Friday, June 05, 2009

Camera Obscura: True Blood Meets Bob Dylan;The Banal Vampire Diaries; New Sherlock Holmes Trailer; Goodbye David Carradine

Time again to delve into the strange world of movies and stories which fascinate me and many other movie fans. The weak-hearted might want to skip past this one.

It bugs me when I see news and magazine reports making the statement that "zombies are the new vampires". The two monsters are forever separate creatures, and while the popularity of one may rise (from the dead) and the other may fall, they remain two iconic forms of cinematic (and often literary) fear which have been invited into the homes and theaters of America and the world.

The share one similarity - humans are here only as a form of sustenance. That perhaps is why they endure as those truly nasty fears we seldom can shake away. And in my opinion, vampires are on the upside of fame these days - though zombies are close behind, always drawing near to haunt and chew on our thoughts.

On June 14th, the excellent HBO series "True Blood" returns for another season and I say hooray for that. The show is an eclectic mix of horror and satire, the acting is top-notch, and the twists and turns of the story always surprise (and get pretty steamy too). In a nutshell, the heroine of the tale, one Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), is a small town Louisiana gal who has the relentless burden of being able to read the thoughts of others. And she sort of has a boyfriend, known as Vampire Bill, who turned vamp during the Civil War and has a rather charming Southern politeness to his ravenous nature. Also, America and the world, have been given notice that vampires are real and are here to stay - demanding equal rights, since they have this nifty new chemical-based beverage called TruBlood which slakes their thirst for human blood. Of course, some vamps, known as Mainstreamers, are trying to blend into the normal world while other vamps denounce such efforts as cowardly. (Is a vamp war ahead? Or is this whole mainstream deal a massive hoax?)

As I suspected while watching the first season, there are far more supernatural oddities afoot in the Louisiana town of Bon Temps. Every character has secrets - some sad and some far more sinister. More of that will be revealed in the upcoming season. Nothing is what it seems - even drug dealers in the town sell vials of vamp blood to get high on and of course a newly created religious group has formed to battle the notion of equal rights for vamps and they are likewise dangerous creatures.

Catch up on the first season, now on DVD and get ready for a compelling and most unusual series. How many other vampire tales can promo their show with a tune by Bob Dylan?

On the more banal side of vampire tales is a new series being pushed on the CW Network (itself a hellish hybrid of the WB and UPN). Based on a series of books by LJ Smith, the series is called "Vampire Diaries" and is set in a high school -- this ain't Buffy, folks. Think Dawson's Creek meets Twilight. Or think The Mediocre Meets Hormonal Hijinks. Here's the web site, which says a popular high school gal falls for a new-kid-in-town vampire who happens to have an evil brother and they fight over the girl and the town in a ..... yawn. Sorry, I just lost all desire to even care to watch this. Hey, maybe they could have called it "Dawson's Hellmouth".



Thank goodness director Brett Ratner got the boot as director of a new live-action Conan The Barbarian movie. The new director (rumor) is one James McTeigue, who directed "V For Vendetta" and this fall's "Ninja Assassin" (scripted by J. Michael Stracynski). Of course, this is about the tenth attempt at a new Conan adventure in the last 4 years, so it's all guesswork at this point. Previously, Robert Rodriguez was slated to take the project, but he decided to produce a new movie based on another character created by the mighty Robert E. Howard, "Red Sonja", starring his girlfriend Rose McGowan -- whoops, make that his ex-girlfriend and place that movie in Limbo.


A new trailer has arrived for the new Sherlock Holmes movie and -- well, just take a peek:


Finally, a farewell to the late David Carradine.

I grew up watching his original "Kung Fu" series, which was the ultimate revision of those seemingly endless years of bad TV Westerns. He had no gun, no ranch to protect, no outlaws to hunt down, no card games to scam. The show made him more than famous and he re-invented the series a few times in later years, but was never near as good as the original.

His movies earned him the chance to work with Martin Scorsese ("Boxcar Bertha", "Mean Streets"), Robert Altman ("The Long Goodbye"), Hal Ashby ("Bound For Glory"), Walter Hill ("The Long Riders") and he made tons of cult films like "Death Race 2000", "Cannonball", "Circle of Iron", and countless others, including the upcoming summer horror film "Autumn" (and about 6 others still in production).

And of course, no one other than Carradine could have made the kind of Bill he made in "Kill Bill Volumes One and Two." His speech near the end of Vol. 2 about Superman is simply brilliant.

He could be a very difficult and obtuse performer. Back in March of this year, he attended a screening of "Bound For Glory", a film wherein he played the iconic Woody Guthrie. The evening was turned upside down, to say the least, by his odd behavior. Writer Chris Williams said of that night:

Not since I saw Bill Irwin and Kathleen Turner go at each other in an excellent production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? a couple of years ago have I experienced a night of live theater quite as riveting as the three-way cage match between David Carradine, Haskell Wexler, and the audience the other night following an American Cinematheque screening. I keep alluding to what a nerve-wracking, weird and wonderful night this was, and I've gotten asked to go into detail about how the proceedings unfolded, or unraveled."

The full account of that evening is here.

Here is an interview with him from 2007 on the John Kerwin show, which includes a short clip which had been cut from "Kill Bill". And as always, David always knew how to surprise an audience.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

TN Tops In Depression, But There's Free Donuts On Friday

A new federal report cites Tennessee as having the highest rate of people who have had depression episodes in the past year:

The report, released Thursday, listed 9.8 percent of Tennesseans age 18 and older had such an occurrence. Hawaii had the lowest, 5.0 percent.

The report was developed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration based on 2006 and 2007 surveys on drug use and health. The agency is within the Department of Health and Human Services.

Tennessee also ranked high in some other categories, including tobacco use and use of illicit drugs other than marijuana."

But, there is some good news today too (not to dismiss the debilitating effects of the previously mentioned conditions).

Friday is Free Donut Day at Krispy Kreme and Dunkin Donuts.

These are indeed tough days we live in. Perhaps if we can just learn to manage to good days and the bad days with a bit more perspective .... maybe things could improve. I for one think we should have a monthly free donut day.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Grim Realities: The Murder of Dr.George Tiller

Most American see much more to the tragic murder of Dr. Tiller, and how he and his staff had to endure some coordinated attacks for so very long as attacks which certainly appear to be very organized.

Hilzoy's post on Washington Monthly outlines the constant effort to create fear and intimidation:

Here's an article on the kinds of things other than assassination attempts, vandalism, and break-ins that Dr. Tiller and his staff have had to endure for years. It's about Troy Newman, the head of Operation Rescue (once Operation Rescue West; the group split), who moved to Wichita in order to shut George Tiller's clinic down:

"There's only one problem: Tiller is a hard man to find, let alone intimidate. After more than a decade as one of the anti-abortion movement's favorite targets, he keeps a low profile, drives an armored car and lives in a gated community in a house with a state-of-the-art security system. More pointedly, he has made it clear that he's not susceptible to scare tactics. In 1993, Tiller was shot in both arms by an anti-abortion protester. He returned to work the next day.

Newman is well aware of Tiller's resilience. That's why Operation Rescue is going after clinic workers like Sara Phares. The employees have no guards posted at their homes, no cameras monitoring their yards. If Newman can provoke enough of them to quit, his job will be done. He'll effectively shut Tiller down."

Here's how he tries to get them to quit. Sarah Phares is an administrative assistant at the clinic:

"A week later, hundreds of Phares' neighbors received an anonymous postcard of a mangled fetus. This is abortion! read the big block letters. "Your neighbor Sara Phares participates in killing babies like these." The postcard implored them to call Phares, whose phone number and address were provided, and voice their opposition to her work at the clinic. Another card soon followed. It referred to Phares as "Miss I Help to Kill Little Babies" and suggested, in an erratic typeface that recalled a kidnapper's ransom note, that neighbors "beg her to quit, pretty please." The third postcard dispensed entirely with pleasantries: "Sara Phares is not to be trusted! Tell her to get a life!" (...)

Before long, protesters from Operation Rescue showed up at her house. They parked a tractor-trailer across the street, plastered with twenty-foot-long images of dismembered fetuses. From its speakers came the kind of sweet, tinkling music that lures children from their back yards in pursuit of Dreamsicles. One protester, a somber man in a tan windbreaker with a three-foot crucifix thrust before him, performed an exorcism on Phares' front lawn, sprinkling holy water on the grass to cast demons from the property. Phares, a small-boned woman with an irreverent sense of humor, joked about the exorcism. "Wish he'd held off on that holy water till after we'd put the fertilizer down," she said. But her husband wasn't amused. Since 1994, there have been five assassination attempts on abortion providers at their homes. A few days after the protest, Phares' husband got out his revolver, loaded it and taught Sara how to use it. (...)

After a brief prayer asking that Phares hear their message of "gentle rebuke," everyone caravans over to her neighborhood, five cars plastered with bumper stickers condemning abortion and extolling the Ten Commandments. Bringing up the rear is the Truth Truck. For maximum exposure, they stop on a busy street that funnels traffic toward the cul-de-sac where Phares lives. It's a treeless neighborhood, its fresh brick apartment complexes christened with optimistic names such as Cedar Lakes. The protesters display their signs for passing cars. "Phares' Choice," one proclaims, over a picture of tiny, bloody body parts. Another reads, "Sarah Phares, Abortion Profiteer," misspelling her name and giving her address. The image on Jeff Herzog's sign is particularly disturbing: a fetus being grabbed by forceps, its mouth open in a Munchian scream."


"Newman and his small staff of zealous pro-lifers are buzzing with the news that the clinic's office manager has quit -- a result, they believe, of their name-and-shame campaign. The manager had been accosted by a neighbor in a grocery store who recognized her from an Operation Rescue flier that featured her photo. "You're that baby killer!" the neighbor screamed at her. Then Newman, through investigative methods he'd rather not reveal, discovered where the woman's husband works. "We think that's what clinched it," he says. "He probably realized we were going to picket his workplace. I imagine he's the major breadwinner in the family, and he didn't want to risk his job.""

If you read the whole story, you can find out how Newman threatened the Tillers' dry cleaner and a cab company that sometimes took patients to and from the clinic:

"Newman then tells him, in the most courteous tone imaginable, that he might see a few people outside the company holding signs. Just to let everybody know what he's participating in. "It's not personal," Newman says gently."

They also go through employees' trash, and offer rewards for incriminating information. They stop children on sidewalks and tell them their neighbors kill little babies.

Scott Roeder, who seems to be the suspect in Tiller's murder, posted on Operation Rescue's website. Operation Rescue has denounced the murder. They write:

"We are shocked at this morning's disturbing news that Mr. Tiller was gunned down. Operation Rescue has worked for years through peaceful, legal means, and through the proper channels to see him brought to justice. We denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place this morning. We pray for Mr. Tiller's family that they will find comfort and healing that can only be found in Jesus Christ."

I just thought it would be useful to clarify exactly which "peaceful, legal means" they had used, and what Dr. Tiller and his staff had had to live with.

I am strongly pro-choice, but I think it is perfectly possible to be opposed to abortion on principled grounds, and I think that it would be an enormous mistake to conflate all people who are opposed to abortions with either Dr. Tiller's killer or the likes of Operation Rescue. That said, large elements of the anti-abortion movement have never done nearly enough to distance themselves from the violent and/or crazy parts of their movement. I hope they start to now.

Since Tiller himself was shot in 1994 and his clinic bombed in the 1980s, the hatred and anger they endured was quite constant.

Following the murder, co-founder of the so-called Operation Rescue, Randall Terry offered the following editorial, in which he wrote:

If abortionists were gunned down every week, it would gather no more attention than crack dealers who are gunned down every week."

Monday, June 01, 2009

What is a 'Pringle'? A Chip or Not A Chip?

The Supreme Court of Judicature in Britain has ruled on the legal question of "Is a Pringle a potato chip?

With citations ranging from Baroness Hale of Richmond to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Lord Justice Robin Jacob concluded that, legally, it is a potato chip.

The decision is bad news for Procter & Gamble U.K., which now owes $160 million in taxes. It is good news for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs — and for fans of no-nonsense legal opinions. It is also a reminder, as conservatives begin attacking Judge Sonia Sotomayor for not being a “strict constructionist,” of the pointlessness of labels like that.

In Britain, most foods are exempt from the value-added tax, but potato chips — known as crisps — and “similar products made from the potato, or from potato flour,” are taxable. Procter & Gamble, in what could be considered a plea for strict construction, argued that Pringles — which are about 40 percent potato flour, but also contain corn, rice and wheat — should not be considered potato chips or “similar products.” Rather, they are “savory snacks.”


The Supreme Court of Judicature had little patience with Procter & Gamble’s lawyerly attempts to break out of the potato chip category. The company argued that to be “made of potato” Pringles would have to be all potato, or nearly so. If so, Lord Justice Jacob noted, “a marmalade made using both oranges and grapefruit would be made of neither — a nonsense conclusion.” He was even more dismissive of Procter & Gamble’s argument that to be taxable a product must contain enough potato to have the quality of “potatoness.” This “Aristotelian question” of whether a product has the “essence of potato,” he insisted, simply cannot be answered."

This is what courts are for, I suppose.

But no Pringle I have ever munched upon ever reached the level of potato chip, according to my taste buds.

SEE ALSO: The patent on Pringles.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The 9/11 Trauma Defense

In recent weeks, former Bush administration officials have trotted out a feeble defense of the actions they took and supported to create national policy -- policy which has brought much failure -- which Richard Clarke calls the 9-11 Trauma defense and he knocks it all down in today's op-ed piece in The Washington Post.

I have little sympathy for this argument. Yes, we went for days with little sleep, and we all assumed that more attacks were coming. But the decisions that Bush officials made in the following months and years -- on Iraq, on detentions, on interrogations, on wiretapping -- were not appropriate. Careful analysis could have replaced the impulse to break all the rules, even more so because the Sept. 11 attacks, though horrifying, should not have surprised senior officials. Cheney's admission that 9/11 caused him to reassess the threats to the nation only underscores how, for months, top officials had ignored warnings from the CIA and the NSC staff that urgent action was needed to preempt a major al-Qaeda attack.

Thus, when Bush's inner circle first really came to grips with the threat of terrorism, they did so in a state of shock -- a bad state in which to develop a coherent response. Fearful of new attacks, they authorized the most extreme measures available, without assessing whether they were really a good idea."

Read the whole thing here