Saturday, August 12, 2006

Camera Obscura - Clones, Private Eyes and Snake Plissken

Remaking every movie ever made is no new invention in Hollyweird, silent films often got remade and I kinda lost count of how many times C.B. DeMille remade all his biblical epics. A true challenge for a constant film critic is to be able to see a new (or an older) movie with eyes of the uninitiated. I like challenges.

So today brings some recent Hollywood hits and their origins. And the burning question of the day is "Will Snake Plissken return?" I sure hope so.

First on the remake list is the ever-exploding-world of director Michael Bay's sci-fi thriller "The Island." Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson star in this futuristic tale of a society forced underground after a massive worldwide biological apocalypse. Every moment of their lives is under constant watch, and even the bathrooms instantly assess your bio-behavior and dictates dietary requirements. It is quickly clear something is rotten in this mall-world.

I don't want to give too much away - but the main characters are clones. Why they exist is a question that puts them on the run and gives Bay a chance to blow up a lot of stuff, and he taps into many other movies - "Logan's Run", "Blade Runner", etc etc. But it took me about an hour after the movie ended to remember where I had seen it before.

The story is a huge budget remake of an ultra low budget 70s movie called "Parts: The Clonus Horror." Certainly the acting in "The Island" is what helps carry the movie, far better than the "Clonus Horror." And if I had never seen any of the above mentioned movies, then "The Island" stands as a very exciting sci-fi thriller. So I did enjoy the movie.

But the double-feature night at the drive-in where I saw "Parts" (the second feature was the marvelously titled "Meat Cleaver Massacre", and distributors have dropped the word Parts from The Clonus Horror) was and is the best way to watch this kind of half-baked goofy thriller. There were five of us in someone's station wagon that night at the drive-in, and I remember we were all intensely pleased when it began to rain so hard we couldn't see the screen anymore and we turned our attention to the case of beer we had.

Another genre retread which I also liked when I watched it this week was the largely ignored mystery-comedy "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang." The movie stars Robert Downey Jr as a petty crook taking a turn thru Hollywood as a hopeful actor and Val Kilmer as a gay private detective. The movie is very funny and the script and direction by Shane Black is steeped in every Hollywood private eye movie ever made. Black ("Lethal Weapon," "Long Kiss Goodnight") gives Downey the most entertaining job of narrating all you see and hear - very funny and very P.I., with a touch of William Holden from "Sunset Boulevard."

Movies from Black owe everything to Raymond Chandler, and he even includes a fake hard-boiled detective in this movie, named Johnny Gossamer. Also this movie is divided into chapters with names from Chandler's books and stories. (And speaking of Johnny, Johnny Knoxville was up for Downey's part, but Downey won the day.) The DVD also includes very funny commentary by Black, Downey and Kilmer and is as good as the movie itself.

Chandler's funny and wry detective Phillip Marlowe has been at the center of so many movies and other private eye mysteries, it can easily be said Marlowe is an all-American classic hero. This week I also watched one of the best early movies of Marlowe, "Murder, My Sweet" with former musical star Dick Powell in excellent form as Marlowe.

His narration, like Downey's, is often hilarious and cynical and fun to hear. As when Marlowe says:

Okay Marlowe,' I said to myself. 'You're a tough guy. You've been sapped twice, choked, beaten silly with a gun, shot in the arm until you're crazy as a couple of waltzing mice. Now let's see you do something really tough - like putting your pants on."

Finally today - rumor mills are churning out a tale I hope comes to life.

Reports claim that director John Carpenter will get to make a third "Escape" movie starring Kurt Russell as the one and only Snake Plissken. Snake is in many ways a futuristic offspring of Marlowe - a dangerous and cynical anti-hero who is always quotable.

Snake is the hero of "Escape from New York," "Escape from L.A." and if the project gets the green light, the new movie will be called "Escape From Earth."

Next week - a new horror movie on DVD, "The Tooth Fairy." Really. I watch 'em so you don't get "sapped".

Worm Regulators Pursue Connecticut Boy

A 13-year-old boy in Connecticut and his family have been ordered to take down a sign in the yard annnouncing "nite crawlers for sale" to hopeful fisherman thanks to an order from Zoning and Planning officials in the town of Cromwell.

Maybe Ned Lamont can help the kid out.

And maybe the city is right to start regulating such childhood businesses as lemonade stands and worm sales. Young Joey Cadieux was hauling in as much as seven to ten dollars a month, after all. What out-of-control suburban business sprawl might be next? Trading comic books or Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, the dollars could turn to billions in untaxed revenues ... NOT.

Of course, once the press picked up the story, those who ordered the sign be removed and the council who ok'd it are the ones now trying to wriggle off the hook for this idiotic regulatory control.

In a residential zone, if you want to put up a business and work out of your home you really need a special permit," Zoning and Planning Commissioner Al Diaz told The Hartford Courant in a story published Friday. "You come before the commission and state your case ... and then a decision is made. Chiropractors do that, lawyers do that, doctors do that, and then you're allowed to put up a sign."

However, in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, Diaz said that other town officials overreacted to his inquiry and that he will ask the board to rescind the order when it meets again in September

I had no idea doctors and lawyers and chiropractors were hiding their night crawler earnings.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Delays For Movie Reviews, Explosions Follow

Hey!! Where's the Friday movie and DVD reviews??

Such messages filled my email today.

Fear not, faithful readers, it will be here on Saturday rather than today. Non-computer filled days this week made for little time, but Camera Obscura will be here tomorrow.

New movies, new DVDs and all the news the regular media is afraid to report, as always, will be here.

Between now and then, why not a short video of some really stupid people creating explosions with dry ice?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Musical Interlude 2

Hot summer days and hotter nights.

Time to take a journey to Cantaloupe Island by composer and pianist Herbie Hancock, with the legendary Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Ron Carter on bass, and mega soul from Joe Henderson on sax and Tony Williams making the beat.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

'Smart Pig' Down, Profits Up for BP

The breakdown of British Petroleum's pipeline is more than a potential 8 percent loss in domestic oil distribution, it's likely part of a long string of criminal actions.

If they had only used the 'smart pig' the pipeline would likely be in operation.

A rupture in their lines that led to a 200,000 gallon leak this spring, an explosion at a BP refinery, and accounts of actively fabricating repair records and covering up problems are all part of a criminal investigation now underway.

Tuesday, in an interview with NBC News, a federal official in charge of pipeline safety charged that BP has been doing inadequate maintenance for 15 years.

"Frankly, we would have expected a higher level of care from a company like BP on lines like this," says Thomas J. Barrett with the Department of Transportation's Office of Pipeline Safety. "What disappointed me was their failure to maintain these lines to an accepted industry level of care," Barrett says.

Tuesday night, BP would not comment on the criminal investigation, but insists that its maintenance program was adequate.

Pigging refers to using a machine which travels inside pipelines to detect leaks, weak seals and weak repair welds. BP stopped using these machines about 10 years ago.

But the 'smart pig' wasn't on the job. BP was able to reduce or eliminate maintenance costs, and haul their profits to record levels.

And those who reported the problems years ago to BP? Greg Palast writes:

In one case, BP'’s CEO of Alaskan operations hired a former CIA expert to break into the home of a whistleblower, Chuck Hamel, who had complained of conditions at the pipe'’s tanker facility. BP tapped his phone calls with a US congressman and ran a surveillance and smear campaign against him. When caught, a US federal judge said BP'’s acts were '“reminiscent of Nazi Germany.'”

This was not an isolated case. Captain James Woodle, once in charge of the pipe'’s Valdez terminus, was blackmailed into resigning the post when he complained of disastrous conditions there. The weapon used on Woodle was a file of faked evidence of marital infidelity. Nice guys, eh?"

Palast has the goods on BP. The new 'smart pig' is at the money trough, hogging like mad.

Let the spin to protect BP begin and let the price gouging at the pump begin!

View From The County Fair

I had the honor of judging the Youth Talent Contest at the annual Jefferson County Fair on Monday night. Normally I have been the emcee of the show, and this year I wanted to change the roles - a change which was ultimately a mistake. Sort of.

I made several critical errors on Monday evening, which began when I left behind the digital camera at home, thus depriving readers here of the visuals of the fairgrounds and the extremely talented performers. So no tempting pictures of roasted corn-on-the-cob, towering stacks of funnel cakes, airbrushed t-shirts of thonged vixens astride motorcycles or reclining on the hoods of muscle cars, and no images of the varieties of foods-on-sticks. My bad. (And just a side note - food on a stick is a marvel of technology and a boon to stickmakers worldwide.)

And while I thought the heat on Monday evening was brutal, the heat in the competition was just as intense. I've emceed the show for many years, and what happens when I get to sit in a judge's seat? The performances were varied, unique and strong and judging among them nearly impossible.

My fellow judges and myself decided who would be Randy, who Paula, who Simon, although I kinda wanted to be a David Hasselhoff a la "America's Got Talent." Fortunately, we simply scored the contestants and did not have to speak up. Yet, by contest's end, each judge spoke about how good all the performers were -- not to just encourage those who did not win, but to emphasize how narrow a margin existed between victory and loss.

For example, one 14 year old boy played an instrumental classical guitar solo, another girl sang Jim Croce's "New York's Not My Home," and then there was the clogging duo. Now stop laughing. I know I just said clogging and I'm sure your image of such is about the same as mine. However these performers appeared wearing vivid sparkly red tops and pleather pants and the music was a pure rave remix of hip-hop and rock. The "clogging" including plain old fashioned tap-dancing and Britney Spears/Janet Jackson dance choreography. (And perhaps is was the heat, but for a minute or two I did flash onto that memory of the dance team from the movie "Donnie Darko", which creeped me out a little bit.)

In years past, there would often be several singers all singing the same momentary country music chart-topper or squads of clogging teams using the exact same bluegrass jam.

Not this year. Nope, not the year I get to be a judge. Powerful singers and musicians, making selections from Billy Joel to Martina McBride to Nelly. Boy, was I glad I didn't wear my overalls and I wore my shoes (that's a county fair joke - just relax).

Back in 1988 was the last time I judged something at the Jeff Co Fair. It was a 'Comedy Contest' and it was not pretty. It took place on a hilly spot on the fairgrounds. And the best joke I heard was about some farmer's confusion between a pig and his wife. Not pretty.

For some years now, the Youth Talent Show has had it's own covered pavilion and lights and bleachers for the crowd.

I'd show you a picture, but ... I can give you a link to the official web site for the fair, which goes thru Friday and you can enjoy this shot of a super-amped lawn tractor below.

And here is a video for the tractor pull competition.

But the real battle was among some truly talented teens.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Crazy Is More Than A Song

This will certainly blend the most pessimistic and the one at the other end -- what was it? Oh yeah. Optimism. A recent commenter here left the message that optimism and trust were the hallmarks of ignorance.

A variety of news reports today from around the world will certainly challenge the best and the worst, and I readily admit I'm starting to shy away from all the news, because seeing idiotic talking-heads providing fifteen minutes of some American Morning program to the question "Is our butts getting bigger or is bigger butts just better?" gives me the same headache that reports from the frontlines of a half-dozen battlefields do.

Meanwhile, I have read the all-out horror stories emerging in the hearings to determine if court-martials are to be held for a group of soldiers accused of raping and killing an Iraqi girl and her family. It is as grim a story as I've heard.

Today also brought in a report from NPR about "religious assassinations" in Iraq because the visibility of female sheep butts can bring death to a shepherd, or that the arrangements of vegetables in a market stand can also bring death. You can here that report here.

In Afghanistan, the long-standing cabinet-level office of Department of the Promotion of Virtue and the Discouragement of Vice (yes, that's the real office title) is maybe not as bad as it used to be. Maybe. That story is here. "No reason to be frightened," say officials, but I would recommend some fearfulness and perhaps moving to a more sane country.

I really need to stop being surprised that much of what appears in print and on TV is a variant of two topics, humanity's favorite pastimes, Death and Sex. (Or chess-playing under the Taliban regime.)

Wouldn't a sane person really really have to have the most troubling doubts about religious policing of Islam? Perhaps being immersed from birth onward in a spiral of madness makes sanity a fantasy only the truly deranged can imagine. Like the late, great Hunter S. Thompson said, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."

It is frustrating as a bloggin' guy, as I was just about to post a video for this Monday, from a super-catchy tune that gets my vote for Best Song of the Summer. Even the music video for it is both original and layered and still matched the thematics of the lyrics with the faces of the band. And I love this band's name, too - Gnarls Barkley. I'm not the only one who thinks this tune is worthy of fame in 2006.

It has the appeal of an old Marvin Gaye or Bobby Womack tune, but it's an MTV hit too.

"Crazy" is the song. And I guess that for better or worse, Crazy is the theme of 2006.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

"Snakes On A ...." Hey! That's A Theology!

via Hutchmo at NiT

Sunday Sermonette

I think this particular patch of ruminations began because I was out this morning barefooted in the yard. Nothing quite like that feeling of green grass and the warming surface of this spinning planet between your toes. As I was walking the dog around the yard, always mindful of the doggie landmines of previous days, it is a mostly safe way to travel and my thoughts got lost on this Sunday morning about ... well, about a lot of things.

I start to thinking - always an act with the most curious effects - about how in my childhood, shoeless was the preferred mode of dress. And not just in the yard, but everywhere - through weed-thick trails between the houses, riding a bicycle, running across superhot sidewalks and asphalt. All tenderfooted adult now, I make careful steps, grateful that the walnuts already on the ground haven't crumbled into shrapnel.

I guess back in the day, my feet had the toughness of Tom Sawyer's ego. I do remember once hopping a ride on the back of a friend's bike, hauling off down some jungled dirt trail, and my right ankle dipped into the spokes of the rear wheel and chipped the skin away at my heel with some slightly bloody results. And yes, while it hurt, ultimately, I did not care.

In today's now a modern-go-go world, my parent could have, in response to the tattered ankle, started a national campaign for a federal effort to enforce the wearing of shoes for all children, a No Shoe Left Behind Act, which would be trumpeted as yet another way the Nanny Government is Making The World A Safer Place.

Once the walk was done I sat on the porch, sipping coffee, and the wheels continued to whirl in my head in that way they have - semi-philosophical world-gazing. I began to ponder on various news stories and blogging editorials I had read earlier in the day. "Sure seems to be a troubled old world today," I thought. "Warring and killing and bombing. All the hoopla over the recent elections, which no one really seems to care much about outside a small circle of politics groupies. Maybe I should do like a lot of folk today and go buy something since there is a tax holiday!"

A tax-free day is just a tiny decrease, really. Maybe we should consider a different kind of tax-holiday, one that occurs on the weekend after an election. And pricing decreases would be tacked to the percent of people who vote -- a 25% turnout means prices would fall one weekend by that amount, and maybe that would increase the turnout. Would enough people realize a 60 or 75 percent attendance at the polls could then mean a likewise discount?

As I sat and pondered on that fantasy, I was watching various insects scurry and fly about on their enigmatic tasks. The non-individualized actions all serve a hive or colony mind. Sadly, I see to much of that in humans too. There is literally no talk among the pundits and bloggers about the "best person to be elected." Today it is all My National Party, Right or Wrong.

Me feeble (and perhaps already heat and humidity filled) brain jumped to another thought. This relentless warfare in countries throughout the Middle East. Can there be any doubt that many wannabe tyrants are fueling raging fires with religious fervor? And that too many people in this world, and not just in the mideast, deeply feel their religious and spiritual values are so compelling that anyone whose views are different must be chased down and killed wherever they may seek refuge?

Praise Your Creator and Pass the Ammo. Yeesh.

And I am amazed at how our versatile language and rubber-limbed P.R. acrobats put the prettiest and most meaningless clothes on ancient behaviors. Today we have "sectarian violence," which used to be called "civil war" or just "anarchy." Another favorite is "collateral damage" instead of "dead civilians and bombed-out buildings." And the creepy presence of a world imagined by George Orwell seems omnipresent: "Security" means "I'm terrified of everything and don't feel safe," or that "Liberty" means "No amount of secrecy is too much."

I was talking to my 80-plus year old mom, who is Baptist down to the bone, and she confessed she had actually been making prayers of late for the Creator to infest the minds of warmakers and profiteers with endless nightmares of the horrors they are committing. She's obviously, like many, frustrated and disgusted by humanity's destruction at the will of so few.

I found myself offering her some optimisim, saying that perhaps there were still more Good People alive than Bad People, or else we would all be on the knife-edge of Death itself. But don't ask me any percentages.

A friend today emailed me this story - some kind folk have been seeking to assist this dolphin they saw off Sarasota, Florida, who had a Speedo wrapped around it's body which was slowly killing it. They did capture the critter and got the deadly garment removed. I'm fairly sure that in the long-distant past there was seldom a chance that Thag's or Ulu's thatch-woven thong would slip off only to kill the ocean-going life.

The story also noted that this dolphin had been "
caught in a life-threatening extra large Speedo bathing suit".

Now I am not a member of the haute-couture, but I can tell you this - if yer Speedo size is "extra-large", do all of humanity and aquatic-kind a favor and don't wear it. It's time fer some Bermuda Shorts, bub.

Anyway, there on my porch, pondering imponderables, I did notice something that made me smile.

A car cruised slowly down the street in front of the house and a dog was sticking it's head out of the passenger window, a gaping grin and flying tounge giving expression to some doggie satisfaction. Now I personally hate that whole "is the glass half-full or half-empty" psycho-babble argument. The dog I was seeing offers a better way to frame the question.

Is that dog an example of Pure Optimisim and Complete Trust or of Blind Ignorance?