Friday, October 14, 2005

Camera Obscura - Now Playing

Let's hit the good news first - of all the movies currently available in theatres right now, the best-reviewed, most audience pleasing movie to watch remains the action-comedy-sci-fi adventure "Serenity" by writer/director Joss Whedon. My previous review is here, and add another fine American endorsement from Stephen King. Go see it, or you will regret missing a marvelous adventure on the big screen.

If the kids are clamoring for a movie, you can't go wrong with the clay-mation comedy adventure of "Wallace and Grommit: The Curse of The Were-Rabbit." The hilariously funny duo have been stars of several short films and the arrival of their big-screen epic is a first-rate movie for everyone. It is one of the few movies of the year that is earning nationwide praise from critics and audiences. I mean, c'mon -- there's a Were-Rabbit in it!!

A new arrival this week is from writer Richard Kelly ("Donnie Darko") and the hit-and-miss director Tony Scott. Kelly's writing is the definition of quirky and Scott, the director, is the definition of "hold the damn camera still, would ya!!! Please, pick a shot!!!" Their collaboration is based on the real-life female bounty hunter, "Domino." The cast includes Keira Knightley, Mickey Rourke, Lucy Liu and Christopher Walken and that means plenty to oddities will get trotted out in a fictional story about a real-life person. It seems like it should be a lot better than it finally appears. I blame Tony Scott,, who seems to have attention deficit disorder.

Much to my surprise, Scott has made some excellent movies in the past and some real junk too. Of his most recent, I have found the grim story of a soldier of fortune seeking to find a reason to live in the very underrated "Man on Fire." Here, the jumpy Scott camera helps blend the past and present in a psychological fable held together solidly in place by Denzel Washington and the young Dakota Fanning. This revenge tale is at times brutal and bloody, but a very human story is the heart of this movie.
As for "Donnie Darko," it is one of my favorite movies of the last 10 years. Ignore the Director's Cut version now on DVD and go for the original version. The movie is a real shape-shifter, crammed with hilarious cameos by Patrick Swayze and Drew Barrymore and will keep you guessing from beginning to end. All the performances, the music, and the emerging examination of a wealthy suburb's strange and dark underbelly make this a must-see.

Why did I like the original better than the re-edited "director's cut" -- simple -- the original doesn't spoon-feed the audience with over-explanations of all the mystery and oddity inherent in the film. I enjoyed taking part in the effort to make the movie fit into one single complete explanation. The remake just gives away too much of those moments best left to mystery, so that is truly becomes a haunting tale you'll find yourself wondering about long after it ends.

Do you have a favorite movie you'd like to mention for future reviews? Is there a movie you can't find but want to locate? Just add your comments here and I'll be glad to help - it's what I do.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

High Gear and In Reverse

About two years ago the writer Kurt Vonnegut Jr. came to the University of Tennessee and for a few days I was very excited about the idea of seeing him in person and listening to his comments. However, by the time the day of the even actually arrived, I decided to stay away. This may be hard to explain, but I'll try.

The thing is - I treasure his words and his writing. In retrospect, maybe I should have gone. But there's the real person of Vonnegut but there's another Vonnegut too - the one who has been in my imagination since I first read his books back in the mid-1970s. His work and his words are a major reason I decided it wasn't crazy to want to be a writer (it is crazy, of course, but "so it goes'). I love that in "Breakfast of Champions" he has childishly scrawled drawings to emphasize his words. And he appears as a character in this story and maybe that's another reason I did not want to have to deal with the real-life Vonnegut -- I know and am a lifetime friend of the imaginary Vonnegut in my head and I am loathe to think of tarnishing that Vonnegut with the pesky intrusion of a real-life person. In other words, why fix something that isn't broken.

His books and his essays express something I have seen myself: this country has gone cuckoo. I read recent interview with him in the Globe and Mail as he marks his 82nd birthday, and he still has the skill to express that idea succinctly:

I have a huge disappointment about what this country might have been instead of what it's become," he says. "You forget there was something great about the Great Depression. The president was Franklin Roosevelt, who cared generally about all of us. And things were getting better -- talk about audacity, giving women the power to vote, in 1919. It took a while for even women to adjust to it. Only now are they really getting the feeling of it. And then after the war when the civil-rights movement came in, that was exciting! So there were these huge improvements, where we were becoming what we always imagined ourselves to be. No shit, becoming that!"

And as always, Time is still playing tricks with him and with all of us:

Where is home? I've wondered where home is, and I realized, it's not Mars or someplace like that, it's Indianapolis when I was nine years old. I had a brother and a sister, a cat and a dog, and a mother and a father and uncles and aunts. And there's no way I can get there again."

From the 1930s up until the Nixon presidency, we were a nation compelled to reach beyond our grasp, innovators in both the social and political arena, determined to improve the human condition, confident that the people who called this country home could achieve anything if we worked at it in unison. Like many others, I thought when we spotted the corruption of Nixon's paranoid leadership we could continue. But doubt took root and despair seemed to flower. We seemed to bemoan the loss of a failing set of institutions and by 1980 had traded in self-reliance a pretend nostalgia, for a dream of an imaginary world on some Reagan-government illusion of an ephemeral and unreal "City on a hill."

As Vonnegut might say, we elevated diddley-squat to the top and called it Moral and Just.

Now, poverty is growing faster and faster, mediocrity is championed, and the battered and beaten American spends more time watching the repeat newsreel with pretty flashing lights and constantly moving newstracks that follow the latest celebrity scandals and fads about food and clothes. We are distracted and the ill-thought delusions of our leaders have us focusing on fear and doubt and the idea that the government is the only solution to any issue. Harried by the day to day chase to make ends meet, we are left with surface ideology while those in power make changes to firmly grasp the controls we once kept for ourselves.

Bickering clowns take center stage for our amusement while small cliques of obsessed and wealthy megalomaniacs continue to dismantle hope and reason. We are back to debating issues long since resolved - should the theory of evolution be actually taught in Science classes or should Science be tossed away for Bible stories. Like Vonnegut, I bemoan the loss of an America where students and teachers debated Science and Theory in the schools and students and teachers debated the aspects of Faith and Creation in church.

Is church membership now the priority for Supreme Court Justices?

How is it that the American community now thinks the Constitutional right of Free Speech only occurs on a street corner and employees and writers do not have those rights? Seems just a simple reading of our Constitution shows the right of free speech is applied to every citizen of this country.

But this country seems more confused with every passing day.


Monday, October 10, 2005

TennCare Debate Needs Open Minds

As shown in the Sunday edition of the Knoxville News-Sentinel, some politicians and some newspapers are stunned that people in our state our unhappy with TennCare and the current reforms in place. That's the polite version. More, truthful version: Hamblen County Democrat Party chairman Joe Moore is holding an open debate on TennCare on the party's blog and some are fearful of such debate.

You can link to the Hamblen Democrat blog and the TennCare forum here, which includes the story from the KNS. Or go here for the KNS story. After reading, maybe you'll wonder like me why the newspaper printed this - news value or just a chance to harrass Joe Moore? Is it wrong for a local political party member to voice dissent with his own party?? State Democrat "communications" director Will Pinkston thinks dissent is wrong.