Thursday, July 31, 2008


Dennis Lim's "Let's Step Outside" tries to give an overview of the evolution of cinematic fight scenes. He does a decent job of explaining one of my major pet peeves -- mainly attempts to take a more "realistic" approach to staging cinematic donnybrooks that end up being SO over-choreographed that they lose all credibility and so over-editted that they're hard to follow.

The Bourne series is the worst offender in my opinion. The tone of most, if not all, of the major Bourne battles is self-congratulatory (as in, look how cool we are). In the interests of full disclosure, I don't buy Matt Damon as a tough guy anymore than I think he's the "sexiest man alive."

My main issue with Lim's piece is that he leaves out some of the most notable cinematic fight scenes. Including, John Wayne's battle at the end of The Quiet Man, and ALL of the James Bond movies.

Whatever Happened to Great Fight Scenes?, by Glenn Erickson (hat tip: Drake), does a better job and includes more details. Yet, his list isn't exactly what I would have chosen either.

Well, if you want something done right... So, here's a rundown of my favorite fight scenes.

The Lady from Shanghai: I wanted to include the courthouse battle from The Lady From Shanghai, but couldn't find a clip. It's a great, early example of the use of editing and staging by Orson Welles to enhance the action.

The Quiet Man: Certainly an "old-school" Hollywood approach to setting up a fight scene and, perhaps, a bit dated by today's standards. But, it's still a lot of fun.

From Russia With Love: The train scene between Bond and Grant still holds up and is the gold standard by which all other fights scenes are judged (by me, anyway). Unlike Bourne, the meticulous choreography doesn't show. While these combatants clearly have "skills," they are deployed in a seemingly extemporaneous manner as the action unfolds.

There's a similar fight in 1947's The Narrow Margin, which, I suspect, influenced FRWL (I couldn't find that on YouTube either, dammit).

Thunderball: This is Bond just on the cusp of becoming campy and cartoonish. Yet, it's worth watching as a great exercise in staging AND editing. The fact that 007's fighting a guy in drag just adds another interesting nuance to the sequence.

Hard Times: The finale to Bronson's depression era flick. Just as we only watched Fred Astaire films for the dancing, the storyline in Hard Times is forgettable. But, the bare-fisted brawls make up for what the narrative lacks.

Grosse Pointe Blank: Who'd have thought John Cusak could be tough? This is another great instance where the combatants skills are deployed in a seemingly spontaneous and credible manner. Also, the background music ("Mirror in the Bathroom") adds the perfect touch.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tap Once for CHANGE, Twice for Something Else

Politics DOES make strange bedfellows.

Tigereye, a button maker in Ohio, apparently didn't live up to their name when they created this Obama item.

From yesterday's Washington Post:

Obama Backs Larry Craig? Change We Can't Believe In!

...folks all across Idaho are howling over a snafu that put presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama on a political button with Larry Craig, who isn't even running for reelection in Idaho on account of his arrest in an airport men's room sex sting.

A production snafu put the images of Democratic Sen. Barack Obama and disgraced Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) on a political button. The unlikely pair appear together on a button under Obama's signature campaign banner: "Change We Can Believe In."

...Suffice it to say, the button was a mistake. The button maker, Tigereye Design in Ohio, got the wrong Larry. The face they meant to put on the button was that of Idaho Senate Democratic candidate Larry LaRocco.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

May It Please the Court...

I thought my entry to the New Yorker "Cartoon Caption Contest" #153 was just fair until I read the actual winners.

While my submission was barely passable:
"Counselor, you may begin closing arguments after a short intermission, er, I mean recess"

It had an entire leg up on at least two of the entrees the NYer judges selected:
  • "I know you have the law and the facts on your side, but I'm going with the dancing girls on this." -- sucks

  • "The jury foreman will now sing the verdict." -- best of the bunch

  • "Overruled, counsellor. This is sweeps week." -- absolute crap

Read more!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

No Country for Bat Men

I'll cut to the chase right away. At two and a half hours, The Dark Knight , director Christoper Nolan's follow up to his well-received Batman Begins, is too long.

Having said that, I'm not sure what scenes I would cut. Like the epidural tapestry on the tattooed main character in another Nolan film, Memento, each piece is an intrical part of the whole. Take one out, and I'm not sure that the story holds up.

Perhaps the problem is that each separate scene runs a bit too long. Shortening up a few of the action sequences and making the soliloquies less repetitive would have taken out a lot of the narrative slack and made TDK a tighter film.

Some have argued that the movie should have ended sooner. Presumably while DA Harvey Dent, half his face burnt off, was still in the hospital. Thus, paving the way for the third installment.

I disagree. For all the talk about Heath Ledger's Joker, and he is VERY good, the story is REALLY about Dent's transformation into "Two-Face."

Some have criticized the Joker for basically carrying the same personna throughout the film.

But the Joker is not supposed to "grow" as the movie progresses. He just is. He's the sum of everyone's fears and meant to explain how a good person like Harvey Dent, can become the very thing he's trying to fight.

Nolan is clearly making a statement about the difficult choices our culture's current post 9/11 paranoia has forced us to make. And to fight Gotham City's terrorists, Batman is unapologetic in his willingness to take the low road. This includes beating suspects and engaging in telephone surveillance that would make your average card-carrying ACLU member's head explode.

In a scene very reminiscent of the first Superman, Batman is faced with a Hobson's choice as his love interest, Rachel Dawes, and Dent are held in separate locations both rigged with explosives timed to go off simultaneously. To further connect TDK to the real "war" on global terrorism, Nolan has them not so subtly strapped to oil barrels. The payoff to this situation in TDK is much more effective than Superman's. Batman can't turn back time after all.

While it would be easy to, TDK doesn't really take a hard position on whether the ends justify the means. On the one hand, Nolan does try to establish boundaries that a "moral" society shouldn't cross (I'm thinking about the dilemma involving the two ferries at the end). However, he also presents a worldview which seems to be say that just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean that they're NOT out to get you.

As I said, Ledger is VERY good as the Joker. Better than Jack Nicholson's incarnation. Both actors harvested laughs in the role. But with Ledger, the laughter is tinged with a lot of dread.

The problem, like most things in TDK, is that the Joker's expositions on the nature of good and evil, much like the explanations of how he got his facial scars, go on too long and cover the same ground over and over again.

Likewise, Dent's exploits get repetitive. He's always flipping a coin before deciding to kill someone. I get it, we live in a cruel universe where life can be random.

I had forgotten this, but it appears that Two-Face's constant coin-flipping as a device to determine the fate of his victims prefigured novelist Cormac McCarthy's Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men. In a bit of esoteric movie irony, Tommy Lee Jones, who played the first cinematic Two-Face in 1995's Batman Forever, also played Sheriff Bell to Javier Bardem's coin-flipping Chigurh in the movie version of No Country for Old Men.

Speaking of which, in the end, it was a coin toss for me if TDK worked.

On the one hand, were the faults I listed above. However, it does have quite a bit going for it.

All of the actors were on their game. The action scenes, which some have characterized as hard to follow, were well done and much more effective than the clean, overly choreographed Bourne series fights. And Nolan has taken the fantasy out of Burton's Batman and transported him into a much more realistic and relevant setting.

Make no mistake about it. If the Joker were to screen TDK from his padded cell, he himself might have proclaimed "why so serious?"

But, I like serious.
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Friday, July 25, 2008

Ich Bein Ein Brie

Obama wowed 'em in Germany. Of course, the Germans love David Hasslehoff too!

In response, McCain held a press conference in front of the cheese aisle.

Read more!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Banned by the New York Times

The New York Times rejected an editorial by John McCain. They wanted it rewritten, in spite of the fact that they previously ran a Barack Obama editorial as submitted.

According to the political blog:
...the rejection came Friday night from New York Times oped editorial page editor David Shipley via email:

"I'd be very eager to publish the Senator on the oped page. However I'm not going to be able to accept this piece as currently written," Shipley writes, according to a copy of the message provided to ABC News.

"It would be terrific to have an article from Sen. McCain that mirrors Sen. Obama's piece. To that end, the article would have to articulate, in concrete terms how Sen. McCain defines victory in Iraq. It would also have to lay out a clear plan for achieving victory -- with troop levels, timetables and measures for compelling the Iraqis to cooperate."

Here's the McCain editorial as written (and rejected):

In January 2007, when General David Petraeus took command in Iraq, he called the situation “hard” but not “hopeless.” Today, 18 months later, violence has fallen by up to 80% to the lowest levels in four years, and Sunni and Shiite terrorists are reeling from a string of defeats. The situation now is full of hope, but considerable hard work remains to consolidate our fragile gains.

Progress has been due primarily to an increase in the number of troops and a change in their strategy. I was an early advocate of the surge at a time when it had few supporters in Washington. Senator Barack Obama was an equally vocal opponent. "I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there,” he said on January 10, 2007. “In fact, I think it will do the reverse."

Now Senator Obama has been forced to acknowledge that “our troops have performed brilliantly in lowering the level of violence.” But he still denies that any political progress has resulted.

Perhaps he is unaware that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has recently certified that, as one news article put it, “Iraq has met all but three of 18 original benchmarks set by Congress last year to measure security, political and economic progress.” Even more heartening has been progress that’s not measured by the benchmarks. More than 90,000 Iraqis, many of them Sunnis who once fought against the government, have signed up as Sons of Iraq to fight against the terrorists. Nor do they measure Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s new-found willingness to crack down on Shiite extremists in Basra and Sadr City—actions that have done much to dispel suspicions of sectarianism.

The success of the surge has not changed Senator Obama’s determination to pull out all of our combat troops. All that has changed is his rationale. In a New York Times op-ed and a speech this week, he offered his “plan for Iraq” in advance of his first “fact finding” trip to that country in more than three years. It consisted of the same old proposal to pull all of our troops out within 16 months. In 2007 he wanted to withdraw because he thought the war was lost. If we had taken his advice, it would have been. Now he wants to withdraw because he thinks Iraqis no longer need our assistance.

To make this point, he mangles the evidence. He makes it sound as if Prime Minister Maliki has endorsed the Obama timetable, when all he has said is that he would like a plan for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops at some unspecified point in the future.

Senator Obama is also misleading on the Iraqi military's readiness. The Iraqi Army will be equipped and trained by the middle of next year, but this does not, as Senator Obama suggests, mean that they will then be ready to secure their country without a good deal of help. The Iraqi Air Force, for one, still lags behind, and no modern army can operate without air cover. The Iraqis are also still learning how to conduct planning, logistics, command and control, communications, and other complicated functions needed to support frontline troops.

No one favors a permanent U.S. presence, as Senator Obama charges. A partial withdrawal has already occurred with the departure of five “surge” brigades, and more withdrawals can take place as the security situation improves. As we draw down in Iraq, we can beef up our presence on other battlefields, such as Afghanistan, without fear of leaving a failed state behind. I have said that I expect to welcome home most of our troops from Iraq by the end of my first term in office, in 2013.

But I have also said that any draw-downs must be based on a realistic assessment of conditions on the ground, not on an artificial timetable crafted for domestic political reasons. This is the crux of my disagreement with Senator Obama.

Senator Obama has said that he would consult our commanders on the ground and Iraqi leaders, but he did no such thing before releasing his “plan for Iraq.” Perhaps that’s because he doesn’t want to hear what they have to say. During the course of eight visits to Iraq, I have heard many times from our troops what Major General Jeffrey Hammond, commander of coalition forces in Baghdad, recently said: that leaving based on a timetable would be “very dangerous.”

The danger is that extremists supported by Al Qaeda and Iran could stage a comeback, as they have in the past when we’ve had too few troops in Iraq. Senator Obama seems to have learned nothing from recent history. I find it ironic that he is emulating the worst mistake of the Bush administration by waving the “Mission Accomplished” banner prematurely.

I am also dismayed that he never talks about winning the war—only of ending it. But if we don’t win the war, our enemies will. A triumph for the terrorists would be a disaster for us. That is something I will not allow to happen as president. Instead I will continue implementing a proven counterinsurgency strategy not only in Iraq but also in Afghanistan with the goal of creating stable, secure, self-sustaining democratic allies.
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Global Lukewarming

The New Yorker's "Cartoon Caption Contest" #152 was an exercise in mediocrity (myself included).

My entry was fair. As good as the first winner, but certainly better than the other two.
"I think I just figured out whats wrong with my GPS unit. "
And, the winners:

"Why do I always get stuck behind the slow planets?" - the best of the bunch, BUT it doesn't address why there's an antenna on the car (as mine does)

"Oh, great, we're stuck behind a four-and-a-half-billion-year-old." - basically a rehash of the first one (the judges must be in love with it)

"Honey, I told you the whole world is headed to the Cape this weekend." - Sucks

Read more!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Let's All Refrain from Carbon Emissions

While the last thing the war on global warming needs is MORE hot air, Robert Redford is apparently adding poetry to the arsenal.


Robert Redford Fights Global Warming With Poetry

Robert Redford has been fighting on behalf of the environment for more than 30 years...

...These days, he has a new venue for environmental activism: slam poetry. Sponsored by Redford's Sundance Preserve, in collaboration with Youth Speaks, a nonprofit that presents spoken-word performances, the Academy Award-winning actor is getting his message out in rhyme.

“Words are just words without action. But I think what we're seeing here today with these poets is the beginning of action.” - Robert Redford

What's next "Haikus for Hunger?"
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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Catch This

Ron Rosenbaum's June 27th Slate article, "Notes on Catch: Which catchphrases should be "thrown under the bus," caught my eye.

He discusses a phenomenon he calls "catch," or "the way our language has become increasingly dominated by rapidly cycling catchphrases."

Look how long it took "jump the shark" to jump the shark. But "under the bus"—as in, "throwing someone under the bus"—got old from overuse in a matter of weeks.
He lists the stages of a catchphrase:

There's Stage 1, when you first hear a phrase and take pleasure in its imaginative use of language on the literal and metaphorical level...

...Then there's Stage 2, when you use it to establish "street cred" (time to throw "street cred" under the catchphrase bus?) or convey a sense of being au courant.

Then there's Stage 3, when the user acknowledges a phrase's over-ness and tries to extract some final mileage out of it by gently mocking it, usually by using ironic quotes, or adding "as they say" to the end.

Finally, there's Stage 4: terminal obsolence, dead phrase walking. Take "at the end of the day." It kind of stuns me whenever I find someone still saying "at the end of the day" with a straight face. What are they, stuck on stupid, as they say?

And finishes with a list of phrases he's "on the bubble about" (another catchprase?).

  • stay classy

  • up in your grill

  • overshare

  • tell us something we don't know

  • man up

  • go-to

  • drinking the Kool-Aid

  • mad props
For what it's worth, the piece reminded me a little bit of my January post on the term "jump the shark."
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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Protesting Too Much?

While, I've been pretty vocal about how much I think that the cartoons in The New Yorker suck, the Obama crew is getting a little overwrought over the July 21 cover.

Even not having read the article, it was was immediately obvious to me that the cartoon was meant as satire and NOT how the magazine really feels about the Obamas.

Or as shell shocked New Yorker editor, David Remnick, said "Our cover combines a number of fantastical images about the Obamas and shows them for the obvious distortions they are...the burning flag, the nationalist-radical and Islamic outfits, the fist-bump, the portrait on the wall - all of them echo one attack or another. Satire is part of what we do, and it is meant to bring things out into the open, to hold up a mirror to the absurd."

Actually, Lee Marvin's movie jab at a crybaby Colonel in "The Dirty Dozen" best characterizes the people who are outraged over this:

"you're really... quite emotional. Aren't you?"
From July 14th's New York Daily News:

Barack Obama's campaign lashed out Sunday at the editors of The New Yorker magazine for a cartoon cover that depicts the Democratic candidate and his wife as fist-bumping terrorists.

The magazine's editor described the cartoon, called "The Politics of Fear," as satire. The Obama campaign called it "tasteless and offensive."

The Illinois senator is depicted in traditional Muslim garb in the Barry Blitt illustration set in the Oval Office.

His wife, Michelle, is in fatigues, sporting an Angela Davis-style sky-high Afro, an AK-47 slung over her shoulder.

A portrait of terror kingpin Osama Bin Laden hangs above the fireplace, in which an American flag is set ablaze.

"The New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Sen. Obama's right-wing critics have tried to create. But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree," Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said.

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Monday, July 14, 2008


The judges weren't very sharp in selecting winners for The New Yorker "Caption Context #151."

In fact, I've never seen a LAMER bunch!

My entry is better than ANY of The New Yorker's picks:
"Flanders, I distinctly remember asking you to order 2000 cases of Number 2 pencils, NOT the other way around."

The finalists:
  • "Let's continue this discussion over a hot barrel of coffee." - LAME

  • "But I have to warn you, carpal tunnel here is a bitch." - might be funny IF it were about a giant keyboard

  • "'How many accountants does it take to sharpen a pencil?' you ask? In this case five." - Makes me think that they just pick 'em out of a hat

Read more!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Some of My Best Friends Are Black Holes

Then of course, there's the dreaded "A-Hole."

From Dallas City Hall Blog

Dallas County officials spar over 'black hole' comment

A special meeting about Dallas County traffic tickets turned tense and bizarre this afternoon.

County commissioners were discussing problems with the central collections office that is used to process traffic ticket payments and handle other paperwork normally done by the JP Courts.

Commissioner Kenneth Mayfield, who is white, said it seemed that central collections "has become a black hole" because paperwork reportedly has become lost in the office.

Commissioner John Wiley Price, who is black, interrupted him with a loud "Excuse me!" He then corrected his colleague, saying the office has become a "white hole."

That prompted Judge Thomas Jones, who is black, to demand an apology from Mayfield for his racially insensitive analogy.

Mayfield shot back that it was a figure of speech and a science term. A black hole, according to Webster's, is perhaps "the invisible remains of a collapsed star, with an intense gravitational field from which neither light nor matter can escape."

Other county officials quickly interceded to break it up and get the meeting back on track. TV news cameras were rolling, after all

BTW, according to SciGuy, Eric Berger, a "white hole" is a a theoretical object that ejects matter from beyond its event horizon, rather than sucking it in.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Hello Newman

So, I open my PO Box the other day and inside I find a letter from my area's Postmaster.

The Post Office must be doing some anti-terror initiative to keep ner-do-wells from using PO Boxes for their nefarious activities because the first part of the letter said:

Please complete the attached PS Form 1093, Application for Post Office Box Service, and return it to our office. Postal regulations require that the form contain undated current information. We are in the process of updating these forms and appreciate your cooperation.
Being a good citizen, I filled out this form and, as requested, schlepped it back to the post office with two pieces of photo ID.

The guy behind the counter looks up and asks me WHY I'm filling out an application form for a box I already have. Has my information changed? No, I say. This was something YOU GUYS asked me to do.

He wanders to the back so he can ask someone else about it (the people waiting in line must have loved me). After a few minutes, he comes back and begrudgingly files my newly completed form. All the while, he's still shaking his head in confusion.

Doesn't the Post Office have departmental meetings to discuss these things?

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Monday, July 07, 2008

Fair is Fair

On July Fourth, the morning news shows were slobbering over these two clods because they got married while in character as Betsy Ross and Ben Franklin.

If it had been two Trekkies dressed up as Mr. Spock and Nurse Chapel, then all the networks would have been snickering.

And no, I'm NOT bitter.

From CNN:

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (AP) -- Benjamin Franklin and Betsy Ross celebrated the eve of the Fourth of July not with fireworks but with wedding vows.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter officiates the real-life ceremony. 3 of 3 Ralph Archbold and Linda Wilde, who portray the historical figures, tied the knot Thursday evening in a public ceremony in front of Independence Hall, where the real Franklin helped draft the nation's founding documents.

The bride and groom, as well as the entire wedding party, were in costume for the event.

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Friday, July 04, 2008

He Has Risen (Again?)

The teaser trailer for The Day the Earth Stood Still, a remake of 1951 classic sci-fi flick, is out. It's scheduled release date is December twelve.

Most of the Internet buzz I've seen has been negative. People get so upset when great movies are redone. But I'm actually looking forward to seeing it. I know it's blasphemy to say this, but the original is starting to show it's age.

The new version stars Keanu Reeves as Klaatu (Michacl Rennie in original) and Jennifer Connaly as Helen (Patricia Neal in original). John Cleese plays the Sam Jaffe role of Dr. Barnhardt. Mad Men's John Hamm can be seen in the trailer and is credited as "Dr. Granier". But I can't tell if he's playing the Hugh Marlowe role of Helen's boyfriend (and Judas to Klaatu), Tom Stevens.

You only get a quick glimpse of what looks like Gort in the trailer, so it's not clear how much screen time he'll get.

It'll be interesting to see if in this version Klaatu once again dies and is resurrected for the sake of mankind.

I'm only guessing, but since Keanu Reeves has already done that as cyber-Jesus in The Matrix, I suspect that the remake may be more faithful to the original short story, "Farewell to the Master," which has a different ending.

But what do I know?

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Dittos (With A LOT of Zeros)

The best thing about the Limbaugh deal is how much it'll piss off that light-weight Keith Olbermann.

BTW, the NY Times Mag cover makes him look like Tony Soprano.


Wed Jul 02 2008 09:02:18 ET **Exclusive**

The American broadcast industry is rocked, realigned and blasted into a new orbit, yet again, by Rush Limbaugh, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned.

In what is being described as an unprecedented radio contract, Limbaugh will keep his syndicated show on-the-air and e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e through 2016 with CLEAR CHANNEL and PREMIERE RADIO.

Already host of the most lucrative hours since radio's inception, Limbaugh's total package is valued north of $400 million, according to media insiders.

The NEW YORK TIMES will claim this weekend that Limbaugh, marking 20 years this summer as a national host, has secured a 9-figure signing bonus for the new deal, newsroom sources tell DRUDGE...

...Earnings now pace him ahead of the annual salaries for network news anchors: Katie Couric, Brian Williams, Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer - combined!

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Suicide is Painless

The New Yorker's Cartoon Caption Contest #150 almost had me jumping out of a window.

My entry:
"And you wonder WHY I nag you about being such a failure."
The winners all seem to miss the target:
  • "Bullets don't grow on trees, Harry." - cute, but not funny

  • "I told you to hire a professional!" - fair

  • "Just come to bed and kill yourself in the morning." - zzzzz

Read more!