Wednesday, September 16, 2009

This will be the death of us if we believe it.

Another great Ebert discovery from his blog is the following preview from the new George Clooney movie where he plays the guy corporations hire to come in an perform huge layoffs (what a career, eh?). This is his "backpack" speech.

Isn't that just pure evil in a nutshell? The corporation telling you that desiring or having a life is essentially wrong...

Like I said in the title of this post, this will be the death of us if we believe it.

(Can't wait to see the movie.)
Not that you didn't already know this

Roger Ebert's blog has become his latter-day opus. Since his recovery (and just barely at that) from cancer, some folks, including myself, view his movie reviews as different animals than his previous ones - after all this is a different man on this other side of his life. (A brush with mortality does that, they say.)

Ebert recently put his finger on what's really going on in the public/media healthcare reform debate:
I don't pretend to know if this information is available to the angry people who have shouted down their representatives at town hall meetings. I think I do know where their anger is fed. The drumbeat of far-right commentators fuels it. Their agenda is not health care, but opposition to the Obama administration. It takes the form of demonizing Obama. It uses the tactic of the Big Lie to defame him. An example of this is the fiction, "he wants to kill your grandmother." Another is the outrageous statement that he is a racist who hates white people. A person capable of saying that is clearly unhinged and in the grip of unconditional hatred.

My emphasis added.

In short, it's about nothing other than being anti-Obama.

I bring this up because one truly weird bit of fallout from the Kanye West episode - where he yanked the mic away from Taylor Swift in mid-thank-you-speech - is "legit" reporters (like Terry Moran) broke with a long-time precedent to Twitter that Obama called West a jackass during off-limits, pre-interview chatter, and criticized the pres for saying something that's demonstrably true (even by the offender: "But I need to, after this, just to take some time off and analyze how I'm going to, you know, make it through rest of this life, how I'm going to improve").

How's that for a case in point?
Speaking of movies

Haven't seen a stinker like this in a while: Duplicity with Clive Owen and Julia Roberts.


It amazes me when this much money is spent on stars and production value when the script has such an obvious flaw.

The premise is Owen and Roberts are super-spies who fall in love after she rolls him on an assignment, so they become corporate spies who are double-agents for each other so they can retire to a life of luxury and no more secrecy someday. You sit through over two hours of plot twists to arrive at an ending where they LOSE - one of the corporate heads had figured them out along the way and so set up a sting.

But it happens in such an anticlimactic way that when the credits rolled, I was still waiting for the real ending.

Avoid this one even on cable, if you're trapped in a bed, ill, without a remote and have to call a neighbor to change the channel just to avoid this turkey.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Graphic Content

This is a thing of beauty, a thing of joy: Information is Beautiful.

Graphs and charts of consequence and ephemera. You'll lose a couple hours here.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Fly in the Ghetto and The Hangover

Actually found time to see District 9 and The Hangover in the theatres.

The main story of District 9 is that a huge alien mothership slides to a stop over Johannesburg and when we finally manage to open the ship, the aliens inside are seemingly worker-bee types living in squalor, so we relocate them to a ghetto outside the city. A Monty-python-esque stumble-bunny gets the job of relocating them since they are too close to the city and tend to vandalize and kill a lot. While trying to do that, he gets sprayed with alien goo and begins to transform into one of them.

I enjoyed District 9 while I was watching it, because it's put together well, and uses fake news footage to tell part of the story, which somehow (and sometimes) adds a level of verisimilitude. However, upon reflection whilst egressing the parking lot, my final assessment was "meh." I kinda wished I'd seen it at home so I could've watch the DVD extras, but I have no interest in seeing it again, so that probably won't happen.

The one part that stays with me is the main alien character has a child, and we humans don't really believe that the aliens have parental instincts or that the children bond with the adults; we think of them as big land-dwelling shrimp - even calling them "prawns." The behavior of the child is well scripted so even though we know it's very alien, it's still a baby and has child-like thoughts and motivations. As a dad, that part of it got to me.

The Hangover was as funny as they say, but since EVERYONE had said that, my expectations were too high, so I liked it rather than loved it.

The primary strength of the flick was the three main guys are very believable archetypes. To merely label them as the cool guy, the geek, and the weirdo does no justice to the exact type of those each are. But, you have personally known every one of them, and that's what hooks you into the movie.

The baby-in-peril angle nearly threw my wife and I out of the movie, because even the baby is realistic in that he jumps and cries when something loud or scary happens. However, they use him just enough for the jokes, and then make it safe again.

And I love the fact they never explain the chicken.

Monday, September 07, 2009

An hour of lost sleep

After 8 years of being mildly pissed off all the time, it's been a relief to have Obama in office.

Every time I see the bumper sticker "How's that hope and change working out for ya?" I'm tempted to chase them down to their next stop and say "Just great! Thanks for asking!" But I don't want to get shot or arrested over some mere emotional fulfillment.

So, it's become rarer that I lose sleep over something terrible happening to America at the hands of the brain-dead wingnut cotillion. Some of my friends and relatives still send me those alarmist and usually illiterate neocon emails, even though I've requested politely that they stop; I've just taken to deleting them before I open them. (A rightie friend of mine even chastised his fellow neocons in a response to one of them: "They're not even funny.")

Yet, they got me pretty good on this long holiday weekend ("they" being the wingnut echo chamber).

There I was, sitting next to my wife reading as she watched the local evening news (which I tend to ignore as Denver local news is amazingly grating; my small midwestern hometown switched cable vendors when I was a kid from a Denver feed to a Minneapolis feed just to escape the Denver news). This report comes on that Obama is going to give a speech to students on the coming Tuesday after labor day, and these words actually came out of the talking head's mouth "Some critics say Obama is overstepping his bounds…"

I dropped my book, I did an unconscious Wile E. Coyote impression - you know where the roadrunner blasts off into the horizon so fast it causes Wile's teeth to literally fall out when his jaw drops - and my ears started ringing. I turned to my wife and pointed at the TV, not having to actually say the words "did I just hear what I think I heard?" She nodded. Two lost hours of sleep later, my wife offered me a leftover sleeping pill (she had insomnia last year for a bit, and they gave her that creepy glowing butterfly stuff after we had to fish her out of the garage during an Ambien sleepwalking incident).

I let it go for a couple days, but today I found the post-it I wrote the phrase on to remind me to search it up later. Here's what must officially be the wingnut talking point phrase, because if you plug it in to any search engine, you get so many hits you'd think you'd actually searched for "tits" or something:
Some conservative critics say Obama is trying to promote a political agenda and overstepping his bounds, taking the federal government too far into public school business.

There are so many troubling aspects to that sentence, I really don't want to bother deconstructing them; I leave that to you, dear reader.

The title of this article (the very one from whence I lifted the phrase) is something I honestly never thought I'd see: Ban lifted on speech by Obama

Ponder that.

Some fucktards - other Americans presumably - actually BANNED a speech by the President of the United States. In my opinion, every single American politician that had anything to do with banning a speech by the President should no longer hold office come Tuesday if they can't at least grasp the FUCKING FIRST AMENDMENT TO THE CONSITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

Dear GOD. (Where's Strother Martin when you need him?)

Pardon whilst I chill a moment….

Better now.

File under "What liberal media?"
Best Biography Title Thus Far

My Booky Wook

Personally, I wouldn't spend a moment reading the book itself, but the title cracks me up. You can almost feel through The Force other biographers crying out in pain "DAMMIT! Why didn't I think of that?"
John Hughes Had One More

When John Huges died in August, out trotted the rote celebrations of his career, which was cool, because he did make some awesome films. The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles came out at the end of my college years, so I was still close enough to being a teen to really enjoy the films. Sixteen Candles was especially funny to me because of Anthony Michael Hall's character, which shows only credited as "The Geek" (whereas, oddly, John Cusack's relatively minor character gets a name "Bryce"). That was essentially me, but with less confidence.

Well, during all of that, no one mentioned my favorite Hughes flick: She's Having a Baby. Which is too bad, because it's a great one. It was about the only movie that gave me a glimpse into what being married and having a kid might actually feel like prior to actually experiencing it myself - a mark of great art, IYAM. The sequence where she goes into labor is one of the most effecting, I think. The cut from a tear falling from his face to a drop of blood hitting the delivery room floor is visceral.

When we were trying to have MPC1, we did a bit of the fertility dance stuff that's depicted in "She's Having..", and my wife once actually quoted (in fun, of course) the hilarious line she utters as they are getting ready to have baby-making sex: "You can watch TV if you get bored." (A lot of women (and I know this from story after story I've personally heard), who for years have done everything they could do to NOT get pregnant seem shocked that it often doesn't happen the first month she actually tries to get pregnant.)

If you've not seen She's Having a Baby, give it a spin.

Oh, and he also wrote National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, which the fambly watches every year, along with the Grinch and Charlie Brown, to really bring on the feeling of Christmas.

Friday, September 04, 2009

The Spectator’s 50 Essential Films

This entry shows how far behind I am in posting these days.

Way back in July, Roger Ebert blogged about the list created by Spectator magazine.

I diligently went through and noted which ones I've seen, and added some others to the "to see" list. The ones in bold I've seen. (List is "title, director". And I didn't have the energy to italicize the titles.)

1. The Night of the Hunter, Laughton
2. Apocalypse Now, Coppola
3. Sunrise, Murnau
4. Black Narcissus, Powell & Pressburger
5. L'avventura, Antonioni
6. The Searchers, Ford
7. The Magnificent Ambersons, Welles
8. The Seventh Seal , Bergman
9. L'atalante, Vigo
10. Rio Bravo, Hawks
11. The Godfather: Part I and Part II, Coppola
12. The Passion of Joan of Arc, Dreyer
13. La Grande Illusion, Renoir
14. Citizen Kane, Welles
15. The Scarlett Empress, von Sternberg
16. Tokyo Story, Ozu
17. Blade Runner, Ridley Scott
18. Rear Window, Hitchcock
19. Point Blank, Boorman
20. The Red Shoes, Powell & Pressburger
21. The Earrings of Madame de..., Ophuls
22. Shadows, Cassavetes
23. Pickpocket, Bresson
24. Viridiana, Bunuel
25. Barry Lyndon, Kubrick
26. City Lights, Chaplin
27. Pierrot le Fou, Godard
28. Sunset Boulevard, Wilder
29. Notorious, Hitchcock
30. M, Lang
31. The Roaring Twenties, Walsh
32. Singin' in the Rain, Donen and Kelly
33. The Long Day Closes, Davies
34. Killer of Sheep, Burnett
35. Gun Crazy, Lewis
36. Andrei Rublev, Tarkovsky
37. Taxi Driver, Scorsese
38. The 400 Blows, Truffaut
39. Pulp Fiction, Tarantino
40. Kind Hearts and Coronets, Hamer
41. In the Mood for Love, Wong Kar-Wai
42. Sullivan's Travels, Sturges
43. 8 1/2, Fellini
44. Pinocchio, Disney
45. Great Expectations, Lean
46. Rome, Open City, Rossellini
47. Duck Soup, McCarey
48. Jaws, Spielberg
49. Manhattan, Allen
50. Out of the Past, Tourneur

The first one I attempted was Rio Bravo and wasn't able to make it through. Yet.

Next I watched Point Blank and was amazed at how much I hated it. It was silly, pretentious and full of auteur-esque touches that I hope the director now deeply regrets. Reviewing the rest of Boorman's list, I realize I don't like anything he's directed. However, he wrote and produced Excalibur, so I have to be a bit thankful for him. (And I see he's filming The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, dear Lord.)

The only thing I came away with (from Point Blank) is that Angie Dickinson must've been the go-to actress for nudity back in the day before it was common. I've seen a few older films now where her main contribution was her boobs. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

So, I decided that whomever put that list together has very little in common with my tastes in film, even though there's a bunch I've seen. However, I posted it anyway in case you'd like to take advantage.

And here's an old, no longer complete list of movies I recommend, an another and another (near the end). Just off the top of my head, to be complete, I'd add:

- Star Trek (2009)
- Iron Man
- Unbreakable
- Monsters vs. Aliens (the 3D version - best evar thus far)
- The Emperor's New Groove (to me, it's in the pantheon with the funniest films ever)
- Jack's Back (which you can't get anymore, so this is sorta a tease)
- Bedazzled (original version)
- Just Like Heaven
- Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
- 50 First Dates
- Scooby Doo 2 (really, it's funny as hell)
- The "Up" series
- Dazed and Confused (an all-time-high favorite that I've mentioned before, but am bringing up again because it's one of Quentin Tarantino's, too.)
Like a fine wine

If you don't like cartoons, surf away now, save those precious minutes of your life for something else.

My beloved MPC2 (for those not familiar with the acronym, it's: "Most Precious Child" lifted from a good buddy who coined the term, "2" indicating child 2 in terms of birth order), who's 4, LOVES herself some loony tunes (though she requests "Bugs Bunny" like southerners request soda pop by asking for a "coke," which will prompt the server to ask which kind - cola, dr. pepper, sprite, orange, etc.).

So, I'm getting to watch them regularly (again) as I read next to her on the couch. Some of them still cause me to put the book down and watch.

I think among aficionados like myself, the funniest Warner Bros. classic cartoons of all time are perhaps these:

- Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2 Century
- One Froggy Evening
- Robin Hood Daffy
- The Rabbit of Seville
- Rabbit Seasoning
- What's Opera Doc?
- Feed the Kitty -- I still chuckle at the line: "My, what a long face!"
- Little Red Riding Rabbit -- You just know that there was some chick who talked like that who annoyed the hell out of the animation crew.
- A Bear for Punishment -- A family favorite. We've adopted "I nudged him and I nudged him. He's awfully still." (around the 3:12 mark) and "But Henry." as family catch-phrases. The prior just for fun, but the latter because we have a cat that feels he needs to be petted at 2:13 A.M. and prowls around the bed purring the loudest purr I've ever heard on a cat, which is sometimes met with my launching him off the bed, and if my wife catches me, I get the standard lecture about how he's needy because he was taken away from his mother too early and so on. So I report to MPC1 that I got the "But Henry." speech again last night.
- The trilogy starring a clueless Porky Pig and a silent, scared out of his mind Sylvester: Scaredy Cat (1948), Claws for Alarm (1954) [my favorite, and sorry this version has a commentary running through it], and Jumpin' Jupiter (1955)

The look on Sylvester's face from "Claws for Alarm" is the perfect embodiment of sheer terror.

But "Little Boy Boo" has become my all-time favorite:

In particular, the hide-and-seek sequence just kills me every time, around the 4:44 to 5:40 mark. I love the brilliance and multi-layered meaning to Foghorn Leghorn's cautious, "No, I'd better not look. I just might be in there."

Philosophy fills me with inertia, but I'd love to know how many formal philosophies are touched upon by that one gag.

Note: Half of these links will disappear as Warner Bros. still combs Youtube for posts of cartoons and shuts them down. Which I think is stupid and futile given the age and ubiquity of these things. They had to have made their money from the DVDs by now, and people are still gonna buy them if they want a good copy or the ability to plant the kid in front of the TV for a while. Why doesn't WB just view these as commercials? Anyway, a hunt for the title on Youtube, Google, or Bing will find you a new copy usually.

This is especially useful if you are away from home, but visiting somewhere where there's a computer. You just fire these up for the kids, and you've got some time to talk.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

To Your Health

While Camille Paglia, a columnist I still enjoy and used to agree with for the most part, continues her slide into becoming a neocon replete with raging denial, others are doing a much better job at defining the issues and problems in regards to the current healthcare debate.

The first paragraph of "Can Obama give 'em hell before it's too late?" by Michael Lind gives me goosebumps:
"We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace: business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering," President Franklin Roosevelt told an audience in Madison Square Garden in 1936. "They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me and I welcome their hatred."

It's riveting and deeply tragic that this particular cycle of history had to repeat. The right has pretty much managed to undo most of the great things FDR did, and undo most of the gains of the labor movement of the early 1900s, and by that I mean if you work in a "Right to Work" state, the only protection you have as an employee is that you are legally due any pay for any documented hours worked. That's it. Yes, if you feel you were discriminated against, you can sue. But, if you're a white guy under the age of 50, well, fuck you.

(And you can tell it was a Republican effort by the very name "Right to Work." They have a particular love of Orwellian, opposite-meaning legislative monikers.)

Lind's whole article is good. He even thumps the left for the crap it did wrong - something very necessary when we're trying to accomplish something this historical that has this much importance. (And I say "even" because Salon is openly lefty.)

On a lighter note, Garrison Keillor's "We need a public pet option," brings perspective by pointing out that if this debate were about pets, it'd probably be over already.