Monday, July 21, 2014

Making A 'Wrinkle In Time'



My absence on this page is due to aliens, time-and-space travel, and even an evil brain. All are elements of Madeleine L'Engle's novel "A Wrinkle In Time", adapted for stage by John Glore, and the show I'm currently directing for the annual student production from Rose Center Summer Players.

The show runs for 5 performances only this week, starting Thursday night at 7 at Rose Center in Morristown.

So my 'summer vacation' has been one filled with travelling through the Universe via Einstein-Rosen Bridges, discussions with the cast about science-fiction tropes and traits, about Time and paradoxes, about science, family, tesseracts, and this endless multi-verse strewn with stars which we all call home.

And, as this is tech and production week, ending with 5 performances, I likely won't have time to get back here until next week. 

If you wonder how one stages travelling via a Wormhole across hundreds of light years - well, you'll just have to come to see the show. We have a very talented cast of area students, ranging from 12 to 18 years of age who bring this show to life. 

The show runs Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7 ppm, and two matinees, at 2 pm on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are a mere $5 and can be purchased in advance by calling 423-581-4330.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Congress Holds Hearings on Theology

Why is a House Judiciary Committee holding hearings on theology? Seriously, why? It can't be legal. Just look at the reality here - some Christian faith based attorneys want to warn Congressman their is a war on religion in America. 

The Chair Bob Goodlatte of the committee said:

"Indeed, the founding fathers feared the effect of government on the free exercise of religion.  In a letter dated June 12, 1812 to Benjamin Rush, John Adams stated that ‘[n]othing is more dreaded than the National Government meddling with Religion.’

And then he meddles with it.

Here is the video of Congressman Louie Gohmert demanding a pastor accept his view of Christianity. Why is this Congressional business?





That witness has his say afterwards:

"t got even stranger. Soon Gohmert was talking about a “Seinfeld” episode where the character Elaine became upset to learn that her boyfriend was a Christian. This led to the real zinger: “Do you believe in sharing the good news that will keep people from going to hell consistent with the Christian beliefs?”

How can these hearings be legal?

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Empty Slogan Act for 2014 Re-Election Campaigns

My Congressman, Republican Phil Roe, sent an email this morning echoing the party's press release with some words meant to gain attention - like "easing the pain at the pump" - mostly sounding like "gosh these gas prices are high and darn that Obama".

It was to draw attention to some legislation passed this week in Congress, called the "Lowering Gas Prices to Fuel an America That Works Act of 2014". Except there was really zero action to push prices down, but to open up more drilling for oil and natural gas. More product might in a few years cause prices to fall ... maybe. 

But really, it's the endless Wall Street speculation on commodities that drives prices. And worries from speculators about what continuing war in the Middle East might do to supplies and/or prices.

It's more of an Act which allows congress folks campaigning for re-election to say "I voted for the Lowering Gas Prices Act, but the Senate and Obama were against it."

Call it the Empty Slogan Act for 2014 Re-Election Campaigns.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Smartphones Can't Be Searched Without Warrants, Except When They Are



I suppose I'm a Debbie Downer today, but the Supreme Court ruling yesterday giving privacy protections to smartphones and requiring warrants to search them ... seems just a little hollow and a whole lot of ironic.

Despite the ruling's support for privacy protections, there's a telling phrase in Justice Roberts majority opinion:

" These cases do not implicate the question of whether the collection or inspection of aggregated digital information amounts to a search under other circumstances."

Well. With reports that computer and mobile devices can be delivered with components which provide agencies access to every action, warrants may be moot. Then there's the commercial agencies which have provided spying tools worldwide:

"The new components target Android, iOS, Windows Mobile, and BlackBerry users and are part of Hacking Team’s larger suite of tools used for targeting desktop computers and laptops. But the iOS and Android modules provide cops and spooks with a robust menu of features to give them complete dominion over targeted phones.
They allow, for example, for covert collection of emails, text messages, call history and address books, and they can be used to log keystrokes and obtain search history data. They can take screenshots, record audio from the phones to monitor calls or ambient conversations, hijack the phone’s camera to snap pictures or piggyback on the phone’s GPS system to monitor the user’s location. The Android version can also enable the phone’s Wi-Fi function to siphon data from the phone wirelessly instead of using the cell network to transmit it. The latter would incur data charges and raise the phone owner’s suspicion."
The court seemed to indicate the larger issue of warrantless data collection will have to be taken up by Congress and policymakers rather than decided by lawsuits.
Still, the court's ruling is welcome - but enormous questions about privacy and security, for the individual and the nation, remain unanswered.



Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Congressional Folks Sway and Sort of Sing

With Congressional approval ratings hitting a low of 16%, the moment yesterday when House and Senate leaders held hands, swayed and sort of sang along to "We Shall Overcome" is quite bizarre.

The moment occurred during a ceremony commemorating the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Given the years of hostile refusals to work together, the song perhaps which might have been more akin to Congressional action is "We Shall Not Be Moved".




Friday, June 20, 2014

The First Baby-Boomer Horror Film Returns

"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" was a raw, relentless assault on moviegoers in 1974. And it's still as grim and challenging today - forget those weak generic "remakes" of recent years. They are not worth ten seconds of your time. The original is being re-released in a new digital restoration in theaters this summer (slated for Nashville's Belcourt July 25 and seeing this one in a theater is an amazing experience, bested only by seeing it on a drive-in movie screen, the sounds of saws and screams echoing in mono sound across the parking lot.).

Here's the trailer for the re-release (maybe NSFW)




Writer John Bloom, aka Joe Bob Briggs, authored a terrific history of the making of the movie in this 2004 essay, go read it. Bloom keenly observes:

"Chainsaw was the first baby-boomer horror film, in which pampered but idealistic suburban children, distrustful of anyone over thirty, are terrorized by the deformed adult world that dwells on the grungy side of the railroad tracks. There had been other films that treated rural America as a place of seething, barely contained violence—notably Deliverance—but never one in which the distinction was so clearly made between an old America, of twisted, deranged adults, and a new America, of honest, right-thinking children."

And there's this:

"We had no prop man, so I found the props. We didn’t even have a chain saw. I found one. Of course, today I would know that if you’re making a movie with ‘chain saw’ in the title, you should have ten, not just one. But we had one. A McCollough. I had to take the teeth out of it so it wouldn’t hurt anyone. I remember we wrote a letter to McCollough, thinking they might want to invest in the movie. They never answered us.”

Bloom details the movie's connection to a wee baby Gwyneth Paltrow, director Sidney Lumet, and the resignation of President Nixon. Bloom of course is a horror/drive-in legend for his Joe Bob writings, and was even given a cameo in the 1986 sequel, the movie which also gave us Bill Mosely as Chop-Top and Dennis Hopper in all his bizarro glory as a Texas Ranger hunting down the cannibal family. But this sequel is more of a mash-up of Looney Tunes and Chainsaws.

The original is a take-no-prisoners descent into madness.

Director/writer Tobe Hooper did such a good job scaring the crap out of audiences and Hollywood, his career never really took off, despite his success with "Poltergeist". And oddly the formula he created for the independent (now mainstream) horror movie was copied and repeated to bring massive success to John Carpenter and Sam Raimi. But Hooper, the first to break thru so many barriers, was a casualty.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

This Blog Under Attack

I've noticed that in the last few days, I've gotten thousands of hits on this page from China - thousands. Spam comments land constantly, so it isn't a bot, since any comment requires word verification. 

So that means actual persons are getting paid to visit and comment.

Today, I realized this all began about the same time our Governor went to China for "undisclosed business."

Coincidence? Maybe not.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Sen. Ramsey's Attack on the Supreme Court


Why is Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey intent on taking out 3 members of the state's Supreme Court? Is it a political power grab?

The reasons appear quite murky and dubious, and the impact a high dollar political election campaign will have on the state's judiciary branch will likely diminish the role of our third branch of government. Slate offers a good perspective (hat tip to KnoxViews for the link):

"Three justices on the Tennessee Supreme Court are facing an election-year attack, not for any particular decision they have authored or even for any unpopular opinion they have espoused. No, in an ugly campaign in Tennessee that appears to be getting ever uglier, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, who is also the state’s lieutenant governor, is attempting to oust three state Supreme Court justices in their Aug. 7 retention elections, chiefly for the judicial outrage of having been appointed to the high court by a Democrat.

"When judicial races turn into spending races, what suffers most is not Democrats or Republicans, but judicial independence and integrity. As has been exhaustively chronicled by one nonpartisan study after another, judges don’t want to be dialing for dollars from the attorneys who litigate before them, and litigants don’t want to appear before judges who dial for dollars. All of the data shows that the effect is a decline in confidence in the independence of the judiciary and a spending arms race that spirals ever more out of control.

POSTSCRIPT: Whatever happened to the "laser focus" on jobs or education?


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Where Are The Women?


I noticed an image of four film directors who have been the premiere filmmakers of the last few decades, Scorsese, Spielberg, Coppola and Lucas – which I liked for simply the way it looked and for the influence these fellows have had over movies. But the image prompted a friend to say that despite the radical changes these men made, they didn’t really provide much change for opportunities for women as filmmakers.

It’s a good point, to which she added that perhaps in decades to come we’ll see a collection of grey-haired ladies who have made movie history. I think it’s worth noting that an elite group of women have been crucial to the success of these fellows, though.

Scorsese has had one person, film editor ThelmaSchoonmaker, craft all his films into shape, from “Woodstock” to his current projects. His films have a total reliance on editing, providing the rhythms and structure that are seen as hallmarks to his work. Likewise, Spielberg’s first two film s, “Sugarland Express” and “Jaws” were edited by Verna Fields – let’s be honest, it’s the editing that makes “Jaws”.

But most consistently, he has relied on producer Kathleen Kennedy – from “E.T.” onwards, and she recently took the helm as the boss at Lucasfilm, and has control over all the upcoming “Star Wars” films as well. Kennedy’s work has garnered 120 Oscar nominations so far. Her credits are most impressive.

Yet, she is quoted on IMDB as saying:

“I don't think there's a great deal of discrimination -- although I'm completely perplexed and confused as to why there aren't more women. For instance, if we're looking for new, young directors, which is something we do all the time, we certainly never go look at films because they're directed by a man or a woman. We look at films because they are winning awards, they're good, and it has nothing to do with gender. And women certainly have equal opportunity to get into a university like UCLA or USC, to get into the film department, to take the same courses to allow them to make films, to deal with a whole gamut of subject matter, and yet I don't know what happens. There's something that happens in the process of getting there that seems to turn many women away.”

As for George Lucas – an interesting fact – his wife Marcia was integral to his earliest works, again as a film editor, for the “Star Wars” films, and on “Taxi Driver” with Scorsese. But, once the couple divorced in 1983, she left Hollywood and filmmaking. Scorsese’s wife Barbra Da Fina was also his producer from “Color of Money” to projects now underway – but they too divorced.

Coppola – well, that has brought us his daughter Sofia, a rising star director.


In truth, these four men did much (successfully or not) to mark the end of studio control and the rise of independent filmmakers, but they are certainly the Old Boys network leaders today. Fighting those powers, asserting control, all was a rather constant and often brutal struggle.

And let’s be honest too – when it comes to the forms of Western drama, women were just barely allowed onstage as late as the mid-late-1800s. That’s a huge hurdle to overcome. Oddly, back in the old Hollywood studio days, women were pretty much in charge of all film editing, as wage-workers mostly, since studio heads saw the job as rudimentary and lacking artistic merit.


“Gender discrimination in Hollywood goes far beyond women simply not getting the gig. It is reflected in movie budgets, P&A budgets, the size of distribution deals (if a female director's movie is lucky enough to score one), official and unofficial internship or mentorship opportunities, union eligibility, etc.

“Women in Hollywood have no male allies. There are some who pretend to be on our side, but yeah, not really. They may say the right thing because, after all, they're liberals and that's a public image they'd like to keep up. Others may actually believe in gender equality, but are not willing to put up a fight for it that could sacrifice their own status or relationships.”

Here’s what I know for certain, no matter that much of the world can’t seem to grasp this idea: It’s a grave error to marginalize women, no matter what the field of endeavor. And changing this view is indeed a large obstacle.