Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Have a pistachio

I flicked on the radio when I got in the car, and a man with a nice voice was telling me how scary the world is. The president of the United States had told an automotive executive to quit, and he obliged without (public) complaint. The Red River had crested, but not before flooding a school and a bunch of homes in Fargo. Some nutbag walked into a nursing home and killed a bunch of people. The U.S. military is deploying a bunch of kids to Afghanistan on behalf of the guy who promised to end the war if elected — oh wait, I guess that was a different war. The EPA is going to monitor the air around 66 schools to see if they're being poisoned. Internet crime up 33 percent last year. Unemployment hit 11 percent in the city where I work. Oh, and there's something in the pistachios.

A person could hear all that, flick off the radio, turn off the car, walk back into the house and hide under the covers. Couldn't blame someone if they did. It's scary out there. Wars and rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes.

But these kinds of things have always been there. We deal. Life goes on. Don't let the fear paralyze your mind. There are folks who'd profit if you become afraid enough to turn over your money and your freedom to them, and not necessarily in that order. Ask yourself if you're scared enough to give those up — better, ask yourself why you're scared. Understanding is the first step towards dealing.

And once you've cleansed the fear and restored a little rationality to your mind, have a pistachio.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Giant marvelous crabs

We're all going to be cheering; there's going to be a lot of flash photography ...

Experts Agree Giant, Razor-Clawed Bioengineered Crabs Pose No Threat

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Where did he go?

I got an e-mail Monday with the subject line "Notice from the Blog Police."

You have abandoned your blog and we will have to remove it if it isn't tenanted within 7 days.
Chief Inspector of Blogs
Department of Homeland Blogs

It was a nice, gentle reminder in its own way. Thanks for the push.

Much on the mind of late, but not much to share — yet. You know I'm in the newspaper profession, and you've seen those headlines. So far the personal impact has been relatively minimal, but change seems inevitable. My absence has a little bit to do with that, and a little bit to do with other stuff.

Stay tuned. I'll start getting some thoughts together soon. Sorry for the unannounced hiatus.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Not a tinker's dam worth of difference

As the race for emperor reached a fever pitch last fall, Mr. McCain accused Mr. Obama of being a socialist. I remarked to a friend, that's kind of humorous coming from a guy who recently voted to nationalize the banks.

Sheldon Richman expands on that thought in his essay, "Blame Republicans for Big Government."
Under Bush and a Republican Congress we had an explosion of growth on all fronts: spending that put Lyndon Johnson to shame, huge deficits and a doubling of the national debt, corporate bailouts, further centralization of education, protectionism, expansion of Medicare, increased regulation, undeclared wars, civil-liberties violations and other unchecked executive power, and more. Bush did not veto a single spending bill in eight years.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

B.W. At The Movies: Watchmen

OK, here's the deal. If you want to save the cost of a movie ticket and the popcorn and such, just break out your copy of Watchmen the graphic novel and read it again. Because, except for the omission of the Tales of the Black Freighter comic-book-within-a-comic-book and random scenes here and there, and with a rewrite of the climax to make it more realistic, what you're holding in your hands is the storyboard and most of the screenplay of the movie that opened Friday across the US of A.

Is that a bad thing? No, not necessarily. We're talking about one of the most ground-breaking comic books in the history of comic books, a 12-page miniseries that proved once and for all that literature could be created with pictures, word balloons and four-color printing. To see the story up there on the silver screen, lovingly recreated in all its dark and brutal glory with actors who look just like the comic book characters (well, most of 'em anyway) is a fanboy's dream.

In fact, if director Zack Snyder had tampered any more than he did with the story, Watchmen the movie could have been a great disappointment. It's a great story. And I'm hard pressed to think of any major detail that was left out of the film — most of the negative reviews I've encountered say that Snyder was actually too slavishly devoted to the source material, and I understand where they're coming from. That's the main reason the movie clocks in at 2:43: Snyder put the whole story up on screen. It could stand a little editing, maybe — but the beauty of the Alan Moore-Dave Gibbons masterpiece is that so many little details are necessary to the big payoff.

And Snyder fixes what I always believed was Watchmen's jump-the-shark moment. For months in 1986 and '87 (the story was released one chapter a month for a year), we readers were transfixed by what was clearly a complicated plot to perform a mysterious and unrevealed dastardly deed, including the often-gruesome murders of people who got too close to the truth. When the big payoff came in the 11th and 12th months, it revolved around fooling the world into believing that a gigantic monster from outer space had attacked New York. You know when Ralphie finds out the secret code is a crummy commercial for Ovaltine? For all its brilliance otherwise, that aspect of Watchmen always left me with a feeling akin to Ralph's.

With all due respect to Alan Moore, Snyder's substitute hoax is much more believable. Like the resolution of The Dark Knight last summer, Watchmen's revised ending still leaves me unhappy and a tad empty, but the movie version fits the story better in my humble opinion.

On the other hand, there's something over-the-top disturbing about Snyder's depictions of violence. This first bothered me when I saw 300, another film where Snyder devotes himself to recreating a well-known comic book. I didn't understand why the camera needed to linger so long on decapitations and dismemberments, and I don't understand the many similar choices in Watchmen.

For example, in Moore's story a child molester is tied up and left to die in a fire. Snyder's cinematic translation kills the molester with an up-close-and-personal, grimly realistic cleaver to the top of the head — not one chop, but at least three. Bullets shred flesh and leave gaping, bleeding holes. Maybe this is good — maybe people need to know, for example, that wounds left by Wolverine's nasty claws are going to look nasty; in other words, comic-book violence is not very comical when depicted realistically. But nearly three hours of this is more than enough.

So what do I think, when it's said and done, about Watchmen the movie? It's a damn fine piece of work, and I'm glad one of the great 20th century novels has been delivered virtually intact to a broader audience. I've seen reviewers complain that the long, unrelenting story ultimately left them cold — but in a way, that may be indicative of the film's success, because it's a cold story about what is ultimately a cold and calculating act of horror that succeeds and goes unpunished (or — remembering that final, lovingly recreated final scene — will it go unpunished?). This film may make people think about the kind of world they want to tolerate, and that would also be a good thing.

I liked the movie a lot. I do think I might have preferred a cinematic interpretation of Watchmen as opposed to essentially a live-action reading of the book. But then I might have joined a chorus that said the cinematic interpretation was a misinterpretation. So on balance, I'm glad this very good movie is what got made.

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

The only way to live

Thanks Tom for introducing me to Tatsuya Ishida. Click on the toon for a closer look.


Sunday, March 01, 2009

B.W. At The Movies: Last Chance Harvey

Come on - Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson? In the same movie? Of course it's going to be great! Dustin Hoffman is an American treasure. Emma Thompson is a British treasure. The only trick is how to get them together.

Of course - have Dustin's daughter get married in London. On the worst day of Dustin's life. And find a way for him to bump into Emma and rescue his soul.

That's the gist of a classy little movie called Last Chance Harvey, which I recommended as our Saturday night date even though I knew almost nothing about it. I vaguely understood the film had a solid performance by Hoffman, and when I heard Thompson was his co-star I needed to see it. I've had a thing for Emma ever since she stole my heart as (of all things) Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing back in '93. But I couldn't remember the name of this film — I kept wanting to call it Bad Hat Harry, which I knew was something else.

Be that as it may: Harvey Shine is an aging jingle writer whose career is teetering on the edge. He flies into Heathrow Airport on his way to his daughter's wedding and blows off Kate Walker the survey taker (more on her later). Several scenes full of awkward moments later, Harvey's daughter is telling him that she wants her stepfather to give her away at the altar. The wedding happens, and a crushed Harvey plans to skip the reception and fly back to New York. But he misses the plane and is fired. Devastated, he slinks into the airport bar/grille, where Kate — who meanwhile has endured an unpleasant blind date and several awkward moments with her slightly askew mother — is taking her lunch break. The rest is history.

Last Chance Harvey is not a groundbreaking movie. Its plot twists and turns are standard romantic comedy fare, but they ring true, and maybe that's why I like this film so much: It rings true. We have all had the worst day of our lives and searing heartbreak and lived to tell the tale. We know Harvey and Kate, because we've been there or somewhere like it, and we root for them despite ourselves. Early on in the story, I turned to Sweetie and said, "Poor Dustin. But don't worry, he's going to get Emma by the end of the movie." Of course it has a happy ending, or at least a hopeful one. Great romantic comedies almost always do.

And that's what surprised me most about this gentle little movie, even though with Dustin and Emma I knew it had to be. It really is great. Really.

P.S. The imdb.com listing on Last Chance Harvey a link to this article called "The 17 Best Romantic Comedies of this Decade." The list has enough gems — including a totally appropriate choice for #1 — that I'm going to try to see the handful of films I haven't seen yet. I've seen and thoroughly recommend #s 1, 4, 5, 9, 10 and 17.

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