Saturday, March 22, 2008

Fantastic Mr. Fox

For my third Roald Dahl book, I chose to read something which didn't have a film adaptation I was overly familiar with. I don't know if it means anything, but I think this is my favorite so far.

The main character in Fantastic Mr. Fox is sly and smart, and makes his way by stealing from three horrid and greedy farmers. It's dishonest, but it's true to his nature as a fox, and he has a loving wife and four children to feed. One day, the farmers decide to team up and capture Mr. Fox and his family, and corner them in their hole. The entire novel (a scant 88 pages or so) deals with Mr. Fox's attempts to avoid and escape the farmers while still ensuring his starving family gets to eat. I won't reveal how he does so, but I will say it's utterly brilliant and a delightful, at times scary book.

Before writing this post, I looked on Amazon to see some of the other customer reviews, to see if anyone said anything interesting about the symbolism. To my surprise, there were a lot of bizarre claims of sexism, gluttony, cult behavior, and other sins that show me how many people miss the point. This is an ecological novel that highlights the plight of nature against the technology and industry of farming. The fearsome, greedy farmers hate the fox because he acts like a fox; they've encroached on his territory, and he's been forced to adapt; now they hate his very presence, his cleverness reminding them that they can't master the world around them completely. Mr. Fox does the best he can for his family and for his friends, standing up to lead when others despair. It's important to note that although he thieves, he never takes more than his family needs. There's some moral relativism, but I think the message is pretty clear: when the rich and greedy take too much and hoard everything, the downtrodden are forced underground (in this case, literally) to provide for their loved ones. That seems like a more noble message to me than people are apparently giving it credit for. It's not important that Mr. Fox is a predator or that he steals; what matters is that the farmers ruin themselves in their obsessive need to kill Mr. Fox, while Mr. Fox adapts admirably in order to feed his children.

It's exquisite. It's well-written and very suspensfeul, and every small triumph is genuine because they're earned. Dahl is brilliant, and this is my favorite so far.

Originally posted at the Spring Reading Challenge (2008).

Face It, Tiger, You Just Hit the Jackpot

If you're anything like me, you're going to want to hear her say that about twenty times. If I had a cell, that would be my new ringtone. Maybe it'll be my Windows startup...

Er, I mean, the very cool Zen has answered y'all's questions. (Well done, Carl, by the way). Enjoy! I know I did. And thanks once again, Zen, for doing this. You rock hard.

The Democratic Party Will Eat Itself

Former candidate Bill Richardson, one of the few with a platform I liked, endorsed Barack Obama this week. James Carville called it "an act of betrayal" and said "Mr. Richardson’s endorsement came right around the anniversary of the day when Judas sold out for 30 pieces of silver, so I think the timing is appropriate, if ironic."

Are you serious? Bill Richardson is Judas and Hillary Clinton is Jesus? Are you fucking serious? Was that a serious statement?

It's statements like that which are making this campaign such an incessantly noisy nightmare. Liberals are just out for blood this time. Yeah, we know it's very important to get the Republicans out of power. But come on, guys. If you can't even get behind a single candidate, if you love one candidate so much that you're willing to act like a total asshole to anyone who disagrees with you, you're not a liberal. You're an asshole. The media is having a field day with the blood in the water, and bloggers especially are acting like this is the freaking apocalypse, and that their single vote is the one that's going to decide the entire future of America. While it's nice to finally see a bunch of people realizing that their votes matter, they've taken it too far, and the supporters of Obama and Clinton are little more than football hooligans. Stop fucking swiping at each other. It's over. I'm fucking sick of it. All this campaign has done is make me hate politics, hate the candidates, and hate America. Why doesn't everyone start acting like adults for once and get the issues straight instead of whining and fighting and back-biting and acting like a bunch of retarded lizards? You want people to vote responsibly? Then shut up and do the same thing. How about a little decorum? This is a presidential campaign, not a ratings war.

And before I start thinking realistically again, a message to James Carville (not that he's reading, but still): statements like that don't help anything. Hillary Clinton is not Christ. And you're a fucking asshole for saying something that was actually even too dumb for you. Lick my balls with that shit, Carville. You've become a caricature of Duke from Doonesbury instead of the other way around. Please accept my invitation to shove your head all the way up your ass. Cajun style.

Seriously, no wonder nobody roots for America anymore. We can't even get an election right. All we can argue about is who's nicer than whom and who's more like Kennedy/King/Buddha/Jesus. Do you want to fix this thing or not? It is your country.

100 Films

PJ has a neat post; she put up a list of the Top 100 films according to the Internet Movie Database. She bolded the 36 she'd seen; for no real reason whatsoever, I'm going to bold the ones I've seen, too. And I'm going to translate the foreign titles, just because.

1. The Godfather (1972)
2. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
3. The Godfather: Part II (1974)
4. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
5. Pulp Fiction (1994)
6. Schindler’s List (1993)
7. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
8. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
9. Casablanca (1942)
10. Seven Samurai (1954)
11. Star Wars (1977)
12. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
13. 12 Angry Men (1957)
14. Rear Window (1954)
15. Goodfellas (1990)
16. City of God (2002)
17. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
18. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
19. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
20. The Usual Suspects (1995)
21. Psycho (1960)
22. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
23. Fight Club (1999)
24. Citizen Kane (1941)
25. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
26. North by Northwest (1959)
27. Memento (2000)
28. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
29. Sunset Boulevard (1950)
30. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
31. The Matrix (1999)
32. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
33. There Will Be Blood (2007)
34. Se7en (1995)
35. Apocalypse Now (1979)
36. Taxi Driver (1976)
37. American Beauty (1999)
38. Léon (1994)
39. Vertigo (1958)
40. Amélie (2001)
41. American History X (1998)
42. The Departed (2006)
43. No Country for Old Men (2007)
44. Paths of Glory (1957)
45. M (1931)
46. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
47. Chinatown (1974)
48. The Third Man (1949)
49. The Lives of Others (2006)
50. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
51. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
52. Alien (1979)
53. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
54. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
55. The Shining (1980)
56. Spirited Away (2001)
57. The Pianist (2002)
58. Double Indemnity (1944)
59. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
60. Forrest Gump (1994)
61. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
62. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
63. L.A. Confidential (1997)
64. Das Boot (1981)
65. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
66. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
67. Downfall (2004)
68. Aliens (1986)
69. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
70. Raging Bull (1980)
71. Metropolis (1927)
72. Rashômon (1950)
73. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
74. Modern Times (1936)
75. Hotel Rwanda (2004)
76. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
77. Sin City (2005)
78. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
79. Rebecca (1940)
80. The Seventh Seal (1957)
81. All About Eve (1950)
82. Some Like It Hot (1959)
83. City Lights (1931)
84. Amadeus (1984)
85. On the Waterfront (1954)
86. Life Is Beautiful (1997)
87. The Great Escape (1963)
88. Touch of Evil (1958)
89. The Prestige (2006)
90. The Elephant Man (1980)
91. Jaws (1975)
92. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
93. The Sting (1973)
94. Cinema Paradiso (1988)
95. Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
96. The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
97. The Apartment (1960)
98. Braveheart (1995)
99. The Great Dictator (1940)
100. Blade Runner (1982)

I've seen 92. I can't believe there are so-called film buffs out there who've seen anything less than three-quartes of this list at best, but I'm finding a lot of that. Man, people used to take being a film buff seriously. And this is a pretty mundane, obvious list, I have to say. I was going to do some commentary, but I feel at least half of thse movies are monstrously overrated, so I don't much care, to be honest.

This isn't to single anyone out, by the way. I'm just saying that a saw a good deal of these before I was out of high school.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Throwdown 3/21

Random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.

1. Everyone’s heard this already: Dick Cheney, told that a new poll showed 75% of Americans think the Iraq War isn’t worth is, replied: “So?” Let them eat cake if they have no bread, I guess. Or live in tents outside LA. The LA tent-dwellers should just move to the White House lawn. Seriously.

2. M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening is about plants and trees who are sick of mankind ruining the environment and fight back, personally taking out their vengeance on humanity. There, I just saved you fifteen bucks and two pointless hours.

3. Jennifer Lopez unveiled her twins this week, M. Lo and E. Lo. And surprise! They look like babies. So… there you go. I mean, that’s news, right? That's worth six million dollars.

4. Well, I haven’t watched Beowulf (I don’t plan on it), but I did manage to see a picture of Angelina Jolie rendered as Grendel’s mother. When the movie came out last year, critics and bloggers alike were going insane over how good and photorealistic and sexy she looked. I didn’t realize how many people out there were jacking it to action figures, because this thing is plastic and hideous. Motion-capture is never going to be photorealistic; it’s just creepy. Don’t try and layer sex appeal onto it, because it says awful things about you.

5. So, Shia LaBeouf is a fugitive from justice for smoking? Jeez, imagine if he’d done something of any consequence remotely whatsoever. I hope he didn’t mildly curse or something else that doesn’t affect anyone or anything.

6. Oh, great. We’re going to be talking about this Ashley Dupre girl forever, aren’t we? I mean, not you and me, but people with those kinds of gossipy blogs. My favorite part of this is where Muppet-faced douchebag exploitation machine Joe Francis wanted to give her a million dollars to take her clothes off, only to find out he already has hours and hours of footage from when she was eighteen and spent some time on his touring whore party and molestation wagon; she’s already done it all on film for free. Oops, except it turns out she was actually seventeen, which is shocking, since I’m always so sure that Girls Gone Wild’s rigorous legal department must check everyone’s background thoroughly so such things won’t ever happen. Because, you know, I’m sure every girl who’s ever flashed the camera or much, much more on a Girls Gone Wild video is at least eighteen. What I think is funny/embarrassing is just how much people are trying to treat this like some kind of real news story, because we’re still so fascinated by/creepily hung up on people having sex. Hey, people fuck, get over it. They’re not always adults, too. Yes, your kids are having sex, and because you’re so hung up about it, they’re easily exploited. Figure it out.

7. Yes, Kristin Davis, it’s you. Quit saying it isn’t. I’m not saying you have to embrace it, I’m just saying you shouldn’t lie, because it does make people lose respect for you. Hey, you sucked a dick. You took a picture. You obviously enjoyed it. You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. I don’t know why so many people think that taking a picture of yourself naked is so shameful. You know what I think is more shameful? Lying. Come on, Kristin, you still wear the same ring you wear in some of the pictures. Get over yourself.

8. Whoa. John McCain’s daughter is hot. But do you think she’ll be all jowly like he is when she gets old?

9. Cool: sweaters from Supreme with art by Ralph Bakshi based on his controversial film Coonskin (aka Street Fight). Not cool: $88. For a sweater? Pass!

10. MGM, I am ordering you: DO NOT REMAKE THIS MOVIE. I know you’re out of original ideas, but some movies are just too perfect to touch. And yes, this is one of them. Fuck the sequels, fuck the merchandise, fuck your half-assed ideas for rebooting a franchise, MGM. Do not do this. I am warning you.

11. According to this Chinese ad, the reason we haven’t captured Osama bin Laden is because he chews Halls, which shield him from our infrared. Okay... Remember, China is our best bud and, according to the adiministration, no longer a human rights violater.

12. Ack! Heather Locklear is becoming the Creature from the Black Lagoon! Honey, you looked great, you should’ve just grown old gracefully. You've obviously been getting work done for years, but you finally crossed the line. Why do people insist on doing this to themselves? Especially when they're already good-looking?

13. Wow, how about that Heather Mills? Always so decorous and not at all the gold-digger that people have painted her out to be. Hell, she was so pleased to be given a $50 million divorce settlement from Paul McCartney instead of the $250 million she demanded that she actually dumped her water out over Paul’s lawyer in court. I mean, it is a shame she didn’t get the rest of the money, considering how much she did to actually earn it herself and all, but at least she made that incredibly believable statement about giving money to charity. I sure hope she finds a way to make do on the $70,000 a year child support agreement she was awarded. That’s not much money; hell, Lindsay Lohan goes through that much in self-tanner in six months (true story, sadly).

14. Unfortunately, if I hit him now, it’s a hate crime. But there’s just something about that eternally “whatever” look on Michael Stipe’s face that’s always made me want to punch him square in the nose. I can’t explain it. It’s something chemical. Dude just pisses me off. Take an interest in something, already. I'm not saying it's rational, I'm just saying it is.

15. Although the reformists are making a surprisingly good showing, hardliners (many opposed to Ahmadinejad’s light touch, scarily enough) are gaining the high ground in Iran’s parliamentary elections. The US is saying that the elections are not free and fair because they don’t offer a wide spectrum of candidates. What is the sound of Dennis Kucinich’s head exploding?

16. Speaking of Iran, it turns out now that Brigadier General Ali Reza Zarei, the moral enforcer who’s been cracking down on women on the Islamic dress code, was arrested a couple of weeks ago after being caught at a brothel with six prostitutes. But remember, the West invented decadence. And hypocrisy too, I guess.

17. Sarah Jessica Parker responded to the list Maxim released a while back calling her the unsexiest woman in the world: “Do I have big fake boobs, Botox and big lips? No. Do I fit some ideals and standards of some men writing in a men's magazine? Maybe not. Am I really the unsexiest woman in the world? Wow! It's kind of shocking... It's so brutal in a way.” She also says it upset her husband, Matthew Broderick: “It upset him because it has to do with his judgment too. It’s condemnation, it’s insane. What can I do? I guess you can't please all people.” Well, Sarah Jessica, I can assure you that, unlike some people in this apartment claim, I’ve always found you pretty sexy. What can you do? I would suggest one thing, darling: stop giving a shit about what Maxim has to say. Because it doesn’t matter and no one really cares.

18. Justin Wright, a new Pixar story artist, died this week of a heart attack. He was only 27 years old. It’s a tragedy; he had heart problems as a kid, and a transplant when he was 12 (the heart was 30 at the time, I’m not sure if that means something, but I would assume it does). Poor guy. Here’s his personal illustration blog. So much promise.

Snake Eyes

Via Coming Soon, the first two photos of Ray Park as Snake Eyes in G.I. Joe.

I'm not a hundred percent sold yet; I might've been if Transformers hadn't been such total crap. And if Stephen Sommers hadn't made that perfectly awful Castlevania--er, Van Helsing movie. But I have to admit, the pictures are getting to my inner geek here...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Good News, Everyone

Yes, I love this kind of thing: the complete Futurama timeline. Also, MC has a neat post about the origins of the theme music.

TV Report: Melange

With the Writer's Guild on strike now, I haven't been watching too terribly much TV. Or, I hadn't been (I admit, the highlight of my viewing lately has been this week's George Lopez marathon on Nick at Nite), but that's about to change with an explosion of programming.

The best news is, of course, British programming. In April, Wire in the Blood returns to BBC America with a new season, which I hope is good. I love that show. Even better, the fourth series of Doctor Who is actually going to air on the SCI FI Channel about a week or so after it airs in Britain (much like BBC America is doing with Torchwood), so I don't have to pirate it online anymore! AND they're also going to air The Sarah Jane Adventures, which I still haven't been able to see. I'm incredibly excited here. Sarah Jane starts on 11 April, and Doctor Who starts on 18 April with the Christmas episode Voyage of the Damned. Can. Not. Wait.

Speaking of Torchwood: I can't ever let myself watch that show again. It's just awful. Everyone on that show is a loathsome little toad, and they're dragging Captain Jack, a great character played by a very good actor, down to their level. He left the Doctor and came back because he was in love with Gwen, a woman now engaged to a man whose memory she wiped clean so he wouldn't remember she was sleeping with the odious Owen? Give me a fucking break. Oh, except Gwen rejected him, so now he's in love with Ianto, but also apparently slept with Tosh. Shut the fuck up. I watched the episodes with Martha Jones, and her first episode wasn't terrible (I like that she's joined up with UNIT), but it's just not worth it. How bad can this idiotic show get?

In non-skiffy but also on BBC America, I've been watching this reality cooking competition called Last Restaurant Standing. It's got a neat premise, I think (and take that as you will--I watch all of Gordon Ramsey's shows, so take that as you will): nine couples who dream of opening their own restaurants get to open their own restaurants; whichever couple does the best gets to keep theirs open, with the backing of French chef Raymond Blanc. Blanc is apparently one of the most influential chefs in England (although to hear networks sell it, every chef is the most influential/most prestigious/most successful chef in wherever). Each week, one restaurant is closed. Well, every other week. And that's part of the problem with this show. It premiered as a 2-hour program; in the first episode, the couples opened their restaurants and had their opening nights, and whichever three restaurants did the worst had to do a challenge, and whomever lost the challenge closed down. But since then, the show has been only an hour, so one week we see whatever themed nights and then get the three losers, and then the challenge comes the week after. And it's not really a good enough show to care an entire week what happens. Plus, it's just not set up very well. One week, Blanc wants people to make money and be successful; the next, he chastises people for being greedy and all about the money and tells them to worry about quality. He doesn't direct well. Plus, he doesn't even visit the restaurants at all; he sends out three of his lieutenants (one of whom is sexy and bitchy, the way I like them) to check the restaurants and taste the food, and then relies on their reports. Blanc pretty much just sits in a chair and makes, at best, an informed guess.

It's not flipping my skirt up, really. Neat concept, poor execution, and Blanc has such minimal involvement that you can't really believe he's interested. Say what you will about Gordon Ramsey, at least the guy cares about food.

Speaking of Ramsey, Hell's Kitchen is coming back on Fox in a week or two. Yes, I am excited. I know, but I am. I love the guy. It's called tough love, America.

Also, I watched the first two episodes of John Adams on HBO. A lot of people I've read are saying that the show takes itself too seriously, but what kind of tone are they expecting given the dealing in ideologies involved? I don't know, Tom Hanks's productions (From the Earth to the Moon, Band of Brothers) are always on the serious side, and so far, John Adams is just as good. Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney are both excellent actors, and I enjoyed David Morse as George Washington, Danny Huston as Samuel Adams, Stephen Dillane as Thomas Jeffferson and Tom Wilkinson as Benjamin Franklin. That second episode... I will admit, these are some of my favorite historical figures of all time, and when the delegates were meeting in Philadelphia, and I could tell who people were by the way they were dressed (Edward Rutledge! Caesar Rodney! Stephen Hopkins! John Dickinson! James Wilson! Richard Henry Lee!), I got very excited. I'm a hardcore history nerd, and for me, seeing John Adams and Benjamin Franklin hunker down to discuss the Declaration of Independence is like seeing Superman and Green Lantern team up to fight Starro, or something. So maybe I'm biased a bit. But I love it. Love it.

Speaking of cable, The Tudors is starting soon. So The Tudors, John Adams, and Wire in the Blood will all be on pretty much at the same time. Thanks, cable programming. You can't space it out? There's barely anything on all year long, and now three shows I want to watch need to be on at once?

What is this shit on Beauty and the Geek this season? Beauties vs. geeks? Nice. This show has always been a fun time-waster with a silly way of patting itself on the back about how it supposedly breaks down stereotypes and brings people together. It does have a nice way of showing that, deep down, people all want the same things out of life, I'll admit, but it does get caught up in thinking it's somehow changing the world (though it's not as bad as American Idol on that level). So apparently this season they've decided to keep the cliques the way they normally are and reinforce the stereotypes and the differences that keep people from connecting? Great. So now everyone is either really kind of sad or really disgusting. That's fun to watch, right? They'd better fix this fast, because this is just boring.

Otherwise... I watched Reaper again last week when it returned to television. I still thought it was funny, but I don't really care about it much, if only because I know it's not coming back. There's a bit of a "why bother?" attitude to watching it now.

Really, I'm just waiting for Who to start and for The Office and 30 Rock to start again. And Ugly Betty, eventually. And I've actually been enjoying Saturday Night Live; they really, really need to tighten up the writing (seriously, this show's been on forever, how hard is it to get a routine down?), but this is the first time in a very, very long time where they don't have a single cast member I dislike. I'm not crazy about some of them (Kristen Wiig, for example), but there's no one I'd point to and say "This show would be much better without so-and-so." So that's decent. Tina Fey was a fun host, so was Jonah Hill. Ellen Page did the best she could. Amy Adams... well, she'll bounce back.

Ah, the many ways to waste time.

The Middle Name Meme

I've seen this one going around. I haven't been tagged on it, but it basically goes like this: list one fact about yourself beginning with each letter of your middle name. And since I'm home sick (again! damn kids!) and feeling uncreative, I'll just noodle with this one:

R is my RABBIT, who thumps late at night
O, I'm OBNOXIOUS, and often disliked
B is for BEAUTY, in toons, songs, and dames
E is ENLIGHTENED, the meaning of my name
R is for READING, and for ROCKING too
T is for TAGGING, which I ain't going to do

Good night, everyone! I'll be here all week!

Paul Scofield 1922-2008

"Of the 10 greatest moments in the theater, eight are Scofield's." -- Richard Burton

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

A fascinating giallo by Sergio Martino about a married couple who kind of hate each other, the girl that comes between them, and a black cat that sees everything (the film is at the least inspired by Poe's "The Black Cat"). Anita Strindberg is especially good as the lady of the house, who has been abused by her husband for so long that she's left a timid, fearful wreck. Into their lives come both the husband's sexy niece Floriana (the beautiful and great Edwige Fenech) and a series of slasher killings that seem to point in their direction. Who is the killer? What does Floriana really want? And how awesome is European lesbian sex, seriously? An excellent giallo, one of the best I've seen outside of Dario Argento, enhanced by the excellent performances of Strindberg and Fenech and a beatiful twist ending. **** stars.

Well, I finally braved it. After surviving the mediocre-but-harmless Employee of the Month and seeing her in Willie Nelson's new music video, my heart was full enough of Jessica to see this movie. How bad is it? (Notice I went right there, because it's certainly not a good movie.) Well, it depends on how big a Jessica Simpson fan you are. If you don't like her, don't bother, because this is a Jessica Simpson vehicle more than anything else (except an Aquafresh commercial--seriously, there was a truly astounding amount of product placement, especially from Aquafresh, including a line where Larry Miller makes a big deal about her white teeth and the character tic they threw in where Jessica's character brushes her teeth whenever she's nervous). If you're, despite everything over the years, a Jessica Simpson superfan like myself, it's tolerable. It's still bad, though. But it's cute, and I liked Jess. She has an innate sense of how people see her and what she can do, she just needs strong direction--how sad is it that the most talented director to use her talents so far is the guy who made Super Troopers? The plot... well, come on, you've seen Working Girl and a thousand other movies with the same plot. At least she and Luke Wilson, who I still don't like, have decent chemistry; certainly more than she did with Dane Cook, although I'm not sure Dane Cook can stop thinking about how awesome he is long enough to connect with anyone else, anyway. Larry Miller's a bright spot. When did Penelope Ann Miller get so old? And why does Andy Dick still have a career? And is this really how bad things have gotten for Rachael Leigh Cook? Anyway, the final summation for me is ** stars, because it was cute and harmless and I love Jessica and Willie Nelson. I don't think it's as bad as its reputation suggests. But it's not, you know, good. It's cheap and it's inconsequential; further proof that Jessica's daddy is going to run her career into the ground.

Margaret O'Brien has a surprising weight to her performance for being only 11. This is a lovely version of the novel, with a great device: the movie is black and white and the scenes inside the secret garden are in color. Dean Stockwell is very good as Colin Craven, tempering Colin's petulance with a genuine horror of what might await him in the future. The whole cast is good (Gladys Cooper is an especially fearsome Mrs. Medlock), but the film really comes down to a powerful and facile performance by Margaret O'Brien as Mary Lennox. I just love the story of The Secret Garden, and the way the story symbolizes life as a garden: renewable and cyclical. **** stars.

This B-picture is only an hour or so long, but it's a brilliant exercise in mounting tension. Bobby Driscoll, in an astonishingly good performance (his best), plays Tommy Woodry, a tenement boy who makes up stories, much to the chagrin of his long-suffering parents (Arthur Kennedy and Barbara Hale). So when Tommy witnesses a real murder in the apartment upstairs, no one believes his story; except, of course, the killers, who need to shut Tommy up. This is a real thriller, with nervous energy building and pressurizing all the way up to the end, with Tommy caught between needing to tell the truth and desperately trying not to agonize his parents. The final scenes, inside a rundown building, are appropriately exciting. **** stars.

KIM (1950)
I'm a sucker for Kipling adaptations, but this one disappointed me a bit. Dean Stockwell is excellent as Kim, an English orphan who lives on the streets of colonial India as a beggar. He's torn in all directions, forced to attend school when he wants to stay with a lama (Paul Lukas) on a quest to find a holy river. Added to this dilemma is Errol Flynn as Mahbub Ali, a horse trader and British spy who feels for Kim and finds him useful. Kim is a great character, played beautifully by Dean Stockwell (although there is some unintentional hilarity seeing the 13 year-old Stockwell smoking cigars, which immediately put me in mind of Al Calavicci on Quantum Leap). The first 45 minutes or so are excellent, but after that the film slows down and never recovers. By the end I was just glad it was over. Too bad; some of it was wonderful. **1/2 stars.

John Steinbeck wrote this movie, based on four of his stories, about a young boy who trains a pony. But it's about so much more; it's about the way people relate to each other and what they keep inside. The film also deals with the boy's father, Shepperd Strudwick, who is constantly emasculated and ill at ease with his situation, and the boy's mother, Myrna Loy, who is constantly ignored and not taken into account. They're both dissatisfied with their lives. Meanwhile, Loy's father, Louis Calhern (in an excellent performance), is dealing with his age and trying to let go of a past he considers more glorious than the settled present and finds himself an unwelcome reminder of the way things change. There's a painful, incredibly well-acted scene where Calhern loses all of his self-worth and goes from a confident, colorful blusterer to a scared, timid old man feeling his mortality. Robert Mitchum, excellent as ever, plays Billy, the ranch hand that the boy looks up to, but ultimately comes to blame. The way Billy singlemindedly tries to gain the boy's respect back is almost heartbreaking. It's not surprising that this movie isn't considered a classic family movie; there's too much pain, too much anguish and hardship. Things don't turn out completely okay, but life goes on. It all centers around the drama of the red pony, who gets very sick, and in whose struggle the health of the family as a unit is symbolized. It's a beautiful film with a perfect ending, but it doesn't do what too many movies for kids do and tell them they can do whatever they want if they want it bad enough. The boy learns how to be a responsible young adult, and often that's a lesson that only comes through hardship, pain, and disappointment. Beautiful, beautiful film. With a powerful score by Aaron Copland. **** stars.

An awful Pete Smith Specialty short about how women are just, you know, so kooky and dumb and will henpeck you to death with their restrictive house rules and irritating, kooky dumbness. That's pretty much the entire message. Women are dumb. And irritating. No stars.

TITANIC (1943)
One of the many propaganda films made in Germany during the Nazi reign. This version of the Titanic story, which was only 30 years before the film was made, places the blame for the ship's destruction squarely on English banks and the White Star Line company. The film goes as far as to suggest that the Titanic may have purposely been sunk by the people who built it in order to make money on a stock scam. The symbolism is pretty obvious here: the Titanic is the world economy that the English bankers have destroyed out of greed. The film's lone hero is a German officer whose warnings are ignored and unheeded; nearly everyone else is portrayed as opportunistic and/or decadent. A fascinating look at propaganda, certainly, as well as a fairly well made film on its own. It's hard to judge it outside of its intended message--it doesn't break the bonds of pumping up the Nazi cause the way Baron Munchausen did, for example (in my opinion, the supreme achievement of Nazi cinema... supreme may not have been a well-chosen word). Sybille Schmitz is very good; the film was never released theatrically by the Nazis. *** stars.

How Is This Winning?

I said a while back that I wasn't going to participate in anymore blogswarms on political issues, but yesterday I came across a video that I really think everyone needs to see. I've written in the past at length about the foolishness of this war based on lies, where men in power seem to think it's perfectly acceptable to murder men, women, and children to make a little more money for a few, and it would just be going over old ground to repeat it once more. You and I, we both know this war is wrong. Most people know it.

Can we also agree on this? Our economy is failing. No, not going into a recession. It is failing. And it's because our administration, the people we elect to keep this kind of thing from happening, think that it's perfectly feasible to pay for a war and cut taxes all at the same time. That you can pay for a war that was supposedly going to pay for itself and still make tax cuts to pacify the people. Nothing soothes an angry America like a short-term solution.

Our economy is failing, and it will continue to fail as long as this war goes on. Watch this video, please. It's only about 90 seconds long, but it's from the BBC. And you do really have to get unfiltered news about America from the BBC or the Guardian or another unbiased source, because the American media will not tell you the truth. They're trying to scare you into keeping the economy moving, even as it's grinding to a halt.

Tell us again how the American economy is doing fine, Mr. Bush. Tell us, now that the first Hoovervilles are going up, that we're not in a recession. Actually, on that we agree: we're not in a recession. This is the first phase of a depression. I know that's a word that scares a lot of people, and rightly so. It's terrifying. But this is the result of Bush's destructive, personal war. An economic nightmare. And a six hundred dollar check and a buyout of Bear Stearns aren't going to stop it.

Distributorcap has the right idea. His solutions are the only ones I've seen that make sense to me. Unfortunately, none of those will happen with a failed businessman as president. Especially a Republican. He'll protect big business as long as he can, even if it means that the vast majority of Americans will soon have no buying power. Even if that means that European currency exchanges, like these in Amsterdam, will no longer exchange American dollars. They're afraid of being left with stacks of useless green paper.

So here we are, five years later, with literally no advances to show for it. Don't tell me the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein; that's a non-starter. The reality of the situation is that since we started this war of righteousness, America is less safe, less prepared, poorer, angrier, and more broken than it was in 2000. This war has cost a million lives. It has also cost us our prosperity, our security, our place in the world, the respect of others, and the respect of ourselves. And things are only going to get worse before they get better.

If this is winning, Mr. Bush, I don't think we can stand any more of it.

A More Perfect Union

"The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience — as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African-American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze — a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns — this too widens the racial divide and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now. It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naive as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy — particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction — a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people — that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union."

You can read the entire speech on Politico. I highly recommend that you do, especially if you, like I, are not a fanatical supporter of Obama. It genuinely moved me. It might move you, too.

This is the kind of thing I've been hoping to hear a lot more of in this campaign. Not the empty rhetoric I've been hearing, the vague promises of a better future, the deep-rooted anger between Obama supporters and Clinton supporters. Not McCain's whining about how he just really wants to be president so damn bad, the way Bush wanted it, too.

Obama's speech isn't presidential talk. It's the talk of the reasonable and enlightened. It's the talk of a man who understands things for what they are, and possibly for what they could be. This is not a vague promise of future prosperity and change; the man who says this is either cynical beyond words or, which I think may be the case here, really believes it's possible that America can save itself. Obama seems to know who the real enemies are. And even though I still have some problems with his campaign, even though I still don't like his stance on some issues or his connections, at least I'm starting finally to believe that he doesn't want to be president so he can be president. I'm starting finally to believe that he wants to be president because he wants things to be better than they are. Not for a select few, but for everyone.

I'm far too skeptical to say that Obama has my vote based on one speech, no matter how incredibly reasoned and thoughtful it is (and it really is). But I'm idealistic enough to say that this speech finally makes me want to believe that one of the candidates really gets it. That maybe things won't still be the same in 2009.

I hope. For the first time since this campaign started, I hope.

Some Brookfield Zoo Pictures from 2006

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sir Arthur C. Clarke 1917-2008

Arthur C. Clarke, one of the great minds of the century, has died. This world still had need of him and men like him. I can't think of anything more valuable to say than that; better men with better talent will say better words. I can't measure just now what he and his writing meant to me.

Thank you, Arthur, for believing that we were worth the trouble and that we might, one day, snap out of this. Thank you for showing us it was full stars.

The Health Report, Year 2: Week 14

Oh, man, I wish this weather would steady out. With the up and down temps, I keep getting sick and tired. I want to sleep a lot these days; why am I so damn tired?

With the snow and ice mostly gone, I can walk around my complex now. I've been doing that for the last couple of days, and I've been pushing myself to make sure I do it every day when I'm not working. I think I may be straining myself there a little bit. I have a blister (as always), but the bigger problem is that my feet and legs just hurt. I didn't walk yesterday, but I aided in a kindergarten class, and standing all day made me want to buckle when I got home yesterday. I just narrowly avoided another of those wonderfully crippling charlie horses last night.

I don't know why I just feel so wiped out. I think it's because of that month or so of eating junk; sapped all of my energy, and now I'm slowly getting it back.

Good news: my gums don't bleed when I brush my teeth anymore. They gave me a new toothbrush, a sample of Crest Pro Health, and I bought some floss picks, and after coming home from the dentist last Tuesday, I've been brushing my teeth every night. After two nights, I didn't bleed anymore. Now it's just a habit to brush and floss. I've kept it up instead of doing what I usually do: skipping once and then forgetting to do it forever. It's a habit now.

Why don't I have the willpower to make my other health measures a habit? That's something I've got to get on board with; just make it a habit and keep up. I think I can do it, I just need to get it all in my head and make it routine.

A healthier routine would be very, very nice.

Wear This Meme

I got tagged with the tee shirt meme by both Becca and Bubs, so it's time to do this thing. Here are the guidelines:

1. Link back to the original post.
2. Describe two t-shirts that you own.
3. If you design your own vanity t-shirt what would it say?
4. Where would you wear your vanity t-shirt?
5. Tag three of your best blogging buds.

Well, it should come as no surprise that the tee shirts I wear the most often are these, immortalized in this crappy, blurry image:
I need to get a Flash logo, too... I have a great shirt with the Flash on it, but not the logo. I saw a bunch of people wearing those at WizardWorld, so I know they exist. And yes, I wore my Green Lantern shirt to WizardWorld...

Oh, and I really do fold my shirts like that. Some things you learn working at Target never leave you...

I also love this shirt:
I bought that at the Brookfield Zoo, and I think it's pretty striking. A little dorky, maybe, but I think it's awesome. I love sharks.

Honorable mention:
I got that at the Field Museum the year Sue was put on display. My mom thinks it's funny to call me Sue when I wear this. It isn't. Get a new schtick, Ma.

As for designing my own vanity shirt, I'm not sure. There are a lot of images and snide sayings I'd love to have on a shirt. And, in fact, I've got a geek-friendly shirt I've designed that I want to buy as soon as I can actually afford it; when I have it, I'll put it up.

So I'm going to choose this image that Becca made a few years ago for a Photoshop contest, because I still think it's hilarious.

Sorry, Becks, I stole this from you. But I do think it needs to be on a shirt.

And now for the tagging. I've been seeing a lot of people who did this, but I think that JD, Swinebread, and Barbara have yet to do it. I'd love to see their posts, if they'd like to give it a go.