Friday, September 23, 2011

Camera Obscura: Go See "Drive"; Stephen King Talks on TCM

More than two weeks since I wrote a movie post?

Let me fix that right now:

It's nearly impossible to find a unique movie at your local multi-plex, which depends on a constant stream of bland predictability, NameBrand stars, special effects and various combinations of such aspects. But I found one last week which slides around all those elements and stands as one of the best mainstream releases this year (though I am sure many who see it will just leave it feeling uncomfortable for reasons un-expressable).

The movie is "Drive", from Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn, and it defies movie conventions while also following them, a rare and brilliant play on the crime thriller (and it's getting top-notch reviews nationwide). Ryan Gosling plays an LA stuntman who also is a getaway driver for hire - a skilled wheelman who barely speaks out loud, yet that enormous restraint creates an enormous tension which, makes the movie a most intense experience. The movie is based on the novel by James Sallis.

His Man With No Name character accidentally engages a very pretty neighbor (played by the beautiful Carey Mulligan) and her young son, and this trio eases into a nearly happy ride, though we know it cannot travel far. Her husband arrives, newly released from jail, but thugs from his criminal past immediately threaten the family and as with many an iconic movie hero from the past, the Driver decides to take action to protect them - it's his only way to express his devotion and concern, an expression soaked in violence.

There is a moment late in the movie when the Driver decides to reveal his desire and he kisses her, a moment of immense tenderness and it is immediately followed by a graphic attack on a villain aiming to hurt her. In his mind, both are expressions of how much he cares for her, and is both touching and terrifying.

The movie has a terrific opening scene, as this movie steers into a sort of homage to movies from the 1980s, complete with a throbbing electronic score. Refn has a solid grasp of American movies, though he never lets go of his European roots. And his visual style here is, as with his other films, is gorgeous and powerful, no wonder he gets comparisons to legendary visual filmmakers like Tarkovsky, Kubrick, Hitchcock and Greenaway. His work on "Drive" earned the Best Director award at the Cannes festival this Spring.

The casting is first rate too - Gosling hides his roaring emotions just at the edges, Bryan Cranston of "Breaking Bad" plays his mentor and friend, a hitch-legged loser who can almost see success, Albert Brooks gets a turn as a vicious mob boss and does it flawlessly, and as I mentioned there's Carey Mulligan. By chance I've seen three of her earlier films this year, and she is a real star in the making. Her big moment will likely be in "The Great Gatsby' as Daisy, out next year - but DO NOT miss her work in "An Education" or "Never Let Me Go".

There's also a wonderful bit where the Driver dons a mask of a "leading man" he has stolen from a movie set - but the mask doesn't really fit and it stands as an excellent metaphor for the film itself.

Refn has been tapped as the director for a "Logan's Run" remake, but his earlier works are must-see movies. I watched his 2009 movie "Valhalla Rising" last week too, and was again mesmerized by his work. The movie is set amid a grim and muddy landscape of Vikings who have begun to see the emerging Christianity movement as a promise of a better life. The main character here too has no name, but is simply called One-Eye (and is played by the very talented Mads Mikkelsen, best known to Americans as Le Chiffre in "Casino Royale"). He plays a slave used for fighting and gambling, is beyond brutal and his captors claim he is from Hell itself. What place does he have in a journey to the Holy Land? The movie is hypnotic and surreal and carefully created.

Refn again depends on setting, camera work, and acting to build a powerful metaphysical story in a brutal world. His other films, "Bronson" and "The Pusher" likewise challenge audiences with stunning storytelling.

Best advice: see "Drive" on the big screen, it's a great experience. (Note: Check out my friend Lee Gardner's interview with Refn here.)


October approaches and so does an army of scary movies, so Turner Classic Movies turns to America's Master of Fear, Stephen King, for a one-on-one interview with King about the movies he loves and those based on his works.

In A Night at the Movies: The Horrors of Stephen King, which premieres on TCM Monday, Oct. 3, at 8 p.m. (ET), Stephen King discusses how he discovered terror at the movie theater. He takes viewers on a journey through many aspects of the horror genre, including vampires, zombies, demons and ghosts. He also examines the fundamental reasons behind moviegoers' incessant craving for being frightened. Along the way, he discusses the movies that have had a real impact on his writing, including Freaks (1932), Cat People (1942), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Night of the Living Dead (1968) and The Changeling (1980).

Good job, TCM!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

100% Confidence For One Government Policy: Execution

"So, sadly, I don't think the execution of Troy Davis will have much effect on the national "conversation" about the morality of capital punishment or the glaring flaws in America's system of justice. Because while it's very reasonable to argue that "we" should only kill someone if we're really, really, really sure they did it, the modern American conservative is really, really, really sure about everything." (via Salon)

Despite doubts raised prior to the execution last night of Troy Davis in Georgia, despite the enormous evidence of wrongful convictions, it just is not 'popular' to oppose the death penalty in the U.S.

People say to me - "Some crimes and criminals are so terrible, what else can we do but rid the world of such awful people?"

Last night in Texas, Lawrence Brewer was executed for a grisly crime, dragging a man to death by chaining him to his pickup until the body fell apart. It was a horrifying crime. The victim, James Byrd Jr.'s son, Ross Byrd, though, says execution is not justice:

You can't fight murder with murder," Ross Byrd, 32, told Reuters late Tuesday, the night before Wednesday's scheduled execution of Lawrence Russell Brewer for one of the most notorious hate crimes in modern times.

"Life in prison would have been fine. I know he can't hurt my daddy anymore. I wish the state would take in mind that this isn't what we want."

"Byrd says the execution of Brewer is simply another expression of the hate shown toward his father on that dark night in 1998. Everybody, he said, including the government, should choose not to continue that cycle.

"Everybody's in that position," he said. "And I hope they will stand back and look at it before they go down that road of hate. Like Ghandi said, an eye for an eye, and the whole world will go blind."

SEE ALSO: Former prison wardens appeal for an end to the death penalty.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Justice Absent In Georgia?

It's grisly nightmare scenario - being held in prison for a crime you did not commit. If that cell is on Death Row, the nightmare is likely beyond description.

Unless there is a momentous change in Georgia, inmate Troy Davis will be executed today, despite his efforts which show the prosecutor's case against him has crumbled. Given that the victim of the murder Davis is accused of is a police officer, the legal system could be seeking an execution regardless of any doubts about the conviction.

There is no physical evidence in the case linking Davis to the crime, most of the prosecution hinged on eyewitness testimony - but seven of the nine eyewitnesses have recanted their testimony. One witness allegedly confessed that he was the killer.

Efforts to bring that accuser now turned confessor into court failed as Davis' defense attorneys were not given the authority to force a subpoena on him.

Tragically, our society has steadily become one in which we mistakenly think that the rules of our justice system are created to punish the guilty and not protect the innocent. Too often the public thinks the defense must prove innocence, which is not the reality - it is the prosecution which must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. And once such proof has turned upside down or contradictory then - the very least which should follow is that an execution be halted.

Some years back, Davis was withing 2 hours of execution and received a stay. Living on that kind of edge is more than I can imagine. For the families of the murder victim, I doubt Time has healed or will heal their loss. I cannot imagine their suffering either. Like most everyone else in the world, we're seeing the events in Georgia and in those lives from enormously safe vantage points.

A few days ago, a former Republican prosecutor in California, Don Heller, who wrote the legislation re-instating the death penalty, issued an editorial calling for an end to the death penalty. Though somewhat crudely citing costs as a motivator, he also adds that the loss of life for one innocent person amid a broken system demands that changes be made.

But it appears no appeal, no petition, no calls for clemency will help Troy Davis. The real killer may never be punished. For Davis and for murder victim Mark MacPhail, and for the rest of America, the decisions in Georgia are expanding a tragedy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

TN Home to America's 'Most Corrupt Congressman'

This is one of those days when I'm realizing the more I know the less I understand. Rather unpleasant feeling really. Much of this weirdness however, is not my fault - it is the fault of someone else (blamethrower alert!) who does not seem to know diddley-squat about the world they live in.

Example: a survey of some 1400 people shows that even though they receive government aid and/or tax breaks, they don't know they do, or at least, they don't understand what they have but yet a majority of them are utterly against the kinds of aid they receive. Whaaaa?

The results reveal a striking gap between perception and reality. Almost half of people who received such submerged state benefits as home mortgage interest deductions, student loans or the earned income tax credit reported that they had not used a government social program.

People are quite aware of the visible government programs -- Social Security, Medicare, food stamps and the G.I. Bill -- but they are "least aware" of such programs as tax-free retirement accounts, the home mortgage interest deduction and government subsidized employer-based health insurance that emanate from the tax system or the public subsidy of private organizations, Mettler said."

Now the reality is this is one sampling of some 1400 people, so how accurate a portrait of folks does it present? Depends on how much veracity you give to a survey.

Another item -

A report aimed at naming who, in Congress, is the worst/most corrupt politician names recently elected Stephen Fincher of Tennessee as the worst. And this is just based on how he campaigned for office, not for what he has been doing since he got elected.

I'm pretty sure one would have to have a family member or a great friend in the finance business to suck up the money Fincher has ... oops, the report says he does have that kind of back-up for his plays:

As a candidate, Rep. Fincher filed a financial disclosure form reporting he expected to earn roughly $60,000 from his farm in 2009. On a subsequent form filed just seven months later, in May of 2010, he reported earning more than twice that amount. Oddly, on both forms he claimed the farm was his only asset, and that he did not have a bank account of any kind. Once elected, he also disclosed nine loans he’d failed to report earlier.

In July of 2010, his campaign reported it had received a $250,000 loan from the candidate. A lie, as it turned out. In fact, the loan was made by Gates Banking and Trust Company, where Rep. Fincher’s father serves on the board of directors. The bank refused to reveal the loan’s terms or collateral.

Even the Federal Election Commission (FEC) took notice of Rep. Fincher’s shady finances. While finding Rep. Fincher’s campaign committee had probably violated federal campaign finance laws, in typical toothless FEC fashion, however, the commissioners split 3-3 on whether or not to access a civil penalty. A majority is required to take any action."

And naturally, the group that created the report cited above is cited themselves for being horribly biased and one-sided, despite the fact they issued this statement about their newest report, which names 10 Republicans and 4 Democrats on their list: "
Neither political party has a monopoly on shady conduct. In fact, it’s the only thing that seems bipartisan these days.”

And one more item -

American ranks 25th for Internet service.

What does it mean? It means rules and regulations which most of Americans know nothing about - giant communication corporations and little-known Congressional legislation are in charge of your Internet. I suppose we should just be grateful we have any Internet service at all. At least, I can use mine to read and learn about things which end up depressing me.

So there's that.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dog Blogging

I forgot to mention earlier today that I was most fortunate last week and was able to spend a lot of time with one of my favorite people ... I mean, favorite dog. Sophie and I had a fine time, thank you. She is this blog's official dog, you know.

Rating Obama: Don't Get Fooled

Only a Democrat would face re-election doubts after successfully tracking down and killing Osama bin Laden.

President Obama, it seems, was viewed by some as possessing a magic wand to correct all the massive mistakes from the previous 10 years of Republican-led governing. It is good to see the public at large knows where the trouble lies - in Congress, which gets a 12% approval rating. Still, some rail against Obama, who rates at least 43% approval. Guess which story gets more attention?

Some say he's done little to nothing to change Washington or its policies. Here's a brief look at some accomplishments.

* American job creation is better now than when Bush left office.

* American economic growth is better now than when Bush left office.

* Al Qaeda is dramatically weaker now than when Bush left office.

* The American automotive industry is vastly stronger now than when Bush left office.

* The struggle for equality of the LGBT community is vastly better now than when Bush left office.

* The U.S. health care system is better and more accessible than when Bush left office.

* The federal budget deficit is better now than when Bush left office.

* The major Wall Street indexes and corporate profits are better now than when Bush left office.

* International respect for the United States is better now than when Bush left office.

In truth, I want more things changed - close that Guantanamo prison, end the wars, enhance the much-needed restructuring overseas and at home for roads and schools and business. So much needs repairing in the US - from roads to the economy to basic civil liberties - that indeed just negativity is swaying voters.

Negativity gorges itself in hard times.

Mostly, it seems closed minds, petty revenge tactics and election dreams from Republicans and Tea Party folk, all continue to hold America in a static and losing position.

And as always, Americans most often forget that the decisions made at the state and local level are the ones which determine much of the way we run our education and economic systems. Blaming all ills on one single elected official is juvenile, whether the blame is aimed at a Democrat or Republican. Our job forever remains holding the highest standards of performance and accountability for all our elected officials.

Lately, state leaders in Tennessee and across the country have followed to designs of a single lobbying group, which has the seemingly innocent name of ALEC, to change how Americans vote and where voting districts are. Those changes rise far more from the hopes of getting elected and not serving the citizens:

More on the changes on how you vote here.

Writing For Today's Internet

I took a few days off last week from posting - always risky in the never-ending stream of instant online life. One can easily lose the battle for eyes on a web site in a nanosecond.

I often get advice from folks about how to write and present information online:

"Write shorter posts!"

"Everyone reads Twitter now - why are you writing such long stories?"

"Just use Facebook!"

"Just write about one thing - like bacon or cats."

"Go mobile - no one uses a PC anymore."

Perhaps brevity is the soul of wit and the heart of the Internet. I watched the movie "Drive" this weekend by Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, and marveled at the uber-cool leading man's character to speak mono-syllabically, as I have never really been able to do that. I narratize even the simplest communications when speaking to folks, partly because I like to talk (probably too much), partly because I like providing details and contexts to evoke a story.

(Oh yes I loved "Drive" - and am a large fan of Refn's movies.)

Here's the deal - listening and reading should probably take up more time than talking, and for me, writing takes time too. Brevity does plenty well on it's own and does not need my help. And yes, I have taken to Twitter and Facebook, and most likely I'll use them to just include a brief link to what I write here. And if all you are reading today is brief wee sentences via those sites, you are missing out on the luxurious world around you.

I noted there was a line in the new movie "Contagion", which says "Blogging is just graffiti with punctuation." Wrong. That's Twitter (or Facebook maybe).

I forever reserve the right to create items both long, short, visual, or whatever I wish to share ideas which are published worldwide instantly. This is not to be taken lightly, and it requires whatever Time I decide to provide (or you to read).

Brevity might provide some longevity - but no one wants longevity to be brief.