Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Alito Is In

Judge Samuel Alito joined the Supreme Court today after been confirmed by a largely party line vote. Alito replaces retiring justice Sandra Day O'Connor and is the 110th person to serve on the nations highest legal body.

The Chinese Year Of The Gay Cowboy

The nominees for the 2006 Oscar ceremonies were announced this morning. As expected Brokeback Mountain lead the pack in nominations and is the favorite to win best picture. I was impressed that Crash got a best picture nod, I feared it had come out to early in the year and was to popular with a general audience to get recognized in an increasingly elitest (sp) best picture category. Munich and Good Night and Good Luck are also worthy of best pic consideration, I have not seen the other two films nominated for the academy's most coveted award.

Coreta Scott King: 1927-2006

Coreta Scott King, widow of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. passed away last night at the age of 78 in Rosarito Beach Mexico. Read more about her passing via this link.

Monday, January 30, 2006

And Substituting for Jack Bauer Tonight, Dr. Gregory House


Now I usually don't have Monday nights off from work, though today I did and I was very pleased with this fact as I was expecting to be able to finish up season 2 of 24 tonight. However netflix messed up and sent me disc 6 of House season one, rather then the last four episodes of the extremely addicting show I was excited to finish. Well I've reported the error and should be receiving the appropriate disc soon, but all in all it was kind of a happy coincidence. With the West Wing going off the air soon I've been think about searching for a new show. House has been a show I've been considering checking out both at the recommendation of my sister and of a West Wing website I frequent. I had never seen House before and really enjoyed it, the program has the wit and smarts of early West Wing, and Hugh Laurie's Dr. Gregory House is a great character. It may be that my search for a new show has ended before it even began.

Houston Police Endorse Vinick/Sullivan

A West Wing Word

Well no show this week, in fact NBC has decided to shelve Wing until after the Olympics, at which point I believe all remaining episodes will be aired without preemption through the finale. The picture I chose to post this week comes from happier times for fictional centrist Republicans when Vinick/Sullivan was pretty well creaming Santo/McGarry. Things even got to the point that the Vinick team got the endorsement of the police union of the city Matt Santos once served as mayor of. During the shows month plus absence I may still update you all with fun little articles or facts about the show.

American Song Book Vol. 2

The second part of my look at early 20th century Broadway will air on Ghostwood this week. Listen live from 2- 2:30 PM Sunday on AM 730 in the Boise area, or at pulse.boisestate.edu via the listen live link.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Worlds Oldest Living Person

Doing that post on Charles Lane got me thinking about incredibly old people, and I wondered to myself who the oldest person in the world might be today. Well with the aid of the always helpful internet I was able to discover that oldest known living person currently on the plant is 116 year old Maria Esther Capovilla of Ecuador. For those of you who might be interested the person with the longest verified life span was a French women named Jeanne Calment who died in 1997 at the age of 122. You just have to wonder what makes these people live so long?

Well I'm Sure the White House Staff Certainly Hopes So

Charles Lane is 101

Happy birthday to prolific character actor Charles Lane who turned 101 years old on Thursday. Lane, who has a list of over 300 credits on the internet movie database, is the last surviving adult cast member of Frank Capras classic Its A Wonderful Life (as the bank examiner he looked deceptively ancient). At last years TV Land awards the then 100 year old Lane still very alert and aware told the audience he was still available for work. Lane is currently the oldest living professional actor of which I am aware, If you know of someone older please leave a note of it in the comments box.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

You and Me Against The World

Hitch part 2 0f 15

The first movie up for review in my recently purchased Alfred Hitchcock movie collection is the 1942 film Saboteur. A cinematic descendent of Hitchcocks own The 39 Steps, and very much an ancestor of the more well known North by Northwest, Saboteur was Hitchs first film for Universal and his first with an entirely American cast. The pictures leading man is the underapricated Robert Cummings (who would later achieve greater popularity as a TV sitcom star in the 50's and 60's), who plays Barry Kane a worker at a Los Angels area military aircraft factory in the early days of U. S. involvment in World War II. When a fire at the factory kills his best friend and Barry is implicated as the arsonist, our hero sets out in search of a suspicious new worker, Frank Fry (Norman Lloyd), who the police say doesn't exisit. From the address on an envelope of Frys that Barry briefly glimpsed earlier (this is well set-up in the movie and not as contrived as it may seem in my telling), young Mr. Kane sets out for the California ranch country.

Barry is helped to his destination by a truck driver named Mac, perfectly cast in the form of actor Murry Alper. The gentleman who owns the ranch in question, Charles Tobin (a wonderfully sinister Otto Kruger), denies any knowledge of a Frank Fry, by Barry soon discovers his host is lying and is infact involved with a militant group of Nazi sympathizers. Tobin calls the police on Barry, who once in custody is unable to convince the authorities of the 'respected citizens' treasonious ways, as he himself has been on the run for those vary charges. Barry is able to escape from the copes while being transfered to jail with the help of Mac, who is reencounterd at a narrow bridge, our hero goes all Harrison Ford on us by jumping into a river for safety. The fugitive (joke intended) later emerges from the water (cold and wet naturally) and finds shelter in the home of a likable blind man named Phillip Martin(Vaughan Glaser). Though Phillip is blind he is vary perceptive and quickly comes to a conviction of Barrys inherent goodness. The old man sends his visiting niece Patrica (Priscilla Lane, whose character is suppose to be a professional model), to reluctantly take Barry to a blacksmith friend of his to have his handcuffs removed.

Patrica decides not to take Barry to the blacksmiths but to turn him into the police instead, she is able to trick her charge into wrapping his hands around the cars stearing wheel so as to make him easier to handel. Barry however is able to get his foot on the gas and gain limited control of the vehicle, so that the two of them remain locked into awkward struggle for control of the car until coming to a stop in the middle of the desert. When Priscilla escapes from the car and attempts to hitchhike away from him, Barry manages to use a buzz saw like compounite of the vehicles motor to separate his handcuffs and then recapture her. When the car breaks down later our hero and his reluctant companion are forced to abandon it and end up stuck in the desert at night. Barry is eventually able to convince Priscila to join him in stowing away on a passing circus caravan after reminding her that if she doesn't she'll be stuck out in the desert alone at night with snakes. The car they sneak onto turns out to inhabited by a colorful collection of sideshow performers, who at first debate giving them refuge but eventually hid the pair from a surprise police inspection. During their time with the freaks Patrica becomes at least partially convinced that Barry is telling the truth.

Having seen a letter of Frys addressed from a 'Soda City' while at Tobins, Barry decides that visiting this local is his best chance at catching the sabtoure and proving his innocence. The carven drops the couple near their desired location, which turns out to be a ghost town. In a supposedly abandoned building the two discover evidence of a plot to blow up an important hydro electric station (footage of what I believe to be Hoover Dam is used for this facility). When two men approach the building Barry is able to hid Patrica (who goes by Pat for short), and convince the visitors that he is the saboteur that blew up the factory for them. The leader of the two a Mr. Freeman (Alan Baxter) takes Barry back to New York with him for safety, there our intrepid fugitive quickly discovers that the American fascists are deeply embedded in upper-crust society, and worse yet (through the aid of crooked lawmen out west) they've captured Pat!

Saboteur is a great period thriller, and in plot and tempo more like Hitchcocks 50's work then his other WWII era pictures. It has been reported that Hitch originally wanted Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck for the leads, and while these two would assuredly have made a fine picture, I believe this movie benefited from the added 'everyman' quality brought by using lesser known performers as its stars. This has been my third viewing of the picture and I've come to realize that Robert Cummings dramatic ability's are more limited then I first thought, however he is such a sympathetic figure that the man is more then capable of carrying the picture. Priscilla Lane is also a winning personality and I find that every time I view this picture I want to see more of her work. The supporting cast of character actors is very strong, and there are many memorable and inventive scenes. During the New York part of the movie alone we are treated to great sequences set in a fancy fifth avenue party, Radio City Music Hall, and the Statue of Liberty. Containing many hokey speech's extolling a kind of war-time liberalism, this picture is a great and inspiring time capsule of national feelings we could use to recapture. Not the best Hitchcok movie, but its earnestness, action and creativity has it made it one of my favorites.

Friday, January 27, 2006

So Disappointed

I can't believe Hamas won in Palestine. After all the agony Israel has gone through in the past year so that things could be rip for peace, to see this happen has got to be a low blow. With a known terrorist organization ruling your next door neighbor trouble is not far off. Perhaps the most annoying thing here is how unlikely this outcome was perceived to be, I heard that even Hamas was surprised by its victory

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

That Nut Job In Iran

This cartoon pretty much says it all. Ahmadinejad was billed as a moderate in last years elections, but with his holocaust denials, non apologetic pursuit of nuclear technology and advocacy for the elimination of the state of Isreal, he has proven to be anything but. I mean its as if he wants to be attacked. Isreal will bomb Iran if they feel threatened, and I think that its also possible that the U.S. might participate in limited bombings of nuclear facilities. Time will tell what happens of course, but for now both Chavez and Castro have solid compatition for the most crazy world leader spot.

Velvet Kramer

I thought this picture was funny enough to deserve a post. Finally some real competition for Elvis in the tacky art department.

The Master of Disaster

A West Wing Word

This weeks episode (Duck and Cover) follows the nuclear crises that closed last weeks show. C. J. returns from her dinner with Danny to be informed that the Cal Vista owned nuclear power plant in San Andreo California (said to be near San Diego) has had an accident. No one is 100% sure what happened, but there was a massive burst of steam and a back-up system failed requiring the release of high leaves of radiation into an auxiliary building. The president is immediately briefed as these occurrences could lead to a full scale meltdown. An emergency press conference is held within half-an-hour in which the president announces that he has declared a federal emergency in the area and California governor Gab Tilman has ordered an evacuation of a 15 mile radius around the plant. This accident happened around 9:00 pm eastern on a Sunday night and the president must stay up to monitor and direct the situation, which includes ordering the venting of possibly dangerous levels of radiation into the atmosphere to avert a meltdown, and ordering four civilian engineers into the plant to secure some valves so as to stave off disaster (one of the four dies as a result of the radiation). This is a particularly rough night for the commander and chief as in addition to the nuclear situation in the nations most populated state, the American brokered emergency elections in Kazakhstan are also occurring and by the time the polls close that nations Russian imposed president is re-elected amid wid spread charges of voter intimidation, prompting PRC forces to cross the boarder and secure ethnic Chinese enclaves. Oh, and did I mention that early that day the president was informed that his son-in-law cheated on his eldest daughter? Boy, retirement and building a presidential library has got to be looking better and better to Mr. Bartlet.

The Santos camp first hears of the accident while attending a 'rock the vote' event in Florida. Josh immediately clears the congressmans schedule for the next day and the team heads back to the hotel to watch events unfold on television. Vinick hears of the tragic happenings in his home state while returning to campaign headquarters from an event in the DC suburbs. Vinick immediately informs his campaign manager Bruno that he had lobbied to get that plant its license 25 years ago and that some of his children and grandchildren live in nearby San Diego. It doesn't take long for the Santos campaign to get this damaging information but Josh chooses to sit on it and hope the press learns of this on its own, so as to avoid opening themselves up to charges of playing politices with national disaster. Throughout the night Josh Starts to second guess his decision not to the leak the information and the next morning sends Donna out to nudge the press in the right direction, by this time however our Ms. Moss discovers the media already has the story and is about to break with it.

Back at the White House Will has been designated the federal governments sole briefer on the San Andreo situation and has a hard time keeping other government spoaks people from leaking to the press. Mr. Bailys job is made more unpleasant when he is forced to announce that the sitting Democratic president will be accompanied by the Republican nominee to the FEMA operations site in southern cali, as senator Vinick is part of the California congressional delegation his being at the sit is part of protocol. Before Airforce One departs however, Vinick gives a press conference in DC, in which to deflect criticism of his long held pro-nuclear stance, he seems to be shifting blame to the Bartlet administration for poor regulatory enforcement. By playing the blame game with national disaster Vinick succeeds in alienating a lot of voters and a dozen states that had been firmly in his column (including California, Ohio, Missouri) are now redesignated as swing states. The episode closes with Josh declaring the race "to close to call".

I'm gussing this is suppose to be the turning point in the campaign that will allow under-dog Matt Santos to win in November. If this is the case its not so much Santos winning on his own merits as it is a situation beyond anyone's control playing particularly harshly against the front-runner. This being said I could have handled the spin control on this situation much better then the Vinick staff by simply calling for national unity and a non-partisan investigation of the accident, and agreeing to go by the whatever recommendations a commission comes to if elected. I do however like that the writers chose to make Vinicks greatest strength his biggest weakness, in that his penchant to bluntly speak his mind no matter what others may think is what lands him in hot political water (alia the ethanol incident in Iowa during the primaries).

In other West Wing News, what I had long expected has happened and on Sunday NBC announced that the program will end its seven year run with the inauguration of a new president in a mid-May episode. Series producer John Wells has also confirmed that Leo McGarry, the character played by the late John Spencer will be 'killed-off' by a similar heart attack in an upcoming episode. I am still curious to see what they are going to do with the now illogical flash-forward from the season seven opener.

Pope Benedict Issues First Encyclical

The first encyclical (important document) of the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI has been issued by the Vatican. Written in September but signed on Christmas this popish pronouncement sets forth the Churchs teachings on love, distinguishing the erotic from the spiritual. This is not likely to be a controversial document.

Book of Daniel Closed


NBC has announced that its controversial new religious drama 'The Book of Daniel', will be dropped from the networks schedule (read: canceled). The program elicited an outcry from various conservative religious groups who deemed the show 'anti-Christian'. The program followed the adventures of a pill-popping Episcopal Priest and his less then ideal family, at it height the series attracted less then 7 million viewers to it prime Friday night time slot.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Liberals Routed

Oh Canada

The long ruling Liberal party, plagued these last few years by corruption scandals, has been ousted in yesterdays Canadian national elections. The Conservative party got the most votes and will rule in a coalition government with one or two of the minor parties. I confess I don't know that much about Canadian politics, but have known this change was brewing for some time. You can read more about the government situation in our neighbor to the north via this helpful link to CTV News.

Monday, January 23, 2006

When No Imitation Grit Will Do

A Movie Review

True Grit is the film for which John Wayne finally won his academy award, an honor warranted as much by his collective body of work as for his preformance in this picture. In fact it is hard to appreciate just how good Waynes performance is in the film because we are so used to seeing him in roles of this type. Now John Wayne did 'play himself' in his films as is often commented, but the characters through which the actor manifested himself were not all alike. In the cowboy movies alone Wayne runs the gamete from the homicidal Ethan Edward in The Searchers, to the tired gunslinger grown sick of violence in his last film The Shootist. 'Rooster' Cogburn, the character he plays in this film, would fall somewhere in between the two previously mentioned in demeanor, though the character does show many different aspects of his personality throughout the film and is one of the most fully developed and enduring of Waynes alter egos (even inspiring a character titled sequel film with Kate Hepburn six years later).

In this movie Waynes Cogburn is a crotchety but sympathetic U.S. Marshall who is recruited by Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) to help her track down her fathers killer. The killer Tom Chaney (Jeff Cory) was a ranch hand for the Ross clan who unintentionally offed his employer while drunk. Lest we feel sorry for the man that Mattie is determend to see hanged, we discover that he had previously killed a Texas state senator in a dispute over a dog. It was this previous crime that brings a Texas Ranger named La Boeuf (country singer Glen Campbell) to Arkansas to track the murder down, with the hopes of receving the large bounty the senators family has offered. La Boeuf joins Mattie and Rooster in the hunt for Chaney who is rumored to have hooked-up with the Marshells old nemesis the outlaw Ned Pepper (Robert Duvall) in Indian country.

This movie is above average Wayne but not on par with his great films for director John Ford. Kim Darby is an unconventional female lead if ever there was one,"your mighty young and unattractive to boot" as La Boeuf says. Glen Campbell is likeable in his role and all the supporting players do a fine job, even Dennis Hoppers overacting as the dying'Moon' works in this oddly low-key revenge story. Worth seeing just to say you've seen it, True Grit could make a pleasant evenings viewing.

  • Also seen by me recently: The Marx Brothers In A Nutshell is a 1982 TV documentary on the famous comedy team narrated by Gene Kelly. Various associates of the famous brothers give talking head interviews and clips from some of their more memorable routines are played, in what could be called a kind of 'Marxist Primer'. The documentary also features rarely seen archival footage from studio publicity films and various television appearances. Starting with brief bio's of the four Marxs who made films, this slightly over 90 minute doc then traces the groups career from childhood work in vaudeville to their semi-retirement. A fair work but a better documentary on the team is just waiting to be made.

American Song Book Vol. 1

This week on my radio show 'The Ghostwood Development Project', we will be featuring early broadway recordings spaning from around 1906 to the 1920's. You can listen to the show from 2-2:30 PM on Sunday January 29th on KBSU AM 730 in the Boise area, or anywhere online at pulse.bosiestate.edu by clicking on the listen live link.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

He Is Now In The Vomiting Stage

Well it looks like old Tom Delay won't be coming back as majority leader. The Texas Republican known as 'The Hammer', has had his home state legal problems compounded by apparent involvement in the Abramamoff lobbying scandal. Hopefully the party will replace Delay with someone who can reconnect with the spirit of ethics, reform, and frugality that brought the GOP congressional control in 94'. However I'm afraid to say I don't think this will happen.

More of those Small Town Values

A Movie Review

Return to Payton Place is the inferior sequel to the 1957 film Payton Place, and while it uses many of the same locations as the first film, it has an entirely different cast. In the movie it is now the 50's, somewhere between 8 to 12 years after the events of the original picture. Allison MacKenzie (Carol Lynley) has just written a book, Samuels Castle, that is a thinly valid re-telling of the events of the first film. Jeff Chandler is Lewis Jackman, the New York publisher who convinces the naive Allison that she should spare no detail in the re-write of her book. Needless to say when the residents of Payton Place get hold of the finished novel they are non-to-pleased about all the old dirt it kicks up. With the town now forced to confront its unfortunate past, we get to see many soap opera like scenes unfold which constitute most of the movie.

This film is not entirely consistent with the first picture, for example in Payton Place Selena Cross was first raped by her step-father during her senior year of high school, in this movie they say she was 13. Also the character of Norman, who was so important in the first film is not seen in this movie, though he is mentioned twice. In Normans place the once minor character of Ted Carter (Brett Halsey), is given a major sub-plot involving his wife (Luciana Paluzzi) and his mother (Mary Astor, whose manipulative performance is the highlight of the film). Gunnar Hellstrom is added to the cast as Nils Larsen, an instructor at the local ski resort (in Massachusetts?), and love interest for Selena (Tuesday Weld).

As the original film and novel were based on author Grace Metalious memories of growing up in a small New Hampshire town (Adam Sandler would later attend the same high school she went to), this film and novel are doubtless based on her experiences in becoming a near over-night success as an author. This gives the film a certain sense of egotism that is a bit off-putting, also it seems overly reliant on following a formula very similar to her first work, both films end in dramatic courtroom/town hall sequences. Not a great film but reasonably good, its got me wanting to see some episodes of the popular 60's television series 'Payton Place'. If I get a chance to see that show on DVD I think I'll take it.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

A Note on the Passing of W. Cleon Skousen

In Memory

W. Cleon Skousen, a favorite writer and intellectual of the LDS right, passed away January 9th only 11 days shy of his 93rd birthday. Skousen was born in Raymond Alberta on January 20th 1913 and grew up in Canada, Mexico, and California. After a church mission to Great Britain in the early 30's, Skousen attended San Bernadino Jr. College, where he was elected class president. After graduation Cleon moved to Washington D.C. were he eventually ended up working for the FBI. Skousen would spend 16 years at the Bureau and would work closely with its long time chief J. Edger Hoover.

In 1936 Skousen married his wife of 68 years Jewel Pitcher, the couple would have 8 children and today have well over a hundred descendents. Skousen left the FBI in 1951 to take a teaching position at BYU, he would hold that position until 1956 when he would take a break from the institution to serve as the police chief of Salt Lake City (1956-60) and then go on a national lecture tour after the success of his book The Naked Communist. Skousen returned to BYU in 1967 to lecture on law and in 1972 founded the Freeman institute, later to be renamed the National Center for Constitutional Studies.

In addition to his legal work Skousen became a noted defender of LDS beliefs and a literalistic reading of scripture. Perhaps his most famous work in this vain is The First 2000 years and the series of similarly titled books that followed it. With the death of Hugh Nibley last year at the age of 94, Skousens passing marks the end of an era for the Mormon scholarly community.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Song of Solomon


I just finished watching an episode of NBC's controversial new show The Book of Daniel. Now I kind of wanted to like this show because I feel that often people (read: conservative Christians), tend to overeact to programming that is designed to provoke them, so as to generate controversy designed to help with the ratings. The decade plus run of NYPD Blue was probably given a good push off because of the wide opposition the program received from conservative quarters. Daniel, which I anticipated being half Desperate Housewives and half Six Feet Under, I figured was a weak program aiming for some free publicity to help with getting out of the starting gate. So I figured my liking it might be good for its demise (I admite this is weird logic).

Now I expected that the reasons for traditionalist opposition to this program would be rather superficial, but I must say that I don't think they are. The big issue with this program for most of its offended viewers would probably be how wedded the show is to sex. There is sex everywhere in this progam, at least as much as you can get with a TV-14 rating. In the single episode I watched I counted two instances of fornication, a gay Mafia member, a male bishop attempting to institute an affair with a female bishop, and three youths leering (I'm excluding the half dozen prep school girls who caught a character trapped outside of his girlfriends room in his boxers). Having this much sex so closely associated with a program that is presumably about family and faith, could understandably be enough to get under the skin of a respectable parent. Also while I didn't think I would be offended by the highly causal hallucinatory Jesus, I must say I didn't really care for the guy (meaning the shows Jesus, I like the real Jesus).

All this being said their were things I liked about the show, not the least of which was the casting of Alison Pill as the reverend Websters daughter. The program really does have a heart, which is especially apparent in the Aidan Quinn character, Episcopal Father Daniel Webster, who despite his faults is a really good man and the moral compass (albeit slightly de-magnetized) of the series. The talk that character gave at the ground breaking of a new church school, about his mother a former english teacher now suffering from Alzhamers, was rather moving for network television. I also think the character of the familys live-in black maid shows much more promise and depth then you might expect from a part of that nature. On the whole I would say that The Book of Daniel is a good and well meaning show underneath, it is simply hampered by televisions overwhelming need to pander.

Why A Tire?

Why is there a picture of a tire on my blogg? To tell you the truth I'm not exactly sure. You see I remember (quite vividly) searching the internet for the image of a tire to use on this site, but I can't for the life of me remember why. Was I 'tired' of something in the news,? Had some one 'worn thin' on my nerves? For some reason did I think that my getting a couple tires changed several months ago somehow warranted an entry? I don't know/ I honestly can't remember. However as I did go through the effort to get this tire image, I thought I'd best post it here for all of you to enjoy.

David Lynch is 60

David Lynch, my favorite living director turns sixty-years old today. Lynch is currently in post production on his first film in 5 years, INLAND EMPIRE (caps his) which is to premiere at Cannes this summer. Mr. Lynch has had a mixed record at Cannes with his 1990 film Wild at Heart taking top honors (ironically the French loved this, the only Lynch film I've absolutely hated), while his Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was mercilessly panned (and that is my second favorite Lynch film). A strong believer in transcendental meditation, last year the director opened the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace. Lynch would like to build a series of "peace factorys" that would employ about 50,000 people to meditate all day and send out good vibes to improve the world. It is estimated that this project would cost about 7 billion dollars to get started. Now before you write him off as some liberal anti-war nut, I'd like to point out that Mr. Lynch did get a lot of crap in the 1980's for his defense of the Regans (especially Nancy). So David Lynch isn't so much political as he is just weird, which is probably what makes him such an interesting director to watch. Mel Brooks once called him "Jimmy Stewart from Mars."

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Street Walkers of Pairs

The Billy Wilder Centennial Series

With such classic titles as Sunset Blvd., Some Like it Hot, and Sabrina to his credit, it is perhaps surprising that Billy Wilders most financially successful film is the now largely forgotten Irma la Douce (Irma the sweet). Irma is a non-musical adaptation of Alexandre Brefforts play of the same name, and boasted the long anticipated re-teaming of The Apartmant stars Jack Lemmon and Shirly MacLaine. Lemmon plays Nestor Patou, who after only six months on the Pairs police force is transfered from patrolling a childrens playground to the city's 'pleasure district'. Shirley MacLaine is Irma, the most popular prostitute in the area. Nestor and Irma meet on his first day on patrol, only he doesn't realize she is a "street walker", until after she is arrested as part of a raid he authorizes on the Casanova Hotel. This same raid ends up costing Nestor his job as the police chief (Herschel Bernardi) was enjoying himself at the hotel at the time of the raid.

Now without a job, Nestor stops in at the bestro across from the hotel for a drink, and ends up in a fight with Irma's "err, business manager". Through luck and the use of a low-hanging bar lamp, Nestor wins the fight and the heart of Irma. Now before he knows it Nestor is Irmas jiggalo (I don't apologize for not knowing how to spell that word), but he is so jealous of her sleeping with other men that he can't leave their profitable situation alone. With the help of Moustache, (a brilliant preformance by the now 92 year old Lou Jacobi) the owner of the bestro, Nestor disguises himself as the mysterious Lord X, a British nobel who will pay Irma 500 Francs (Franks?) a visit just to play cards with him twice a week. With this new money flow Irma doesn't have to sleep around, but Nestor has to work himself near to death while she is sleeping to afford keeping up the illusion.

Since Nestor is working all day (when Irma sleeps) he is now sleeping all night, and Ms. La Douce begins to think her man is seeing other women. Eventually Irma gets so convinced of her suspicions that she decides to run away with Lord X, leading to much comic confusion. Irma la Douce is a surprisingly sweet (pardon the pun) and charming film, that is ultimately about a mans efforts to reform a women and getting a little corrupted in the process. Capped by Andre Previns Academy Award winning score, and a closing 'topper' to rival "nobody's perfect", Irma la Douce is a strong comedy, that while lacking The Apartments pathos testifies to the enduring chemistry of its leads. A forshadower of Wilders later racer fair, Irma non-the-less harkens back to the more innocent identity comedies of the directors heyday.

Burl Ives Show Sunday

I haven't been using this blog to plug my radio show like I thought I might, but I did want to post that my program this Sunday (2-2:30 PM mountain time) will be on the late great Burl Ives. Ives doesn't get a lot of broadcast time any more, but his folksy family friendly style is enjoyable despite the corn. If you don't live in the Boise area (were I'm broadcast on KBSU 730AM), you can listen to my program live on the net at pulse.boisestate.edu.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Night Plane To Terror!

A Movie Review
I am surprised to say that I ever found myself wanting to see a Wes Craven movie, but when I saw the expectations defying trailer for Red Eye, I was immediately sold on the film. Like the classic Hitchcock films of the early 6o's (Psycho, The Birds), Red Eye starts out as if it were a romance but then gets broadsided by seemingly alien events and becomes a completely different type of movie. Rachel McAdams, whose brunette hair in this film helps her come across as a more grounded actress, is Lisa Reisert a manger at a Mimi hotel who is returning home from Dallas were she attended her grandmothers funeral. Cillian "creepy eyes" Murphey is Jackson Rippner, the apparently upstanding and charming man who Lisa meets in the airport when their flight is delayed. The two are 'luckily' seated next to each other on the plane, but the budding romance Lisa seems to be hoping for doesn't materialize, when Jackson revels himself to be infact a type of mercenary terrorist.

Jackson threatens Lisa with the death of her beloved divorced father, (at the hands of one of his associates parked across from his home in a BMW) if she doesn't call up her hotel (on one of those airplane phones) and switch the reservations of the soon to be arriving deputy director of Homeland Security, to a certain room in which a terrorist group would find it easier to assassinate him in. Red Eyes premise acutely works, the plot is well thought out and the film very exactly put together. All of the fellow passengers you meet at the beginning of the film have a part to play in the story, and the simple but elegant plotline is all the better for its quick pace and brevity. Minor comic relief is provided by Cynthia (Jayma Mays) as the hotels well meaning but flaky night clerk. Red Eye is great for what it is and comes highly recommended.

Monday, January 16, 2006

At Home and Abroad

A West Wing Word

This weeks episode (Internal Displacement) was all about C.J.. The program opens-up with our old friend from the Sorkin years Washington Post reporter Danny Concaunon (Timothy Busfield) treating his old-flame C.J. to a fish dinner. This dinner is cut sort when Danny reveals that while doing a story on the presidents son-in-law Doug Weston (Steven Eckholt) who is running for congress in New Hampshire, he heard rummors that Doug was "banging the nanny" ala Jude Law. C.J. Excuses herself and then rushes out of the restaurant so that she can decide on how to handel the situation. The President was scheduled to travel to his home state that next Thursday and stump for Doug, but if 'nanny-gate' were to break it would be highly embarrassing to the president and his family. So C.J. brings Doug into her office (for some reason the Westons were in D.C. at the time) and convinces him to withdrawal his request of the president to campaign for him, even though it will probably cost him the election. By the end of the episode the probability of Doug and the 26 year old nannys triest coming out seems so likely that C.J. must reluctantly tell the president about his son-in-laws affair.

I have several problems with the Doug story, not the least of which is the fact that I'm pretty sure the Westons nanny (who is said to have worked for them for 3 years in this ep) was discribed as an older European women in the 5th season Christmas episode. Also while Doug has been well established as a man who thinks he is more capable then he acutely is, the writers had previously gone out of their way to portray him as a good husband and father. It was the fact that Doug was good to his family that enabled Jed to tolerate the man, but perhaps that is why this event should seem all the more a betrayal to Josiah, even though we never see the presidents reaction on screen. I find this program to willing to make any character they don't know how to deal with into a sex-addict, John Hoyns resigned the vice-presidency on the same episode we learned that he had a history as a womanizer, the writers had not previously set anything up there just as they neglected to do for this episode.

Danny and C.J.'s dinner also lead to the other major plot of this episode. Danny challenged C.J. to try and do something more then "the well intentioned defense you've always played" with the remainder of the Bartlett presidency. The president was still bogged down with negotitions (now centering on establishing fair election in Kazaikstahn) between Russia and China, and has been unable to expend political capital on the worsening genocide situation in the Sudan. C.J. comes up with a plan whereby a European power will introduce a resolution to the UN shutting off the corrupt Sudanese governments oil revenue. The problem with this action is that China would be expected to veto it, that government being unlikely to do anything that might jeopardize even part of its oil supply. However France and Germany have been wanting to resume selling weapons to red China for some time ( a practice they stopped after the Sino crack down on democracy demonstrators in 1989), and the U.S. would be willing to drop its opposition to that practice in exchange for European help with Sudan (the U.S. can't introduce the resolution directly for fear of alienating China in the Kazak situation). Of course France turns down the opportunity to help us out (though their ambassador was sympathetic and perhaps the most reasonable Frenchmen I've ever seen), but the always pragmatic Germans were up for the deal.

The shows minor sub-plot dealt with the pending announcement of the location of a government sponsored molecular reaserch facility. The committee charged with selecting the location for the sight had chosen Austin, and such an announcement would help the Santos campaign in traditionally Republican Texas. However a vulnerable senior Democratic senator from Kentucky had requested the announcement be delayed until after the election, as his failure to deliver this pork project to his home state could cost him the re- election. Josh proposes, and C.J. eventually accepts the idea, of the president announcing Austins selection with Santos at a campaign stop in Texas, then the two of them flying up to Kentucky to stump for Senator Bowls.

The episode ends with Danny and C.J. having a second dinner and Danny apparently about to propose marriage when Ms. Craig is called back to the White House for another crises (we know the two will get married from the flash forward at the season opener). As if the leak scandal, PLO chairmans assassination, and Kazak situation weren't enough, it now seems there may have been a nuclear accident in California which will be the subject of next weeks episode.

P.S., the Micheal York guest staring episode of Law & Order: Crimanel Intent that followed Wing this week was particularly creepy.

Dead Reviews

Box Set Reviews

I am now going to take a little time to comment on some DVD boxed sets I have watched recently but that I've never been able to get around and write full reviews about. With school resuming for me tomorrow I wanted to get these out of the way now so I don't have to worry about them in the future.

Dead Like Me season 2 is sadly to be the last season for the Showtime comedy drama about working class grim reapers. I didn't like this season as much as the first (which would be hard to top in the creative department) but the show did gain more of an ensemble feel then it originally had and still maintained far above average quality. Their were many interesting happenings in both the worlds of its living and dead characters this season. The living: Joy and Clancy Lass divorced less then a year after the death of their daughter (who didn't see that one coming), Reggie went through a goth phase, we meet Crystals boyfriend, Misty slept around, and Delores stayed Delores. The dead: Roxy became a cop, we learned of Rube life in the mob in the 20's, Georgia got her first boyfriend, Daisy flirted with the Catholice faith, and Mason stayed Mason. It is sad to know a young and original show with so much potential went before its time.

The Barchester Chronicles was a 1982 BBC mini-series based on two novels by the prolific Anthony Trollope. Boasting a veritable whose-who of British character actors including Donald Pleasence, Nigel Hawthorne, Clive Swift, Geraldine McEwan, and a young Alan Rickman it was a pleasure to watch. It was in this production that Rickman seems to have established his trademark "I'm so much better then you you disgust me" characterization. Pleasence, who wasted so much of his time in horror films and cheap foreign productions, is truly a great actor and seeing him embody the meek and mild Rev. Septimus Harding was a real treat. The plots were mostly comedies of manners and factionalizations in a small community but also touched on the importance of religious moderation as both the 'reformers' and 'orthodox' came off as overly reactionary.

The Greatest American Hero season one, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for this Steven J. Cannell produced program. The odd-couple chemistry of William Katt and Robert Culp as liberal school teacher Ralph Hinckley and arch-conservative FBI agent Bill Maxwell played great on television and could have lasted many more years then it did. Though the plots were some times corny the cast dynamics were strong and the characters extremely likeable (expect maybe for Michael Pare's Tony, at least at the beginning). Finally the more I think about it the more I realize that Connie Sellecca's Pam Davidson is perhaps my ideal women.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Conduct UNbecoming

A Movie Review

Next to Munich, The Interpreter is the best political thriller of 2005. Veteran director Sydney Pollack (who also has a small role in the film) helms this, the first movie production ever authorized to shoot inside the UN building in New York. The story concerns Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman) a Ku interpreter at the United Nations who overhears what may be an assassination plot against the soon to be visiting president/dictator of the fictional nation of Matobo. Sean Penn plays the world-weary Secret Service agent sent to investigate her claim. Now movies like this benefit most from going into them with as little knowledge of the plot as possible so I will stop here, but this film meet my expectations which were reasonably high. The plot which at its basics is rather simple, had enough twist and turns to be engaging. Kidman and Penn do fine jobs in their respective roles and the mutual attraction between them is handeld in a more sophisticated and subtle way then is usually the case in films of this kind. But perhaps its the feeling of realism that comes from the exclusive location shooting combined with the characters strong backstories that gives this film its weight.

Limbo in Limbo

A panel of leading Catholic theologians has recommended to the Vatican that limbo be dropped from the list of eternal realms. Never an official doctrine of the Catholic Church, limbo was invented by St. Thomas Aquinas 800 years ago as a sort of "eternal waiting room" were the spirits of unbaptized babies and righteous Jews and pagans would go after death. As the Catholic Church has taken steps in recent years toward the entertaining of broader concepts of who is and isn't saved, it is felt that the elimination of limbo would get rid of an unnecessarily harsh idea of what happens to the righteous unbaptized. However by deleting limbo as a possibility from Catholic doctrine and stating that God would not subject unbaptized infants to an eternal in-between state, the risk is run of undervalueing the Catholic baptism and making that practice seem far less urgent. For now however it seems that the eternal neutral realm is stuck in an awkward in-between place.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Those Small Town Values

A Movie Review

Based on the novel by Grace Metalious that scandalized America in the 1950's, Director Mark Robsons Peyton Place spawn a theatrical sequel, television soap, and a host of imitators (even serving as a sort of template for my favorite TV show, Twin Peaks). The story begins in the spring of 1941 and follows a string of characters centering on that years high school graduating class in the small community of Peyton Place Massachusetts. Idaho native Lana Turner, just 11 years removed from her sultry preformance in The Post Man Always Rings Twice, is Constance 'Connie' MacKenzie a local dress shop owner who has been hiding the illegitimate circumstances of her daughters birth from the community for nearly 18 years. Her daughter Allison MacKenzie (Diane Varsi) is a good girl who would like just a little more freedom then her mother gives her. Lee Philips, who comes across as a kind of cross between John Kennedy and Treat Williams, is the new principle in town Michael Rossi. Other characters include Barry Coe as Rodney Harrington the popular son of the owner of the towns primary employer a textile mill, Selena Cross (Hope Lang) Allisons best friend from the poor side of town, and Russ Tamblyn (who incidently was on Twin Peaks) as the shy mothers-boy Norman Page.

Though on the surface everything seems fine in Peyton Place in reality the town is crawling with secrets and its citizens oppressed by its gossipy small-town New England ways. A story of love, lies, adultery, rape and suicide, one can understand why Eisenhower era America was a little taken aback by this tale. After all Peyton Place wasn't New York or Chicago, it was a Rockwellian style every place that struck close to middle-Americas self-image. Slightly hampered by some ham acting, Payton Place features beautiful color photography, a fine Franz Waxman score, and an important lesson about compassion. Of special note is Lloyd Nolans (Dr. Matthew Swain) courtroom monologue at the end, it is really the highpoint of the movie, and by the way that's Bonanzas Lorne Green as the prosecutor.

Altman to get Life-Time Achievement Award

It has been announced that filmmaker Robert Altman will receive the life-time achievement award during the Academy Awards broadcast in March. Altman, who started out as a television director, has had a long and varied career and is noted for constently re-inventing himself in terms of the films he makes. Noted works of Altmans include MASH, Nashville, The Player, Gosford Park and the innovative mini-series "Tanner 88'". Altman is not universally apreciated however because of the cynical edge found in many of his films and his love of overlapping characters dialogue. The 80 year-old directors time seems to have finally come however, and after years of perceived slights it seems that Popeye has finally been forgiven him and he will get his award. Altmans next project is a film adaptation of Garrison Keillars popular public radio series The Prairie Home Companion (which I enjoy listening to on my drive home from work on Saturdays) staring Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Kline, and Lindsay Lohan, the movie is due out later this year.

Also of interest noted Mormon business mogul Larry Miller is receiving some bad press for his decision to remove controversial gay-cowboy movie Brokeback Mountain from its run at one of his theaters. Read move about this story via this link.

Shelly Winters: 1920-2006

In Memory

Actress Shelly Winters passed away this morning of heart failure at the age of 85. The celebrated actress who has appeared in 130 films was adminted to the hospital in October following a heart attack, she was in the care of the Rehabilitation Centre of Beverly Hills at the time of Her passing. Winters started in film during the early 1940's playing mostly bit parts, during this period of her career she roomed for a time with future super-star Marlyin Monroe. A favorite of director George Stevens she apeard in A Place in the Sun, and later in The Diary of Ann Frank for which she won an Acadamy Award. Winters also had memorable roles in Stanly Kubricks Lolita, Sidney Polloacks The Scalphunters, as well as the origanl Alfie, A Patch of Blue, The Poseidon Adventure, and Petes Dragon. Winters earned a new generation of fans with a re-accuring role as Grandmother Nana Mary on the 90's sitcom 'Roseanne'. Married and divorced three times Shelly Winters is survied by her only child (by actor Vittorio Gassman) daughter Vittoria-Gina.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Apartment

In conjunction with my celebrations of the Billy Wilder centennial, I thought I would include a link to a rather 'passionate' article about my favorite Wilder film, and 196o's Oscar winner for best picture, The Apartment.

Bringing God into the Debate

I read this comment in a summary in The Week magazine of an article written by Joseph Loconte of the New York Times. The article was written in response to increasing instances of well placed Democrates (like Nancy Pelosi) using religious rhetoric to advance their policy goals in an attempt to mimick Republican success in that area. I think that Loconte's point is a good one and demonstrates how I've increasingly come to feel about imposing 'God' on secular policy debates.

"In a secular democracy such as ours, the pursuit of the 'common good' requires respect for people's differences, considerable compromise, and appeals to reason. Framing debates in religious terms almost invariably results in extreme positions: If God is a Democrat, or a Republican, then the other party is almost necessarily the surrogate of Satan, and every disagreement becomes a holy war." -The Week, Jan 13th 2006.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Our Enemies Our Selves

A Movie Review

Yesterday I went to see my first movie at a relatively new theater here in the valley. While Edwards 21 is a bright and gaudy place, The Majestic is darker and old school almost reminiscent of a train or railway station. This change in theater tone was appropriate given the motion picture I went to see, Steven Spielbergs Munich. Now a moral lesson in a Spielberg film is nothing new, he has long given those though typically the lessons he imparts focus on pretty uncontroversal moral declarations such as, racism bad, genocide bad, being stuck in an airport for almost a year bad. The lessons that Munich imparts are perhaps less direct and more difficult to take in a post 9/11 world.

Eric Bana is an actor I had never paid much attention to, but after his performance as Avner in this film that may change. Avner is the son of an Isreali war hero, who is serving in a low impact military job and has a 7 month pregnant wife at the beginning of the film. The opening sequences of the movie depict the taking and eventual killing of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, with that action punctuated by the very different reactions of Israeli (including Avners) and Palestinian family's watching the events on TV. In the after math of the killings American school teacher turned Israeli Prime Minister Goldea Meir (Lynn Cohen) authorizes the deployment of a group of assassins (headed by Avner) to take out 11 individuals who had some role in plotting the Munich massacre.

Avners team is made up of 5 people, non of whom have any experience in assassinations but all of whom bring some specific expertise from their civilian life that will come in handy during their missions, for example Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz) was a toy maker who did work with explosives on the side. With nearly unlimited financing and the help of a French information syndicate, the five men spend the next year-plus traveling around Europe checking names of their lists, growing increasingly paranoid, and repeatedly encountering the moral ambiguities of their work.

The films success as an espionage thriller is only enhanced by its early 70's setting (the era is well captured without feeling tacky), and the elaborate plans that the 5 come up with to kill their targets are fascinating. Their opponites point of view is well articulated during conversations had when the group spends a night in a safe house with Palestinian fighters who think they are communist agents. All the performances are fine, the tension palatable, and Spielbergs versatility as a director well displayed. I have seen 4 movies in the theater over the Christmas holiday and Munich is the only one I'd pay to see there again.

  • Also seen by me yesterday: Now Voyager is one of the more respected love storys of the 1940's. Based on the novel by Stella Dallas author Olive Higgins Prouty, Now Voyager is the story of Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis), youngest daughter of Mrs. Henry Windle Vale (Gladys Cooper) of the well respected Boston Vale family. The 'old made' (she can't be more then 30 something in this film) Aunt Charlotte is driven to a nervous breakdown by her domineering mother. Taken to a retreat in Vermont by kindly doctor Jaquith (Claude Rains playing a psychologist for the second time in a year), Charlotte loses weight and demonstrates a great deal of psychological improvement. Feeling that she needs some real world experience to cape her recovery Dr. Jaquith sends her on a cruise from New York to Rio and back financed by her caring sister-in-law Lisa Vale (Ilka Chase). On the boat Charlotte hooks up with unhappy married man Jerry Durrance (Warners European import Paul Henrid), wins back her confidence, and ill-fated romance ensues. An inspiring story about coming out of ones shell, Now Voyager is Bette Davis in fine form in a sympathetic role. The rest of the cast especially Claude Rains and Paul Henreid give endearing performances with the film only marred by the forced comic relief of Frank Puglia as Giuseppe the incompetent cab driver, a character who feels like a refuge from another film.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

What The?!

I found this while checking out random blogs. You know I never would have thought about doing a cartoon staring a fetus. To whom is Umbert talking anyway?

The Theater of the Mind

A Movie Review

Jordanian director Omar Naims film The Final Cut is one of the more unusual movies I've seen in a while. Set in a world (the future or perhaps more likely an alternate reality judging by the production design) in which roughly 1 in 20 individuals has something called a Zoe implant (Zoe is a Greek word for life) inserted in their brain before birth that records all their experiences. The purpose of the implant is to provide a complete audio and visual record of a persons life, which after death is edited down by a person called a ''cutter'' into a roughly feature length compilation of highlights called a "rememory" as a keepsake for family and friends.

Robin Williams is a cutter named Alan, who haunted by the memory of a childhood trauma and made cynical by his job, has been a quite near emotionless human being. Alan specializies in 'cutting' the lives of truly un-likeable people in such a way as to make them seem pleasant and admirable, or as his one time fellow cutyer Fletcher (Jim Caviezel) says "you make sinners look like saints". Fletcher had left the order of cutters after his nephew died and his sister withdrew from society in favor of watching countless hours of her late sons unedited Zoe footage. Hooking up with a group of anti-Zoe activists (slogan: "Remember for yourself"), Fletcher re-enters Alans life in the hopes of gaining access to the unvarnished life footage of his ex-coworkers latest client, an executive at Zoe who is rumored to have sexual abused his young daughter. A fierce adherent to the cutters code of ethics Alan refuses to surrender the footage, but does chose to use it for his own purposes after he discovers the image of a man who should have been long dead in a recent memory of the deceased.

Though the story itself seems kind of old pulp, the fascinating concept that underpins it makes up for other weaknesses. This movie presents us with a new moral dilemma, the efficacy of these implants were they to exist. I found myself throughout the film wondering where I would stand on this issue. On the one hand my own fear of death and desire to leave something of myself behind would make me want an implant. On the other hand who would want to live in a world knowing that your every moment, and lets face it we are never always at our best, could be recorded and come back to use decades later. Both sides of this issue are effectively presented in the film, and I find that like stem-cell research both positions make me somewhat uncomfortable (though on stem-cells the fact that they could possibly save lives I find outweighs any of the more abstract questions of the humanity of embryos). Ultimately I am undecided on what I think about 'Zoe Implants'. However I am not undecided on The Final Cut, its not great but still worth remembering.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

McGarry Debate Debacle

A West Wing Word

The title of this blog entry comes form the title of a blog entry on this last weeks episode of the West Wing (ep title: "Running Mates"), which began with Martin Sheen giving a tribute to the late actor John Spencer (who plays Leo) from a set the looks like the East Room. This is the first episode of the program to air after Spencers death and ironically focuses on his character. During practice sessions for the upcoming vice-presidential debate, the number two guy on the democratic ticket (who despite a life-time in politics has never before run for public office) completely tanked, sending the Santo/McGarry camp into panic mode. The blog artical comes from a leak on Leo's preformance. Things got so bad that Josh even called up Toby to ask advice between his court appearances, which while providing little in the way of actual help with the debate situation did at least mark another step toward reconciliation in their strained friendship. Leo's call to Santo for advice (more on his side-story for this episode later) proved more usefull, with the congressman re-assuring his running-mate that he really does know his stuff and has probably just got to self aware as a result of all the well intentioned advice he's been getting. So Leo blows of his final debate prep in favor of watching a movie at home (by the audio I heard of the film I think it might have been a Katharine Hepburn movie). That evening the now re-charged Leo more the holds his own against Republican VP candidate Ray Sullivan, who is himself a former prosecutor and accomplished debater.

In the Santos sub-plot Matt returns to his home in Houston for a finale weekend of rest before election day, which is now six-weeks out West Wing time. When Matt spends most of his vacation time working rather then spending time with the kids (I think the son is now like three year older then he was in previous episodes, recasting possibly?), his wife gets mad. Helens mood is helped none when in addition to Matthews distractions, and the hoards of secret service and campaign people in their home, a tabloid newspaper publishes a photo of her accidentally showing a little thong while picking up her daughter in the front yard. Matt of course insestes on calling up the rags publishers and chewing them out, very Harry Truman of him.

On the Kazhakstan front any progress on negations is currently classified as Kate repeatedly reminds us. Speaking of Kate, the writers in throwing another bone to the relationshipers in the audience have updated her and Wills relationship from awkward flirting to awkward dating, their first date: watching the vice-presidential debates and eating take-out. C.J. and the President were absent from the show this week but per the previews will return next week for an episode about Jed Bartlets least favorite son-in-law.

Endangered Species

The lamentation that conservative Republicans are pushing moderate ones out of the party is a legitimate concern that has gotten play in the main stream media. On the other hand relatively little is said about efforts of the extreme left to marginalize democrat's viewed as 'to right-wing'. Case in point is Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman who is often considered "a Republicans favorite Democrat". Joe Lieberman is perhaps the most vocal and well known supporter of the current Iraq War in the Democratic Party. As a result of his support for the conflict Lieberman was fiercely attacked by the MoveOn.org crowed during his 2004 bid for the Democratic nomination, Lieberman faired quite poorly in the primaries despite being only four years removed from the number two spot on his partys ticket. Now as he gears up for re-election to the Senate Lieberman finds a concerted effort by members of his partys left flank to challenge him in the primaries (so far no strong rival has emerged). But with party leaders like Howard Dean, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi all "taking shoots" (The Nation, Jan 9th 2006) in recent weeks, and MoveOn eager to find a candidate to back financially, things are looking bleak for the senior senator from the nutmeg state. If all this weren't bad enough Lowell Weicker a former governor of Connecticut who has earned The Nations praises for being "a maverick and liberal Republican" has pleadged to challenge Joe in the general election as an independent, should the sitting senator not be defeated by his own party in the primaries (I suppose the plus side of this is that Lieberman would then most likely be replaced by a Republican).

The anti-war faction within the Democratic party sensing an opening with recent setbacks to the currently dominate Republican majority is attempting to seize control of its party (and by extension the congress) in a manner every bit as aggressive and mean spirited as what the conservative Republicans are being charged with being. Now I admit that I don't know if this would be a good or bad thing in the long run. As a strong supporter of a vital two party system (which I admit we haven't had much of recently), I would like to see the Dem's get their gumption back. However I'm not sure whether I want the left party to go "whole-hog" and become an anti-war party, or if I feel that the potently freighting consequences of an early withdrawal from Iraq are to dangerous to risk making a political possibility. 2006 could be the most important mid-term election sense the Republican Revolution (copyright Newt Limited) of 1994, and I guess in about 11 months we should know for certain.

Sharon Survives

Well up until now I've avoided writing on recent events concerning Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharons health because I thought he was going to die and I'd be writing an obituary for him. However it turns out that the mans reputation for stubbornness goes even farther then I thought. I really do hope he pulls through, Sharon has a certain "only Nixon can go to China" credibility to him that helps to legitimacy the peace process. With a reasonable man finally in charge of the PLO and so much progress having been made in the last year or so I'd hate to see anything get into the way of the peace process now. With Israeli elections scheduled for March Sharons recently formed centrist party seems set to win the largest number of seats in parliament, lets hope that they do and progress in the region can continue with or with-out the current Prime Minister.

Monday, January 09, 2006

A Mighty Fortress

A Movie Review

In the run up to their 2003 theatrical releases, I chanced upon an online debate between Mormons and Lutherns on the respective merits of the coming films based upon important foundational tales of their respective spiritual traditions. Of course the Lutherns were convinced that Luther would be the better film, and the Mormons had high expectations for The Book of Mormon Movie. Having now seen both films I believe that I can settle this dispute in Luthers favor, and not just because The Book of Mormon Movie was so unspeakably awful, but because Luther was pretty good itself.

The movie begins with a young Martin Luther (Joseph Fiennes) forsaking the career in law that his father had laid out for him after God saved his life in a lightning storm. Luther joins an order of Augustinian Monks and even through his serve there is tormented by a heightened sense of personal sin. The sincere young monk wins over the affection of the head of his order, who feeling the Martin really needs to get out of the monastery dispatches him as a courier to Rome. Martin Luther is disgusted by what he sees in the holy city, an "open sewer" of a place were indulgences and sex are equally available and the Pope would rather be out fighting battles then tending to the spiritual needs of the people.

Upon his return from Rome Luther is even more sullen then before, the head of his order sends him to another city to attain further schooling and serve as a priest. While attending university Luther manages to win his professors over with his sincerity and logic, as well as his largely disillusioned congregation after he refuses to condemn a seriously ill young boy to hell for having committed suicide (he even gets the boys body buried in the church yard, something that just wasn't done for suicides at that time). Upon achieving a professorship for himself in that town, Martin Luther begins his campaign against indulgences and the veneration of relices, even winning over the local prince Frederick (Sir Peter Ustinov in one of his last roles) who had spent a life time amassing a large collection of such relics. Eventually Luthers teachings against the purchasing of indulgences gains such currency among the local German populace that it begins to fustrate Pope Leo X's financing scheme for St. Peters Church in Rome. An inquisitor is sent from the Vatican to try and dissuade Luther, but he too is won over (returning to tell the pope that he fears the young priest might be right), so a younger more ambitious representative is sent to conduct Luthers ex-communication hearings in Worms.

When Luther refuses his last chance to recant he is now in constant danger of his life and must go into hiding. The rest of the film recounts the violent consequences of Luthers words, divisions within his own movement, his work on the German translation of the Bible, and his marriage to the former nun Katharina von Bora (Claire Cox). Luther was not produced by a major studio, but rather financed by a number of Lutheran groups both business and eclectical. One might say that it is as a result of this that the less pleasant aspects of Luthers life and personality (such as his anti-Semitism and possible mental illness) are glossed over. Oddly enough I didn't find this sanatizing of Luther particularly distracting, perhaps this has something to do with my being raised a Mormon and growing up viewing white-washed depictions of my faiths past religious leaders in church produced historical bio-dramas. Despite his faults I really like Luther, he was a complicated man of deep spiritual convictions, an observant sense of humor, and a mountain of personal neuroses. While I admit my respect for the man and his story makes it easer for me to overlook the shortcomings of this relatively modestly budgeted film, the movie is still a fine depiction of a man worth knowing more about.

Let The Games Begin

Well confirmation hearings begin today for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito (insert Alito were Iraq is on this cartoon). With the recent brew-ha-ha over domestic wire-tapping some Senate Democrat's are vowing to make that matter an issue in the hearings. This is all in addition to the already existent & wide spread opposition to Judge Alito among a sizeable section of the political left. Harsh statements were put out against the judges nomination by groups as diverse as the AFL-CIO, MoveOn.org, Americans United for Separation of Church & State (funny, I always thought I held that position as well), and famed television producer Norman Lear (not really a group). Also their is talk of a possible filibuster against Judge Alito spear-headed by the likes of Senators Harry Reid (D-NV), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Ted Kennedy (D-Kennedy Land). With Samuel Alito having already received the highest possible rating from the American Bar Association all such attacks against the judge should be seen for the partisan acts they are. Judge Samuel Alito is a conservative nominee from a conservative president, thats just the way its going to be, judges reflecting the general philosophy of the president that nominated them is the best way to ensure some measure of popular effect on the selection of these officers. The Senates only real job in terms of confirmation is to ensure that the nominee is 1) qualified and 2) not crazy, and Sam Alitio easily passes on both those criteria. There should be no politically motivated litmus test on Supreme Court confirmations, and I don't care if that nominee is a Scalia or a Ginsburg, qualifications and ability are all that really should matter in a constitutional sense.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Memoirs of Memoirs of a Geisha

A Movie Review

So last night my brother and sister-in-law invite me to go out with them to see a movie. When we arrive at the theater to decide what we are going to see, my brother and I come up with a list of about three movies that we would like to view (acutely there would have been even more but we ruled out films that any of us had previously seen). My sister-in-law, ever cleaver, suggests that we should eat first, so by the time we get out of the restaurant the only movie left with a decent show time is her perferd selection Memoirs of a Geisha; acutely Fun with Dick and Jane was also available but the problem with that movie is that it is Fun with Dick and Jane. I have no ill will however, she won the movie game fair and square.

So after sitting through the recently re-christened pre-movie show (call it what you will but it is still The 20 and it still stinks), and the prerequisite previews (Lord forgive me but I do want to see American Dreamz), the film began. Now I did not expect to like this film, I was hopeing at best that it would bear some resemblance to The Last Emperor, I film I really do like. The opening narration of the movie has the protagonist intoning that "A story like mine should never be told", by the end of the film I believe my brother and sister-in-law shared that sentiment, I on the other hand only believe that story should not be told by Rob Marshall (I absolutely hated Chicago).

Now the first 50 minutes of this film are painfully boring, I had to force myself up in my seat and I'm sure my tongue was hanging out at several points. In short Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang, though played by a different actress in the childhood scenes) is separated from her family and sold into a geisha house to pay for the medical expenses of her dying mother. Sayuri's childhood is not a pleasant one, with a demanding matron, and cruel "older sister" Hatsumomo (Li Gong), though she does find a friend in fellow geshia-to-be Pumpkin (Youki Kudon). Eventually Sayuri meets the kindly chairman of an electric company ( Ken Watanabe), who buys her a snow-cone and to whom the young girl instantly falls in love. It is at this point that the film finally picks up.

Sayuri is taken under the tutelage of the most famous geisha in all the land Mamcha (Micheli Yeoh), who trains the young girl to be her successor. I suppose that now I should explain that a Geisha is a sort of high-class fantasy women, different from a traditional prostitute in that she is given classical training and kept a virgin until her 'first time' is auctioned off to the highest bidder, in Sayuri case a wealthy doctor. Through Mamcha Sayuri comes again into contact with her beloved chairman, only to become the object of fancy for his business partner Nobu (Koji Yakusho) who was somewhat deformed in battle in Manchuria and who the chairman owes his life.

World War II intervenes before a relationship with either partner can be consummated, and Sayuri is farmed out to serve as a laundress in the country-side. After the war Nobu returns for her with the hope of using her to charm an American Colonel into giving them an important government contract. However the Colonel comes to expect more then just 'company' from Sayuri, which angers the surprisingly naive Nobu and leads to further complication. The picture goes on for a little while after this point, and though I don't want to give away to much about the ending, I will state that I found it a little to 'neat' and felt as though it didn't jive with the tone of the rest of the movie.

While I do not traditionally find east-Asian women to be particularly attractive (just a matter of personal taste), Ziyi Zhang is a truly beautiful women with enchanting aqua-blue eyes that are repeatedly commented on throughout the film. Surprising most of the cast is not Japanese's, a lot of Chinese and at least one Malaysian are among the staring players, the film also boast the impressive visuals and set designs you would expect from a Spielberg produced movie. The picture is like a cake that is not baked evenly however, which leaves parts sweet and others highly unappealing. The Pumpkin character ended up taking a direction I hadn't expected, and the American characters were decidedly one-dementional (though I fear disturbingly accurate). Spielberg who managed to make some equally difficult characters seem more human in The Color Purple might have been a better choice as director then Marshall who seems more concerned with form then substance. A true mixed bag of a flick its best to know what to expect before viewing Geshia, or else you'll leave the theater confused and depressed like my brother and his wife.