Saturday, May 31, 2008

In The Queue

Having listed the movies that are coming out this summer, I notice my own queue contains only one potential film on that list.

Son of Rambow, about some young outsider kids who make their own sequel to (presumably) "Rambo", including doing their own stunts, etc., and who have to deal with the popularity making the movie brings.

If I can, I'll see Refusenik, about the fate of Soviet Jews.

I may see The Fall, which was inappropriately previewed during Prince Caspian. I didn't care much for The Cell, though it was undoubtedly striking. I just think you can have striking visuals and a coherent, compelling plot.

And the last one? Sex in the City. My grandfather loved that show. He died in his '90s a few years ago, and went from the Depression and Hedy Lamarr to the raunchy antics of Sex in the City in his lifetime. I got him the first season on video, but I don't think he ever knew how to work the VCR.

As with most shows I watch, I'll watch the first season or two and then lose interest. SatC was no different, but I did enjoy the show when I did catch it. I didn't really think about what it "meant" because it wouldn't have occurred to me to relate to it beyond a very basic, human level. And the show was cleverly written and reasonably sound dramatically.

Did it encourage promiscuity? Is it a bad role model? Meh. Remember "The Love Boat"? That was pretty much a show that was nothing but an assortment of people getting around to having sex, most of it casual. And the sex solved all their problems.

The beauty of having women act like gay men (as The Simpson's described it) is that you have an excuse for nudity and titillating sex scenes that, let's face it, if they were gay men, would really turn off the straight male audience.

I guess the other side of this is that, week after week, there was a strong undercurrent of unhappiness among the four women. They were always vaguely--or not so vaguely--unsatisfied by their lives.

So I never could see why anyone would want to take them as a role model.

Still, funny show. Come to think of it, sort of like Seinfeld.

Summer Movies

A site called First Showings has a list of a bunch of summer movies.

The first five have come out: Iron Man, Speed Racer, Prince Caspian, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull and Sex in the City. (Cliff's Note Reviews: Great, Awful, Pretty Good, OK for the nostalgic, and OK for chicks.) And, for those keeping score, I've seen just Iron Man and Caspian.

There are a lot of cringe-worthy titles remaining on the list. A lot seem like they might be really horrible or possibly really great, but most will land squarely in mediocrity-ville. For example, the Get Smart cast looks as good as it could possibly be, but is it likely to recapture any of the magic of the series?

I can't think of a single comedy remake in my lifetime that has worked. Not a one, unless you count the campy update of Brady Bunch--which was a spoof, not a remake. I may be overlooking one, mind you, but mostly, they're just not funny.

I think the Hellboy sequel will be better than the original. Just a hunch. And the original was not great.

There's a scene in Ratatouille where a food experience takes one of the characters back to his childhood, and reignites the passion he once had for food. When I was a kid, I absolutely loved trailers: There's always something hopeful about an upcoming movie that used to excite me tremendously--though keep in mind that they used to make a lot fewer movies (and TV and games and...) so to have a movie preview that actually piqued your interest was quite thrilling.

I've seen many previews in recent weeks and only one gives me that Ratatouille experience of throwing me back to my childhood is, fittingly, the Pixar film Wall-E. It looks like a gentle yet slapsticky film of little dialog and simple themes. And the trailers make me laugh. (Pixar has a tradition of having original material for the trailers, and it's usually top-notch.)

Anything you're looking forward to this summer?

CONTENT WARNING

Hector and Victoria report on the--well, let's call it a threat--threat to turn An Inconvenient Truth into an opera.

I have nothing more to add.

I just thought you should be aware.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

Apparently, my reference to Kitten Natividad in the last post stirred some, er, memories for Trooper. I defer to his expertise regarding her entree into the world of non-simulated video-recorded adult sexual activities, but I still say that one's 40s--much less one's 50s is a bit late to get started. To quote Knocked Up, "You're too old--not for the Earth, but for this club."

However, in my youth, Russ Meyer films were a popular item on ON-TV, and my fragile little mind was disturbed by such classics as Cherry, Harry and Racquel and Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens. (The former is the sort of movie prohibited during the Reagan years because of its mixing of sex and violence, and the latter is a bizarre little comedy which may be the only film in history where, if you weighed all the breasts, it would be greater than the weight of the entire cast, men included, without breast weight. Does that make sense?)

I tend to think it's a sad state when an actress, no matter how exploitative her career was, ends up in porn to pay the bills or out of desperation for attention.

Natividad was an early adventure in breast augmentation procedure: She had silicone injected directly into her breasts. This demonstrates two things: 1) a loose fluid of the right viscosity is far superior to bags of goo; 2) people are nuts. It's entirely possible that her double-mastectomy from breast cancer in 1999 was unrelated to this silicone injection, of course. But, wow! I think you even had to do it repeatedly because the body would absorb the silicone after awhile, but I'm not sure if I'm just confusing it with the lip injections they do these days.

If memory serves, Kitten Natividad was interviewed in Jewel Shepherd's "Invasion of the B-Movie Girls". In it, she tells a story of a producer demanding sex for a job while she was interviewing for a part in his office. They haggled, and she ended up manually relieving the agent in question. She then cupped her hand and headed to the lobby. When the producer asked where she was going, she said, "I'm going to give my agent his 10%."

Interesting if true.

Busty--er, busy

I've been too busy to post here much this week, but I thought we could extend our "pointy breast" studies with the anomalous Edy Williams.

Edy turned 18 in 1960, which is at the tail end of the pointy breast era. In fact, I stumbled across this picture by sheer accident, but I remembered her from such classic films as--well, a bunch of movies she wasn't in because I had mixed her up with someone else.

She was in Russ Meyer's Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, though, which Siskel & Ebert named as one of the 10 best of the year. (Ebert wrote the script.) She was married to Russ for five years.

Anyway, most of the pix of her show quite clearly that she doesn't have pointy breasts at all, but you wouldn't know that looking at the bikini shot here. I don't know the precise date of this shot, but it would have to be at the tail-end of the pointy breast phenomenon.

Edy never really made it big in Hollywood, despite her enormous talents, and she went from a TV regular in her youth to novelty nudie in the '80s and '90s. IMDB lists her last film as being a porn in 1995. (A little advice from Kitten Natividad: Porn isn't really a good career choice at 53, no matter how good looking you were at 23.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sydney Pollack, RIP

Sydney Pollack died of cancer this weekend.

I liked almost none of his movies. The Gehry documentary was cool, but I loathed Out of Africa, The Interpreter, Tootsie and a lot of the other movies he was famous for.

But he seemed like a good guy. I always thought it was kinda funny/cool that he turned up in movies. I also saw him in person last year and wanted to give him kudos on the Gehry thing but didn't want to accost. He looked pretty healthy.

Cancer sucks.

Rockin' Past The Graveyard

I would have predicted that Young At Heart would be the big indie movie this summer. Old people singing edgy rock songs? How can that not be fun?

But I'm told that the buzz around The Visitor is better. For whatever "buzz" we have, The Boy and I liked this one better. A lot.

This documentary concerns chorus director Bob Cilman's group of septuagenarians and octogenarians (and a couple of nonagenarians!) singing The Ramones, Sonic Youth, The Zombies, etc., as they prepare for a new season--only seven weeks away.

All right, you smart ass punk kids who are thinking, "Well, that's the music of their youth, right?" Go to your rooms. Actually, these guys were well into their 30s when their oldest song ("She's Not There") was a hit.

The group rehearses three times a week and various members are given solos and duets and marvelously large font lyric sheets that they still need to use giant magnifying glasses to read. This works for a couple of reasons. First, Cilman takes it seriously: He pushes the boundaries. For example, he chooses Schizophrenic by Sonic Youth, which is not exactly a crowd-pleasing anthem, and the old folks don't get it. Meanwhile, the Pointer Sisters funk classic "Yes We Can Can", is just challenging to get two dozen old folks to sing all 71 of the "cans" right. And then there's just the matter of some things being hard for your leads to get, as with the two lead singers having trouble with "I Feel Good".

There's a real sense of suspense here, as you the old folks work and struggle to get things right. But that's the other thing that makes it work: These senior citizens are pros. What they lack in skill, or what age has dulled, they make up for in dedication. Cilman takes it seriously and treats them with respect--which is to say that he sometimes busts their chops for not getting things right. (Now, in the world of choral directors, he's pretty mild but he's not toothless, and some of the stuff he does may shock those of you who're not familiar with the world of choral directors and conductors.)

I'm not giving away anything by telling you that they do own the music by the end. (If they didn't, this would suck as a viewing experience.) But the suspense is still there as changes are made and they own the music in a surprising way.

It's reminiscent of the Langley Schools Music Project in that it's not necessarily the most homogeneous of choirs, smoothed down to peanut-butter commercial perfection. There are even a few moments where you can actually get the chills, such as when Fred Knittle sings in the final concert. This guy's got a marvelous voice, even hooked up to an oxygen tank. For most you might say they sound good for their age--which actually is pretty usual for a choir--but Fred (and some others) have voices that are just plain good, no qualifications.

Mixed in with the documentary are a few low budget music videos which are quite cool (though some don't think they belong in a documentary). But I thought these were good chances to hear songs all the way through, with a little studio production and without interruption. They do "I Wanna Be Sedated", "Road To Nowhere" and "Golden Years".

Now, I've often noted that, in any given family-dysfunction film, if there's an old person, the old person will die by the end of the movie. (Most conspicuously in recent films like Little Miss Sunshine and The Man In The Chair.) But here we have over two-dozen people averaging 80 years of age, and we follow them over a three month period. Actuarially speaking, I think about half could be expected to die.

But where I tend to roll my eyes when I see the old person in the family-dysfunction film, in this movie, you're practically holding your breath, crossing your fingers and hoping everyone makes it to the big show. This is a potential spoiler, so skip down to the next paragraph if you want to be pristine: Not everyone does make it, and a big part of the final act of the movie is how the group handles the losses. Some people find this sad, but I say it's going out in style. Sad, to me, is dying because you have nothing to do.

Anyway, you'll notice that I linked to the originals of the songs instead of the Young @ Heart versions. I would consider it a bigger spoiler to see the musical numbers outside of the documentary than it is to know the fate of each choir member. But they're available on YouTube, or a lot of them are.

I've heard conflicting stories about a soundtrack. There isn't one yet, and perhaps may never be because they couldn't afford to license all the songs. (I don't know how the Langley School Project got away with it.)

In any event, the movie is touching, funny, not mawkish, engrossing and heart-warming. Is the whole thing a little "gimmicky"? Yeah, maybe, but it works, for all the reasons mentioned above. Seeing old people sing edgy rock songs is a good hook, but if they didn't do a good job, audiences would turn away.

But in a lot of ways, the songs take on new meaning being sung by these folks. And it's a meaning worth hearing.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Armistice Day

On Armistice Day
The Philharmonic will play
But the songs that we sing will be sad

Shufflin' brown tunes
Hangin' around a-ooo

I'm weary from waiting
Down in Washington DC
I'm comin' to see my Congressman
But he's avoiding me
Weary from waiting
Down in Washington DC

Armistice Day
Armistice Day
That's all that I really wanted to say

--Paul Simon

We still celebrate Armistice Day, we just don't call it that any more. But we have a (b-grade) Paul Simon song to remember it by.

No, we don't call it Memorial Day either.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Kidde Kattle Kall

We were accosted in a Chuck E. Cheese (part of The Flower's birthday celebration) by a talent scout who suggested we come down for a screen test today.

This is not an unusual happening here. When The Flower was six months, an agent came up and asked "Is she working?"

What's remarkable is how restrained one can be when asked if one's six-month old infant is "working".

But the kids are good to each other, and particularly polite outside the home, so they tend to impress people favorably. They may, as a result, be more likely to get attention than some others.

Now, most such come-ons like this are a scam. They flatter you about your child's chances in Hollywood than hit you up for a "photo package" that will run you $1,000 or so. But some legit ones have wafted by over the years and I've ignored them all until this one.

No particular reason.

The Flower and The Boy are both old enough to not get freaked out by the situation and to learn from it. Odds of them actually picking up work when they realize it means that someone else gets to dress them, do their hair, and tell them what to say? Close enough to zero as to make no never mind.

The Boy's sole motivation in going was the potential for cash. The Flower--she has ideas of being a model (as well as a princess, etc.) and so it was worth it to see if they would take to it. Which, of course, they didn't.

But we filled out a form and waited (and waited and waited, which is also part of the biz) and then they said some lines, and then we went home.

There were lots of kids everywhere, though, including one girl who was a dead ringer for a "Parent Trap"-era Lindsay Lohan. So, your first reaction is "Oh, how lovely!" Then your next reaction is, "Oh. Right."

But they comported themselves well during the wait, and learned what I expected them to learn, so it was a worthwhile experience.

Building Bridges

I followed this post from Althouse commentary on Iron Man--why would she go see that movie? I'd never have recommended it to her--and realized I couldn't really do Jeff Bridges justice in the time I have available to blog today.

So I'll do a mini-post, and a full one later on.

I first saw Bridges in the lamentable '70s remake of King Kong, and then watched in some kind of trance, the little known American Success Company. I mean, I watched that movie a lot, fascinated by the weird story of a sensitive man who pretends to be a mean double of himself, and essentially re-invents himself as this "bad boy" to please his childlike wife (Belinda Bauer) and to be successful in his father-in-law's (Ned Beatty) business. It also features Bianca Jagger as a hooker on whom he practices his sexual skills.

The thing about Bridges is that he's all over the place, and always turning up in unexpected places. He can do quirky, such as in The Big Lebowski, Fearless, or Starman, and K-PAX showed he could do the straight role against someone doing the space alien bit. But he's also been a good everyman in The American Success Story or The Vanishing, the hard-boiled detective (Eight Million Ways To Die) or the President (The Contender).

And his films cover a wide assortment, from sci-fi (TRON) to comedy to drama -- to that funky one where he's the gymnastics coach (Stick It!). The only thing I don't think I've ever seen him do is a western.

But he's always enjoyable. Indeed, the real shame of Iron Man is that he didn't have a bigger role and a secure place in the sequel.

So, until I have a chance to post a real paean, well, the Dude Abides.

In Which I Reveal My (and Others'!) Qualifications For Presidents

The Flower, who likes things to be grand, chose to go bowling for her birthday (because we had last year, and she wanted to double-up and go bowling and do miniature golf this year but the mild rain thwarted her plans to tilt at windmills).

The Flower just turned seven. But she, The Boy and I all beat Barack Obama's 37 score before the 7th frame (in which he quit).

Full disclosure: We had the gutter bumpers up.

It was actually our purchase of a Wii last year that inspired The Flower to go bowling in the first place. I was rather astonished that, right off the bat, I rolled a turkey. I'd never done that before in my life, and I even followed it up with a spare or two, but then my game went to hell and I started bouncing off the bumpers.

This year I opened with just one strike, and then went to hell.

The thing is, bowling is really easy. Not to excel at, of course. It's an endurance test and, at least in my case, a sort of meditative challenge as (for me) the best way to bowl is just to walk up and roll the damn ball. If I think, or plan, or do anything else, bad things happen.

Even so, a reasonably fit person should be able to bowl around 100, even if they've never seen a bowling ball before. It has the virtue of being instantly grasp-able.

So, 37 is a pretty bad score, but I think what struck me the most was that he quit in the 7th frame. I've heard that offered as a defense, as if he were going to strike out the rest of the game and finish with 120.

But he didn't finish, of course, and why not?

My theory is that, like other candidates, he has no humility. He's expected to be a perfect person--an idea that he encourages--with perfect solutions to all the world's problems. Therefore, he couldn't bear to show his mortality with something as prosaic as bowling.

I find this troubling.

Obama, in particular, has yet to show any genuine self-deprecation. Or any self-deprecation, come to think of it, that I've seen.

I wondered, as I watched The Flower struggle with the bowling ball--she can't swing even a lightest ball with just one arm--how I would react if she decided she wasn't having any fun and wanted to quit.

I'd probably let her, but I'd be disappointed.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Cubed

In 1997, Vincenzo Natali wrote and directed a neat little horror/character study called Cube. He did it all in Canada and looked like it was all done in the same little room. It felt like it should've been a stage play, in fact.

A group of people trapped in (presumably, though we never see it) a cube, try to find a way to escape. Each room they entered had the possibility to be trapped, with some horrifyingly gruesome trap (many of which have turned up in other movies).

The gruesomeness of the traps was enough that you really were filled with dread when they'd dare to enter a new room. Combined with this was a drama between the characters, as they got increasingly paranoid and not sure whether they could figure out a way out.

This all worked surprisingly well, partly because we actually never find out what's going on. We're let with suspense and drama and morality play, and the filmmakers and audience are spared having an explanation that either disrupts the suspension of disbelief or is otherwise unsatisfying.

The sequel and the prequel--well, the prequel anyway, I'm watching the sequel (Cube 2) now--try to explain it. Cube 2 goes sci-fi and Cube 0 goes for "military experiment" explanation. Cube 2 is going military experiment but it's pure speculation at this point. However, while starting out strong, they've made the threat some CGI geometrical shapes and other effects, which is rather less visceral than the original.

The whole scenario is actually like an original episode of the Twilight Zone. The first one's recommended, the sequels not as much.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Prince Caspian

The onward march of the film-izations of the C.S. Lewis Narnia series proceeds, somewhat sluggishly, with the second film Prince Caspian, released this month.

I confess that I found the books enjoyable, but somewhat forgettable. They lack the intricacy of Tolkien but also the density. Unlike a 1,500 page single novel (as Lord of the Rings is), the Narnia books are episodic, and they're all resolved (more or less) through a deus ex machina.

Not to say they're bad, mind you. They're very straightforward, though.

The movie follows the book pretty faithfully, from what I recall, except for a brief appearance from the White Witch. (I don't reccall that from the book.) And, thankfully, the kids are a lot less whiny in this one. (Susan, in particular was sort of a scold in the first movie, whereas in the first book, she was more responsible and conservative without being shrewish.)

The Pevensies are transported back to Narnia to help Prince Caspian, whose uncle is trying to have him killed. Caspian and his uncle, King Miraz are Telmarines, whose ancestors have wiped out the Narnians in the 1300 year absence of the Pevensies. (The Pevensies, as you'll recall, grew to adulthood in Narnia but apparently left behind no heirs, and regressed to childhood at the end of the first story.)

Caspian's been trained by Dr. Cornelius, who has kept the story of the Narnians alive, so that when Caspian encounters them, he sees it as his job to rally them, both to defeat his uncle and to restore Narnia.

There's your story right there, with Aslan floating around on the edges. (If there's a theme in the second book, only partly captured by the movie, it's that one should cleave to the truth, even if no one else believes it.)

And it's pretty solid. Not boring. A lot has been made of the violence, which is conspicuously non-bloody, but humans and other creatures die, sometimes tragically so. The Flower wasn't too concerned but she knew it would turn out okay. (Some of the previews were rather dark, though.)

The acting is top-flight, as could be expected. In particular, Peter Dinklage steals the show as Trumpkin, the recalcitrant dwarf. There's a brief scene with Tilda Swinton that she pwns, too.

The kids are good, thankfully, though the three years have resulted in some serious...blossoming...for Anna Popplewell. It's pretty well hidden, thankfully, and they do their best to make her look young, but at times it's clear she's closer to 20 than 15.

Special effects-wise, this movie is better than the last. The centaurs are noticably improved. The only really awful effect is a Bear. Oh, and a lot of the shooting was clearly outdoors, and very beautiful, which has the effect of making the CGI very obviously CGI-ish. (Directors need to learn that: Using real locations really throws the fakes into contrast. Be-vare!

I'd say if you liked the first one, you'd like this one. You might even like this one better.

UPDATE: The Boy was not pleased. He liked that the children weren't so whiny but he highly disapproved of the battle scenes. Listening to him, I tend to agree there was some loose stuff, but I tend to turn off the brain during this sort of movie anyway.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Before The Rains

A series of domestic disasters propelled me to the theater for a late night showing of Before The Rains.

Two words: Merchant-Ivory

Or is that one hyphenated word?

In any event, this is the story of Brit Henry Moores (Linus Roache, now seen weekly doing an American accent on "Law & Order) and Indian T.K. (Indian actor Rahul Bose) as they plan to build a road up a mountain that will give them access to teas and spices.

Only challenge? They have to get it done before the rains.

Oh, if only. Wouldn't that be an exciting movie? All the engineering challenges and time pressures to finish the road before the monsoon season! And, in fairness, that is the context in which the story takes place, and it does provide what suspense the movie has.

But the main problem is that Moores has, eh, dickitusinthewrongplaceitus. In this case, his house servant is the lovely Sajani (played by the lovely Nandita Das) and she's quite a temptation. Not that we get any impression Moores was inclined to resist.

Of course, she's married, he's married and, it goes without saying, that's way more risky for her than for him.

This is all done against the backdrop of 1937, with India's burgeoning revolution from Britain.

Sounds better than it actually plays out. It never really grips you. The suspense never really cranks up, and in some sense it seems as though the director is hard on the British, even while the British have far less savage practices as far as handling adultery.

I don't know quite what it was but I asked the Boy and he said. "It was okay. It didn't provide you with any context so that you could get into it."

Interesting. Neither of us got into it. The Boy felt it was lack of context--perhaps so.

What was funny was that he added, "I'm such an economics geek that I was really interested in the road and the spices, and the use of elephants..."

Yeah, me, too. I wanted to see that movie. But then, that's why I prefer straight-up fiction to historical drama.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Traci, I Love You!

It has taken considerable time for me to get to this review of Traci Lords biography, Underneath It All, first mentioned two months ago, and read shortly after. There are a couple of reasons for this.

I'm not much of a book reviewer. I don't know why. I read a ton. I was reading back in nursery school (no exaggeration). I've written books, as well. But I can riff off a movie review in a few minutes, complete with citations to movies and movie (and other art) history while I tend to brood over books.

Also, this is a biography. So, at some level, I'm probably overly cautious about what I say. This may stem from knowing celebrities who have been mistreated in the media. (It's a mainstream sport these days to abuse celebs.)

But here we are, so let me see if I can capture the experience of reading this book. At first, it felt like a Hallmark movie. Then it sort of segued into a After School special. Then it goes into '80s B-movie territory. And then, briefly, becomes a sort of espionage thriller.

And then, you realize, this is somebody's life!

After that, it plays out as a fairly standard Hollywood bio, and Traci's led a pretty normal life for a B-list actress. If that sounds dismissive, it shouldn't. That's quite an achievement, really.

Traci was born into the sort of poverty that arises from bad judgment and shuttled between a violent father and a flighty mother, to say nothing of a number of creepy stepfathers. She was an early bloomer, of course, and this led to being assaulted, molested and just generally not allowed to feel safe from about the time she was ten.

This predictably leads to early sex, drugs and alienation from her mother. A creepy stepdad leads her into porn. First centerfolds, then movies.

It sounds cliché, yes, and is. And yet I think to read it as a parent and not be moved is to be made of stone. How could there be no one to help a little girl? Early on in the book, I wanted to punch a lot of people.

The story doesn't feel like it's ghost-written. It's told in a very plain style and is really the antithesis of Linda Lovelace's books. Lovelace's books were outrageous and designed to titillate. They are like the original nudies, which would feature an hour-and-a-half of debauched behavior bookended by a doctor explaining how horrible venereal disease was, or something.

Lords spends just a tiny fraction of her book on her time in the sex biz, presumably reflecting the proportion of attention she'd like that part of her life to get. (I think she said six months of doing blue movies.)

I find her credible (unlike Lovelace). She describes a naive child who is desperate for money, finds a way to make it, but keeps hoping to get caught. She doesn't actually run down anyone in the industry (except to say that a few were sleazy and, well, duh); the impression one gets is that she barely knew anyone. Also, she never says it outright, but she was probably pretty bitchy.

I don't think she credits the drugs enough, either. She goes from "never gonna" to "ok, here I go" in a few minutes with some chemical help. She describes being freaked out by being on a porn set for the first time, then taking drugs, then saying "I don't know why" she had sex with one of the guys there, and never says, "Oh. Maybe it was the drugs."

Ultimately, though, she takes responsibility for what she did which was not necessarily what I was expecting.

For me, the real kick to the crotch was when she gets busted by the Feds. If you remember the '80s, you'll remember the shrill hysteria that was the Reagan-era embrace of censorship. In an attempt to roll back the sexual floodgates of the '70s, pornography in the '80s was attacked from the angle of "protecting the children". (I'm told the Feds were the number one purveyors of child porn during this time, so determined were they to stamp out the perverts.)

Apparently, though, they had been monitoring Traci since she was a centerfold. In other words, they watched as an underage girl was put through the sex-industry meat grinder in the hopes of being able to use her against consenting adults! In the process, they endangered her life, both in the sense that she might have ODed or committed suicide, and in the sense that they put her in the cross-hairs for porn thugs to threaten.

This is the government. This is the government protecting children. Any questions?

This is also the brief foray into thriller territory which, fortunately for Traci, doesn't last long. She exits this section of her life as an adult with a notorious past, a few bucks from the one legal porn she did, and a hope to make a legitimate career.

A far cry from the mastermind that the news media and some porn insiders have made her out to be. And, if that were her genuine personality, she probably could have made a ton of cash and become a(n even bigger) porn legend, just on the free press she was given.

She explains, convincingly, that she tried to give up the Traci Lords name during her model days, but that when potential employers found out, as they almost invariably did, they felt deceived. So she embraced the name.

Again, the porn industry narrative that they were poor, gullible, good-hearted folk who were duped by a Machiavellian teenager is as silly as Lovelace's earlier contentions that there was a literal gun to her head during the filming of Deep Throat, just you couldn't see it and nobody else could remember it, or they had all concocted a cover story they managed to keep straight for decades. Etc.

Other than just being the porn industry, Lords doesn't actually accuse anyone in it of doing wrong. Meanwhile, she's popular and talented enough to have gotten steady work for over two decades. (Including her most recent gig in a Kevin Smith movie--and Smith doesn't seem to like working with unpleasant women.)

And the rest of her book (most of it) is tales of her non-porn work and life, though always with that shadow in the background. Even late in life, she's hounded by the spectre of whether or not people's actions are informed by her past, though she seems to have adopted a healthy "who cares" attitude with regard to her fans.

Her grown-up struggle is not particularly original, otherwise, and has some interesting bits (such as her association with John Waters' ensemble on Cry-Baby) and some other stuff that is less interesting. Her foray into music (techno!) is interesting and was apparently pretty successful. She has little epiphanies throughout which are cute and still reflect a certain naivete. (She apparently entered into therapy and was shocked--shocked--to find that issues she thought resolved still emerged in times of stress.)

But it's a quick read, and it's hard not to root for her. According to her website, she's recently had a son, and I suspect (given her background) that this was not an easy decision for her.

I think, at 40, she's about to face a new challenge. Unless she plans to retire (which a lot of actresses do at her point in life, not just age but having a new baby) she's facing the no-woman's-land of middle-age actresses. This trailer is promising, though, deliberately playing down her looks, and so far she seems to be able to handle what life throws at her. So who knows?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Don't worry: They're professionals.

Double standard.

Teachers having sex with students was pretty common when I was in school.

This is the part of having a bias that I don't understand. Don't you have to draw the line somewhere? We got a guy defending Hitler trying to save face for their favorite candidate. And we have a sex scandal that, I'd suggest, most parents would want to know about, but which won't make it to the--well, probably won't make it off the website.

Though I guess if one can cover up a few million murders, this is peanuts.

Dumb Things Seen While Looking At Incoming Links

Was Jesus a Liberal?

Here's a good sign you need a little perspective in your life: You feel a need to cast everything in modern political terms.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Lies, Damn Lies and Internet Cheese

Victoria has taken the daredevil plunge and gone ahead with an Internet Cheese order. Sure, we've all dreamed of it, but she was the only one with the guts to actually do it.

Stilton. From Amazon.

Verdict?

Not so hot.

Meanwhile, it's been close to 100 degrees here (at the highest) for the past four days. Weather.com is pitching the following lies:


Weather.com

Wunderground.com

Weatherbug.com

Actual

Mon

79

95

96

93

Tue

73

85

86

79

Wed

71

79

79

80

Thur

66

74

74

70

Fri

65

76

76

59

Sat

59

40-60ish


72

62


So, I'm supposed to believe that the high is going to drop 20 degrees tomorrow and 40 degrees by Saturday? Weatherbug seems the most reasonable, and Wunderground is pretty close except they're angling for a potentially even colder Saturday.

I'm going to update this daily with the actual high, just for giggles.

Plus, I'm going to install freakin' central air. Global coldening ain't comin' fast enough.

UPDATE #1: Interesting. I was going to rag on Weather.com for being wildly inaccurate. And they were for the first day. Note all the guesses--er, scientific predictions--are off. Today was markedly cooler (hallelujah!) and right in the middle of the predictions. Intriguingly enough, while Weather.com was closer for today, they actually changed their predictions yesterday to match those on Weatherbug and Wunderground, so if you went looking Monday for the temps on Tuesday, they would have been farther off than the Sunday predictions!

UPDATE #2: It was warmer today than all three predicted, but not by much. And it got warmer. This makes the 60-degree target for Saturday seem unlikely.

UPDATE #3: Well, this wasn't particularly enlightening. It's interesting, I guess, that weather.com had the cold starting a day early than it did and peaking a day later than it did. The other two sort of played it conservative, which worked all right until the sudden drop on the weekend.

CONCLUSION: I guess I'll probably stick with poking my head out the window and guessing.

America: Heck Yeah! (Updated and bumped!)

I have often maintained that America needs immigrants because, well, that's where Americans come from: some place else.

Living in L.A. my whole life, I have no doubt that the vast majority of Hispanics who come here embody the American spirit--the willingness and drive to improve their lives for their future generations--in many ways better than we do. Most of us born here are too busy enjoying the lives our ancestors made for us to really have the same hunger, certainly not with the desperation someone from an impoverished or war-torn country does. And when they get here, it's not uncommon for them to express an admiration and defensiveness of the country we don't, or are reluctant to.

But the cinema is well-informed with anti-American propaganda, so much so that the occasional potshot (the obese, obnoxious tourists in In Bruges) hardly goes noticed.

But a pro-America attitude, or even friendly expression, does get noticed, at least by me, and it makes me feel good when it does happen.

But as I'm writing this I can only think of a few recent examples.

The World's Fastest Indian -- The Anthony Hopkins movie about the kiwi who comes to America to race has him encountering all kinds of generous Americans who help him get to his destination.

Tracy Ullman: Live and Exposed -- I like Tracy's act more sometimes than others, but her performance chops get better and better over time, which is really apparent in this show. When she ended it with a salute to America, I found myself surprised and surprisingly warmed.

Schultze Gets the Blues -- I love this deliberate (slow moving) picture of a retired German salt miner who becomes obsessed with zydeco and journeys to America to experience it first-hand. But what makes it especially wonderful is the warm welcome Schultze gets when he journeys through the bayous.

The Visitor -- I haven't seen it, but I'm hoping that a movie that is so transparently about the harshness of the immigration and naturalization services has to acknowledge the fact that America must be well worth coming to. I'll review it in a few days.

Sad that I can't think of any more off-hand, especially with all the foreign movies I've seen. But maybe I'm missing some?

Victoria offers these suggestions:

Three films on this topic come two mind:

I Remember Mama

Similar theme, Sweet Land

About Indians, The Namesake
Along with the Eddie Murphy classic Coming to America, which she rightly pegs as Eddie Murphy's last great movie.

Hector says:

Maybe I need to watch Stroszek again. That was cheerful, wasn't it? An accordion, a dancing chicken… A whole lot of Wisconsin… it's been a while.

Y'know, Fritz Lang didn't make a lot of happy-happy joy-joy movies.

Trooper offers up this from Scarface:

Immigration Officer #2: So where's your old man now?
Tony Montana: He dead. He die. Sometime. Somewhere.
Immigration Officer #2: Mother?
Tony Montana: She dead too.
Immigration Officer #1: What kind of work you do in Cuba, Tony?
Tony Montana: Ah, you know, things. I was, uh - This, that. Construction business. I work a lot with my hands. I was in the army.
Immigration Officer #1: Any family in the States, Tony? Any cousins, brother-in-law, anybody?
Tony Montana: Nobody. Everybody's dead.
Immigration Officer #1: You ever been to jail, Tony?
Tony Montana: Me? Jail? No way. No.
Immigration Officer #1: Been in a mental hospital?
Tony Montana: Oh, yeah. On the boat coming over.

True confession time: Though I am a long-time De Palma fan, I have never seen Scarface. And I'm kinda off him since that abomination that was Redacted, so I may never see it!

Just a slob like one of us...

A few days ago on Althouse, the topic of God sprang from a post about whether Einstein was an atheist or not. I'm doubtless flattering myself here, but when I read Einstein on God, I'm usually seeing in what he writes a reflection of how I feel on the topic.

When someone asks me, "Do you believe in God?" I generally have to reply with "What do you mean by God". Althouse regular cum gadfly Revenant calls me to task by saying:

The most accurate definition of "God" is the one most widely accepted by people.
My problem with that is that I don't think people sit down and agree on said definition widely. Er, widely sit down and agree. What I mean is, have you ever asked someone what that is? The definition of "God" is rather incomplete and mismatched person-to-person, which is probably where 90% of the arguments come from.

As a contrast, we could talk about god-with-a-small-g. We could define "god" pretty easily as a being with an innate and significantly greater power over natural events. Greek, Nordic and Egyptian mythologies, for example, are populated by gods that, as terrible as they are, are also very limited in scope. Human, even. With frailties and mortality. These gods directly impacted people and performed specific duties.

Now we can argue very precisely about "gods" in general, or any specific "god", such as Thor. Or, say, Helios by noting that no one has seen his chariot pulling the sun.

I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that "gods", if they ever existed, are hiding pretty well now.

Now, there is a dictionary definition for "God", of course:

A being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe, the principal object of faith and worship in monotheistic religions.

But, oh, what arguments you can find in that simple definition. Omnipotent? What about free will? A lot of religions argue that he can't mess with free will. (And, by the way, can't and won't are the same for the purposes of this discussion.)

Ruler of the universe? Yes, there are some who believe that God rules the universe like a king rules his kingdom, but last I checked he's issued no taxation decrees. No bans against trans-fats. No suspensions of gravity on holidays. Yes, there are commandments and prophets and all that, but really, in a lot of the big theologies, this universe is a virtual sandbox, and God doesn't get to the ruling part till after we leave it.

"God", "angels" or "ghosts" are used to explain many things people don't understand. (And who's to say that those explanations aren't correct? If I were God, an angel or a ghost, I probably wouldn't take kindly to microscopes.) There's nothing to rule out the possibility of a "god", either, coming out of hiding to paint a face on a tortilla or make a statue weep blood. (Are the supernatural beings all just practical jokers? Maybe. Gotta be boring being dead.)

Anyway, if you take that ruling part out, and you're left with some guy (heh) who knows everything. And some would say he doesn't know everything--since with free will, that might be problematic--but that he watches everything.

This is probably the biggest bone of contention I have with discussing the matter. A God who is but does not do--you know, what are we talking about? And when the question arises, it's usually not someone who, like Einstein, was looking out at the universe and wondering, but someone who's really asking "Do you agree with my dogma?" No, I don't, but please don't kill me.

Well, okay, let's forget about what He does or doesn't do, but focus on origination. God is the Creator. That works pretty well. We could say He created the universe and all of us as well . That would be a pretty good definition of God.

We could, of course, totally complicate the topic and say God created neither us nor the universe, but that we create the universe with our shared perception of it, and we have no clue about what's going on in reality, an idea that hearkens to Plato and the Hindu concept of maya, but let's assume that, even there, if we're all playing some massive game of D&D, there's a meta-Dungeon Master, and He created the basement we're playing in, and the Doritos we're eating. But we won't.
The problem with that, to my mind, is that, well, we're here. The universe is here. Something created the universe (or so it seems) and something created us (unless we were always here).

Would the being that did that be a being that we could, in any sense, understand? Maybe. Maybe he's just a slob like one of us, only super-powered. But maybe the awareness and power comes from a different sort of consciousness altogether. Even the people who are fond of envisioning God as a giant old white-bearded man in flowing robes maintain that we can't fathom the mind or the workings of God.
There's another issue, regarding the word "exist". Years ago I read a website by an atheist who had a FAQ that read "How do you know God doesn't exist?" and his answer was "God told me that he doesn't exist." He had an explanation of how he had come to talk to God, but there was a certain sense there.

God, if he created the universe, isn't really of the universe. He doesn't exist as you and I exist. Or he might, in the form of an avatar, but He, Himself, doesn't occupy a space or time within the universe. In that sense, he doesn't exist. (How about them apples? If God created the universe, he doesn't exist. Heh.)

On the other hand, what if God is the universe? He doesn't exist; he is existence. We see him in f=ma and E=MC2. Or at least part of him. In that sense, every scientist is studying God.

And that I believe in.

The Visitor

OK, so, the trailers look pretty hackneyed: An old white man is taught to enjoy life through the transformational power of music by an immigrant young couple of color. A pro-illegal-immigration propaganda fest.

But this written and directed by "The Wire" regular Thomas McCarthy who also wrote and directed the highly enjoyable The Station Agent.

Besides, while the anti-illegal crowd gets to trot out the felons, it's fair for the other side to point out that the mass of immigrants are good people, right?

Anyway, the pre-show buzz at the theater was high. The room was packed and the manager was telling us that the word-of-mouth was so good, The Visitor had been increasing its audience every week. So fore-warned, we entered the theater.

And, lo, we were disappointed.

The Boy said, "I was disappointed. It started good. But sometimes when you put a message in a movie, you screw up the movie. Good acting, though."

I actually hadn't thought of it in those terms--that it was the message screwing up the movie--but he might be right.

Let's start with what's right about this movie. The great character actor Richard Jenkins--whom you know from about a million things--in the role and performance of a lifetime as Watler Vale, an economist who is in extended mourning over his dead wife when he's wrangled into going to New York City for a conference.

Much to his surprise he finds a young couple living in his New York apartment: Tarek (played by Haaz Sleiman), a Syrian musician and his Senegalese wife Zainab (played by the stunning Danai Jekesai Gurira).

The spotlight's on Walter, though, whom we first see in real human contact with others when he agrees to let the couple stay for a while. Tarek is both grateful and gracious, while Zainab is much more suspicious.

The connection is made stronger when Walter sees the drum that Tarek plays and ultimately ends up having Tarek give him lessons. His wife was clearly the source of music in his life, and he fails miserably at the piano, but takes remarkably well to the freer expression of improvised percussion.

This part of the movie sings. It reminds me of another favorite I bring up here a lot: Schultze Gets The Blues, though it doesn't have the same static feel. Schultze's ennui is because, well, he's German, and lived a life in the salt mines. Vale's ennui is clearly brought about by the death of his wife, and his failure to resolve it through finding a new source of music--though the fact that he's an economics professor doesn't help, one supposes.

The grand part of this movie is the way music flows through every part of it. Classical, jazz, percussive jams, even Andrew Lloyd Weber--all inform the experience of the characters.

Then Tarek is picked up by the USCIS. Oh, no! He's illegal! He's detained! He was supposed to have been deported years ago!

Walter hires an immigration attorney, and when Tarek's mother Mouna (played by the lovely Hiam Abbass of Munich and Paradise Now fame), he quickly forms an intense attachment to the widowed woman.

Now, in a Hollywood big budget picture, we all know what has to happen: After a series of exciting court challenges, Mouna and Walter get married, and thus are allowed to keep Tarek in the country while Zainab has an anchor baby.

That would be bad, of course, because it would be nonsense. This is a giant, faceless bureaucracy, answerable to no one and responsive to no one. It's the modern "deus ex machina" where a pissed of Poseidon sinks a ship because someone blinded his son. It is, in effect, shit happening.

No, we know there's not going to be a perfect ending, exactly, but there are various degrees of sub-optimal endings that are possible. I mean, in the stereotype of the art-house flick, Tarek goes back to Syria and gets killed, Walter commits suicide, and the women are sold into slavery.

Or something. There are degrees, and I don't want to give anything away here.

The problem with this is, what had been an engaging movie up to that point comes almost to a dead stop. We're left with the burgeoning relationship between Walter and Mouna, but we're concerned about Tarek, whom we no longer see at that point.

I suspect it's very, very realistic. That does not make it entertaining or engaging. The characters continue to develop, so its not unbearable, but they're frozen. The filmmakers have presented them with an obstacle they are utterly powerless to change.

And maybe that was the message, and so, as the boy said, trying to get it across ruined the movie. Maybe so. There are certain things that, I think, defeat that message if that's really supposed to be the point.

Whatever the reason, though, the end of the movie left the audience in silent contemplation, not rousing applause. Or even quiet applause.

Alternatives, Pt 2.

Just as a lot of people are suggesting we should elect a black man for President. some say it's more important that we elect a woman. I say we should elect someone who's genuine and doesn't pander, but I've been roundly voted down.

Anyway, I agree that the sooner we vote someone other than a white Christian male into office, the sooner we can, you know, focus on who would be the best leader.

But is Hil(l)ary the best choice? (Oh, I have this weird quirk of putting the second "l" in Hil(l)ary's name in parentheses. It started when she claimed to have been named after Sir Edmund Hilary, who has just one "l" in his name. So I can never remember if she has two "l"s or one.)

Well, of course, there's only one woman (apart from Lisa Simpson, who's just a cartoon character, so let's not get silly) who has the experience we need in the White House.

That's right, Geena Davis.

Besides a short term as Commander-in-Chief, Ms. Davis has extensive other experiences that might be of use. Early on, for example, she used to have an abusive boss, she dated one of the greatest scientific minds of our lifetimes--and stood by him as he turned into a freak. She's good with aliens and has a strong constituency among the Dead-American demographic that votes so heavily in places like Chicago.

She's no stranger to alternative families. Very alternative families.

And, as this picture shows, she rocks in an evening gown.

But wait!

I have another alternative.

She's only been the Vice President, but the confirmation process she went through was absolutely grueling. So she's been thoroughly vetted. She also has executive experience in the CIA, handling the very tricky Operation Treadstone. To boot, she's been the First Lady and, IMO, is one of those women who gets better looking as they get older.

Can you guess who?

That's right.

Joan Allen.

Davis/Allen 2012, anyone?

Friday, May 16, 2008

New Blog Link: Sundries

I've linked to long-time Althouse commenter Victoria (vbspurs) and her "sweatshop of moxie".

Victoria is a British immigrant who's not only legal but naturalized, if I'm not mistaken.

Anyway, she's a great writer and an unrepentant America-lover, and on top of that has all that classy/charming Brit stuff going for her.

Check her out. Right now, she copied a fabulous comment made on the Althouse blog. It's from a black woman explaining why she doesn't support Obama (in response to the observation that 10% of blacks don't support him).

Marriage, A Gay Old Time

Actually, I'm on the verge of turning the Bit Maelstrom into a full-on breast blog (possibly with a dissertation about the '80s Afghan revolt against the Russian Invaders) since that's what everyone comes here to see.

So, yeah, I'm pro-breasts (pointy or otherwise). And no, Charlie Wilson's War wasn't historically accurate, though parts were true. Also, all those peak oil guys who say that the world is coming to an end but it's not just a crazy prophecy of some mad cult? They're the crazy prophets of a mad cult.

Anyway, with that aside, the issue of who can marry whom has come up again in this fine state of California. In this case, the California Supreme Court has (once again) overridden the wishes of the people to say that, in fact, same-sex marriage is not only a right, it's always been a right according to the state constitution.

Now, it seems to me that if that were the case, same-sex marriage would have been established by two people of the same sex getting married, the state refusing to acknowledge it, and then the court saying the state has no right to refuse to acknowledge it. But I certainly might have that wrong.

Let me say, first of all, that I have no personal interest in who marries whom. As I understand it, one can arrange almost any sort of domestic situation one wants (hetero, homo or poly) except a bestial or pedophilia relationship (and maybe incestuous) and set up almost any sort of legal arrangement one wants.

Also, as I understand it, domestic partners have all the same rights as married couples, and certainly since palimony it hasn't mattered so much whether a couple is actually married. (California doesn't recognize common law marriage.) These days, it would probably make sense for married couples to create a nuptial contract and revisit it every year. (This might sound horribly clinical, but it actually could be quite romantic.)

If that's true, and it's really just about the word "marriage", well, you know what I call a couple of guys in a permanent committed relationship? "Married." Really. What else you gonna call it?

My preference? Marriage either gets a strict definition by the state that benefits the state, or the state gets its nose out of the union business. The latter being preferable.

So, having established my relative lack of concern over how people bond and what they call it, I'm going to expound a little on my understanding of marriage, and why I'm not entirely unsympathetic to cultural conservatives on the issue.

Despite everything I learned from the '70s, personal happiness actually ranks very low down on the list of societal concerns. No, really! It's true: Society doesn't care if you're happy. Society cares about its own survival and as long as you do your part to continue it, you can be as happy or as miserable as you like. So, the social importance of marriage is that you stick with one person, create the next generation, and raise them in such a way that they go on to continue society.

When you think about it, the idea that billions (or thousands, if you prefer) of years of struggle and hardship is going to come to its end because, you know, some gal wants to pursue a career, or some guy just doesn't care for female company--it's the ultimate in self-centered-ness.

Society's historical answer to the question of personal fulfillment--assuming it entertained the notion at all--was to simply not allow women to do anything but create the next generation, and to force gays to marry and produce offspring.

The other part of the equation was to discourage or disallow divorce, adultery, polygamy and fornication--to say nothing of onanism and homosexual activity. Basically, society figured out the best way to secure its own survival was to get people married pretty quickly, reproducing ASAP, and bonded forever, while outlawing sexual activity that didn't produce offspring.

These are the rules of a highly fragile society, one deeply concerned about its own survival. And it may be a coincidence, but every society that moves away from these principles dies. Will Durant wrote that every society enters stoic and exits epicurean. The Western world has been in full epicurean mode for decades.

Anyway, in the historical context, the definition of marriage is very clear, and very clearly not inclusive of homosexuality. One argument I've heard as an attempt to defend homosexual marriage "What about childless couples?" Well, until recently, the pressure for couples to have children was tremendous, and an inability to have children has historically been grounds for annulment.

It was really the '70s that turned divorce into a casual event, degraded "women's work" and made childlessness into a respectable option. And, also, at that point, made marriage into a word that applies (or should apply) equally to any people seeking to find happiness and fulfillment in long-term committed sexual relationships.

I don't know if anyone will read this, and find it less likely that anyone will care, but it's something I had to learn over many years. And the funky-funny thing is that there is tremendous happiness possible the old way, while allowing people to pursue personal pleasure has probably not resulted in any net gain in happiness for people over all.

So, why would I not personally fight to preserve the definition of marriage? For one thing, because it's long gone, and it's unlikely that heteros are going to be lining up to give marriage back to its original gravity. Secondly, since that is what has to happen--groups of people have to agree to restore the society-serving definition of marriage--it's not something the government can do. It's a social and religious thing, and requires people to look beyond themselves--not something they're generally encouraged to do.

The pendulum may swing back: a lot of victims of the "Do Your Own Thing" '70s (and beyond) are now grown and may take child-rearing and marriage more seriously than their parents did.

As I've said before, a society can be judged on its kindness to outliers, and I don't think it's likely we'll ever go back to the days when assaulting gays was acceptable and women had to put up with abuse because society's prohibitions against divorce were so strong. But it is possible to elevate individual fulfillment above society's survival needs, and this usually results in a barbaric culture where outliers must hide or be destroyed.

As a footnote: Some maintain that the California supreme court just overrode the will of the people in the service of a liberal agenda. Not surprisingly, this pisses off some and pleases others. For me, it just seems like business-as-usual in the Golden State.

Pointy-breasted challenger: Gloria Grahame

Hector from Rain In The Doorway pointed me to a shot of Bad and the Beautiful which highlighted this challenger to Janet Leigh's title.

The Bad the Beautiful is a marvelous, underappreciated film although I wonder if Gloria Grahame was really all that good-looking. Or maybe it's just that the mannequin styles of the '50s didn't really work with her looks.

Nonetheless, this sweatered shot from her '50s turn in Fritz Lang's Human Desire earns her a place in the pointy-breast hall of fame.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Redbelt

Back in the day, I was a martial artist. I worked hard at it, and it was probably the only non-familial group I've ever really felt strong bonds with. Of course, a big part of the appeal is the shared suffering. (Martial arts training, if you take it seriously and it's a serious school, has a sort of military feel to it.) But another part of the appeal, at least for me, was the complete impracticality.
This may come as a shock to you (all 14 of you), but I'm not very practical by nature. I have responsibilities, of course, and I handle those as efficiently as possible. But I do so precisely because I'm not very practical. I tend to be very A-to-B when I work, as well, because I know that my inclination is to expand problems until the solution becomes interesting.
I mean, really, if you want practical self-defense, buy a gun and learn how to use it. Knives, sprays, air horns and cell phones are probably all going to trump physical combat in a self-defense situation. Probably the most useful thing self-defense training can teach the average person is how not to panic in a threatening situation. (A gun's no good if your hands aren't steady enough to retrieve it.)

But more than that, there's The Code. Warrior codes are great. Just knowing and aspiring to them tends to puff a person up (in a good way). But they all tend to have their roots in days of knights or samurai, and so, they aren't very practical.

Maybe it's a coincidence, but all of the real fighters and teachers of fighters that I have known have been poor. Even those who had made some money fighting or being in movies ended up broke.

Which brings me to David Mamet's new work, Redbelt. Mike Terry (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) runs a serious Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu studio which isn't financially successful. In fact, the loss of the front window is enough to seriously challenge its survival.

At the urging of his wife, Sondra (played by the gorgeous Alice Braga, whom I immediately pegged as a relative of Sonia Braga), Mike goes to a bar to borrow money from his brother-in-law, and the events that follow lead circuitously to what appears to be a fortuitous turn of events for everyone.

But the wheel spins again, and everything suddenly turns sour. Actually, it's not entirely clear how much of what happens is chance. It's entirely possible that the whole thing was plotted from the get-go by one or more characters. Or perhaps most of the events are sheer coincidence.

People can get hung up on those things. But none of that is the point.

The point is how Terry reacts, how his code survives contact with unpleasant real world choices, betrayal, disappointment, and other assorted ugliness.

I know the type of person being portrayed. And for the most part, this highly stylized story is an accurate portrayal. The only part that struck me as off was how quickly Terry takes up the opportunity to parlay his acumen into a potential job in the movies. The warrior types I've known tend to be highly suspicious and protective of what they do.

Now, the ending of this movie is more outrageous than any Rocky movie. There are things throughout the movie which may or may not be plot flaws--and for the most part I think it's Mamet cutting out long-winded expository or hand-holding in favor of showing us the meat of the thing--but the ending is pure dramatic license.

This offended me not at all, but if you're looking for something that's hyper-realistic, this is not that film.

The acting is top-notch. The characters are well fleshed out, and better known actors (like Tim Allen as a narcissistic star, David Paymer as a loan shark, Emily Mortimer as a neurotic lawyer, and Joe Mantegna as a sleazy assistant) work well with the less known (such as Braga, who's more famous in Brazil, Jose Pablo Cantillo as "Snowflake", the only other student of Terry's that we see, and Max Martini as the cop who's down on his luck).

Ultimately, though, this is Ejiofor's show and Terry's battle, and the actor (and character) are both up to the tasks at hand.

The Boy also enjoyed the film, which is interesting, since the he recognized the unreality of the final scene. But I think it's that the film overall didn't insult his intelligence that he was able to enjoy and appreciate the drama of the last scene.

The fights weren't bad either.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Parting Ways

When I die, it'd be nice to have someone miss me in that way Pajama Momma writes about.

I come from rather mobile nuclear families for generations. People moving out west, or having small families or both. Most of the people I went to school with actually moved away, though I keep in touch with a few old friends.

A friend's father died recently, and I was over at her place doing whatever it is you do in that situation. They were of a different culture than the one I grew up in, one that grieves openly and loudly. And it was touching, like PJM's post, because it was heartfelt.

I've seen a lot of deaths where it seemed as though people had worn out their welcome. It's an awful thing to confront that old age doesn't bring wisdom, necessarily. I remember when I realized that what old people have in common is only one thing: that they survived.

Between the tragedy of those who die too young, and the more muted tragedy of those who die too old, is some sort of existentialist sweet spot where people miss you without mourning you too much.

Is BlogRush just a vehicle for advertising?

Am I crazy or does this post (on something called the "digital TV dojo") really not tell you anything very useful?

Take some rah-rah stuff about mini-satellite dishes and liberally mix in a bunch of links to sales sites (not marked as such) and...that's what you have. It's basically a list of features. Maybe not complete or accurate.

This came off the BlogRush widget on the right. Since my numbers have dropped since I added that, I'm seriously considering taking it off. I think I've gotten one hit from them.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Buy Low, Spell High

I actually had a more clever title for this but I forgot it.

Mother's day for me involved entertaining the troops while mom did whatever she wanted. The Flower will turn on the TV and watch it all day--each child gives me a new reason to hate Disney--but I really can't stand the audio assault that is television. Particularly commercial TV.

So we broke out this computer game I had bought for The Flower a few weeks ago called Fairy Godmother Tycoon.

The problem with buying "family" games is that they're produced by the shovelful (and are even called "shovelware" by hardcore gamers) and very often ignored in the press. I basically bought this on the strength of a single review from Gaming Nexus (via GameRankings.com).

Anyway, Fairy Godmother Tycoon (FGT) is a business simulator. It's closer to Lemonade Stand than Capitalism but has a great presentation and a good amount of complexity. In FGT, you visit various cities that are being cursed, and you run a potion shop to cure those curses.

The demand depends on the likelihood of curses for a given day--actually called The Weather Report, as it serves as a parallel to the weather report in lemonade. You build the potions from one or more ingredients that you buy (and the price of which fluctuates). Other variables, such as a backwards Robin Hood who steals the peasants' money and gives it to the rich, or tax stimulus checks, influence how much people can pay. You can upgrade your shop to make it provide potions faster or make the wait in your shop more interesting.

Your opponents are fairy tale creatures with a twist, such as the Magic Dragons (a bunch of tie-dyed hippy fire-breathing dragons) and the not-so-handsome-princes. Along the way there are some side missions involving other fairy tale creatures, such as the Three Pigs Contractors who need to find a way to make their housing more huff-and-puff resistant, and little Miss Muffet, whose curds and whey store customers are being frightened away by a biker gang run by a guy named spider.

This game illustrates the basic principles of supply and demand, cost of production, research and development and marketing. It's a bit heavy for a six-year-old, and you sure want to be able to read or be there to read for her, but it's workable, and it's a fairly forgiving game.

One thing I didn't like particularly is that, because you're supplying cures for curses, your primary way to stimulate demand is to create more curses. Also, the special actions are primarily dirty tricks, like hiring goons to steer people away from your opponents' stores or actually stealing money or supplies.

There's a lot of wit here to go along with the colorful artwork. Some of the jokes are sort-of Rocky & Bullwinkle style that fly over the kids' heads, but if you're sensitive to that type of thing, be forewarned. There are references to adult notions like fixing sporting events and--well, at one point, one of the three little pigs is try to describe how "brick houses" are built.

Cute.

It even held The Boy's interest for a bit, and he's used to far more sophisticated fare. I can see him sneaking in a play or two when his sister's not looking to see more of the jokes and try out gooning.

The Flower isn't into gooning, though I was a little surprised that she didn't mind pulling dirty tricks on her competitors. At the same time, she had the same unwillingness to gouge people, regardless of market conditions, that The Boy had in similar situations at that age. They could both relate to pulling a prank or a joke, but not to "charging what the market will bear".

Actually, since people got mad if they didn't like the price of a potion, The Flower was inclined to undercharge for everything. I had to point out that that left her with less capital to improve her shop later on--a lot, and she's still dubious.

Overall, a fun afternoon. Worth the $20, I'd say. And it divides up neatly into a planning/reporting session and a real-time based game day, so that you can get up and do a victory dance (or whatever) in-between turns. You're not chained to the seat.

It worked out well.

Update: Having played through to the end now, I would say that the wit and funny writing holds up to the end, but the play gets just a bit tired by the last scenario. There's a free-play where you can go back and re-play any of the kingdoms, but I don't see why you would. The very last scenario involves driving three competitors out of business, and the last competitor has so much money, you're just buying supplies and kicking his ass day after day after day until he finally runs out of cash.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Dress For Success

The Flower wants a lab coat and glasses to wear while she's doing her math and science work. (There's comic book logic and six-year-old girl logic, and there's no point in arguing with either of them.)

Yeah, I stole the picture here from iStockphoto--I guesss that's what the watermark says. It was the best picture I could find.

And yet.

It looks like she's about to give the cable repairman a "biology lesson". If you know what I mean, and I think you do.

Sheesh.

You think that's bad? The Flower also wants a French maid outfit for when she cleans.

There are no pictures of French maid outfits on the entire internet suitable for a post about my daughter.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Weekend Workshop: Making Pointy Breasts

I hope you've all paid your registration in advance, so that we can get going Saturday morning without a lot of paperwork.

Remember to bring several empty toilet paper rolls, some wire, and a turtleneck that's slightly too small.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

French Ta-tas

Although it's not the fashion these days, I must confess a love for the Gallic. The French people I've known not in France have all been quite nice. I didn't encounter a lot of rudeness in France, either. But truth-be-told, my most frequent encounter these days is with the women (and men, too, but, you know) of the French cinema.

This will probably sound trite to some of you, but I love the way that older French women in movies look their age. Still attractive, to be sure, but not gauzily filmed with copious vaseline on the lens.

However, this salute to the breast concerns one of the younger women, the aforementioned Audrey Tatou:
And not pointy, either. I didn't mention it, but Ms. Tatou flashes a bit in Priceless. I'm provincial enough to almost have been shocked by that.

Almost.

Priceless (Hors de Prix)

I hadn't seen an Audrey Tatou movie since A Very Long Engagement and I wasn't actually champing at the bit to see this one. But we were desperate, and I had actually liked the director Pierre Salvadori's previous outing, Après Vous, rated at a mediocre 6.5 on IMDB.

It was a pleasant surprise to see the lead was the highly talented Gad Elmaleh as Jean, who was also the eponymous Valet (La Doublure). Once again, he's a member of the service industry (a sort of jack-of-all-trades in a hotel) when he's mistaken for a wealthy man by the gold-digging Irène (Tatou).

A second chance encounter results in chaos, and in his pursuit of Irène, he ends up living the life of a gigolo. This leads to an interesting examination of double standards, to say nothing of the peculiar situation of the two trading tips on how best to milk their respective marks.

At the same time, the aloof and mercenary Irène torments Jean, then warms to him, then finally becomes both jealous and admiring of his successes.

It is, as most French sex farces, rather seamy. You can't help but feel a little bad for their marks, however foolish. But the charisma of the leads ultimately wins out. And it doesn't hurt that Ms. Tatou is getting no less beautiful over time.

Actually, this movie is sort of an inverted Breakfast at Tiffany's, a thought made all the more striking by Tatou's resemblance to Audrey Hepburn. But obviously, it's not for the easily offended.

I. Am. (Fe) Man.

All right, everyone's on about the new superhero movie Iron Man and I actually did go to see it opening weekend (rare for me, but it was the only thing playing at the time I could get away).

First things first: Take the f#$*(@ing bluetooth earpiece out of your (*#$*@ ear, jerkwad. That piercing blue LED makes watching the movie near you like watching it on an airport runway. OK?

OK, then.

Iron Man is apparently some sort of comic book hero--a guy in a waldo, by classic sci-fi terms. Because it's the first movie (and, oh, yes, there will be more), we get an origin story: Arms dealer and man-about-town Tony Stark is captured on a middle east tour and held captive by terrorists who want him to build them one of these super-duper missiles he's building for the US.

Instead, in comic book logic, he builds a super-suit and kicks their ass. Oh, and in the course of his kidnapping, he gets shot up and his co-prisoner saves his life by installing some sort of electromagnet that keeps the shrapnel out of his heart.

This is probably the most inspired comic book logic since Doc Ock preceded his work on a fusion reaction by building four artificially intelligent cyber-limbs (Spiderman 2).

Which is to say it's delightfully insane.

Anyway, he frees himself with the help of his suit, and then gets rescued from the deserts of Terroristan. And then things sorta get murky.

In the first part of the movie, Stark is an unrepentant patriot--you ain't seen patriotism like this since Starship Troopers, and in this movie, they aren't kidding!--convinced he's doing the right thing. After being kidnapped, and learning that the bad guys have his weapons, he sort of has an epiphany, and decides to stop making weapons. He devotes his time to his iron-man suit and the remarkable (also very comic-book) arc-generator that powers it.

Now, logically, Stark would be concerned with how the bad guys got his weapons and, to its credit, the movie does touch on this. But given the pro-military attitude, the idea that he would stop making weapons--jeopardizing his friends in the armed forces--seemed a little inconsistent. Some have interpreted the pause as tempoarary, until he found out who was supplying them.

But as I said, murky.

By the way, if you know anything about comic book logic, it's apparent from the get-go who the bad guy is.

So, what's the verdict?

Well, basically, it's good. Robert Downey Jr. was an excellent choice, and director Jon Favreau is to be commended for this and his overall handling of the subject matter. As with Elf, he plays the story out sincerely, avoiding camp, cynical intellectualism, and any sort of "I'm too good for this" vibe.

The pacing is good, and although the action payoffs aren't very big, they're big enough, as the rest of the script is populated by interesting characters, funny situations and the usual stuff that makes movies fun to watch. The music is adequate, if not memorable.

The supporting cast includes Gwyneth Paltrow (looking like Kirsten Dunst and sounding like Lisa Kudrow), Terence Howard as an Air Force buddy, Leslie Bibb as an intermittently antagonistic reporter, Shaun Toub (of Kite Runner) as the cave-imprisoned heart surgeon, and--as an extra added bonus for any movie--Jeff Bridges as corporate chief of Stark Enterprises. (I didn't actually recognize him--bald and gray-bearded--until he spoke, and kept hoping he'd say "Careful, man, there's a beverage here!")

Overall, it's fun, but not quite great. To compare it further with Spiderman 2, which I think is in some ways the epitome of the comic book film, in that movie, everyone's motivations were clear, even when distorted for comic book reasons. In this movie Tony Stark stops making weapons but becomes a weapon himself, giving us the message that, what, you can only count on or trust yourself?

Still, I suppose we can't get the Salkinds/Donner vision of Superman, with Truth, Justice and the American Way presented without further comment (and even back then, there was a lot of camp in those phrases and actions). Shame, though, as it really suited this movie while it lasted.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Quality of Art

"I may not know what I like, but I know art."

I forget who said that. A rather dubious thread at Althouse (where I was flamed as a racist for mentioning that I had a teacher who didn't like Jimi Hendrix!) has devolved into a discussion on the value of art, and who's a snob.

We all know snobs. Anything you do or don't do can be the basis of snobbery, whether you're projecting it or receiving it. I mean, fercryinoutloud, there is fast food snobbery! I've seen people throw down over Carl's Jr. versus Jack In The Box, or McDonald's versus Burger King. (Back in the day, I saw two guys nearly come to blows over the merits of Kentucky Fried Chicken versus now-extinct Pioneer Chicken.)

There are artists that I like and artists that I don't like, but I don't think that reflects generically on my value as a person. Nor you. (I may find you have more value to me as a musical conversational buddy if you like di Lasso, but I'm not going to think less of you as a person.) I have not always viewed it thus, but I suppose a lifetime of being on the wrong side of popularity contests leaves me little alternative.

Anyway, over the decades, there are two ways of evaluating art I've seen that rear their ugly heads repeatedly.

  1. Popularity = artistic quality
  2. Art has objective standards that only I (and my ilk) are capable of judging.
I riffed on Althouse commenter Revenant for suggesting the first, and suggesting that an objective measure of artistic quality is how many people get pleasure from it.

Some kind of happiness is measured out in miles
What makes you think you're something special when you smile?


So, Rev's point, apparently, is that artistic quality is measured by volume.

Mass * pleasure = quality.

That's objectivity!

This is how we know, for example, that Mariah Carey is going to be the greatest musician who ever lived. (Assuming that she goes on to break the other bestselling records, and using bestselling as a crude reflection of people buying what they like.)

Real life's a little messier, of course, I mean, after all, say we take a universe of two people, John and Kev.

John likes music "A".
Kev likes music "B".

We can therefore, according to Rev's formula, say music "A" is objectively equal to music "B" in quality.

Now, music "A" is longer than music "B", so that the pleasure that John gets lasts longer. It's over 15 times longer, and therefore 15 times better!

A = 15B

But wait, Kev really, really, really likes music "B". I mean, he likes it so much, he can't stop singing it. He's dreaming about it. 24/7, he's going.

John likes music "A" a great deal, but it's not something he could hum all the time even if he wanted to. If he spends two hours a week thinking about it, that's a lot.

So we'll take the 84x factor for "B"...

15A = 84B (reduces to) 5A = 28B

So, "B" is looking to be about 5 times better than "A" at this point.

But now, Kev's starting to get annoyed. Our formula doesn't factor in negative pleasure. But shouldn't that count, if it's volume that matters? What if fully a third of the people who hear "B" want to gouge out their eyes? What if Kev's co-workers want to gouge out HIS eyes, every time he comes down the hallway singing it? What if Kev starts to want to gouge his OWN eyes out but he just can't stop himself?

And, more importantly, what if Rev's formula of musical quality being "what brings pleasure to people" is a ridiculously simplified, narrow-viewed form of confirmation bias?

(For purposes of experimentation, I was assuming that "A" was Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor", which is widely known even though people couldn't name it, and "B" was the classic Oscar Mayer Bologna song.)
Snark aside, it's just not that simple.

I've never been a big fan of contemporary pop music. I listened to the Beatles, but I listened to them a decade after they broke up. My favorite Paul Simon album is "One Trick Pony," the absolute nadir of his popularity. All those greatest hits of the '80s commercials? Most of those songs I heard for the first time on those commercials. I played "Stairway to Heaven" for years before ever hearing it. Etc.

It's not snobbery, I'm just not "in the loop". Radio is too chaotic for me to listen to for very long. I like most of what I hear, frankly, though I'm not inclined to listen to most of it again. Back in my school days, I'd pick up riffs because I heard them and they seemed catchy, but more than once I was derided for it. ("I thought I was just playing notes, guys, not making a political statement.")

I treat music like I treat politics, really: Let history sort it out.

But this doesn't get us any closer to whether the quality of art can be measured, and if so, how.

One big problem with Rev's formulation that it brings pleasure to people is that it assumes that there is only one sort of pleasure, and that all forms are equal. (I'm not assuming he couldn't come up with a better formula, I'm just working with what I have.) It also assumes that music has no other purpose. But even if we just restrict the equation to pleasure, we're presented with a complex problem.

For the purpose of generating a lot of random hits on the site, let's compare it to sex. Sex is generally pleasurable, I'm told. (Some people just plain don't like it, but they're the equivalent of music-haters here and so don't enter into the equation.) But all sex is not equally pleasurable. And I've heard on more than one occasion that sex for procreation is entirely different from sex for recreation.

You know, if we apply Rev's formula to sex, we get a desperately busy street-walker as being of the greatest sexual quality, because she has the highest numbers.

But music--like sex!--is about communication, as is all art. Art communicates. All art can be seen to have technique and message--though if the technique is good, you don't need the message.

It's easily observable that the best technique doesn't equate to the most popular art. The more obscure forms of music (so-called "classical", "art" or "avant-garde" music or jazz) can get absolutely lost in technique. There is such a thing as "musician's music".

But our answer is in there somewhere: If art communicates, isn't it fair to say that the art that communicates the most is best? Well, that's probably better than talking about "pleasure", as pleasure is too narrowing. But it's worse on the other hand, because it's even vaguer.

And while I was rather joking about the annoyance part above, shouldn't that be a concern? And what about usage? Art can be used to degrade (see Riefenstahl, Leni): Shouldn't we measure art by whether it uplifts?

I mean, if you're angry, the latest gangsta rap might hit you between the eyes. (Or maybe, for an older generation, "Hey, Bulldog!" at the top of the quote above.) But to reference another pop icon "Me and you are subject to the blues now and then/But when you take the blues and make a song/You sing them out again."

In other words, at some point, does music give us the power to own the things that afflict us?

Beyond that, can it show us something greater (or at least different) than reality as we perceive it?

Aren't these things at least as important as the momentary pleasure given?

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