Thursday, July 31, 2008

"And The Whole World Has To Answer Right Now Just To Tell You Once Again... Who's Bad?" -Michael Jackson

I got to see two movies today, one was Hellboy 2 and it was fine, there was nothing to it. I got my $7.50's worth when Ron Perlman and Doug Jones (Hellboy and Abe Sapien, respectively) sang Barry Manilow's Can't Smile. It was awesome.

The other movie I saw, and thank the G-ds this was a free sneak preview was Swing Vote.

Now, I said before I walked into the theater that I was going because I adore Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane, and I was interested to see Dennis Hopper and Kelsey Gramer as Presidential candidates. I don't typically like Kevin Costner, I have always thought that he was kind of a one-trick pony and that after Bull Durham it was a pretty ugly downward slide. But that is just me. He makes a gazillion bucks a year, he has a daughter with an Ivy League education and I sit in my efficiency apartment typing up a movie review that maybe eight people will read, so fuck me.

Much to my surprise, however, casting wasn't the problem. Neither was photography, or directing, or acting or anything with Kevin Costner. The problem with this story is two fold: For enders it is a movie based on a moral imperative that is rousingly delivered in the final five minutes of the movie, which to sum it up, We the people made this mess. The starter of the shit show is a faulty premise based around a felony offense and a call to civic duty. But it fails because it is based around a lie that never comes to the light.

Normally I would warn about spoilers--and I guess I am right now--but fuck that. If you see this movie I want no part of it. This is the worst movie I have seen in probably three years and the last time I remember being this angry at a movie was when I saw Very Bad Things.

Anyway, back to the task, here is the premise. A little girl is taking her civic responsibility very seriously. So she registers her father to vote. Then she tells him, Dad, it is really important that you vote, please do it, pick me up at the polling center. But he doesn't. Because he is a fuck-up. He actually gets fired from his job because he is drinking on the clock, and then proceeds to the bar to get drunk, and finally passes out in his truck. He never makes it to the polls.

Instead his civically minded daughter decides to vote for him. She obviously forges his name on the voting record and then as she is about to vote, a cleaning woman unplugs the machine... tragedy ensues with hearty guffaws.

The travesty here isn't the movie. Gramer and Hopper are great Presidential candidates who lend earnestness and spinelessness in equally believable parts; Tucci and Lane are scene stealers as the guys pulling the strings, and Costner and Carroll play a beautiful troubled single family.

The problem with this movie lies in its failing to achieve the goals. The only characters that are honest through the movie are the scummy politicos who are the guys behind the guys. They unabashedly maneuver their candidate to the victory line and in the end they own up to their motivations, for Lane it is being an idealist with something to win and for Tucci it is securing legacies.

EVERYBODY ELSE IN THAT MOVIE IS BEYOND REDEMPTION! The Presidential candidates waffle on the topics that seem to mean the most to them. The Republican is seen backing gay marriage and opening a Wildlife preservere; the Democrat is backing stronger immigration policy and pro-life; all because hapless Bud can't seem to get his head around a question.

Which brings us to the news reporter. This is a character that is presented with the fact that the girl lied and that Bud has no right to vote because his daughter signed his name and instead looks the other way, even after screaming her head off about ethics for ninety minutes. If this movie is meant to present us with an ethical dilemma, which it does, it resolves that dilemma by doing the wrong thing. Imagine you are in a position where you are presented with evidence that will stop one man from deciding the fate of the presidential election, and instead of telling that story and allowing the constitution to work the way it's designed--allowing the House of Representatives to choose the President--you put on a cable-knit sweater and sit beside the felonious family at a rodeo ground debate.

The civically minded girl never comes clean about her part in the whole affair even after watching her father get tugged, pulled, and swayed; and seeing the ugly side of the political process she loves so much in the first twenty minutes. Instead she allows the world to believe that her father got to the poll on time. If Bud were doing his job as a father he might've even said to his daughter, "Honey we can't live this lie, it just doesn't feel right." Because we already had the story present us with his morality. He's lazy, not evil. After being caught drinking his boss--and high school friend-- says, Bud, give me a reason why I shouldn't fire you, just one reason to keep you and staff. But Bud knows that there isn't one, and rather than making something up he allows himself to be fired.

If the point of this movie was to rouse up the slumbering masses from their apathy and help them to get motivated about the issues that will decide this November's election between McCain and Obama, then I think it might have horribly missed the mark. Here is what the movie showed me:

  1. Presidential candidates are little more than mouthpieces of a platform. Leadership has very little to do with becoming President because the guys that design the platforms and strategize behind the scenes are the ones who are really running.
  2. Don't trust the media. They can't help. If their job is to inform and help in some small way to deliver the truth, they fail too. And they fail for largely selfish reasons because they are human and prone to their own emotional failings.
  3. The problem with true civic responsibility is that most people don't understand how it works. There are fail safes for bad ballots, the Constitution has a contingency plan set up for just this sort of thing.
  4. Any moral imperative based on faulty morality is doomed to failure. The only way to make this story work is to have Bud begrudgingly pulled away from a foosball game where he loses money, then have step in to the polling center and cast his vote. Then the machine becomes unplugged. Because what he have here is actually a great lesson in how voter fraud works and how the people responsible for fighting are largely relying on people to the do the right thing. (Read Leviathan it won't work.)

But because I don't want to end this revant (a combination of review and rant) on a sour note I want to talk about three things that did help redeem this movie for me.

First, the casting choice of New Mexican politicians. Brilliant. The guy that played the Secretary of State was awesomely cast because he looks like a Salty New Mexico Politician, and I have known more than a couple of them.

The guy that played Lewis is named Charles Esten and he stole every single scene he was in for me. He is charged with protecting the family by the Secret Service and in the background of the scenes he is in mopping floors or reading mail or doing dishes. My favorite scene involves him standing in the back of the class while Molly (the daughter) defends her father for being a drunk. In the scene he has the earpiece to his walkie talkie out of his ear and resting on his jacket. It is too beautiful to be a mistake. I am going to pretend that it was Esten's decision.

Lastly, this film was shot with the help of the New Mexico State Investment Council Film Commission. I don't understand how this works exactly but I used to go to NMSIC meetings and here is my understanding: if a film maker is willing to shoot and finish a film in New Mexico the Film Commission, which is an executive branch organization will grant them certain tax relief during the process. It will also lend them money with a small interest rate that is payable after the movie is finished and released. Here is why I like this program. It draws Hollywood to New Mexico and it employs New Mexicans in high paying movie jobs. The downside is that they don't have any control on the quality of the film.

Outside of those three things I have nothing positive to say about this movie, I think that there are funny scenes and I think that the actors and the director did a fine job with the material they were given, but the material itself was written poorly and in a rush. If you see this movie after reading this revant (trademark) then it is on your shoulders alone. Because I am telling you right now. This movie sucks. Bad.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Summer Trip part 2

1st leg, Boston to Oslo, Norway.

I am one of those people who doesn’t mind showing up to the airport early. Showing up late stresses me out, showing up on time stresses me out. My feeling on it is that if I am at the airport, two or three hours early what is the worst that happens? Maybe I buy a lunch I am not sure I need, or I sit and watch children run ape-shit around the airport. But the upside is that if the gate changes, or there is a delay I am there and I know about it well in advance, which I think out weighs the kids and the lunch.

The Boston Logan International wing of the airport is funny. They have a vending machine that sells, wait for it, iPods, Sony PSPs and accessories to go with both. Imagine a coke machine, filled with expensive electronics and that is what you have. It has a credit card swipe and a then you push a couple of buttons and then viola you are holding a high-priced consumer electronic device. Amazing. I was blown away by it. I need to get out more.

I flew Iceland Air which I had heard tons about before actually experiencing it. I have to say that the thing that makes it okay is that the flight to Reykjavik seems a lot more tolerable then the flight to either London, Manchester, or Venice, the three other cities in Europe I have flown into. But outside of the ease of flying into Reykjavik Iceland Air is, in fact, just another airline. The fly Boeing 757s in apparently one configuration and it is fairly uncomfortable if you are above 6’0”. We had a window and a middle seat for the overnight flight so I asked to be moved into a row which I noticed was unoccupied, citing my concerns about space. The airline accommodated my request but they didn’t tell me that the seats were bulkhead seats, meaning they have more leg room, but the seats are narrower because the trays slide into the armrest and you can’t put them up. It seems silly to complain about it, but I am going to anyway because I work in Customer Service and I think 90% of the job is distilling what the customer says they want into what they actually want. Iceland Air didn’t really do that. But oh well.

We got into Oslo on time and had a small scare with our bags. They have this feature in Oslo where they inform you when a plane’s bags are on the belt and when the last bag is on. It is tremendously informative, but can also inspire fear and rancor. We were staring at the empty carousel spinning around bags from Reykjavik and Vienna and watching anxiously for some sign of our bags. I would have taken anything ranging from the bags complete and intact to a tripod or a piece of underwear making the round trip journey. We got our bags no problem, I can only assume that someone forget to unload one of the carts back in the belly of the luggage sorting system. But I will forever associate the song “Girl from Ipanema” with lost luggage now because of a man who was cheerfully whistling the song while waiting for his bags, also on the same flight, to show up.

So Lovely Wife has done a bit of a blow-by-blow on our trip to Europe and I would rather not create a ton of overlap for our dual readership. So I am going to take a slightly different tack on this posting and talk about the things that I noticed that are more cultural, or sociological.

So to kick it off... Any rumors you hear about Europe’s public transit system being superior to the US you can absolutely rely on to be the G-ds Honest Truth. We took a train from the guts of the Oslo Airport (which ought to win an award for most easily navigable airport in the world) right into downtown Oslo, and then walked a meager block to our hotel. It was fantastic. While in Oslo we took every form of public transportation they offer and here is my thought on it. If New York, DC or Boston had this thorough of a set up, scads of stops, everything running on time, tons of ticket vending stations, there would be no need to own a car in those cities. San Francisco’s transit system has similar coverage but that is a geographical thing and the city of San Fran shouldn’t get credit for being hedged in on a peninsula. The buses in Oslo are clean and the drivers are friendly.

I also noticed that Oslo, and maybe this is true of Norway as a whole, are very proud people. We went to two museums that really drove this point home for me and they couldn’t have been more different. The first was the Nowegian Football Museum. Yes. I went to a museum dedicated to Football (or soccer). And it was probably near the top of the museums I went to. It had a heap of useful information about the Norwegian FA, their history and their famous players. But it also had useful exhibits about FIFA and the evolution of the game, such as the institution of the red and yellow cards. All of this was accompanied by a tour of the grounds and also the locker room for the home team. You were allowed to touch the pitch, but not walk on it. The stadium called Ullevaal Stadium holds about 35,000 people and is beautiful and modern and it makes me sad that the MLS has to play in shitty stadiums that double as American Football Stadiums. The guide that we had was a kid named Per. He was profoundly knowledgeable about the history of the FA, and I got the sense that he worked for them, or for the stadium somehow. Towards the end of the tour you get to see a display of the past uniforms, each bearing the Norwegian Flag, and the proposed new team kit that bore, instead of the flag, a more stylized depiction of Nordic dragons intertwined. If you are a football fan, then think about England’s Three Lions. Apparently when the NFA announced and unveiled the new shirts the country unanimously went into an uproar about it, to the point of leading protests in the streets outside the stadium. I wonder if that happened to the US National team if the couple thousand football fans would think to protest?

The other museum that really punched in Norway’s pride was the World War II Resistance Museum. It was chock full of information about the Norwegian Resistance to the Germans during WWII. Not just the military aspect of it either. They talked about clergy and teacher’s strikes over being told to teach certain topics to the students. They disagreed with the government stance and so they all quit. The result was that they were rounded up and sent to Concentration Camps. Now... this is one of those things that I don’t know how to say delicately but I am going to try anyway.

I think that sometimes the concentration camps get lost to the Jewish cause, and rightfully so, but it was so much more than that. The concentration camps happened to the world, and we shouldn’t forget that protestants, Catholics, Jews, teachers, mothers, fathers, children, athletes, farmers, whites, blacks, gays, straights, Dutch, Poles, in short everybody was affected by them. Even the US rounded up people during World War II and isolated them. Everybody in the world, bar none, should be ashamed at they we allowed other people to be treated. In the end, Humanity won the battle of World War II, but when I look at how things are playing out in the world I can’t help but be concerned that we are going to lose the war.

Sorry for that soapbox episode, but I haven’t been able to get some of the images of the Resistance Museum out of my head and I am still really taken aback by them. So onward we move.

Lovely Wife and I then headed out to Copenhagen. We took a ferry from Oslo down the Oslo Fjord. Ferry is a bit of a relative word because it was a cruise ship with a holding pen for cars with eleven decks a half dozen bars, a dance floor and a venue for live music. Which was awesome.

The night we were on the boat there was a six piece band playing; two guitarists, a bass, a keyboard, and drummer and a percussionist on bongos (or something similar). The band was good in the way that surreal cover bands are good.

Imagine that you play guitar and are pretty good at it too. Now imagine that you need a gig, hear about cruise ships as an alternative to pounding the streets looking for bar gigs. Now imagine that the only thing your band can agree upon is a selection of cover songs from the 60’s and 70’s of American Music. That was what he had. It was fantastic. Kenny Rogers, Stevie Ray Vaughn, The Eagles, CCR, The Beatles, Commander Kody at one point, and I am 100% sure that this band didn’t know a single one of the words. They seemed to know all the sounds, but the words were ancillary to the objective. The audience was quiet and reserved, the danced to anything that was played in three four time and some of them would get up and cut a rug to the up tempo stuff, but when Holger (the band leader, whose name I completely fabricated) started to “wail on his axe” they would flee the floor like children at a lima bean convention. The highlight of the night for me was when Holger said, “now we are going to try something a little different.” Then pulled out a set of Pan Flutes and did a little rehearsed schtick before playing “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.” However, nobody knew any of the words outside of the refrain that gives the song its name. GLORIOUS! I was cracking up the whole time, but not maliciously, they were genuinely a fun band to watch and listen to, like a really good wedding band.

The cultural significance of their performance for me was the perception of what American Music is. They really played like an American band. And maybe this makes me naïve, but there is a wealth of Norwegian and Danish folk and pop/rock music out there and they played American standards. A fact that reminded me how important American Culture is. Sometimes I think we are only represented through our entertainment products; and when that includes shows like the shit about the Kardashians or Paris Hilton, or Orange County Housewives it makes me cringe. Because we are putting our worst foot forward. Entertaining as these hateful shows may be, the rest of the world sees this.


Summer Trip pt. 1

I have been reticent in posting while I was away because I had intended to keep a written diary of all my traveling over the summer and then compile it into something spectacular; and who knows it still might happen but at this point I am thirteen days behind the date I will be putting in the journal, which I think defeats the purpose of a journal. But fuck it. If Jose Saramago can write a book without using quotation marks, then I can run a journal a couple of weeks behind schedule.

I had the opportunity to do some traveling this summer. It was grand even when it didn’t go according to plan. I started off seeing my friend Donette from high school. We haven’t really seen each other since graduation and it was nice to be able to spend a couple of days hanging out with her and her husband Pete. They live in LA in Echo Park and I like the area, but I am not sure how I feel about LA as a whole. It is weird. Not really good or bad, just different then what I am used to. When Donette came home on Day two of my trip with Bronchitis I knew things were going to be wonky. A further recap of my trip to California involves the following items, in order:

  1. A low emergency evacuation from the Los Padres National Forest, which is now in ashes.
  2. Lunch with a good friend
  3. A walk through San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park
  4. The words “Homeless in California” being shameless used to facilitate a plane trip at no penalty so that I wouldn’t be underfoot at my friend’s father’s house any longer.
  5. San Francisco’s China Town and some of the best dim sum, walking and conversation I have ever done.
  6. Green Gulch Farm in Marin County. A place that is truly blessed and some of the most beautiful landscape that the G-ds saw fit to create.

Then I got home early. Hated every second of it. And couldn’t wait to leave again. But two things happened in the interim before my trip to Europe that made things work out for the best.

First was that I got to and see Josh Emmons do a reading for his new novel Prescription for a Superior Existence. Josh Emmons is a friend of a good friend of mine named Josh (who only seems to leave comments when he receives a shout out). I have read his other book, titled The Loss of Leon Mead, and enjoyed it so it was nice to get to meet him. I enjoyed the reading immensely, it has a great feel to it and it is something that I can wrap my head around. Unfortunately for Josh Emmons I have a summer reading list that I am hell bent on finishing which still has two books on it: The Cave, by Jose Saramago and My Name is Red, by Orhan Pamuk. So to be in the queue behind two Nobel Prize Winners isn’t a bad place to be.

Secondly, I convinced Lovely Wife that the only thing made sense for Fourth of July would be to go to Staten Island to visit our good, make that great, friend Tony who is renowned across the southern most borough of New York for his hospitality and summer barbeques.

Then it was off to my Mom’s for two days where we shopped, we dropped and we repacked my bags for Europe at least twice, maybe three times.

Then a trip to Boston and we were off.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

"Lookin back on places I've been to. " - Moonpools and Caterpillars.

I have started a big post about my trip to Europe and realized that two-thirds of they way through I am at three thousand words. So... I am going to not put people through that and instead parse it out once I am finishes in installments. Like Dickens, only duller. In the meantime my pictures are all up on on Flickr. I am pretty new to Flickr and also pretty new to photography. This is no where near the total of pictures but they are the ones I am will to let people see, which I guess means I am proud of them.

So enjoy that while I am editing and parsing the rest.

See you soon.

In the meantime, that is, while are looking at my pictures and waiting for the post, go and see Dark Knight. OHMIGOD!!! If last year was the summer of the let down action film, this is the summer of redemption. So Good. Every movie is better than the last one. (I make exceptions for Wanted and Hell Boy.)

Friday, July 11, 2008

"All I want is a good look at your underside." -The Decemberists

First night in Oslo, July 11th 2008.

I saw four prostitutes. Right? Legitimate, on the street, standing on corners, prostitutes. It was awesome. It is eleven p.m. right now and dusk is just setting in. I had mussels that were steamed in white wine, chilli, dill and vegetables for dinner. Oslo is gorgeous and I really can't wait to get out and stretch my legs with the camera and take some pictures. It is going to be exciting.

The flight over here was interesting, I didn't sleep at all, which is pretty normal for me. I have a hard time sleeping on international flights because I am generally too excited and the seats are small for me.

More later...

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

"I left my heart in San Francisco..." - Tony Bennet et al.

I am displaying all the television symptoms of depression. I realized this this morning when I didn't pry myself from bed until eleven o'clock. My excuse is basically that I don't have anything to do which is a half-truth because the stuff I do have to do can be done from the safety or comfort of my bed.

Luckily I know what the major contributing factors are:

1. Getting all prepped up for a Japanese Zen summer of working and zazen, and then having it taken away by the forest fires in California is a huge factor. I was looking forward to actually experiencing something of a Soto Zen lifestyle and to get a taste of it--twenty hours worth--and then be evacuated is tough. Because I am back to the academic analysis of it. BOOORRRING!

2. San Francisco might be my favorite city of all time, and I was only there for two days. They have nice enough weather, they have a great literary scene with tons of great book stores, tons of great restaurants and an incredible Chinatown. It might qualify as a perfect town for me. I was actually heart stricken when I my plane took off and I think that if I had a reason for staying, family or loved ones there I might have wept. Rarely does a city have that strong of a pull on me so quickly.

So today the goal is just to get out and get Lovely Wife's bike to the shop, and mine in for a tune-up. The gears are skipping on uphills and it is getting pretty bad. It used to be something I could fix myself but I don't want to go and break things.

I saw two movies on Sunday. The first was Wanted and the second was Disney's Wall-E. Reviews will be forthcoming.