to say, things get quickly complicated and dangerous for Easy. So much so that he calls in some backup in the form of his old friend from Houston, Mouse Alexander (Don Cheadle). He's going to need all the help he can get before it's all over.
"L.A. Confidential" is the epic story of three very flawed cops in 1950's Los Angeles. There's Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), who works with tabloid reporter Sid Hudgens (Danny Devito) in order to make glamorous pot busts and get his name in the papers. There's Edmund Exley (Guy Pearce), who's dedication to the rules is matched only by his ambition to get ahead. And then there's Bud White (Russell Crowe), a man whose brute force tactics are used to their best advantage by Police Captain Dudley Smith (James Cromwell). All three men's lives will come together through a series of crimes that they must work together in order to solve.
I mention quite a few character in the two synopsis above, and it was an effort to summarize the two films without mentioning more. Like classic Noir films as "The Big Sleep", the flood of character names can sometimes be overwhelming. All the better for a twisty plot where bodies keep floating to the surface and everyone is double-crossing everyone else. "L.A. Confidential" itself has 80 speaking parts. It's a testament to the filmmaking that it's easy enough to keep them all straight. "Devil in a Blue Dress" doesn't have to contend with as many and thus has an simpler time of it. Washington's voiceovers (a classic Noir element that is not found in "Confidential") help to further clarify things when they get murky.
This disparity in amounts of actors correlates to the leads, as well. "Blue Dress" is all about Washington, and he's pretty much on his own until Cheadle shows up half way through. The character of Easy is an everyman who is put into dangerous circumstances, and Denzel plays this very well. His character adapts to the circumstances, but it's clear to both him and the audience that he still needs help. Cheadle, who drew quite few raves at the time for this role, definitely livens up the proceedings with his hair-trigger yet genial character. He's the kind of guy who, as soon as we see his first five minutes on screen, we think, "Denzel's definitely going to come out of this one alive."
The focus on one character with Easy contrasts with the myriad plot threads of "Confidential". All three leads are damn near necessary in order to follow the story. It is truly a tragedy that there's not an ensemble acting category for the Oscars, because the three leads of "Confidential" (particularly Crowe) deserved some recognition for their fine work. Oddly enough, Spacey and Crowe won Best Actor Oscars back-to-back not long after this (for "American Beauty" and "Gladiator"). I hoped that Pearce my get nominated and win for "Memento" soon after to complete the Trifecta, but no dice.
All Noirs require a femme fatale, and both of these films have them. In "Confidential", we have Oscar winner Kim Bassinger. I remain skeptical as to whether Bassinger really deserved an Oscar for this performance, but her portrayal of a high class call girl with conflicting priorities is still very good. Jennifer Beales in "Blue Dress" is a bit of a stiff in the sexual tension department. She's certainly attractive enough, but she isn't utilized well in this department. This makes it all the more confusing when she keeps getting talked about in such glowing terms by the characters. Much better at smoldering is Lisa Nicole Carson as Renee. She only has a brief amount of screentime near the beginning, but she makes an impression.
In terms of direct comparisons to "Chinatown", those are more oblique. Directors Curtis Hanson and Carl Franklin have different sensibilities than Roman Polanski. Whereas Polanski took the slow and seductive approach with his film, Hanson and Franklin are more action oriented and move their films at a faster pace. There are specific instances where Chinatown comes to mind when watching these films, though. One in particular is a scene in "Blue Dress", where Beales's character makes a shocking confession during a badgering interrogation by the male lead. It's virtualy identical to scene between Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway in "Chinatown".
Both films have a great advantage in the choice of composers for their scores. According to the IMDb, Elmer Bernstein was originally pegged to do the score for "Confidential", but was replaced by "Chinatown" composer Jerry Goldsmith! Bernstien, himself a legend for his work on "The Great Escape" among others, had done "Devil in a Blue Dress" two years before, so perhaps he was satisfied having already put his mark on the genre. Both men, who coincidently died within with a month of each other last year, both acquit themselves superbly and are able to create the atmosphere necessary for the films.
I'd like to talk a bit about the weight of objects and the efforts of a film to create a real, physical world; one that you can almost touch. "L.A. Confidential" has that in spades. You can actually feel the weight of the badge and revolver as Bud White puts them on top of a desk. And when that gun and every other gun is fired, there is a visceral sensation that is missing from nearly every action film I've ever seen. Even in gun-happy films like "The Matrix", which I can watch and enjoy over and over, the guns seem more plastic than heavy metal compared to this film.
And this physicality is not confined to weaponry, either. In the scene where Exley interrogates some suspects, Bud White finds himself leaning forward while gripping the back of a chair. His anger at the suspect's words builds (I'm telling you, Russell was robbed of an Oscar) until he breaks the back of the chair and charges at one of the suspects. The tension built in this scene is palpable due to all the usual filmmaking suspects: cinematography, film editing, sound editing and acting. There are moments where the film feels almost 3D in it's presentation, and it deserves a valued place in film history for that alone.
The ending of both are in a way similar: a shootout in and around an isolated building. "Confidential" goes for a flashy action sequence that is extremely exciting. The gun play is less in "Blue Dress" and the scene is more focused on character. Both work very well at what they are doing, however, and are satisfying in their own way. Both are also followed by a coda that shows the fates of our leads, "Confidential" is happy enough to show them driving into the sunset, whereas "Blue Dress" goes for a more lyrical ending with Washington doing a voiceover about his life an future. As much as I like "Confidential", I was much more satisfied with the ending of "Blue Dress", which seemed to have so much more meaning to it.
I first saw "L.A. Confidential" in the theater when it first came out eight years ago, and I first saw "Devil in a Blue Dress" just last month on a rented DVD. Both are superior examples of the genre and make for one hell of a double feature. Do yourself a favor and rent both of them soon so you can spend a suspenseful and thrilling evening in post-war Los Angeles.
"Devil in a Blue Dress" - Eight out of Ten
"L.A. Confidential" - Ten out of Ten
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
For crying out loud, it's pay television. The fact that most people these days subscribe to pay television is not the cable networks' problem. In other words, to the old "turn the channel" argument used on those who would censor broadcasting we can add an even more simple solution: DON'T BUY THE F*CKING THING! Jesus Wept!
It's a damn good thing I'm spending tomorrow away from blogging because there are some supreme right-wing morons out to irritate the populace lately. See you on Friday.
By the way, three points to anyone who gets the reference in the title.
If you didn't, then click here.
The (Arizona) House of Representatives voted Tuesday to let people carry weapons - including guns, grenades, rockets, mines and sawed-off shotguns - into schools, polling places and nuclear plants if they claim they're only trying to protect themselves.Ahem.
Since when the hell are friggin Claymores used for self defense?!?! It's not like someone can pull a gun on you and then you can ask them to wait five minutes so you can run down the hall, turn a corner, set up a trip wire and ask them to then come and shoot you.
I suppose people are thinking more in a Columbine sense (i.e. "Schools") with this inclusion so that people elsewhere in a building may defend certain areas from armed intruders. But such tactics would not guarantee that only the intruders would be hit. In this sense, only guns are logical as true self defense weapons with the ability to specify individual targets as the others have a high probability of inflicting excessive casualties. Not that I agree with this legislation at all, mind you, but I will acknowledge that at least part of it makes a certain amount of sense.
As for Nuclear Power Plants, for crying out loud, if they don't have sufficient security already in place in this post 9/11 world, then the boss needs to be dealt with and the security needs to be heightened. That would also go for any power plants as well as reservoirs and dams. If the employees don't already feels safe in places like that, then there are bigger issues that need to be addressed.
DANGER!NO SMOKING OR OPEN FLAME!(GLOCKS, HOWEVER, ARE A-OK!)
Also included in the cast was Ed Begley as Juror #10. The character, who is white, is the most volatile and narrow minded of the dozen. At one point late in the play, he goes into a racist rant against Hispanics, which is the race of the accused. During this, the jurors physically turn away from him, one by one (Save for #4, who remains at the table only in order to give the final word on this man's opinions). The point drives home that, despite all the differences between the jury members, they can all agree that #10's bigoted arguments have absolutely no place in the jury room. It's a powerful moment in a film filled with them.
Flash forward forty years to 1997. Acclaimed filmmaker William Friedkin ("The French Connection"), decides to do his own television version of "12 Angry Men". Like Lumet, he is blessed with a great cast that includes Jack Lemmon, George C. Scott and James Gandolfini. Also included in the cast are a trio of black actors: Courtney B. Vance, Ossie Davis and Mykelti Williamson portray, respectively, the Foreman, Juror #2 and...Juror #10.
The dialogue for #10 remains the same. This time, however, we infer through the character's dress and manner that he is a member of the Nation of Islam, an organization not known for its tolerance. The speech about the accused, who remains Hispanic in this version, now takes on a new and interesting spin. As I mentioned in my pair of "Lion in Winter" reviews, the great thing about stage plays is the ability to interpret and explore, as Friedkin has done here.
I'm presenting the entire rant, including the stage directions, as it appears in both films.
Juror #10: I don't understand you people! I mean all these picky little points you keep bringing up. They don't mean nothin'. You saw this kid just like I did. You're not gonna tell me you believe that phony story about losing the knife, and that business about being at the movies. Look, you know how these people lie! It's born in them! I mean what the heck? I don't even have to tell you. They don't know what the truth is! And, lemme tell you, they don't need any real big reason to kill someone, either! No sir!
[Five gets up from his seat]
Juror #10: You know, they get drunk... oh, they're very big drinkers, all of 'em, and bang: someone's lyin' in the gutter. Oh, nobody's blaming them for it. That's how they are! By nature! You know what I mean? VIOLENT!
[Nine rises and crosses to the window]
Juror #10: Human life don't mean as much to them as it does to us!
[Eleven gets up and walks to the other window]
Juror #10: Hey! Where are you going? (Beginning to sound desperate.) Look, these people're lushing it up and fighting all the time and if somebody gets killed, so somebody gets killed! They don't care! Oh, sure, there are some good things about 'em, too. Look, I'm the first one to say that.
[Eight gets up and walks to the nearest wall]
Juror #10: I've known a couple who were OK, but that's the exception, y'know what I mean?
[Two and Six get up from the table. Everyone's back is to Ten]
Juror #10: Most of 'em, it's like they have no feelings! They can do anything! What's goin' on here? I'm trying to tell you we're makin' a big mistake, you people! This kid's a liar! I know it. I know all about them! I mean, what's happenin' here? I'm speaking my piece, and you...
[the Foreman gets up and walks away. So does Twelve]
Juror #10: Listen to me! They're no good! There's not a one of 'em who's any good!
[Seven turns away]
Juror #10: Boy, are you smart! Well, I'm tellin' 'ya we better watch out! This kid on trial here, his type... Well, don't you know about them?
[Three turns his back]
Juror #10: What are you doin'? Listen to me! I'm tryin' to tell you somethin'! There's a danger here! These people are wild! Don't you know about it? LISTEN TO ME! LISTEN!
Juror #4: I have. Now sit down and don't open your mouth again.
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
Abu 'Imam' al-Walid: With so much prayer to make up for, I scarcely know where to begin.