Friday, May 09, 2008

Camera Obscura: 'Speed Racer'; Doomsday on TCM; Call For A Better Movie Theater

The nation's film critics are having a blast attempting to craft the words to describe the movie "Speed Racer" opening today. The movie, based on a 1960s early anime TV show, explodes with color and energy and the best advice I can give you about the movie is to remember that it is aimed at kids more than adults who might recall the old TV series.

J. Hoberman describes it as:

Gaudier than a Hindu-temple roof, louder than the Las Vegas night, Speed Racer is a cathedral of glitz. The movie projects a Candy Land topography of lava-lamp skies and Hello Kitty clouds—part Middle Earth, part mental breakdown—using a beyond-Bollywood color scheme wherein telephones are blood orange, jet planes electric fuchsia, and ultra-turquoise is the new black. Call it Power Kitsch, Neo-Jetsonism, or Icon-D—this film could launch a movement."

And while Rex Reed hardly qualifies as a real movie critic, he echoes the Fuchsia theme memorably in his review:

Speed Racer makes you want to never see a movie again as long as you live. I can sit through just about anything, but I draw the line at two hours and 15 minutes of fuchsia vomit."

From Cinematical, writer James Rocchi provides a more balanced view:

This is a property where one of the supporting characters is, after all, a monkey; any fully-grown individual hoping for an adult action film or racing realism is looking in the wrong place. Speed Racer plays like a car-crazed visual wonder -- it looks and feels like what pop artist Roy Lichtenstein would dream if you locked him in a room full of gas fumes, gave him only candy to eat and showed him nothing but Tron, Indianapolis 500 footage, episodes of the '60s Batman TV show and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. All at the same time. With the volume very, very high."

All I know is, I've liked all that the brothers Larry and Andy Wachowski have done so far, and the jaw-dropping insane colors and production design make me most curious to see the movie. So many movie critics seem to despise the idea that movies are first and foremost a visual form of storytelling. But from all I've read so far, they looooove the way they can stack wild verbiage to describe "Speed Racer", which tells me that the movie does offer much enjoyment.


One movie trend of late which just bugs the crap out of me is the Extra Scene After The End of the Credits. One Rant echoes my thoughts on this practice - mainly, if it's supposed to be part of the story, put it in BEFORE the credits roll -- dammit!

Oh, what, at the end of the last Pirates of the Caribbean -- after the 37 minutes of credits have rolled -- it turns out Elizabeth has a son and is standing around waiting for her once-in-a-decade evening of romance with Will? No she doesn't, and no she isn't. Because the movie ended 37 minutes earlier, when the closing credits started. Whatever happens after that is just you horsin' around. Doesn't count. It's not canon. What's that you say? After the credits of X-Men: The Last Stand we learn that Dr. X is not dead after all? Huh. Interesting. You'd think an important piece of information like that would have been included in the film, not as part of the previews for the next showing to be viewed by the ushers as they're sweeping out the theater. "

Seriously, stop it.


Now for something I most earnestly, desperately desire - and a confession of deep envy for what the folks in Nashville have: The Belcourt Theatre. I got their most recent email and my heart skipped several beats just reading about how good they are at providing more than just a screen for a studio release or the newest indie trend - they've got midnight movies, weekend classics, concerts with folks like John Prine and John Hiatt, and Dan Tyminski, plus indie movies, new cult movies, old cult movies, a Werner Herzog min-fest, and even the legendary "Raiders of the Lost Ark - The Adaptation", a shot-for-shot remake by teenage film fans which took years to complete. Oh, cruel Fate, which has left this corner of the state of Tennessee without such a fine theater.

Feast your eyes and feed your head, East Tennessee, at the awesomeness which is The Belcourt.


PS: if someone wants to open such a place here in East TN, I know the very exceptional person who could operate it --- ME.


Tonight on Turner Classic Movies, a trio of Apocalypse movies will hit the airwaves, starting with a much-overlooked gem of a movie, "Five", by director Arch Oboler. His movie was the very first of the 'what would life be like after a worldwide nuclear bombardment' epics. This 1951 classic hasn't been show in a long time, and it is a fascinating and very smart film. Director Oboler filmed much of the movie inside his own house, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and makes an impressive backdrop for the story.

It inspired many other movies, including the second feature of the night, "The World, The Flesh and The Devil", which tells the story of two men, Harry Belafonte and Mel Ferrer, and one women, the beautiful Inger Stevens, who are the last three people on the planet. The third movie is the often-shown film, "On The Beach", with big-time stars like Gregory Peck, who travels the oceans via submarine after the nuclear nightmare.

But it's the first two of that trio which will make your evening and your weekend better.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

East TN Crop Circles Return, plus Other Strange Events

A report from WVLT-TV in Knoxville says that crop circles have returned to Monroe County, close to where they were made last May. (A commenter on the WVLT page says that deer are quite capable of making such intricate designs, and who knows, maybe they can pilot deer-ish sized craft across the cosmos, too.)

I guess anything is possible in a week where we have reports of a "Gay Bigfoot".

Or when a substitute teacher does a magic trick in class to make a toothpick disappear and is ousted for practicing "wizardry".

Or when the Cookie Monster ponders his addiction in a piece titled: "Is Me Really Monster?"

Comcast Considers Fees Based On Internet Usage

Comcast is considering a cap on internet usage each month and charging additional fees if users go over the limit. Other internet service providers, like Cox Communications, already have caps and fees in place depending on how much info is accessed. Time Warner is preparing to test a program for varying charges for access depending on how much info is accessed.

And while this takes place, Congress is holding hearings on issues related to Net Neturality. Backers are supporting a bill called the Internet Freedom Preservation Act (HR 5353), with investigations already underway into whether Comcast has been blocking access.

Ben Scott, Free Press Policy Director offered his comments at the hearing:

First, almost everyone agrees that consumers are entitled to access the lawful content, applications and devices of their choice; and second, that it is reasonable to establish these principles in the law. FCC put it in a policy statement that Congress has tried to codify in different ways.

This leads me to conclude that it is no longer a question of whether consumers will have laws guarding an open Internet, but how those laws will be crafted. We strongly support this bill for rising to the occasion.

This bill simply places these agreed-upon consumer rights at the base of the Communications Act. It clarifies the authority of the FCC to protect Internet users from discrimination. And it tells the agency what rights Congress wants consumers to expect in an open Internet marketplace. It is a modernization of the principles that have long been in the Act. Simple and clear."

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Science Discovers Happy Conservatives

With a budget of nearly 6 billion dollars, funded by your taxes, the National Science Foundation decided it would be money well spent for a survey asking "Who's Happier - Conservatives or Liberals"?

Now I can't say I knew that there was a "scientific" definition of Conservative, Liberal, right-wing or left-wing. And I did not notice any definitions in reports on the survey. But the study says:

Individuals with conservative ideologies are happier than liberal-leaners, and new research pinpoints the reason: Conservatives rationalize social and economic inequalities.

The rationalization measure included statements such as: "It is not really that big a problem if some people have more of a chance in life than others," and "This country would be better off if we worried less about how equal people are."

"Our research suggests that inequality takes a greater psychological toll on liberals than on conservatives," the researchers write in the June issue of the journal Psychological Science, "apparently because liberals lack ideological rationalizations that would help them frame inequality in a positive (or at least neutral) light."

So ... scientifically speaking, if you worry about the way our society works, you are a Liberal? And given the way the right-wingers whine and moan on BlabRadio day in and day out, are they really Liberals? 'Cause they sure don't seem like happy folk to me.

Thanks, NSF, for making Science a pointless exercise in relativism.

News For Free

A recent survey among the world's newspaper editors shows that most think that whether their product is available in print or online, it will most likely be free in coming years.

The Zogby poll also shows that making the changeover to an online presence follows the adage of "Innovate.Integrate. Or Perish":

According to the survey, 56 percent of respondents believed that the majority of news, be it via print or online, would be free in the future.

That was up from 48 percent who answered yes a year ago.

Those leaning towards the free model mostly came from 'emerging' newspaper markets in areas such as South America, Eastern Europe, Russia, the Middle East and Asia where 61 percent of respondents believed news would be free.

Respondents in Western Europe were less likely to believe in news becoming free, with 48 percent of news executives thinking it likely, while North American editors were on par with the average.

The newspaper industry has been hit in recent years by the push to move content online and executives still saw many problems ahead.

According to 704 senior news executives surveyed, the greatest threat to the industry was the declining number of young people who read newspapers while the increasing emphasis on speed meant only 45 percent of editors thought the quality of journalism would improve over the next 10 years.

More than a quarter thought it would become worse."

Last week I took some time to browse through a Borders bookstore in Knoxville, and made a few realizations - mainly that I seldom if ever buy a magazine or newspaper anymore since I can access almost all the information from nearly any publication whenever I wish via online services. It's a change I had not really noticed, but it is a major shift.

In years past, I would usually spend quite a bit each month not only for the publications, but also in the cost of reaching outlets where the info was for sale. No more. No matter how large or small the magazine or paper I seek, I'd say at least 90% is available for free online. I'm able to get it faster, too, and get it in pretty much the same way I did when purchasing the magazine itself, with plenty of graphics and photos. With the online access, I can also see video related to the topics I'm reading as well.

It's a change the public demanded and that publishers for the most part have been diligently working to make possible. Charging fees online or limiting the content available seems to be a dying trend, too. It is a massive benefit for those of us who read and seek information - but I'm sure the biggest challenge for publishers remains how to keep their businesses profitable.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Ending Oil Subsidies vs Gas Tax Holiday

Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly suggests a better idea than a few months of no gas taxes would be repealing the labyrinth of subsidies for oil companies. But finding out the costs for such a repeal is no simple task. Is it 20 billion dollars annually? 50 billion? Kevin writes:

I couldn't figure out which subsidies/tax breaks still existed, how big they are, who they go to, or who voted for them. Royalty relief alone was enough to bring tears to my eyes. If I spent several months on this topic instead of half an hour, maybe I could figure this all out, but surely someone else has already done this?

Anyway, this really ought to be the liberal rallying cry: forget a windfall profits tax, let's work first on getting rid of the massive corporate welfare infrastructure we've constructed for an industry that really, really doesn't need it. Not as sexy as a gas tax holiday, maybe, but it makes a helluva lot more sense."

The congress tried to enact some repeals and have not been successful due to threats of a veto or a Republican filibuster. Much of the time, legislation simply moves the money around into different categories and the public awareness of how much goes to who for what is simply lost.

Then there's the confusion of Royalty Relief, where the government is losing vast sums as the normal royalty rates paid by oil companies to the government have plummeted.

I'm left pondering on this idea that only presidential or legislative proclamations could cap or reduce the costs we all pay for just about everything.

Abuse Common in Tennessee Justice System

Some very damning judicial rulings in the case of death-row inmate Paul Gregory House indicate House should already have been released, but he remains in in jail. The questions raised by the rulings about how the state is operating it's judicial system reveal that abuses are a constant.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling of two years ago urged his release, and 10 years ago, DNA evidence showed his conviction was an error.

Yesterday, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said House should have never been tried, that the case was jammed through the system riddled with mistakes and have ordered a new trial. Hopefully, barring some as-of-yet unknown evidence, the state will drop this case.

Presiding Judge Gilbert Merrill spoke about the critical failures and abuses of the justice system in Tennessee:

The blatant prosecutorial misconduct in this case shows two things," Gilbert S. Merritt, the presiding judge on the panel, said in an interview after the ruling.

"First, the local district attorney in East Tennessee should never have prosecuted House in the first place, but certainly should have released him more than 10 years ago once he received the exculpatory DNA evidence.

"Second, the local district attorneys, rather than the Attorney General or the Governor, exercise almost complete control over the system of criminal justice in Tennessee.

"They are frequently mistaken and frequently abuse their power," Merritt said."

And this:

These gross injustices will continue so long as law enforcement agencies and the Attorney General, the governor and the legislature continue to overlook or countenance this kind of prosecutorial misconduct."

WBIR has more on the story here.

The Tennessean report has links to PDF files of the rulings in this case.

UPDATE: This story is a good example of why the creation of the Tennessee Justice Newladder is most timely. An explanation of the Newsladder reads:

A new forum dedicated to highlighting the urgent need for criminal justice reform in the Volunteer State. Every day, the 6 million residents of Tennessee depend on a fair and accurate criminal justice system to determine the truth when crimes are committed. Too often, however, the system comes up short for a variety of reasons. The problems include inadequate representation for indigent defendants; excessive caseloads; geographic disparities in the administration of justice; unreliable eyewitness identification; false confessions; jailhouse snitch testimony and more.

An unjust system produces unreliable results."

The Tennessee edition above is a local extension of a national blog, which is explained here on The Huffington Post.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Business Of Running Government

There's an interesting post via MCB regarding Governor Bredesen's comments that Tennessee government and its budget must operate more like a business. The concept that government should operate like a business has been often touted by those in elected office (and sometimes by pundits in the public arena too).

But should government follow business models?

One comment on the post from Southern Beale says "Government should be run like *government* — of the people, by the people, for the people. Running government like a “business” has lead us to the problems we see in Washington right now."

On the one hand I agree with with SB - the two groups seem to be best operated separately, with different priorities.

But the reality is that business relies on government for success, and government relies on business for success as well. I can think of very few products made and sold by any business which is free from governmental policy or regulation.

The oft-mentioned episode in the American Colonies called "The Boston Tea Party", resulting in dumping crates of tea into the harbor, is surely an episode too of government insuring success for big business and failure for smaller businesses. As noted on this web-site:

Many people today think the Tea Act—which led to the Boston Tea Party—was simply an increase in the taxes on tea paid by American colonists. Instead, the purpose of the Tea Act was to give the East India Company full and unlimited access to the American tea trade, and exempt the company from having to pay taxes to Britain on tea exported to the American colonies. It even gave the company a tax refund on millions of pounds of tea they were unable to sell and holding in inventory.

One purpose of the Tea Act was to increase the profitability of the East India Company to its stockholders (which included the King), and to help the company drive its colonial small business competitors out of business. Because the company no longer had to pay high taxes to England and held a monopoly on the tea it sold in the American colonies, it was able to lower its tea prices to undercut the prices of the local importers and the mom-and-pop tea merchants and tea houses in every town in America.

In an article for Harper's this month, writer Kevin Phillips shows that intentional governmental policy has altered the way government reports on business and the economy in general, with the result being that few Americans get an accurate picture of how weak or strong the economy truly is. How we have allowed massive changes to the definitions of unemployment rates, inflation, the consumer price index, etc, has had a very plain result: the average person has no idea what the economic status of the nation or individual might be.

All of the above to say that really, business has been running government for a very long time.