Monday, September 03, 2012

In support of the "crazy like a fox" theory ...

Clint Eastwood's next movie — he starred in and co-produced, but didn't direct, this one — is called "Trouble With the Curve":

The ad campaign, featuring him, is on now. The film is scheduled for release on September 21st.

What percentage of the people who watch those ads between now and September 21st, or watch that film between September 21st and Election Day, do you suppose will also go back and watch Eastwood's speech — or, rather, performance — from the Republican National Convention?

Posted by Beldar at 07:34 AM in 2012 Election, Film/TV/Stage, Obama, Politics (2012) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Monday, August 27, 2012

Is either Apple or Samsung to be, or not to be?

Would Shakespeare have been an Apple fanboy?I'd previously read or heard most of the notions that Rich Karlgaard advances in his Wall Street Journal op-ed titled "Apple's Lawsuit Sent a Message to Google," but he's done a service nonetheless by polishing and distilling them nicely. As he puts it himself, this "techno-Shakespearian story is entertaining," and he makes a reasonable case that it's nevertheless "bad for the phone-buying public."

I agree completely with him that both from a business perspective and a legal one, it was strategic genius — albeit fairly obvious — for Apple to sue a foreign-based company, Samsung, rather than its real target, American-based Google, for pretty much all the reasons he explains.

I think his essay errs, though, in its tacit assumption that foreign companies like Samsung are always and forever going to be nothing more than proxies — pieces to be moved on the global chessboard by American technology leaders like Apple, Google, and yes, Microsoft. Of course, Samsung will appeal this latest American jury verdict, and it has a decent chance of winning on appeal. But that will take many months to play out. Does anyone doubt that in the meantime, Samsung — and many other similarly situated companies — will redouble their efforts, and probably more than redouble their budgets, to develop their own software prowess and capacities to augment their demonstrated manufacturing prowess and capacities?

And Mr. Karlgaard is absolutely right to note that there's a Shakespearian quality to this long-running and ongoing drama. But they're not re-running the same play every night, or even relying upon a static cast of players. Yes, in the 1980s it was already Apple versus Microsoft, and yes, those two still compete fiercely today. But there was no such thing as Google or Amazon then; they parachuted in seemingly from nowhere, but no one today can dispute that they've become formidable competitors who aren't shy about entering new lines of business. And quite a few dominating companies from the 1980s have been swallowed by others (as Google swallowed Motorola and HP swallowed Compaq), or have become competitively and technologically irrelevant (like Xerox and Kodak), or have simply disappeared altogether (like DEC and Wang).

In short, I think both plot and players are even more unpredictable and exciting than Mr. Karlgaard gives them credit for. So bring the house lights back down, and on to the next act!

Posted by Beldar at 12:50 AM in Film/TV/Stage, History, Law (2012), Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Requiescat in pace: Neil Alden Armstrong (1930-2012), American astronaut, hero to the human race

My friend Patterico has a post up honoring a true American hero who passed away today — Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk on the moon. Lightly edited and without blockquoting, here's the comment I left on his blog:


I was born in 1957, the year of Sputnik — indeed, during its few weeks of orbit — so I was old enough not just to watch, but to relish, the 1969 Apollo 11 landing. Indeed, although I don’t quite remember Alan Shepard’s flight, I do definitely remember John Glenn’s, and all the rest of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo flights which preceded or followed Apollo 11.

Neil Armstrong, on the surface of the moon in July 1969By July 1969, I had several models of each major component spacecraft of the Apollo system, constructed variously of plastic, paper, or balsa wood and with varying levels of detail. Some of them were working model rockets that I’d sent hundreds of feet into the air before they returned to earth on their plastic parachutes. I was almost certainly an insufferable fan. I remember accompanying my father to the barbershop some weeks before the landing; while he got his haircuit, I was explaining to all the grownups present how the Lunar Excursion Module was practically made of aluminum foil, and that the real one was less rugged than some of my models. On the fateful day, while Walter Cronkite narrated, Armstrong was piloting the real LEM over and around the boulders strewn across the Sea of Tranquility, and I was piloting my favorite and most detailed plastic version over and around the sofas, chairs, and other obstacles of the Dyer living room. Neil and I had simultaneous, and equally successful, touchdowns. The whole world celebrated.

Folks are apparently still arguing over whether Armstrong said “One small step for man,” which made no sense, or “One small step for a man,” which made perfect sense. I wish historians could get their acts together and report it the way it makes sense, even if they feel compelled to drop a footnote to suggest that Armstrong might have inadvertently swallowed the “a.” Let’s recognize that Armstrong didn’t have the luxury that Doug MacArthur had to re-film his return to the Philippines and re-shoot his famous “I have returned” line until he was entirely satisfied with it.

Armstrong wasn’t just a lucky guy who was in the right place at the right time to snag a history-making role — although there was some luck involved in his beating out the other Apollo astronaut candidates and astronaut wannabes. Rather, he and his fellows were extraordinary pilots and professionals, patriots who’d seen friends blown apart or burned up while pushing the boundaries of manned flight. They all knew the same could happen to them at almost any moment, but they were all righteously committed to helping make that giant leap for mankind. Can we at least give them all the benefit of a generous standard for quoting what might in fact have been said, and what clearly was meant to be said, instead of a truncated and nonsensical version of that quote?

Posted by Beldar at 04:30 PM in Film/TV/Stage, History, Science, Technology/products, Travel | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Friday, August 17, 2012

John has a l ...

The title of this post is how far I got just now, in typing into a Google search engine search field, before Google's predictive text algorithm hazarded a ranked set of likely completions to my search terms. First among them:

John has a long mustache.

Friends and neighbors, since junior high school I've been able to type consistently in excess of 100 words per minute with generally good accuracy. Between the time my right ring finger could hop up from the "L" key to the "O" key while typing the word "long," much less than a fraction of one second could have passed. Yet that fractional second, even with internet lag, was long enough for Google: Not only was "John has a long mustache" indeed what I had been in the process of typing (keyboarding?), but Google's first offered search result was also spot-on correct, just exactly what I'd been wanting to look up: It was about the movie I'm watching right now, which contains a scene in which the sentence "John has a long mustache" is very important.

Aren't there many, many other quotes, constructions, passages in English-to-French dictionaries, random works of fiction, or other likely sources of sentences which begin with "John has a," plus just the letter "L"? My fragmentary search term could have turned out to be "John has a leopard," or "John has a luxurious apartment," or "John has a lackadaisical attitude toward his blogging." So how did Google's algorithms rule those possibilities out and rank the correct one (about John's long mustache) as the most likely fit? All I can imagine is that on previous occasions when this same film has been shown on television, some measurable number of other geeks have googled on that same phrase. Still: This mimicking — of human reasoning, of a very perceptive and well-read expert on countless subjects, of mind reading — is very, very uncanny. Indeed, it is slightly disturbing. But damned impressive!

I was seized by an eerie sensation: I remember telling friends to try Google out, back in 1999, during the first dozen months or so after it launched. "They have found some new wrinkles that you can't get with other search engines," I told them. "It seems to be ... smarter, somehow, than the others. It doesn't just index."

Well, now it finishes my sentences for me, just as if Goggle and I are some sort of long-married old couple. It can correctly guess what movie I'm watching — even though there's more than one film that has used that same line, even though the line has independent historical significance in its own right. Of course, in that scenario, I'm already the stroke-impaired, senile numbskull compared to how quickly it intuits my intent from a handful of keystrokes and then leaps ahead of me.

Posted by Beldar at 05:06 AM in Film/TV/Stage, History, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What would Leo think?

Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy — "Leo" to us English-speakers — was a very romantic fellow, and I am among his many fans. But the quality for which he is most widely known is prolixity: If the Family Feud question is "Name a really long novel," then "War and Peace" (1440 pages in paperback, almost 600,000 words) is always going to be the Number One Answer.

It's fascinating to me, then, but also disquieting, to see how Hollywood boils down the 832 pages (in paperback) of another of his epic novels — Anna Karenina — into a movie poster. To genuinely appreciate this one, if your internet connection permits, click on the image below to open a really huge hi-rez image in a new window:

Promo poster for 'Anna Karenina,' a Focus Features Film opening on November 16, 2012

I didn't gag, but I sputtered when I read the tagline: "You can't ask why about love." But then again, taglines are meant to be memorable, and one way to achieve that is by being quite trite. This poster's tagline has the same sort of repulsive attraction as "Love means never having to say you're sorry," a well-remembered tagline from an otherwise forgettable movie made from a quite trite novel. (I watched it again on late-night cable a couple of years ago; it doesn't hold up well, although the pretty actors and actresses still look pretty.) So, if there has to be a tagline for Anna Karenina, "You can't ask why about love" is certainly more romantic than "Look out for that train!"

And once you get past the puffery and oversimplification inherent in the movie poster format, this one is actually very ambitious, very detailed, filled with visual allusions to Tolstoy's plot line, and sumptuously stylish. This poster does its job, which is to trigger my fond memories of a romantic novel to entice me to see a romantic film adaptation. I also don't find it hard to watch Keira Knightley, and this poster reminded me of that too. So I will likely go see this movie in the fall.

Posted by Beldar at 10:58 PM in Books, Film/TV/Stage, History | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Beldar & kids see "The Hunger Games"

My daughter Molly introduced me to Susanne Collins' trilogy "The Hunger Games" when the novels first came out a few years ago, and I was much taken with them.

There have been many criticisms of the books, and by and large they also apply to the just-released movie version of the first book. The central premise — in which twenty-four teens, drawn by lottery from twelve world districts, compete in a televised deathmatch  — requires a large swallow of "willing suspension of disbelief" to wash it down. Indeed, the rest of the "world creation" is thin and often internally inconsistent. (Small spoilers ahead, click and drag to display text: How could a society with the technology to materialize deadly robotic wolves out of thin air still be dependent on coal mining done by humans in a village that's functionally indistinguishable from Depression-era Appalachia?) As science fiction plots go, "The Hunger Games" trilogy is fairly trite and not very original. No one would mistake it for great literature, and it doesn't aspire to be that.

Jennifer Lawrence as 'Katniss' in 'The Hunger Games'Nevertheless, however improbably, the trilogy succeeds as well-spun and spare-but-compelling story-telling — a page-turner that induces readers to identify with and care about the characters, and that is particularly likely to inspire sentimental tears from anyone who's ever had a sister or daughter. So Molly and I have been eagerly awaiting, and following the advance press accounts regarding, this first episode of the film adaptation. We resolved to see the film during the first weekend of its release, and we were joined today by my son Adam and his roommate Erik, neither of whom had read the books.

Many trilogy fans criticized the casting of Jennifer Lawrence as the protagonist, "Katniss Everdeen," on grounds that she is too old and too blonde. Her blondeness was easily remedied, of course, and with due respect to purists who'd rather the films exactly track the books, and to the many excellent child actors who've graced other difficult film roles, I frankly can't imagine this movie having been made successfully with an actual thirteen- or fourteen-year-old. And Jennifer Lawrence's performance is stunning; the phrase "vividly understated" sounds contradictory, and I guess it is, but it approximates the tightrope she successfully walks between making Katniss too ordinary to be inspiring and too terrific to be believable. By the end of the film's first major plot development (roughly 10 minutes into the movie), she completely owned the screen and, I suspect, the hearts of everyone (of any sex or age) in the theater. The film is quite long (142 minutes), but Lawrence's performance is so persuasive and so winning that the filmmakers were able to mostly omit many of the cut-away scenes which I had expected to be necessary from reading the books — especially the ones showing Katniss' performance in the Hunger Games as generating strong reactions among not only her hometown friends and family, but among those viewing the spectacle of the Games from her competitors' home districts too.

(Among the trailers shown before our screening was one for the upcoming "Snow White and the Huntsman"; when Kristen Stewart appeared on-screen, she inspired much muttering, if not quite hissing or cat-calls. And if you're familiar with her lifeless, boring performances in the "Twilight" series of films, you can easily imagine how she, or someone else equally young and hot but talentless, might easily have been cast in — and have thoroughly ruined — "The Hunger Games.")

The only real clunker of a casting decision in "The Hunger Games" was Woody Harrelson as Katniss' mentor, "Haymitch Abernathy." My extreme personal dislike of that actor admittedly taints my reaction to any film he's in. I suppose he wasn't quite as much of a travesty in this film as he was in "Friends With Benefits," which I watched on cable last week; and I haven't yet steeled myself to watch "Game Change," since my dislike of Harrelson is significantly exceeded by my contempt for the real person Harrelson plays in that particular piece of gutless defamation.

But Haymitch is among the most important half-dozen characters in the books, and next only to Katniss, he's absolutely the most interesting, complicated, and challenging character. In this film adaptation of the first book, the character deserves, and gets, a fairly generous allotment of screen time. Yet Harrelson wastes just about all of it. Veteran Donald Sutherland, by way of easy contrast, brings one hundred times the acting talent to a part with a quarter or less of the screen-time that Harrelson had. Indeed, in the film's delicious and wordless final scene, Sutherland does more to provoke your attention for the next film in the trilogy — using merely a slight change in the way he's holding his mouth and a tiny flick of his fingertips — than Harrelson manages with all his carpet-chewing throughout the rest of the movie. True stars like Sutherland, and even new talents like Lawrence, make Harrelson look genuinely simple-minded and completely out of his league in this film — rather like Woody Boyd, the dimwitted bartender in "Cheers" (after which role, Harrelson ought to have simply retired, or perhaps taken up bartending). Indeed, I'd gladly see the second and third films sacrifice continuity in order to replace Harrelson with a real actor who's up the part of Haymitch.

Other supporting actors worth recognition include young Amandla Stenberg as "Rue" and the ever-talented Stanley Tucci as the perfectly named master of ceremonies, "Caesar Flickerman." Molly also particularly liked Lenny Kravitz' performance as "Cinna," but he didn't really leave me with a very strong impression. I do hope they'll give Paula Malcomson, whose performance as "Trixie" in HBO's splendid series "Deadwood" showed considerable acting chops, something more substantive to say and do in the role of "Katniss' mother" in the next two episodes of "The Hunger Games." But her slim role in this film does track Collins' books fairly closely, and the essential element of that character is her emotional vacancy, so it's hard to criticize Malcomson for being very low-key.

Generally speaking, as Adam and Erik confirmed afterwards, the film is quite accessible even to those who haven't read the books, and it hews closely enough that I don't think there's any particular downside to reading the books after seeing the film(s). If you're uninterested in pop culture, you've likely missed the books already and you'll similarly decline the opportunity to see the film versions. But if you can follow at least the first half of the advice Haymitch gives to Katniss' chaperone, Effie Trinket (played by an almost unrecognizable Elizabeth Banks) — "Loosen your corset and have a drink!" — you might enjoy this movie a great deal. Molly, Adam, Erik, and I all give it a solid "thumbs up."

Posted by Beldar at 09:38 PM in Books, Film/TV/Stage | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Friday, February 24, 2012

Silky Pony & co-star negotiate return of sex tapes

I, for one, am relieved by this news: "Sex tape of John Edwards [&] mistress to be destroyed within 30 days after lawsuit settlement."

My relief flows from the general proposition that it's a good thing to reduce, when possible, the total number of things in the universe which, if seen by me by accident, might make me want to stab myself in both eyeballs with knitting needles.

The first version of the story I'd read, from, reported that "all copies of the tape will be destroyed within 30 days." If accomplished, that would be a rare exception to the general rule of thumb about sex videos in the digital/internet age.

But if you read to the end of the AP story, you'll find that "[i]n the settlement, the Youngs pledged to seek the destruction of any copies of the sex tape that may now be in the possession of the federal government." Meaning there are such, and meaning that the feds haven't yet made any such commitment. Nor, likely, could they — not while six felony and misdemeanor campaign finance charges are still pending against Edwards in connection with his co-star.

Just in case, I'm going to avoid acquiring knitting needles.


UPDATE (Fri Feb 24 @ wee-smalls): Local press coverage indicates that we'll certainly hear and see more about the sex tape:

Hunter sued Young after Young's tell-all book published in February 2010 described the tape. The 21-page consent judgment and permanent injunction does carve out a notable exception to the disclosure injunction: items already sold by the Youngs as part of a movie deal based on the book.


"Ms. Hunter was demanding money up until very recently," said Robert Elliot, the Youngs' attorney....

This makes it sound like a financial wash, a walk-away deal where neither side paid any cash to the other. As for what's coming soon to your local motion picture theaters — or, maybe, not?

Information about the sex tape and the list known as "The Slut Club," as described in "The Politician," were specifically exempted from the non-publication order. The Youngs had sold the rights to the tape to Aaron Sorkin of Colvin Road Entertainment as part of movie deal for Young's story and book, according to the agreement, and Elliot said that anything said in the book is fair game.

However, in the agreement filed Thursday, Hunter explicitly retained the right to take the Youngs to court again with regard to the movie if more information stemming from the property returned to her is publicized.

Conspiracy theorists will immediately seize upon Aaron Sorkin's close ties to the Democratic Party and draw enthusiastic inferences and conclusions therefrom. But the Sorkin connection is actually old news. The old saying was that "Politics is show-business for ugly people" — but now it's just all an ugly blur, isn't it, even though some very pretty people are involved?

Posted by Beldar at 12:46 AM in 2008 Election, Film/TV/Stage, Humor, Law (2012), Politics (2012), SCOTUS & federal courts, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Monday, November 21, 2011

Wishful thinking on the Left

‎"This is our most desperate hour. Help us, Obi-Wan Hillary! You're our only hope!"

— My paraphrase of this Clintonista op-ed in today's WSJ, which urges Obama to abandon his campaign so that the Dems can nominate his SecState as their 2012 presidential candidate "by acclamation." (So much for small-d democracy in the Democratic Party, eh?)

Actually, if they could just get Joe Biden, John Boehner, and Daniel Inouye to resign in series immediately after Obama did, then the Dems could run Hillary as the incumbent.

Posted by Beldar at 07:03 PM in 2012 Election, Film/TV/Stage, Humor, Obama, Politics (2011) | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Review: Beldar & kids see "Contagion"

My son Adam, his college roommate Erik, and my daughters Sarah and Molly joined me today for a Saturday movie matinee.

We saw "Contagion," described in its promotional materials as a "thriller centered on the threat posed by a deadly disease and an international team of doctors contracted by the CDC to deal with the outbreak." Its marketing tag-lines: "Don't talk to anyone. Don't touch anyone." And "Nothing spreads like fear." So I basically expected this to be another variation on previous Hollywood movies about fictional pandemics like "The Andromeda Strain" and "28 Days Later ...." Adam predicted, from the movie poster: "This will be a movie about people being scared and talking on cell phones."

I was wrong, and Adam was only partly right. This was one of the oddest and most peculiar films I've ever watched, actually, precisely because it violated most of Hollywood's most cherished plot conventions. But nevertheless — and, very likely, because of those breaks with tradition — it is a very good movie. My kids, Erik, and I all gave it a solid "thumbs up."

ContagionI don't mean to suggest that "Contagion" is lacking all of Hollywood's usual arts. The cinematography is excellent, and the musical score is unobtrusive yet effective. It has a bunch of big-name actors — including Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, and a deliciously despicable Jude Law (as "the Internet and all that's wrong with it"). They all give very tight, controlled, and quiet performances, and several actors play roles that are utterly contrary to those in which we're accustomed to seeing them. I have had a crush on Gwyneth Paltrow since "Shakespeare in Love," for instance, but no one's crush on her is likely to be enhanced by this movie.

"Contagion" does have heroes and villains, and tiny bits of romantic and familial love, along with small portions of suspense and violence. But the heroes are very, very life-sized, not Hollywood-style larger than life. The villains are ordinary people making selfish, petty choices, only a few of which could be described as "evil." Many of the most important plot developments take place offscreen or are only hinted at. There are no chase scenes, no miraculous escapes, no improbable coincidences revealed through the hero's cunning. The cars don't explode and the airplanes don't crash.

In fact [mild SPOILER ALERT: left-click & drag your cursor from here to the following paragraph to read this text]: It is a movie in which there are many, many deaths, and they begin sooner than you'd expect — but we only see a few of them onscreen. Those few onscreen deaths are powerful; and it was obviously the deliberate and artful choice of the filmmakers to make those many, many offscreen deaths seem remote and unreal in comparison.

Indeed, the plot doesn't rely on the typical Hollywood dramatic arc at all. Without employing the "mock documentary" or "reality TV" devices that Hollywood often uses, "Contagion" absolutely succeeds in seeming more real than most movies due to its relentless suppression of typical Hollywood gimmicks and clichés — and that is the key to its entire impact on the viewer, I think.

"Contagion" is grim, but not relentlessly so, and without ever being gruesome. The closest thing to snappy dialog was this epithet flung at Jude Law's character: "Blogging is not writing. It's just graffiti with punctuation." (Some of us bloggers are better at punctuation than others, but I suppose that doesn't undercut the gist of that assertion.)

Yet "Contagion" manages to speak to the human condition. It highlights our interdependency; if anything, it may overstate our resiliency. No one will ever mistake "Contagion" for the "feel-good summer movie of 2011," so don't go see it if you need cheering up or even if you're just looking for light entertainment. But we liked it, and I'm frankly amazed that Hollywood can turn a profit on a film that runs this strongly against type.

Posted by Beldar at 05:06 PM in Family, Film/TV/Stage | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Thursday, July 21, 2011

More proof that you ought not trust cover art


I remember seeing Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte when it came out in the theaters. I was about seven or eight. It scared the bejabbers out of me — particularly a beginning scene in which someone hacks off (a painfully young) Bruce Dern's hand and head with a meat cleaver, and then a later scene in which the body parts tumble down a staircase. The maudlin theme-song and lyrics are simple and haunting, hard to put out of mind — and so of course they too became part of my recurring nightmares.

Bette Davis was much more terrifying than any spider, real or fictional, if you ask me.

Posted by Beldar at 11:45 PM in Film/TV/Stage, Humor, Technology/products | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Monday, May 30, 2011

My four-legged bit of Westeros

I've been recording HBO's adaptation of George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones, but I only began watching yesterday. I'd already read all the books in the still-unfinished series, but it didn't occur to me until just now that I have my own "direwolf" of sorts — although officially, my dog Weiss is more of a Dyer Wolf.

Beldar's dog, Weiss

Yes, she's a very friendly dog, but check out that dentition!

Posted by Beldar at 10:45 PM in Books, Family, Film/TV/Stage | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Star ____?

In anticipation of my going to see the new movie tomorrow, I have this simple question for you all:

Star Trek or Star Wars?
Make it so: Star Trek
The Force is with me: Star Wars free polls

Posted by Beldar at 11:09 PM in Film/TV/Stage | Permalink | Comments (6)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Review: Beldar & kids see "Duplicity"


That's the one-word verdict of my son Adam on the corporate espionage thriller, Duplicity, which he, my daughter Molly, and I saw early this afternoon. Molly and I not only joined in that verdict, but concurred with Adam's degree of substantial satisfaction in pronouncing it.

This is a slow time of year at the box office, and today was one of those days when we'd decided to go to the movies with no clear intention as to what we'd see. If we'd arrived an hour later, we might have instead seen 17 Again, despite Adam's objection that its male lead, Zac Efron, has a distractingly truncated first name.

But "Duplicity" dives immediately into a twisting and turning plot — if you leave for five minutes mid-movie to get fresh popcorn, you'll pay a heavy price — and although its trailers and advertising (warning: noisy website) certainly led one to expect double-crosses and surprises, it has an adequate combination of freshness and misdirection to avoid obvious clichés or predictable plot kinks.

Theatrical poster for 'Duplicity' I began convinced that Julia Roberts had been miscast as the female lead in this movie: She looked all of her 41 years, and perhaps a few more. I suspect, in fact, that the filmmakers deliberately avoided the flattering makeup, wardrobe, and lighting that might have knocked a few years off her apparent age, because her actual age better fit the character she was playing — someone neither overly lush nor brittle, but of whom an unkind (and yes, sexist) westerner might still say, "That's a mare, not a filly, and she looked like she'd been rode hard and put up wet." Ms. Roberts is still a striking, sexy woman. But I don't think anyone would use the terms "girlish" or "wicked hot" to describe her in this movie — in contrast to, for example, Charlize Theron in The Italian Job. And Ms. Roberts was less glamorous than, say, a comparably mature Rene Russo opposite Pierce Brosnan in the 1999 remake of The Thomas Crown Affair.

Clive Owen I can take or leave, and I might have been more receptive to whatever on-screen chemistry he developed with Ms. Roberts if I hadn't already watched her and Rupert Everett's campy but sexless on-screen relationship in My Best Friend's Wedding three or four times on late-night cable/satellite channels. I'd seen, but almost forgotten, Mr. Owen's and Ms. Roberts' performances as romantic interests in 2004's Closer; but perhaps to the extent it was in my subconscious, that quirky film ended up diluting rather than intensifying their on-screen chemistry for purposes of this one. A British accent and a muscular and dark-haired chest make for interchangeable leading-men hunks these days — all of them, as far as I can tell, living off the glorious, reflected, but fading sort of charm defined by Cary Grant and Sean Connery. In any event, Mr. Owen ended up being good enough, and occasionally drolly funny. And Ms. Roberts ended up being better than I expected, delivering a somewhat low-wattage but nevertheless persuasive performance.

The supporting cast, however, was simply terrific — better than the leads, better than the directing, and better than the script. Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti, as rival CEOs from "Equicrom" and "Burkett & Randle" (think Unilever and Procter & Gamble), very nearly stole the show from Mr. Owen and Ms. Roberts. Mr. Wilkinson's performance was as subdued and guileful as Mr. Giamatti's was spittle-flecked and trenchant, but both were entirely credible and compelling. Carrie Preston had a small part that she turned into pure gold, as did Kathleen Chalfant, but the whole cast shone — and did so without the sort of "Oh, it's my turn now, and aren't I precious!" mugging that I found offputting in films like Ocean's Eleven and its sequels.

In the pantheon of twisty films, this one wasn't remotely as good as The Sting — but then, if you only watch films that deservedly win Best Picture and six other Oscars (with nine total nominations), you're going to run out of entertainment pretty soon. My ultimate but simple test is whether I regret spending the money for the ticket after seeing a movie in the theaters — and I don't regret the price I paid for me, Adam, and Molly to see "Duplicity." It gets a solid "thumbs up" from each of us.

Will you suffer if you wait for "Duplicity" to come out on cable/satellite? No, probably not; and in fact, I'll almost certainly watch it again, TiVo'd so I can replay my favorite scenes and really count the clues, when it does. Even after seeing this movie, you won't quite know the ultimate corporate secret — the difference between creams and lotions — but if you're in the mood to go out for a movie during this season of slim pickings, you could certainly do worse than this one.


UPDATE (Sun Apr 19 @ 6:45pm): Mild spoilers follow, along with some real-world perspectives that are less flattering to this movie and to Hollywood in general:

Like almost every other Hollywood movie of the last forty years, this one treats the corporate world with near-complete disdain and paints with a ridiculously overbroad brush that has indeed grown tired and clichéd. I'm thoroughly sick of corporations being universally portrayed as wicked and lawless, indeed murderous. And gentle readers, I've been a courtroom lawyer defending many of the real-life analogs to those vilified in movies, and I've seen their privileged internal documents, so don't start trying to argue to me that these Hollywood hatchet-jobs are "fake but accurate" or that they're portraying some fundamental and universal truth about corporate America or the international corporate world. These movies are naïve and paranoid fantasies for the most part, grossly distorted and blown entirely out of proportion by Hollywood to serve their secular god of political correctness.

2007's Michael Clayton — by the same screenwriter/director who wrote and directed "Duplicity," Tony Gilroy — was just another ridiculous example of the same ridiculous genre: Every pesticide company in Hollywood movies is all about killing children and polluting the universe, never about increasing harvests to feed real-life starving children. Every pharmaceutical company in Hollywood movies is all about inflicting birth defects or horrible addictions on the sick and the infirm, never about actually curing them or improving the quality of their lives. But in the real world, if there is an "industrial community" on the face of the earth whose citizens disproportionately deserve horse-whipping for systematically lying and distorting the truth, it's the community whose local industry is motion pictures. Consider this Q&A in an interview in which Gilroy was discussing and describing "Duplicity" and his earlier films:

Your movies are fiction but based on facts — is that it?

I have a chance to get at the essential truth. I can show what's going on without being tethered to the facts.

May heaven spare us from liberal filmmakers who are "un-tethered to the facts" — that is, absolutely free to tell deliberate and egregious lies — but free to present their "essential truths." That was exactly the rationale used by propagandists for Hitler, Stalin, and Mao in their day, and that's still being used by propagandists for the Castro brothers, Kim Jong-il, and Hugo Chávez.

Although their intrigues skirt and sometimes cross the lines of what's legal, the "corporate bad guys" in "Duplicity" at least aren't into mass murder, though, so I suppose we can be thankful for small favors. In fact, some of the plot threads that are least convincingly tied up involve blown covers which apparently have no on-screen results — as if corporate espionage agents are routinely set free after being caught red-handed in activities that are indeed illegal and would indeed, in the real world, result in arrests and prosecutions.

My approving review of this movie is premised solely on its entertainment value. And in my original review, I discounted to zero its further contribution to Hollywood's mountains of lies about the corporate world. If I only went to see, or praised, new releases that depicted the corporate world fairly and accurately, I might as well delete the "Film/TV/Stage" tag from my blog and stop publishing reviews altogether. It's a shame that we live in a society in which "Duplicity" can earn even faint praise by only slightly exaggerating corporate competitiveness. But that indeed is the world in which we live, and that is the cognitive dissonance that Hollywood inflicts upon the world's citizens who watch its paranoid fantasies during their time off from real-world jobs working for the same companies whom Hollywood so ruthlessly demonizes (while ignoring, by and large, the real demons and villains of the world).

Posted by Beldar at 04:28 PM in Family, Film/TV/Stage | Permalink | Comments (8)

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Review: Beldar & kids see Jim Carrey's "Yes Man"

My oldest daughter, Sarah, was working today, but I took my sons Kevin and Adam and my younger daughter Molly to a Saturday afternoon movie matinée. None of the choices were terribly appealing, but they opted to take a chance on Jim Carrey's latest comedy, "Yes Man." My kids liked it quite a bit better than I did — Molly and Kevin gave it four stars on a zero-to-five scale, and Adam gave it three, but I would only give it one.

I am certain that at some point during the earliest planning for this movie, someone made the inevitable observation that "Gee, this script reminds me a whole lot of Jim Carrey's hit from just over a decade ago, 'Liar Liar.'" And that observation ought to have triggered some serious second-thinking and re-writing. But it didn't. The result is a film that's completely predictable, from the first frames to the closing credits — a film that lacks even the dramatic arc of a sleazy lawyer's eventual redemption. Other one-word descriptions that I'd consider apt include stale, boring, tedious, and trite.

My kids and I did find leading lady Zoey Deschanel appealing and funny, and according to, she and Carrey actually share the same birthday — January 17th. The problem is that hers was in 1980, making her a still very young-looking 28, whereas his was in 1962 (and he looks it). They are simply not a credible couple. Indeed, Carrey reminds me more and more of Jerry Lewis at the same stage of his career, struggling in an ever less successful, ever more painful effort to simulate youth through a goofy, zaney affect. (Maybe the reason my kids found this less sad than I did was that they haven't got a clue who Jerry Lewis is.)

Indeed, this movie even manages to make super-model Molly Sims, in a too-brief supporting role as Carrey's equally improbable ex-wife, look comparatively unglamorous. Her presence in the movie, however, gives me more than enough of a fair-use excuse to republish this fabulous photo of Ms. Sims, not from "Yes Man" but from the 2004 Sports Illustrated swimsuit model collection, just to illuminate — as a matter of public interest and, umm, intellectual artistic commentary — the potential squandered by Warner Bros.

Super-model Molly Sims, as better appreciated by Sports Illustrated in 2004

And on that note, and with that visual, I'll wish you all a Happy New Year!

Posted by Beldar at 09:46 PM in Family, Film/TV/Stage | Permalink | Comments (6)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

End cinematico-politic discrimination now!

Political movies pretty much suck, including even the few that aren't thoroughly dominated by leftie perspectives. So I wrote in a guest-post at on Wednesday.


[Copied here for archival purposes on November 5, 2008, from the post linked above at]

(Guest Post by Bill Dyer a/k/a Beldar)

I wrote over the weekend that Josh Brolin's wooden appearance on Saturday Night Live was probably the worst advertisement possible for his new movie. And I'm okay with Kelsey Grammer in small to moderate-sized doses, and I try to be open to casting against type (even for a role so thoroughly defined as George C. Scott did it), but seroiusly — Dr. Frasier Crane as General George S. Patton, even in a comedy?

Screenwriter and PJM blogmeister Roger L. Simon writes that even if we shun Oliver Stone's W as both anti-Dubya dementia and an awful film on its own merits (or lack thereof), we ought not pretend that An American Carol is better than it is just because we're hungry for movies with conservative themes. I actually haven't seen either one yet, but Roger thinks both are pretty bad:

[D]welling on being “victims” of Hollywood by conservative filmmakers is a surefire prescription for continued failure, just as it is for other minority groups. To applaud this kind of filmmaking is to applaud affirmative action for conservatives. Not good.

I agree, but I'm still trying to figure out how to create an elegant paraphrase for Chief Justice Roberts' prescription from last year's Seattle School District case: "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race" becomes ... what, exactly, in a cinematico-politic context? I can't quite figure it out, but I doubt I'm likely to get much help from entertainment lawyers on this.

"The way to stop Hollywood from making bad political movies on only liberal themes is to stop buying tickets for bad political movies"? Naw, that's not quite it. Does what I'm looking for have the compound word "box-office" in it, or is that a rabbit-trail?

— Beldar

Posted by Beldar at 06:59 PM in 2008 Election, Film/TV/Stage, Politics (2008) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Michaels on Palin's SNL appearance

Since the late 1970s, Saturday Night Live executive producer Lorne Michaels has seen lots of comedic and political talent. As to the latter, he had admiring words to say of Sarah Palin, as my guest-post last Tuesday at noted.


[Copied here for archival purposes on November 5, 2008, from the post linked above at]

(Guest Post by Bill Dyer a/k/a Beldar)

From an interview with Saturday Night Live executive producer Lorne Michaels (h/t Jonathan Adler):

What do you think Palin gained from her appearance?

I think Palin will continue to be underestimated for a while. I watched the way she connected with people, and she's powerful. Her politics aren't my politics. But you can see that she's a very powerful, very disciplined, incredibly gracious woman. This was her first time out and she's had a huge impact. People connect to her.

She's a ratings magnet, too — do you think she can land a development deal if this VP thing doesn't work out?

She could pretty much do better than development. I think she could have her own show, yeah.

Mary Katherine Ham is right: SNL did Gov. Palin no favors in what it scripted for her. She pulled off that appearance on her own. But she was up to it.

— Beldar

Posted by Beldar at 06:54 PM in 2008 Election, Film/TV/Stage, Palin, Politics (2008) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 03, 2008

Nielsen ratings on Veep debate show 70 million Americans' fascination with Sarah Palin

Only the 1980 Reagan-Carter presidential debate outdrew last night's vice-presidential debate. My latest guest-post at explains why these monster ratings are great news for McCain-Palin.


[Copied here for archival purposes on November 5, 2008, from the post linked above at]

(Guest Post by Bill Dyer a/k/a Beldar)

From an email I just received from the Nielsen organization regarding their TV ratings for last night's vice presidential debate:

  • 69.9 million people watched the debate, tying it for second place among all Presidential and Vice Presidential debates. (The second Bush/Clinton/Perot debate of 1992 also have 69.9 million. The all-time debate leader is the Carter/Reagan debate of 1980.)

  • This is 17.5 million viewers more than the McCain/Obama debate last Friday.

  • More women (35.7 million) watched the debate than men (30.4 million).

  • Compared to the McCain/Obama debate, viewing was up among all ethnic groups, including African American, Hispanic and White.

Although scheduling the debate on a Thursday was obviously a factor in attracting more viewers than the presidential debate last Friday, public curiosity about Sarah Palin clearly drove these higher ratings.

As with her blockbuster speech at the Republican National Convention, Americans again proved their preference for taking the measure of this newcomer to the national political scene directly, without filtration through the old-media spinners. The results will continue to percolate between now and election day, probably not showing their full effect in the political opinion polls taken between now and then.

Obviously, some millions of those who tuned in did so with the expectation and even the fervent hope that Gov. Palin would implode on-screen; their votes aren't likely to be changed even though their hopes and expectations were bitterly disappointed.

But it's equally obvious that millions of others who tuned in did so because they are still open to persuasion. Thus, these objective and unprecedented numbers are terrific news for the McCain-Palin campaign.

— Beldar

Posted by Beldar at 07:52 PM in 2008 Election, Film/TV/Stage, McCain, Obama, Palin, Politics (2008) | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Beldar on WaPo on Houston

Okay, I'm a Houston booster. Houston has been berry, berry good to me, and I admit to having a chip on my shoulder about how unfairly it's usually portrayed by the national media. (To Hollywood, it simply hasn't existed since Terms of Endearment, Urban Cowboy, or Apollo 13.)

So when I read this WaPo article about how Houston is faring in the age of $4+/gallon gasoline, I was prepared to find something to bristle at and denounce. Maybe it's just that if you live and work in Washington, D.C., you don't have much room to complain about humidity and mosquitoes; and surely the WaPo writers are used to people with healthy, even over-sized, egos. But in any event, I found nothing in particular to get mad about.

Now if only they could apply that same objectivity to Barack Obama!

Posted by Beldar at 06:31 AM in Energy, Film/TV/Stage, Mainstream Media | Permalink | Comments (9)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Review: Beldar's watching, and highly recommends, "John Adams"

As I age, I become more sentimental, and about more things. One topic of my sentimentality is American history generally, and the American Revolution and the American Civil War especially.

Thus, I identified completely last summer when reading this post by Ann Althouse, who described listening to an audio-book version of Paul Johnson's George Washington: The Founding Father while she walked through lower Manhattan. She would have been close, I think, to Fraunces Tavern, the still-standing inn where in December 1783 Washington famously bid a fond and tearful farewell to his officers of the Continental Army. She had just reached this passage in the audio-book as she was crossing Lafayette Street:

In London, George III questioned the American-born painter Benjamin West what Washington would do now he had won the war. "Oh," said West, "they say he will return to his farm." "If he does that," said the king, "he will be the greatest man in the world."

Prof. Althouse wrote that upon hearing these lines, she broke down and cried. Cynics might wonder: Why would a law professor find herself weeping in public, even while walking historic ground, even while listening to a well-written history? But what I wonder is: How could any well-educated and reasonably self-aware adult American in those circumstances not do so?

Some few months earlier, a few dozens of miles up the Hudson at Newburgh, Washington had thought to quell a potential mutiny among those officers — who were upset at rumors that the Congress would not make good its promises of pay — by reading them a letter he'd received from a Congressman detailing the young country's financial woes. A few halting sentences in, he stopped abruptly, and he reached into his pocket to remove a pair of eyeglasses.

Noting their surprise — Washington was a man who was particular about his appearance, and few of them had known that he ever wore reading glasses — he asked this of them: "Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles? For I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country."

In that instant, the possible insurrection was over. And although I've read or heard it dozens of times, in a half-dozen Washington biographical books and movies and many other sources, I still cannot re-read that line without tearing up, for the same reasons Prof. Althouse did.


If you are similarly sentimental about our Founding Fathers, then you will need a box of tissues at hand when you watch HBO Films' and executive producer Tom Hanks' latest mini-series, "John Adams," drawn in large measure from David McCullough's fabulous 2001 bestseller of the same name. But I urge you to watch it even if you're skeptical, clear- and dry-eyed when it comes to matters historic.

Much of the book's success came from its skill in placing Adams within a detailed, vivid, and highly accessible human context among other great historic figures — especially Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson — who were, by and large, far less quirky and far easier to lionize into legends. McCullough, and now this mini-series, demonstrate how Adams, too, was an essential ingredient to that extraordinary mix of complementary, contradictory personalities and talents — often a work-horse surrounded by show-horses, a proud man aware of his own tendencies to annoy, a republican who was yet quite aware of the essential needs of strong leadership (and sometimes overfond of it). He's shown as a gentleman farmer who can relish teaching young John Quincy the utter necessity and joy of going elbow-deep while hand-mixing the contents of the manure-cart, and yet who immediately thereafter, upon hearing the boy's stated desire to become a farmer, firmly announces that it's to be the schoolbooks and "then the law" for the lad. (Some of you will see this — manure-spreading and lawyering — as entirely uncontradictory, just not in the same way Adams himself would have.)

The highlight of the first installment was Adams' 1770 defense of the British soldiers accused of murder in the Boston Massacre — a historical episode dear to all, and especially all lawyers, who (like Adams) believe that the rights to effective assistance of counsel and trial by jury are essential components of the Rule of Law. What blogging lawyer can fail to thrill as Adams leans into the jury box to argue: "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence." We can perhaps forgive, despite the stubbornness of facts, the artistic license through which the mini-series ignores that two of Adams' eight clients (those who'd admittedly fired directly into the crowd) were not (as depicted here) acquitted, but convicted by the jury of the lesser charge of manslaughter. Defending them was still a bold undertaking, and a largely successful one.

Even only one-quarter through, this mini-series has already proven itself sufficiently exceptional that I've decided to buy the Blu-Ray high-def DVD in due course to add to my small and carefully selected video library. Just now, my TiVo is paused — from the moment when I was inspired to write this post — at a visually arresting image in Episode 2. It's during a July 1776 thunderstorm in Philadelphia, and it features a soberly gray- and brown-clad Adams and Franklin, immersed in earnest and fateful conversation, while seated on a bench in a gray hallway, beneath a long hat-rack upon which seven black, gray, and brown tri-cornered hats have been hung (equally spaced but randomly rotated) to drip dry.

Be assured that in addition to a compelling and true tale to tell, the mini-series offers superb historical production values (think "Saving Private Ryan, albeit thus far less bloody) and terrific, often-surprising acting. I had high expectations for Paul Giamatti in the title role and Laura Linney as the incomparable Abigail — like McCullough's book, this series is secondarily but not incidentally a great, true American love story — but I've been surprised and greatly tickled so far by understated yet compelling performances by David Morse as Washington and, especially, Stephen Dillane as Jefferson.

Highly recommended.

Posted by Beldar at 07:41 AM in Books, Film/TV/Stage | Permalink | Comments (7)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Review: "Dan in Real Life"

Last night my four kids and I, joined by Kevin's two college roommates (Steve and Calvin), had a fine Mexican dinner, and then we all went to a late-night showing of Steve Carrell's latest romantic comedy, Dan in Real Life.

Dan_in_real_lifeVerdict: Spicy and satisfying. (That was the meal.) Sweet and funny, albeit awfully predictable. (That was the movie.)

As compared to The 40 Year Old Virgin, Carrell dials his performance down a couple of notches on the pathetically dorky-intensity dial — to good effect in my opinion (as another dorky 40-something guy trying to identify with him). In this one, Carrell plays Dan Burns, the single father of three (predictably precocious and adorable) teen girls, so presumably he's already had sex before the movie begins — but that's also (predictably) many years in the past, and he's (predictably) still pining for the (predictably) beloved and deceased (not just divorced, which would have complicated things) wife.

As Dan's new love interest Marie, Juliette Binoche provides further evidence for Beldar's Theory of Accents, which holds that Americans universally find members of the opposite sex who have English, Scottish, Irish, or French accents to be more attractive and interesting. But her performance and Carrell's are nicely matched and mutually convincing. The rest of the large ensemble cast (mostly Dan's large extended family, spouses, and kids) also contribute solid performances in their supporting roles.

(Below, left to right, after the movie: Kevin's roommates at U of H, Calvin and Steve, then Adam, Sarah, Molly, and Kevin.)

The movie has only one car crash; its single chase scene fizzles; everyone alive at the beginning of the movie is alive at the end. If you described this movie as "low key," you might be over-hyping it. And I doubt that any of us will remember this movie in anything other than vague terms in five years. Frankly, you probably won't suffer much by waiting for it on cable/satellite or DVD.

But given the convivial company I was amongst, and given our agreeable post-meal mood, the movie was entertaining roughly in proportion to the ticket prices, and I don't regret picking it among the available options.

Posted by Beldar at 06:50 PM in Family, Film/TV/Stage | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, September 02, 2007

I see the image, and I immediately hear again its soft hum and imagine it vibrating under my eager flashing fingertips

So AMC was replaying all of the first seven episodes of Mad Men today, and having read good things about it, I TiVo'd them. Ten minutes into the first episode, the knowing and experienced Madison Avenue secretary, while showing the new one to her desk, says (after a drag on her cigarette):

Now try not to be overwhelmed by all this technology. It looks complicated, but the men who designed it made it simple enough for a woman to use.

As she says these lines, she's uncovering this:

IBM Selectric typewriter

As continuity errors go — the show is supposedly set in 1960, and the original Selectric wasn't out until a year later (although a Madison Avenue advertising agency would indeed have been one of the places you'd have expected to see them first) — this one's forgivable.

For oh! How emblematic, how evocative! For purposes of grabbing those of us who fancy ourselves wordsmiths and came of age in the 1960s or 1970s, this was a genuinely inspired scene.

I still miss the Correcting Selectric II — recognizably a grandson of the machine pictured above — that I bought from IBM on a time-payment plan during law school in 1978. I loved it for many reasons, not least its pilcrow key. It was splendidly designed and engineered. Its gleaming silver typeball leapt and spun like a tiny, magical martial artist — chock! chock! chock! against the page — in an eager rhythm that could be quite intense, altogether passionate, but onto which the machine nevertheless imposed its own invariable discipline of methodical spacing and even strikes (with ne'er a double-strike).

And I'm sorry I sold it some time back in the mid-1980s. I didn't later find myself often genuinely needing it, and had I kept it, I would not likely have used it very often or much; the computer plus printer alternatives are just too practical for most of what I do. Typewriters lived in the moment, and I fancy that my prose needs a memory. (Although the title of this post suggests that it probably ought instead just be euthanized.)

But my Correcting Selectric II was elegant. And there are some elegant things you just ought to keep, even after you no longer need or use them regularly, rather than selling off at garage sale prices.


UPDATE (Sun Sep 2 @ 11:20pm): But then the first episode proceeds to disappoint: Forty-three minutes in, the young whippersnapper ad guy is being kicked out of his boss' office because during their important client meeting that afternoon, the whippersnapper had tried to pitch something from a written research report that the boss had, literally, trash-canned earlier that morning. The whippersnapper had secretly fished out of the trash can, but the boss noticed the report on the conference table at the meeting. So:

BOSS: If Greta's research was any good, I would have used it.

WHIPPERSNAPPER: What are you talking about?

BOSS: I'm saying I had a report just like that. And it's not like there's some magic machine that makes identical copies of things.

Gong! "Mad Men" scriptwriters, meet the Xerox 914, introduced in 1959:

Xerox Model 914 plain paper copier

It wasn't elegant, nor ubiquitous for many more years, but it was something that would have been in a top-flight Manhattan office as soon as it was introduced, and it was revolutionary enough to eventually turn the word "xeroxing" into a verb (and almost, despite its maker's best efforts at tradename protection, into a generic product description).

Most of the period details, and attitudes, ring true (although the latter are exaggerated for dramatic purposes). But when so much of the show depends on getting the look, sound, and feel (including the technology) of the era just right, this was something they ought not have missed.

Posted by Beldar at 10:17 PM in Film/TV/Stage, Technology/products | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

On location

Bishop's Courtyard, Christ Church Cathedral, Houston I'm sure this happens more often to people who live in New York or Los Angeles or even Chicago. But just now, flicking up and down the list of saved programs on my TiVo, I cranked up a movie called The Con, which I chose to record based on nothing more than the fact that I like two of the actors listed in the blurb about it (William H. Macy and Rebecca De Mornay), and in the first ten seconds I'm saying to myself: "Wow. That's the Houston skyline." And then: "Wow. That's the church where I got married!" (Christ Church Cathedral, downtown, on April 20, 1985.)

Now I know, as I watch the rest of the movie, that I'll be looking for more locations that I recognize. If one lives in New York or Los Angeles or even Chicago, does one take that more or less in stride, ignoring the familiarity of the locations?


Update (Mon Aug 27 @ 12:32am): Well, turns out that all but the first ten minutes of the movie were set (ostensibly) somewhere in Mississippi. No more Houston scenes. A predictable, clichéd, silly, sweet (made for TV) movie anyway.

Posted by Beldar at 10:32 PM in Family, Film/TV/Stage | Permalink | Comments (4)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Beldar & kids see "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"

Refreshed by some quiet time since yesterday's movie, this morning my two sons and youngest daughter and I went to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. (My older daughter, Sarah, had already seen it.)

(No spoilers follow, but there are some shocking off-set pix of the movie's stars!)

Our reactions were very mixed. Adam — who is the only one of our family who hasn't been devouring the books (he insists he'll read them all back to back when the final one comes out) — said he "liked it." But he refused to give a letter grade or more details. Kevin was much more enthusiastic, giving it a "B+ plus." I gave it a B-. But during the movie, I had to shush my younger daughter, Molly, who was grousing about how much had been stripped from the book. She gave it a C- that she insisted was very generous.

It just seemed more flat and generally less creative to me than the others. Just as an example: The credits are just reddish-purple letters that fade in and fade out against a parchment-white background. That's it; not even an interesting font. Oh, but when it gets to the cast list, it changes! To ... black lettering, with the same font and same background. There's no whimsy, no magic there at all. (I recall the credits from some of the previous films in the series as being delightful in and of themselves.)

And I thought some of the acting (or perhaps the directing of the acting) was a bit off, too. For example, what should have been a great line, taken (as I recall) directly from the book — after Hermione says what fun it was to break some rules, Ron gasps at her, "Who are you? And what have you done with Hermione Granger?" — didn't prompt a single audible laugh in the nearly-full theater we were in. I remember literally laughing out loud at that from the book.

I've read that this film's makers consciously tried to keep it short by modern standards (138 minutes), even though the books have each been trending increasingly longer. I'm all in favor of non-bloated films, but I think another thirty to forty-five minutes of this one might have added a whole lot of badly needed depth and context. As it was, well-known and much-loved characters — like Hagrid, Mad-Eye, and even Dumbledore — have so little screen time that one wonders whether the scriptwriters and film editors secretly hate them.

I even thought the musical score was dull — not inappropriate, just not ever really scary or twinkly or mystical or memorable or noticeable in any particular way.

Oh, it could have been much, much worse, I'm sure. And we're all the victims of high expectations, not only from the books but from the first four films in the series. I wouldn't have wanted to miss this one, and my kids have already established who gets first go at the seventh book when it comes out later this month — after me, of course, since I'm the one who's pre-ordered it.

But I have to admit, I was disappointed.

As for the promised shocking pix, they're from the Daily Mail, and they'd make a pretty good caption contest:


I suspect Daniel Radcliffe will shave for the "Half-Blood Prince," but I'm not sure if we'll ever know exactly whether Emma Watson's reactions to seeing this picture, besides shock, were favorable.


She, meanwhile, is reported to be the next featured "face" for Chanel:


If so, a grande old dame of fashion like Chanel signing her up as a spokes-model may be the marketing coup of the young Twenty-First Century. Not that I'm any expert or even very well informed about fashion or marketing. But it's obvious even to me that she's very classy and pretty, and as she approaches her 18th birthday, she's becoming increasingly hot — but in a rare sort of way that I suspect might provoke young women to say: "Yes, I might save up and then spend some serious money to look like that."

Posted by Beldar at 11:55 PM in Family, Film/TV/Stage | Permalink | Comments (3)

Beldar & kids see "Transformers"

Our intention yesterday was to do a traditional Saturday matinée double-feature, but after watching Transformers, my kids and I all sort of felt the need for some quiet time. There's certainly not any of that in this movie, which my four teens nevertheless unanimously labeled: "Awesome!"

(Mild spoilers ahead — as if anyone didn't already know that Optimus Prime ultimately kicks Megatron's robotic butt, duh.)

"How could it not be awesome?" demanded my 14-year-old, Adam. "It's, like — the Transformers, and in a movie!"

Megan Fox checking under Bumblebee's hoodThat wouldn't have quite been enough for me, by iteself. But I have to admit, I was considerably more entertained than I'd expected to be by a movie drawn from a cartoon series created to sell a line of toys. It wasn't just the two young hotties, Rachel Taylor and Megan Fox — although that didn't hurt, and of the movie's human characters, Ms. Fox' actually shows the most interesting transformation over the course of the movie. I will credit the movie for displaying an excellent sense of humor about itself.

And that's not just some built-in camp of the sort which characterized, for instance, 1993's Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. Rather, it's a genuine recognition that this plot line — which features an old yellow Chevy Camaro named "Bumblebee" that frequently transforms into a protective 20-foot tall "autonomous robotic life form from the planet Cybertron," but only after picking its own new teen-aged owner (capably played by Shia LaBeouf) and giving the kid badly needed dating tips — just can't be taken too seriously. (Robot or not, my youngest daughter, Molly, got a bit teary-eyed when Bumblebee was being humiliated as a captive. That prompted her big sister, Sarah, to lean over and remind her, "It's just a movie." This is a compliment to the film, I think.)

Rachel TaylorWhat I particularly didn't expect, but am enough of a flag-waver to have thoroughly enjoyed, was the very prominent role played by an assortment of real-life high-tech deadly toys, ranging from the Air Force's new stealth air superiority fighter, the F-22 Raptor, through a variety of high-tech helicopters, to an AC-130U Spooky gunship heeling over to one side to let loose its 105mm howitzer and other flying artillery at the bad robots. Among the large cast is a team of Army Rangers (led by hunky TV star Josh Duhamel from NBC's "Las Vegas"; there's equal-opportunity eye candy in this movie for all you moms out there) who are superheroes in their own right.

I was full expecting the U.S. Secretary of Defense, played by Jon Voight, to turn out to be evil and corrupt. But perhaps in exchange for all the DoD cooperation the movie-makers got (and there was a lot, as prominently recapped early in the credits), or perhaps out of simple decency and moderation, the movie mostly avoids Hollywood's reflexive tendency to make America and its leaders into  outright villains. There's one fairly mild and indirect dig at Dubya, which I assume was required lest every Hollywood union boycott helping make the film altogether. But even Herbert Hoover comes off fairly well in this flick.

Josh Duhamel and Shia LaBeoufThis is definitely a movie made to be seen on the big screen, and unless you have the very best of the best state-of-the-art home theater, you wouldn't get a comparable experience. (The stadium-seating theater in which we watched a digital print was perfect.) Be prepared, though, because if your central nervous system is as old and creaky as mine, you often may not be able to keep up with all of the images and sounds blasting over you.

"I sometimes had a hard time telling which were the Autobots and which were the Decepticons," I complained afterwards.

"Gee, Dad," replied my son Kevin, "That was easy! The Decepticons were the ones who went out of their way to inflict collateral damage on the nearby civilian humans, whereas the Autobots were the ones always sidestepping around them. Remember the part where Megatron is lying on the ground among the humans they've knocked over, and he goes [very deep voice] 'Disgusting!' just before he flicks the guy 50 yards into a parked car?"

Optimus PrimeSo there's a helpful viewing tip for you.

Don't mistake my family's positive review as saying more than I intend: This is a profoundly silly movie. To say you have to "suspend disbelief" to enjoy it is a considerable understatement. But it is a silly, unbelievable movie that's very well done — one that revels in being over-the-top with its special effects (which are indeed amazing), but that also brings considerably more than just sfx to the party.

I have no doubt that it will be an international hit, either. Islamic jihadists and others who rant and rave about the filth and vacuity of American cultural imperialism will hate this very American movie — but I'll bet they'll secretly watch it too.

Posted by Beldar at 08:36 AM in Family, Film/TV/Stage | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Cut to black = Tony Soprano's instant death?

Okay, I got a message from my domain registrar telling me that I can't renew my URL unless I post something about the final episode of The Sopranos.

If the ending scene is supposed to be from Tony's point of view, and if he was shot in the back of the head by someone outside his field of vision, then wouldn't his experience more likely have been a blinding flash of light — from neurons in the visual cortex (at the back of the brain) suddenly discharging due to trauma — even if that flash only lasted for the few hundreds of a second it took for his brain and brainstem to be pulverized? Shouldn't the ending have been FLASH/cut-to-black instead of just cut-to-black?

His protests aside, in the final scene, David Chase was clearly enjoying his ability to yank our collective chains. The buzz, outrage, even hysteria surrounding the ending will sell lots and lots more DVDs and guarantee lots and lots of residuals. And he's been thinking about this ending literally for years, meaning that whatever else it was or wasn't, this ambiguous ending was a studied ambiguity.

So: With due respect to all the other theories and their adherents out there, I am calm and secure in my own interpretation, which treats the seconds of silence and black screen as simply a gesture of respect for the series and an acknowledgment that there would be no previews of the next episode or season.

In other words, per the song lyric that was playing, I choose not to stop believing.

Posted by Beldar at 06:30 AM in Current Affairs, Film/TV/Stage | Permalink | Comments (4)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Beldar & kids see "Knocked Up"

Yesterday my sons, younger daughter, and I went to see Knocked Up. (Some spoilers follow.)

I suppose it is a noteworthy sign of growing up when one's kids unanimously choose an adult comedy over something like Shrek the Third.

My kids and I all liked this movie, even though — and actually, on closer examination, because — as my son Adam remarked, it was often "really painful to watch."

Katherine HeiglI noted afterwards that no one in the theater had laughed (or otherwise reacted) in response to what I thought was the most remarkable line in the movie, when pregnant Alison (played by Katherine Heigl) is reminded by her own mother of a step-sister who "took care of" an unwanted pregnancy — i.e., had an abortion — but then went on later, "when the time was right," to have "a real baby." "Well, that wasn't very funny, Dad," said my daughter, "that's just kind of sad, that a mother would say that."

Anyway, we agreed that it was a very realistic movie; and that even though it ends on a happy note, it doesn't necessarily have a "happily ever after" ending. In fact, we all agreed that it's a big "if" whether either of the two couples with kids would end up staying together, but that it was at least a very good thing that they were all going to try to. That's what made the ending happy.

I had a very different reaction to the movie than did Katheryn Lopez, reviewing it for the National Review Online:

[A]s delighted as I am for the Knocked Up message that sex has consequences (including unexpected joy and transformative love) and parents have responsibilities, there’s something about Knocked Up that still leaves one a bit disturbed — and a little depressed. It’s pro-life and pro-marriage in its crude way. And it’s important that Hollywood isn’t making pro-life, pro-marriage movies just for more conservative audiences. Maybe I’m getting old, but it seems to me that the Wedding-Crashers-40-Year-Old-Virgin crass-blockbuster fun has been had. While I’m all for redeeming messages (keep the baby, love the child, take some responsibility for your life) reaching us where we’re at, if this is where the culture is — 23-year-olds filling gas masks with marijuana smoke — is it really an excessively laughing matter?

K-Lo, you're missing the point. The movie was intended to leave you a little bit depressed and disturbed. The realism with which this movie treats the slacker/stoner culture of unexpectedly expectant young father Ben Stone (played by Seth Rogen) made it one of the most effective anti-drug movies I've ever seen! In the real world, people who smoke dope or take 'shrooms giggle a lot, and they do silly things that make them laugh, and those things can make audiences watching them laugh too. But in the real world, there are also negative consequences when being constantly stoned becomes the defining characteristic of one's life, and without going all preachy, this movie illustrates those consequences very effectively. A misunderstanding over a condom may make a funny scene too, but hey, the rest of the movie very expressly and repeatedly makes the point that there's a limit to how funny that can turn out to be in real life.

This is precisely the sort of R-rated movie that a parent ought to consider taking one's young teens to, because there are a wealth of issues that parents ought to be the ones discussing with their kids, for which discussion this movie provides a great jumping-off-place. Casual sex after overindulging in alcohol? Marital infidelity? Other barriers besides infidelity to marital intimacy? Too much intimacy as a barrier to a good marriage? Safe sex? Sex during pregnancy? Pregnancy outside of marriage? Compare and contrast male peer bonding at a Las Vegas strip club to female peer bonding at a dance club? This movie is filled with material for mature parent/teen discussions, and while those subjects are presented with humor, they're also presented with grit and an absence of gauzy romance.

So: The movie was entertaining and thought-provoking. There were no Oscar-caliber performances, but the characters were interesting and believable, which is to say, the actors were accomplishing their professional goals.  (A few short character actor showcase scenes are genuinely terrific — especially Ken Jeong as a pissy, prissy ob/gyn, Craig Robinson as a deeply conflicted nightclub doorman/bouncer, and Kristen Wiig as Alison's jealous, cynical, and cocooned co-worker at the E! entertainment network: "This is Hollywood. We don't like liars.") But, overall, in my judgment, this movie was worth the price of the tickets I bought. And whenever you can say that about a movie, that's a good review.

Posted by Beldar at 10:32 AM in Family, Film/TV/Stage | Permalink | Comments (5)

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Beldar and the Aviator

I haven't seen The Aviator yet, but I read with interest Harold Evans' piece in today's WSJ OpinionJournal defending the reputation of Pan Am founder Juan Trippe against impressions the movie may leave: 

If you are one of the 3.6 billion who have flown on a 747, it's Trippe, not [Howard] Hughes, who merits the raising of a turbulence-free glass.

This line prompted a personal flashback — one of little consequence to anyone else, but still very vivid for me.

As an aviation-mad child of Sputnik, growing up during the Vietnam War era in small-town Lamesa, Texas, my occasional trip to a big-city airport, and even more rare ride on a passenger jet, was huge. My third-grader heart was broken a few months after I was prescribed my first pair of glasses, when I learned that my less-than-20/20 vision doomed my fervent goal of becoming a fighter pilot, but I remained obsessed with all things aeronautic.

In the Texas panhandle, Lamesa was a fairly short drive from the mountains of New Mexico, and I learned to ski during junior high and high school through two or three weekend trips each year to the Sierra Blanca Ski Resort outside Ruidoso. Sometimes I went with my Boy Scout troop or DeMolay chapter, and a few times just with my dad. On those occasions, we came to enjoy stopping for dinner en route at a unique bistro, the Silver Dollar Bar and Steak House, plopped down on a dark stretch of road between Roswell and Ruidoso in the tiny town of Tinnie. On one such Friday night in December 1969, my dad and I were enjoying the cuisine there — "C'mon, just try the escargot, Billy!" — when we overheard four handsome, clean cut men at the next table who were animatedly swapping pilot stories. They were talking with their hands moving in three dimensions, thumbs and pinkies splayed as wings. Angles of attack! Dogfights and ejection seats and afterburners, oh my! Eavesdropping on their conversation was even more interesting than hearing adults discussing sex.

"Dad!" I whispered, "Do you think they're astronauts? Fighter pilots?"

"Well, son," opined my pa, "You could go over and introduce yourself politely and ask 'em, if you really want to know."

So I did. They were gracious about my interrupting their dinner — they probably recognized the hero-worshipping eye-gleam even through my thick glasses lenses — and they explained that, no, although they were all military aviation vets, they weren't astronauts or fighter pilots. But they were something equally or even more cool — two test pilots from Boeing and two senior instructor pilots from Pan Am. Working out of a decommissioned SAC base with long, empty runways outside Roswell, they were doing the final certification, testing, and training for a big new jet — something called a "Boeing 747." Hey, would my dad and I like to stop by the air base on our way home Sunday afternoon for a little tour?

Pan Am's Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet, the 'Clipper Young America'As promised, they'd left our names with the security gate, and the two Pan Am pilots greeted us like old comrades upon our arrival. They led me and my dad to the biggest airplane I'd ever seen — unimaginably big, with this enormous odd hump on its nose! "What's the biggest jet you've been on, Billy?" they asked. "Boeing 727!" I instantly replied. "Well, son, you could park that 727 under the tail of this jumbo. Wanna come aboard, sport?"

The rows and rows of seats inside the Clipper Young America were pristine — still covered in plastic, in fact. Our hosts led us through them to the very front of the plane and gestured to the forward interior door. "Wanna check out the cockpit?" I opened it — to find that it was a coat closet. Big laughs. "C'mon, fellows, the real cockpit door is upstairs." (Upstairs? On an airplane?!?)

Soon enough they had me planted and belted into the pilot's seat, and then they started pointing out the various controls and computers and whatnot. "Same technology used in the Apollo program," said one pilot. "This aircraft can take itself off and fly itself across the continent to a designated airport without our ever touching the controls, if we'd let her, but — no, no! don't touch that! You'll take us to San Francisco!" More big laughs all around. We toured the upstairs lounge, all of the passenger and crew and maintenance and cargo areas, the whole plane — even climbed up into the wheel wells. "We'd love to take you for a spin, maybe do some touch-and-goes, but the insurance folks won't let us," they explained. "This baby won't be certified for passenger service for another few weeks yet."

None of my friends at school believed any of this when I got home, of course. I barely believed it myself.

Postcard: Pan Am Boeing 747 Jumbo JetAbout a month later, though, I got a postcard in the mail. The picture side showed a 747 in Pan Am's distinctive, subdued paint job, flying above the clouds. The post-mark was from London, England. "Dear Billy," read the text inscribed by one of our new friends (as best I can recall it), "I thought you'd be interested in knowing that I just captained the first commercial flight of a 747. We went from JFK in New York to Heathrow here in London. Remembered seeing you in the pilot's seat in Roswell. Thanks for the tips, they came in handy. Hope you can make the trip to London with me some day!"

Show-and-tell time at school, baby! Show-and-toldya so!

Juan Trippe would, I think, have been pleased. Howard Hughes even might have approved. But for me, that classy, thoughtful Pan Am captain will always be The Aviator.

Posted by Beldar at 12:30 AM in Family, Film/TV/Stage | Permalink | Comments (10)

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The Absent-Minded Democrats

The composite mental image I have of the Democratic Party's elites is pretty close to the cliché of Professor Brainard, the title character of Disney's two "Absent-Minded Professor" movies — but more Ned, the genuinely clueless-because-preoccuppied Fred MacMurray original, than Philip, the nerdy-hip Robin Williams sequel (a/k/a "Flubber"). A bunch of these folks write for The New Yorker, and one named Louis Menand has written another anguished examination of the 2004 presidential election in the December 6th print edition (not yet online) entitled, provocatively, "Permanent Fatal Errors: Did the voters send a message?"

Mr. Menand writes quite a bit about public opinion pollsters. I've stated before my view that pollsters, from the right or the left, are witch doctors practicing a pernicious brand of quackery; but politicians and would-be political savants from both the right and the left, and especially from the left, still take them seriously. Here's Mr. Menand on the analysis offered by Gary Langer, the "director of polling" (i.e., witch-doctor chief of staff) at ABC News:

Langer thinks that a key statistic is the change [between 2000 and 2004] in the votes of married women. Gore won the women's vote by eleven per cent; Kerry won by only three per cent, and he lost most of those votes among married women. Bush got forty-nine per cent of the votes of married women in 2000; he got fifty-five per cent this year. And when you ask married women whom they trust to keep the country safe from terrorists fifty-three per cent say "only Bush." (The really salient demographic statistic from the election is one that most Democrats probably don't even want to think about: If white men could not vote, Kerry would have defeated Bush by seven million votes.)

[Overworked metaphor alert:] Please, please spare me from this sort of demographic slicing and dicing. It's a Ginsu knife with a dull, dull blade, and we're all entitled to a refund. Here, the master ninja-chefs have tried to use it to explain the salad after it's already been prepared, served, and eaten — and all they've done has been to squash the left-over tomatoes.

"If we can only find the right — that is to say, the statistically and epistomologically meaningful, genuine, and paradigmatic — classifications into which we can identify and sort the participants in this science project election," seems to be the premise, "we can then completely explain how and why it happened the way it did!" Um-hmmm. And if we could only find the Alchemist's Stone, we could transmute lead into gold! And then there's Flubber. The unspoken hope, of course, is that once the pollsters and their "really salient demographic statistics" get their act together, the political parties can custom-tailor their candidate selections to master, instead of merely observe, cause and effect. To John Kerry's bewildered question, "How can I be losing to this guy?" they promise a scientific answer, and a corrective.

To which Beldar says: "Piffle and balderdash." Or in the unabridged West Texas translation, "Ain't none o' yew boys got the sense to pee yer pants iff'n yer leg's on fire."

(Parenthetical discussion of the above-quoted parenthetical: What exactly is it that makes that statistic about white men "really salient"? And why don't most Democrats probably even want to think about this? Isn't the premise of it that most or all white men share some immutable and predictably-explanatory, therefore politically exploitable, common characteristic? "Professor," shouts Biff, "we're this close to finding the Y-chromosomal marker for the BushCheney04 gene!" [Cue the dramatic music, probably minor-key descending organ chords — bahm-bahm-BAHM!] "You mean ... ?" gasps the beautiful young coed, Betsy. "Yes," answers Prof. Brainard distractedly, "and with that marker, we can genetically engineer a microphagic viral silver bullet that will end the genetic disorder of Republicanism forever. Now where'd I lay that — heavens-to-Betsy, Betsy, my leg is on fire! Quick, Biff! Put down that fire extinguisher, and get me — a thermometer!")

But on to The New Yorker's Mr. Menand's concluding paragraph (boldface and snarky bracketed comments in blue added by Beldar):

Of course, it doesn't matter what the science of public opinion concludes. It only matters what the politicians conclude. [Umm, isn't the point of elections sorta that it matters what the voters conclude?] If Democrats believe that the lesson of the election is that the Party needs to move to the right, then, if it moves, that will be the lesson. [Huh? Too zen for Beldar, sorry.  Are you saying "There is no spoon"?] It might be wiser for the Democrats to chalk Bush's reëlection up to 9/11 and stick to their positions. [Oh yes, please! Please!] The Democratic candidate did not lose votes in 2004 [no, just the election]: Kerry got five million more votes than Al Gore got in 2000, when Gore won a plurality [and also lost the election]. Unfortunately for the Democrats [and as The New Yorker sees it, the entire civilized universe, which it's up to Prof. Brainard now to save], Bush got nine million more votes than he did four years ago. But it wasn't because the country moved to the right. The issue that seems to have permitted an incumbent with an unimpressive approval rating [another poll; but the one "approval rating" that actually counts was pretty impressive, see above-referenced 9,000,000 voters] to survive reëlection [sic] was not an ideological one. The country did not change radically in the past four years. Circumstances did.

Ayup. Circumstances changed, alrightee — as a quick glance at Manhattan Island's south skyline pretty much confirms. But hey — maybe by 2008, either Prof. Brainard will have found that genetic marker or (more "encouraging" for the Democrats, but I hope no more likely) enough Americans will have forgotten about 9/11. The Internet Movie Database lists no less than eleven movies with the title "Amnesia." That may be a better hope for the Dems in the long run than Prof. Brainard and Flubber.

But I think Mr. Menand is guilty of a little amnesia himself. By the time he got to his article's end, he'd forgotten its very promising (to me) title: "Permanent Fatal Errors." Of course, that title might have been written by an unusually perceptive editor who didn't bother to read to the end of the article. But I suspect that the Dems' classic failure to recognize their fatal errors is a pattern that indeed might be permanent: By relying on opinion pollsters, they're completely missing those pesky little circumstances (like, say, a global war between real civilization and radical Islamic terrorists) that, in turn, tend to expose their candidates' magnificent intellects and ideological vacuity. And even Prof. Brainard knows — on an abstract and nonpractical level, anyway — that nature abhors a vacuum. So do lots of voters of all "demographics" — married women voters, white male voters, increasing numbers of black and hispanic and gay and Jewish and .... Well, let's just be blunt but accurate and say, "lots of voters, period."

Posted by Beldar at 05:50 PM in Film/TV/Stage, Mainstream Media, Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink | Comments (18)

Friday, October 29, 2004


I'm watching Nicole Kidman on "The Charlie Rose Show" promoting her upcoming new movie, Birth.  I'm fairly infatuated with her anyway, and the movie looks like lotsa fun (although there's apparently a very controversial bath scene).  Plus the movie has Lauren Bacall — I adore her.  Seeing Ms. Kidman in the movie clips with short, short hair is kind of shocking, but she's still hot.  And oooooh — I love hearing her responding to Charlie's questions in her native Australian accent (which she so effectively suppresses in her movies to be "in character," but which I find absolutely compelling).

Posted by Beldar at 12:06 AM in Film/TV/Stage | Permalink | Comments (6)

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Beldar's young skeptics view "Sky Captain"

I've just returned from taking my four kids to see Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, a live-action comic bookish movie set in a slightly alternate 1939 in which the "Hindenburg III" coexists with The Wizard of Oz.  This movie was judged in advance an acceptable compromise:  My son Kevin (age 16) and I find Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie not too taxing on the eyes; daughter Sarah (age 13) thinks Jude Law is pretty hot; and Adam (age 11) and Molly (age 9) were interested in a retro-sci-fi action thriller. 

Angelina Jolie, Jude Law, and Gwyneth Paltrow between action scenesAlthough I think Sarah was satisfied with Mr. Law's acrobatics in stylish pilot togs, alas, Ms. Paltrow spent the entire movie in overcoats, and Ms. Jolie's leather flightsuit was a bit beyond Kevin's or my minimal taste for S&M outfits. 

My gang also had some problems with suspending disbelief:  When one character whipped out a Buck Rogers-type hand weapon, Adam turned to me and whispered, "Dad!  How're we supposed to believe they're using ray-guns at the same time they're using typewriters?  Duh!"   (No word whether Ms. Paltrow's manual typewriter had a superscript "th" key.)  And afterward, Kevin asked, "Why, before World War II, were they referring to the evil scientist disappearing from view 'shortly after World War I'?  Wouldn't they just have called it the 'World War' or the 'Great War'?"  Ayup.  Kevin spotted the sfx of the giant robots as being lifted from 1953's The War of the Worlds.  And Sarah and I also pondered together what Ms. Jolie's annual lip-gloss budget must be (bigger than one of the zeppelins, we concluded).

Still, no matter how cheesy the movie, it's still fun to go out to a theater, hit the concession stands, watch the previews and debate the likely merits of upcoming films, etc.  Today's movie got two stars at best from Beldar's family critics, but the family expedition, as usual, got five.

Posted by Beldar at 07:03 PM in Family, Film/TV/Stage | Permalink | Comments (8)

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Movie daydreams

Reading WaPo's report of Sen. Kerry's press conference today in which he blamed President Bush for the SwiftVets' attacks on the military record that Sen. Kerry has chosen to make the cornerstone theme of his campaign, I was reminded of a particular movie (or actually, three movies, to be more precise). 

No, not "Apocalypse Now" — not today, anyway.  Not "Bring It On," although Sen. Kerry did say those words.  Not "Top Gun," although that's a good Navy flick.  Not even the last scenes from "The Caine Mutiny," although I see more and more similarities between Lt. Comdr. Philip Francis Queeg and Sen. John F. Kerry every day.

No, the movie monolog I imagined to myself as I was reading this story was from another movie altogether, and it went something like this:

We hateses them!  We hateses the enemies!  They must all be grubby Republican hobbitses from Texasssss, yesss!  Smeagol hateses the Ssssswift Vetses!  Gollum!  They try to keep poor brave Smeagol from getting the preciousssss ...  Gollum-gollum!  My preciousssss!

But that's just me.

Posted by Beldar at 10:06 PM in Film/TV/Stage, Humor, Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Ahoy there, "Master and Commander"!

Russell Crowe as Cap'n Jack AubreyI'm looking forward to watching "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" when it's released this month.  I haven't yet read any of the historical novels by Patrick O'Brian on which this film is based, but the advance buzz is pretty favorable.  And it's been quite a while since the last big seafaring motion picture with a hunky Australian lead, 1984's The Bounty — a film that altogether lacked sea combat scenes and instead emphasized the bare-breasted South Pacific maidens swarming over the gunnels.

I've read somewhere that the secret of Russell Crowe's success is that he somehow manages to seem like enough of a regular fellow to avoid alienating (or generating homosexual-panic impulses within) his male viewers, while providing the looks and attitude that cause his female viewers to swoon.  I'm not quite sure how he pulls it off.  But for instance, in a puff piece in today's Houston Chronicle in which he opines that Aussies and Texans "share a sensibility" or a "certain viewpoint of the world" from "[growing] up in a place with that much room," he certainly scored big points with a male interviewer.  My leg feels like it's being tugged on a bit, though, when he claims to have bonded with then Lt-Gov. Rick Perry some years ago when Crowe's band was clearing paperwork hurdles to permit it to play in Austin.  But I suppose anything is possible.  And surely Crowe will be a more convincing Royal Navy captain than Johnny Depp was as a pirate.

Posted by Beldar at 02:15 PM in Film/TV/Stage | Permalink

Friday, October 24, 2003

Method to the Socratic madness of law schools?

Blogger and Texas Law School Professor Brian Leiter calls the Socratic Method "the scandal of American Legal Education."  (Actually, I thought the fact that Bill and Hillary Clinton once taught at the University of Arkansas Law School was the scandal of legal education, but that's because I'm a charter member of the vast right-wing conspiracy.)  Blawgers Curmudgeonly Clerk and Pejman Yousefzadeh have responded with interesting, albeit slightly differing views from their own respective law school careers.  (The title of the Clerk's post — "Die, Socrates, Die!" — will give you a good hint about where he lands on the subject.)

John Houseman as Professor KingsfieldIf you don't know what the Socratic Method is, immediately buy or rent and watch the late, incomparable John Houseman — whom I once saw and heard deliver probably the best speech ever given by an actor at a law school — as Professor Kingsfield in the 1973 movie classic about law school, The Paper Chase. By the time you get to the "Mis-tah Haht!  Here is a dime ..." line, you'll understand the Socratic Method, and pretty much also understand Professor Leiter's criticism of it.  The shortest definition of it is "teaching by asking instead of by telling." It's apparently still at least officially "en vogue" at the University of Chicago Law School, among other places.

My own personal and nonfictional introduction to the Socratic Method still gives me occasional nightmares. When I began Texas Law School in August 1977, reading assignments for the first day of classes were posted in advance, and students were expected to be fully prepared to discuss the cases that had been assigned. My property law professor — a very popular, articulate, and charismatic teacher not only at the law school but statewide in CLE and bar preparation courses — not only posted the assigned pages, but warned us that someone "whose surname begins with the letter D will be the first person called upon."  Having seen The Paper Chase already, I was appropriately terrorized before class, but I thought I was prepared.

Just as Kingsfield had done in the movie, my property prof strode down the aisle of the packed ampitheatre classroom, opened his casebook upon the lecturn with a loud bang, and peered back and forth briefly from his alphabetical seating chart to the rows of terrified students.  I could have sworn he was looking directly at me when he said, "Mister ... D______!" 

But it was the fellow to my immediate left.  I managed to retain control of my bladder, but only just.

"Mister D_____, please orally brief for the class the first of the assigned cases in our casebook, 'Goddard against Winchell.'"

Mr. D_____ cleared his throat and began bravely enough:   "This is a case about who should be declared the owner of a meteorite, the passerby who first spotted it, or the farmer in whose field it fell—" when he was interrupted.

"Mister D_____!  Is there anything you think you ought to have told us before mentioning the word 'meteorite'?" 

Mr. D_____ scratched his chin and ventured hesitantly, "Umm ... well, a meteorite is something from outer space that—"

"WRONG!  Mister D_____, did you read the court's opinion in 'Goddard against Winchell'?'

"Yes, of course, Professor."

"And what did you read before you read about meteorites or farmers or anything else?"

A long pause.  "Ummm ... ummm ..."  At this point, several other hands shot into the air, and thus everyone in the class immediately learned who the self-intended "gunners" for our section of freshlaws would be for the year.  But the professor ignored them; his entire attention was riveted on Mr. D_____.  "I guess ... I read ... the name of the case—"

"Ex-ACT-ly, Mister D_____!  You read the name of the case!  What was the name of the case?" demanded the professor.

"Uhh ... it's 'Goddard versus—"

"Oh, IS it now?  Is it 'versus,' Mister D______?  Or is it an abbreviation, 'vee ess' followed by a period?  Or perhaps just a 'vee' followed by a period?"

"Uhhh .... uhhh ...."

"Or was it the word 'against' instead?  And Mister D_____ ... why does this matter?"

"Uhhh ... ummmm."  I remember at this point looking beneath Mr. D_____'s chair to see if there was blood on the floor yet.

"Who sued whom, Mister D_____?  What, if anything, does the name of the case tell us about that?  And why does that matter?  Or does it?"  By this time the responsive noises coming from Mr. D_____ could no longer be expressed in any alphabet known to any linguist on earth.  "Does the order of the names tell us who originally sued first, or does it tell us who lost and therefore was the party bringing the appeal?  Eh, Mister D_____?  Speak up, man!" 

And so forth, on and on about the case name.  "Do the first names of the litigants matter?  Why not?  What if the litigant has a common name like Smith?"  The professor finally broke down and told us all something about what one can usually deduce from the order of the litigants' names of the appellate opinion, but he let us know that this was an exception — did we expect to be spoonfed? — and we all breathed a giant sigh of relief for poor Mr. D_____, who we assumed was now off the hook.

But no.  "Continue, please, Mister D_____."

"Ummm, okay.  Ahh.  Uhh.  This was a case about a meteorite—"

"But Mister D___, was there nothing more of significance after the case name but before you came to the word 'meteorite'?"  Ten minutes later, Mr. D____ eventually managed to stammer out that the opinion had been written by the Iowa Supreme Court, and we'd had some back and forth between him and the professor about the significance of that datum — state versus federal court, intermediate versus ultimate appellate level, whether and when this sort of issue might be reviewed in the U.S. Supreme Court, the "subsequent history" or lack thereof, et cetera, et cetera.   Then there was a little bit about the citation — meaning the volume number the opinion appeared in, and its page number, and did it affect your credibility with courts if you used the abbreviation "2nd" for "second series" as opposed to just "2d" ... and more about what kind of book it appeared in, whether in an "official state reporter" or in a "regional reporter," and whether regional reporters could be trusted, and did you need to list citations to both or was one preferred and if so which, and did the answer to that question vary depending on whether you lived and practiced in Iowa or in Texas ... and more about who wrote the opinion, and whether it was signed or per curiam or en banc or from a panel ... and about the year, and whether it being very old meant it was venerated and sacred or old and unreliable ....

Mr. D____ was on the hot seat for the entire 50-minute class, and he never got to discuss the actual facts of the case or its holding.  When the bell rang, the Professor concluded by saying, "We'll continue with Mister D___'s briefing on 'Goddard against Winchell' tomorrow" — whereupon Mr. D___ leapt from his seat and bolted from the classroom to the nearest lavatory, where he was heard losing his breakfast into a toilet.

But the next day, we did not continue with Mr. D____.  He wasn't there.  Although he was a smart kid who'd graduated at the top of his class from a smaller college in a nearby state and practically aced the LSAT, he was clearly unprepared for the emotional stress of the Socratic Method as violently administered, and he dropped out.  I don't know if he found another law school or became a dentist, but we never saw him again.

That's an absolutely true story.  And yet I don't hate the Socratic Method.  My recollection of my classes during my second and third year of law school, when it was less frequently used, is that on the whole those classes tended to be more tedious and boring.  Lectures get dull if you're not being asked open-ended questions that follow in a logical sequence, one upon another, and that are grist for debate.  Yes, it can be a brutal shock and it can be overdone, as it was in the case of poor Mr. D_____ — but so can non-Socratic Method questioning, for that matter. 

In fact every single question that Mr. D_____ was asked is something a practicing lawyer needs to know in order to evaluate what significance to give an appellate opinion in any field of law; although brutal, in hindsight my property professor's questions were a bravura performance.  And I vividly remember that day and that class twenty-six years later; I can't say the same for any lecture I've ever seen.  Socratic method examinations don't always have the quality of watching a slow-motion train wreck that it had for me and my classmates on that first day of class, but on the whole, the performances I saw from my classmates were interesting enough.  Oftentimes they taught me something, and I think sometimes they taught the professors something too!  And if one can't learn something even from a classmate's bad performance, one isn't flexible enough in one's notions of learning.

Law is, after all, an art and not a science, and it varies with every performance.  There was indeed a substantial grain of truth in The Paper Chase, and by the end of that movie one understands why Harvard 1L James Hart has run through the full range of emotions toward Professor Kingsfield, from hatred and loathing, to grudging respect and admiration, to ultimate affection and appreciation.  I will grant you that few professors can perform the Socratic Method of teaching at the "Kingsfield" level; but then, I've never made a closing argument quite as good as the ones they make every week on "Law & Order" or "The Practice" — yet I still enjoy those and occasionally get an idea from watching them.

Posted by Beldar at 07:15 AM in Film/TV/Stage, Law (2006 & earlier), Trial Lawyer War Stories | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, October 20, 2003

Easterbrook is Easterbanished: TMQ cut from ESPN roster over "anti-Semitic" blogpost

Gregg Easterbrook is a senior editor at The New Republic, whose online edition sponsors his new blog, too-cutely named Easterblogg.  ("Gregg" with two g's at the end, ya get it — huh? huh?)  Easterbrook has a quick mind and broad tastes that include professional football in all its gory glory, so until now he's also contributed a weekly column to ESPN's website, writing as the "Tuesday Morning Quarterback."  I'd link you to one of his TMQ columns, except — it seems that Michael Eisner and his minions have zapped them all.  Yeah, it appears that they've fired Easterbrook — and not just fired him, they've disappeared him — or at least his name from the masthead and all traces of his columns from the ESPN website!  Nacht und nebel!

Why?  Well, they didn't say, but one presumes it's because of this blogpost he wrote about Miramax's new picture, "Kill Bill." 

Easterbrook expressed a pretty pointed opinion that that "Kill Bill" stinks, that its director Quentin Tarantino stinks, and that Miramax stinks for sponsoring Tarantino's mindless über-violence, and that Harvey Weinstein and Michael Eisner — respectively the CEOs of Miramax and its corporate parent, The Walt Disney Company — stink for letting Miramax sponsor Tarantino's über-violence. 

Easterbrook didn't just pan the movie, its director, its studio, the studio's corporate parent, and their respective CEOs, though — he managed at the same time to point out that (gasp) Weinstein and Eisner are both Jewish:

Yes, there are plenty of Christian and other Hollywood executives who worship money above all else, promoting for profit the adulation of violence. Does that make it right for Jewish executives to worship money above all else, by promoting for profit the adulation of violence? Recent European history alone ought to cause Jewish executives to experience second thoughts about glorifying the killing of the helpless as a fun lifestyle choice.

With these sentences, Easterbrook has generated The Perfect Scandal for Our Times™!  I can tell it's perfect because when I try to figure out which of my regular archival categories to select for this post, I could pick just about any of them except "Texas Redistricting"!

Oh, glorious potential for mixed metaphors!  Armchair quarterback, political pundit, and corporate blogger — slain on the swift sword of politico-religious (or religio-political?) correctness, his prompt and conspicuous apology notwithstanding.  We know Easterbrook must be guilty and evil because the Los Angeles Times tells us if he walks like an anti-Semite, talks like an anti-Semite, and quacks like an anti-Semite, Disney can fire his ducktailed ass from its ESPN subsidiary's website in the proverbial Los Angeles minute (which is really shorter than a New York minute, except that it's done in film-school slow-motion so you can see the blood splatters more clearly).

Andrew Sullivan bemoans this as an assault on blogging, and links an online petition protesting Easterbrook's firing from ESPN.  Along with some other far more notable bloggers, I duly signed the petition — I enjoyed reading the TMQ column, especially the bits about the NFL cheerleaders.  But I'm having second thoughts about having done so — ummm, about signing the petition, that is (not reading about NFL cheerleaders).  In fact, I may start a petition to force the folks to institute a delete feature!

Easterbrook's apology suggests that in another medium — one less instantaneous than blogging-without-a-net (no editors! it's the nature of the beast!) — he'd have managed to avoid any anti-Semitic clichés:

Where I failed most is in the two sentences about adoration of money. I noted that many Christian executives adore money above all else, and in the 20-minute reality of blog composition, that seemed to me, writing it, fairness and fair spreading of blame. But accusing a Christian of adoring money above all else does not engage any history of ugly stereotypes. Accuse a Jewish person of this and you invoke a thousand years of stereotypes about that which Jews have specific historical reasons to fear. What I wrote here was simply wrong, and for being wrong, I apologize.

Eh.  I've seen worse.  In the days when I, a Texas gentile, was a partner in a largely Jewish New York-based law firm, I've probably said worse myself (although the Texas-New York culture clash was a far bigger problem than the gentile-Jewish one). 

Mr. Easterbrook, if I may play Wednesday Morning Quarterback (although it's a Monday today):   Do you think it's an accident that Disney keeps Miramax as a separate brand so it can channel its sex-and-violence content to the viewing public of the world without tarnishing Mickey's image?  We all know better. 

But you don't tug on Superman's cape, and you don't dis the Mouse{*} — not if you're eating at the Mouse's training table, anyway.  Mike Eisner and Harvey Weinstein are indeed loathsome individuals, but that has nothing to do with their being Jewish, or religious, or even male — their greed and their pandering to feed it has entirely to do with their being human, and by injecting religion into an area where it doesn't really fit, you gave them an excuse to whack you.

Which, of course, is their absolute commercial right to do, First Amendment notwithstanding (and having absolutely nothing to do with this).  I don't doubt that leading blogospheric expressers of Jewish outrage like Roger Simon (here, here, and here) and Meryl Yourish (here, here, here, here, and here) were sincere in feeling offended, and are now sincere in their regret that ESPN has knocked TMQ out of its lineup.  (Prof. Reynolds, of course, has a wide variety of pertinent links on InstaPundit, along with some commentary.)  But one would have to be naïve indeed to think that to the powers-that-be at Disney, the religious issue was anything more than a pretext for what was actually a reaction to Easterbrook-as-film-critic.  It doesn't have to be about Eisner personally.  No, Easterbrook had it right the first time, if he'd just omitted the religious references — it's all about profits.  The Mouse is ruthless.

So, TMQ, you screwed up; you threw a pick into double coverage, they ran it back for a score to win the Super Bowl.  Yes, blogging is like speaking into an open mike on national television, and you of course knew that — but then again, that excitement, that danger was part of the attraction that caused you to chose a career that has you walking on tightropes, dealing with hot topics like politics and race and religion and NFL cheerleaders with or without breast implants.  If you'd wanted dull and secure, you'd be a judge like the Official Easter-Brother.

So twist your jock back into position, locate your helmet, and trot off the field with dignity, sir.  Disney is damn near boycott-proof, Eisner and Weinstein will get another bajillion despite running the stock price into the ground; tain't nuthin' to be done with, to, or about them. 

You still have your day job.  And Mr. Easterbrook, you ought to find a better outlet for Tuesday Morning Quarterback.  TNR probably isn't the place.  But then, neither was the ESPN website.  ""?  How very Nineties; how entirely pre-blogospheric.  Stop apologizing (not to say you shouldn't have, but just that you've apologized enough already), shrug off the hit, and play the free agent market, man!


{*}    "Don't dis the Mouse" is a much politer version of the conventional wisdom supposedly imparted to all employees of The Walt Disney Company's famous theme parks, when they're warned that their public and private conduct must be above reproach.  And while looking for the corporate website for Disney — not the "view the latest trailer/play the latest game/here's our flash animation and oh by the way we gave up and hired HP to run our website for us" stuff — I found one lovely page with a lovely quote from the company founder, whose spin-in-his-grave rate doubtless gained another 1000 rpm when "Kill Bill" came out:

"I only hope that we don't lose sight of one thing — that it was all started by a mouse." - Walt Disney

Sorry, Walt.

Posted by Beldar at 07:10 AM in Current Affairs, Film/TV/Stage, Humor, Law (2006 & earlier), Mainstream Media, Sports, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (3)