Tuesday, March 30, 2010

In Which I Admit I Was Wrong

I have been saying sardonically since November of 2008 that's Obama would be the greatest President ever. Because he was so transparently an unreconstructed Marxist and because I knew that he would overreach, I figured this put him ahead of a squishy John McCain, who would move us down the road to socialism while the press decried it as conservatism, just as they did with Bush even when he was doing things that were "liberal".

Unlike some, I'm not so cynical that I could actually vote for Obama on that basis, but I figured it would play out that way.

Worst-case scenario would be that someone on Obama's team might actually understand economics and fixed the economy—which really isn't that difficult if you're not a true believer in communism. With a repaired economy, the administration would have a blank check as far as implementing social programs like health care reform and providing graft to all their buddies.

Fortunately, they've drunk their own Kool-Aid so they really don't understand cause-and-effect. They actually believe a command-and-control economy can work.

Even more fortunately, the American people seem to have woken up to the dangers of overreaching government. I've been predicting an electoral bloodbath for November for the past year, but I think the actuality may exceed even my expectations. The goal should be to make health care reform so toxic that a veto proof majority will vote to repeal it—and given how bad it's currently faring after only a few days, I don't think that this is as wild notion as it might have seemed a few months ago.

So how am I admitting I was wrong? I think that the American people were waking up to the dangers of big government anyway. I think they would have fought McCain as well, just as we saw pork busters emerge under Bush.

In other words, I don't think it was necessary to put the American people through the trauma of a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress destroying the economy in order to alert the them to the dangers the government poses. I think they would've gotten there anyway. And it will get a lot worse before it gets better.

I only hope that people will respond to the same degree that their freedoms have been trampled.

John Adams echoes Freeman Hunt

Do you remember this post by Freeman Hunt called "He Is Not Coming"? I responded to that one twice, here and here.but I'm currently reading David McCullough's book John Adams. And I came across this interesting passage:

"I wander alone, and ponder. I muse, I mope, I ruminate," he wrote in the seclusion of his diary. "We have not men fit for the times. We are deficient in genius, education, in travel, fortune—in everything. I feel an unutterable anxiety."

It must be admitted that to some degree the times create the character of the people. The Greatest Generation is considered to be the greatest because of their handling of the Depression and World War II. And, frankly, I don't think they handled Great Depression that well since they left us a legacy of unsustainable social programs, to say nothing of a compromised Constitution. We won't even get started on their child-rearing abilities.

I think there's a real opportunity here for greatness and I think the American people are up to it. I guess what I'm saying is that he may not be coming but perhaps we are.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Ghost Writers In The Storm

A funny thing happened on the way to the movies: in order to see a movie that didn't feature anal rape, I had to go see a movie made by an anal rapist.

I have a friend who has seen every Michael Moore movie to come out in the past 15 years. But he's never bought a ticket for one. Instead he buys a ticket for another movie, and sneaks in to see Moore's latest propaganda. I've always sort of disapproved of this but, well, our choices were Brooklyn's Finest or the French movie A Prophet. Actually, I thought about Hot Tub Time Machine, because at least there the anal sex was probably consensual.

Anyway, we ended up watching Roman Polanski's latest. I don't know why I do this to myself. I guess because I don't think of Polanski as being boring, whatever his other flaws. But Ghost Writer is a big old stupid fest on top of some really stupid politics and only marginally competent old-school direction.

Nice traditional score, however, by Alexandre Desplat, who also scored the French movie we didn't go see.

The story is that Ewan McGregor is a writer offered a juicy contract with the former prime minister Pierce Brosnan to help him finish his memoirs. The old friend who had been helping him up to that point mysteriously turned up dead through accident or suicide—but you know he was murdered.

McGregor runs into Kim Cattrall, who sports an on again off again English accent, and Olivia Williams, who bravely goes without flattering makeup and lighting so that she can appear to be a peer of Pierce Brosnan. Brosnan, meanwhile, looks like he's done a George Clooney on his face. Also showing up are Jim Belushi and Eli Wallach, as well as Timothy Hutton.

When I confessed to the theater manager and I had bought a ticket to see Girl with a Dragon Tattoo but saw this instead, she agreed and said it was disappointing to see so many actors she liked willing to work with Polanski. It's true: You watch and go, "Awwww...not Pierce! Not Timothy (what would his dad think?)! Not Jim! Anybody but Jim!"

I don't need to elaborate, I'm sure, about how this movie unfolds. Obviously, McGregor is going to find out both that the previous ghostwriter found something out that got him killed and is going to find out the same thing and therefore be in jeopardy himself.

The point to this kind of movie is in how it's executed. I was not impressed and neither was The Boy.

Both of us were sort of impressed by the sheer stupidity of McGregor's character. He seems to grasp the level of danger early on enough and yet takes few if any steps to preserve his anonymity.

Allow me a digression here for a moment: Remember Jar Jar Binks? Everybody hated Jar Jar. Except me. Sure, he was the most grating character to be seen on stage or screen since Gilbert Gottfried did his one-man-show on Bobcat Goldthwait, but he was vitally necessary. His traveling companions were Jedi who never got excited about anything. If not for his exaggerated overreactions, you'd never know anybody was in danger.

So it is with McGregor, both in terms of his emotional state and in terms of how he reacts to danger. At one point, during a car chase, he pulls off the side of the road and waits. And nothing happens for a minute or two, so he pulls right back out on to the road and proceeds on his way. (By the way, if these guys tailing him meant to do him harm, they could've been a little less conspicuous.) At one point, his room gets trashed and, well, he seems a bit miffed.

And for what should be a highly paranoid movie, he ends up trusting a voice on the phone, letting an unknown thug/bodyguard pat him down for weapons, and generally doing things that would get you killed in a real thriller.

And, now that I think about it, the MacGuffin—the thing the whole movie revolves around and which the bad guys are trying to destroy—in the hands of the bad guys the whole time. They knew they wanted it. They go after McGregor for having something that looks like it. But they had access to it from scene one.

Stupid.

To ice this particular cinematic cake, the entire movie is thinly disguised Bush bashing. The guy has been out of office for over a year, but they can't stop making movies about him. Brosnan is playing Tony Blair, and the movie's premise is that Blair was a lapdog to the US. This was a popular meme on the left.

Ever wonder if that happened during World War II? "That Churchill guy! He's always siding with Roosevelt! How come he never takes Hitler's side?" You know, it's so inconceivable that America and Britain could have a common interest that the only possible reason for them to agree must be that the British prime minister is under some sinister American influence.

This movie features waterboarding—which we did a total of three times, if I'm not mistaken, but which apparently we did so well, the world is outsourcing its torturing to us.

Stupid, stupid stuff.

And the ironic cherry on top of our cake is that the Prime Minister might have to flee to the US to escape prosecution for war crimes. One character notes that the US does not respect the international criminal Court's jurisdiction putting it in the same category as North Korea and Israel.

Surely Roman could not have missed the irony of speaking with such contempt for those who flee punishment passed by legitimate courts.

It does make you wonder why he'd want to come back here, though. And really makes you wonder why anyone would agitate to allow him back.

Anyway, dumb plot, dumb politics, and only a glimmer of directorial skill to buoy up some really weak action scenes make for a rather cheap movie. One person actually clapped at the end. I looked over and said, "Really? Really?!"

We actually should have gone to see the Girl with the Dragon tattoo again.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Finally! A good movie! And it's from Sweden! Betcha didn't see that comin', didja? Huh? Huh? Well, me neither. Last time a buncha Swedes got together to make a good movie, vampires were involved.

If you were going to describe the girl with the dragon tattoo, you might call it a Swedish Silence of the Lambs.

The story is that investigative reporter Sven Anderssen (okay I'm making that name up) has been shamed publicly when an investigation of an evil capitalists goes sideways on him and lands him in legal trouble. as he loses the trial, he ends up working for a wealthy man who is trying to solve a 40 year old mystery.

Now, how Swedish can you get? He ends up being found guilty in the first five minutes of the movie but he doesn't have to start serving his sentence for six months. And, of course, his jail cell ends up looking more comfortable than your average room at an Extended Stay America.

Anyway, while he's researching this 40-year-old murder, he's also being researched by the titular girl with a Dragon tattoo. She's a feisty, dark-haired computer hacker who is being watched over by the protective, paternalistic Swedish government for some events that occurred in the past.

Unfortunately for her, her new parole officer—it's actually called something like Guardian—sees her vulnerability as a opportunity to explore his perverse sexual peccadilloes with a partner that can't complain.

Naturally, the old investigative reporter and the young computer hacker end up working together to solve this old mystery which involves lots of dead women and, believe it or not, Nazis.

Okay, I have to admit the introduction of Nazis into the storyline made me roll my eyes a little bit. But it wasn't as hacky as that sounds.

Like some of the best European films, this one has many elements that feel very Hollywood and otherwise American while retaining a unique local sensibility, much the same way that Let The Right One In did. In other words, while it presents certain elements of the genre, there is no question that this is a Swedish movie.

It's decidedly anti-capitalist, natch—"Capitalist" is used as a slur in the way "Commie" was used as a slur in the USA in the '50s, and most of the movie's capitalists are Nazis or murderers or both—but at the same time, with the torture inflicted on the heroine by her state-appointed guardian, it must also be viewed as anti-statist at some level.

Mostly however, it's entertaining. It engages you in its characters, as intriguing plot, and while dealing with a seamy subject matter—actually several seamy subject matters—it never feels too self-important.

By the way, I do mean seamy. Much like Silence of the Lambs, this is not a movie with a lot of lighthearted subject matter.

The Boy, the Old Man and I all liked this movie.

Da Wolf, Man!

One of the problems with taking other people's advice about what movie to see is that they might get upset with you if you don't like it as much as they did. (And that's all I have to say about that. You know who you are.)

The Wolfman is a newish movie by the kind-of all over the place Joe Johnston, director of such diverse films as Jumanji and October Sky. It's oddly faithful to the original Universal classic, in such notable ways as re-creating Lon Chaney, Jr.'s furry-faced lycanthrope makeup. Nobody is calling this a perfect movie, but some parts are very effective. And, as always with horror movies, one person's effective is another person's cheesy laughable moment.

For me, I liked the sets, which seemed to use a minimum of CGI. I liked the makeup, as mentioned. I liked the way Benicio Del Toro reminded me of Chaney both in the thickness of his features and his sort of square acting.

Less successful was the near utter predictability of the whole affair. Now, given that this is a remake and there aren't a whole lot of ways for the story to turn out, it actually wasn't nearly as bad as some "original" movies we've seen lately. There's a scene in a mental asylum that was both original to this remake and evocative of the 1940s-era mad scientist movies.

Also, the finale did not emerge from classic werewolf movies of the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s or 90s—which I suppose is something of a spoiler. I rather liked that, however, because the movie was faithful in so many respects to the original that updating the ending was more effective than if they had modernized everything.

Emily Blunt and Hugo weaving both performed admirably well, unlike, sadly, Anthony Hopkins, whose performance might well define the phrase "phoning it in". (Have we seen anything out of this guy in the past ten years? What the hell happened? Is it just old age? And what the hell did he do to his face?)

A mixed bag to be sure. I rather enjoyed the overall experience as did the Old Man. The Boy did not look amused as he proclaimed that this was not his kind of movie. (What kind of movie was it? I asked him. He said, "Monster/action movies.")

But I would only recommend to the sorts of people who recommended it to me. Heh.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Art of the Steal

There's a documentary running around the art houses these days that's better than most of the movies that are playing. It's called The Art of the Steal, and it's the fascinating story of the Barnes Foundation, which is a little place outside of Philadelphia that contains one of the most astounding collections of art in the world.

And 85 years ago, while Albert C. Barnes (who had amassed a fortune by inventing Argyrol) was busily collecting this art, he got a showing in Philadelphia. And the elites of the Philadelphia social circle trashed his art, and him for thinking it was worth collecting.

Flash forward a couple of decades, and all of a sudden, the art critics have caught up with Barnes, and all those Rembrandts, Matisses, Picassos, etc., are worthwhile. But Barnes has sworn they'll never get their hands on his art again.

At the forefront of the bad blood was Philadelphia Inquirer owner Moses Amnenberg who was no less forgiving of Barnes' snub than Barnes was of what he received. Moses passed on the feud to his son Walter, and the 90 year drama looks like it's about to come to a close.

This is one of those documentaries that has a very clear agenda from the start. What Barnes did was to set up a special environment for his art. He placed art from different cultures and different time periods but which dealt with similar subject matters in the same room, for example, which makes for some interesting contrasts. He also limited access to this art to, for lack of a better word, people he liked.

In other words, an art critic had a much smaller chance of getting to see this art than a plumber. Well, as long as that plumber had impressed upon Barnes a genuine interest.

While this appeals to me in a rather perverse way, I can't help but feel that the more people who get to see these works of art, the better. The filmmakers clearly feel differently and give lots of air time to people who object to the commoditization of art.

However I feel about it, however, the point that should never be glossed over in a civilized society is that Barnes felt the way he felt and put down in writing how he felt and set up a legal contract to protect his interests. So while I think that Barnes particular arrangement of art is interesting but not sacrosanct, it's so painfully clear that the moneyed interests of Philadelphia have their own agenda that was above the law, the whole matter is a disgrace.

I mean, it's really that simple: the man left instructions on how the art was to be taken care of. Forces worked to thwart those instructions. Barnes' big mistake was not leaving enough money to take care of the art in the upcoming decades. Although, he actually did -- he simply couldn't foresee the level of incompetence among those who followed.

Once the documentary reached the point where the art collection was jeopardized, I found myself repeatedly asking myself --- because I try not to talk to other people in the movies --- why not just sell one of these truly priceless paintings some of which were valued at a half $1 billion? I mean, the trust specified that the art was not to be sold or rented or otherwise broken up but of all the elements of the trust that were corrupted over time, one tiny sale could have prevented all of that.

What it comes down to, of course, is Big Charity. we tend to feel like charity by virtue of its mere name must be a good thing. But in the United States, "charitable organization" is it more of a tax designation than anything else. The movie kind of flounders when it comes to discussing how the Barnes collection was critical to the charitable status of the Pew Foundation, but one thing is certain: a lot of people were highly interested in ignoring the wishes of the man who was smart enough to put this art collection together, and for them a mere legal contract was no barrier.

All in all, a very good movie, and better than most of the ones that we've seen lately: it had interesting characters, intrigue, suspense, dramatic irony, a nice pace and it was enlightening to boot.

I, the boy, and the old man all enjoyed this film.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Alice In Burtonland

Sometimes I feel like saying that all of our greatest directors suck. Like, Avatar seems more like a Cameron parody than an actual Cameron movie. Spielberg? Tell me the last Indy movie didn't seem like a parody of the previous ones.

And now we have Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. Tim Burton kind of pioneered the whole CGI/live-action mix with Mars Attacks! which is a fun movie, even if highly flawed and a little hard on the eyes (or so it seemed at the time).

But, see, here's the thing: While Mars Attacks! is sort of funny, wacky, and even a bit whimsical, it's a dark sort of whimsy. Burton is not exactly what you'd call light-hearted. Even Pee-Wee's Big Adventure has a dark edge—but that works really well, there, since the whole Pee Wee schtick is silly.

So, while it might seem like a natural fit—the quirky, artistic Burton taking on the quirky, artistic Lewis Caroll—the result is, of course, more Burton than Carroll, with all the lightness and humor of the latter buried in the gothic sensibilities of the former.

Worse yet, this isn't even good Burton. Wonderland is in ruins, smoky and barren. But even in flashbacks or at the (inevitable) happy ending, Burton can't muster a truly cheerful, much less joyous, picture of Wonderland. The whole thing is emotionally and artistically muted.

It doesn't help that we've seen this before. Well, you probably haven't. But over ten years ago, American McGee's Alice had a similar plot and actually a nicer look. Obviously Disney wasn't going to go this dark under any circumstances, but then why team up with Burton?

Wait, didn't Burton get fired from Disney?

Well, that was billions of dollars ago, if it's even true.

What we have in Disney's Tim Burton's Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland is a sort-of sequel to a mash-up of the classic children's tales Alice's Adventures In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass. In it, a grown up Alice avoids an awkward, highly public marriage proposal by escaping down a rabbit hole.

Ah, but she's been down this rabbit hole before, she just doesn't remember. She thought she was simply dreaming. Well, Underland, as it styles itself is in a pickle. The Red Queen has used the Jabberwock and the Bandersnatch to lay waste to everything and rule in terror. It's up to Alice to remember who she is and bring about the frabjous day foretold in the Oracular.

So, yeah, Alice by way of Narnia.

The Flower and The Boy liked it well enough.

To me it seemed awful familiar. Like the tree with the rabbit hole? A less sinister version of Sleepy Hollow's head tree. Johnny Depp looking more like a fruitier Wonka than the Mad Hatter. Helena Bonham Carter's enormous head was kind of cool and disturbing. She really seemed convincing when she yelled "Off with their heads!"

But Anne Hathaway as the White Queen reminded me so much of Ichabod Crane's (Depp, again) mother (former Burton paramour Lisa Marie) that I began to fear for the future of Burton and Bonham Carter's children.

What's interesting to me is that the movie's bookends—the story of Alice outside of Wonderland—is classic Burton. Alice is an oddball, and she doesn't fit in, though practically she must (or so it seems). Here is the Edward Scissorhands, the Ed Wood, the Jack Skellington, even, or the better parts of Wonka (where he's not coping with his daddy issues).

Her oddness drives the movie by creating some tension for the rest of the characters to play against.

Once in Wonderland? Dead stop. She's not really odd by Wonderland standards, after all, and the Burton-esque tension goes slack as she sort of mopes her way through a plot obvious enough to make Uncle Walt blush. I mean, it goes out of its way to tell you what's going to happen.

Burton's movies all basically boil down to oddball vs. normies. It's one of the reasons Batman Returns was so awful. To him it's not heroes and villains, as comic books traditionally are, but oddballs and regular people. He identifies with the oddballs, so the Penguin comes off as sympathetic rather than evil.

Similarly, here we have oddballs versus oddballs. And the whole thing is ridiculously heavy-handed. I mean, I sort of get that: I love the original story, but it's not really full of warm characters suitable for plush toy merchandising. The characters are memorable, but it's an intellectual story, full of puns and illogic, not emotion.

Here, the characters are largely unmemorable, except for what you sort of remember from your previous encounters with the story. The Mad Hatter wants to be a Scarecrow-esque companion to Alice's Dorothy (heh, you following that?) but he just reminds you of better sidekicks.

And, weirdly, every now and again Depp channels Mel Gibson as Braveheart. The Flower liked that: "He's talking like Shrek!" I couldn't figure it out. I think it was to shoehorn him into a heroic character somehow.

So, the characters that get the most time, character-wise are Alice (Mia Wasikowska), the Queen (Carter) and the Knave of Hearts, played by Crispin Glover. (Fun trivia: Glover came within a hair's breadth of being Edward Scissorhands.)

The villains, in other words, are the most clearly drawn, apart from Alice.

There are a few other good points, too. A conflicted basset hound (Timothy Spall), the frumious bandersnatch. I giggle like an idiot at a lot of parts simply because I recognized the Burton repertory player. Christopher Lee as the Jabberwock? Sure, why not.

Overall, I'm afraid it was a big heaping plate of meh. Not Burtony enough. Not Carrolly enough. Didn't sacrifice enough narrative logic to capture the zaniness of the source material. Didn't sacrifice enough of the zaniness of the source to connect emotionally.

I liked Elfman's score, though. There were several points where outright "you're nothing but a deck of cards" moments were spared by virtue of a convincing score.

Recommended for Burton (or Hathaway) completists only.

Oscar Predictions

I'm just not feeling it this year. I don't watch the Oscars any more. I don't like to subject the kids to it. I mean, it's right after the Olympics, and nearly as long.

But I'm gonna take some WAGs here on who's gonna take home the gold.

Best Picture: Avatar

It doesn't make a lick of sense, but then Titanic beat out Life Is Beautiful, L.A. Confidential, Boogie Nights, uh...Men In Black...actually, '97 was a pretty crappy year. But I don't think the Academy can give the award to what is, essentially, a pro-troop movie. Bigelow tried to make their service more a compulsion than a duty, though, so it's possible. Precious, maybe, could get it.

Best Actor: Jeff Bridges

Morgan Freeman could win, of course. He always has a chance, even in years where he's not nominated or hasn't been in a movie. But Bridges doesn't have one, he did great (as always), and it's the sort of role the Academy likes to reward.

Best Actress: Sandra Bullock

I'm way shaky on this. Sandra played a rich, white (duh) Republican. Can they really let her win over Gabourey Sidibe? My only real thought there is "Gabourey Sidibe who?" So, maybe.

Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer

What the supporting award was made for: Slipping Oscars to old guys you might be embarrassed of not having awarded when you die (See Palance, Jack and Landau, Martin.) Stanley Tucci will get one eventually. Chris Waltz probably deserves it the most for being the only non-boring part of Inglorious Basterds.

Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique

Supporting Actress has been a ghetto for black actresses since Hattie McDaniel. Plus, no comedies have been nominated. Actually, no comedies have been nominated anywhere this year, except for kid movies.

Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow

This is a total WAG. Tarantino and Cameron already have awards. Bigelow doesn't quite have the pedigree, I think, which makes me hesitate. But can they really give the award to Reitman. He probably is the best director out of the bunch, but that seldom actually matters.

No clue about screenplay. Should be the Coens, though. Avatar will pick up Cinematography, Editing and Art Direction.

Meh. I'm filled with...lack of interest. You?

UPDATE: OK, nine predictions, and I missed Best Picture and Editing (The Hurt Locker), supporting actor (Waltz of Basterds). Six out of nine is not really good. I probably could've guessed The Cove would win, muckraking as it is. And I maybe could've guessed Crazy Heart's "Weary Kind" would've won a song just by eliminating Randy Newman who had two of the other nominations.

But I couldn't have cared much more. Let's have some better films this year, H-wood.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Sometimes I Forget

I'm fortunate enough to have both my parents still living (though I worry about my dad). Even so, there's a song (by Loudon Wainwright III, natch) that brings me to tears every time every time I hear it. (Much less sing it, as I sometimes do.)

He wrote it about his dad. He and his dad, Loudon Wainwright II—never name your kids after yourself—had a tumultuous, competitive relationship, and he actually wrote a lot of songs about his father, some of them quite angry.

But this one he wrote after his father had died. They had reached a sort of accord, developed a relationship, and then he was gone. A friend of mine was talking about her father's favorite place to eat and tearing up, and it brought this song to mind.




Sometimes I forget
That you are gone
You're gone and you're not coming back
It's hard to believe
You're still not here
What's left behind disputes that fact

Your closet's still full of your clothes and your shoes
And your bookcase still holds all your books
It's as if all you'd done was to go out of town
You'll be back soon, that's just how it looks

But your suitcase is empty
It's right here in the hall
And that's not even the strangest thing
Why would you leave your wallet behind?
Your glasses, your wristwatch and ring
Your glasses, your wristwatch and ring

Sometimes I forget
That you are gone
And that we'll never see you again
I think for a moment
"I've got to give him a call."
But I can't now, I realize then

No, we can't meet for lunch at the usual place
The place that where we always would go
And there was something I wanted to tell you so bad
Something I knew that you'd want to know

Oh, I could go by myself
To our old haunt
But that seems such a strange thing to do
The waiters would wonder what was going on
Why weren't you there, where were you?
Why weren't you there, where were you?

Sometimes I forget
That you are gone
I remember and I feel the ache
How could it happen?
How could it be?
It's not true, there must be some mistake

Mementos and memories, tell me what good are they?
No, they're not much to have and to hold
And it's true that you're gone and you're not coming back
And this world seems so empty and cold

But sometimes something happens
And it doesn't seem strange
You're not far away, you're near
Sometimes I forget
That you are gone
Sometimes it feels like you're right here
Right now it feels like you're right here


Friday, March 5, 2010

Best of 2009: The Thinnening

On my first pass through the list of 2009 movies, to determine a best, I shall remove all movies that sucked to a greater or lesser extent. We're going for movies with zero suckage. OK, it was a bad year: minimal suckage.

That leaves us with about 45 that were worth seeing for some reason.

Adventureland
Away We Go
The Blind Side
The Brothers Bloom
Coraline
Crazy Heart
District 9
Drag Me To Hell
Etsba Elohim: Out of the Blue
Extract
Everybody's Fine
Fantatstic Mr. Fox
500 Days of Summer
Funny People
Gomorra
The Great Buck Howard
The Hangover
Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince
The Haunting in Connecticut
The Hurt Locker
I Love You, Man
In The Loop
Is Anybody There?
The Maid
Management
Moon, Inc.
Observe and Report
Orphan
Pandorum
Paranormal Activity
Pirate Radio
Play The Game
Ponyo
Saw VI
A Serious Man
Sherlock Holmes
The Stoning of Soaraya M.
Sunshine Cleaning
Taken
The Taking of Pellham 1 2 3
Tetro
Tickling Leo
Up
Up In The Air
Zombieland

From that, let's remove those whose scales were tipped slightly more to flawed, or which just didn't bring enough to the table to warrant being considered in a "best of":

Adventureland
Away We Go
The Blind Side
The Brothers Bloom
Coraline
Crazy Heart
District 9
Drag Me To Hell
Etsba Elohim: Out of the Blue
500 Days of Summer
Funny People
The Great Buck Howard
The Hurt Locker
I Love You, Man
Is Anybody There?
Management
Moon, Inc.
Orphan
Paranormal Activity
Pirate Radio
Play The Game
Ponyo
A Serious Man
The Stoning of Soaraya M.
Taken
The Taking of Pellham 1 2 3
Tickling Leo
Up
Up In The Air
Zombieland

Huh. OK, that only shaved it down to 30. Let's eliminate the fluff (I Love You, Man, Taken, Pellham, Management, Pirate Radio, Play The Game), the good-but-not-great (Adventureland, Away We Go, Coraline, 500 Days of Summer, The Stoning of Soaraya M.
Tickling Leo, The Great Buck Howard) and, as much as it pains me, the movies that weren't really great so much as having great performances (Crazy, Is Anybody There?).

Now we're down to fifteen:

The Blind Side
The Brothers Bloom
District 9
Drag Me To Hell
Etsba Elohim: Out of the Blue
Funny People
The Hurt Locker
Moon, Inc.
Orphan
Paranormal Activity
Ponyo
A Serious Man
Up
Up In The Air
Zombieland

From this list, I'd drop Drag Me To Hell for the ending, Etsba Elohim: Out of the Blue because it did drag a bit in spots, Funny People for not being funnier. I'm tempted to drop The Hurt Locker because the ending reveals a lack of understanding on the producers' part, IMO. But instead I'm dropping Ponyo (for being a little too sweet) and Up In The Air for tasting too much like a hotel ashtray.

My top ten for the year, then:

The Blind Side
The Brothers Bloom
District 9
The Hurt Locker
Moon, Inc.
Orphan
Paranormal Activity
A Serious Man
Up
Zombieland

Not in order. Yeah, I got two horror movies on the list, not counting Zombieland. Maybe they're not as good as they other movies, but they're good horror movies and that's a damn rare thing. Also, two sci-fi movies and a post-apocalyptic thriller.

In order?

A Serious Man
Up
The Blind Side
District 9
The Brothers Bloom
Moon, Inc.
The Hurt Locker
Paranormal Activity
Zombieland
Orphan

There ya have it. Next up, my Oscar predictions. I didn't even see how many of my top ten are on their list. I'm thinking, at most, three?

Best of 2009: The List

Here's a list of the movies we saw over the past year, less the eight After Dark movies, plus a couple that we saw in early 2009 that weren't 2008 movies, and minus the movies we've scene this year that actually are from 2010. About 70 again.

Our impression was that it was a bad year, though looking back, the fun little Liam Neeson actioner Taken released early on suggested the year was going to be much less drab than it was. Anyway, here's the List, which I shall pare down in the next post:

Adventureland
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel
Avatar
Away We Go
Baader-Meinhoff Complex
The Blind Side
The Brothers Bloom
Coraline
Crazy Heart
District 9
Drag Me To Hell
Duplicity
An Education
Etsba Elohim: Out of the Blue
Extract
Everybody's Fine
Fantatstic Mr. Fox
500 Days of Summer
Funny People
Gomorra
The Great Buck Howard
The Hangover
Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince
The Haunting in Connecticut
The Hurt Locker
I Love You, Man
Inglorious Basterds
In The Loop
Invention of Lying
Is Anybody There?
Lymelife
The Maid
Management
Moon, Inc.
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
Observe and Report
Orphan
Pandorum
Paranormal Activity
Pirate Radio
Play The Game
Ponyo
Public Enemies
Revolutionary Road
Saw VI
A Serious Man
A Single Man
Sherlock Holmes
Shrink
Star Trek
The Stoning of Soaraya M.
Sunshine Cleaning
Taken
The Reader
The Taking of Pellham 1 2 3
Tetro
Tickling Leo
Up
Up In The Air
Watchmen
White Ribbon
Zombieland

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

First In A Series In Which I Offer Unsolicited Advice To Celebrities Based On Miniscule Exposure To Their Work

Many moons ago, compulsive copyeditor Amba tweeted this delightful little video from the Wellington Ukulele Orchestra. (This is going to be an unusual post for me; I'm actually embedding video.)

Ukuleles aside, the maudlin nature of the song pushes it over into a sort of joyous "singing the blues" (no actual blues involved). These guys sound (and look) like they're having a great time. Not mocking it, but not wallowing in hyper dark seriousness.

Since I'd been plucking on my uke a bit more lately, I thought I'd check out the song a bit more and discovered the song was originally Bonnie Tyler. Having survived the '80s, I knew her from a couple of other songs, and it occurred to me, at that moment, I could probably offer some helpful romantic advice to Ms. Tyler.

First of all, here's her rendition. (I can barely stand to listen to it, even though the WUO is pretty faithful.)



Wait a second. Catch those lyrics? There aren't many of them, but you may not have stopped to consider them fully.

It's a heartache
Nothing but a heartache
Love him till your arms break
Then he lets you down


Wait, love him till what? Your arms break? What were you doing that either of you were enjoying up to the point that your arms actually broke?

Well, anyone can be a bit intense from time-to-time. It's not like, you know, it's super-creepy intense with, like, ninjas and angels and glowy-eyed demons and erotic dreams of half-naked underaged boys, right?



Well, it's important to keep a positive attitude.

Your love is like a shadow on me all of the time
I don't know what to do and I'm always in the dark
We're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks

OK, but at least there's no good reason whatsoever to hang out in an abandoned insane asylum right?

All right, I'm getting the picture. Well, maybe you can make up for some of these, um, relationship shortcomings by lowering your standards?






It's gonna take a superman
To sweep me off my feet

The problem, Ms. Tyler, is that you're constantly at 10, in a world that's happiest with things around a 3-4. Guys, in particular, like calm, level-headed women who are appreciative without being overly needy.

Look, try something different. Imagine this guy approaching you:





And just ask yourself, "Am I gonna scare him off?" If the answer's "yes", you might want to consider dialing it back a bit.

You're welcome.

Burdens and Blessings

I have held off blogging about The Enigma in the hopes that she would blog for herself; such a thing would be extremely challenging, and I've seen some kids do it who are then attacked by their commenters as being fakes.

There is a process called "facilitated communication" by which one person holds the brain-injured person's hand at the wrist and this helps the brain-injured person "type out" a message on a board. The reaction from the casual bystander is to think the facilitator is doing it, not the brain-injured person. (Of course, anyone who tried to force The Enigma to do anything would realize how silly an idea that was.)

You can read about one aspect of the controversy here. The Enigma is one of those kids who has gradually gained independence in facilitation. For some things, she doesn' t need any help at all any more.

In the previous post, Troop mentioned something about having crosses to bear, and it reminded me of a discussion I'd had with a friend when The Enigma was around ten. He was talking about a basketball player or movie star who had a handicapped kid (maybe adopted one, even).

"They say it's a blessing? Is it?"
"What?"
"Having a special needs child. Celebrities are always talking about what a blessing it is."
"Are you nuts?"

I thought—and I still think—this is just a stupid celebrity thing. I mean, what are they going to say: "Every day is a soul-crushing burden"? (Not that I have felt that way, but I've certainly seen parents who did.)

It's hard to enumerate the costs. Financially ruinous, of course, several times. (Most recently, shortly after being reduced to a part-time employee, The Enigma incurred a $12,000 dental bill.) My own health shot (or at least diminished), as I've spent 15 years tending her at nights because she doesn't sleep well. (Health experts disagree on a lot of things, like nutrition and exercise, but they all seem to agree that not getting enough sleep will kill you.)

To say nothing having missed many of the joys of a normal life with her, and feeling that loss acutely as each of her siblings grow up.

A blessing?

But then, it has to be said that if the condition is horrible, some of the fallout has been decidedly positive. The Enigma attended a special school where they said their ABCs and motored her through doing cut-outs; at twelve, with the help of the Institutes, we put her on a home program, where she ultimately developed the ability to comprehend over 20 different languages.

So, her siblings also have been homeschooled. The Boy was a particular beneficiary as he could've skated through school on charm.

Also, looking into alternative approaches to handling The Enigma's condition led to the elimination of my allergies, and seems to have The Boy on the road to recovery for his diabetes.

Now, I've come to understand The Enigma somewhat better over the years. We don't really understand these kids—I'll get into why in a later post, but curiously tantalizing fact is that blood tests on them have revealed compounds similar to hallucinogens—and it's true that they are alien to us, in the sense of their experience and intelligence. (Homo sapiens bases its idea of intelligence on the ability to speak.)

But even respecting that difference, let's not pretend that brain injury is not a deficiency. Even if it results in hyper-intelligence in certain areas (as I believe it does, which is something else I'll get into later), let's not go down the deaf route of declaring some kind of legitimate lifestyle choice.

It's a challenge. And a struggle. But as Troop points out, there are many crosses to bear. If there's a sin, it's allowing yourself being defined by the burdens rather than the blessings.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Introducing The Enigma

Although I haven't blogged about her explicitly, The Boy, The Flower and The Barbarienne have an older sister, who for blogging purposes, I'll refer to as "The Enigma". The Enigma is the oldest, and as all first children, she was life-changing.

The Enigma was especially life-changing, as she is severely brain-injured.

A botched surgery at four days left her with a host of developmental problems. A lot of the references I make to things like the ketogenic diet, the IAHP, or "snake oil" in general come from the experiences I've had trying to help her. ("Standard" treatment for brain-injured kids these days is to load 'em up with drugs for depression and hyperactivity, give them a lot of useless therapy, warehouse them in special—er, wait, now we pack 'em in with the rest of the kids, no matter how inappropriate—and load up the parents with antidepressants, while we're at it.)

One thing parents of brain-injured children tend to do is to look at other brain-injured children and thing "If only...". It can be hard to comprehend for someone with "normal" children, but I can look at Down's Syndrome kids and think, "They've got it easy."

I'm not going to be coy: I'm blogging now because of Simon's tweets about his son, who reminds me strongly of some of the kids the IAHP has treated over the years.

One of the eye-opening things they do at the IAHP is that they point out that kids like The Enigma, because they're obviously brain-injured, are given certain leeway. Society dismisses them, sure, but because of that, when they do something socially incorrect, the thought process is "Well, they're retarded." Or whatever the word du jour is.

But massive numbers of children are brain-injured in ways that have no visible trace. The various syndromes referred to as ADHD or dyslexia or things that don't even have names yet leave a child who looks perfectly normal, yet who is unable to function in some critical way.

These kids are "stupid", "lazy" or just plain "bad". I was in a room full of parents of severely brain-injured kids, and not one of us didn't tear up hearing about kids who were so high functioning, that they were actually treated worse than our own kids.

When I hear about Simon's kid, I think of a story they told at the Institutes of a teen who had been brought in because he always made the wrong choice. Well, that's weird, isn't it? It doesn't sound like a brain problem.

Now, anyone who reads this blog knows I'm big on looking at spiritual causes, responsibility, discipline. But, to draw an analogy, if the body is a computer and the brain is the CPU, then if the CPU is screwed up, it doesn't really matter what the computer user's intentions are. The results will be screwed up.

This kid who always made the wrong choice was brought in for an interview. And after exchanging some light interview questions, the interviewer adjourned with the kid to show him around the campus.

On the way out, he asked him to turn off the light—a little desk lamp.

And the kid reached for it with one hand. Then he stopped. Then he reached for it with the other hand. Then there was this little struggle. This kid couldn't turn off a light! Instead, after agonizing for several seconds, he grabbed it and tried to smash it on the floor. (I don't recall if he succeeded.)

It's sort of astounding. I might even be disinclined to believe it, but I see similar behaviors from The Enigma on a daily basis. I see "normal" kids all the time and can spot the brain injuries that will go unnoticed for all their lives. You can imagine the reaction of a parent to the notion that their beautiful, perfect child is "brain-injured". It's better, in most cases, not to bring it up.

(This, in my opinion, is due to the complete failure of "standard" treatments to do anything at all about brain injuries, so a brain injury is considered a sort of life sentence.)

An average kid who functions normally in most instances is almost never going to be correctly identified as far as brain injuries go. In most cases, that just means they'll go through life thinking they're clumsy, or unable to do certain things. In other cases, the results are more dire.

Now, where I get jealous of kids like this is that the fix is ridiculously easy, at least compared to the more severe injuries, many of which are not totally fixable (at least not by the IAHP's methods).

Anyway, my heart goes out to Simon and his family. I hope they find an answer.

Contributors