Saturday, May 03, 2008

Camera Obscura: 'Iron Man'; "Cloverfield'; Nashville Screenwriters

I took my first trip out to the 18-screen Turkey Creek Pinnacle Theater to see "Iron Man" in digital projection and it nearly became a huge folly.

All through the previews, the image and the sound stuttered and screeched as the digital process seemed to just collapse. Just as I was about to go and complain, a woman behind me called the theater on her cell phone and told them to fix it. So she gets the Best Use Of Cell Phone in a Theater Award.

Sadly, we all had to watch all the previews again when the problem was fixed. After seeing the review for Adam Sandler's new movie, where he plays an Israeli super commando who really just wants to cut hair, I'm positive it is a movie I will never watch.

And for all the hoopla for digital projection, I didn't see enough difference between a crisp film image and a digital one. Plus, that 7-dollar matinee and a 4-dollar small soda is insanely high. Thank goodness the movie made all the effort and cash more than worth it.

Tony Stark's character weaves in and out of much of the Marvel Universe. He is a mega-wealthy, irreverent playboy and brilliant engineer running Stark Industries, which manufactures and develops weapons for the military. For the movie, we discover Stark pitching a new weapon to U.S. officials in Afghanistan. When his convoy is attacked, he is kidnapped and held by Afghani militiamen because they want him to build them a super weapon. Instead, he creates an armed metal exo-skeleton which he uses to escape.

But his experience rattles his carefree worldview and he remakes the exo-skeleton not as a new cash cow for the company, but for a more humane purpose.

Stark has always been a rather complex creation - smug, indifferent and rakish - until he decides to take his Iron Man creation into the world as a force for fighting "injustice", a fight which almost casts him as an anti-war, anti-corporate kind of liberal hippie. But he isn't. He loves technology, but he is also seeking a balance of power. As with Spiderman and the X-Men, Marvel's heroes are touched with an anti-authoritarian streak which makes them far more interesting than most comic heroes.

The movie expertly navigates all the thorny issues of Stark, thanks to director Jon Favreau and star Robert Downey Jr. Downey is able to handle the odd shifts of Stark's personality and makes an essentially unlikable playboy into a compassionate character. Job very well done. Favreau also has a knack for allowing dialog to overlap and conflict, so it rolls out like an old Howard Hawks movie, plenty of natural style and quite a bit of humor.

And also as good in the movie is the presentation of the various stages of the Iron Man suit - from a clunky home-made metal monolith into a sleek, layered machine which seems both unstoppable and more important, fun to wear. Several scenes of Downey conversing with the robotic appliances in his workshop stand out - he feels more at ease with them than with the people around him.

Audiences get teased with one of the most fascinating (to me) creations of Marvel: S.H.I.E.L.D. And if you stay to the very end of the credits, you'll get to see the one and only Nick Fury, played by Samuel Jackson. I hope that they have Nick Fury on the fast track for a movie - and maybe they should go ahead and think of making Favreau the director.


A near-perfect monster movie hit DVD this week, and as producer J.J. Abrams has said, it plays much better on the small screen than it did on the big screen. "Cloverfield" is presented as but one random video artifact made during an attack on New York City by some unknown creature. The video was being made at a farewell party for a young man about to head off to Japan. But before long the earth violently trembles as something happens outside.

The story never appears too staged as the party-goers and the video document-maker take to the streets. It's a nightmare of chaos and a city under attack, and despite efforts to leave the city, it gets worse and worse for all involved in this small scale version of a massive disaster.

On a TV screen, it looks and feels very authentic, full of panic and unknown dangers which are barely glimpsed. Writer Drew Goddard and director Matt Reeves have done an astonishingly good movie here. And I think the movie has the perfect ending too -- even if you've seen the movie on the big screen it is better at home.


The end of May will bring the 10th Annual Nashville Screenwriters Conference. Congrats to the organizers for reaching the decade mark!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

What's The Best Cover of a Beatles Song?

A video pops up on YouTube of a wee boy singing "Hey Jude" and the video shows up on the pages of MetaFilter and quick as a wink, listing of cover songs of Beatles music spins out.

So be sure and check out what the MeFites are saying about the cover songs.

And really, any musician worth listening to has cut a version of some Beatles tune - this list is only a brief sample of performers ranging from Frank Sinatra to Jimi Hendrix to The Brady Bunch and even a listing of Give Peace A Chance by Louis Armstrong (that's one I'm still tracking down!).

There is no denial that The Beatles changed the world of music forever - every song on every album is a thing to celebrate. Their reach was endless.

Below is a short sample of the wide range of artists who've done The Beatles -- maybe you have a favorite to mention as well.

SeeqPod - Playable Search

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Creation Seminar is Certainly Creative

A near-miracle is taking place as Creationists are now claiming Darwin's theory of evolution is also the theory of how the universe and the planets were created. Taking a theory about natural selection within life forms on this planet and converting it to a theory about the creation of stars and planets - that must be some kind of miracle, right?

The claims were offered at a "Creation Seminar" being held in Greeneville this week. Dr. Alan White, who has a doctorate in organic chemistry said:

In his talk, White made his case for a created universe -- rather than one that somehow evolved naturally without creator or design -- by using examples relating to the complexity of a single cell, or amoeba.

"White stated that, in his view, the traditional biblical description of six days of creation makes sense in a scientific context, starting with Earth, space, time and light being created first, with God as the Creator, or cause."

With the presence in movie theaters in towns across the country of the movie "Expelled" hosted by actor Ben Stein, this linking of theories on the development and growth of life on this planet being also linked to the creation of the universe itself will surely add more ignorance than knowledge. And it will add cash to Ben Stein's wallet.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Court Rejects Voter ID Challenge

By a vote of 6 to 3, the US Supreme Court rejected a challenge to Indiana's Voter ID law on Monday.

In one sense the court left open challenges to Voter ID cases, but also placed emphasis on states to resolve election issues.

Two good case assessments from the SCOTUS blog note:

The voter ID ruling may turn out to be a significant victory for Republicans at election time, since the requirement for proof of identification is likely to fall most heavily on voters long assumed to be identified with the Democrats — particularly, minority and poor voters. The GOP for years has been actively pursuing a campaign against what it calls “voter fraud,” and the Court’s ruling Monday appears to validate that effort, at least in part. The main opinion said states have a valid interest in preventing voting by those not entitled to do so, even if there is no specific proof of that kind of fraud in the state.

While the Court’s main opinion said it was “fair to infer that partisan considerations may have played a significant role” in enacting the photo ID law, it went on to say that that law was neutral in its application and was adequately supported by the justifications the state had offered."

That's from their initial report. Here's the analysis today:

Democrats argued that voter impersonation is rare and that voter ID requirements, by making voting a more onerous task, actually tend to undermine public confidence in elections; Republicans submitted evidence that, they asserted, demonstrated the precise opposite. The Court made clear that such factual disputes should be decided by legislatures, not courts. The court exhibited the same hands-off attitude that it has exhibited toward redistricting disputes in recent years."

I'd expect more states to quickly adopt Voter ID laws, where challenges may be pushed forward on the local levels and appeals may bring the issue back to the Supreme Court further down the line.

As this post says, more challenges to such ID laws are almost being invited by the court:

The lack of a majority opinion, moreover, injects some uncertainty into the appropriate standard for reviewing other challenges to onerous election laws. The Court’s specific split in this case will blunt charges that this is a politicized 5-4 decision — and it is significant that the Court, once again, has failed to cite to its opinion in Bush v. Gore."

Monday, April 28, 2008

Goodbye, Local Franchises

AT&T gets what it wants as the state legislature caves in to their desires.

Will you see decreased rates? Will they add jobs in Tennessee?

The answers no longer matter - the legislation they wanted is almost in place.

The Politics of Religion

It is not very tough to find a critical reaction to something said by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright - he speaks his mind about what he believes.

But I don't buy into the notion his views are those also held by Sen. Obama, much less that Rev. Wright is seeking to control American government and politics. His words and/or actions never reach the level of the right-wing Moral Majority, which actively entered the political world in 1979 and has been tackling political changes with lobbying organizations, contribution campaigns, voting guides and much more.

Rev. Wright is not playing at politics, but is being played instead.

Take the ad campaign from the North Carolina GOP - serving up snippets of Rev. Wright's sermons and comments, they seek to link him with every candidate and member of the Democrat party. But as one editorial in N.C. said: "
And what does any of this have to do with improving the lives of North Carolinians?"

I can't blame Rev. Wright for coming forth to challenge and repudiate the media and their reports about him. It's his freedom to speak as he wishes in the pulpit or out of it. Folks are free to weigh the value of what he says, too. Weighing others with Wright's words just makes little sense.

The fact is Americans have allowed for considerable influence from certain religious beliefs to dictate policy and promote programs. Take the first two Executive Orders from current President Bush - the creation of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Here's a federal program, based in the White House, which in the year 2006 funneled over $2 billion to church groups.

It's just more difficult for the media to challenge the existing church-led government, easier to stack sound bites of a single pastor as proof of Sen. Obama's wacky belief system, regardless of whether it has a basis in fact or not.

Evaluating the place of religion in American politics is a dicey issue - your views of how or if the two go together may be used against you.

Weekly Best of Tennessee Blogs

Here's the weekly wrap-up (via TennViews) of what the good folks of Tennessee have been blogging about in the world of politics in general and on a personal level too. After a year (sort of) of hard knock campaigning for the presidency (and why take the job after the Bush disaster? because it will be easy to look better next to that wreckage, I suppose), the personal is getting really personal.

And when you do check some of the links below, be sure and read more than just one post from the blogger mentioned. You'll be glad you did.

• 55-40 Memphis: I'm a Hillary-hater now

• BlountViews: Republican County Mayor charges Sunshine Law violation against commissioners helping citizen investigate county finances. Plus: Local paper discovers blogs, interviews yours truly.

• Carole Borges: Hillary please do go gently into that good night

• The Crone Speaks: Abstinence Only Doesn't Work, and Barrack’s Senior Problem

• Cup of Joe Powell: Search For Terrorism in TN Nets Seatbelt Violations , plus: this is not a pipe.

• The Donkey's Mouth: Tennessee's Republican Congressional delegation votes against Medicaid Safety Net, TN GOP doesn't get the memo and blames Bredesen.

• Enclave: Beth Harwell has no interest in protecting Tennessee kids from dangerous toys (wonder why?), and any effort to regulate dangerous toys at the state level usurps the federal government's right to not regulate dangerous toys.

• Fletch: See Chattanooga on a Segway, plus Temple of the Gods: When the temple is occupied, the gods will command a magnificent air-conditioned vista of downtown, the Tennessee River, and Lookout Mountain, while processing the paperwork and making life and death financial and health decisions for the mere mortals down below who pay their tithes to the gods.

• KnoxViews: Straight talk about real life, plus McCain wins Pennsylvania primary. Bonus: KnoxViews voted best local blog by Metro Pulse alt-weekly readers. (Instapundit was a runner up.)

• Lean Left: McCain Opposed To New Benefits for Veterans, plus: Lean Left: You don't stop doing business with Pizza Hut because you don't like their corporate policies. You stop doing business with Pizza Hut because they have sh**ty pizza.

• Left of the Dial: No Deal

• Left Wing Cracker: It's time for some MISSIONARY work, my Democratic brothers and sisters, plus: Democrats for LAMAR!

• Liberadio: Steve Gill’s Gas Problem, and Phil Valentine’s Lying Problem

• NewsComa: Now famous in Pakistan.

• Progressive Nashville: Lamar Alexander Votes To Deny Justice to Tennessee Workers: Alexander and Corker both feel safe in their seats, so they had the freedom to vote party line over common sense. They should both be ashamed. Plus: What do coral snake bites and German rooftops have in common? Hint: the so-called free market.

• Resonance: Is Conspicuous Consumption Out? Plus, People Get Outraged Over The Silliest Things: And somewhere near the bottom of the list would be the horror of having my precious snowflake exposed to a few seconds of Spanish over the school public address system one day a year.

• RoaneViews: Becky Ruppe Officially announced her campaign for State Senator

• Russ McBee: McCain's Pander Bus stops in New Orleans, lies to the Lower 9th. Plus: happy blogiversary!

• Sean Braisted: Let the Caveats Begin: John McCain is backtracking on his tough talk over earmarks... Plus: Willie Horton Part Deux

• Sharon Cobb: Reverend Jeremiah Wright Gives First Interview: I bring all of this up to underscore how much your average white person does not know about the black churches, and how Rev. Wright is going to get his words twisted. Plus: Hillary Clinton Runs Her Campaign Like A Republican, And It Will Backfire

• Silence Isn't Golden: Dear Senator Obama: Hi. I know you're busy right now, and you've got a lot on your mind. But if you can spare a few minutes, then for God's sake, call this woman! Bonus: Awesome spring break, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. (And the amazing thing is, she still found time to blog for Obama!)

• Southern Beale: Rep. Jim Cooper recounts an embarrassing trip aboard Air Force One ("These are astronaut mattresses!") Plus: Back to the Kitchen!

• Tennessee Guerilla Women: Chelsea Clinton at Duke On Hillary's Position On Feminist Issues: In the video clip below, Chelsea Clinton campaigns at North Carolina's Duke University (on Equal Pay Day) and points out that numerous feminist, um, human rights bills fail to pass in even a Democratic Congress. Plus: NY Times Whines: Hillary Made Politics Mean!

• TennViews: Democratic Convention 101, Plus: Fight higher grocery prices: Buy local

• Vibinc: Harrowing Healthcare Hedge, And: Whiners and Hand Wringers

• Whites Creek Journal: No She Can't: Ohmygod!!! Obama is Willard Scott! Plus: Pictures from the Morning Hike: My yard is a bit unusual, lying in three counties and two time zones, and having over 800 feet of elevation change from bottom to top.

• Women's Health News: Drug-Addicted Women Need Medical Care, Not Jail Plus: Happy Earth Day - Alternative & Reusable Menstrual Products

UPDATE: Also, Don Williams.