Friday, December 03, 2010

Camera Obscura: Twin Peaks Reunion; Jeff Bridges As John Wayne; Fulci's 'The Beyond'

For one hour this week immense joy was created by television, as the great "Twin Peaks" show got a most entertaining reunion of sorts thanks to the USA Network series "Psych". Cast members from Peaks assembled for a comic poke at their iconic work, with plenty of references to pie and coffee. Oh, television, will you ever make something as good as "Twin Peaks" again?

NOTE: details about the episode, a commentary and more are here, and kudos to series star James Roday for writing this episode and gathering all the Peaks actors he could. Have a slab of pie James, you deserve it.


Jeff Bridges storms the cinemas this month with two movies which are both re-inventions of previous movies, one in which he starred he some 30 years ago and one where he takes on John Wayne.

I'm a bit more keen to see the second one, a remake of Wayne's Oscar-winner "True Grit" since it is the newest work from James and Ethan Coen, two of the best filmmakers in America. The Coen's version follows the novel by Charles Portis more closely, making better use of Portis' dialog. The way people speak is always a central feature in the Coen brothers films. And while many films have been made over the years aiming to mimic a John Wayne movie, as best I can tell this is the first time someone has done a straight-up remake. (Well, other than a very, very bad TV movie from 1978 called "True Grit" with Warren Oates in the Rooster Cogburn role in a sort of "continuing adventures of" story which is far worse than it sounds.)

Early reviews
are quite tantalizing - "
Let's get this out of the way right now: Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld own this film, every inch of it. The entire cast is fantastic, with special kudos to Josh Brolin and an unrecognizable Barry Pepper (see if you can spot him), but there's not a moment that goes by in the film when you're not itching to see Bridges' Marshal Reuben J. Cogburn and Steinfeld's Mattie Ross share the screen. The two make up the most memorable on-screen duo we've seen all year -- a beaten-up, smelly, drunken U.S. Marshal and a whip-smart 14-year-old negotiator -- and every scene they share is one you're going to want to watch again. One particular scene early in the film, which sees young Mattie Ross trying to sell back the horses her recently-assassinated father bought, is flawlessly executed and effortlessly charming."

The other new Bridges movie is a sequel to his 1982 Disney film "Tron", titled "Tron Legacy". The first film was pretty weak overall, but for myself (and for many others) the ideas in the movie were always quite inventive - a hacker is physically transported inside to the inside of a computer. The tech just did not exist in 1982 to bring the story the wow factor it needed, and the script was weak, but it has remained a sci-fi touchstone ever since.

In 2010, filmmakers have the wow factor down. And the sequel gets a great boost from the techno music throbbing rhythms of Daft Punk. Director Joseph Kosinski is also working on a remake of Disney's terrible space adventure "The Black Hole", so he surely has much riding on these two films.

Speaking of Bridges though, I did watch his Oscar-winning role from last year as an aging, drunken country music singer in "Crazy Heart" and was not very impressed. The story is a paint-by-numbers tale with little originality, and such half-heartedness really doesn't give Bridges much to work with. However, I give him much credit for making the most of it. He has such natural style and talent, he often makes silk purses from sow's ears.

The Dude abides.

Now let's get really obscure. Tonight/tomorrow at 2 a.m. Turner Classic Movies will air director Lucio Fulci's "The Beyond".

Fulci made some really cheesy and wonderful horror stories during his career, and many consider "The Beyond" to be his best. Director Quentin Tarantino helped revive the movie some years back and sent it round for midnight movies across the country and It arrives on TCM in all it's cheesy gory ... I mean glory.

Film critic Roger Ebert has the last word on this movie, which is about a woman who gets ownership of a New Orleans hotel only to find the basement is a doorway to hell. (And no, Lucio, there just are not any basements in New Orleans) Anyway, take it away Roger:

The Beyond'' does not disappoint. I have already mentioned the scene where the tarantulas eat eyeballs and lips. As the tarantulas tear away each morsel, we can clearly see the strands of latex and glue holding it to the model of a corpse's head. Strictly speaking, it is a scene of tarantulas eating makeup.

In a film filled with bad dialogue, it is hard to choose the most quotable line, but I think it may occur in Liza's conversations with Martin, the architect hired to renovate the hotel. ``You have carte blanche,'' she tells him, ``but not a blank check!''

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Fiscal Reform Commission FAIL

The panel has such a lofty title - the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform - but it's proposals seems mostly irresponsible.

A hodgepodge of limp proposals, including tax increases on gasoline, raising the retirement age, eliminating tax deductions for charities and mortgage interest, and many others all ignore the basic problems in the nation's financial structure.

Back in June, economist James K. Galbraith spoke about the inherent flaws in the entire project:

The President created the Commission while pressing for a stronger growth strategy, and has sent every discreet signal (notably in the commission’s minuscule operating budget) that the exercise should not be taken seriously.

Nevertheless, there is a danger that the Commission will take a path — “stimulate now but austerity later” – that will lead to unnecessary, economically-damaging and socially destructive cuts in Social Security and Medicare. And there is a danger that such cuts will be stampeded through Congress in the months immediately following the 2010 elections.


"Overwhelmingly, the present deficits are caused by the financial crisis. The financial crisis, the fall in asset (especially housing) values, and withdrawal of bank lending to business and households has meant a sharp decline in economic activity, and therefore a sharp decrease in tax revenues and an increase in automatic payments for unemployment insurance and the like. According to a new IMF staff analysis, fully half of the large increase in budget deficits in major economies around the world is due to collapsing tax revenues, and a further large share to low (often negative) growth in relation to interest payments on existing debt. Less than ten percent is due to increased discretionary public expenditure, as in stimulus packages.

This point is important because it shows that the claim that deficits have resulted from “overspending” is false, both in the United States and abroad."


"You are plainly not equipped by disposition or resources to take on the true cause of deficits now and in the future: the financial crisis. Recommendations based on CBO’s unrealistic budget and economic outlooks are destined to collapse in failure. Specifically, if cuts are proposed and enacted in Social Security and Medicare, they will hurt millions, weaken the economy, and the deficits will not decline. It’s a lose-lose proposition, with no gainers except a few predatory funds, insurance companies and such who would profit, for some time, from a chaotic private marketplace.

Thus the interesting twist in your situation is that the Republic would be better served by advancing no proposals at all."

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Metro Pulse Says I'm Worth Reading - And They're Right

Chalk up another instance of media attention for this blog -- this time from the latest issue of Metro Pulse.

My humble - cough, cough - efforts here have been cited by the newspaper as local political blog of note. I've been fortunate to have several news media sites in Tennessee and beyond pay attention to this blog, to be supportive and encouraging, and most importantly, to share my work with their audiences.

I thank Coury Turczyn and the MP staff for their interest. You can read their article online here, as I respond to some questions they asked. The article says:

A new blog’s life expectancy is sadly short; it begins with earnest intentions to strike a bold path of self-expression, and usually ends with a death knell of ennui. They die by the thousands each week. But even in this age of tweets, there are old-fashioned blogs worth seeking out—especially local ones."

Old-fashioned, eh? Well, yes, I suppose five years in Internet time is probably 100 years. So be it. Like I said in my answers to the MP's questions, I'm still here and I try to make this blog better every day.

They likewise note several other "blogs worth bookmarking" here, and it includes a few I had not heard about but will now begin to read.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Exposing Secrets the WikiLeaks Way

Some ludicrous, hysterical and poorly informed rantings and ravings have been made about the massive dump of U.S. diplomatic communications via the WikiLeaks organization. Reading and close examination of these documents has been taking place for some time by several news organizations - and while I (like you dear readers who might be interested in such matters) have barely begun to explore the information, there are some folks who are screaming for execution and murder even though these folks have not a clue and have not had anywhere near the time to explore what these documents reveal (and don't reveal).

Americans, by and large, are more concerned with issues close to home. Most of us cognizant of history and government know that diplomats and spies have been partners as long as there have been diplomats and spies. In essence, these leaks pose two very challenging questions -- Do you know what your government does? and Do you even care?

A most illuminating discussion of these documents and their impact is here, between reporter Amy Goodman and Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg; Greg Mitchell, who writes the Media Fix blog at The Nation; Carne Ross, a British diplomat for 15 years who resigned before the Iraq war; and As’ad AbuKhalil,
a professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus.

Some excerpts:

Daniel Ellsberg: "
So it’s very early to judge, really, the value or the dangers, if any, of releasing that. Back in October when we were releasing or when he was releasing I think it was the Afghan documents at that point, they were still new to the process, and I think they made some mistakes in terms of releasing some names that they shouldn’t have released at that time and were properly criticized for that. As a result, it appears that the last batch before this one was redacted fairly heavily by Assange- by WikiLeaks- with the result that when the Pentagon said that there were 300 names that were endangered by that release, they said right away, based on their own files and their own knowledge of the cables, it turned out within a couple of days that WikiLeaks had released none of those names, that none of those had been redacted. They were not endangered. The upshot right now appears to be that as of now, with the hundreds of thousands of documents that WikiLeaks has put out, the Pentagon has had to acknowledge that not one single informant or soldier has been endangered. In fact, they have not even felt the need to protect one or inform one that he or she was in danger. So that risk, which we’re hearing again, now, right now has obviously been very largely overblown and is a lot of blather."

Carne Ross: "
The trouble with all of this is we tend to place government in this sort of superior, elite position; that they know things we do not know; that governments are entitled to know things that the public do not know. I think the balance is way too far in the government’s favor. Far more information should be released and made transparent. I’m not sure, however, that the way WikiLeaks has done this is the right way. This is a very random, blunt instrument to attack the problem of a lack of transparency of government. This should ideally be done through the mechanisms of democratic accountability. Of course, it’s not been done that way so far. Hence, WikiLeaks."


As'ad Abu Kahalill: "Yesterday, the main Saudi news organization, Arabia, kept promising viewers the leak of the document was imminent: "Ten minutes from now, we’re going to see all these documents!" And then once the documents were out, there was complete silence in that news organization. They figured that all these documentations are, in fact, an utter embarrassment to the image of their ruler the they try so hard to prop up in the eyes of the public. I think the Arab public today woke up wiser than before, more cynical than before, and certainly more critical of the government."

There is so very much to consider, obviously. And yet, hysterics, not surprisingly, flow from some corners of the Right. Sarah "I read everything I can get my hands on" Palin (ha!!), who, I promise you, has not read any of these documents, opines, as do others, some completely reckless reactions.

Tennessee radio shock talker Steve Gill says kill the leakers.

Tennessee blogger Doug McCaughan urges people to think before they advocate killing.