Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The "Inventor" of OCD

Whenever you see your doctor or dentist wash his or her hands before an exam, thank Ignaz Semmelweis.

In 1847, while working in the Vienna Lying-in Hospital's Maternity Ward, Semmelweis observed a number of cases of puerperal fever (also called "childbed fever"). He noted that in wards where the staff washed their hands more often, puerperal fever was less prevalent.

Semmelweis went public with his theory in 1850. The reaction of the "scientific community" of his day was hostile.

The current scientific opinion of the time blamed diseases on an imbalance of the basical "humours" in the body. It was also argued that even if his findings were correct, washing one's hands each time before treating a pregnant woman, as Semmelweis advised, would be too much work.

His crusade to get physicians to wash their hands earned him nothing but ridicule. Eventually, the contiuous ostracising he received from the medical community would drive him mad. In 1865, he was committed to an insane asylum where died from blood poisoning.

Posthumously, Dr. Semmelweis was recognized as a pioneer of antiseptic policy and immortalized on a stamp (preglued, I hope).
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This Creature Isn't Two Dimensional

I recently had the chance to view a 3D print (complete with blue and red glasses) of Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) at the historic Redford Theatre in Detroit.

Thinking that the movie was strictly an excuse to showcase the 3D process, Hollywood's answer to television, I wasn't expecting much. WHile I'd never actually sat though CFTBL before, I always have KNOWN what the gill-man was all about. Growing up, his image donned countless covers of Famous Monsters of Filmland. So, it was a pleasant surprise to find that the movie holds up fairly well.

To be sure, at the screening I attended, there was plenty of audience tittering to be heard. And I suppose they had good reason:
  • As with any 3D films, there are lots of objects given gratuitous trajectories toward the camera.

  • The blues and reds of the glasses I had didn't always correspond to the blues and reds in the print which sometimes created a ghost image rather than a three dimensional one.

  • Each time the creature appeared, a wave of music (no pun) would erupt. Worse yet, it was music I'm sure I'd heard before, suggesting that it came from a studio library. My guess is that they spent so much on the gill-man suits and the 3D cameras, there was little left for an original soundtrack.

  • They used far too many shots of the creature where only his claw was visible (such as reaching through an open porthole). I'd suppose that this was easier to stage than pouring an actor into the creature suit for every setup.

  • The film falls prey (a pun this time) to the stereotype of the swooning female who always seems to collapse in just the right position to be picked up and carried away by the creature.

Having said all that, CFTBL holds its own surprising well when compared to other "B" horror flicks of the time.

First of all, in spite of a few overdone shots, the 3D work is first rate. Scenes that look pedestrian in the "flat" version take on a whole new life in 3D. The underwater sequences are staged fantastically, with random bubbles and fish floating in front of the audience.

Directed by Jack Arnold, who also helmed The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) and cowrote the underrated The Monolith Monsters (1957) there's a lot more going on storywise than just things springing up out nowhere to say "boo" (like ANY Jason or Freddy flick).

The onscreen relationship between David Reed and Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams, who'd still be considered sexy by today's standards) rings true (not like the silly romance between Leislie Neilson and Ann Francis in Forbidden Planet).

From their introduction as characters, though unmarried, it's clear that the two are involved in an adult "situation." We first see Reed, his bare chest still wet from an underwater dive, leaning on Kay for balance as he removes his flippers. This certainly establishes a relationship that's intimate as well as professional. A tad risque for 1954, it's treated matter-of-factly (and even referenced by other characters). Also, the flipper business with Reed leaning on Kay occurs more than once in the film and underscores the emotional support that Kay supplies for him. It turns out that Reed's a man who just can't decide when pull the trigger in his personal life (should he marry Kay?) OR professional life (should he kill the creature?).

Enter alpha male, Mark Williams (Richard Denning). He's a man who knows exactly what he wants. In this case, he wants Kay for his woman AND the gill-man's head for his trophy case (or is that the other way around, just kidding). In a perfect example of what some (not me) may see as a gratuitous 3D shot, Williams examines his spear gun and (naturally) the working end of the weapon points right at the audience. A shot so full of phallic imagery, I was tempted to have my young daughters look away.

Reed's weapon of choice, by contrast, is a fish traquilizing drug (hmm, I wonder if Kay is TOTALLY satisfied with their love life). When rigged to be dispensed underwater, it resembles a blast of talcum powder.

This brings us to the creature. I suppose the gill-man suit is a tad dated for today's more sophisticated audiences. But, I submit that until Ridley Scott's Alien, there wasn't a full-body monster costume in cinema that worked as effectively. The creature from the black lagoon is an icon for its genre. Period.

The creature is clearly taken with Kay. I could have listed this overused plot device above as a fault of the movie. But an attraction to Kay is what motivates ALL of the main characters. I think one can argue that the creature is an emotional amalgam of the two male leads (much like the title character in 1933's King Kong was a physical manifestation of Carl Denham's id).

When first encountering Kay underwater, like Reed, the gill-man is tentative. He follows her for a while before scurrying away. Later, when angered, the creature becomes more like Williams and gets violent, kills off some characters, then drags Kay away to his lair. Once the heat of battle is over, the Reed part of the creature returns and Kay is left resting on a rock untouched (well, I guess they couldn't have had the Kay and the creature rutting on screen could they?).

In the end, the gill-man, apparently mortally wounded, is allowed by Reed (ever the wimp) to return to the sea. The last shot is from the sea floor pointing up at the creature floating down toward the audience, it's fate uncertain. The ending was left deliberatly open to allow for a possible sequel (pretty farsighted in a pre Jason/Freddy era).

I've heard about a 90 million dollar remake of CFTBL due out in 2008. I hope the price tag doesn't mean that it's going to be ALL about the creature.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

PS3 vs. Weeeee

Funny take-off on the PC vs. Mac ads. But I'm not sure if a dumb blond is the best image Wii could have come up with: (link)

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Everytime An Egg Breaks, An Angel Gets Its Wings

Because they're all mediocre (including mine), I'm not the least bit impressed with last week's Cartoon Caption Contest # 118 from the New Yorker. (link)

My entry: "Well, this still doesn't prove that eggs came first"

The "winners" as picked by the New Yorker:
  • "Why did you think angels had wings?"
  • "It's not the tedium. It's the uncertainty."
  • "I always figured Hell would be less ironic."

Sorry, I think mine was better.

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Roarrrrrr 5 and 2

Who'd have guessed.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Spies, Songs, and Invisible Bunnies

A eclectic six-pack of ironic observations.
  1. After playing Illya Kuryakin in the incredibly successful TV series, "The Man From Uncle" series from the 1960's, David McCallum's career took a bit of a dive until he landed the lead role in a science fiction show ironically titled "The Invisible Man" (which only lasted seven episodes).

  2. In her 1973 hit, Carly Simon sang "You're So Vain," she bitterly sings: you're so vain, you probably think this song is about you. This was meant as an insult, BUT the song IS about him (isn't it?) .

  3. Through the Bourne series, Matt Damon became a sex symbol by playing a cool spy. BUT in the TV spy comedy Chuck, Zachary Levi plays a nerd. Doesn't that seem backwards?

  4. It has always struck me as somewhat inaccurate to use the term "McCarthyism" when referring to the blacklisting of the 40 and 50's. The "blacklist" was a reaction by major media outlets to the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). However, Joseph McCarthy was a SENATOR (different chamber of Congress) who's efforts were aimed at rooting out "Reds" in the State Department (not the media). Later, McCarthy went after the U.S. Army (and even tried to smear President Eisenhower). This would ultimately lead to "Tail Gunner Joe's" downfall. Was he reckless? At the very least he was toward the end of his red hunting days. Was he involved in the Hollywood blacklistings? No.

  5. The third line in Journey's signature song, 1981's "Don't Stop Believing," is: Just a city boy, born and raised in south Detroit. However, they're really is NO such thing as "South Detroit." There's an "East" and "West" side of Detroit. But NO "South" side. Unless you're referring to Windsor, Ontario (which IS south of Detroit).

  6. Cinema war hero, John Wayne, who never served in the military, played tough, ass kicking characters. Jimmy Stewart, a real war hero who served with distinction, often played milquetoast nutcases who befriended giant invisible rabbits.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Intelligent Design?

An "evolutionary theorist" from London, Oliver Curry, predicts a future world of tall men with large penises, smooth skinned women with big eyes and perky breasts and short dim-witted trolls.

He's got to be smoking something. Well, at least he doesn't blame it all on global warming.

From the Daily Mail website: (link)

Human race will 'split into two different species'

The human race will one day split into two separate species, an attractive, intelligent ruling elite and an underclass of dim-witted, ugly goblin-like creatures, according to a top scientist. 100,000 years into the future, sexual selection could mean that two distinct breeds of human will have developed.

The alarming prediction comes from evolutionary theorist Oliver Curry from the London School of Economics, who says that the human race will have reached its physical peak by the year 3000.

These humans will be between 6ft and 7ft tall and they will live up to 120 years.


Men will have symmetrical facial features, deeper voices and bigger penises, according to Curry in a report commissioned for men's satellite TV channel Bravo.

Women will all have glossy hair, smooth hairless skin, large eyes and pert breasts, according to Curry.

Racial differences will be a thing of the past as interbreeding produces a single coffee-coloured skin tone.

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I Love The 80's - You Gotta Problem With That

Great list of 80's songs from Selected excerpts below:

The 10 Most Terrifyingly Inspirational '80s Songs (link)

#10. The Final Countdown by Europe
...We're not clear on what he's counting down to, but somebody's about to get their ass kicked. If we were wrestlers and it was 1986 again, we'd totally have this as our intro music.

...let's face it. That distinctly '80s synthesizer sound didn't exactly age well. Those too young to remember the Cold War, in fact, tend to laugh upon hearing it.

...Any activity which may seem like a good idea initially, but soon becomes completely ridiculous. May we suggest Ultimate Frisbee, riding a pocket bike or watching the second season of Lost.

#9."Wanted (Dead or Alive)" by Bon Jovi
...This song was written in that small window of the '80s when a blue collar steelworker from New Jersey with a terminal case of hockey hair could write songs about being a cowboy and be taken seriously. It was a very small window; it really only encased this one song.

#8."Another One Bites the Dust" by Queen
...Originally, Sylvester Stallone wanted the rights to use this as the official theme for Rocky III, but Freddy Mercury refused to grant him permission. You read correctly. Freddy Mercury opposed Sylvester Stallone while Sly was currently filming a movie about what happens to people that oppose him (hint: they are beaten savagely until they are no more than 200-pound sacks of meat pudding and regret.)

#7."Love is a Battlefield" by Pat Benatar
...In case the subtleties of love and conflict might escape you. The video hammered the message home by manifesting these metaphors as a bunch of whores dance-fighting a Raul Julia look-alike while shaking their boobs in a menacing fashion.

..."Love is a Battlefield" quickly became the unofficial anthem for the unappreciated woman of the '80s. This was "cock rock" for the female set. On any given night in 1984, one could find a few women on a girl's night out, blockaded behind a wall of hair and empty bottles of Bartles & Jaymes, drunkenly belting out "We are strong!" while adjusting their fluorescent ankle-warmers.

#6."Holding Out for a Hero" by Bonnie Tyler
..In response to this heart-wrenching plea for masculinity, men of the '80s commenced to wear white loafers without socks, purchased hair mousse in bulk and turned up their Wham! albums until Bonnie Tyler's screams for help were drowned out.

#5."Don't Stop Believing" by Journey
...There are two kinds of people in this world: People who love Journey ironically and people who love Journey genuinely. People who love Journey ironically are mostly leather-clad hipsters in second-hand vintage T-shirts, smoking cloves and hanging with strung-out androgynous she-boys outside used record stores. As for people who love Journey genuinely, they do so because of this song. Say what you will about Steve Perry (For example: He looks like Paris Hilton with Down Syndrome) but the man could sing.

#4."Jukebox Hero" by Foreigner
...a simple tale about a down-to-earth boy from the Midwest learning how to play the guitar and thereafter eternally rocking until the end of time. There were only two types of people in the 1980s: teenage boys from the bible belt who secretly yearned to rock, and small-town girls with big dreams that their parents just didn't understand.

#3."Danger Zone" by Kenny Loggins
...Yes, somehow Kenny Loggins, the man who co-sang "Danny's Song" plea-bargained a temporary pair of testicles and stepped up to be a man for one brief, shining moment in 1986.

...As is the case for all deals bartered with the devil, there was a catch, and poor Loggins' balls were not to last. He quickly returned to pastels and songs about love-conquering stuff. Thus were his few glorious, fleeting moments as a male rendered all but a memory, leaving Loggins to live to this day in silent misery amidst the many fond remembrances of what having a penis felt like.

#2."You're the Best" by Joe Esposito

#1."Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor
..."Eye of the Tiger" was written for the movie Rocky III at the request of Sylvester Stallone after Queen had denied him usage rights to "Another One Bites the Dust." This means "Eye of the Tiger" was designed specifically, from start to finish, to function as the inspirational fight montage music in what film scholars widely regard as the most badass boxing movie ever.

...Here's a little exercise that illustrates perfectly what this song is capable of. Think of the weakest, most pedestrian chore you can do, for example, doing laundry. Now play "Eye of the Tiger" in the background. If, by the end of that spin cycle you haven't managed to somehow kill a grizzly bear with fabric sheets or make sweet love to every woman within 40 yards, then you need to see a coroner because you apparently died the night before.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Method Gigolo

I wonder if he starting using the blue cards then?

Did the "johns" have to answer the four questions? (I'll bet they had some interesting responses to "What's your favorite curse word?")

From ABC Action News in Tampa, Florida: (link)

James Lipton, the host of U.S. talk show, Inside the Actors' Studio, once worked as a pimp in Paris, France

The revered TV presenter, who has sat down with Hollywood's biggest names for in-depth chats about their life and work over the last 13 years, has revealed he once procured clients for French hookers.

He says, "This was when I was very very young, living in Paris, penniless, unable to get any kind of working permit... I had a friend who worked in what is called the Milieu, which is that world and she suggested to me one night, `Look, you'll be my meck... We would translate it perhaps... as pimp.

"We were earning our living together, this young woman and I, we made a rather good living, I must say."

Lipton reveals in his new book Inside Inside he would set up sex shows for clients of his lady friend.

He adds, "I had to accompany my clientelle to the Rue Pigalle, which is where these things occurred. And then I'd take them up to the room and I had to remain there because they were very nervous, they were young Americans for the most part... and they didn't speak French."

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Moore is Less

For the life of me, I cannot understand the appeal of Michael Moore. While his "documentary" style may be funny and entertaining (to some), one hardly learns anything new from him.

His first success was 1989's Roger and Me (centering on GM factory closings in Flint, MI). There he pioneered his style of focusing on himself and acting smug while accosting people with his camera. The fact that there isn't a good way to say "no comment" on film shouldn't be confused with insight.

Two example of documentaries that get it "right" are The Thin Blue Line and The Trials of Henry Kissinger. These works have DEFINITE points of view and present their respective material in a manner that challenges and enlightens, but does not preach or mock.

The Thin Blue Line

The real tragedy of Moore's assent, is that a true artist of the documentary genre, Errol Morris, still toils in comparative obscurity.

When I saw The Thin Blue Line in 1988, I was blown away by everything from the production design and visual style to the haunting Phillip Glass musical score.

The film centers on the conviction of Randall Adams in 1976 for the murder of a Dallas policeman despite the fact that most (if not ALL) of the evidence pointed to a friend of Adams, David Harris.

The thesis Morris develops is that because the Dallas prosecutor wanted to make a strong statement to the community regarding the crime (shades of Mike Nifong) and Daivd Harris was too young to receive the death penalty, he went after Adams.

Morris had Originally planned to do a documentary on the death-row doctor at the prison where Adams was incarcerated. Nicknamed "Doctor Death," it was this physician's job to determine the mental competency of condemned men before their execution. Morris wanted to explore the fact that Doctor Death NEVER deemed anyone "incompetent" (hence the nickname). However, after listening to Adams tell his tale, he decided to change topics.

The movie was credited for getting Adams conviction reversed.

The Trials of Henry Kissinger

A good companion piece to this, would be The Trials of Henry Kissinger (2002).

The film is based on a book by Christopher Hitchens, who, interestingly enough, has come under fire of his own for the supporting the Iraq war AND writing a book celebrating atheism (what a combination!). As listed in the IMDB, TToHK "focuses on Henry Kissinger and his role in America's secret bombing of Cambodia in 1969, the approval of Indonesia's genocidal assault on East Timor in 1975, the assassination of a Chilean general in 1970, and his involvement in the 1969 Paris peace talks concerning the Vietnam Conflict."

Jarecki's opinion of Kissinger is VERY clear. Yet, he makes every effort to be even handed about it.

For instance, while Kissinger (understandably) did not agree to be interviewed for the documentary, whenever a point against him is made, Jarecki does his best to include archive footage of Kissinger from different venues addressing that issue.

There are no ambush interviews with camera people rushing Kissinger and peppering him with questions in a manner that NONE of us would stand for.

I'm neither inclined to be a death penalty foe or a knee-jerk supporter of the "peace movement," yet each film affected my views on their respective topics. A testament to the talents of the artists involved.
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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

9/11 Conspiracy Cows

Bill Maher is hilarious handling some 9/11 conspiracy nuts ran amuck in his audience. (link)

Watch for his best line -- "And cows disagree with me."

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Send in The Clowns

Fair is fair. This week I can't complain about the New Yorker cartoon caption contest results:

My entry (which sucked) was "My wife wanted to hire Kelly Wearstler, but all we could afford was Emmett Kelly ."

(Kelly Wearstler was the most famous interior decorator I could find with the name "Kelly") .

The winners were:
  • "Welcome to the greatest living room on Earth!"

  • "My wife will be here any moment. She's loading herself into the cannon as we speak."

  • The people who lived here before had lions."
Okay...these were funnier.
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Maybe It's the Thinner Air

First their uniforms look like what a minor league team would wear. Now, the on-line ticket sales site for the Colorado Rockies crashes.

What kind of half-ass operation is this???

BTW, Rockies in 5 (hee hee)

From Yahoo Sports:

Rockies suspend World Series ticket sales after computer crash

DENVER (AP) -- The Colorado Rockies suspended World Series ticket sales Monday after overwhelming demand crashed their computer system.

"Right now we're shutting the system down," club spokesman Jay Alves announced outside Coors Field, drawing boos from fans. "We expect to be online at some point."

"We're as frustrated and disappointed as they are," Alves said. Alves had said last week that the Rockies were prepared for any computer problems.

On Monday, there were 8.5 million attempts to connect with the computers in the first 90 minutes after sales started, he said, and only several hundred tickets had been sold before the system had to be shut down...(more)

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Dead Men Walking

Point Blank (1967) and High Plains Drifter (1973) both tell revenge tales where the underlying idea that the main character is dead becomes a plot device to drive the story. In each case, the "hero" returns to parcel out retribution to those who engineered his earthly demise. The difference between these two films is how these "dead men" go about it.

Point Blank

Before the opening credits, Walker (Lee Marvin), a criminal, is shot (point blank) and left for dead by his wife (Sharon Acker) and partner (John Vernon) after a heist that culminates at Alcatraz. Behind the main titles we see a grainy photo montage of Walker managing to pick himself up and climb over the prison fence to safety. How he's able to do this defies any rational explanation (other than this is some sort of dying man's fantasy).

The next scene shows Walker heading purposefully down a hallway, his quest now underway.

As he mercilessly torments his former associates, all he claims to be after is his share of the job, $93,000. But he seems to be after some other undefined something. Exactly what, I don't think he even knows. Answers perhaps.

To get his money, Walker has to work his way up the organized crime ladder. Each of the lower rungs he encounters are unable to meet his seemingly simple demands (apparently criminals have bureaucracy as well).

It's an interesting performance from Marvin. He's brutally tenacious when smacking people around. But, he's also very quiet and restrained much of the time.

One scene in particular stands out. While his wife tries to explain WHY she betrayed him, he just sits and listens without saying a word. As scripted, this scene was supposed to be two-way conversation, with both characters talking. However, Marvin wanted to try it with just the wife reciting her dialog EXACTLY as written and he reacting without talking at all.

I get the impression that Walker ultimately blames himself for his fate. Sure, lots of people did him wrong. But HE was the one who put himself there.

At the film's end, his goal within reach, Walker drifts away with an air of quiet resignation.

High Plains Drifter

The man with no name, literally in this case, played by Clint Eastwood (who also directed) shows up in Lago, a community with a terrible secret.

A while ago, they did nothing while a trio of outlaws whipped a marshall to death right in the center of town.

I have the hardest time convincing many of my friends that Eastwood is supposed to be that dead marshall. Many contend that it's the marshall's brother who comes a calling (this theory doesn't quite explain how the stranger could have found out about his "brother's" death).

But Eastwood's first appearance should be enough to settle the matter. There's a long shot across the desert. In the distance, the sun creates a wavy heat pattern. Suddenly, a rider appears out of thin air and emerges from that heat pattern.

I don't know what could be more clear.

Unlike Walker, this stranger is not only going to get his pound of flesh, he wants to have fun doing it. As far as he's concerned, EVERYONE was culpable. And, indeed, everyone ends up paying. Of course, those in the town who are more "guilty" pay extra.

Perhaps the difference between Walker and the stranger, is that the stranger didn't do anything to deserve the fate he was dealt. So, his indignation is justifiably more severe.

Like many Westerns, once justice is served, the stranger rides away. The last shot, from a distance, shows the stranger disappearing into the same heat pattern from which he first emerged.

Again, how much clearer could that be?

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Undefeated at Home

Lions go to 4 and 2. Have you caught the fever? (not quite yet)

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You Only Live Twice

Posted as part of the Close-Up Blog-a-thon hosted at The House Next Door)

From one of the most disturbing scenes I've ever seen is this fish-eye close-up of Rock Hudson, tied to a hospital gurney, realizing that he's not going to get a third chance at the end of John Frankenheimer's "Seconds" (1966).

"Seconds" has an intriguing premise. Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph), a wealthy and bored, middle aged man, attempts to start a new life with the help a secret organization referred to as the "Company." The Company (no relation to the CIA), sells it's well-to-do prospects the chance to be "reborn" as a different person. A sort of witness relocation program on steroids, for clients this rebirth includes the staging of their death (complete with another corpse), a new identity (with the dream job of their choice) and extensive surgical alterations by a master plastic surgeon (Richard Anderson). Thus, Hamilton is able to become Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson).

Though not perfect, it's still a powerful film that was underrated (if not ignored) when it was released. In fact, "Seconds" was booed after a screening at Cannes.

Maybe it was just too bleak. Or maybe James Wong Howe's innovative and unusual visual style was off-putting to audiences.

Also, I'm sure that many found it hard to accept Rock Hudson, best known for his light, romantic Doris Day comedies, in this serious, dark and depressing thriller. Even Frankenheimer didn't want to cast Hudson as Wilson.

In retrospect, Hudson was the perfect choice.

"Seconds" is about living a lie. Who, in 1966, wouldn't have want to become Rock Hudson. Even Hudson himself said "I can't play a loser, I don't look like one." Yet, Wilson can't get past the previous life he sacrificed for his second chance. And this is his undoing.

Tony Wilson was someone Hudson knew all too well. Hudson had to suppress his life as a homosexual to maintain the persona of suave ladies man. Wilson's predicament was certainly an analog for Hudson's own REAL conflict.

It's a great performance.

It's a pity that the movie and Rock Hudson's efforts didn't get the kudos they deserved in 1966. Hudson never got his own second chance to attempt anything as ambitious after the failure of "Seconds."

The words of Wilson's doctor in the final scene, lamenting the fact that he had to destroy his masterpiece while the sound of a cranial drill buzzes in the background, could almost be attributed to Hudson himself reflecting on the fate of the movie:

"I’m sorry it had to come to this. You were my best work."
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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Sick AND Stupid

Some freak child molester was apprehended in Thailand after authorities were able to unscramble pics the a-hole had Photoshopped and posted to the Internet. He figured obscuring his face would be enough. I hope he rots.
Thai Police arrest Christopher NEIL, identified as man in child sexual abuse photos (link)

Christopher Paul NEIL, a 32-year-old Canadian man identified as being the person in a series of child sex abuse photos posted on the Internet, was arrested by Royal Thai Police on 19 October. NEIL's arrest in northeast Thailand came just 10 days after INTERPOL launched an unprecedented global public appeal on 8 October to identify the man whose face appeared in more than 200 images of child sex abuse.

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The Tao of Lee

(Posted as part of the Close-Up Blog-a-thon hosted at The House Next Door)

I happened upon this shot from John Ford's slightly uneven, but still worth watching, "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" (1962) quite by accident.

Because I generally focus on John Wayne in this particular scene, the two shot with Lee Marvin in the foreground caught my attention. In a nutshell, it captures Marvin's appeal as a movie tough guy.

It's the first on-screen encounter between Liberty Valance (Marvin) and Tom Doniphon (Wayne) in the movie. Ostensibly, they're fighting over who's going to pick up Doniphon's dropped steak off the floor. But, of course, it's about much more.

Valance has been a real prick up to this point, exhibiting violent anti-social behavior boarding on the insane. During the "steak incident" he backs down from Doniphon. Marvin's expression here suggests the mental calculations Valance is making as he sizes up the situation before pragmatically deciding to turn tail. Yet, somehow this doesn't diminish his onscreen danger. How many actors could pull that off?

Later, Valance sadistically torments milquetoast lawyer, Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart).

Valance is clearly the alpha-male in the match-up with Stoddard. However, Marvin's expression is not that much different from the earlier scene with Wayne. Except, maybe this time he's having more fun.

This is an early revisionist Western (somewhere between "Broken Arrow" and "Unforgiven" on the paradigm shift scale). So, instead of a traditional showdown between the hero and villian, it has Doniphon, hiding in an alley with a rifle, shooting Valance dead in cold blood.

Doniphon's motives aren't about justice, or eliminating a mad-man for the sake of the community, or even revenge. He's doing it strictly to ensure a happy future for the love of his life, Hallie (Vera Miles).

Like Liberty Valance, Tom Doniphon is pragmatic too.
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Friday, October 19, 2007

Pagila on Iraq, Rush and Warming

Excerts from Camille Pagila's October column. She's always interesting and, as usual, I cherry-pick. Follow this link for the entire thing.

Withdrawing U.S. troops and equipment from Iraq will be a complicated and dangerous process that will take many months. But it should be launched on a massive scale immediately. Iraq's fate needs to be decided by Iraqis, whose quarreling ancient tribes and factions have little motivation to compromise as long as the U.S. military is planted there to keep the peace. A democratic Iraq would be desirable in the best of all possible worlds, but it may be a desert mirage -- not worth the loss of thousands of American lives or the investment of hundreds of billions of dollars desperately needed for U.S. social services and infrastructure....

...Whatever its rationale for the invasion of Iraq (arguments rage over the relative weight of Israel, oil, Halliburton, al-Qaida or none of the above), the Bush-Cheney administration seems to have been blinded by its own naive idealism, provincialism and abject ignorance of history. The continued American presence in Iraq is not a solution but an obstruction to regional cooperation. Saudi Arabia certainly doesn't want Iran gobbling up its neighbors. But the shrewd Saudis, rolling in riches, have no incentive to take responsibility so long as the U.S. goes on playing policeman and footing the bill.'s pretty hard to argue with her logic. She's especially effective because she's not like the Jeanine Garfalo types who come across as shrill, can't discuss the topic beyond slogans, and then finish their presentation by saying 9/11 was an "inside job."

Rush Limbaugh
...I must confess my own exasperation with the Democratic leadership, who spout tiresome platitudes but achieve little and who stampede off on puerile publicity stunts that alienate potential voters across party lines. The latest example is the near-delusional campaign to turn popular radio host Rush Limbaugh, who has unwaveringly supported the military for nearly 20 years, into an anti-military antichrist. If Democrats are serious about ideology-based government regulation of talk radio, then the party is fast abandoning its fundamental principles, central to which should be constitutionally protected free speech.

Talk about shooting themselves in the foot. Clearly trying to snipe back because of the furor over the "General Betray Us" flap, the Dems who signed this thing look like a bunch of idiots. I love that the actual Harry Reid letter sold for $4 million on eBay.
"Global Warming"
The simplest facts about geology seem to be missing from the mental equipment of many highly educated people these days. There is far too much credulity placed in fancy-pants, speculative computer modeling about future climate change. Furthermore, hand-wringing media reports about hotter temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere are rarely balanced by acknowledgment of the recent cold waves in South Africa and Australia, the most severe in 30 years.

Well said.
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(Posted as part of the Close-Up Blog-a-thon hosted at The House Next Door)

Viewable on VEOH

Only five years after his first appearance in "Steamboat Willie," Mickey Mouse found himself facing the "The Mad Doctor" in a short from 1933.

I saw this close to 40 years ago (on my dad's "regular 8" movie projector) and have never forgotten it.

The title character is a knife welding psychopath who wants to graph the head of Mickey's dog Pluto onto a chicken. Mickey has to make his way through a house of horrors to rescue his beloved pet.

This close-up of the doctor taking a menacing lunge at Pluto still gives me the creeps.

The Disney animator's attention to detail is great. Wearing latex gloves and a white surgical gown (with various "tools" in his pockets), this doctor would feel right at home on the set of "Saw" or "Hostel."

Speaking of "Saw," near the end of the short, Mickey finds himself strapped to a gurney as a buzz saw is lowered from the ceiling.

Was this really made for kids?
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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Vast Right-Wing Hate Machine?

I think the "vast right wing hate machine" (whatever that is), which was initially blamed for the "attack" on Randi Rhodes (whoever she is) by Air America's Jon Elliot (never heard of him), would probably pick more prominent targets.

By "prominent" I mean personalities on radio stations that people ACTUALLY listen to.
Attorney For Air America Host Disputes NYC Mugging (link)

NEW YORK -- An attorney for Air America radio personality Randi Rhodes is disputing on on-air report by a colleague that the liberal talk show host was attacked on a Manhattan street.

Air America's Jon Elliott announced on his late-night show Monday that Rhodes had been assaulted Sunday while walking her dog about a block from her Park Avenue home. He also speculated that the attack was the work of "the right wing hate machine."

Elliott's account of the incident, however, was contested Tuesday by Rhodes attorney, Robert Gaulin.

Gaulin confirmed that Rhodes was injured after she was floored by someone -- or something -- as she strolled the streets of Manhattan's Murray Hill district around 8 p.m., but wasn't sure herself what sent her tumbling to the pavement.

"She hit her head on the street and was disoriented," Gaulin said. "She's not sure what happened. She didn't see anything." He added that she never reported the incident to police.

Air America released a statement saying that "the reports of a presumed hate crime are unfounded."

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Back to the Future

(Posted as part of the Close-Up Blog-a-thon hosted at The House Next Door)

I thought I'd stick my neck out to take a heretical swipe at a famous close-up from what many (myself included) consider a masterpiece, Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey."

Namely, the cut that spanned a million years.

Our ape man ancestor, his mental abilities enhanced by an alien encounter, celebrates a violent victory over a rival tribe by throwing his new weapon, a large bone, into the air. We see it spinning upward, then fall back to earth.

Suddenly, the scene cuts to outerspace and a shot of something orbiting the earth while the "Blue Danube" plays in the background.

A few years after seeing the movie, I read "The Making of Kubrick's 2001" by Jerome Agel and realized that the objects circling the globe were supposed to be nuclear weapons.

While I was quite young when I saw "2001," I can't honestly say that I would pick up on this if I were seeing it for the first time today.

My guess would be that eighty to ninety percent of those who view the movie wouldn't know exactly what the orbiters were supposed to be UNLESS they had read a book such as Agel's.

Am I alone in this opinion?

Sure, there's the "bone as weapon" connection. But, that could just as easily (and more probably) be interpreted as a link between the bone and advanced technology in general. A different idea. Subtle, yes, but different.

So, what’s the big deal? Okay, you didn’t get it. Does it matter THAT much?

Well, here’s my gripe: I can’t help but feel slightly cheated by the ambiguity because KNOWING that the Earth is surrounded by orbiting WMDs:

  • TOTALLY changes the dynamic of the space ballet scene
  • adds another layer of complexity to the lack of emotion exhibited by the human characters
  • explains HAL's later murder spree a bit more (he’s our kid after all)
  • makes Bowman's return to Earth as the star child THAT much more of a poignant and hopeful moment

For what it's worth, in Arthur C. Clarke’s book version of "2001" (the one he wrote while the movie was being shot, NOT his original short story, "The Sentinel", that inspired it), the star child detonates those devices (an ending Kubrick apparently considered but jettisoned because it was too close to the final scene of "Dr. Strangelove").

I realize that Kubrick wanted the audience to reach their own conclusions (that's why he decided against using a narration track). However, I submit that is a piece of exposition that could (and should) have been made a bit less obscurely.

Okay, rant over (I'll sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over).

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Cartoon Caption Contest #116

Yet another set of lame finalists for the New Yorker "Cartoon Caption" contest. (link)

My entry: "Your work just seems flat and two dimensional to me."

Okay, maybe this isn't hilarious. But, I don't think the "best" submissions are all that great:
  • "It would work better with an alien."

  • "It's just not funny if she looks so sexy."

  • "On what planet do you imagine this would be funny?"

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

(Posted as part of the Close-Up Blog-a-thon hosted at The House Next Door)

Matt Z's "Close-Up" posting for "The Manchurian Candidate" reminded me of another great political thriller, 1973's "The Day of the Jackal" (directed by Fred Zinnemann). The sniper scope shot at the end plays a prominent role in the film's finale.

So as not to play spoiler, the shot I've posted above actually occurs a minute or two before the climax.

VERY faithful to Frederick Forsyth's novel of the same name, the film takes place in 1961 and follows a fictional plot by a French terrorist group, the OAS, to assassinate President Charles de Gaulle. After several failures, which they blame on internal leaks, the OAS hires an outsider from England code named "The Jackal" to do the job.

The "fair haired" assassin meets with his employers to discuss terms:
Colonel Rodin: "And how much do you want?"
The Jackal: "Half a million."
Colonel Rodin: "What?"
The Jackal: "In cash. Half in advance and half on completion."
Colonel Rodin: "Half a million francs!"
The Jackal: "Dollars."
Colonel Rodin: "Are you mad?"
The Jackal: "Considering you expect to get France in return, I'd have thought it a reasonable price."
Still relevant today and perfectly paced, the film juxtaposes the actions of single-minded fanatics against benignly indifferent bureaucrats.

One of the lead bureaucrats, Claude Lebel, laments "It's obvious that The Jackal has been tipped off all along and yet he's decided to go ahead, regardless. He simply challenged the whole lot of us."

Since the real Charles de Gaulle WASN'T killed by terrorists, I'm not divulging anything by saying that the bureaucrats win.

However, the great irony of the film, as demonstrated in the sniper scope shot, is that the Jackal fails, NOT due to the actions of his pursuers, but BECAUSE he is an outsider and not completely familiar with French ceremonial customs (I won't say any more).
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Dowd's Best Column EVER

The highly overrated Maureen Dowd let Stephen Colbert write her New York Times column for October 14th. It's funnier than her usual stuff.

If the NYT were to dump Dowd for Colbert, I'd actually consider paying for a subscription. (link)

I Am an Op-Ed Columnist (And So Can You!)

I’d like to thank Maureen Dowd for permitting/begging me to write her column today. As I type this, she’s watching from an overstuffed divan, petting her prize abyssinian and sipping a Dirty Cosmotinijito. Which reminds me: Before I get started, I have to take care of one other bit of business:

Bad things are happening in countries you shouldn’t have to think about. It’s all George Bush’s fault, the vice president is Satan, and God is gay.

There. Now I’ve written Frank Rich’s column too.

So why I am writing Miss Dowd’s column today? Simple. Because I believe the 2008 election, unlike all previous elections, is important. And a lot of Americans feel confused about the current crop of presidential candidates.

For instance, Hillary Clinton. I can’t remember if I’m supposed to be scared of her so Democrats will think they should nominate her when she’s actually easy to beat, or if I’m supposed to be scared of her because she’s legitimately scary.

Or Rudy Giuliani. I can’t remember if I’m supposed to support him because he’s the one who can beat Hillary if she gets nominated, or if I’m supposed to support him because he’s legitimately scary.

And Fred Thompson. In my opinion “Law & Order” never sufficiently explained why the Manhattan D.A. had an accent like an Appalachian catfish wrestler.

Well, suddenly an option is looming on the horizon. And I don’t mean Al Gore (though he’s a world-class loomer). First of all, I don’t think Nobel Prizes should go to people I was seated next to at the Emmys. Second, winning the Nobel Prize does not automatically qualify you to be commander in chief. I think George Bush has proved definitively that to be president, you don’t need to care about science, literature or peace.

Good stuff.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Is There a Chill in the Air?

From the Syndey Morning Herald: (link)

Gore gets a cold shoulder

ONE of the world's foremost meteorologists has called the theory that helped Al Gore share the Nobel Peace Prize "ridiculous" and the product of "people who don't understand how the atmosphere works".

Dr William Gray, a pioneer in the science of seasonal hurricane forecasts, told a packed lecture hall at the University of North Carolina that humans were not responsible for the warming of the earth


Dr Gray, whose annual forecasts of the number of tropical storms and hurricanes are widely publicised, said a natural cycle of ocean water temperatures - related to the amount of salt in ocean water - was responsible for the global warming that he acknowledges has taken place.

However, he said, that same cycle meant a period of cooling would begin soon and last for several years


He cited statistics showing there were 101 hurricanes from 1900 to 1949, in a period of cooler global temperatures, compared to 83 from 1957 to 2006 when the earth warmed.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Nobody's "Perfect"

Ann Coulter is her own worst enemy.

Being denounced by such lightweights as Keith Olbermann or Al Franken, who seem most pissed off at the volume of her book sales, generally helps to solidify her popularity (and sell even more books).

But for every one of her smart, funny comments, she utters an unnecessarily obnoxious or just plain stupid one.

Last week she went on Donny Deutsch's "The Big Idea" and made an off the cuff remark pitting Christianity against Judaism: (link)

DEUTSCH: ...we should just throw Judaism away and we should all be Christians, then, or --


DEUTSCH: Really?

COULTER: Well, it's a lot easier. It's kind of a fast track.

While I guess that according to Christian dogma her remake is technically accurate, she was being pretty glib about it.

DEUTSCH: Why don't I put you with the head of Iran? I mean, come on. You can't believe that.

COULTER: The head of Iran is not a Christian.

DEUTSCH: No, but in fact, "Let's wipe Israel" --

COULTER: I don't know if you've been paying attention.

DEUTSCH: "Let's wipe Israel off the earth." I mean, what, no Jews?

Now Donny's being a bit overly dramatic. It's not ipso facto anti-Semitic to believe in the New Testament. Doesn't, a believer of ANY faith think that their's is the correct one (and, by default, other faiths are incorrect)?

At this point, Coulter should have asked Deutsch, who claims to be a practicing Jew, what HE believes.

Instead, she goes on to say:

COULTER: No, we think -- we just want Jews to be perfected, as they say.

DEUTSCH: Wow, you didn't really say that, did you?

COULTER: Yes. That is what Christianity is. We believe the Old Testament, but ours is more like Federal Express...

So, does that mean being Jewish is like working for UPS?

Again, Coulter is being very flippant about it. Instead of going for laughs (and failing), she could have at least acknowledged that she understands how non-Christians may be offended by her remarks.

For his part, I think that ad man Deutsch is protesting a bit too much to drive up the ratings for his show (which are now virtually nonexistent).

Would he be so hard on Christopher Hitchens who wrote a bestselling book that blames religion as the source of ALL the world's problems?

I doubt it.

Then again, I doubt that Hitchens would sound so stupid while trying to explain his position.

Sigh. Maybe blonds ARE dumb after all (btw, I acknowledge that some may be offended by that).
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Friday, October 12, 2007

Blind Man's Bluff

(Posted as part of the Close-Up Blog-a-thon hosted at The House Next Door)

Whenever I'm pressed to pick what I think is the ONE best movie of all time, I invariably say Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 classic "The Birds."

For my money, Lydia Brenner (Jessica Tandy) discovering the eye-pecked body of Dan Fawcett is one of the most memorable scenes in all of cinema.

YouTube clip

This small moment is every bit as gripping as the elaborately staged gas station fire/attack scene and Melanie's final violent encounter with the title characters in the attic.

No sound or music. Tandy doesn't even scream audibly.

Instead of a zooming in on the gruesome corpse, Hitchcock chose a series of three quick cuts, each getting closer to the body until it's just a head shot.

According to Peter Bogdanovich, Hitchcock did this to simulate Lydia's point of view as she suddenly realizes what she's seeing.

This also made the scene easier to edit in case it didn't pass muster with the film standards board.

Hitchcock wasn't one for gratuitous gore. He claims he shot Psycho in black and white because of the carnage during the shower scene (sure, it was cheaper too).

So, one has to assume that the discovery of Dan Fawcett with no eyes isn't just for effect.

As noted by Camille Paglia, "The Birds" is essentially about "a war between nature and culture, with the irrational and primitive vanquishing human illusions."

I think poor old Dan represents the blindness of the main characters to reality in both their personal lives and the world in general. Society has lived in an artificial cocoon of it's own creation called "civilization" for so long that it's oblivious to (or simply ignores) the true nature of things.

In a restaurant just before the gas station attack, three symbols of civilization: religion (the old drunk at the end of the bar spouting Bible verses), science (the ornithologist lady with the beret and an air of superiority) and commerce (the black suited businessman who's got his own problems and can't be bothered) discuss their theories as to why birds have suddenly gone on the warpath and what can be done about it.

None of them seem to have a clue. Interestingly, the old drunk comes the closest when he says "it's the end of the world." But people have stopped taking him seriously a long time ago.

After all she's been through, at the end of the film Melanie is still deluding herself. Cut up both physically and emotionally from the bird assault in the attic, the expression on her face as she looks up at Mitch's mother, Lydia, suggests a sincere belief that she has finally discovered a suitable surrogate for her own long lost mother.

Lydia's reaction (beautifully portrayed by Jessica Tandy) is appropriately sympathetic. But it's clear that, even now, she's no more attached to Melanie than any of the other women (or "birds" in English vernacular) who Mitch has brought home.

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