Friday, February 13, 2004

Movieblogging: Wild America
I saw this earlier today, but didn't get around to blogging it. One of my favorite movies of all time, Wild America (1997).

This movie was dismissed by many males and adults as it it was viewed as little more than a vehicle for two preteen-girl idols, Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Devon Sawa. That's unfortunate, because it's a great guys' movie, particularly for the younger fellas. It's loosely based on the true story of three brothers from Forth Smith, Arkansas who went on a road trip one summer to film American wildlife. (All three of the brothers became very important in the world of wildlife photography/cinematography, but I won't spoil it for you.) The movie is geared towards kids, and has a few plot elements that are wildly fanciful, but overall the movie is fantastic. Think October Sky but with bears instead of rockets.

There's a lot that I like about the movie... For one thing, it's perhaps the greatest movie about brotherhood (i.e., real flesh-and-blood brothers) that has ever been made. It also shows how much freedom and responsibility kids had only 30 years ago versus today. There's also a nice libertarian streak to it, as the kids are essentially on their own for most of the movie, racing around the entire United States in search of rare wildlife. And I've already admitted here that I'm a nature freak. Not Green, but conservationist and happily knowledgeable about my natural surroundings.

It's a shame that more guys didn't see this, since it's such a great movie for men to see. If by any stretch someone is reading this who has a son under the age of 12, watch this with him. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Election 2004: First Shot from the Right
After the Bush AWOL rumors and the rest of the general anti-Bush attacks from the Democratic contenders and their supporters (some deserved, some not), here comes the first big counterattack from the right. I don't think you're going to see any official GOP figures comment much on this, but if the story has any substance, the press will have a field day.

Kerry has been hard to attack because of his constantly shifting positions, but this could be big. Somewhere, Howard Dean is laughing his ass off.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Musicblogging: The 80s
Inspired by the 80s reminiscing of Lileks and Sgt. Stryker, I was nosing through my music and decided to listen to a random song from the 80s. What did I hear? "Hold Me Now" by the Thompson Twins. Good God, did that take me back...

The song came out in 1984, when I was six. Obviously, at the time I cared more about blowing things up and playing with Legos than tender expressions of love, but the song still stirs some odd emotional heart string in me... It has all of the great elements of the 80s ballad: the slight English accent, the synthesizer, the snazzy bridge... This is one of those songs that, although it may not stand well on its own in the annals of music history, serves to define the 80s in a way that few songs can.

I remember 84-85 being a year of weddings for me. There was the winter wedding of my aunt and uncle, held in the frozen wastelands of Michigan. I don't remember any music from that experience (meaning that there was probably no popular music played at the reception or the various parties), though I do recall it being cold and full of Yankees. More impressive on my memory was the wedding of a family friend to the daughter of a locally powerful Italian guy in the grocery business. I won't go into too much detail except to say that several members of the wedding party had bodyguards. I was a ring bearer, wore a tux (with tails), and was doted on by everyone. That kind of attention is difficult for a Scottish Presbyterian.

The reception was held at The Peabody, one of the South's grand hotels. This was the site of my first dance, and one of the few in my lifetime. (I claim zero proficiency in the balletic arts.) The bride dragged me into a polka. I tried desperately not to step on her feet and simultaneously not stare into the plunging cleavage that was inches from my nose. My Presbyterian shame served me well; the good Lord didn't punish me with any sort of embarrassing incident. However, much of the music played by the band during the reception was of the romantic popular variety. I don't remember much of it, though I know that some songs by the Thompson Twins and Spandau Ballet featured prominently. And "Sailing" by Christopher Cross. Christ, if I heard that song today I might drop to my knees and try to order a Shirley Temple from the cute bartender with the frizzy perm that thought my wee tux was adorable.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Election 2004: Tennessee Primary
Here's the results with a third of precincts reporting:
Kerry - 40%
Edwards - 25%
Clark - 24%
Dean - 5% (OUCH)

I'm surprised that Kerry's showing that strong here. I just really don't see the enthusiasm for the guy--in public, amongst Democratic friends, online, etc. But he seems to be able to score at the ballot box. Let's hear it for the establishment candidate...

I don't think the numbers are going to change much before the night is over--if anything, Kerry's lead will probably increase a bit. Everyone who's going to vote late has had a chance to see the news and listen to the radio, and Kerry has done a good job of cruising on early success.

(Here in Shelby County, Kerry's at the top, Clark is second, Edwards is third, and Dean is below Sharpton. DOUBLE OUCH.)
Election 2004: Tennessee Primary
There really doesn't appear to be much enthusiasm here in Memphis. I've seen a further scattering of Clark signs around the city in the past couple of weeks, and this morning I saw an enormous John Edwards sign in someone's yard, but that's been it. It's not like I'm just not looking in the right places--my route to work takes me for 15 miles through two of the main arteries of the city, and my errands take me all over the place. We have a couple of piddling local elections going on as well, but nothing terribly important. There's a lot of enthusiasm for Clark, and he, Edwards, and Kerry have all made appearances here in Memphis and throughout the state in the past few days. I don't know how it's going to translate in the final tallies tonight, though. Pulling a figure out of my ass, I'll say that Kerry, Edwards, and Clark all capture something in the 20-30% range, with Dean and the rest picking up the scraps.

With Kerry the apparent shoe-in for the nomination, I've lost a lot of interest in the primary, and probably won't start caring about the election that much until October. I think that the election this fall is going to be both nasty and boring. The nasty side will come from the supporters and their ads--both unofficial and semi-official--that will rip into the opposing candidate with all sorts of weird and ferocious allegations. That happens every year, but what I've seen thus far tells me it's going to be particularly bad this year.

The boring part will be between the candidates themselves. I think that Kerry is going to be tougher on Bush than Gore was, but he still doesn't come across as personable or likeable in public appearances. He does appear competent, but it's a bad sign when the best compliment the press can make for you is that you're "electable". Thus, I think that the official part of the campaign is going to be as dull as a golf match, when I'd been really gearing up for a boxing match between Dean and Bush. I don't buy into the conspiracy theories, but Bush and Kerry were both in the Skull & Bones Society at the same time at Yale. Two old establishment frat brothers bickering over minor issues, anything to avoid talking about the important stuff. Yawn.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Movieblogging: Miller's Crossing
Here's something that I've always wanted to see: Miller's Crossing (1990). I've loved the previous Coen brothers movies: Raising Arizona, Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou?, and I'm looking forward to seeing The Man Who Wasn't There when I get around to it.

This has a lot of talented actors in it: Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden, John Turturro, Albert Finney and Steve Buscemi. It also stars the late actor and Tennessee native Michael Jeter. This was Harden's second movie, and I always like seeing her in a movie. There's just something about her that I can't quite place...

Let's also note that the great Sam Raimi has a bit part in this movie.

I'm going to try to start hyperlinking previous movie reviews, so I'll point out here that this movie deals with the Irish mob during Prohibition. While set in the 50s, my review of The Road to Perdition also made reference to the Irish mob. Hollywood loves its Italian mobsters, yet rarely feels need to credit the Irish with the talent and intelligence necessary for organized crime.

Tonight I'm watching this on the Fox Movie Channel. I don't watch this channel often, but it occasionally has a few gems on it. Like tonight's selection, which they're showing in widescreen. Hurrah for FMC! It is a sans-commercials channel, but frankly the majority of the movies are old black and white films that no one cares about. Not all movies made before 1960 are crap, but few people realize how many movies were made before there was a television in every home. I've done oral history projects in which I interviewed old folks about WWII, and most of the women (who were home during the war) complained about how boring the movies were. But it was the only thing to do on weekends, so everyone saw them.

Great line 30 minutes into the movie:
Marcia Gay Harden: "You're a pathetic rumhead!"
Movieblogging: Kate & Leopold
Out of odd curiosity, I'm watching Kate & Leopold (2001). Romantic comedies typically piss me off, but I'm willing to give this one a shot because it's full of actors that I admire: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber (Scream 2 & Scream 3), Brecklin Meyer (the main character from Road Trip) and Natasha Lyonne (the brilliant actress from many great movies, least of which are the first two American Pie flicks). This movie also stars the great Spalding Gray, who is still missing and presumed dead by some.

I'm also a sucker for those films that are otherwise normal but include a single element of science fiction or fantasy (cf. Groundhog Day). Thus far Kate & Leopold is generally sweet and not of the purgative variety.

Odd trivia: the dog shown early in the movie is an Anatolian Shepherd. You don't see many of those in everyday life. (Yeah, I'm a dog geek as well. Wanna make something of it? I've also got violent Irish genetic tendencies, ya know...) Obviously from the name, the dog was originally bred in Turkey. Despite Muslim prohibitions against dogs as being unclean, the Middle East was the first region of the world to develop distinct breeds of dogs, namely the sighthounds (think greyhound-like dogs used for hunting deer that rely on sight and pure speed rather than the sense of smell).

One of the more plausible aspects of this movie is that a man from 1876 could in fact get by in our modern world, in such a way that a man from the 1850s or earlier could not. The Victorian era was a period of massive technological innovation, and an educated man from a large city would probably be able to comprehend the various advances since then. (For an example of the extreme other end of the spectrum, in Brazil there are still occasions when members of a Stone Age tribe are brought into one of Brazil's largest and busiest cities, replete with airplanes, skyscrapers, cars, etc. Typically those tribal members gaze in wonder and, in unison, piss themselves. There is a point at which the mind shuts down completely and the body takes over.)

Major kudos for any modern movie that mentions John Roebling.
Election 2004: Bush on Meet the Press
I didn't see the Tim Russert interview of George W. Bush on Meet the Press yesterday, but it's all over the news today. Most sources--even conservative publications--are criticising the president for his poor off-the-cuff speaking ability, as well as his dodging of certain important questions.

I read the transcript of the interview, provided by MSNBC. Most of the foreign policy stuff in the first half is OK, and I'm generally pleased with the president's performance regarding the War on Terror. Like Andrew Sullivan, I'm more concerned with the second half of the interview, which looks at domestic policy and the upcoming election.

Barring the capture of Osama bin Laden or some other "October Surprise", I don't know how important the war is going to be to voters this fall. It's still immensely important in the grand scheme of things, but the voter in the inner city or in a economically dead factory town isn't going to be thrilled about all of the new schools and businesses established in Iraq using American money. The "exciting" phase of the war is mostly over, and we've entered into this long Bosnia-like slog of mopping up. Very important work, but this phase tends to retreat into the background for most people, leaving them to focus on domestic issues in November. Since that's where Bush appears weak, it doesn't bode well for him.

I don't think Kerry would do a better job than Bush, and I sure as hell wouldn't vote for him. But a Democrat president would be hard-pressed to push big spending increases through a Republican-controlled Congress, and likewise Congress' excesses would be threatened by a Democrat president's veto.

What I haven't seen mentioned yet (though I'm way behind in my reading) is how this Meet the Press interview fortells the eventual debates between Bush and Kerry. Kerry's not the most exciting speaker in the world, but I don't think he's going to make the same mistakes as Gore in 2000 and he'll have a ton of ammunition to use against Bush. Kerry doesn't even have to win the argument; if he can knock Bush off balance, he'll appear confused and incoherent regardless of his actual knowledge of the material.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Turner Classic Movies
I was dismayed to see that yet another Sunday has arrived with no silent movies on TCM, but it appears as though the weekly feature has just been suspended for the month of February while they show 31 Days of Oscar. Might be able to knock out a good number of the IMDB Top 250 and the AFI Top 100 there...

Of course, I don't think I'll be watching any movies tonight. Looking back over the blog, I saw six movies yesterday. Granted, several of them were crap that I had on while cleaning my room, working on the computer, etc., but that's still a lot of movies.

I knew a guy in high school who had a goal of one day watching 24 movies in a single weekend. He never did it while I knew him, but I've realized that I could probably pull it off with my DVD collection. At some point I might try that--but only if I take a few days off work before and after so I can do some normal stuff. And if I blog the whole time, I can call it research, or performing a detailed catalog of my collection, which sounds marginally better than just sitting around watching movies all weekend.
Movieblogging: Deliverance
This is partially weird curiosity and partially my practice of filling in gaps: Deliverance (1972). I've resisted seeing this movie for years, but it was on TCM, uncut, in widescreen, and I figured I might as well get it over with. It's not the guy-on-guy rape that bothers me. It's more the fact that this movie has done a great deal to color the opinions of outsiders regarding the south. Hell, if you get far enough from civilization in any country there's a chance that you'll run into some unsavory characters, but it's far more likely that if you meet anyone at all, they'll be generally decent people. Many people seem to think that this movie is representative of the entire south, urban, suburban, rural, etc.

All that aside, the filming is quite beautiful. I've never been through the Appalachian regions of Georgia, but I've done a lot of canoeing through Arkansas and Missouri, and this film really captured that feel. A canoe allows you to experience a river like no other vessel except for a kayak. For one, you're sitting right on the level with the water, so your view of the river is completely different than it would be from a regular boat. And it's dead slient, except for the noise of your paddle moving through the water--if you're good, there won't be much sound.
Our paddles keen and bright,
Flashing like silver;
Swift as the wild goose flight,
Dip, dip, and swing.

Dip, dip, and swing them back,
Flashing like silver;
Swift as the wild goose flight,
Dip, dip and swing.

--"The Paddle Song"
The rest of the movie isn't really that exciting. It has it's moments, but I think that aduiences of the 70s were scared much more easily than they are today.
Movieblogging: My Boss's Daughter
The second feature of this evening was less dignified by far... My Boss's Daughter (2003). I tend to enjoy Ashton Kutcher movies, and this one was hilarious. If at all possible, see this with like-minded people and a good supply of alcohol. It's good dumb fun.

Tara Reid does nothing for me. She's cute at times, but for some reason always plays upset, hard-to-get bitches. Maybe it's a way to escape playing blonde bimbos, but after a few movies you start to view her like a troublesome ex-girlfriend.

Molly Shannon was funny as always, as were her fellow (yet not exactly contemporaneous) Saturday Night Live actors David Koechner and Kenan Thompson. Dave Foley of Kids in the Hall and News Radio fame was quite good in his small role.

Michael Madsen and Andy Richter were great in their parts. Andy Richter has to do very little to make me laugh; it's a shame he doesn't have steady employment. Carmen Electra's breasts did a slightly better acting job than she did, but I won't hold that against her. ("I'd hold something else against her! Hey-oooo!") The real talent in this movie came from Terrance Stamp, who played a far more menacing father than Robert DeNiro in Meet the Parents. Don't get me wrong, I loved that movie, but I'd much rather be stuck in a living room with Robert DeNiro than Terrance Stamp. He was General Zod, for Christ's sake.

I won't go into the plot, but this is a damned good movie if you're in the proper mood, and I certainly was.

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