Sunday, February 17, 2008

I'M BACK....

Wow, it's been four months since the last post.

Is that how long the Writers' Strike really lasted?

But seriously, my absence from this ethereal platform from which pearls of wisdom take flight is explained by the usual culprits: boredom, lack of interest, and (in a variation on the same crap, different day theme), my having forgotten my password, as well as the email address associated with this account. Blogpost emails are now being sent to a phantom account.

The story of my life...

Friday, October 26, 2007


I remember reading this article on the day it came out. I was reading it at the Atlanta Bread Company, which was just a short walk away from where my job was at the time. At that point, I was, like so many Americans, angry as hell. The article came closer, and still does, to capturing why things are, politically, the way they are in this country, than any I have read before or since.

And so, without further adieu....

Published on Monday, November 15, 2004 by the Atlanta-Journal Constitution
Greatest Fear Isn't Terrorists, It's Change
by Jay Bookman

Democrats and Republicans don't agree about a lot, but they do agree that fear played a major role in the 2004 election. Millions of voters saw in President Bush what they did not see in John Kerry, the type of strong, decisive leader who would protect them and their families from a threatening outside world and would do so without asking the United Nations for permission.
But sifting through the exit polls and election results . . . it's a funny thing. The voters least likely to be terror targets — those in rural areas, small towns and the less populated states — tended to be most frightened by the prospect of a terror attack. Conversely, voters in major metro areas that would be logical targets of terror, including New York and New Jersey, were least likely to be frightened by it.

That oddity mirrors something I first noticed back in the mid-'90s, at a time when crime, not terror, was the hot political issue. In interviews with candidates and voters, the fear of random, unpredictable crime seemed most intense in places you wouldn't logically expect, such as suburbs far from the city center where people lived in gated, guarded communities surrounded by people much like themselves and where rates of violent crime were absurdly low.
Those people were scared, but it was hard to believe that crime was the real reason. It seemed more likely that they were scared by the cultural and economic changes going on around them, by TV shows that were penetrating the walls of their gated neighborhoods depicting a world they did not recognize, by the sense that the country they had known growing up was being robbed from them, replaced by something foreign and threatening. But unable to put a name to their unease, they attributed it to crime.

I think the same may be true today with terror, a theory that's bolstered by something else in the exit polling and other post-election data. Apparently, many voters supported Bush despite misgivings about his policies because they were reassured by his character and faith and believed that he shared their traditional values. They saw him as an ally against the things they feared the most, while Kerry, with his foreign-born wife and Boston accent, in many ways epitomized those fears.

That fear — that sense of being under assault in your own country — is a powerful thing. And it no doubt grows every time people see a TV commercial talk of four-hour erections, every time they go to the ATM machine and are asked whether they want to conduct business in Spanish or English, every time a business announces mass layoffs and a tax-subsidized move overseas.
However, the root cause of those changes is not government or even the cultural elite. It's just business, chasing a dollar with little or no attention to what its impact will be. The social, cultural, legal and regulatory controls that once limited what was acceptable in selling a product or running a company are largely gone now, and the result is a consumer society that worships nothing so much as the bottom line.

The biggest threat to traditional values today is greed.

So even though conservative politicians may depict themselves as culture warriors, they will do nothing to stop that pharmaceutical company from running erection commercials, because you don't interfere when there's money to be made. And while illegal immigration stirs fears among millions, no effective action will be taken because businesses find those immigrants a cheap and docile source of labor. (DRL: And, may I add, while terrorism stirs fears among tens of millions, no one - Democrat, Republican, Senator, Congressman, President, even the President of September 11th himself, Rudy Guiliani - will truly do anything about it - because there's too much money to be made in places like Dubai and Saudi Arabia. Too much oil to refine. Too much selfishness among Americans - particularly types like the College Republicans (CRs)who are always screaming for other people to die for the satisfaction of the CRs ideological wet dreams - to volunteer for the Armed Forces. And, yes - greed even dictates the motives of terrorist masterminds themselves - the ones like bin Laden and Arafat who send others to get blown up and who profit, through acquisition of that other ultimate manifestation of greed, power. The Bush Administration knows that greed is what drives the universe just as "evil knows evil," to quote from a bad movie adaptation of a bad science fiction television show. The deployment of greed causes millions to live in fear. And bombing every nation on Earth out of existence will not change that fact, because if only the U.S. were left, one group - the more powerful one - the greedier one - will dominate the weak, until slowly but surely, we are all wiped out. It's amazing it hasn't happened yet. But then, humans have only been on the planet, which is comprised of a young galaxy, for a very short time. Give it another couple of thousand years).

And of course, the sleaziest of the major TV networks, the outlet whose shows are most likely to disparage institutions such as marriage and traditional moral values, is Fox Broadcasting. The latest movie drawing the ire of religious and cultural conservatives is "Kinsey," a lurid biography of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, likewise distributed by Fox Searchlight. (DRL: the movie was not lurid, but "conservative" hypocrites should have been incensed that Fox, whose film argued that people should not be forced to wear groin carriages by their parents so that these people won't masturbate, put such "filth" on the air. This is why I get so incensed when I hear the phrase "liberal media." So what if the media is liberal? It is owned, ultimately, by networks, which, if they are not conservative themselves, are owned by people who are experts at the greed game, people who know that as long as the masses can be fed enough hate bread and given enough "hate the liberals" circus propaganda, these people will never catch on to who is really screwing them).

And where will those deeply offended people turn for comfort, for reassurance that they are not alone in their dismay at all this cultural decadence?

They'll punch the clicker to Fox News, so Rupert Murdoch's employees (who, ironically, can only utter the words that come out of their mouths because true liberals - small l - believe that the government should not forbid them to do so) can tell them that it's all the liberals' fault.

The enemy is not the terrorists. "Terrorist" is just the latest label for the particular global menace people get hot and bothered about. Greed is the real enemy, and, as someone once said, "Have you ever tried to kill an idea? It has no weapon to seize, no body to destroy."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


OK...... For the sake of not alienating my readers - all me of them - I will occupy this entry space with another film review.

The film is "Michael Clayton". Films featuring eponymous (first and last name) titles (watch out, Roger Ebert - you might want to add this one to your Little Movie Glossary) have been a mixed bag, quality-wise.

Sure, there was the Oscar-winning slop of piety, "Mrs. Miniver," and there was the original Sally Field-as-someone-who-needs-to-be-shut-up classic, "Norma Rae." And "David Copperfield."

I've been told that "Mr. Roberts" wasn't bad. And, lest the phantom reader fear that I suffer for want of sufficient knowledge of movies titled in this fashion, I submit two further trenchant examples: "Happy Gilmore" and "Billy Madison." Q.E.D.

But, as they say, it's the exceptions that make the rule. "Charlotte Grey," "Johnny Stecchino," "Bugsy Malone," and "Patch Adams," just to name a few.

Sunday, October 07, 2007


Wow! It's been over three months since the author of this blog has put finger to keyboard, type to Skype (rhyming non-sequitur), thought to naught....

In that time frame, I have moved to another state, found a job (grammatically incorrect colloquialism - but its converse - "the job found me" - seems apt in this case), just spent a weekend in Reedy/Sleek ("headnote" for Orlando)....

What to write about?

Let's get down to business - a movie review.

Last night, I saw "In the Valley of Elah" (E is pronounced as it is pronounced in the word "Ellen," I think). The titular Biblical valley separated King David and his subjects (among them, a small boy named David) and the mighty monster Goliath. One day, little David, with nothing more than a slingshot, slayed ("rubbered"?) this mighty giant, reasoning that monsters do indeed exist, as do the generalities surrounding their alleged behavior, but also in existence are the collective cliches associated with that which defeats the monsters: courage.

Hank Deerfield, played by Tommy Lee Jones, repeats the David v. Goliath ("DVG") tale to the son of a detective (Charlize Theron), as a kind of bedtime story. After the child listens raptly, he asks the Jones character a question: "Have you ever seen the monsteres?" "Yes." "Have you defeated them?" "If I hadn't, I wouldn't be here." Or something like that. Nice speech.

Hard not to think of the word "speech" when viewing a Paul Haggis film. "In the Valley" is Haggis' sophomore directorial effort, his first try being the didactic, chess-like plotted (a plotting device that ultimately checkmated the film) "Crash." That one was not big on subtlety; no big problem, necessarily, though, if your movie has something to say. "Crash" didn't say much, but said it loud.

I fully expected to be given a haggis' helping of sanctimony, moral cudgeling, and characters as story symbols when I came into the "Valley," but was pleasantly surprised by this film's remarkable sense of restraint.

Restraint, as the film opens, does not seem to be called for in Hank's case. He has been notified that his son, Mike, who recently returned to the U.S. after an Army tour of duty in Iraq, is missing ("AWOL"). Hank, who lives in Tennessee, travels to Fort Rudd in the hopes of locating his son, or at least, locating information about his whereabouts.

Hank is a former MP, and in the film's opening scenes, we see him calmly, curtly, and effectively question the military and civilian personnel who might have the information. He speaks with the leader of his son's squad (James Franco). Nothing comes of it. After he is given the brush-off by the MPs, he turns to the civilian police. The detective assigned to his case (Charlize Theron) initially brushes him off too, but something then happens to make her more receptive to Hank's queries: it is discovered that his son was knifed to death on the outskirts of the Fort Rudd area, where the civilian police have jurisdiction. This revelation serves as the spark for the development of a working relationship between the two that expedites the resolution of the question of the identity of the murderer.

Hank refuses to believe that any member of the squad could have committed the crime ("You serve with a man in war, you don't just kill him), but as evidence mounts (apparently, Mike was drunk on the night of his death, got in a fistfight with another squad member), Hank and his wife (an underused Susan Sarandon) steel themselves for the worst - and in Hank's case - the inconceivable: the notion that his son was killed and his limbs severed by fellow squad members as a result of something no more banal than a fistfight that got out of hand, or the consumption of alcohol or drugs.

The Army, in what should come as a surprise to easily persuadablefilmgoers below the age of 6, is not interested in determining the cause of death (it merely claims that the crime occurred within its "jurisdiction," incorrectly. I kept waiting for Jones to say, "Oh shit, sheriff, I guess that means I'll have to take over the investigation for you."), even as we sense that several of the squad members and the MP in charge of the investigation (Jason Patric) know, at every turn, more than Hank, more than us, and more than they should have the right to.

The revelations of the details of the murders come as we periodically see grainy video-clip images from Mike's cell phone, which the squad leader made the mistake of not removing from Mike's locker. The images, each about a minute long, reveal chaos, shooting and screams of panic during an apparent gunfight between the squad and Iraqi civilians.

As these blurry images play out, several false leads work their way through, and, after we are served up some investigatory fits, starts and dead-ends, we are told, fairly well before the ending of the film, who did the deed, and why. In this observant, tonally astute film, however, the anatomy of the murder matters little; what Haggis unobstrusively makes matter is an exploration, revealed through questioning of the squad members, both formal and informal, of the toll that war takes on the human psyche. This exploration forms the heart of the film; characters' motivations, actions, deceptions, and epiphanies swirl around it against what must be one of Jones' best performances: make no mistake. He's played taciturn and held-back before, but this is perhaps Jones' first performance in which the actor's slow-burn style - here used to expose, with nary a word, the character's fears, regrets and ideas - comes from and aims for the heart.

Jones, superficially playing with as much tight-lipped coolness as ever, knows, as far as the investigation is concerned, exactly what questions to ask, and of whom to ask them, and pursues his investigatory task with glum yet determined efficiency. The task is approached somberly, grimly. Indeed, this film strikes a somber tone from its opening scenes, as if it knows something horrible has already happened and that this something has already consumed the characters without their even knowing it.

That "something," of course, is the mental toll that the Iraq War (the film takes place during 2004, the year of the Fallujah "offensive") has taken upon those who have fought in it, particularly upon younger soldiers. Haggis, though, instead of delivering a moral scolding of our leaders for allowing this toll to be exacted, SHOWS how it has been exacted, through a film that barely wastes a scene, that knows where it is going, and that knows how to get there.

Once the film does get there - once the murderer is identified, I became overwhelmed with feelings of grief, and of uselessness. We have been fighting this war, whose ill-explained and fraudulent rationale can barely be articulated by a President who insists that the consistency and intensity of his beliefs will ensure "victory," without consideration of its costs - economic, political, or social. Over ten percent of returning soliders have been treated for Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, and George W. Bush is telling aggrieved families not to sell soldiers' medals on E-Bay. Funny.

Developments in modern warfare may create more military solutions (or, in this case, such developments might have, anyway, had our desire to fight a war were a fraction of our desire to start one), but create more problems as well. In this particular war, the "enemy" has, through the use of IEDs and, more importantly, the employment of a desire to defend their own land - a desire more powerful than a million such devices, and one that doomed us to fail before a single invading American boot was set on Iraqi soil.

The problems - torn limbs, torn psyches, and amputated spirits - visited upon those soldiers who are "lucky" enough to serve out their tours (one character without irony notes that he couldn't stand being in Iraq but wanted to return within days of the end of his tours) are not being addressed by our leaders, or by our nation, whose conscience has faded into the netherland wherein lie the invisible pictures of caskets returning to home and public funerals which the President deems not worthy of his attendance.

The film ends with a simple (and overly simplistic, I'm afraid - to the point of introduction of heavy-handedness in the final scene) final series of images involving the unfurling of the America flag by a seeming foreigner, who is instructed by the Jones character as to the flag's proper display. Hank, one can readily note, does not voice an opinion as to the rightness of the Iraq war, despite being given repeatedly the invitation to do so. We sense that he feels that it is not his place to engage in such seemingly unseemly conversation. As the final shot of the flag bows to a fade to black, however, the impact of what he has been feeling has been driven home as forcefully as our collective response to this punishing war has been silent. In the Valley of Elah is a film this country needs now - it is a film whose importance derives from, to paraphrase Roger Ebert, the fact that its story is nothing more - and nothing less - than about the fact that there are people dead as a result of this war, and that fact - not chances to induldge in ideological disputes, to impugn one's patriotism, to create one's own monsters by having a need to invent them - is what the war means to them and their loved ones. The deaths are being caused by monsters, both real and imagined, and the film eloquently mourns the absence of a David in the valley to make the monsters go away. A (four stars)

Saturday, July 21, 2007


July 15, 2005: Saw "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," and then arrived at Borders Bookstore at 12:59 a.m. the next morning to pick up "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."

July 20, 2007: Saw "Hairspray," and then arrived at Borders Bookstore at 12:15 a.m. to pick up "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows."

Sunday, July 08, 2007


I can still remember it. First year, college. Since I did not have a television of my own, whenever I wanted to watch television I had to watch it in one of my dorm's TV rooms. There was one such room on each of my dorm's five floors, I believe (my memories of college are misty, mud-colored, so I am not sure).

Back to the story later...

Thursday, July 05, 2007


It's been a busy summer- what with the Supreme Court raining down a shitstorm of hate on the Constitution, the President unleashing the latest White House disgrace with the commutation of Scooter Flibby's sentence, TB guy, boredom, and summer movie funk (note double meaning).

A new film is about to open: "Rescue Dawn," by Werner Herzog. The film deals with.... well, go to to find out yourself.

Finally, though, Jessica Winter, on, in her musings on the film, has made the connection that this film has with a certain OTHER film that I could not wait for someone to make in print:

"One of the best scenes in Rescue Dawn is a quiet one, when Christian Bale-as-Dengler remembers that moment when his childhood self locked eyes with the Allied pilot, in much the same words that Dengler-as-Dengler uses in Little Dieter. For some viewers, another movie memory of another aviation-obsessed kid will come to mind: Jim in Empire of the Sun (1987), exulting in the arrival of Allied planes and making stunned eye contact with a pilot. Jim, of course, was played by 13-year-old Christian Bale, starring in a film that was itself a creative treatment of actuality—an adaptation of J.G. Ballard's autobiographical novel about his imprisonment by the Japanese as a boy during World War II. I'm not sure what a cinematic ecstasy of truth looks like, exactly, but it might be found in these echoes and superimpositions of multiple childhoods and memories, both factual and fictionalized. Together, they create something that—like many of Herzog's films—is neither one thing nor the other: both familiar and new, both real and dreamlike."

And so we beat on...