Friday, January 30, 2009

All Quiet on the Western Front

Got a metric tonne of shite to do so I may be quiet this weekend.

I'll probably go see Frost/Nixon and feel dirty about it.

My mom used to be a serious Frank Langella fanatic. I'm not kidding. She saw Sphinx--in a movie theater!--every day for a month, I think it was. She could recite dialog.

It was because of her that I saw, on opening day, Masters of the Universe in the Cinerama Dome! And the only other guy there, besides us, was James Noble, who played Governor Gatling on "Benson".

The following year, she actually met him on the set of "Dr. Paradise", a TV pilot that never got picked up. I think that was the end of her interest in him. Langella is a phenomenal actor, and absolutely fills a room like only a polished stage performer can, but when he's off, he's a mousy little guy and kind of effeminate.

Like all actors.

Except John Wayne.

And Rock Hudson.

The Double Standard

A good buddy of mine who, in his own words, was a "man-ho" during his single years once told me that he planned to tell his sons to get whatever they could (sexually, if that's not obvious) while they could. I asked him, in all innocence, if he would give the same advice to his daughters, and he demurred.

(I do this sometimes. I'll ask a question in innocence and trip up someone, and then sort of feel like a jerk.)

Now, he obviously enjoyed himself. The women he was with for the most part enjoyed themselves, I think--though I'd guess a few didn't believe him when he said he wasn't going to settle down--he was extremely popular. He didn't seem to hold them in contempt.

But he didn't want that for his daughter. Very clearly. He was repulsed by the idea, I would say.

Cognitive dissonance emerges.

I sort of understand the madonna/whore thing better: There are women you "date" and women you "marry". (Though I've wondered if they're not good enough to marry why would you date them? And shouldn't good marriage material also be good date material?)

I also think, logically, one wants one's children to have good sex lives, within the parameters of whatever morality one subscribes. (I think that viscerally, one also doesn't want to actually think about it much.)

I guess what I wonder is, if it's really just that the "whore" side of the madonna/whore duality has become more acceptable, or if--sexual revolution or no--people still feel like they're sinning when, uh, fornicating, and if the evidence of that is a rejection of that lifestyle for their daughters at least.

Or is it just a hold over?

I hear more from women that "women aren't wired" to have the sort of sex that the sexual revolution has freed them to have. It's even reflected in some movies (like the Judd Apatow oeuvre) as a defect for women to pursue casual sex. (I guess that isn't too much different from the past; the lead female is never vigorously active with a bunch of different men.)

I guess I don't get what's going on. I think the old way, however hypocritical, was better. We all agreed that virginity, monogamy and fidelity were optimal, even as we fell short of it. But maybe I'm just a killjoy.

I should say that I'm writing here from the viewpoint of the individual. I think it's pretty clear that society would clearly be better off with virginity followed by lifelong fidelity. (Limited polyamory could theoretically provide stronger family structures, as long as fidelity was strictly kept.)

Conversations From The Living Room, Part 9: Working Class Wizards

"So, what happens if the court finds Harry guilty?"
"He gets expelled from Hogwarts."
"Well, then what?"
"Does he have to go to wizard Trade School or something?"
"Is Wizard Community College like Wizard High School with ashtrays?"
"Does it ruin his chances at being the Minister of Wizardry? Will he end up having to get a wizard journalism degree and running for governor of Wizard Alaska?"
"Don't you wonder about these things?"
"Maybe it's in the book."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Treadmill Desk, Week 4

Friday: 280 minutes

Saturday: 60 minutes

Tuesday: 360 minutes

This morning I was feeling pretty agile, just minor foot pain. I decided to put it to the test by going for six hours straight, which went pretty well, though I'm a bit stiff now. Still, it's good to make progress.

Wednesday: 210 minutes

Thursday: 300 minutes

So...lesseee....1210 minutes. 20 hours. Not quite double last week, but respectable. Let's see if I can't get to 25 next week.

Beating A Dead Hobby Horse

I was looking at some articles from a guy I found through my old pal Esther on Twitter.

He's got one labeled "Why Linux will crush Windows 7". First thing that amused me was in the comments, the same old Microsoft astroturfers hawking lies about Linux and how great the next version of Microsoft's bloated old OS. (It's always the next version that's going to be the good one.)

But what was really funny were the latest comments (here). That's right: An op-ed on Operating Systems has turned into a flame war on Proposition 8 and homosexuality.

Only on the tubes, folks.

Budgets and Waists

I did a quick little download of the family's expenses for 2008.


The #1 expense, far and away? Food.

And my kids are so skinny, too! What's up with that?

Mortgage and taxes are neck-and-neck for #2. Taxes are the actual #2, but I don't break out sales, real estate, auto licensing and insurance taxes, employer payroll taxes, gas taxes, utility taxes--actually, taxes would easily surpass food if I bothered to count them all.

But that'd be too depressing.

Have You Seen The Little Piggies?

I don't know if it's all the tweetering or whatever, but I do see a lot of folks pissed off over the "stimulus" bill.

Oh, hell, let's not call it a stimulus bill, it's just Christmas for Democrats. (Hey, they won, right? That means they get to do whatever they want!)

But let us also not forget that this little moment at the trough which--worst case scenario, could be Obama's FDR to W's Hoover, giving us fourteen years of really bad times instead of six years of moderately bad times--was brought to you by the Republicans.

Starting with GHWB and culminating with W and his what-me-veto? attitude to Congress, the Reps sold out Reagan and the Contract with America, wasting the political capital and goodwill those two mini-revolutions had garnered.

In fairness, I saw grass-roots Reps and bloggers like Malkin and Ace criticize the spendthrift Congress and W at the time, but the point is, Reps should treat government expansion like kryptonite. Limiting the power of government requires only that you have the forethought to realize that the other side will soon be weilding that power.

Now that the Dems are in power, what they should be doing is looking to limit government power in civil rights areas: House cleaning at the DHS, amendments to the Patriot act, all that stuff they said they were going to do. They would do well to do relax the War on Drugs, too, given the way they bitched about that in the '80s but that Clinton never seemed to be able to get around to cutting down on.

Bonus: you can cut down on all those areas and then you have more money to redistribute!

It would also make sense that the Dems, the self-proclaimed voice of the working poor and middle class, would severely curb illegal immigration, which really hurts those two groups and the unions.

They won't, of course. You know that joke--may have originated with "The Simpsons" but it feels a lot older--about "backing a dump truck full of money into my driveway"? Our elections basically do that to the winning party.

Reps win when they have a Reagan or a Gingrich enforcing discipline. If the discipline is in, they're unbeatable. (Which makes the whole McCain for President thing a tragic joke.)

Obama is one of those figures--he can get what he wants--but the Dems seem to get elected by promising rainbows and ponies. The main concern, however, is that rainbows and ponies have already been promised, and we're at the point where paying for them has become a serious issue.

More than a serious issue: An economy crippling, nation buckling, can't-be-avoided-much-longer disaster.

I'm fairly confident that our Congress will avoid it for as long as they can.

Vantage Point

Just finished watching Vantage Point. This film uses, sort of, the Rashomon gag of showing the same events over and over from different perspectives. (Eight, as the film boasts, though they start to get mushed at the end.) Unlike Rashomon, however, you don't get the "unreliable narrator" effect. Instead, you get a trickling out of information from each perspective.

It's not bad.

The start is a little slow, because the first perspective is a little slow and the new information trickles out slowly in the subsequent perspectives. As the perspectives begin to converge more and the plot is revealed, the movie picks up the pace a lot.

Unfortunately, it also gets a little silly. The problem with all caper movies (where the caper-ers are not the good guys) is that they rely on the criminal masterminds making mistakes or worse, acting out of character. In this case, the impressiveness of the stunt is glaringly undermined by the subsequent stupid mistakes and a climactic out-of-character moment. On top of that, the basically realistic vibe is broken as Dennis Quaid becomes practically superheroic at the end.

As you may know, I'm a big fan of concise moviemaking. (I'm not a short movie snob per se but if you're going to indulge yourself at my expense, you'd better be good at it.) So I have to give this film its props for bringing in the whole eight-viewpoint thing in under 90 minutes.

A good cast, good suspence and pacing, so set your mind off and have a good time.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Baby, It's Cold Outside

You know, I love that song. More and more over the years. I think first when I heard that the grandfather of modern Islamic terrorism and all-around killjoy Sayed Qutb pointed to it as a symbol of Western decadence.

There is a real richness, though, to the song, and it brings to mind (in its own 1950s way) the seduction poetry of the Renaissance.

But I digress. As much as I like the song, I look at Freeman Hunt's pix of her fallen tree and reflexively think, "Is that a movie set? People don't actually live places like that, do they? Good Lord, places like that don't actually exist, do they?"

I'm only partly kidding. (One of my first jobs was on the lot at Warner Bros. when they were filming the second "Batman" movie which--as wintry and snowy as it looked--was entirely on a sound stage wth massive air conditioners, while it was So Cal hot all around.)

When I was a child we had a cabin in Lake Arrowhead which we would visit. I have some fond childhood memories of playing in the snow. Getting there was dangerous and nauseating, as my father was wont to take the Rim of the World drive at 50 mph. But it was a little like Disneyland or something because we'd go up Friday afternoon and be back by Sunday night. (I don't think we ever missed school/work.)

So, in a very real way, snow is a toy or a prop, something you visit, not some place you live. (More recently I was in Philadelphia for the biggest snowstorm of 30 years and managed to drive in it, though I can't say I enjoyed that.)

I think about it because I think California is pretty much doomed. And I suspect the rest of the sunshine belt is next. Moving some place cold and even desolate may be a necessary step to trying to preserve freedom.

Which sucks because it's really, really nice here.

I remember watching a nature show on Pompeii, and they interview the people, and ask them, "Hey, that thing could go off at any minute, why do you stay?" When they respond, "Well, the weather is great and the wine is great and, after all, everyone has to die sometime," I have to say I understand the sentiment.

I Think I Know What I'd Do

Dr. Melissa writes of people in the recent airline crash into the Hudson. One, who suffered a bloody nose, is ponder that most American of questions: "How much money will make me whole again?"

I like to think, in the same position, I would refuse any money.

The flight was a victim of an act of Vengeful Gaia. The airline suffered real damages--more real damages than the passengers, I would guess. (What does a tow cost from the Hudson for a 747? Was it a 747?)

The pilot produced the best possible outcome (even if our Althouse pal rhhardin dismisses the landing as a trivial example of competence).

Wouldn't you feel a little wrong about taking money from a company that had done nothing wrong, had in fact done everything right, and was likely to suffer more than you in the long run?

Or would you just feel like you needed to be compensated?

Homeschooling and Subversion

I've been twittering lately; although I've been on Twitter for a year or so and aware of it for longer, I hadn't figured out what it's for until lately. (It's kind of a rogue comment thread or a slow chat, where you read various short messages from people throughout the day. Ultra-mini-micro blogging, if you like, without the central blogging personality.)

Anyway, I won't name names but one twitterer is homeschooling and wondered aloud (twittered) if she was teaching subversion. Since Twitter doesn't lend itself to responding to something really old (you know, like 16 hours or more) I thought I'd respond here, since it's also worthy of more than 140 characters.

The answer is, yes, you are teaching subversion. There is no way around this, and there's really no political angle to it either: Conservative or liberal, if you are homeschooling you are saying that the state-run school is not adequate to the task it sets for itself.

Whether this is because they teach poorly, or the wrong things, or the social aspect--it doesn't matter. "Universal education" is one of the first social programs--one of the first ways our government set out to accumulate power for itself, and it has been the most disastrous.

You could say the same thing is true for private schools, except the government has its hooks in those as well. They try to get their hooks into homeschools also by mandating curricula and testing, but fortunately for the homeschool crowd, government competence isn't boosted in the policing area either.

More importantly, however, you are probably not using the same tactics used by schools to control children. (At least, I hope you're not.) There was a time where schools controlled children through appeals to morality. That is, you were expected to be moral, to work hard, to fulfill expectations: Your sin was not using the opportunity your forebears had given you.

Not to idolize too much, of course, because the threat of physical force was there and very real. And even in bygone days, homeschooling could be quite superior to even the little red schoolhouse.

Schools now are half-prison/zoos and half re-education camps. They're so bad at the education part, only the most deluded die-hard school promotrs will even try to suggest that a child gets a better education at school. Mostly they say, "Well, what about socialization?"

Ah, yes, what about socialization? Isn't it important that your child learn to get along with others? To experience the peer pressure that demands conformity? That promotes consumerism as the highest goal? Isn't it important, in other words, that your child learn to "go along to get along"?

How else will he learn to take orders from the government and his corporate masters? How else will he know happiness, if not by being able to buy the exact same stuff as everyone else, and like the exact same stuff as everyone else? How will he learn the correct things to think? (I've mentioned here the argument I had with a woman who disliked my approach of presenting data to children and letting them work out their own opinions: "What if they end up thinking the wrong things!")

When we did the Creative Wealth financial program (about a year ago), The Boy was one of two kids (out of 120) who was willing to really speak out. Over the years, and especially as a teen, The Boy has become less gregarious than he was a child, so he was markedly different from the other boy speaking out. His drive to speak came from a desire to express an opinion, or to point out what he saw as a logical flaw, not as a desire for attention. (He's sort of at the "shun attention" phase, actually.)

I'm not patting myself or any other homeschooling parent on the back, here, but I am saying that there is an implicit message in homeschooling, and few parents are going to work as hard to recreate the soul-crushing dynamic--that confluence of peer pressure, absolute authority, and bad education--at play in a school. It's something you couldn't do if you wanted to, I don't think.

The result is going to be someone with enough independence--and a very good starting example--to challenge the status quo, the state, or anything else that most people end up thinking of as immutable and irresistable.

In other words, a subversive.

Monday, January 26, 2009


There must be a bunch of critics who just sit around sharpening their knives waiting for historical movies to come out so they can savage them for not being comprehensive or presenting their preferred angle on history.

Case in point, Defiance. This is the story of Belorussian Jews who flee into the forest because the Nazis have invaded with the intent of rounding them up and hauling them off to the "work" camps. Through hard-work, tough choices and persistence, they manage to survive for a time even despite the brutal winter.

That's really the story in a nutshell, and it's based on the real-life story of the Bielski brothers.

But check it, New York Times reviewer A.O. Scott says the message of the movie is "if only more of the Jews living in Nazi-occupied Europe had been as tough as the Bielskis, more would have survived".

Well, first of all, that's a bit of a stretch. It's hard to imagine a more insulated story about the Jews in WWII. These aren't German Jews or Italian Jews, but Polish/Belarus Jews, and their experience of the war is particularly idiosyncratic.

On the other hand, isn't it true, to the extent that it can be applied? If more Jews had been as tough--and had a wilderness to escape to--wouldn't more of them have survived? Do we have to take the stance that, as harsh as the Nazi regime was, all the Jews did everything they could?

That sort of simplistic analysis is rebutted by this film, in fact, as one of the big problems they have in freeing the Jews from the ghetto is that the Jews still believe that the Germans are sending them to "work camps". In fact, that they won't be killed because they're useful as slave labor.

Anyway. Sometimes I see a review and just think, "What the hell movie was he watching?"

So. About this film, which The Boy pronounces "excellent".

This is a manly film. Daniel Craig and Liv Schreiber are the brothers who end up taking on more and more "civilians" and trying to figure out how to feed them in the woods. (I couldn't figure out why they weren't hunting animals.) Craig wants to take on the civilians and concentrate on surviving while Schreiber wants to join up with the Red Army partisans.

This leads to some tension between our manly men.

Director Zwick (Blood Diamond, The Last Samuri) is remarkably non-judgmental in his direction. There are things in this movie that might be called murder, but there's no attempt to make you feel one way or the other about them.

There's a scene, for example, when the Jews get a hold of a nazi soldier and want to kill him. And, really, it's hard to fault them for it. I mean, if we're supposed to be appalled at the savagery of human nature, or something, it doesn't come off. There's a revenge scene and a command-struggle scene as well, and there's even a debate about what to do with a baby being born.

But while the emotions are there, they're not forefront. At the forefront is survival, and the question of what makes us decent human beings versus what we have to do to survive.

Note that while this is a manly-man film, the women are enlisted into the fighting and are eager to defend themselves and provide for their families. In fact, the manly-men have to adjust to them doing so. But you can see the echos of Israel in these scenes of women fighting.

So, we have strong characters, good pacing, some historical authenticity, rejection of victimhood (at least to the extent possible under the circumstances), dramatic tension...and Nazis! But no Oscar noms here. (We'll leave that to the naked girl Nazis.)

Flaws? Well, the accents seem to come and go (particularly Daniel Craig's). The last scene struck me as somewhat preposterous, if dramatically necessary for a satisfying ending. And I thought some of the scene juxtapositions (marriage vs. battle) were needlessly affected. But overall a solid flick, and not at all ooky.

Which may be why the Academy and critics didn't like it.

Bolt from the Blue

You just knew John Lasseter taking over Disney's animation studios would be a good thing. In the Eisner years, the "gimme" product, where some Disney property was used in some shoddy direct-to-video format because they knew it would sell X units, was reminiscent of those '70s live action films the studio went to after deciding animation was too expensive. Even the A-list material had begun to decline after the death of Howard Ashman (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and the good half of Aladdin).

Although I thought I detected some of his influence on the earlier film Meet The Robinsons, this seemed unlikely to be very direct, since he had just taken over the studio. But it is very obvious in Bolt. The lead character is a dog in a TV show who, for dubious reasons (earnestly explained by the TV show's director, voiced by "Inside the Actor's Studio" host James Lipton) requires Bolt to be convinced that he's a superdog really rescuing his person (Penny, played by Miley Cyrus).

Bolt, then is much like Buzz Lightyear, Lasster's Toy Story hero, or becomes much like him when a mishap has him mailed across the country and forced to find a way home to rescue Penny (who isn't really in trouble). His companions on the journey are Mittens, the cynical New York cat, and Rhino, the couch potato hamster. The former doesn't get Bolt's delusion until the latter--a Bolt true believer--explains that he knows Bolt from "the magic box".

John Travolta, Susie Essman and Mark Walton are the dog, the cat and the hamster respectively, with longtime Disney animator Walton being far and away the funniest voice. Essman ("Curb Your Enthusiasm") takes enough of the nasal twang out her voice to be palatable as the tough-but-vulnerable cat. Travolta is, if not distinguished, exceedingly pleasant as a dog learning how to be just a dog.

There's no edge to this movie which, as you may know, I approve of. I don't really want kid's films to be "edgy". There is the usual message of what you believe being an empowering factor but it's ultimately an appreciation of his mundane abilities that allows Bolt to save the day.

The animation is quite good, as you'd expect. There's a very nice transformation with Bolt, who both captures a lot of expressions and mannerisms of Travolta, as he becomes more "doggy". And the common problem of the CGI character seeming lack mass is avoided.

The Flower liked it, of course, but The Boy also approved. Also, my mom loved it. So, there's a broad range of appeal, even if this isn't a great movie.

We didn't do the 3D. My brain doesn't do 3D.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Great Moments In Filmmaking

Idea Guy #1: You know what would make a Friday the 13th movie even better?
Idea Guy #2: Explosions! Lots and lots of explosions!

(How else to explain Michael Bay and Toby Emmerich as producers on this remake?)

Immodest Addition to the Blogroll

XWL riffed on my The Reader review and came up with a far funnier bit than I had.

Anyway, funny guy, blogs at Immodest Proposals. On the roll.

UPDATE: Link fixed, thanks Hector!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Why Do I Do These Things To Myself?

Last year it was Wicked.

Someone says, "Oh, you have to read The Bridges of Madison County, it's the best book!" (That line, by the way, was a Janeane Garofalo bit from back when she was amusing.) Plus, I have a mother who likes to buy the books she's heard of versus the more obscure stuff on my reading list.

And so it came to pass that I began reading The Road. How could it go wrong? I mean, post-apocalyptic! That's the home field right there! It's also a pretty sparse book, couple hundred pages with a fair amount of white space. How bad could it be?

As it turns out... Well, let's just say I "misplaced" this book several times.

Look, maybe it's just a matter of taste. You might like a book that's 200+ pages of a father and son walking and starving. 'cause that's what this: Walking and starving. Much like Wicked, I kept wondering when the book was, you know, gonna start.

I'm not a general enemy of walking and starving. There was a lot of walking and starving in, for example, Lord of the Rings. And maybe this is, like, avant-garde, having an entire book about walking and starving. I dunno.

The ending wasn't as bleak as it might have been. You know from the get-go that at least one of the characters is giong to die. The tension, I guess, comes from wondering whether the other one is going to die, too.

I wasn't entirely sold on the writing. The dialogue is presented without quotes and also apostrophes. That seems sorta gimmicky. But Cormac McCarthy is, I guess, an artist, so here we have a post-apocalyptic story with no mutants, no women, almost no one except for the two main characters, no hope, and precious little action.

OK, some technical books next.

Treadmill Desk, Week 3

Taking care of the ill this week so not much time on the ol' treadmill.

Tuesday: 200 minutes
Wednesday: 200 minutes
Thursday: 320 minutes

So...12 hours, which isn't that bad for only three days. I think I can probably double that this week barring ... barriers.

Movies Seen in 2008

Seventy-three movies in the theater in 2008. Almost none of them alone, most with popcorn. That's some cash right there. These were plucked from reviews I did for the blog; it's possible that I missed some.

You'd think moviemakers would start pandering to me but no dice, yet.

An American Carol
The Band's Visit (2007)
The Bank Job
Before the Rains (2007)
Body of Lies
Bottle Shock
The Boy In the Striped Pajamas
The Bucket List (2007)
Burn After Reading
The Counterfeiters (2007)
The Dark Knight
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
El Orfanato (2007)
The Fall (2006)
Forbidden Kingdom
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Frozen River
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007)
Get Smart
Ghost Town
The Hammer (2007)
Hellboy 2
Horton Hears A Who
How To Lose Friends and Alienate People
In Bruges
Incredible Hulk
Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull
Iron Man
Juno (2007)
The Kite Runner (2007)
Kung Fu Panda
Let the Right One In
Live and Become (2005)
Madagascar 2: Back To Africa
A Man Named Pearl (2006)
Man On Wire
Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day
Mongol (2007)
Moscow, Belgium
Persepolis (2007)
Pineapple Express
Priceless (2006)
Prince Caspian
Quantum of Solace
Rachel Getting Married
Refuseniks (2007)
Role Models
The Ruins
The Savages (2007)
Saw V
Slumdog Millionaire
Son of Rambow (2007)
The Strangers
Sweeney Todd (2007)
Tell No One (2006)
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Tropic Thunder
Trumbo (2007)
The Visitor
Young At Heart (2007)
Zack and Miri Make A Porno

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Thoughts on Best of 2008

I haven't done a review of all the movies I saw in 2008, to make my pronouncements about "best", yet.

But the Oscars noms are out, and a more predictably dreary selection you can hardly imagine. You know, if they were really about "best of", you'd get a much broader selection of movies, and seldom would you see sweeps, because there can be complete gems in an otherwise turd-of-a-movie.

Big Hollywood has a "top 5" snubs article. I quote:

1. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) – Not just the best picture of that year, but one of the greatest achievements in cinema history. Were it not for the height of the MGM musical in the late forties and early fifties, you’d now be reading an argument that film as an art form peaked with “Sunrise.”

2. The Searchers (1956) – Arguably the greatest film — not just Western - ever produced. John Ford’s epic character study of a man who helps create a civilization that will not have a place for him received a grand total of zero nominations.

3. The Wild Bunch (1969) – Was it the violence, which looks pretty tame by today’s standards, that turned the Academy off? Something has to explain why “Hello, Dolly!” And “Anne of a Thousand Days” made the cut and Peckinpah’s masterpiece did not.

4. A Night At The Opera (1934) – It would take a revival three decades later for the genius of the Marx Brothers to be fully appreciated. “Duck Soup” was never nominated either, but I’m partial to this one.

5. Sweet Smell of Success (1957) – The dark, cynical response to anyone who says Tony Curtis wasn’t one helluva actor.

I had not even ever heard of Sweet Smell of Success until about five years ago, and such a marvel of a film that is. As far as Tony Curtis goes, I have had this discussion with myself and others more than once:

Me: Kirk Douglas wasn't really a very good actor.
Me (or someone else): Oh?
Me: Well, he was great in Sweet Smell of Success, though!
Me (or someone else): That's because that was Tony Curtis.

Anyway, Success was up against some real heavyweights: Bridge on the River Kwai was the winner, with 12 Angry Men and Witness for the Prosecution waiting in the wings. The two sacrifices to the God of Mediocrity that year would've been the Brando vehicle Sayonara and the (at the time) steamy soap opera Peyton Place.

I'll try to get off my keister and put together a "best of" for 2008.

Microsoft Is Dooooooomed!

Actually, despite the seeming sarcasm, I do believe this. Microsoft is "doomed" (for some value of "doomed").

I've seen it coming for a while. I was in the trenches during the O/S wars (both in the '80s and the '90s) and one thing was apparent: Microsoft's power came from marketing--their monopoly (or near monopoly)--and not from technology.

People talk like Vista is a novelty, but Microsoft has a long history of releasing products that are so bad, that if a company without a monopoly had released them, they'd go out of business. In fact, most of Microsoft's competitors were killed by mis-steps much smaller than Vista.

Consider how many tries at Word, Excel, Access, Internet Explorer, DOS, OS/2 and Windows were needed to gain any kind of traction in the marketplace. Consider that OS/2 needed to be removed from their hands before it could take off, and they were so scared of it--a product competing on actual technical merit!--that they hired people to go on the web and lie about it. Consider that the Xbox is doing okay as long as "doing okay" doesn't need to include ever making a profit.

Consider how much trouble Microsoft created to interfere with their competitors--at the expense of their putative customers.

For that matter, consider who is responsible for unleashing upon the 'net an OS that could be so easily enslaved--and was by default, easily enslavable--that now millions of zombie machines churn away sending spam, orchestrating denial-of-service attacks, and generally marring the greatest innovation of the computer era (the Internet).

And why? Because it's way easier to collect the money for a monopoly than it is to support the people you force to pay you. Microsoft wanted the cash from all those people wanting to e-mail photographs and buy stuff from Amazon, but they sure as heck didn't want the responsibility.

Which is interesting, in its own way, because if they had--if they had taken it upon themselves, they'd have a nigh-indestructible brand. An entire generation of customers would love them to their graves.

When you have a monopoly, all you have to do is out-wait your competitors. And when you're in the magical position of your competitors being your customers, well, you can drive up their costs in all kinds of creative ways, like promoting standards and forcing them to invest in them, and then later dropping them. You can be a "partner" and then steal their code. If you can't steal their code, you can take their employees. Ideally you can do both.

You can drop your prices because you don't need to make money on any given product. In fact, in preserving the monopoly, you don't have to charge for anything if it secures that monopoly. (That's certainly the motivation behind the Xbox.) Once the competition is out of the way, you can stop putting money in to that product.

And life is good--as long as you can maintain the monopoly.

In tech, though, you can't. You can suppress new technologies for quite some time. But not forever. And if your strategy involves destroying other businesses by depriving them of money, you're in trouble if products arise to compete with yours from business models that aren't dependent on revenue from products.

And here we are. Why should anyone pay for an operating system when perfectly good ones are available for free? Why should anyone pay for office software, when perfectly good ones are available for free, and give you more freedom?

IBM was in a similar position 25 years ago, except their competition came from hardware getting cheaper. And ultimately their hard-earned monopoly--way harder earned than MS's, which started with IBM giving them barrels of money--crumbled and they had to reposition themselves as consultants.

Make no mistake, the monopoly money will keep pouring in. These difficult economic times, however, are going to have people looking sooner rather than later at "the Microsoft tax", and increasingly low-end hardware like netbooks are going to make the "free" in "free software" more appealing.

Eventually, MS is going to have to retreat to the niches it once assigned its "partners".

David Fincher's Zodiac

David Fincher rose from humble beginnings (music videos for Madonna and Alien3) to become one of the most influential filmmakers of the decade through films like Se7en and Fight Club, but since 2002's Panic Room, he's been associated with dozens of films that never got made (or got made without him).

So, it's with some anticipation that his newest film about the Zodiac Killer is met, and it's not surprising that it perhaps doesn't meet with expectations.

Zodiac is a sprawling story, not primarily of the Zodiac killer, but of Robert Graysmith, an editorial cartoonist who becomes obsessed with deducing the identity of a crazed killer who is writing taunting letters to the newspaper where he works.

This is more a film on the lines of Close Encounters of the Third Kind than Silence of the Lambs. The only violence is early on: The Zodiac went on a little spree early on in his “career” and this is shown somewhat graphically. But really, this is practically a Fincher movie for people who don't like Fincher movies. After the initial spurt of violence, you still have two hours of psychological suspense thriller to endure.

Despite finding it rather low key, I rather liked it, but this is my kind of film. Alongside the always good Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards and Robert Downey, Jr. (typecast as a guy who ends up drinking and drugging his way to obscurity), it was peppered with short, solid performances from lesser known actors who still usually play meatier roles: Brian Cox, Chloe Sevigny, Candy Clark, Dermot Mulroney, Philip Baker Hall, James Le Gros, Charles Fleischer, and on and on. (The only place this may have backfired, ever-so-slightly, is in the casting John Carroll Lynch as the pedophile prime suspect. Lynch does a great job, but I had just watched Fargo, where he plays Marge Gunderson's gentle, artistic husband.)

In some ways, the low-key atmosphere makes the intense parts more intense, but the fidelity to actual history means there is no great climactic point—in particular, no great showdown between Graysmith and Zodiac. They do share a moment, and it's important but not really satisfying in the cinematic KABOOM sense.

Just as it doesn't meet some expectations, there are those who would over-hype it because it is a Fincher film, but it's best to approach this as a competent but modest slice-of-American-history movie. It won't actually lose much on the small screen.

Finally, some critics objected to the lack of period music: I actually thought that was one of the strongest points. Veteran David Shire (Norma Rae, All The President's Men) provides a score that's way less self-conscious and hip than, say, playing The White Album would've been. Although the story takes place in a let's-call-it-”colorful” period of history, it also transcends the time.

(originally posted 2007-03-11)

Almost Right

Via Instapundit comes this interesting quote from Samizdata:

In the mind of the anti-free-marketeer, the government occupies the same kind of intellectual territory as the divine designer in the mind of an anti-Darwinian.

That's almost right. It would be perfect if God attributed with all these wondrous abilities were actually out there stopping evolution.

Test Driven Government?

I was looking at Perri Nelson's site, in particular this article on how the Declaration of Independence and Constitution are the requirements and specification for the USA.

That works pretty well. You can check out his thought processes in that article. (I read it and felt a little like Paul Simon listening to "Sail Away" and thinking, "I should've written that.)

Now, logically, I know that any system fails when the vigilance of the people it governs fails and their integrity is compromised. Even Communism could work, after a fashion, if people were truly pure of heart.

The American Experiment is particularly interesting because it seems to have worked the best for the longest time of any recent government, and it's interesting to see how it fails. With the scrutiny given it, it's also interesting to debate whether certain things were/are failures, too. (Ultimately, of course, the fault lies in the people which, one presumes, must be where the solution comes from.)

But from an engineering standpoint, I was intrigued by the mention of test-driven programming, and began to wonder how that might be applied to a Constitution. The Bill of Rights is great, but of course, over time, the state (and a non-vigilant people) have allowed it to be compromised through "interpretation" (i.e., "changing what the words mean so that we don't have the bothersome process of actually changing the law.")

A test-driven Bill of Rights would be really cool, though. What you would have is a series of questions that would have to be answered with regard to any law in order for it to be Constitutional. These questions would add precision to what is meant by a particular item and could be used as litmus tests.

Consider these potential questions:

  • Does this law allow the government to control political speech in any way?
  • Does this law compromise the effectiveness of any citizen to protect the state?
  • Does this law allow quartering of troops in the homes of citizens?

Now, you need a lot more precision. Is all speech truly free? You would need to codify some base rules, say infringement on life, liberty or property, which could be made part of every test.

It's an interesting exercise.

Ultimately, of course, it doesn't matter too much, even if you were building a new Republic: You're still stuck with human nature and success apparently breeds failure, as strange as that seems.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Not Necessarily The News, Vol 2

Gay Romance Film A Winner At Sundance

Cinematic Titanic Docks At Frankenstein's Castle Of Freaks, Part 2

I don't think I wrote this review yet. I've been caring for sick people for the past several days and my mind is about the state it would be after doing a lot of time-traveling.

Oh, yes, here it is. Check it out. I'll wait.

Back? OK.

So, this is good. The team is really humming along; we're getting a much better, cleaner sense of their characters, their sense of humor, etc. We're getting a little more backstory, and a cute little device called "the breast blimp".

I'm very, very glad they've kept it clean, although Joel actually swears once, and I think there was a political joke or two--but really minimal stuff. That's good.

The pacing is really good, too. It isn't boiling hot at the beginning but the laughs are pretty steady.

I think that the live performances the crew is doing is also a big help; there's a real polish to this episode. I'm looking forward to the rest of 2009.

Sorry for the light review, but y'know, I'm running out of things to say besides "funny" or "less funny" or "more funny". I'll have to see if I can't raise my game....

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Curious Case of the Benjamin Button Down Mind

I like David Fincher. Not as a person. I mean, he could be perfectly fine as a person, even if there are rumors that he's a jerk. (It's not like those rumors don't fly around for just about every great director.) But I don't even know the guy. Cut me a break. How the hell should I know?

But I digress.

I mean to say, I like his direction. As a streak, Se7en, The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room and (arguably) Zodiac is up there with the best directors of all time. (I think Panic Room is under-rated.)

Maybe the best thing you could say about this movie is that it doesn't seem like it's two hours and forty-five minutes long. That's a pretty good thing to say about a movie (unless it's 90 minutes long, I guess).

It's basically an episodic story about a man who is, sort of, growing younger, and the problems this causes in his life. It doesn't really work, in a mechanical sense, but it's okay dramatically.

Mechanically it doesn't work because it's clear from the start that he just looks old. Physically, he's supposed to be afflicted with all these old-age conditions at birth--yet he goes through puberty after about 12 years of being born. The aging is sporadic, as well, the movie settles him in to middle-age to soon and keeps him there too long. (One plot point revolves around him getting "too young" but he looks about 40.) In his youth, he becomes afflicted with dementia, meaning that he ends up having old-age problems both coming and going.

And he's not living backward in time, a la Merlin, either. So he's completely inexperienced while looking 70 but has a lifetime of experience while looking 20.

Dramatically, it mostly works, except where the murky mechanics raise questions, and a sort of "well, what's the point, then?" feel. That is, how is this story significantly different from someone aging normally? It really only provides one major plot point that comes when Benjamin and Daisy finally get together.

Well, and it does provide the gut-punch at the movie's end. (Think about it.)

Lord knows I don't need--or even want--a message movie, but this movie does sort of play around with it. There is a message here that Benjamin understands and Daisy only "gets" when it's practically too late: That there is worth in loving others and being loved, and that worth transcends worldly things and--in good people--selfish interests.

Yeah, it's not exactly rocket science, but it works for me.

Your mileage may vary. (What do you think? Good catch-phrase or no?)

Did actor Steve Valentine play Heathcliff in Masterpiece Theater?

I don't know, but the fact that this search returns my blog on Yahoo, I think they have some work to do. (Well, okay, now it would be understandable. Now Yahoo seems prescient and Google behind the times! Take that!) Though it does return a page with all those words, I'll give it that.

This blog also turns up for "Vicky Titus Blogs", apparently.

So, it's got that going for it.

The Reader (not _iam)

Sure, Nazis are bad. But is it okay to sleep with them if they're really hot?

That's the challenging question the new Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Hours) Oscar-baiting movie asks.

The answer appears to be a qualified "yes".

I'm being flip about the totally super-serial movie The Reader wherein a 15-year-old boy ends up involved with the stoic 37-year-old Hanna Scmitz (Kate Winslet) who teaches him ze ways of love.

This just in: Kate Winslet looks good naked.

But that's not really important when you're dealing with, you know, deep thoughts.

You might not even notice that the film is produced by ZOMBIES! OK, no one's seen Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack emerge from their graves, but no one's not seen them, either.

OK, ok. I'll try to calm down a bit.

Wait, why isn't this child porn? I thought it was against the law to have sex scenes involving minors or anyone pretending to be a minor or a drawing of a putative or even fictional minor.

Let me try this again: This movie is about Michael Berg, played half by Ralph Fiennes and half by David Kross. Fiennes played the top half.

And David Kross was a lot funnier on "Mr. Show".

I guess I don't have much to say about this movie. It's good, and all, for some definition of "good". Good acting, and plenty of it, of course. (Besides Winslet and Fiennes, there's also Lena Olin and Bruno "Hitler" Ganz.) Good cinematography. It moves pretty quickly, though some seem to think the first half (with all the sex in it) is slow, it sets up the 2nd and 3rd act, wherein Berg's life is ruined by the events in the first act.

I think this movie works as a character study of a boy who was too young to have an affair with an older woman and whose life is basically ruined by the affair for one reason or another.

I think it's supposed to be about the difficulties of the Nazi generation and the next generation in reconciling those actions. (Turns out war sucks and genocide has repercussions. Huh. Who knew?) There isn't a lot of empathy for the Nazis, which is good, I guess (see first sentence) but the forms this lack of empathy takes--show trials, expressions of desire to basically kill one's parents (which oh-so-coincidentally takes place in the '60s, when lots of non-Nazis were talking about the same thing).

If it is, it partially misses there, because Michael is all messed up before he finds out Hanna is a Nazi, and then after he finds out she's a Nazi, he takes ten years or so but finally decides to send her books-on-tape. Also, he's almost completely non-functional as a human being, so he's obviously punishing himself, too.

So, he he doesn't forgive her, exactly, but he doesn't break it off exactly, either.

Dunno. I guess it's a reasonably murky topic so presenting a clear resolution would probably seem too pat. At the same time, it's so freakin' morose, I sort of have this counter-urge to laugh at the whole thing.

Your mileage may very. After all, it's no laughing matter.

Update: Be sure to check this out as well.

Inaugural Blues

Talkin' 'bout my generation
People try to put us down
But they weren't people, just our parents
Now they're old or not around

Bill and Hill are our first couple
Student prez, homecoming queen
Tipper's cute, Albert's handsome
The in-crowd is the winning team

The baby boomers are the bosses
Rock and roll is here to stay
Fleetwood Mac got back together
In separate limos on reunion day

We got Elvis and the Beatles
Protested war, now we've won
Bill's gone gray, Al's slightly balding
But we are forever young

It’s not quite a coronation
Feels more like a senior prom
In D.C., bells ring, there are fireworks
On TV, we see Baghdad bombed

Points of light and talk of angels
It’s rhetoric, it must be told
I’m talking about my generation
Hope we grow up before we're old
Hope we grow up before we're old, yeah

--Loudon Wainwright III

Not Necessarily The News

In-between the various celebrity gushings over Obama ("I think he's going to make change because he's hopeful...and a communist.") we have the usual non-celebrity news plus this trifle from IMDB:

Harry Potter star Emma Watson had never heard of screen legends Dame Maggie Smith and Gary Oldman before working with them on the blockbuster movie franchise.

Unlike many actors (including her co-stars) Ms. Watson is not only not older than the character she's portraying, she was possibly even a bit younger, filming the first movie either as a ten- or newly-minted eleven-year-old.

How many of her peers would know who Maggie Smith or Gary Oldman were? And how? Repeated viewings of Tea with Mussolini or Sid and Nancy? Maybe Gary Oldman from The Fifth Element but really, how many current 10-11 year olds would know Maggie Smith if not for the Harry Potter movies?

Although kid/family movies are often looked down upon by serious actors and critics, that's really the genre that survives over time. There were better and more famous actors than appear in Wizard of Oz, but those that did appear are immortal for their roles, no matter what they did afterwards.

Torture Porn Redux

I may have misled Knox in my recommendations post by referring to Borderland as not torture porn. I see my reviews at the time suggest otherwise but apart from a gory opening, I'm not remembering the details. As I recall, the horrors were less flamboyant and more banally real--making them all the more horrible.

I remember mostly being concerned about it, rather than it actually happening. I'll review it when I can and see if my recall is correct.

Meanwhile I'm watching Captivity, which caused a kerfuffle when it came out because of its posters. The kerfuffle struck me as dumb. It is torture porn, though, by my definition. The movie's sole purpose seems to be to degrade Elisha Cuthbert. Her abuse, interspersed with other women being abused, dominates the first half hour. The second half hour is more abuse, with another person being abused alongside her.

The final half hour is the big reveal, the why, the twist ending. The entree into this part is really, really stupid, but that's not the point, really. The point is, we've had an hour of torture up till now, there's nothing you can bookend it with that makes this movie not about sadism, or that makes it a documentary, or anything other than enjoying that first hour at some level.


The script was co-written by schlockmeister Larry Cohen, who recently wrote the tight Phone Booth and Cellular but who goes back to the blaxploitation days and the It's Alive series. He also directed one of the better "Masters of Horror" episodes. No big shocka, though, he's a working man, and someone probably said, "Hey, Larry, whip us up something Saw-like."

The real gut-punch, though, is that it's directed by two-time Oscar nominee Roland Joffe, who achieved fame with The Killing Fields and The Mission--which was referred to as something akin to torture porn at the time, unfairly, in my opinion--and then went weirdly off the rails by directing (at least in part) Super Mario Bros., the first ever video game movie.

Freeman Hunt (whose blog is missing from my roster on the right, I just noticed) maintained in an earlier thread that the Saw movies were just about torture--that that was all that was going on. But here you see when that really happens. Cuthbert is simply tortured. There's no suspense, really. She's going to be tortured, she can't do anything to stop it, there's no transformation that can occur, she's done nothing wrong other than be pretty and famous.

If you just can't tolerate the gore, all the reasons for it--however, good--won't change that. If that's what you're into, then you don't care about the reasons. But if you see it as just another color in the palette, then there's minimally an aesthetic and maximally a morality to how it's applied.

Stalkers vs. Groupies

It's not something that is likely to be an issue for me, or for most people, but looked at this video at Althouse and thought it was kind of creepy.

I mean, it's obviously in fun, and the Obama girl is cute and all that. It would probably be fun if it didn't remind me so much of a psychotic spoiled child. That is, I've sat through eight years of utterly divisive partisanship from Dems, with talk of stolen elections--eight years of temper tantrums--and now everything's supposed to be lovey-lovey because the baby got his bottle?

No good, because I know the good times last only as long as the tantrumers get their way.

I'm sure I'll see plenty of bad behavior from the Reps now, too, but they'll have to work hard to match it.

I think what I found creepy is the overt sexuality towards a celebrity figure. I know it's a common (if jokey) custom for couples to have "exception lists". You know, if you happen to have an opportunity with Angelina Jolie/Brad Pitt, your spouse gives you a "bye".

But what if you're on the Pitt/Jolie side? (This is why I said it's not an issue for most people.) If you're a celebrity, would you be attracted to someone who had this sort of almost stalker-esque relationship with you?

I mean, what's the difference between a stalker and a groupie, other than one is wanted?

That's a simplification, obviously, but there's a gradient there from admirer to groupie to stalker. It's not really the degree of admiration, so much, as the insular nature of it. I mean, you're a guy and a gal in an office, and you see each other, and you talk casually, and you like each other, but you're building a mutual thing there.

The more one-sided that is, the creepier it is. And in the case of groupies, it's hugely one-sided: A huge investment to a non-existent one. For stalkers, it's even moreso, as their huge investment is up against a negative one.

Which makes you wonder why anyone--particularly a highly desirable person--would actually engage with them?

(Probably for the sex.)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Starbuck's Revenge

I haven't watched the new "Battlestar Galactica" series for a number of reasons.

I really liked the old one. Yes, it was cheesy and corny, low-budget and juvenille, and an attempt to cash in on the success of "Star Wars", but damn! It was a space opera! On TV! The second ever, if I'm not mistaken, following the first: "Star Trek". (No, I don't count "Lost in Space" or various cartoons and serials.)

The design was quite good: The Battlestar looked cool. The Empire's ships looked cool. The Cylons looked cool, at least at the design level. (I mean, yeah, they looked like guys in cheesy costumes, but the floating red eye was great, and the different robots for different tasks was evocative of an interesting hierarchy.

It broke from the sterile "Star Trek" mold, and referred to hookers as "solicitors". Come on! How can you not like that?

They may have been the ancestors of the Egyptians or the Toltecs or the Mayans! They were looking for Earth! OK, the screwed that up with Galactica 80, but at least it got one of my school pals a couple of weeks of work.

Right, we were talking about the new series which I've avoided even with Kelly bugging me about it. This article by Dirk Benedict, the original Starbuck (and star of the weresnake movie Sssssss), reminded me both that I'm not watching it, and some reasons why.

Probably the first reason is because the Cylons don't look like Cylons anymore. But...but...that was the coolest part of the original series! Not just that, but I find it ultra-super-extra-cheesy when shows do this "they're alien/robot/monsters that LOOK JUST LIKE US!" It's just a cheap tactic to reduce the budget. If I want intrigue between humans, I'll watch a soap opera.

Second, moral ambiguity. You know, I'm as morally ambiguous as the next guy, but one of the other great parts about the series is that you had these completely evil enemies. Long before the SatAM cartoon guys figured it out, BSG realized you could have endless carnage as long as you're killing robots. The humans were the underdogs but you could root for them without reservation--just 'cause they were humans fighting machines.

Really, the two big things the new BSG things are two things I don't really care for in my weekly space opera.

Benedict goes on to talk about the fact that BSG's strong characters are all female, while the men are wimps. I don't know if that's true, and I'm certainly not against strong female characters--the original BSG had Apollo's sister Athena as a fighter pilot, and even the solicitor was a strong female character, even if in a traditional female role--but isn't the tiny female superwarrior kind of hack at this point?

I don't buy Benedict's premise that this is just some cynical exploitation of a franchise. I'm sure the creators of the new series consider this an improvement, and I don't think people like it because of PR. Whether because a fundamental shift in viewpoint makes the new show more accessible, or maybe just because the "re-imagining" has the benefit of better production values all around and that compensates for other objectionable parts, people like the new show.

I'm just not among them. At least not yet.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Slow Fast

Had to take the weekend to care for the sick. (Next week, I'll clothe the poor. It's just the kind of guy I am.)

I realized this afternoon that it had been 16 hours since I had eaten.

That used to be more common for me. I'd just stop eating. After the initial "I'm hungry" phase went away, I'd actually feel better not eating. At one point I went over three days. (Paradoxically, perhaps, the key to fasting for me was to stay physically active.)

I guess you're supposed to prepare for fasting somehow or drink water or juice to stay hydrated, but when I've fasted I've usually done it off the cuff and without drinking anything either.

I've often wondered about it. It can't be a good thing to be better off not eating, can it?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Treadmill Desk, Redux

Darcy asked what benefits I've gained from doing the treadmill.

It's a little hard to describe without explaining where I was (which in turn leads to how I got there, where I've been--my whole life story!), and it's not very dramatic, but here goes:

  • Stronger legs. Sort of in the "duh" category, but, yeah, lots of leg strength, speed, endurance, etc. The eight hours at Knott's last Halloween went by really easy, for example.
  • Overall improved mobility. For me, the negative effect of doing 5-8 hours a day several days in a row is that my lower back tends to tighten up. Despite this, my mobility has improved, but I've found it's really helpful to add some other exercises (the Wii Fit, e.g. or some ab exercises).
  • I stay awake. Sounds odd, but it's not hard to get so comfortable and so ergonomic at your desk, that a bad night-before can turn into falling asleep at the desk. It definitely raises your alertness level.
  • I have lost a little weight, though not much. In theory, if I get back to the 30-40 hours, I should start losing some weight--that's when I lost the 5-ish pounds I did lose--but that's not really the point.
  • The main thing is feeling generally better. My theory (expounded upon in previous posts) is that bodies were meant to be moving.
I'm probably forgetting plenty of stuff, but this is the stuff that comes to mind.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Treadmill Desk, Year 1, Week 2

Friday: 60 minutes
Monday: 30 minutes
Tuesday: 210 minutes

Feet hurt today. I think because I'm cranking up the speed. Gonna crank it back down and try for more time....

Wednesday: 270 minutes

I never mention how much I actually walk not on the treadmill. Anyway, I put the speed back down to .5 and I think that helped.

Thursday: 270 minutes

So...840 minutes....14 hours. (And about 4-5 hours of non-treadmill walking.) Not bad. It's not leg weakness that stops me anymore, it's just weird aches, pains and numbness. That stuff all seems to be subsiding, though.

I'm not going to push it. That's how I got into trouble in the first place.

Mr. Monk Gets Cancelled

Well, no, not really. They're not canceling "Monk", they're just ending it next season because it will become more expensive than it's worth. Which is fine. I like the show but eight seasons is enough. (The damn Brits usually cut their series short.)

Anyway, about ten minutes into "Mr. Monk Gets Shot", I figured it out.

I'm not really very good at that sort of thing. I try to turn my brain off in the movies--that's part of the reason I go. But it's way harder with TV. Particularly with this kind of "can you solve it?" mystery genres.

My mom loved this kind of show, and I was weened on those Sunday Night Mysteries, "Ellery Queen" and the like.

It was "Murder She Wrote" that clued me in, though. In a late season MSW, long after I stopped watching it, I was at mom's and the opening scene was on. And I knew, from the opening scene, who the killer was.

In this type of mystery show, of course, the oddball item that "doesn't make sense" is the clue that solves the case. In this one, in the opening scene, Jessica had called across the lobby to an old friend, who didn't hear her and walked away. Well, duh. He had something in his ears, probably to protect him from loud noises while he committed his crime.

Plus, he was one of Jessica's old friends, and they were all murderers.

Anyway, these shows all have a limited amount of time and "Monk" especially so because of the comedy bits, so you know there's not much wasted space. There is no "offhand" remark. I've been calling "Monk" for quite a few seasons now.

Another sign that it's time to go. I hope they resolve Trudy's murder, tho'. And it wouldn't kill them to give Monk himself a little personal peace.

Missed Controversies

I didn't mention the language in Gran Torino. That's because, when reviewing the movie in my head, I didn't think about it all.

It''s awesome actually. It's so totally freakin' hilarious, you could probably have a whole movie's worth of Eastwood doing nothing but spouting racial epithets and have a likely candidate for any "Top 10 Of The Year" list.

It absolutely sinks "PC", or it would were there any justice in the world. The Politically Correct Emperor has no clothes: What matters in life is what you do, not whether you limit your speech to a list of approved words.

Also, I just saw Benjamin Button, which Althouse has accused (along with Doubt) of being a sort of stealth pedophilia. I think that's pretty absurd for Doubt, and it strikes me as a bit of a reach for Button. Benjamin is clearly not an old man; he's a child who looks old.

Now, could you argue that they're some kind of titillation for pedophiles? Sure. So's a boy's underwear catalogue. And there may well be pedophiles in the underwear catalogue business, but that doesn't mean that they're the target audience.

Does that make sense?

In other words, when movies like these go out of their way to avoid any sort of titillation (Doubt) or completely desexualize adult-child encounters (Button), to take the pedophile angle is to say that these stories shouldn't be told at all.

Then there's the Camille Paglia/Jesus thing. How can this be controversial? I don't buy that non-believers are not allowed to comment on the Bible. Hell, it used to be a matter of education: You were not considered educated if you did not know the Bible, no matter what you believed in.

Besides, it's Camille Paglia. Controversial would be her saying she believed and she was advocating a life of celibacy for homosexuals. That would be edgy. (I should note that I don't think she's trying to be edgy there, just expressing an opinion that's not particularly controversial in her circles.)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Better Off Dead

Freeman Hunt linked to this Daily Mail article about the horrors of having an autistic child.


It's a fairly offensive article. Not because it doesn't accurately describe the potential difficulties of having a brain-injured child. I think people who only know about it through TV shows and movies should be aware that it's a grind. And the rewards, such as they are, don't fit neatly into a narrative, a la Rain Man.

The author's conclusion is that the child she's describing and everyone whose life he's touched would be better had he never been born. And, oh, we should have tests to find out who the autistic kids are going to be so they can be aborted.

You know, it's not so much the "wishing for technology" that's lame. It's that the wishes themselves are lame. I mean if you're going to wish for something, why wish for a test that allows you to preemptively kill problem children? (We won't get into the question of how the test determines the severity of the autism, even presuming that autism vs. an inclination toward autism could be distinguished, and that the genetic propensity to autism--if it even exists--doesn't also include a genetic propensity for something that's got a survival advantage, etc. etc. etc.)

I mean, if you're gonna wish, why not wish for a cure? And not just for autism, but for all brain injuries. Now that is something to wish for! My friends at the IAHP have a success rate of only about 17% (IIRC)--not that they don't keep trying.

But it doesn't strike me as impossible, and while it wouldn't give one the grim satisfaction of "being honest" about difficult situations, it would have the bonus of being helpful to stroke victims, dementia patients, and all those other people that seem to float to the top of the euthanasia list.

Wishes aside, the article laments all the things in life the author feels the couple is being denied by their child, and proclaims that three generations' lives are completely ruined now. There's an almost impressive lack of empathy for the child.

Rather than pick through the various appalling items enumerated, I'll just mention a point of interest: Back in the old days, a person would have aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, and cousins of all stripes to help with family issues. Now that extended family is gone and the issue is largely relegated to the state, the state doesn't seem to be able to step up.

Something to think about if you're the Lone Wolf type.

Nicely done, Mr. Levy

I still love "Red Eye", the dopey late-night round table with the unicorn fetish, and host Greg Gutfeld and "ombudsman" Andy Levy are writing for frequent guest Andrew Breitbart's new collaborative site Big Hollywood.

Andy Levy's second entry is...pretty funny.

That's good satire.

UPDATE: I notice Instapundit linked, too. Congrats, AL.

Gran Torino: Grumpy Old Men With Guns

Many have already noted that Clint Eastwood, at 78, dominates the screen in every way in his new movie Gran Torino. Some of this has gone out as criticism of the younger actors, but I think that's misplaced. They are callow and naive, and whether it's bad acting or not, it works perfectly in the context of the movie.

And this is legendary stuff, with Eastwood no less a mysterious, alien figure than an Ent from Lord of the Rings. This is kind of rare: Power Fantasies are common enough, but how often do we see a senior citizen power fantasy? (2-3 times a decade, max.)

It's also really, really corny. Has anyone mentioned that yet?

Get over, for a minute, that Eastwood's playing the "gunslinger with a past", only instead of blowing into town, the town has blown up around him. He's killed people (55 years ago) and he's a lousy father and his wife--the one person in the world who understood and loved him--has just died.

Beyond all that, he's still the archetypal "crusty but benign" oldster who takes the youngster under his wing and teaches him about the world.

Corny as hell. But it works, even down to gravel-voiced Eastwood singing the first verses of the closing song.

That's right. You heard me: Singing.

And I think it works because, like Kwai Chang Caine and the Incredible Hulk, Walt Kowalski hates violence--but he's not afraid of it. Well, "hate" is a strong word. Let's just say he doesn't like killing people. Roughing them up can be part of a healthy parenting philosophy.

It also works because there's a disturbing truth there: Urban centers are an awful lot like Old West towns where gangs have the population in fear because nobody is willing to fight to defend themselves--well, nobody not in a gang, anyway.

Mostly it works because Eastwood glowers, growls and snarls his way through, while wearing his pants too high and having a strange little old-man paunch and wobbling when he walks--except when it's time to hold the rifle steady.

There's also some good story building there. It's hard to imagine my pool-sharping, sharp-dressing, beer-selling (and swilling), WWII-fighting grandfather having much in common with me or my dad.

So we understand when Kowalski doesn't "get" his sons and views them as disappointments. They are hugely spoiled, by his standards, and his grand-kids even worse. When he has a revelation that he shares more in common with the Hmong than his own descendents, it works.

And it works without trying to cover up Kowalski's sins--his failure to reach his sons being his worst.

So, yeah. It works. Well. And it's a successful vehicle for a 78-year-old 4-decade strong movie star. The Boy heartily approved.

Now, I make a point of avoiding message movies. Milk, for example, is not on my list. But Eastwood is definitely working at more than one level; does he make message movies?

I tend to say no. For example, I think it's a real mistake to look at Million Dollar Baby as being pro-euthanasia. The situation addressed in that film was unique. It would make no sense to apply it generally.

This situation addresses something more generic, I think: That we've lost an important set of values, that we're spoiled, and that immigrants represent a lot of those old values--but not all the truly great American ones.

But, you know, that's all very cliché--and very corny--stuff. It's something you could see John Wayne doing. Hell, it's something Wayne probably did in one of his later movies.

What's nice, though, is that it still works. Is anyone in Hollywood paying attention?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Trooper York and the Golden Idol

Troop is doing his American Idol shtick again, which cracks me up even though I've never seen the show.

I feel a little empathy for Paula Abdul in that picture, though. I have to go back 30 years to find a picture I don't look completely drunk in. (And my experience with intoxicants is limited to caffeine and--on two occasions, I confess--ibuprofen.

I'm Looking At The River

In Germany before the war
There was a man who owned a store
In nineteen hundred thirty-four
In Dusseldorf

And every night at five-o-nine
He'd cross the park down to the Rhine
And he'd sit there by the shore

I'm looking at the river
But I'm thinking of the sea
Thinking of the sea
Thinking of the sea
I'm looking at the river
But I'm thinking of the sea

A little girl has lost her way
With hair of gold and eyes of gray
Reflected in his glasses
As he watches her

--Randy Newman

You Can't Take It With You

Tax reform:

* At the average hourly wage of $27.54, that tax-preparation time amounts to $193 billion, or 14 percent of aggregate income tax receipts.

George Kaufman and Moss Hart:

Henderson: According to our records, Mr. Vanderhof, you have never paid an income tax.
Grandpa: That's right.
Henderson: Why not?
Grandpa: I don't believe in it.
. . .
Grandpa: Look, Mr. Henderson, let me ask you something.
Henderson: Well?
Grandpa: Suppose I pay you this money--mind you, I don't say I'm going to pay it--but just for the sake of argument--what's the Government going to do with it?
Henderson: How do you mean?
Grandpa: Well, what do I get for my money? If I go into Macy's and buy something, there it is--I see it. What's the Government going to give me?
Henderson: Why, the Government gives you everything. It protects you.
Grandpa: What from?
Henderson: Well--invasion. Foreigners that might come over here and take everything you've got.
Grandpa: Oh, I don't think they're going to do that.
Henderson: If you didn't pay an income tax, they would. How do you think the Government keeps up the Army and Navy? All those battleships...
Grandpa: Last time we used battleships was in the Spanish-American War, and what did we get out of it? Cuba--and we gave that back! I wouldn't mind paying if it were something sensible.
Henderson: Sensible? Well, what about Congress, and the Supreme Court, and the President? We've got to pay them, don't we?
Grandpa: Not with my money--no sir.
Henderson: Now wait a minute! I'm not here to argue with you. All I know is that you haven't paid an income tax and you've got to pay it!
Grandpa: They've got to show me.
Henderson: We don't have to show you! I just told you! All those buildings down in Washington and Interstate Commerce and the Constitution!
Grandpa: The Constitution was paid for long ago. And Interstate Commerce--what is Interstate Commerce anyhow?
Henderson: There are forty-eight states--see? And if there weren't Interstate Commerce, nothing could go from one state to another. See?
Grandpa: Why not? They got fences?
Henderson: No, they haven't got fences. They've got laws! My God, I never came across anything like this before!
Grandpa: Well, I might pay about seventy-five dollars, but that's all it's worth.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Best of Fest

Knox asked me which films I would recommend from previous After Dark festivals, and whether they were things you could actually view on (e.g.) Netflix. Last question first: Yes, they're all get-able through and get aired on FearNet and sometimes the Sci-Fi channel, so I have to assume they're available through Netflix as well.

I wouldn't recommend watching any horror movie on a network that has commercials, with the exception of FearNet because FearNet only puts one commercial break in, early on. (They do the noise at the bottom of the screen, though, which is nasty.)

Recommending movies is a much harder process, because it's highly personal (and doubly so for horror) and the experience tends to be different at home which affects some movies more than others.

But assuming you're not a horror fanatic, there are a few recommendations I can make pretty comfortably.

Borderland is probably the most genuinely frightening film of the three festivals, not because it's based on a true story (which is usually an excuse for lameness) but because it's so very, very plausible. Americans down in Mexico end up crossing paths with a violent gang. Sean Astin plays a very creepy role. I remember being concerned that it was going to veer into "torture porn" but the horribleness is mostly kept at a very real level--that is, you know, in real life, we're more rattled by things that we brush off in horror movies--and is still very effective. (UPDATE: My reviews at the time say it is, actually, torture porn-style violence. So, use caution.)

The Gravedancers is probably the most fun. It stars "haunted house" and goes "Poltergeist", with more than a nod to "Scooby Doo".

Rinne (Reincarnation)is probably my favorite movie of the three festivals, but it's not for everybody. It's a mystery, you have to be very attentive, and it breaks Blake's law of movie reincarnation (which is that audiences reject using dramatically different actors for the same characters). But it "made sense" to me. (It reveals "the rules" and "follows the rules" without being predictable.) Apparently some people find it slow, though. Subtitled. Must be relatively immune from "they all look alike" syndrome.

I love the atmosphere in Unrest, which is powered almost entirely by the verisimilitude of the situation. The corpses are not just realistic, they're real. The writer/director having been a med student gets the feel just right.

In an entirely separate way, I loved the "realism" of Mulberry Street,which comes from the setting and the truly excellent characterization. I get the idea that the writer/director pulled his friends out of the neighborhood and said "Here, be in my movie." Which may be totally false--because they all do their lines excellently and without sounding stilted--but it feels that way. The movie runs out of steam when it goes into standard zombie/plague mode, sort of ironically, or this movie would be a horror classic.

I can't really recommend The Abandonedbecause I didn't like it. But I don't like this kind of movie. No matter how well done, if I know the characters are doomed from the start and yet the movie is going to make them go through the motions of surviving, I get both bored and pissed off. But for whatever reason, this movie is the only one they show on pay cable so maybe it's a good example of a kind of movie I really dislike.

In the horror-like-Buffy-the-Vampire-Slayer-is-horror category, there's The Deaths of Ian Stone.This is one of the few films that had a real budget, like $14M or something. It shows. And while it's darker than Buffy, it feels like it could be a pilot for a Buffy-like series.

Butterfly Effect: Revelationhas a similar feel. I mean, the whole premise isn't far off from "Quantum Leap", which always threatened to scramble Sam's brains. They just do it in this one.

Out of the 24 films, then, I'd feel comfortable recommending six pretty strongly. Sturgeon's Law and all that.

If you're okay with campy low-budget type flicks, then I can add Tooth & Nail,Nightmare Manand Autopsy.The camp in T&N may be entirely accidental but director Kanefsky (Nightmare) knows the limits of his medium and knows a laugh is as good as a shriek--and Autopsy is so completely committed to the "funhouse" style, it's unimaginable that they didn't know exactly what they were doing.

So, those are my recommendations.

Except for Autopsy, there's not really any heavy gore in any of them (and the gore in Autopsy is right on the line of horrific/comic). Oh, there's a compound fracture in T&N, that's always good for an "ew", and the majority of Unrest features half-dissected corpses as props. (I'm trying to remember if there was a lot of gore in Borderland. If there is, I've blocked it out.)

For hardcore fans, most of the movies have something to recommend them. And for would-be filmmakers, these would have to be interesting if only to examine: a) how much can be done on so little; b) how easy it is to go off the rails.

But for entertainment, the six abovementioned are worth the 80-90 minutes.

How Old Are You?

How old are you?
Tell me what's your story?
How old are you?
Tell me when did you start?
Are you in it for the money or the glory?
Do you still have the brains, the guts and the heart?

When you were younger
You were so much better
When you were young
You were really hot
But now you're much older
And you're colder than ever
Why don't you hang it up?
Why don't you stop?

--Loudon Wainwright III


Bill Schulz is an Idiot

No, really. He was better before he came out of the closet as a liberal. The fun of "Red Eye" is that you don't get the usual parroting of The Consensus. The show took a bad turn before the election when virtually everyone except Greg joined on the bash Palin bandwagon.

In fairness, the show takes a bad turn almost whenever someone tries to score a political point, whatever side. Rachel Marsden was sheer agony most of the time when she was on, turning everything into a political point against the left. (Coulter usually does a better job.)

Anyway Schulz was actually talking about the evils of carbon dioxide and when Greg tried to correct him, he allowed that CO2 was fine except when you burn it. This is how shallow and stupid the global warming debate really is. There's no way to sanely argue against CO2, but I don't doubt that the AGW crowd conflates carbon monoxide with carbon dioxide.

Jeez. Remi Spencer just said people shouldn't be allowed to anonymously criticize celebs on the 'net. She was another doof who parroted the conventional wisdom on Governor Palin.

Great bit on the lobster, though, and "sea kittens".