Thursday, April 26, 2007
I want to know if Jackie Robinson is a pioneer, man who made the country and baseball greater or a blip that changed nothing in this terribly racist country. I’m tired of celebrations that want it both ways. The ESPN game over a week ago was ridiculous in the way they parsed his legacy.
They treat him as a great baseball player greater than his numbers suggest. And since he didn’t lose years and years to the Negro league like so many of his contemporaries, he only played one year in the Negro Leagues (1946), it’s a harder case to make than compared to Satchel Paige (rookie at 41), or Monte Irvin (rookie at 30 after 12 years in the Negro Leagues). Jackie’s career was more like Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio who lost some pivotal years because of the war and college.
Jackie had about 8 solid years and according to Baseball Reference dot com, a career comparable to Greg Jefferies or Edgardo Alfonzo two of my productive IBL guys and nowhere near the HOF. Not one of the BR factors in considering HOF is met in his numbers alone. It’s obvious that Jackie is in the HOF because his legacy is greater than his ability. So embrace it.
I’ve been scratching my head for weeks wondering why they overstate his on-the-field career and it came to me this morning. If he wasn’t a great player then what was he great at? He was great because he changed baseball. Like Lincoln made the country live up to the Declaration of Independence, Rickey and Robinson made baseball do the same. But the media won’t invest in that reason alone, because they want to hold MLB’s feet to the fire over other racial issues that they see as ongoing. If the race problem is ongoing, then Robinson is suspect as a social activist alone. If we're still talking about the same problems 60 years later how effective was he? He needs to be great at something that doesn't interfere with their whining.
Frank Robinson was in the booth talking about how great Jackie was and then admitted that Jackie made his life not one ounce easier. He then explained that he was making $180,000 as a player and was offered the job as player/manager for $200,000 a year. He wanted to simply be a manager but the team wouldn't pay him all that money unless he played too. He didn't like it but decided that he'd take the job anyway for the "cause." I loved that. When my dad got out of the Army in the late 1960s, he worked as a barber on his feet 9am-9pm Monday through Saturday for a salary of $125 a week. That's less than $2 an hour. And here poor ole Robinson is taking $20,000 extra for the "cause."
On ESPN that night, Dave Winfield was saying that blacks are just 8% of the MLB down from 28%, and Peter Gammons admonished scouts for their fear of going into the inner-cities. We all know that Caribbean players are dominating major league baseball because they aren’t subject to the amateur draft. Teams can spend their money more wisely down there and sign more players per dollar. Scouting in America is pointless when some other team is going to grab up your find. There are some small town players that maybe only one or two scouts know, but most guys are watched by ten people at a time. You want more scouts in the inner cities? End the amatuer draft and let the scouts sign anyone, organizations will pour into the inner city.
Everybody on the broadcast was trying to be more downbeat than the next person. Joe Morgan said that sure, black managers are hired, but they never get a second chance. He said look at Cito Gaston, he won 2 World Series and then disappeared. Then he named Don Baylor and Dusty Baker two guys that have had multiple chances, both even managed the Cubs recently. And don’t forget he had just talked to Frank Robinson that managed at least four teams I can remember. Why didn't Joe Morgan name ex-teammate Tony Perez? Because Perez didn't deserve a second chance. He immediately thought of the deserving people and it disproved the point he was trying to make.
Baseball has the mandatory policy of interviewing a minority for every managing job making guys like Willie Randolph fly cross-country to talk about jobs already spoken for. It absolves baseball from looking ineffectual but it puts the pressure on minority candidates that may be wasting their time. I’m sure any number of teams could use a better manager and if Joe Morgan could name a little-known coach that he thinks can manage he should go to bat for the guy, but to complain about percentages is weak. It’s easy. It’s simply proving enlightenment. Baseball is a business and an owner is not going to hire a weak white manager because he hates blacks. Willie Randolph would be managing the Yankee right now had Torre stepped down.
What I did not hear once during the broadcast was Hank Aaron’s struggle and how it must have been a lot harder for him than Barry Bonds. What we did get was a big ole dose of collective guilt that we were all to swallow and ponder regardless of whether it was authenticly earned.
Rebutting the majority pansies in the House and Senate, Hanson offers six reasons to continue the offensive.
Fifth, everything from our 401(k) plans to municipal water plants depend on sophisticated computers and communications. And you don't need a missile to take them down. Two oceans no longer protect the United States - not when the Internet knows no boundaries, our borders are relatively wide open, and dozens of ships dock and hundreds of flights arrive daily.
A germ, some spent nuclear fuel or a vial of nerve gas could cause as much mayhem and calamity as an armored division in Hitler's army. The Soviets were considered rational enemies who accepted the bleak laws of nuclear deterrence. But the jihadists claim that they welcome death if their martyrdom results in thousands of dead Americans.
Finally, radical Islamists largely arise from the oil-rich Middle East. Since 9/11, the price of oil has skyrocketed, transferring trillions of dollars from successful Western, Indian and Chinese economies to unsuccessful Arab and Iranian autocracies.
Terrorists know that blowing up a Saudi oil field or getting control of Iraqi petroleum reserves - and they attempt both all the time - will alter the world economy. Even their mere threats give us psychological fits and their sponsors more cash.
This is a strange war. Our successes in avoiding attack convince some that the real danger has passed. And when we kill jihadists abroad, we are told it is peripheral to the war or only incites more terrorism.
But despite the current efforts at denial, the war against Islamic terrorism remains real and deadly. We can't wish it away until Middle Eastern dictatorships reform - or we end their oil stranglehold over the world economy.
Bush's foreign policy is a victim of its own success.
Seven years ago, as reporters rode around this first primary state on McCain's campaign bus, chatting up the candidate for hours on end, a romance was born.
"Journalists go weak in the knees around the guy," wrote Slate's Jacob Weisberg, who admitted joining the swoon. "McCain is easier to get access to than a Hong Kong hooker," a Time cover story announced. Ari Fleischer, the spokesman for candidate George W. Bush, complained that "John McCain is a media darling."
But the relationship has turned decidedly chilly, with reporters denigrating the Republican's chances and liberal columnists accusing him of selling out. McCain's partisans say this is all about his unwavering support for the administration's effort in Iraq.
"The press has decided to view McCain through the prism of a war they almost unanimously oppose," says Mike Murphy, who was a key adviser in the 2000 campaign. "When McCain deviates from Republican orthodoxy, it's brave. When McCain deviates from the elite media's orthodoxy, they write that he's not brave, which is unfair. There's a bit of a negative bandwagon going on."
Alter, who professes "great personal respect" for McCain, says the key factor is not the war but McCain's shifting positions on, for instance, President Bush's tax cuts, which he opposed in 2001 but now wants to make permanent. In McCain's first White House campaign, Alter says in an interview, "the standard he set was not that of a liberal Republican, it was that of a straight talker. And suddenly he's not talking so straight."
I haven't heard Alter use this kind of scorn for those Democrats who voted for the war and now oppose it. Where was their straight-talk?
McCain made the mistake thinking that he could "New York Times" his way to victory the first time around. Now McCain has a Mafia problem and the mob is especially violent with those they prop up that show no loyalty. None of it matters though. McCain doesn't need the press but conservatives and the only chance he has to get them back is to push through legislation that repeals the McCain-Feingold law. Rush was making fun of his official candidacy announcement yesterday saying that he had no idea that McCain might run and it comes as such a surprise. 100 stories in the New York Times aren't worth a few kind words from Rush if you want to be a legitimate Republican candidate.
Had McCain's 2000 campaign stressed experience instead of personality. Had McCain not opposed the tax cuts and had not insisted on campaign finance reform these last 7 years, he would be the runaway favorite in this race. His insistence on being contrary made for great media profiles, but convinced too many conservatives that he's not to be trusted. Principle is great, but surprise isn't and who wants to be surprised by President McCain's reaction to issues not yet on the table. He's liable to do anything and Presidents define their parties. He could take this party in a very precarious direction. At least Rudy or Hilary will be predicatable.
Monday, April 23, 2007
The Prophet is one who has special knowledge or wisdom that others are not privy to. The True Prophets of old were those who communicated directly with the Divine and then shared the knowledge with the village or kingdom of which they served. Usually a prophet of old warned others about pending issues but also gave a true and good way to avoid the problems. Joseph in the Bible is a good example. He was brought before the Egyptian Pharaoh at the time who warned Egypt that 7 years of famine was coming immediately following 7 years of plenty. The warning allowed Egypt to save up grain during the good years so they could survive the bad years. There were also "false Prophets." False Prophets were those who made Prophesies that were not from the Divine but were motivated from selfish reasons, usually for personal monetary gain.
Today our culture has divided this noble calling into two false prophet varieties: 1) The Prophet of Hope, and 2) The Prophet of DOOM. The Prophet of Hope offers us the vision of the shinning city on the hill, of what the best of us could be and of the bright future ahead. He is hoping you'll jump on his band wagon and ride it to party central. We do admire the Prophet of Hope. We smile and nod condescendingly at their optimism. We laugh and pat them on the back (all the while shaking our head inwardly and saying, "Poor naive Prophet of Hope"). Experience teaches us to expect the worst because when it doesn't happen, we can relax. We certainly aren't disappointed. A good example of the Prophet of Hope is Gene Roddenberry. We love Star Trek and wish/hope that this wonderful world will come true. But most of us smile and nod, knowing that it'll be more something like Blade Runner or Alien (where all the corporations run the future).
The Prophet of Doom on the other hand is listened to very carefully. He projects fear and always talks about the worst case scenario. We listen and ponder. His language is admired and fawned over. It is full of images of despair and misery. The smart Prophet of Doom is one who offers an escape (which is usually by following his advice and buying his book or video series or voting for him and his party or listening to his lecture, etc, etc.).
There is a curious reaction to the Prophet's. Hope we listen to but never forgive if he is wrong. He will be blasted and derided for the naive fool we knew he was. Another good example of the Prophet of Hope is Harry Dent who wrote, "The Roaring 2000's". He wrote this book at the end of the 90's during the stock market boom and predicted "The Dow will be in the 20,000's by 2010." Virtually none of Harry's predictions have borne out to be true. He certainly didn't even mention the incredible Real Estate boom. He gave real estate on paragraph and cautioned against investing in this "slow and lack luster" investment. Today you can buy his book new at a large discount on Amazon and buy it used on Amazon starting at 1 penny.
However, on occasion DOOM and HOPE meld and are borne out to be true (as was Reagan and his battle with the Commie's) he is seen as a great man, perhaps even "true Prophet" and is elevated to sainthood today. He warned of the cost of doing nothing (Doom) but promised of a shinning tomorrow (Hope). The halmarks of the true prophet. It takes great courage to be Hope or a Ture prophet. The true prophet is usually killed or destroyed because we can't stand to be in the presence of truth for long (espeically if we ourselves are living a lie and are invested in that lie).
Alternatively, Doom is always heralded as a genius when he is right but completely forgiven when he is wrong. It takes no courage to be a prophet of Doom. Doom is never front page news when he is wrong. We breathe a sigh of relief that Doom is wrong; glad in the knowledge that we have another day before the "world" ends. His incorrect books are filed away (but often still referenced because the smart Doom will leave his prophesies open ended with no exact date). Examples of Doom are the 17th and early 18th century over population experts.
In An Essay on the Principle of Population (first published in 1798), Thomas Malthus proposed that while resources tend to grow linearly, population grows exponentially. He argued that, if left unrestricted, human populations continue to grow until they would become too large to be supported by the food grown on available agricultural land, causing starvation which then controls population growth. He argued that this had happened many times previously in human history and estimated that this would occur again by the middle of the 19th century.Of course by the technology of the day, that was certainly true. But who could have predicted the advances in chemical fertilizers, advanced machinery, complex food processing,
and other technology advances that have not only given the world the food it needs but it is actually at a surplus. The only reason for starvation in the world today is food distribution issues and dictators that want to oppress their people. All the current Enviornmental Guru's and Global Warming prophets are merely Doom prophets recylcing (pun intended) the old over population arguments of the 18th century.
You can see these two styles of Hope and Doom playing out in every endeavor of our culture. But particularly you see these two types happening in Religious organizations, Economics, as well as Politics. Our culture is one of anxiety. Anxiety that the communists or terrorists or criminals or Corporations or sinners or whoever is the bad guy of the day, is around every bush and only our willingness to fall before Doom and follow his teaching will save us. Doom offers no permanent solution (and if one is found then another bad guy or reason to fear is quickly invented). This is why Bush's numbers are so low. Bush is the Prophet of Hope while every Democrat rings the bell of Doom. With every new solider that dies, their Doom prophesies are seen as correct. Poor naive Bush, he was so hopeful but we all knew that was nonsense. No one looks at Northern Iraq that has never had a single American Solider death nor Southern Iraq, which is very peaceful. We focus on Baghdad.
When I was a kid, the tent revival evangelists would come into town. My parents took one out to dinner after a revival service one night. My Dad asked him, "Why do you preach on Hell all the time?" His answer was surprisingly refreshing, "Because I don't get as big an offering if I preach about only heaven." He had learned the rewards of the Prophet of Doom. People are motivated out of fear faster than from hope. They'll run to the literal or metaphorical Altar quicker from Doom than Hope. However, hope sustains in the long run, while Doom never sustains. Doom often becomes the self-fulfilling prophesy (i.e. The Branch Davidians and Jim Jones are good examples). Doom does not feed but quickly burns out. Eventually, we long and need hope. Truth sustains us through the dark nights and motivates us toward action. Doom builds weapons and fortresses. Hope and Truth build cities and civilizations and a brighter tomorrow.
Sir Saunders came over on Saturday to visit me during my Meniscus recovery and he said two things that will forever become part of my consciousness.
While describing to him the movie, AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH, he said the whole phenomenon was an example of the PROFIT OF DOOM myth and then explained the psychology behind it. Though he admitted that he did not coin the phrase, I bet the guy who did would have had a tough time competing with Sir Saunders description. Steve promises a Junto Boys post on the matter soon.
As we discussed the war in Iraq and the incredible lack of historical perspective in the media and politics, Steve said that he thought he understood why our country changed after World War II. That was a war that we could have legitimately lost, especially after the Japanese crippled our Pacific fleet, and therefore the populace was very invested in American victory. The wars we have fought since could only be lost politically and since they can be won or lost without a change of American lifestyle, there is no public urgency to win.
It immediately brought to mind two Olympic moments that capture the same spirit. In 1980, ABC’s Al Michaels openly cheered the underdog American Hockey team to victory. In 1992, NBC’s Bob Costas apologized as the Dream Team bore a hole through every basketball team on their way to the gold. Same result, two journeys.
I am so happy that Steve Whitaker invited me into the ESPN baseball league and Dude talked me into joining. It comes at a great time with the demise of online poker and it has really reminded me how much I enjoy baseball even despite the people who run it. After our draft in March I read THE HEAD GAME (Review Soon) by Roger Kahn (Boys of Summer). It deals with pitching through the ages. Thoughtful baseball writers can really make the game richer for the thoughtful fan.
Back and forth to the doctor’s office and when ever I have a little time I’ve been slowly enjoying Roger Angell’s SEASON TICKET. Angell has a half dozen or so books that collect his NEW YORKER pieces on baseball. This book is a collection of his stuff from the 1980s before ESPN’s Baseball Tonight when I followed baseball every week in the Sporting News. This collection brings back a lot of memories about players during our early years of the IBL.
One great piece deals with the art of catching and how guys like Carlton Fisk, Bob Boone and Ted Simmons approach it. Johnny Bench had recently retired but his lore hung over the whole discussion. There were arguments in the 1980s about how Johnny’s one handed catching style hurt a lot of other catchers who weren’t good enough copy it effectively and throw out base runners. Angell explains that it began in the 1960s when the catching glove was given a bigger pocket. Before that the ball wouldn’t stick in the glove and you had to use your second hand to catch it after the pop. My dad had a catcher’s mitt like that but it was very tough to use when we were playing ball back in the 1970s. The glove was all cushioned padding. No matter how hard anyone threw you couldn’t feel it, but it would immediately drop to the ground if your second hand wasn’t there to catch it. The discussion in the article is that the two handed method was tougher, but made the catcher ready to throw like or not.
Although guys like Pudge Rodriguez are impossible to run on, I wonder if the base stealing increase is the long-term effects of the glove change. The most interesting thing 20 years hence is that Johnny Bench, lionized in the article, is rarely talked about anymore when it comes to the art of catching. Even his teammate, Joe Morgan, doesn’t make the comparisons you’d expect. His legacy now seems to be that of a good hitting catcher. I’ve got a couple of other Angell books around that I have picked up here and there that I am going to spend some time with this summer. If you see any at a used bookstore they’re worth the small investment.
Last week, the knee doctor said the Meniscus surgery was optional depending on whether I could live with the pain. Well, I have a high tolerance to pain and since January the pain has been worse than my herniated discs. I’ve been in an almost constant limp. I hate medical shows, but the orthoscopic pictures fascinate me. This is what my torn meniscus looked like:
See the feather-like thing jutting out? That’s the torn part. I thought it would be one simple tear, but it’s more like a frayed quilt. The doctor told Trish that the tear was much worse than the MRI indicated and that now she understood why I insisted on the surgery. All of that garbage was rubbing against the nerves and making me walk like Walter Brennan from Rio Bravo.
After the 30 minute procedure, here is the result:
Nice and smooth. What surprised me is that the surgery itself has caused some swelling and tightness, but the pain I was originally feeling was immediately gone because the meniscus has no nerves to hurt and the surgery ended the irritation. Now I just have these two little holes and some weakness when I walk. I expect to be back to work the first Monday in May. A part of me wants to get back sooner, but the doctor and the health services lady at work said that taking it slow will ensure a smoother recovery. More Angell until then.
Drudge has been running with the Sheryl Crow suggestion of limiting toilet paper to one square per visit. The good thing about the public environmental movement is that it provides example after example of unreasonableness. The celebrities that push for limitations are easily found cheating in their personal lives. Unlike her transportation uses maybe Crow figures that she can’t be policed here and this is the beginning numerous proposals from Crow concerning things only known privately. Maybe I’m not getting enough of something in my diet, but one square won’t cut it 90% of the time for me.
Rush and Hannity both referenced this today, but neither made the comparison to the old Soviet Union that forced this behavior through scarcity of toilet paper. You wouldn’t exactly call their air and water clean, would you? But instructive in that the environmental movement wouldn’t mind creating a little scarcity and these celebrities wouldn’t lament much of life in the Soviet Union as long as they maintained their Party Membership like economic privileges.
Now baseball and politics. Last week a columnist for the Detroit News, Rob Parker, called Hank Aaron a coward for his no comment on Barry Bonds.
It comes down to accusations Bonds used steroids, even though the slugger hasn't been found guilty.What's Aaron's problem?
Well, he needs to take a stand -- either denounce Bonds' attempt because he's been implicated in the steroids scandal, or embrace Bonds' accomplishment and show up.
Playing middle of the road isn't fair -- to baseball, its fans or Bonds.
Instead, Aaron has chosen the easy way out -- saying nothing. That's sad.
I know that columnists usually make their reputations taking strong and sometimes foolish stands. I have written some foolish blog entries, I’m sure. But calling Hank Aaron a coward misunderstands the generational gap between the “in your face” young athletes of today and the poise in which the older generation conducted themselves on and off the field.
Hank Aaron is in a bad spot. We all know that Barry Bonds cheated and Aaron doesn’t want to support a cheater. A loud-mouth jerk like Bonds would say so without a thought, but Hank Aaron took the classy approach by letting his actions speak rather than mouthing off. Parker continues:
How ironic for Aaron, who was the pillar of courage during his pursuit of one of the most important records in American sports.
As he approached Babe Ruth's record of 714 homers, critics claimed Aaron played in more games than Ruth, in smaller parks and against watered-down pitching. And, don't forget all the hate mail and racism Aaron was subjected to.
And, did he forget then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn didn't attend the record-setting game in 1974? If anyone knows what it's like to pursue a record while others try to ignore or discredit you, it's Aaron.
This is an example of a growing trend to make an argument based on similar looking events while ignoring the context of those events. No one ever suggested Hank Aaron is a cheater while Bonds has been implicated in the Balco scandal. It’s not about whether Barry Bonds has been found guilty in court. He could have subjected himself to the necessary steroid tests to clear himself when this scandal popped up years ago. Rather than clear himself he’s been running out the clock and MLB and the player’s union have let it happen every step of the way.
So Hank Aaron is supposed to support or denounce him to show his own bravery? Hank Aaron went through every hardship that Jackie Robinson did. MLB is lucky that Aaron didn’t break the color barrier now that they’re letting the pampered Bonds steal his record.
ESPN use to play the old 1950s show HOME RUN DERBY where two All-Star caliber players would matchup. What I always found interesting about the show is how the opposing player would be on the microphone providing commentary with the host as the other guy hit. They always had an “aw shucks” persona and complimented the other guy’s style and ability. That’s exactly how Hank behaved when he was on the show too.
Rob Parker misunderstood Aaron’s silence for cowardice when it is, in fact, class. That’s not something that Parker is use to in athletes he covers. That’s also something about that era in sports that doesn’t get much ink either. These guys make a lot of money now and too many of them mistake that money and fame for importance. In the fantasy league we’re playing on ESPN, you can send another owner a “smack” card and I suppose that’s supposed to be hip and edgy.
I much prefer the style that lets people compete on the field and expects them to shake hands and be humble in victory or defeat. I admire Aaron a great deal for his handling of this and I wish others could find appreciation in this last glimpse of a gentler era.
Thinking back to Gore’s movie and that strain of the environmental movement I’m reminded of a theme in Whit Stillman’s movie Metropolitan. The affluent kids wonder about whether or not they’ll be successful in their careers and there is real worry because they have their own parents as a benchmark. Some even say that their own parents, though comfortable, feel like failures compared to the grandparents. Charlie says that one way of dealing with it is getting involved in charity work or the arts where involvement alone is seen as success because even if they are a failure at it, no one will ever know. Think of that if you see the Gore movie or see it again.
And speaking of movie, have you seen UNITED 93? I saw it a few months ago under the duress of not looking forward to it. What I saw is the best movie of 2006. It was on HBO the other night if you subscribe, otherwise do yourself a favor and rent it. We all know the story or think we do, but the film fills in a lot of gaps about how the air traffic controllers and the military were putting the pieces together throughout the morning. And even though you know the ending, the events as portrayed on United 93 offer a hope anyway. For as bad as that day was and as hard as it is to see such brave people die, I was so impressed with their bravery and how quickly they were ready to sacrifice their lives to save strangers on the ground. It’s a glimpse into the kind of America not portrayed in our media, but one of the big reasons America is a great country.
Also speaking to Steve’s earlier thought about World War II being a war that we could have lost and thus the united country, 9-11 was surprising and shocking and our country united because we expected it to be the first of many such attacks. You cannot measure how much Bush’s offensive strategy in defeating terrorists is the reason for no further attacks, but further attacks certainly would have created a consensus behind Iraq and Iran that we don’t have now. Further attacks would have become willingness for 10 times the casualties we now suffer. The quiet times let us slide right back into the David and Goliath perception in the media.
Bush said today that politicians shouldn’t get in the way of the Generals running the war. Reid replied that the White House said those remarks were made in the state of Michigan, but Reid believes they were made in the state of denial. Very poetic, Harry. Denial is believing those in the Middle East wish us no harm and withdrawing will end the conflict between us and that ideology.
BAND OF BROTHERS, I think, is the best TV mini-series of all-time. Since World War II isn’t out-of-bounds when it comes to heroism and rooting for our team, this Spielberg/Hanks production is a real satisfying story and good enough to watch multiple times. I’m sure much of this is due to Stephen Ambrose’s excellent writing and respect for the men portrayed.
Good Monday, my friends.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
I'm going to try something new by listing the last ten movies I have seen in order of how I would rank them on a top ten list. I've got twenty titles on my list since my last review so I'll post two separate lists. After the date of release is the number of stars awarded by allmovie (out of five).
THE DEPARTED (2006 ****1/2) This is far from the best Scorcese film but that bar is set so high that this still ranks as one of the better films in recent years. I think the Nicholson part would have been better if it was underplayed a little rather than having Jack chewing scenery and beating his chest every time we saw him. I never believed that such a fellow would have taken DiCaprio under his wing so quickly and trusted him so completely even when confronted with insubordination. I did like the DiCaprio character which reminded me of
Johnny Depp in DONNIE BRASCO, but with added duress. It was nice to see the character played as scared and vulnerable at times despite the rough exterior. Matt Damon played his guy as smart yet insidious and did his usual stand-up job. I could have done with less of the girlfriend as such things tend to drag down guy movies. All in all, fairly riveting.
VOLVER (2006 ****) There's nothing not to like about a movie like this - it's got just enough story to tell and mixes in some nice performances and a little light comedy. Penepole Cruz has always struck me as a bombshell but here she is convincing as a small-town put-upon wife whose beauty doesn't inform her character in the least. I had no idea what the movie was about when I saw it the night before the Oscars. Once there was a body to hide, I expected the cops to show up and engage our heroine in a cat-and-mouse battle of wits, but it didn't become that at all - in fact, the cops never even showed up and the louse of a husband wasn't even missed, allowing the story to go its own way. It was fun and efficient European storytelling which is enjoyable and refreshing.
MAD MAX (1979 ****) I'd never seen any of the Max films so I started with this one. I'm sure it's lost some of its luster with time but it's still a fun little ride. I can't think of an earlier post-apocolyptic film although there is never any mention of how the world came to be such a wasteland. Gibson plays sort of an Eastwoodesque antihero out for vengeance. There are some good stunts and a memorable finale.
LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS (1998 ***1/2) This film is a good example of a director so in love with directing that he does whimsical things with the camera for no apparent reason other than to take the viewer out of the story. It's a fun enough plot in the British crime caper mode but take my advice, don't even bother watching without the subtitles, even though they purportedly speak our language. I was frustrated with the story for the first half until it redeemed itself pretty well in the second half. Still, although it has earned some sort of cult following, there are just too many films to recommend over this one if British crime capers are your thing.
BABEL (2006 ****) I probably would have liked this film more if I hadn't already seen two previous efforts from the director which employed similar storytelling technique. I enjoyed AMORES PERROS and I absolutely loved 21 GRAMS. I also very much enjoyed another director's film called CRASH just last year which made BABEL feel like a global retread of that great LA-based Oscar winner. CRASH ultimately made me feel good whereas BABEL was just a bummer through and through. The storylines centered around miscommunication but I didn't really care for any of the characters except for the Hispanic housemaid. I did appreciate seeing the muff of the Japanese girl but couldn't fully enjoy it since she was so messed up in the head. Overall, I have to say this one was wildly overrated.
THANK YOU FOR SMOKING (2005 ***1/2) The story was firing on all cylanders for awhile but ultimately left me unsatisfied. I love black comedy - I was hooked and reeled in and laughing out loud until the umpteenth meeting of the alcohol, firearms, and tobacco lobbyists. It was funny at first that all the death merchants met regularly for drinks but it grew stale by the third meeting and by the fifth meeting they could have just skipped the drinks and began beating a dead horse. It's really a lost opportunity for a great character study since Aaron Eckhart nailed the melding of smarmy and charming in his tobacco lobbyist - if only the story was a little tighter and more satisfying this would go down as a great American comedy instead of a near miss.
HAPPY FEET (2006 ****) I saw this one with the kids on IMAX which really made it an event. I absolutely adore George Miller's BABE 2: PIG IN THE CITY - so I was really looking forward to seeing this one. I know the world fell in love with this movie, but I will admit to being underwhelmed. The song and dance routines just reminded me of how much I enjoyed MOULIN ROUGE and how that's all I can think about whenever someone sings a modern pop song to express their innermost desires. The penguins just reminded me how much I enjoyed MARCH OF THE PENGUINS and hated MADAGASCAR and made me wonder why penguins outnumber horses in the movies nowadays. Once the obligatory Robin Williams character appeared, my tolerance was already strained but when the human characters showed up and turned the film into Greenpeace propoganda, I was committing to a thumbs down.
AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH (2006 ***1/2) Tom summed it up well with his review. Ignoring the politics and reviewing the film, I will say that the personal background into Gore's life which served to attempt to elevate him to demagogue status didn't play very well, though it was interesting to take a political message and disguise it as a pseudo-biography. I will admit that the slide show itself was great. Disregarding the bad science, the slides and Gore's presentation of the information was really engaging. I have sat through scores of PowerPoint slideshows in my A/V career, and the best presenters could be interesting regardless of the subject matter - it was certainly no chore to sit through Gore's rant which is interesting considering how passionless he was by comparison as a presidential candidate. Kudos also to the novel closing credits which I have already seen parodied more than once - I doubt we will ever again see Best Original Song awarded to a documentary's credit sequence.
WORLD TRADE CENTER (2006 ***1/2) Not much to say about this one as I remember very little beyond having to endure two talking heads poking out of rubble for over an hour.
WITH SIX YOU GET EGGROLL (1968/**) One of the great joys in my life currently is watching old Brady Bunch episodes with my kids. Mason identifies with Bobby while Cadence sees herself in Marcia. My favorite was always Peter. The first time around, I identified with the kids in this series and I always liked the parents; this time I can watch as a parent and realize what good kids they have. So I rented this film as an extention of Brady night to show the kids where the idea came from. The film began charming enough but just got more and more dreadful as it went along. I felt so guilty for making them sit through this stinker that I ended the night with a three-parter of the Brady kids battling taboo in Hawaii.
Friday, April 20, 2007
At the beginning of the film, Al Gore says that a 6th grade classmate of his asked the teacher if Africa and South America were ever joined since they look like they fit. Gore tells us that the teacher said no, but he doesn’t blame the teacher because the scientific community didn’t believe in Pangaea at the time. So near the end of the film when he says that the scientific community is unanimous in their belief that man is the cause of global warming, what are we to take from that as an audience? Has collective wisdom suddenly become infallible?
But this is not just a film about global warming. It’s a film about how a man finds a cause to redeem himself. You see, Al Gore is no demigod as he was led to believe. Things do not always go his way. There was nothing he could do to prevent the lung cancer death of his beloved sister (his protector). He was not able to stop his son from being hit by an automobile in a near fatal accident. And he couldn’t win the 2000 election despite a great economy that should have made it easy.
He does not much dwell on his down-to-earth wife or the children unstriken. He doesn’t see the fortune he was born into that allowed him an Ivy League education and a ready-made career in politics. He feels that the great things, the important things have always eluded him and you can tell he feels like a failure. We already know these biographical details of Gore’s life, but he presents them again in this movie to explain what led him to this great cause.
These problems are not unique to Al Gore. Baby Boomers have spent 40 odd years since the tumultuous 1960s trying to make sense out of their lives. His is the generation that questioned the collective wisdom of our forefathers and found greater meaning in the secular religion of social justice. Social justice did not end the human problems that have been with us since time immemorial, but marching felt good. Forget the details, the process gave meaning. And the best thing of all is that you don’t have to achieve results to be victorious. We can celebrate the gains made in the 1960s and still turn around and say there is so much more to do. Win/Win.
And unlike a dead sister, an injured child or a lost election, the disaster about to befall the earth is nebulous in the specifics so he cannot possible be defeated. The world is either destroyed (our fault) or saved (his victory). It’s a moral issue, you see. It’s unethical to destroy the world, don’t you know.
He takes issue with a person who worked in the Bush Administration who changed a global warming study done by the EPA. This gentleman worked for the oil industry before working in Washington. When he was made to resign for making the changes and he again went to work for the oil industry. The oil industry, you see, is in the business of burning as much carbon as possible, because that’s how they make their money. And people who make their money in a particular way see the world in a way that helps them make that money. Gore thus presents profiteers as the enemies of enlightenment, but he fails to understand the implications of that charge.
If the side that makes money is against these findings, and scientists have to feed their children too, then there shouldn’t be any money available for the kind of research that comes to conclusions opposite of the money. Therefore, you have to conclude that there is money on both sides of the issue.
So imagine you are a scientist who takes a grant from some organization and you come back and say, look there is contradictory evidence and I can’t say one way or the other. Do you imagine that you will get a second grant? How will you feed your children? No, you say there is evidence that points in whatever direction that gets you the second grant. It’s easy to do, because a large study will have evidence that points in every which direction, the key is the analysis of that data can go in any direction. Your job as the researcher is to have your numbers on one side that no one understands and your conclusions on the others that follow the prescribed direction. Money gained from profit or research spends just the same. And what if your conclusions are wrong? I mean hey we’re on the safe side, right. It doesn’t hurt to burn less coal. No harm.
That may sound cynical, but the cynicism is on the other side. If the proponents of any argument want to point to profit as motive behind their adversaries findings then it is only logical that the side leveling the charge be looked at in context of the money made from their propositions. Al Gore is not in this to make money, he has his money. He can laugh at a Bush cartoon that balances gold bars and the earth, because he has enough gold bars. But the people who are doing the research that he cherry picks have just as much of a financial stake in their findings as do the greedy capitalists that Gore disparages.
Take a guy like Michael Crichton, Harvard M.D. and popular writer of fiction and nonfiction. Like Gore, Crichton has his gold bars too and it makes not a difference to him financially one way or the other and yet he for some reason falls on the side of profiteers. What would Gore attribute Crichton’s motives? It couldn’t be that someone disagrees with the Vice President after seeing the data, because Gore already explained that no one anywhere does. Only money or ignorance blinds an eye to such an inconvenient truth.
At one point, Gore says you have to forget politics because it’s better to do the right thing than win elections. And yet, where was VP Gore when it was time to push the Kyoto treaty through the senate in the 1990s? Could it be that Kyoto might have hurt the American economy enough to cost him the 2000 election? And what do we make of the Chinese government that regulates search engines and the Internet that doesn’t mind Al Gore speaking in front of their people. His message doesn’t pose any threat to totalitarianism, we can assume. The Chinese will mow down their own citizenry to quell free elections, but Al Gore’s words are sweet music. What Gore does not mention is that China is exempt from Kyoto and if Gore disagreed with that he wouldn’t be speaking in China. It’s a moral issue in America, but why go and knock the Chinese when one bad word would lose you a billion clapping people.
After defeat in the 1860 election, Stephen Douglas volunteered himself to Abraham Lincoln to help prevent the Civil War. After Wendell Wilke lost the 1940 election he joined FDR in ending isolationism and supported lend lease among other things. So when America was attacked by Islamic terrorists, Al Gore produced a movie in which he explains that those who intend to kill us are merely a sideshow compared to the real war we have with the climate. That is an inconvenient truth if you’re riding the coattails of a dot com boom and would hate to see the economy tank due to economic restrictions. It’s not so inconvenient after you lose that election.
This is a film and movement born of narcissism. We were wrong in voting for Bush. He’s fighting the wrong war. Gore even quotes Winston Churchill predicting the Nazi menace, but fails to see the parallels to extreme Islam. The Churchill quotes are used to boost his crusade against the enemy in the mirror. Luckily he loves the world enough to save it even though he was kicked to the curb. We need to stop listening to that jackass in the White House and start fighting the combustion engine.
It’s not a coincidence that he cares not to fight radical Islam and their threats to Western culture, because he decided way back in the 1960s that Western culture wasn’t worth defending. It can come and go as far as he’s concerned, just as long as the sunset is pretty and bunny rabbits are jumping.
The title accuses us of ignoring inconvenient truths, but Gore too ignores the things that do not adhere to his world view. Rather than answer the critics point by point, he disparages their motives. When he can’t paint someone like Michael Crichton as an opportunist he just ignores their existence. He would accuse Bush and war leaders as simplistic boobs who do not know the nuances between sectarian and secular Muslims, but he offers no room for nuance and gray area when it comes to his beliefs. His presentation is as black and white as a Pentecostal preacher warning of Sodom and Gomorrah.
It’s not enough for Gore to present a solid argument, answer the critics and begin a dialog on what can be done to make the world better. The movie is lecture version of Rambo pointing to charts explaining the treachery of the Vietcong and how they must be overcome. It’s just the format that people on his side of the aisle jump to label simplistic and simple-minded.
What’s most unexpected is that Gore does not see how his feelings of powerless over his sister, his son, and the 2000 election have predisposed him to find a proactive cause like saving the world. He sees his crisis of the mind as a virtue that freed him to champion a great cause, instead of a hindrance to a rational and objective view of the world. He doesn’t seem to understand that his pre-disposition is the opposite of objective science. Like the researchers who get their grant money through uncovering a crisis, Gore’s redemption would only be through saving the world.
Like most doomsayers that never get their comeuppance, Gore will be praised for his altruism, ignored for his personal environmental behavior, and seen as well-meaning when his predictions of doomsday do not materialize. This movie will be a document of how much he cared, nothing less.
AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH is an astonishing look into the soul of a man who came of age in the 1960s and forty years later is still trying to reconcile the meaning of his own life. And with knowledge of 2000 years of world literature to fall back on, the best he could present is this simple CHICKEN LITTLE story. If Bush were one to present his midlife crisis in cinema, I would expect at least the equivalent of a Tom Wolfe novel.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Each spring I make an effort to read a baseball book, or at least intend to read one, to help get me in the mood for the new season. Last year I was taking a class and discarded the silly ritual, with the unfortunate result that the start of the season just didn’t have the magic it should. Then by the time I could focus on it, the Bucs were already hapless, another season lost.
I was not going to repeat the mistake this year.
ALL-NEW BASEBALL BRAINTEASERS
First up, sixty actual major league game situations that make you the umpire. This was bedtime reading with my 8-year-old who loves baseball, trivia and puzzles. Some are very easy, like is it a home run when the ball bounces off Canseco’s head and over the fence, others are more tricky, like what’s the call when a confused outfielder hands the ball to a fan then grabs it back to complete the play, or when a batter pulls a hammy and cannot round the bases on a home run, or whether the infield fly rule applies on a pop bunt to the catcher. Dude will fare much better than I did. I think my 8-year-old beat me too. I tried thinking about it; he just intuitively decided what would be fair in that situation. You find when you study them that the rules of baseball are exquisitely fair.
THE JOY OF KEEPING SCORE
I promised said boy that I would teach him how to score a game so I figured I’d better review it myself since it’s been a while. Turns out I didn’t need this book because everybody does it their own way and the basic instructions are inside the front cover of any scorebook. The good news is the book turned out to be much more than a how-to, with photos of scorecards from historic games, quotes from famous Americans on how they learned to score with their dads (who knew presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin was a more avid scorer than Ike, or that First Lady Grace Coolidge kept her own card?), an essay on the mathematical beauty and compact storytelling of the box score, and some exposition on the history of the official scorer and examples of why they can be so hated. By the way, I did score the Mets-Cards season opener with Ben and he is a quick study. We scored the first 4 or 5 innings and then he went to bed and asked me to do the rest of the game and leave it outside his door. My wife reported that he scrupulously studied my work over breakfast. When I got home from work Monday evening I asked him whether he had looked at the scorecard and he said, "Yeah, it's not the way I would have done it, but it was pretty good." That still cracks me up.
HOW TO WATCH A BASEBALL GAME
A simple and witty little book written in 1957 by an author better known for his 1940 skewering of Wall Street called Where Are the Customers’ Yachts? Written in the style of a primer for non-fans, the joke is that only the knowledgeable fan can understand his convoluted instructions, what with the strange and seemingly contradictory terms and myriad exceptions to every rule (a whiff is a strike, but if you strike it it’s not a strike, unless it’s a two-strikes bunt, then it’s a strikeout): everyone knows you learn the game only by playing or watching it. What is so great about this book, and about baseball, is that this book could be published 50 years later with minimal editing: baseball is a pure sport, 90 feet to first base is absolutely perfect, and 9 players on each side is still exactly right.
This book was a favorite of the KEEPING SCORE author and I bought it on his recommendation. Naturally he covers the unique joys of scorekeeping, which are purely personal:
AFTER the meticulous scorers have done all this they usually throw the score card away. Occasionally, if it has been a memorable game, they take the card home with them, put it carefully away somewhere, and never look at it again for the rest of their lives. It is hard for me to imagine anyone, on a frosty December evening, sitting before the fire with the score card of a game played the previous June, and recreating the game, batter by batter and inning by inning. However it has undoubtedly happened. In baseball, everything eventually happens. Another thing I can’t imagine is a wife saying to her husband as he departs for the game without her, “Be sure to bring back your score card, dear, I want to read it.”The author would much rather see the game at the ballpark if he can.
THE practical matter is that if you are a really interested fan you don’t quite see the game on TV. A faraway technician has his hands tightly on your head and your eyeballs. He is in charge of what you look at. He is far from unintelligent but he can’t cater to your special interests. When Willie Mays is chasing a desperate fly he will show you Mays chasing it. If you were at the park you would also watch Mays, but you might take a moment off for a quick glance to see if the base runners were tagging up or running, which is a delicate matter of tactics. You might want to glance at how the infield is shaping up for the relay, or a dozen other things. But when you are sitting in an upholstered chair, instead of a non-so-comfortable wooden bench, you will see what the cameraman decides you shall see. You will miss a lot. This of course includes catching cold, if there should be a sudden downpour.Isn't that so true? I remember Dave Parker's throw to the plate in that All-Star Game, and I remember Sid Bream lumbering home with the winning run in the NLCS, but not like I remember plays I saw live at the ballpark.
Here is a further suggestion on the point: It has been observed that a baseball lover sometimes recalls in reverie the details of a thrilling play he saw long ago. It is my suggestion that such pleasant memories are always of plays seen at the park, not slouched before a TV set. There just seems to be nothing memorable about a great game seen on television.
These books are on their way to Dude, and if he likes them perhaps he will pass them along. Hope springs eternal in April, but only for a week or so for us Pirates fans. They won their first three, which was just swell, then fell quickly back to earth at 4-2 then 4-6. Fortunately I have a second team to root for now, since Ben is a big Phillies fan, but they have started 3-8. At least with the Phillies there is the possibility that they will get hot. But win or lose, now Little League is starting and I can share baseball with my boys, which is as it ought to be.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Don Imus was for some unexplained reason a darling of the media elite. I would some times tune in to the MSNBC show in the morning and watch to him get sarcastic with David Gregory and Tim Russert and wonder why they even called his show. I heard Larry King once say that Don Imus was the best talk radio guy in the country. All I've ever heard him do is wine and pat himself on the back for his charity work. But now the same media has fed him to the reverends.
The reverends went just as hard against those Duke Lacrosse players, because again the racial politics demanded it. The racial politics never demand that the reverends repent for their mistakes, though. The repenting is for others. That the Duke students have been cleared hardly registered a sigh or hum from the reverends. They’re not outraged that a young woman lied and made them look bad, because no one makes them accountable. The reverends don’t have to be right, just scary. Anything that looks like a rehash of slavery or segregation or white privilege is mega-phoned until their brand of justice is delivered. When they’re wrong they just stop talking about it.
The media let these stage clowns represent a whole segment of society because they make good theatre. But by letting these guys speak for 12% of the population they are consciously or subconsciously saying that these con men are representative of that segment of the populace. Would you hire Al Sharpton to work as an employee in your company? Would you trust him? If the media is presenting Sharpton as the embodiment of blacks in America then doesn’t that hurt black Americans in their relationships with white Americans? It seems like the media is perpetuating a stereotype each time they put him on the air.
I'm surprised corporate sponsors have the guts to advertise on talk radio anyway. Sure the ratings are great, but if you work in a corporation you know that a majority of people are more afraid of making a mistake than being mediocre. And the corporate types shun any kind of negative publicity while adopting numerous politically correct platitudes because it's easier than having to defend common sense. Look, we have a sensitivity program!
Considering how much talk radio we have and how it is by nature controversial, should we expect the reverends to go down the list trying to knock off others? Why haven't they gone after Rush or South Park? Was Imus a dry run? It just seemed too easy. Two guys stand up and start bitching about a guy who has always been anti-social and mean-spirited and suddenly everyone decides he's anti-social and mean-spirited.
I saw some of the press conference by the Rutgers team and it was depressing. The girls defended themselves as if people were really sitting around saying, "Yeah, Imus nailed it." One girl said that they are going to have a private meeting with Imus so that he can explain what he meant. Why bother? Another girl listed her teammates and explained which ones were funny and who would make a good lawyer and how they were all her family.
Instead of the pity party, one player should have come forward and said, "We accomplished a lot this year and we're not going to be defined by Imus or this media event that you're creating. We don't know why people say mean things about strangers. Ask a psychologist. "
Sunday, April 08, 2007
The average person is well-familiar with Beatles music and that creates a sort of built-in audience. Their catalog is big enough that a lot of interesting subjects can be explored in the storytelling. Most important is the amount of life-affirming music to choose from. McCartney is a master of using that catalog to create a great concert experience.
LOVE begins with BECAUSE from ABBEY ROAD, a somber song no doubt, but made disjointed here by a mix that goes dead silent in between lines. On stage we see somber pageantry. Thankfully it then picks up with GET BACK, but it never sustains any kind of uplifting mood. On stage, a big thing is made of the Liverpool bombings during World War II that coincided with the band member’s birth. The stage is made to look like buildings and rooftops and the staging shows the whole thing being blown to smithereens.
The fun of the Beatles crazy or downbeat music is that those tunes are sandwiched between songs with other temperaments. Here we get nothing but long stretches of one depressing tune on top of the other. Glass onion, Eleanor Rigby, Julia, I am the Walrus back to back to back to back pretty near the beginning of the show. You don’t know how welcome DRIVE MY CAR became after that lineup. A short portion of THE WORD made it next and it was too short-lived. If you’re going to call the show LOVE, the song THE WORD is a great choice for a sequence, because it’s not overplayed and yet has a great catchy sound. They might get 30 seconds out of it here.
The most brutal part of the show was an attempted comedy bit using the song BLACKBIRD. Four people fly into the stage dressed as blackbirds and a Frenchy guy recites the song like a poem as the birds struggle to fly. It was a pathetic attempt at humor and a poor choice of material.
Later in the show the whimsical LADY MADONNA and OCTOPUS’S GARDEN get some time on stage. Four George Harrison numbers, SOMETHING, HERE COMES THE SUN, WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS, and WITHIN YOU WITHOUT YOU are featured pretty prominently I suppose to make quota.
The one really truly great sequence is the choreography that accompanies A DAY IN THE LIFE. That piece was inspired in a way that nothing else in the show can match.
The stunts are ho-hum especially compared to La Nuba at Disney. The big stunt near the end was cancelled due to safety net issues so I may have missed the most exciting thing. While they were trying to fix the problem, the video screens showed us the cartoon rendition of Yellow Submarine as the song played. The only other stunt sequence was a rollerblading part that was a re-tread of every other rollerblading number you’ve seen.
The first time I saw Cirque du Soleil at Disney I said wow. When I saw the same show the second time I thought it was decently done. When I went back a third time I could barely stay awake. This was far less exciting and the musical selection was mostly disappointing. As a big Beatles fan I can appreciate the more obscure songs, but I can’t forgive the mood they chose. How this show could have used GOOD DAY SUNSHINE, GOT TO GET YOU INTO MY LIFE, GETTING BETTER, and WE CAN WORK IT OUT to offset the negativity.
Trade thrills for gloomy pageantry and upbeat music for downbeat music and you have a synopsis of LOVE at the Mirage, a missed opportunity to say the least. I should have seen PENN AND TELLER instead.
Saturday, April 07, 2007
*** Superior Film
** Solid Effort
* Same ole
# Sleep Aid
***DOWNFALL (2004) – The last days of Hitler down in the bunker with chums like Goebbels hanging around to the bitter end. It’s told partially through the eyes of the young lady who comes to work as a secretary for the lunatic in 1942. Her memoir is part of the source material. It gives you an opportunity to root that she’ll get the hell out in time while we hear sober Nazis plead with Hitler to surrender to the Americans before the Russians take over the city. DOWNFALL is to the bunker what DAS BOOT is to the submarine, compelling despite being told from the viewpoint of our sworn enemies. If you see only the occasional foreign film, put this one at the top of the list.
**THE WORLD’S FASTEST INDIAN (2005) – Sweet film with Anthony Hopkins as amateur mechanic from New Zealand that dreams of taking his modified Indian Motorcycle to race in the Great Salt Flats. Inspiring and while it’s doesn’t blow you away, it leaves you with a good feeling.
*WINTER KILLS (1979) – From the Richard Condon novel (Manchurian Candidate), this black comedy about younger brother (Jeff Bridges) of JFK like President and the circumstances surrounding his assassination begins in all sincerity and then becomes increasingly absurd up to the climax. John Huston plays the father and a lot of cameos are sprinkled throughout. Had it maintained more subtlety and provided its surprises more believably, it could have been a minor classic. Instead, it’s so in your face by the end that I turned on it.
*THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY (1964) – James Garner stars as that charming con man that he does best. Julie Andrews in only her second role shows the kind of range and career she could have had if Mary Poppins and the Sound of Music hadn’t defined her. Garner plays scrounging junior officer in England during World War II, who manages to stay out of the fighting by being invaluable to his General. Andrews plays the dame that hates his open cowardice but somewhat likes the idea that he won’t be heroically killed like her late husband. It’s scripted by Paddy Chayefsky, so you get comedy wrapped around some legitimately serious issues. James Couburn shows up as Garner’s best friend. Not really worth seeking out, but it won’t sting if you happen across it.
*MY ARCHITECT (2003) – Documentary by the illegitimate son of noted architect Louis Kahn who dropped dead in New York’s Penn Station just around the time he was becoming known in design circles. The son, Nathanial, grows up and goes on a journey to learn about his father, his father’s other children, and the legacy that he left. Kahn had three separate families although he never actually left his wife. What’s interesting is how none of his scorned women blame him for anything. It’s something about the genius they all saw in him that allowed them to forgive him any transgression. The architecture itself is only somewhat interesting as Kahn seemed to get by on his personality more than anything else. Louis sort of comes off as a heel rather than hero so past Nathaniel’s own reckoning you don’t really feel any satisfaction.
**KNIFE IN THE WATER (1962) – Roman Polanski’s gained international attention with this his first full-length film. A husband and wife are heading to a weekend on their boat when they pick up a young hitchhiker. The psychological games between the husband and hitchhiker make up most of the film from there, with the wife providing the sexual tension. The film really keeps you wondering how much the competition will escalate and it never crosses the line of believability although much of the shenanigans seem petty. I wonder how Polanski made such a movie under Polish communism and what would a person in 1962 Poland do for a living to own a nice sailboat. The confines of that boat help create a really interesting tension that makes the movie worthwhile even if the plot is almost nil.
**Z (1969) – Nominated for Best Picture in 1969, this movie is loosely based on a Greek political assassination in the mid 60s that brought down a noted progressive politician. Yves Montand stars as the quiet yet charismatic leftist that gets knocked off early on so that the mystery of his downfall can unravel. The movie, shocking at the time I’m told, reveals how the right-wing government was complicit in the great man’s death. After seeing Oliver Stone’s JFK, this seems like kindergarten. I have to think that the politics are largely responsible for the reputation of this movie, although it’s put together decently enough to be compelling. It makes me wonder though what’s the best movie ever made that shows the overthrow or assassination of a beloved right-wing figure?
**FUNERAL IN BERLIN (1966) – The second movie in the Harry Palmer series is a solid follow-up to IPCRESS FILE. Michael Caine is recruited to East Germany where he is to help a defecting Russian general. Despite his superior’s excitement over this opportunity, Caine doesn’t buy the General’s story and tries to figure out what’s really at work here. The movie also tells us more about Palmer’s origins as an agent and introduces to us an old friend of his. Caine is charming as the hero and either of these first two movies are worth seeing.
# ROOM 666 (1984) – Wim Wenders “documentary” shot at the Cannes film festival where noted directors of the day, Spielberg, Godard, Herzog expound in front of the camera about the future of film and their hopes for the medium. A good enough idea, but the subjects are mostly rambling and not terribly insightful. Thankfully shorter than an hour, but still a labor to get through.
**LA MOUSTACHE (2005) – Interesting French film starring Vincent Lindon who decides to shave his moustache and is surprised that no one notices. An American film with this premise would be about how the world was conspiring against our hero. The charm of European movies is how it’s never automatic. Maybe our hero is right, maybe our hero is crazy. The shame of this movie is that the question never really gets answered and reality itself becomes open for interpretation. I don’t mind ambiguousness if you can make me 90% sure I know what happened and can suppose the rest. Here, the whole thing becomes so dream-like that any interpretation is possible. That’s the only minus.
*THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED (2005) – Documentary about the MPAA and the subjective rating system. It succeeds when it compares movies and talks to directors about their problems. The history of the system and process is little-known and worth exploring. But there just isn’t enough material to make a whole movie about that, so the filmmakers decide to stake out and learn the identities of the secret MPAA board. The detective game could have been riveting, but it plays instead as a half-ass cable reality show. It gets worse when the movie becomes a soapbox for people to whine that sex is purged while violence flourishes. The system is not perfect but what system is? At least it’s a market response to film content instead of a government one. But, wait . . . the endless cries of censorship culminate in a guy saying he wishes that the government controlled movies because government censorship could be litigated in a court of law while the MPAA cannot be touched. So it’s better to allow real censorship with the hopes of lawsuits than a market solution that might close the question. Theatre owners like the current system because it loosened the content of movies while shielding them from angry parents. And since most movies are watched on DVD and most never have a theatrical playing, this whole exercise was kind of pointless. The unrated DVD is a big market and makes a lot of people watch the movie twice. A film about real censorship in world cinema would have been more poignant instead of this cry-baby piece.
*HOLIDAY (2006) – Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jack Black and Jude Law in this romantic comedy that benefits for its lack of the Frat Pack and Jennifer Aniston. Winslet trades her English Country home with Cameron Diaz and her Hollywood mansion for two weeks during the holidays and they both might meet-cute and fall in love with the male leads. The film deserves an honorable mention simply because Eli Wallach gets a pretty juicy supporting role and shines throughout. Also, get this, his character is a retired Hollywood screenwriter who is going to accept an award and they never once mention that he was blacklisted. Movies from 1975 on had hereto convinced me that every 1950s screenwriter had been blacklisted and I am almost incredulous to learn that one guy made it through the whole decade in tact. I can only guess that Wallach had that tragedy removed from the script because the typewriter would have no doubt included it even beyond the wishes of the scenarist.
*16 BLOCKS (2006) – Standard police fare with Willis as the believable alkie cop trying to protect a witness who is to testify against crooked cops. David Morse supports as the calm heavy that he seems born to play. Mos Def (that’s a person’s name?) is the annoying chatterbox witness that would have gained more sympathy by shutting up which thankfully he does as the movie wears on. Decent but a little overrated maybe due to Richard Donner’s participation or simply the conflict of bad cops that critics seem to believe more so than honest ones.
*INFAMOUS (2006) – The second Capote bio-drama that promised to be more about his entire life but in reality treads the same exact Kansas ground as CAPOTE (2005). It does spend more time in the trendy Manhatten circles with plenty of cameos by socialites, but it’s otherwise unsurprising. Toby Jones benefits from his diminutive presence versus the larger Phillip Seymore Hoffman, but other than the solid impersonation, Jones doesn’t get the emotional moments as well as Hoffman does. The movie also makes a mistake in casting Daniel Craig as Perry Smith. Craig is too powerful and masculine for Capote to overcome, whereas earlier portrayals of the character by Robert Blake (IN COLD BLOOD) and Clifton Collins (CAPOTE) were almost childlike. The issues here are more superficial and the stakes don’t seem as high. There is a funny bit about Capote claiming to have beaten Bogart at arm wrestling so that the whole town then tries to beat Capote.
*DARLING (1965) the movie that put Julie Christie on the map would seem prime for a remake with so few great female parts, except that Christie’s promiscuity that made the original interesting and controversial is very tame in relation to the average celebrity’s real life experiences. The movie mostly demonstrates what use to be outrageous and how flippant characters would eventually get their comeuppance. Today, the character would just seem to be an example of a valid lifestyle choice that you dare not criticize.
**ROCKY BALBOA (2006) – Spending your career cashing in on cartoon action movies doesn’t get you much respect in Hollywood, especially when you aren’t overtly leftwing. Once in a while Sylvester Stallone would show up in a character part like Cop Land and be quite convincing, but he only really gets to act when he writes his own material. This last Rocky film is surprising especially after his last abortive attempt at re-defining the franchise. Rocky V was so terrible that it could very well have been his burial. ROCKY BALBOA is not by any means great in the conventional sense, but it has such an understated honesty that it’s one of the most enjoyable surprises out of Hollywood in a long time. In the past, Rocky has used boxing to fight bullies and even the cold war, but here his heart as a fighter is used for his own redemption. If you liked any of the Rocky movies you should appreciate if not really enjoy this one.
*DaVINCI CODE (2006) – The most interesting thing about this story is how popular it is. A hardcover best seller for three years is rare and then followed by a movie that grosses $200 million makes DaVINCI CODE something like a modern day GONE WITH THE WIND. I haven’t read the book and I skipped the movie in the theatre, but this franchise is just too much a part of the zeitgeist to ignore forever. I don’t know where the book and movie vary, but a scene in the second half of the movie demonstrates why I think it’s so popular. When trying to decode an Isaac Newton puzzle, Tom Hanks realizes the answer is APPLE. It’s not Newton’s laws of motion or thermodynamics or calculus that you have to know to understand the mystery, but the thing you learned about Newton in 4th grade. The same goes for the DaVinci references in the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper. You don’t have to know anything about DaVinci or Newton other than the most superficial or famous icons of their existence. The movie takes cultural and historic things that you are so familiar with that it makes you feel smart. And I think it’s that play to personal vanity that separates it from simple potboiler to international sensation. Umberto Eco used the Templars as the Center of his early 1990s novel, FOCULT’S PENDULUM without anywhere near the success. And it’s not like Eco wasn’t a bestselling author, he wrote the popular NAME OF THE ROSE. But FP takes a great deal more analysis and brainpower to get through. I have had a copy sitting here for years that I have yet to crack. A friend told me that Dan Brown is the Grisham version of Eco and although I haven’t read Grisham either, the comparison seems apt. I think the movie is probably the best way to catch up on the hoopla without the time investment. Still they could have done us a favor and made it 30 minutes shorter.
*A GOOD YEAR (2006) – This movie is much more of a comedy and a slapstick one than I would have expected. I saw it a week ago and it’s already mostly forgotten. A familiar story with venal Crowe returning to the place of his childhood to remember his better upbringing and the lessons he forgot. Albert Finney is the kind uncle shown in flashback As you’d expect, Crowe’s change of heart is rewarded with the love of a fetching French woman. The title is confusing unless the book was significantly different. The whole story takes place in a week or so.
*HOLLYWOODLAND (2006) – Detective Adrien Brody looks into the death of actor George Reeves AKA TV’s Superman. Ben Affleck is decent as Reeves in flashback as is Diane Lane and Bob Hoskins. It doesn’t really go anywhere and there isn’t much payoff, but they do a good job of recreating that period.
**THE PRESTIGE (2006) – Another worthwhile Chris Nolan effort pits Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as rival magicians in Victorian England. Both are excellent as is Michael Caine as the mentor to both. Based on the acclaimed 1990s novel that even incorporates David Bowie as Nikola Tesla into the plotline. The Prestige is interesting for the story twists, approach and style. On the special features, Nolan sounds very much British while his screenwriter brother, Jonathan, sounds like an American. It turns out that their father is British and their mother is American and they grew up In Chicago which explains the Batman locale.
*MARIE ANTIONETTE (2006) – Sophia Coppola’s third film is probably her least interesting. Kirsten Dunst is affable enough as the Queen we’re all taught to hate, but the movie is slow going with King Jason Schwartzman a dolt who doesn’t seem interested in his arranged marriage. You could almost hear the incredulous screams from fraternity houses as he turned down her advances. The movie also suffers in my opinion from Coppola’s choice of modern musical montages in place of a classical score.
*INVINCIBLE (2006) – Typically inspiring and mostly predictable story of everyman Philadelphia native who succeeds in his long shot tryout with the Eagles. You root for Wahlberg all the way. Another member of the recent Disney subgenre of underdog sports stories like MIRACLE and THE ROOKIE.