24 March, 2005

Surfin' Multiplex: I (heart) Huckabees, Constantine, Les Choristes, Team America : World Police

More Short Cuts:

I (heart) Huckabees

This is a film I loved, but at the same time would be unsurprised to find that others hated. I wouldn't try to dissuade them either. It is a maddening uneven film, with narcissistic characters, it plays out as a comedy of conflict between competing philosophies, existential positivism and existential nihilism, and it goes down a couple of pointless blind alleys along the way. Not a universal cup-of-tea.

Also, it's good to see Lily Tomlin in a featured role, and proof that Dustin Hoffman can still do comedy (despite so much proof to the contrary...). If you go to see it, ignore the plot about the environmentalists and Shania Twain, that's just a distraction.


Both as entertaining and run-of-the mill as these comic book adaptations get. Keanu Reeves has found a barely emoting gruff action film noir character perfect for his barely emoting film acting. He plays a paranormal action exorcist (no, really), who, with the help of nifty special effects mediates in the conflict between demons and angels. A Cold War, where the unearthly powers may merely "influence" man. The war is hotting up with demons breaking the terms of this truce.

Rachel Weisz, an actress that I would gladly worship, plays a twin guilt ridden psychic cop, whose twin perhaps committed suicide after being committed for not being in denial about her paranormal visions.

The only major problem is that in the end the film builds to a suitable kick-ass climax which quickly becomes an anti-climax, degenerating into a verbal argument as to whether Lucifer should be upset with his son for breaking the rules of his pact with God. I liked it despite that, but can only recommend it to those who like this sort of thing, or are hot for Rachel (that should be enough for the film to break even....)

Les Choristes

This is the kind of heartwarming film that seems authentic rather than saccharine, if only because of the subtitles. Two old friends get together to reminisce about the teacher at their reform school who formed a chorus as a way of reaching these incorrigibles (in-corr-ig-bles in French). The ragamuffins are so cute and grimy you already expected them to burst into song, probably, "Food Glorious, Food" and the villainous headmaster is so standardly sadistic you expect him to either shout "More! he wants more!" or threaten to send the runaways to another Stalag. This is tempered with the unrequited attraction of the good teacher to one of his student's mum's, a student coming to appreciate the consequences of his unintentionally violent prank, and the threat of real violence from the bully arsonist.

The best singer in the class, is of course, one of the worst students, but is secretly a musical prodigy. It's a little much that he's also stupidly angelic looking. At least, being European, they can get away with an ending that is both uplifting and downbeat at the same time. As they say in France, "let them have cake.... and eat it....."

Team America : World Police

Americans out to save the world, blithely unaware of the swathe of destruction left by their path, no, it's not the neo-cons and Iraq, it's Team America World Police.

I saw this in the perfect place, a crowded rep cinema in central London with a studenty twenty something audience, possessing no unswerving USA patriotism, and an appreciation of the lack of irony of those who do. What I would probably have viewed as a mildly amusing send up of action movies and xenophobia, became hilarious. I don't normally laugh at puppet violence, sex, or vomiting, but here they were a scream. OK, the jabs at self-righteously political hollywood celebrities fall a bit wide of an incredibly large mark, but much else is superbly spot-on, particularly the melodramatic action film logic taken to illogical conclusions.

The film is absurd and absurdly over the top. And it has the courage to say why the film "Pearl Harbor" sucked, in song. I wouldn't want to ruin it by describing too much, I would say, see it in an infantile and/or intoxicated frame of mind with as many people as possible. It's not just a good idea, it's the LAW.


23 March, 2005

Surfin' Multiplex: Robots, Hotel Rwanda, Hitch

I've overdone it this week, seven movies in two days. So to preserve sanity, just some capsule remarks.


A perfectly enjoyable little film, but not one to get too excited about. I suppose all CGI animation will forever suffer by comparison with the almighty Pixar. Would that we could hold conventional films to the same high standard.

My only worry going into it was that Robin Williams would do his increasingly grating manic ad-lib schtick. Ever had a conversation with someone who tries to make a bad joke / pun / strange allusion from everything that's said. I've been that annoying git, and even I'm tired of it. Restraint either from medication, self, director or editor has quelled Robin's performance.... this time. To give him his due, some of his gags, particularly about how annoying his character is, work precisely because they are underplayed.

It flirts successfully with saccharine, despite wearing its "message" a little too obviously with the slogan "you can shine no matter what you're made of", or something like that. It tells its very standard story of the young inventor who goes to the big city to make good, meeting sidekicks and adversity. It's lightweight, less than memorable, but entertaining nonetheless.

Hotel Rwanda

An almost harrowing tale of the genocide of the Tutsis by the Hutu in Rwanda. I say almost because the film conspicuously avoids showing us the worst of the atrocity and because it is a story of survival. Don Cheadle plays Paul Rusesabagina, house manager of a luxury hotel, a wheeler dealer for the requirements of his guests and employers. A Hutu, he uses his conniving skills to protect his Tutsi wife and family, and many neighbors and friends from the genocidal onslaught. A struggle which keeps tension flowing through the whole film.

Although the Hutu militia are portrayed as monolithic jingoistic thugs, their leadership has the frighteningly canny arrogance to predict the indifference of the west. To a certain extent there lies the crux of the films impact, we ask ourselves would we care more about the characters if they were white, if they weren't in Africa, if the warring groups didn't have such comical sounding names. To compound this liberal guilt, the roots of the conflict are in European imperialism, as the colonial Belgians artificially created the racial distinction in the first place by promoting the more European looking, taller, lighter skinned, sharper nosed Tutsis over the Hutu.

The film doesn't waste time or cloud the issues with subtlety. In fact it clearly condemns the kind of subtlety that lets the western governments in the film quibble over how many "acts of genocide" constitute an intervention worthy "genocide."

The film might be criticized for oversimplifying. The blackguard Hutu, the toothless UN, the actions of the Tutsi rebels which are glossed over as either justified or heroic. I was glad of simplification, I don't want atrocity shoved in my face, I can handle the aftermath shown, killing-fields-style of roads littered with corpses, or implied off screen rape torture and murder. Simplification is not the failing of the film, it's the failing of all of us who would rather get on with our lives without having to contemplate the suffering we'd feel helpless to solve.


I enjoyed this movie thoroughly, but I'd rather not write too much about it. Thinking too much about this perfect concoction of aspirational romantic comedy fantasy might spoil it.

Will Smith with perfect cool portrays a "date doctor" who helps nervous nerds capture the eye of the women they've fixated on romantically, but, poor guy, he's so successful with the opposite sex that he has too many women and can't focus on one emotionally. Aspirational fantasy kicks in with dates from lifestyles of the rich and wealthy that include jetskiing around Manhattan, gourmet meals with one-on-ones with famous chefs, and private tours of Ellis Island. No woman is less than beautiful, no guy as cute as our man Will. We're even given a flashback glimpse of an earlier nerdy Will Smith, I told you, it was a fantasy.

Will meets gorgeous, emotionally unavailable career gossip columnist Eva Mendes, attraction, farcical misunderstandings, conflicts of interest etc. ensue. Emotional barriers come down, we all get a hug. It's that kind of movie.

The truest thing about this film is that with the right amount of confidence, you stand a decent chance of seducing anyone. Fortunately this applies as much to audiences of this film as it does to members of your desired sex. Breezy, fun, confident. A great date.


22 March, 2005

Life Irritates Art: Feed Tubing Million Dollar Baby / Congressional Guardians, Kubler Ross from beyond the grave + more

Million Voter Baby

I'm not one to make much of pure coincidences, but if nothing else, this blog should exist to make something of vague resemblances. A couple of weeks ago the AMPAS, whose membership rests in a shadowy procedure of professional entitlement, voted to acclaim Million Dollar Baby a film which gives a poor justification for assisted suicide for a frustrated quadraplegic. This weekend the United States Congress, whose membership rests on a mandate carefully masking a shadowy system of entitlement, voted to trample on the right of choice of an individual, her husband, and the courts that tried to protect their decision to cease artificial life support for the individual in a persistent vegetative state.

Hilary Swank's character in the film is paralyzed but consciously desires death because 1) now she can never be the women's boxing champion, and she doesn't want to go through life with Clint Eastwood's trainer character saying "see, I told you, you were too old to do this" 2) she had no life to begin with 3) she would have to spend time with her poorly written white trash family. Para/Quadra and perhaps the lesser known Uni and Tri-plegic support and rights groups were upset, as if the film was suggesting enforced euthanasia for anyone with less than full mobility. As nothing in the film even vaguely resembled reality down to the spotlessly clean, yet strangely unstaffed hospital (was the whole extras budget blown on the fight scenes?), they really shouldn't have kicked up a fuss (nor had their physios manuever their limbs into fuss elevating mode).

The supporters of assisted suicide also got queasy. Hilary's desire for suicide is in the midst of her depressed anguish over her condition. Clint wants to honor her desire to join the family dog in the boneyard, despite the fact that she hasn't had much in the way of counselling. Also, Clint doesn't video-tape the last rites and Hilary's assent to it, the kind of snuff home vids that many think proves the sound-mindedness of all involved, look, if we thought we were doing anything wrong we wouldn't be creating this evidence. These people don't seem to contemplate the implications should their private tape be leaked to the internet, or "America's funniest death-beds". Not to mention the inevitable, "you taped 'the O.C.' over your mother's passing?!?!"

Given that Hilary's popsicled boxer ostensibly has celebrity status, her meteoric rise in the ever popular realm of women's boxing, her public, or at least international pay-per-view tragedy, she could have a great life. All the talk shows will want her, she'll be invited to Neverland, perhaps she could date that nice Professor Hawking.

While a film the AMPAS honored for its poorly conceived defence of a right to die, Congress gives horrible credence to a disastrously ill conceived notion of preserving life. Opting to prolong the suffering of a family split between those who can come to terms with their tragedy, and those who want to hold onto some strange hope. If these people believe in God and the sanctity of life, why can't they trust God to cure or end suffering?

Culture of Life = Cult of Death

What is this "Culture of Life" stuff, it sounds like something you'd find in a petri dish. But no, its another inelegant attempt to win a rhetorical war by coining the language of the argument. To oppose the "culture of life" surely is to worship the cult of death, follow the evil one to Morrrrdorrr, or something to that effect. Did the moody pseudo philisophical musing of 70's soft rock have no effect on these people, don't they know they are only dust in the wind, that they shouldn't fear the reaper, that you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave?

Kubler Ross speaks from beyond the grave

Apparently there are now some new stages to death. In addition to Denial (this isn't happening!), Anger (why is this happening?), Bargaining (I'll be better...), Depression (who cares?), Acceptance (I'm ready) we now have Executive (you aren't ready), Judiciary (stay out of it...), and Legislative (you'll never be ready as long as we can use you to mollify the fanatics...)

Congressional Guardians

The real answer to all this is for us all to make Congress our legal guardians. After all, as long as personal and private issues are being handled up at that level, I don't see why one isolated family should get all the attention and intervention. If we all sign up for this then either we will all live lives of bliss, untroubled by any serious decision making, OR nothing will get done in government except micromanagement of all our personal lives.

Let's get the government out of our hospitals, research labs and courts, and back into our bedrooms where it belongs.


21 March, 2005

Your "Right to Life"..... whether you want it or not.

Several years ago I made an extremely tasteless joke: Why would it have been better if Linda McCartney had slipped into a coma? She would have enjoyed a persistent vegetative state.

Now Congress have passed a bill that is even more tasteless, arrogant, disturbing, and most likely un-lawful. And President Bush, presumably with a red phone to God that trumps the Pope's, has signed it into law. It forces Terry Schiavo's feed tube to remain in place until a US District Court (to whose jurisdiction this "case" has been transferred) can re-decide a case that has already been decided by several other courts. That any court would accept this legislative meddling (one court already struck down the executive meddling of Gov Jeb Bush), let alone decide the merits of the case any other way is in doubt.

Even the readers of the Christian Science Monitor are %86 percent against this legislation. OK, that's hardly surprising, assuming a large portion of the polled may be Christian Scientists (who believe in healing through prayer). It certainly goes to show there's more than one interpretation of God's will for the afflicted.

To be charitable, those who want to enforce feed tubes think they are doing God's work. They've decided what God's will is, and they want to make sure that the rest of us live by their interpretation, however inconsistent that may be. Medical science may be used to keep you alive, where nature, and ostensibly God's will, would have you die. Expelled too early from the womb to be viable, no problem, brain dead dependent on life support, we will define you as an individual with hopes and dreams, even if you have the capacity for neither. But strangely if you are a viable person living what is indisputably a life, and you happen to have a debilitating condition that could be resolved through medical science, the hands of research are tied by similarly arbitrary superstition.

On the other hand when the State is prolonging or granting life, it has the right to condemn others to death, often justified by their acts of murder, however, the State has no right to limit access to the instruments of death that helped many to book their room on death-row. Perhaps Bush is just trying to perversely right his Karma, having taken no time on the executions he signed off on as Gov. he wants to grant a life instead of taking it (not to mention he is supporting the unconstitutional decision of bro Jeb, perhaps the next candidate for the dynasty).

The first defeat of reason is when the terminology of these idiots is accepted, "Right to life", "Partial-birth". These people are "Partially Born-Again" they've accepted God as their saviour purely on their own terms, which includes knowing the mind of their deity. It's not insignificant that these so-called Christians broke their Sabbath to enact this legislation. We need to get liberty, and pursuit of happiness back on the table, concepts which surely contain rights of choice and dignity.

What next? The "right to vote" for the unborn or brain-dead, sorry, not the pc terms, ok, the womb-dependant and encephalogram diminished. This may not be such a bad thing, we should all go out and add the following to our living wills: "Whilst I am being kept alive by the heroic measures of medical science, I wish to proxy or absentee ballot my vote in all eligible elections opposing any candidate that refuses either to fund any effort of science to cure my condition or the conditions of others, or refuses me the right to choose my life or death with dignity." Votes from limbo, there's an electorate that won't be affected by attack ads, propaganda interviews, or one-sided news coverage.

Now if they can just get that Constitutional Amendment against witchcraft in.....


18 March, 2005

The Vague-aries: Dour Times

A chance meeting recently between my wife and stateside friends in an airport prompted queries into my state of mind as I had "sounded depressed," my last few emails were around the election, go figure.

OK, those of you who've known me a while know that I may have a morbidly depressive slant on occasion. But, I've only contemplated suicide three times in my life 1) for about an hour when I was a Sophomore in High-School, due to a frustrated obsessive infatuation (which oddly led me into my only need for therapy eight years later) 2) about five minutes when re-tiling my bathroom in my flat in London, 3) for a few milliseconds during protracted battles with Microsoft operating systems. OK only the first one was at all serious, and I took a week off from school, decided it was stupid, and decided to take some positive, if ultimately pointless, steps to address my obsession problem.

I once read that a "study" showed that depressives "reality test" better than every one else, this is because they filter out less of the bad stuff that we train ourselves to ignore. I'm possibly on the more depressive side of this continuum, but I'd have to say it's what you do about it. Really, in my own estimation I am an optimist. But maybe that's based on the morbidly depressive thought that to cherish life in the horrible universe of the damned, is optimism. OK, I'm kidding, but I've never been a goth, so that must count for something.

When I was in therapy, are you bored yet? any sentence that starts with that usually has the self-congratulatory air of a Sylvia Plath survivor, no, hold on, just listen, when I was in therapy for a year and a half in the late 80's, ONLY a year and a half you say, you neurotic tourist you, SHUT UP! When I was in therapy, I was told categorically that I did not need anti-depression medication. Consider this was during the worst period of my life, I'd alienated half my friends (some of whom I was living with) by introducing them to that woman I was obsessed with and then freaking out when she started dating one of them, I'd left university without any direction and aimlessly rode the inertia of temping into computer programming, my father was in his worst condition in his (and my mom's) battle with his Parkinson's, and Michael Dukakis was the Democrat's presidential candidate, and I'd only gotten laid twice in two years. I did not need medication, I was depressed, but with a few good reasons.

OK, when I get bad days, a few times a year, usually there's a good reason, not something like "it's Tuesday," "there's suffering somewhere in the world," or "the voices in my head have taken a vote and have decided to kick me out."

The last few years I have been unemployed, or perhaps better to say under employed. I started a contracting business in 2000 which had a good start and then got hit by the tanking of the contract market post- 9/11. I spent nearly two years chasing the thin on the ground contract opportunities, I did work a few days here and there, but nothing to stop me draining away my savings or becoming financially dependent on my wife.

Even on the worst days I get up and get on with things, I spend between 6 and 9 hours in front of my computer. Some of this is writing, some keeping up with my computery skills, some is playing with video processing and editing software. I don't play games, apart from a daily crossword or sudoku logic puzzle, I do the shopping, walk the dogs.

There were some periods when I was a bit low and lethargic in the mornings, which experience has taught me can be a sign of depression. During these times I did try to take St. John's Wort (hypericum), an herbal remedy. This did relieve the lethargy, but if I didn't halve the dose I found I became irritable and tetchy (I know... how can you tell? I was snapping rather than grumbling). I've found that increasing my exercise and slightly adjusting my diet (slower burning carbs, less red meat, more fish, more veg) has really made a difference to my energy levels. I now only experience lethargy when I've missed a lot of sleep (less than 4 hours), say after pulling an all nighter during the election last fall.

This may be a drawn out explanation that I'm not actually depressed. It's probably easier to say that I'm not completely happy with my life, and can't be until I can at least finish one of my novels, and/or perhaps make some money from any of my writing. I should say that I am very content with my life. I feel very lucky that I have a wonderful partner in Finuala who is supporting my writing efforts, and otherwise rounds off many of my rougher edges. I have great daily companions in our dogs. I live in a part of the world that I absolutely adore (The New Forest, the partial subject of one my novels in progress). I have friends and family all over the world who care despite having had to occasionally put up with me at my worst.

Life is good. I'm not particularly great at shouting about it. A lot of what I try to write is comedy, there's very little humour in joy. Don't worry about me, it's those cheerful bastards you have to watch out for. The one's the neighbors say, “he was such a nice guy”. If I did anything strange, my neighbors would say, "we're not surprised, he was such a miserable git."

In my book that's a bill of health. You see, I am an optimist.


17 March, 2005

The Vague-aries: I am Brian's Ganglion

It pains me to write this, no really, it is physically painful to type this. I have a small lump on the back of my right hand, just above my wrist, it contains fluid, intermittently it swells, with the entire back of my hand puffing up, knuckles losing all definition, the arthritic feeling shoots down into my fingers.

Short version, two months ago, I startled one of our dogs in the act of stealing food from another. Instead of admonishing her first, I too quietly sidled up and took the bowl away. She instinctively lashed out, sinking teeth in, but releasing immediately as she saw what she'd done. Not ever an aggressive dog, she's more likely to sit in front of you with a somewhat nervy steely determination to receive attention and cuddles than to attack anyone. The bite gave me two deep puncture wounds, one on the back of the hand, the other on the side of the wrist, both far enough from any major artery, some blood oozed, but they stayed mostly closed. Following phone advice from the NHS I washed the wounds for half an hour (surprisingly painful, but I'm new to deep flesh wounds), and they put a dry sterile dressing on it the following morning.

For two weeks the hand swelled up, was stiff and uncomfortable. For a few days I couldn't grip anything It was the kind of feeling you get in the muscle you've just had an inoculation injection in, but instead of a large arm or buttock muscle, small set of tendons on the back of the hand, the sterile hypo replaced with a dirty dogs tooth. At least my tetanus jabs were current.

Anyway the hand calmed down for the most part, with some occasional arthritic feeling, but then a month on this lump erupted, like a reverse wannabe stigmata.

I let this continue for a few days and then thought I ought to have the benefit of expert advice from our free National Health Service. The doctor told me that it was fluid, that they could drain the fluid off, that this would be a hospital procedure, but that it would probably re-occur, and there wasn't much point in doing it unless it got infected or continued. I was told to go away for three to six months, pretty much to put up with it.

My hand swelled again, causing a bearable but nearly constant level of pain. Sharp pain would occur doing the simplest things, putting a hand in a pocket, holding a pen, cutting vegetables for stir fry. I was losing sleep, not being able to get to sleep until utterly exhausted, or waking in the middle of the night from pain.

After another few weeks I was at my quarterly appointment with my chiropractor, who also dabbles in "alternative therapies", to which I'm simultaneously skeptical and open minded. I'm willing to try things, but I don't expect them to work. Over the years I've seen the folk remedy Arnica regularly used against bruising, and St. John's Wort used with mild depression. I've seen acupuncture and cider vinegar work treating arthritic conditions in dogs, who are ostensibly free from any kind of placebo effect. Even if us human's are susceptible to placebo, if it's a positive effect, that's OK too.

My chiropractor wanted me to try using Colloidal Silver. At first glance this is pretty close to snake-oil as you may be likely to get. It's claims are that by taking very small ionized particles of silver suspended in a purified water solution, these particles interfere with the metabolisms of viruses, bacteria and fungus, but are not at all harmful to healthy tissue. Hmmm. Whilst have a reasonably high pain tolerance (for a guy), the chronic condition is very wearing, so I'm willing to try anything to at least feel like I'm doing something other than waiting for gangrene to crop up so that the NHS will deign to treat me.

For your benefit, and at no small cost, I've become a willing, if uncontrolled (scientifically), test subject. I'm told to take a large dose initially (200ml), followed by a half hour of rest, then to take a tablespoon (15ml) each subsequent day for a week. As instructed I take the initial dose followed by a pint of water, I return to bed and oversleep the half hour by two hours, it's Saturday anyway.

On waking it seems a miracle has occurred, my hand has come down significantly. The lump is still there, but my knuckles are visible again, I can flatten my hand, almost without pain.

Through the week that follows the hand remains mostly calm but the arthritic feeling in my knuckles slowly returns, with unfortunately some new pain in the next set of knuckles down my fingers. Worried, not alarmed by this, I had been told to repeat the procedure again from the beginning if it didn't clear up after a week, I leave this an extra day because on the Saturday I have to drive with my wife to the Crufts Dog Show. Sunday I again take a whopping 200 ml of the colloidal silver, a pint of water and return to bed dozing merely for the required half an hour, to little or no effect. I'm now slightly worried.

Over the next two days the pain increases again, and the back of my hand starts to swell again. I book an appointment with the NHS for Wednesday, Tuesday I get a hold of the chiropractor, she reconsults her literature and suggests that I should be taking the tablespoon of silver twice a day, and I should hugely elevate my Vitamin C intake to between 2000-4000 mg a day. Oddly enough, I do already take a 500mg a day supplement, and I had, through a certain laziness, missed a couple of days during the previous week when my hand seemed to be getting worse again. Anyway, I take this new advice on board Tuesday night.

Wednesday morning, the hand is the best its been since the beginning of this. This is almost unfortunate, as in front of the NHS doctor it looks a bit of nothing. He is able to prod the lump itself without pain. I have a different doctor this time, and at least he explains my condition in greater detail. I've had damage to the sheath that protects the muscle and lubricates the space between the skin and muscle. The body that has formed is called a ganglion. He offers to drain the fluid off then and there, but states that it should vanish eventually left to its own devices. We elect to wait and see, so I know that if it doesn't disappear I don't have to wait six months to get it drained, this doctor will happily stick it on a moment's notice.

I continue to use the colloidal silver and Vitamin C, and things are steadily improving. Perhaps coincidentally, but my fingers will tell you a different story. It no longer pains me to write this.


16 March, 2005

Back-B-Log: O Canada

OK, I know I'm a bit late to the Bloggin' table, and numerous un and qualified pundits have all said their bit about the late unpleasantness (the election, remember a few months ago, you've been trying to block it out). Anyway, my few sundry observations.

1. Don't go to Canada

I'm hardly one to talk as a confirmed ex-pat, but the first thing the blue-staters have to swallow is that they got it wrong. The let's go to Canada contingent are really those that would throw the toys out of the pram not getting their way. We falsely suppose that having the moral high ground of liberalism, a war hero, or even the guy more suited to the job has anything to do with winning an American election. The day after the election there was a deluge of spurned entitlement. It's much more wounding than the lawyers stealing the election in 2000 to think that despite mobilising all and sundry, we lost another close run numbers game.

Just before the election a UK TV station aired the West Wing episodes with the re-election of Bartlett. The amiable yet crotchety, intellectual yet personable, liberal wet-dream of a President wins handily after an uphill battle, the turning point... he wins the debate. This exemplifies our blue state thinking, a well reasoned argument based on facts, will win the minds then hearts of the people.

What we continually ignore is that Presidential Election Campaigns are high school all over again. The captain of the forensics team doesn't win, the popular guy or gal does, sometimes a jock, occasionally the class clown (let's discount my own Napoleon Dynamite style freak seizing of the number two slot my senior year after a particularly funny ad-libbed speech). Blue Staters have the self-righteousness of a geek club of D&D playing goths who can't understand why everyone else doesn't like them.

The winner of the election doesn't need to be qualified to do the job, he needs to personable, likable. The person you'd invite to your barbecue, or to pledge your frat, the guy you could share a foul tasting non-imported beer with.

Let's look at who've the Democrats have gotten elected over the last four decades, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Clinton. OK Johnson's the odd one out, but he might bring the ribs and beer. Carter, you'd invite, but once you got to know him, you wouldn't invite him back, except to make a fourth at bridge. The Republican's didn't cotton onto the right formula until Reagan, but then they were saddled with his VP, but the Dems came up with the even less charismatic Dukakis. Dole solidified the lesson, and my guess is that Republican candidates will be in this mold for the foreseeable future (perhaps until every member of the Bush family is used up).

2. Play to the lowest common denominator

We'd love to believe, especially in this age of advertising aware cynicism, that this doesn't work, or shouldn't work, or that it's evil, or you are descending to the level of the other guy. Screw it! It works! The results prove it!

Scare people! Appeal to their greed! Don't play on their sense of justice or future economic or financial stability! Play the God card! You know what God wants, and you won't let the Constitution stand in the way of your interpretation of his will! Watch out, the gays are coming to steal our women folk!

Don't be afraid to nominate an idiot! Lack of intellectual prowess makes a guy seem more ordinary. An innumerate dolt who genuinely believes that just over 50% is an "accountability moment" (it would hang a jury). Just the ticket.

3. Get the Canadians to immigrate.

Instead of Blue Staters going to the land of Maple Syrup and Poutine, convince any liberal minded Canadians to do the free world a favor and move to a Red State. Much of Canada is just like the mid-west, only they treat gun ownership as a privilege rather than a right, and assault weapons aren't OK 'cause they don't leave enough of the duck intact to eat.

How can we achieve this, lower import duties on Molsen and Moosehead, play up propaganda about the impending ice age, or get a Quebecois voted Prime Minister.

4. Make sure I get my absentee ballot in time next time

For the second time in three years my absentee ballot arrived too late to send back in time. Granted my voting State went for Kerry, so I can comfort myself. But I still feel the sense of guilt that perhaps we could have done more......

At least some others have felt the need to apologize.... http://www.sorryeverybody.com/


15 March, 2005

Rebuke: Million Dollar Baby

I don't like to do this, I HATE when someone guts a movie I've enjoyed, even if I'm aware of its weaknesses. But I feel strongly, who knows, this may save lives, or at least a couple of hours of life. This is not a review it's a rant, so don't expect logical argument to overwhelm the vitriol.

Spoiler Alert! Reading this will spoil any potential enjoyment you may get from watching this film, not because we will reveal any major plot points (although I will skirt these unsuccessfully), but because I will point out how simplistic, crass, and two dimensional this over-rated piece of crap is, and even if you only half agree with me on any of my points you will not suffer through its interminable running time, unless you are a cine-ma-sochist.

I had the cards stacked slightly against me when I saw this film, I had seen a review that gave away part of the plot turn that determines the final act of the story. I worried that perhaps I did not enjoy watching it because I sat through the slow, glaringly predictable first two thirds, that I was marking time waiting for "the thing" to happen. Looking back now, this only coloured my judgement only slightly.

Everyone praises the acting! I'm mystified by this now, it's as if we all feel sorry for these admittedly good actors because they've been stuck with such thinly defined characters. We want to believe that they have breathed life into these useless creations, but great acting, are these roles that stretched anyone? Let's see, Clint plays a grizzled veteran of his profession with both personal and professional regrets, Morgan plays the older wiser black sidekick (he is precariously close to being Clint's property in the film). Perhaps Hilary had to act her socks off, this time her determined tom-boyish character is stripped of any sexuality, and is given an insane pluckiness with a self-destructive desire to be pummelled. Some mistake how worthy or admirable character is for acting, but Hilary's character doesn't learn from mistakes, only winning well through quick knock outs, and ignoring advice from Clint's trainer she spent half the film trying to acquire, developing no endurance, and in the final act she simply takes the easy way out. Even that, Hilary's character does, as she does everything else, with "gritty determination." One suspects she passes water, files taxes, or even relaxes on the beach with "gritty determination"; so much for an emotional range to test those acting muscles.

The whole film takes place in a hermetically sealed universe, the only glimpse of any reality beyond the boxing ring and training gym are Clint's visits to a sarky priest, Hilary's cardboard dysfunctional family who have clearly wandered in off the sets of both Rosanne and the Beverly Hillbillies. This could go a long way to explain Hilary as the grown-up member of the Jukes family who enjoys being scalded with boiling water. Even the hospital at the end of the film seems to be a set barely populated by doctors, nurses, other patients, or even well-wishers of the supposedly world famous boxer. A retarded boxer's character seems to exist merely to provide Morgan with a brief moment of validation fending off an inexplicably thuggish bully.

"Fable" is the get out clause invoked. It is only a mark of how crass this film is in its treatment of its serious issues by reducing all but the trio of main characters to ridiculous cyphers that would be more at home in a teen gross out comedy. Once Hilary has been paralysed by the villainous Eastern European dirty fighter (which Rocky was that cribbed from?), I did half expect the rest of the film to be her plucky, determined (possibly even gritty) struggle to achieve Christopher Reeve like strides towards heroic partial recovery -- instead it becomes a different after-school special, one that might even make Dr. Kevorkian queasy. We've been told throughout what a fighter this character is, but as she ultimately fights to swallow her own tongue, her only motivations being that she has no real life and has Clampett's as kin. We, the audience are asked to endure all that the main character never learns to. Some have rightly complained that this film tries to justify assisted suicide (which may have other reasonable justifications), when its only message is that your white-trash family will drive you to suicide.

Addendum: I've just seen Being Julia, and while not ordinarily a Annette Benning fan (disliked her in American Beauty), she was robbed! One of the most thorough layered performances I've ever seen (up along co-star Jeremy Irons turns in Dead Ringers and that Claus Von Bulow movie). So as far as the awards things go the AMPAS electorate have unsurprisingly become just as inexplicably stupid as the American voters.


14 March, 2005

Review: Melinda and Melinda

I'm sorry, but the best thing I can say about this film is that it's the most endurable Woody Allen film for a long time. Melinda and Melinda tries to illustrate a purely intellectual exercise, proposed as over dinner conversation by framing device folk, that a story may be told different ways, tragically or comically. Two immediate problems arise, 1) these are both stories being told, as such we have no reason to invest anything more than curiosity in the characters and their fate, 2) it's not really the same story, it's two similar stories based on the dinnertable source anecdote (which is never revealed), any hope that a clever parallel juxtapositions will occur are dispelled at the outset as the only common factor between both tales is the actress playing Melinda (Radha Mitchell).

The two halves of the film share various motif's and details, but often applied to different parallel characters. Two different potential suicides aver "I'm going out the window" before the attempt, echoing each other and the suicidal philosopher in "Crimes and Misdemeanors". As the stories are otherwise dissimilar there is very little of the frisson that might be generated from guessing how a particular tragic development would be handled comically or vice versa as it never comes to that.

On the upside it hums along entertainingly if pointlessly enough. There are moments of both un- and intentional humour in the tragic version. The tragic Melinda is given jarringly arch dialogue, referring to her dishevelled appearance at a party like "the wreck of the Hesperus", she is given to dwelling on the names of people, her previous affair is with a man with a "romantic sounding" name, the infidelity discovered by a detective with "the unlikely name of Crutchwood", she repeatedly states she's taken her mother's maiden name, "it's French." At the worst, tragic Melinda is a poorly conceived update on Blanche Du Bois.

Much of the "comedy" in the comic version of the tale is of the cringingly stale neurotic Woody Allen shtick of yore. Will Farrell is given the yutz who lusts unaccountably and uncontrollably over a woman in a neighboring flat. He even adopts the Allen cadence. The lamest, literally, running gag is that as an actor Farrell plays every role, Willy Loman through Lear, with "a limp."

There are still some good one-liners, most successfully delivered by characters not sounding like Allen. The best uttered by Amanda Peet to her lackadaisacal actor husband, Farrell, "of course we communicate, now can we please stop talking about it." Some moments of gently observant humour seep their way into the tragic story, at these ephemeral moments the film almost works, or at least suggests that perhaps Allen could make a more genuine movie if he had some other material to work with.

On their own terms neither half hangs together well enough. Allen doing tragedy was better when he was trying to ape Bergman or O'Neill (Interiors, September, Alice), rather than Tennessee Williams (OK, there is a bit of "Glass Menagerie" in "Floating Lightbulb" but he hasn't filmed that one). The comedy half turns on the sort of Allen character agonizing over desires for adultery and unrequited love that magically turns out well because, well because it does...

Like many "fans" of Allen's work, I approached this movie with the dread reserved for his output over the last two decades. While he is clearly still talented, he has trod various thematic and comic ideas into the ground. Someone should stop funding him, or at least get him to collaborate, or try working with someone else's material (Allen + Charlie Kaufmann marriage in heaven or hell? Discuss.) I enjoyed this film more than any of his other films since "Bullets Over Broadway". Sadly, this is not saying much.


03 March, 2005


Goodbye and welcome,

I suppose I've been feeling the pull of middle age, the sensation that I've descended into an ill defined cloud, where myself has become an item of dispute, an unfixed point of identity, an incomplete map of personality, an unfinished thought. The notion that the dog has chewed my life'swork. I've already missed all tomorrow's parties, I've stayed too long at all of yesterday's, and I'd be a bad host or an unwelcome guest at my own.

Maybe I just don't want to be the last person I know with a wwweeeBlog.

That said I wanted this first post to resound as a sort of "mission statement" of what was to follow. I had it all worked out in my head, it was going to be articulate and passionate, a welding of my compassionate liberalism, my moral libertarianism, and fiscal conservativism. It was going to be all things to all people and nothing to everybody. That's the gist, I've forgotten all the good bits, so forgive me for leaving out the details. Having raised myself to tenth level pseudo-intellectual weaned on the New York Times Book Review in its golden age during the 70's, I can tell you that the reviews are often better and more important cultural statements than the books. See, you're better off already.

My future posts will probably be a mixture of standard venting over the day's issues, film and book reviews, surreal unrealizable product ideas and a combination of elements doomed to be considerably less than the sum of their parts. Comment if you will, but I will not defend or seek to justify any of my utterances in these pages. If this amuses my friends and alienates a few strangers, and/or verse-vica, I will be content.