Friday, February 02, 2007

Camera Obscura - Cache;Spying Smiths on TV; Your Inner Sci-Fi Writer

I know the initial description of this movie may turn you off right off the bat. That will be your loss, because the movie is a haunting thriller that rewards with repeat viewings. I understand that some just won't get it or like it at all, but for those who want a movie with something truly extra, stick around. And as always, some movie news and other entertainment details that makes stopping here on Fridays habit-forming. Oh and of course, my deeply personal account of the 41st Super Bowl.

The main focus this week is on the movie "Cache," aka "Hidden". And it is foreign, so that means subtitles and it's set in France, so I'm sure some of you have said Nope to that movie already.

The award-winning 2005 feature deserves placement among some of the best, innovative and mind-bending movies of years past from directors like Hitchcock, Welles or Lynch and especially "Blow Up" by Michelangelo Antonioni. On the surface, this is a mystery movie, a whodunnit, but layer upon layer of mystery is here, all very patiently composed in long takes that command much attention. In other words, if you don't watch carefully, you'll miss much.

Created by Austrian director/writer Michael Haneke, the movie is about your perception and those of the characters too. Haneke's skillful mind-games start with the opening shot - a long static take of a street-view of the family home of Georges and Anne Laurent (Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche). But it isn't really the movie you're watching - you're watching what the Laurents are watching: an anonymously delivered videotape.

Yes, it's the set-up similar to Lynch's "Lost Highway", but it goes in much different directions. The family is under surveillance by someone, for reasons unknown, and the fear and paranoia grows quickly as they also receive anonymous, childish-looking drawings depicting cryptic images of violence. The object of the attention is obviously Georges, and the unknown observer knows many details of his life.

The story is not going to give you simple resolutions to the mysteries here. It's a brilliant work of subtle and powerful emotion, great beauty and some true terror -- if you allow yourself to follow the riddles. And at least one moment that appears from nowhere and truly throws you (and the lead character) for a loop. I'll gladly provide my interpretation of the mystery and the ending if you email me, but I'm not going to say more here! Highly recommended.


I've written before here about how I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the spy caper "Mr. and Mrs. Smith", and the cult following has lead to another surprise. A new TV series based on the characters from the movie. Already signed into the "Mrs. Smith" role - Jordanna Brewster. Some very good writing and directing will be required to keep this effort out of the garbage bin.

Speaking of changing the female leads, rumors say Katie Holmes is out as Batman's girlfriend in the upcoming sequel and Rachel McAdams is in.


I happened upon one of those online tests which aims to indentify you in terms of some fictional character or something -- but this was better. It determines which science-fiction writer you are most like. My result unveiled a writer I had never heard of, but now I do, so I'm looking for his books. His works were big influences on Arthur C. Clarke, C.S. Lewis and Stanislaw Lem. Sweet!!

I am:
Olaf Stapledon
Standing outside the science fiction "field", he wrote fictional explorations of the futures of whole species and galaxies.

Which science fiction writer are you?


I'm happy to see the 41st Super Bowl back in Miami at Dolphin Stadium. That's where I attended Super Bowl 23 in 1989 as the 49ers under Joe Montana took the win. I loved hearing the entire stadium chanting "Joe! Joe! Joe!" for obvious reasons.

My friends will tell you I never stop mentioning that during Super Bowl discussions. I got to hob-nob with all kinds of celebrities, held a can of beer for Senator Jack Kemp while he had his picture taken with a kid, and nearly knocked Donald Trump on his backside when I ran into him as I was running for a bathroom just before half-time.

That's all I have to say really -- just "Yeah, Super Bowl, been there, done that."

Oh fine, here, go check out the obligatory Super Bowl Blog.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Aqua Teen Ad Terrifies Boston

A life lived in terror? Mission Accomplished!

The wild and reckless overreaction in Boston yesterday to stray advertising signs for a cartoon alien from the show "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" was a jaw-dropping sign of incompetence. It was not an insidious act of terrorism - though it shows how easily some can be terrified these days.

Incompetent since no such similar overreaction occurred in any of the other major American cities where the ads have been up for nearly three weeks - New York, L.A., Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta, Portland, San Francisco.

The hysteria was fueled by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.

I read about how highways, and at one point, even the St Charles River, was shut down because responders thought the small LiteBrite and some batteries might be a bomb, and I read about it online at around 2 p.m, after reports of the panic were mentioned on the MetaFilter web site - one of the most visited sites on the internet - by 12:41 p.m.. Other blogs had noted the events too, and already the information that these ads were just that - ads- was widely known and available.

Now move to around 4:15 pm when CNN went to a live press conference out of Boston with the Governor, Mayor Menino, and officials from police, ATF and Homeland Security are not dismissing the incident but stoking the fears.

Just as Mayor Menino's comments were ending - in which he referred to these objects as "bombs' half a dozen times - a reporter could be clearly heard asking the mayor about information that Turner Broadcasting had issued a statement these "devices" were just ads for a cartoon. The mayor shouted the reporter down and said "I'm not finished yet. Just for that your question comes last!!"

So by 4 p.m., the mayor and other officials knew what these "devices" were. But the pressure was on now, since untold amounts of money and vital resources had been wasted, to point the blame at someone outside the group of officials responsible for public safety. The mayor remains in a state of hysteria, telling the press:

It is outrageous, in a post-9/11 world, that a company would use this type of marketing scheme," Menino said. "I am prepared to take any and all legal action against Turner Broadcasting and its affiliates for any and all expenses incurred during the response to today's incidents."

Two people have been charged with felonies as of this morning, again, wasting efforts rather than allowing for cooler heads to control the situation.

And it appears for some, Post 9-11 Worldview deems anything and everything as a threat of terrorism.

It isn't just the mayor and governor who disconnected from the world on this. It shows how perhaps for all the claims that the internet is an object of surveillance it really isn't.

Within seconds of running an image search on the internet, officials would know this was a cartoon character, that a movie is about to be released for Aqua Teen, that's it's been on television for six years. And I'm supposed to believe no one in the hundreds and hundreds deployed yesterday knew what these "devices" were? None of them have kids? None of them watch TV or movies? No one in Boston's media knew what this was??

Or was it all just a chance to wind people a little tighter?

The Washington Post quotes former public relations consultant, now Homeland Security consultant, W. David Stephenson:

You just can't trivialize this. It's one of those moments where you just can't figure out what was going on in the brain of the advertising person."

That's one of the silliest things I've heard in an Era of Silly. I wonder, as do most Americans, what the heck an ad person was thinking about some ad campaign at least a dozen times a day.
Every nook and cranny imaginable has been free game for advertising for a long, long time. Remember how officials responded in L.A. to newspaper boxes that played the theme from "Mission: Impossible III" recently? A county bomb squad came out and blew them up. One way to write a review I guess.

And what happens when someone calls in and says "My God!! Cows are painting anti-hamburger slogans on billboards!!"

"A talking lizard is selling car insurance!!"

If someone calls into a store and asks "Do you have Prince Albert in a can?" is that an act of terrorism?

It is amusing to hear references to Meatwad and Frybox in news reports. And Mooninites. And Iningknot and Err are now potential terrorists. It should be funny, but it isn't. Some in America prefer to live in terror of the unknown and now they have the policies and the agencies to enforce it.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

National Gorilla Suit Day!

Each year, we mark this holiday created by writer and artist Don Martin.

I've always wanted to get my full gorilla gear on, get an official photo ID made wearing my furry duds, then go into a bar and order banana daiquiris, proudly presenting my ID to prove I am of legal gorilla drinking age.

Apparently this is a family trait. Last year, my nephew and his friend suited up to go thru a local burger drive-thru. One wore a chicken suit, the other a gorilla outfit. A slight fender bender ocurred as they accidentally struck each other's cars, and they ended up outside a local school's soccer field waving to the arriving crowd while wearing their outfits. That made me one proud uncle.

Don't have a gorilla suit? Go here.

More info here and ....

as Don Martin might say "Mamp! Spwat! Tok!"

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Police To Perform Together Again

A recent announcement that the group The Police would be performing together at the upcoming Grammy awards brought up some fine memories. I'm happy to hear they'll perform again.

Their first album attracted my attention and it soon became a hit thanks to the single "Roxanne". But the more I listened, the more I liked the whole album. Mixed in with the pop/punk/reggae style there was something more. I made a lot of people listen to it and made cassette copies for friends. All very legal back then.

I kept telling friends to keep their eyes on this band - they would do great things, I predicted.

Their next two albums also made some hit singles, but you could tell the record company was trying to make them crank out more of the same old-same old product, as evidenced by the repeated goofy album titles - "Reggatta del Blanc" and "Zenyatta Mondatta".

I was afraid the trio had been consumed by marketing madmen.

"Ghost In The Machine," however, brought out more of their unique talents. The styles were more eclectic, though still had it's pop music appeal. The lyrics were political, thoughtful and the album title itself was taken from the essay by Arthur Koestler. The music was as intense as ever, and now the lyrics were matching that strength.

Koestler again provided ideas for their last album, "Synchronicity", as did Carl Jung and writer Paul Bowles. Bowles' novel "The Sheltering Sky" was the inspiration for "Tea In The Sahara," and led me to read the novel. It's a teriffic novel, and I'm grateful the music led to it's discovery. Bowles was a composer as well, making music for stage plays in several collaborations with Tennessee Williams.

Both "Ghost" and "Syhnchronicity" are listed in the top 500 all-time best albums according to Rolling Stone. But for me, "Synchronicity" is on my own short list of best albums.

I got to attend their live show for that album in Knoxville, their last tour together. One of the things I've liked best about the trio - Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland - is that they are just that, a trio. Guitar, bass, drums - some occasional keyboards. A trio has to work very hard, especially in the world of arena rock shows. (Side note: a recent documentary made from footage shot over the life of the band by Stewart, which he directed, "Everyone Stares: The Police The Inside Out", is a fascinating look at how rapidly the band rocketed to worldwide fame.)

It's an amazing thing that happens when the sum is greater than the parts. That's true for them.

The show was loud, energetic, fierce and ranks as one of the best I've ever seen.

There was a moment during the show when I learned something about how their music affected their fans, about how their music could express basic human ideas with complexity and simplicity.

The band performed the song "King of Pain," and the entire audience sang along, word for word. Looking around, each person was singing "I'm the King of Pain." Not Sting or Andy or Stewart, or someone other poor soul. It was all very personal. I am the King of Pain, they all said.

Their influence on music videos through the 1980s was also significant - sometimes simple, sometimes somber and surreal. I always enjoyed "Invisible Sun" from "Ghost In The Machine," shot in Ireland and relating to the endless conflict there. But the song, like many others, evokes vivid thoughts about universal experiences. So here it is. And I am eager to see them perform together again, 30 years after their first album was released.

A Conspiracy of Teenage Girls

Last week in the small town of Dunlap, fear and foolishness set up residence after a high school principal says he found a piece of paper in a trash can, allegedly containing a "hit list" of around 300 names. Six teenage girls, between 14 and 15, have been charged with homicide conspiracy.

Names on the list included Oprah Winfrey, Tom Cruise and The Energizer Bunny. Also, reports say names of people in the school were in this list, which alarmed the principal when they also discovered a My Space page used by the teens and saw the word "kill" used once. The story has made headlines at CNN, Boin
g Boing and newspapers nationwide.

The Secret Service has also investigated the situation, according to a report in the San Diego press, with a claim that President Bush's name was involved, though they determined no threat existed.

I do understand that knee-knocking fear has gripped school officials, parents and news organizations since the dreadful events at Columbine H.S. In most every public school now armed officers are on patrol, metal detectors are in place, anti-bully guidelines have been adopted and implemented in many states, t-shirts and other clothing as well as entire host of "offenses" can lead to the invoking of so-called "Zero Tolerance" disciplinary actions by schools. Lockdown reports are as frequent as pep rallies. And some politicians have called for arming teachers with guns -- just in case.

One of the oddities of all these urges to make schools safe (and statistically, public schools are still among the safest places for a juvenile) is the "Zero Tolerance" policy. It most often results in the student being banned from a school, and other public schools won't allow a student to enroll once labeled as a violator of this policy. Halting education and isolating kids who find themselves accused of offenses minor or major is better than sending them to a detention facility, though it seems to me more educational efforts and improved involvement with their peers would be much more effective if the goal is to correct bad behavior.

I often wonder what a student today makes of being under the strictness of a Zero Tolerance policy -- where else do they see such rule enforcement? Actual crimes committed in the private and public sectors typically result in months or years of investigations, talk show appearances, book deals, and often evasion of anything resembling being held accountable. Mandatory sentencing guidelines may approach these issues, though many in the judiciary question the wisdom of such broadly harsh sentences often at odds with the crime committed.

Educational reforms get nifty labels, like No Child Left Behind, which will leave an entire school system left out of funding appropriations -- which leads administrators and teachers under grueling pressure to make sure a high test score is attained, usually at the price of teaching the subjects and lessons most needed. A classroom is not a single homogeneous entity, and requiring them all to achieve a standard established by legislative action, in my opinion, isn't a constructive approach.

Tennessee has recently begun implementing "pilot programs" in a handful of counties to provide "obesity report cards" to parents in conjunction with their grades in studies. Students are rated according to the Body Mass Index (B.M.I.). So add more to the responsibilities of schools and add more money for staff to study BMIs and issues regular reports.

At the federal level, new policies are being promoted for random drug testing to take place, and many schools already conduct such tests among athletes and students who engage in extra-curricular programs. Other trendy new policies arrive daily -- but they always seem to address an issue or hot topic via tests and not by education. And again, more pressure on schools to focus on another test, far outside the needs of a classroom.

Teachers and students must be mind-numbed by all this. A typical school conversation about things that annoy or irritate them (like the Energizer Bunny or Tom Cruise) can lead to criminal charges. One has to wonder what students make of the world and the futures ahead of them - a fearful, dangerous world of gun-toting, overweight, drug-addicted, sex-crazed, easily criminalized adults who demand of children behavior those adults struggle to attain.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

A High-Point for Stupid

I hate to just say "that is incredibly stupid" even if it is true. But dang, people, this takes the cake, the plate the cake is on, the table on which the plate sits, the room with the table and the building containing the room.

This particular high-point of stupid is a "speed-dating" event in Manhattan called "Natural Selection" (ooooh, Irony, I get it), where the attendees must only be "rich guys" and "hot girls."

Organizer Jeremy Ableson says:

The sad thing is not the fact that we would put it together. The sad thing is that people will actually pay for it."

At least he is honest about that -- though he also tells reporters:

It's like people aren't allowed to say, 'I'm looking for a successful man,'" he said. "And it's taboo to say that men are looking for attractive women."

Reeeeeally? Gosh, nobody ever says or thinks like that!!

A few points I have to make - A woman would have to be a Grade-A idiot to be "hot" and unable to locate a wealthy man to date. And a man earning hundreds of thousands a year, or even millions, unable to locate an attractive date is likewise dumber than a sack of hammers.

This event sounds like the cheese-brained plot of some direct-to-DVD National Lampoon movie. Maybe the true "natural selection" at work here is meant to prevent these people from somehow accidentally reproducing.

Perhaps I should just follow the formula here and offer these chuckleheads something they must pay top dollar for ......

How about: "For only a $15,000 monthly fee, I will share information with you about an amazing secret - a clear, readily available liquid which a person can drink as often as they wish and never gain any unwanted weight!!"

In a culture where people pay to take in the delights of an "oxygen bar", the Natural Selection event will be a hit, I'm sure.

Yeesh. While I'm at it, let me offer you a rather smelly lump of mush, which, if you polish it furiously, will turn to solid gold. Send $500,000 for the info on that one.

(Thanks to Sande for sending me this "news" story. The headache it induced was not her fault.)