Wednesday, July 30, 2008
As I read critiques of the film I noticed there were several who commented on how it was cobbled together with familiar scenes. The kidnapper making him run from pay phone to pay phone was an example. I saw it for the first time in Dirty Harry in 1971. I've seen it since. The cell phone, even in 2001 when Along Came A Spider was released, was everywhere. Why not give us an update? Have the kidnapper tell Dr. Cross, "You've got 20 minutes to get to the train station. I'm going to call your cell number and you have to prove it." The kidnapper could write some graffiti ahead of time that Freeman would have to read back to him to prove he's reached the spot. Anyway, I yawned through that running-around scene.
Besides that familiar schtick, the whole plot was contrived. The kidnapper, Mr. Soneji--and I had to check my closed captioning to see the spelling of that name--was a man in disguise. He worked at an exclusive school for a couple of years, setting up the kidnapping of a senator's daughter, while wearing fake whiskers, make-up, a wig and appliances to change his face. I noticed it the first time they showed him. Howcum the folks in the school didn't? It's what Roger Ebert calls an "idiot plot," where to advance the plot the characters have to be idiots not to see something the audience can clearly see.
One bright spot was Monica Potter, an actress I hadn't seen before. If I had I hadn't noticed her. Sorry, Monica. I think she was chosen not only because she's pretty and a good actress, but because of a superficial resemblance to Julia Roberts.
C'mon. Tell me it doesn't hurt to remind an audience of someone else. The bright spot got tarnished because we were forced to make a 90-degree turn with her character, Jezzie, and see her become something unexpected. I thought next to the disguised kidnapper, the Jezzie character was the next most illogical aspect of the story. I sure did enjoy looking at Monica, though.
Like most thrillers, most of the money that goes on the screen is spent on an A-list actor, in this case Freeman, a setting, special effects, and the last thing considered is, "When the audience walks out of the theater or turns off the DVD player, will be start picking away at the holes in the plot?" That's sure what happened here.
Monday, July 28, 2008
Recently in my local area a carload of gangstas unloaded some bullets on a rival gangsta, but they ended up instead killing a 7-year-old girl. The gun that did the killing was handed to the shooter by a 16-year-old girl who said she was "tired of being disrespected." Get out the shootin' arn, Ma...I'm bein' disrespected!" If disrespect is grounds for murder then we'll all be dead sooner or later. Who hasn't disrespected someone else?
In such a culture, where lack of respect gets the death penalty, it's not hard to believe that these youngsters are ready to kill, and to die, for something as trivial as the way people have treated each other since the first ape dissed that second ape. In the old days people fought duels over insults, now the "duels" are fought from the open windows of cars.
...and about cars, and before gun owners start writing me about being anti-gun, which I'm not (I'm anti-murder), there has always been this argument that gun owners make: "If guns kill people and you ban guns, cars also kill people so ban cars!" That would be difficult to do, because we depend on cars in a way we don't depend on guns, and also we rate things by their utility. Cars, baseball bats, hammers, kitchen knives, et al., can be used to kill, but that isn't why they were designed. On the other hand, except for shooting targets, animals and people, it's hard to think of another use for a gun. Their main purpose of existence is to kill. If the 16-year-old girl in the gangsta car had handed the murderer a baseball bat or a kitchen knife or a hammer, knowing he was going to kill somebody with it, then yes, she's also guilty of murder. If she'd handed him a baseball bat and said, "Knock that ball over the fence!" or a hammer and said, "Put another nail in the fence; that board is coming off," and he used the object to kill someone then that would be a whole different matter.
Years ago in the context of the then-current Columbine High shootings I wrote a letter to the editor of my local newspaper saying just those things. I added, "No one has ever driven into a school in a car and deliberately tried to run people down and kill them." Ah, never say never. I got an anonymous letter containing a photocopy marked FYI, of an incident just as I described as having never happened. The photocopy of the news story told how a person took his car onto a school playground and deliberately tried to kill some kids. The person who sent the photocopy missed the point of my letter, which was that the car wasn't designed to kill people, even though it could be used that way. It's a good thing, too, because cars are frightening enough, especially on the freeway in the morning, heading into work. It's scary watching people talk on their cell phones, put on makeup or read their newspapers while driving 70 mph. I want to holler bloody murder when I see it, and it's probably lucky I don't carry a gun or I might just start blasting away at such clods. That would be justifiable homicide, wouldn't it? People acting so cavalierly about driving at high speeds is surely disrespect of their fellow humans at some level.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
In the early 1990s I worked with a secretary in her forties, Brenda, who told me she had cancer in her leg, and that she would have to go on a medical leave. I found out later the cancer from her leg had been taken care of, but now she had a brain tumor. She told people in the office she had three months to live. This put everyone into a blue funk of despair. Cancer takes far too many people; a horrible disease.
The three months she had to live would have been up in August, and yet by Christmas she was still alive and it seemed to her friends, well. She then told them a miracle had occurred. The brain tumor had shrunk away and disappeared. We all thought, now that is a miracle.
Sometime later, five years or so, I was talking with her former coworker, Cathy, about Brenda. I remarked that it was a miracle how she survived brain cancer. She didn't have brain cancer, said Cathy. Say what? said I. She never had cancer at all, said Cathy.
Fast forward to today, and I was talking with another secretary, who was talking about yet another person who had cancer, a coworker of ours, Ann-Marine. Ann-Marie* was off work for several months fighting cancer, then came back to work. The problem was, as it later came out, she'd never had cancer. She just told everyone she did.
What gives? Why would someone say they have cancer when they don't? It came out in bits and pieces later that the two women, Brenda and Ann-Marie, had so-called "nervous breakdowns." I'm not sure what qualifies as a nervous breakdown. I've thought at times I might be having one, but I couldn't quantify it. What is a nervous breakdown, anyway? My guess is that it's when things get too much for a person, the stress level is so high they can't function. Or at least that's what I thought I was going through. But if that's what they are going through, then why claim cancer? My guess is that the stigma of something wrong mentally is greater than having cancer. Seems odd, but there are still a lot of people who have old-fashioned ideas about mental disorders, even of the temporary kind.
By claiming cancer, these folks are diminishing those who really struggle with that disease. My friend has had stepmothers and friends die of cancer. My wife's mother died of breast cancer in 1964 when she was 44 years old. A coworker of mine died of Non-Hodgkins lymphoma when he was 21, and several people I work with now and in the past have gone through the disease with whatever dignity they could muster. Some made it through, some didn't. But at least they had cancer; they weren't faking it in order to disguise another problem.
I'm not a shrink, so I don't know what such people who do such faking are called, but I'm sure it's a syndrome known to psychiatrists.
When I gave sympathy to Brenda because I thought she was fighting cancer and found out she'd been lying to everyone I felt angry, duped. Why would I trust anything Brenda said? If she'd owned up to her problem, "I have a problem with depression and I can't get out of bed," or "I feel like I'm dying all the time," I could understand it because I've been through it. But I'd rather tell people I'm depressed than lie to them about having cancer.
*Ann-Marie was an hourly employee, so she took the time off as a drop, no pay. If she'd been a contract employee, like me, she would have had to have a doctor's note saying she had cancer in order for her to receive disability from our employer. When she came back to work and her boss found out she had been lying about the cancer she tried to fire her, but Ann-Marie got a lawyer. The school district had no choice: under the Americans with Disabilities Act Ann-Marie could not be fired for having mental problems. I really have no problem with protecting the rights of people, but right now, a few years after her breakdown, Ann-Marie still comes to her job, just does little or no work. According to the lady who told me the story, Ann-Marie's current coworkers ignore her.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Anyway, my experience in a beanie lasted about 10 minutes. I hated the idea, but dutifully put it on. I joined a group of other freshmen. We were accosted by a couple of grinning upperclassmen, who corralled us and told us we were going to learn the Westminister College school song. Luckily I was in the back of the group, so while they were learning the song I slipped off, found the nearest trash can and dumped my beanie. I wandered around finding my classes. The sophs, juniors and seniors had to notice I was a lost 18-year-old, but I wasn't wearing a freshman beanie, so thank god I was spared further torture.
There are other associations with the word beanie. There are Beanee Weenies, a "food" product I've never eaten, and the name probably put me off. Anything with the name "weenie" just doesn't sound appetizing to me. It doesn't help that a friend of mine used that term for people he didn't like: "That guy is a real beanee weenie!" He didn't swear, and I told him to start learning some real curse words because if he's mad at someone and calls them a beanee weenie they might just laugh him out of the place, if not put him on the ground.
There were those damn Beanie Babies. This is "Pugsley." I mean, they're cute, but c'mon...some people turned them into a cult. Are they still around and being collected?
There are the ubiquitous jelly beans, usually found on cubicle counters in the work place come Easter. I'll bet I've lost at least a couple of teeth to jelly beans.
Finally, there was the TV show, Time For Beany. The little boy character, Beany, actually wore a propeller beanie! Beany and Cecil was later a cartoon show that baby boomers remember, especially for the theme song, where animator/producer/director Bob Clampett insinuated himself into the catchy tune. Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent sang, "...in a Bob Clampett cartoo-oooon!" his voice going up in pitch.This is from the original puppet incarnation, before the cartoon show. It's early TV, folks! It's from YouTube, episode 50, originally shown in 1949. Beany is voiced by Daws Butler, Cecil by Stan Freberg.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Not only did I find one part-time polygamous wife, I found two! Sisters Rotunda and Globella Roundy of Hooten Holler, Arkansas, come as a pair. They'll join me shortly, when "we get Pa's old 1965 International Harvester pickup truck a'runnin.'" And as they put it to me in that same e-mail, "we-all'll be taking care of you-all like you-all should be taken care of by us'n." Well. I like that. They sound like a couple of nice gals. From their picture it looks like there is a Victoria's Secret in Hooten Holler. I can't wait to meet them.
In the meantime, wife #1, Sally, continues to spend her nights sleeping with the dogs. She's in an area called Olympus Cove right now, with a mountain in the back yard. Since the house where she is staying is in the foothills on a steep road, here's a picture she took from the back deck.
Sally has also taken pictures of the Salt Lake Valley. Here's a sunset with the California wildfires affecting our skies.
Next up for Sally, sitting for the daughter of her longtime friend. The woman has three rescue dogs, a couple of cats, and a miniature goat. I haven't heard of a miniature goat, but I'm sure Rotunda and Globella have some goats in Hooten Holler, because as they put it, they spend a lot of time, "a'feedin' the critters, like we'll be a'feedin' you." Sally says the miniature goat is known to butt the dogs. Maybe they should call him Butthead!
As you can see by this picture of my brother and me--I'm the shorter fellow on the right and my brother is the taller, slim gentleman on the left--I don't need to be fed, really, but I'm sure my brother could use some good ol' country cookin'. Biscuits and gravy, collard greens, fried chicken...yum. Bring it on, gals. I'm sure once they get their daddy's '65 IH pickup running they'll have their GPS set to all of the KFCs between Arkansas and Utah.
Friday, July 18, 2008
Recently the Supreme Court ruled that every American has the right to a gun. That well-worn amendment, “the right to bear arms,” “a well-regulated militia,” amendment has been interpreted by the highest court in the land to mean that we can all start packing.
Even if I was rabidly anti-gun I’d have to go along, just from the sheer weight of numbers. There are something like 50,000,000 guns out there. Enough that someone, somewhere, with relatively little trouble can get his hands on a gun. You’d have as much luck stopping a tsunami with your hand as stopping the flood of guns in this country. Talovic got his weapons with relative ease.
I think some of these folks imagine themselves as heroes in the Kenneth Hammond mode. Maybe the
A couple of weeks ago a man with a concealed weapons permit, George R. Harrison, killed a mentally ill man who was waving a backpack and acting out. Mr. Harrison said he thought the man was going for a gun in his backpack, so he shot and killed him. There was no weapon. Police questioned
Some communities with tight gun laws, like
Maybe someday I’ll be in one of the high schools I service and someone will start shooting. Maybe someone with a carry permit will jump in and take out the shooter. But the shooting itself would be extremely rare—it has never happened in the 102-year history of my school district—but someone jumping in to save me would be even more rare.
I have two pistols. Don’t tell any bad guys, because I don’t have any bullets. I guess I could wave them at a robber who entered my house, but then he could shoot me for pulling a gun on him.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
What Jim says makes a lot of sense if you consider the way people view movies, or what their reasonable expectations are while watching them. If a story is told in a series of flashbacks or flash forwards it risks confusing and/or enraging the audience, who have come to an understanding of how movies are constructed. We go into the theater expecting a beginning, middle and end. If we get end, middle, beginning, or middle, end, beginning, or any other combination it can cause us to distrust the storyline, maybe even give up trying to follow it.
While I might like an unusual approach to storytelling, I'm also a believer in not pissing off or confusing the audience. If a filmmaker has a good story then tricking it up doesn't make it better, it just gives it a gimmick. About the only gimmick Pulp Fiction didn't have was 3-D. The order of the scenes was a gimmick; it also had the mysterious glowing contents of the suitcase, the fake background in Bruce Willis' taxi scene, and Samuel L. Jackson's Jheri Curls. Any one of those would be enough to either engage an audience or make them leave the theater wondering what the filmmaker was thinking.
Tarantino wasn't the first to make movies in an altered time format. Over 50 years ago Stanley Kubrick's film, The Killing, starring Sterling Hayden, was constructed in a way that it jumped around in time. The studio got nervous and dumped it on the bottom of a double bill in 1956 with Bandido starring Robert Mitchum. Since then it has taken on a classic status.
I have a coworker who gets confused by movies, and that's because she doesn't know what to pay attention to. She gets flustered by MacGuffins. For those of you who know Alfred Hitchcock's work, a MacGuffin is how he described the thing that the characters are interested in that means nothing to the audience. It's a plot device to move the story along. The MacGuffin would be the blueprints the spies are after, the stolen jewels the crooks are fighting over, etc. If you start worrying about the MacGuffin then you lose sight of the bigger story. I wouldn't know how to train my coworker to look at movies, because I thought we'd all learned how to watch them. They have a language, and we've learned to speak that language. If you're watching a film and it starts out in English and then switches to Swahili without explanation you're bound to be upset. Filmmakers should try to be less tricky about how they make their films, and just concentrate on the really important stuff, like swearing, nudity and hot sex. No, I'm kidding. I just wanted to see if you were following my own non-linear thinking.
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
But in 1981 I was just another uncool, a former cool, no longer cool. I hung my head at the loss of coolness, the attitude of coolitude, but resolved, if I am not cool, if I am a--choke!--dork, or worse, a nerd, then let me be the coolest dork or nerd there is! but now, yes, now, I am still a dork, a nerd, but have achieved another level of coolness for that fact. Dorks and nerds have been become the new cool!
Devo, bless them and their devolved descendents, showed me the way, showed me the truth. I am through being cool. I will not be cool. I will run from, walk from, swim from cool. I will be uncool again. I will grow my hair to uncool lengths, wear the uncoolest of the uncool threads, the uncoolest shoes. I will devolve myself to 1968 again, and by that kind of cool, I will be totally--and finally--through being cool.
Monday, July 07, 2008
I'm not one for chick flicks--gotta keep my testosterone levels from dipping--but Sally and I watched a DVD of Music and Lyrics with Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore, and I was as caught up in it as she was. Maybe for a different reason, though. I wasn't as taken by the romance as I was by the recreation of an era, the 1980s pop music scene. Grant's fictional character was one of the two leads of the band, PoP, which had a hit single, "Pop Goes My Heart," brilliantly recreated in an eye-poppingly accurate music video, which looks straight out of 1984. Not since This Is Spinal Tap has a sound or image been done so well as pastiche.
I believe that Hugh Grant, like another Grant, Cary, is an underappreciated actor. It seems that actors who star in lightweight films like Hugh Grant usually end up in don't get the accolades and credits they deserve. The audience genuinely likes Hugh Grant, he is a charming and witty fellow, and the camera loves him also, but the folks who vote for Academy Awards just must not see what he does as acting.
Music and Lyrics might have come about because of the success of the real-life band, Wham! featuring George Michael. Michael went off into solo stardom, but what happened to his co-Whammer? Do you know that guy's name? I don't, and that's somewhat Hugh Grant's problem in this film. How does the "other guy", the one who didn't become a star, do after his initial success?
While Grant is doing his droll, charming, witty dialogue and patented stuttering, Drew Barrymore isn't quite as appealing as his love interest. I'm just not a big fan of Barrymore's, but that's a matter of personal taste. Lots of actors are very popular without having any appeal to me whatsoever.
Grant proved what a charismatic person he is in 1995 when he got caught with a prostitute, went to jail, then went on Jay Leno's show to give his mea culpa. The movie he was in at the time, Nine Months, could not have bought the publicity he brought to it. It was a hit, and Grant was forgiven by the public.
Something I much appreciated about Music and Lyrics is that the actors did their own singing; both Sally and I thought the vocals had to be dubbed by professional singers, but in a documentary included on the DVD we found out the songs were done by the actors. It turns out that Grant actually has a very pleasant singing voice. You can hear it in both these songs from the movie. The first is the "1984" song, "Pop Goes My Heart," and the second is a solo he does at the piano during a concert.
Yes, that's Kristin Johnston, playing Drew Barrymore's sister. Johnston is a big (and I mean that literally) favorite of mine since her "Third Rock From The Sun" days. The whole cast--with the possible exception of Barrymore, just my opinion--was terrific.
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
What's a drug dealer to do? He's got a really crappy clientele, lacking in serious brain functions, and the wholesalers he goes through for product could just as soon kill him as look at him. Paranoia is a part of his every day life, when he could get caught by police or killed by his rivals at any time.
The Pusher Trilogy DVD details the criminal activities of the Copenhagen underworld. It isn't any place you'd want to be. Copenhagen, yes. The drug dealers' world, no.
Pusher was an international hit in 1996. It cemented the reputation of writer/director Nicholas Winding Refn. A few years later Refn was facing bankruptcy so he and his partner made Pusher II and Pusher III, both superb films. Hopefully they put the production company back in the black.
In Pusher, Frank Jensen is a regular guy, except that he sells dope (and the characters do refer to their product as dope, one of many English words other languages have co-opted). He runs with a partner, Tonny (pronounced Tony), an impulsive type guy who brags about sexual conquests in very graphic terms. Tonny has the English word RESPECT tattooed to his scalp, but he gets little of it. Frank gets a request from a customer to make a large buy, brown heroin, but it has to be by tomorrow. Jensen goes to an underworld big shot, Milo (pronounced Mee-lo), a Balkan man who runs a restaurant, cooks and bakes. Milo promises him the product but warns Frank that he already owes Milo 50,000 kroner, and this will run his tab to 230,000 kroner. At today's rates that's about US$50,000. In one of those situations that happen, the cops show up as the transaction is going down, Frank runs, jumps into the shallow part of a lake and dumps the heroin. The cops hold him for 24 hours but have to let him go. In the meantime they show him a statement that they've gotten out of Tonny. Frank gets out, finds Tonny at a bar and beats him with a baseball bat.
The rest of Pusher is Frank's attempts to pay Milo what he owes him without getting killed by Milo or his chief henchman, Radovan.
If I thought that movie was nightmarish, Pusher II compounded it. Tonny, now with some brain damage from the beating inflicted on him by Frank, gets out of prison. He goes back to his father, the Duke, who runs a hot car ring. Next to the drug dealers, these guys are pussycats, but they're still criminals and still deadly when protecting their enterprises. Tonny can't do anything right. He steals a Ferrari, thinking it will please the Duke, only to enrage his dad because they only steal a car like that to order. The rest of the movie is one long slide for Tonny, as he screws up and incurs the wrath and derision of everyone around him. Finally he explodes in violence. It is something that has been coming on, but he has been repressing it until the moment. Like Popeye, "It's all I can stands, I can't stands no more!" Tonny goes after the man who is disrespecting him the most. The last we see of Tonny, he is heading out of town on a train, carrying a baby boy a prostitute claims is his.
When I was describing the movie to my wife, who wouldn't have watched it because of the subject matter, I told her that so many drugs were ingested in this movie I felt stoned when the end credits rolled.
Pusher III goes back to Milo, the underworld kingpin. Milo seems like an easygoing guy. Until someone messes with him. In this final entry in the trilogy Milo is trying to transact drug deals while cooking for his daughter's wedding. The story takes place during one day. Situations, going from bad to worse to even worse, pile up on Milo until his easygoing goes hard. He shows that like everyone else in the trilogy, when pushed he comes back with more than a shove. The last scenes, where he and his former top henchman, Radovan, whom he recruits out of retirement for this one last task, do the preparations for disposing of two bodies, is one of the most graphic and gory scenes I've ever watched in any movie. By the time it was assaulting my eyeballs I'd gone so far that I felt obliged to stick it out. It taxed my tolerance for the sight of viscera and gore, and was over the line, an indulgence by the writer/director. Still, the movie itself was so good I thought with a few cuts (and there are more than enough "cuts" of the gruesome kind in this movie) it could be made acceptable to a wider audience.
The trilogy is unrated, and there are scenes that could earn it the dreaded NC-17 rating if it were submitted to the MPAA ratings board. The acting in all three films is by actors I haven't seen before, and is universally superb. I was totally convinced I was watching real people doing real things. In many ways it reminded me, in spirit if not in fact, of The Godfather trilogy. It's set on a much smaller scale, rather than the epic proportions of the Mafia saga. But criminals are criminals when they're going after something. Whether they're bigtime crooks or smalltime, American or Danish, these are people you don't want to meet or do business with.
If you've got a strong stomach I'm recommending these films. Otherwise, don't chance them. I might mention I got my trilogy on loan from the county library. I'm not sure they know the content of these films.