Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Detroit: Heads Spikes Walls!!!

I used to rush to defend Detroit (and by extension all inner cities) against detractors. I would point out that high unemployment, internalized hatred, a ghettotization of the mind, combined with segregation and a paucity of other opportunities explained much of the problematic behavior that we saw. I would also note that crimes or violations which received probation or a wink and nod in other areas were often prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law (and then some) in majority black areas.

I still believe that -at least to an extent but two three recent incidents also made me realize that statistics aside some people are just "evil",  for lack of a better word. It's not because of their race or that their father wasn't around or that they didn't get enough hugs as a child. There are some people who should be in prison permanently. And some people DEFINITELY need to be removed from the planet-thus the Tyrion Lannister quote in this post's title. You put a few heads on spikes and everyone else will get the hint.
I'm tired of defending the indefensible. Unfortunately, some people lack self-control, morality or any sense of future time orientation. The only way to interact with these folks is to impress upon them the certainty of severe, harsh, immediate punishment should they break the law. Currently too many criminals apparently don't fear getting caught or don't fear prison. We can change that if there is the political will to do so but it won't be pretty. Only a small percentage of Detroiters cause problems. Most Detroiters are good decent people who are just trying to get through the day. But it only takes a small number to ruin the lives of a great many. And as the story about the WW2 vet shows, the actions of these few can cause the rest of us to harden our hearts and become uncaring and callous in an attempt to survive.
I want to paraphrase what Stephen King wrote in Salem's Lot:
"And when you get home stay away from Detroit. Things have gone bad in Detroit now".
Detroit Teen Commits Matricide

DETROIT (WJBK)-- There is shattered glass in the front window of a Detroit home on Burns where an act of rage and violence has shattered lives. Family members say 14-year-old Joshua Smith shot and killed his mother, 36-year-old Tamiko Robinson, while she slept on the couch.
"He just shot. Every chance he got a chance to shoot again, he shot again, and there's just buckshot, holes everywhere. He murdered her, and he didn't do it with sorrow or [anything]. He did it like he wanted to do it, like he meant to do it and he
[knew] what he was doing," LeShaun Roberts, the victim's brother, told us.

WW2 Veteran Carjacked-Video shows he was ignored as he crawled across gas station lot 
The 86-year-old World War II Air Corps veteran, knocked to the ground during a carjacking on Detroit's west side, crawled across the gas station parking lot as people walked by. No one stopped to help, he says. Aaron Brantley, who worked for 31 years as a welder at a Chrysler plant in Hamtramck, recalled the ordeal Friday, two days after he was robbed outside the BP gas station on West McNichols at Fairfield, just east of the University of Detroit Mercy campus. 
Brantley estimates that at least four customers walked past him as he struggled for help, unable to walk because his leg was broken.  "I never bothered anybody, and I always try to help somebody else when I could," he said Friday from home, his leg in a soft cast to his hip and not a tinge of bitterness in his voice.  Brantley was on his way home from Bible study at Corinthians Baptist Church in Hamtramck, where he's a trustee, when someone hit him from behind and grabbed his keys at 10:40 a.m. Wednesday. The thief drove off in Brantley's 2010 Chrysler 200 -- bought to replace another car recently stolen.
9 month baby murdered because of fight at baby shower
Detroit — A fight over a seat at a baby shower triggered the killing of a 9-month-old boy, according to the victim's grandmother. Delric Miller IV died Monday as he slept on the couch in his home on the 8400 block of Greenview Avenue. Police said someone fired at the house with an AK-47-type assault rifle about 4:30 a.m., leaving behind 37 shells. One of the rounds hit the baby, who was pronounced dead at Sinai-Grace Hospital. 
Delric's grandmother, Cynthia Wilkins, said she believes the shooting was retaliation for a skirmish Sunday at a baby shower at Club Celebrity on Plymouth Rd. in Detroit. "The shower was overbooked, and there was an argument because there weren't enough seats," said Wilkins. Her daughter, Diamond Salter, attended the shower, which was thrown by a friend, Wilkins said."A woman got mad because she couldn't find a seat, so she started knocking tables down, and it escalated from there," Wilkins said

1) What should be done about inner city violence?
2) Was Rudy Giuliani right? Do we need police that harass people and ignore the Bill of Rights within certain areas?
3) Do we need an expedited and public death penalty? 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Movie Reviews-Killer Elite, Gosford Park, Supernatural Season Three, Dracula AD 1972

Killer Elite
I enjoyed this movie even though it was paint by the numbers. Perhaps I was just in that kind of mood.  It was supposedly based on a true story.

Hero has a moral crisis while doing his (morally repugnant but well paid) job. Hero leaves job to go smell roses, watch rainbows and dance with puppies. Hero is brought out of retirement by Shady Operative because Hero's Mentor/Advisor/Father figure is in danger. Hero puts the band back together to rescue father figure. Hero says that he may be back in the game but it's only temporary and it's not about the money. Shady Operative smirks and disagrees.

While he's kicking butt and taking names Hero runs into his Opposite Number who is just as deadly and dangerous as he is. Occasional professional courtesies are exchanged because game recognizes game although Hero and Opposite AREN'T friendly and try to kill each other multiple times. There is late reveal of multiple setups, traps and a new threat to Hero's naive and beautiful Main Squeeze. (who has no idea how dangerous and morally conflicted hero really is) Question remains as to whether Hero, Mentor and Main Squeeze can survive and if so will Opposite Number help them? And who the hell set them up?? And why is Shady Operative smiling all the time? Doesn't he know that's shady?
If this sort of thing doesn't appeal to you then skip this film. It is a quintessential action flick.  Killer Elite is however intelligent, very well directed and acted for this sort of movie. Though it's long it moves quickly. You don't really get a feel as to how long the film was until it's over.
It's not really worth it to go into the character names because the film fits perfectly into the schema laid out above. Hero (Jason Statham) and Mentor (Robert DeNiro) are free-lance assassins and mercenaries. You want fighting, killing or murdering done they do it. 
This is set in the early 80's. Although Statham is obviously the person the director wants you to identify with the director doesn't sugarcoat things. Hero and Mentor have gone wherever the killing is, mainly Third World countries. And they are usually on the counterrevolutionary or corporate side. They aren't nice people. People who kill for a living rarely are. Opposite Number (Clive Owen) brings a bit of intelligence and swagger to his role as an ex-SAS bada$$ who's trying to stop the scarily efficient Hero any way possible. This all comes about because an exiled Omani Sheik wants revenge for the killings (murders?) of three of his sons by British SAS forces. TRAILER

Gosford Park
Do you like whodunnit mystery movies? I mean the Agatha Christie type where there's a murder and no one can leave the house? Do you like Robert Altman films? Have you ever wondered what it's like to have a country estate complete with woods, lakes and servants? Well if so you might enjoy Gosford Park, which combines an intelligent murder mystery with extremely sardonic British humor. This was nominated for just about every award imaginable, including Oscars, and won quite a few. Gosford Park was both critically acclaimed and financially successful.

This 2001 film had a massive ensemble cast of cinema luminaries and younger actors/actresses who were on their way to future stardom. The cast includes Charles Dance (aka Tywin Lannister), Alan Bates, Helen Mirren, Kelly MacDonald (Margaret Schroeder in Boardwalk Empire), Clive Owen, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emily Watson, Ryan Phillippe, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Derek Jacobi and several others. I won't explain much of the plot other than to say that in 1930's Great Britain a group of greater and lesser British aristocrats,a few Americans and a platoon of servants meet for a weekend of hunting, food and sport at the Gosford Park estate of Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon). McCordle is, pardon the term, an a$$hole. He's a greedy bully who uses his wealth and social status to humiliate and intimidate his lessers, who as far as he's concerned, are just about everyone else. People put up with it because of his wealth and social status, something which confirms Sir William's low opinion of them. 

While hunting, a low shot from someone almost kills Sir William. Of course it is an accident, right? After evening cigars and drinks, Sir William is found dead in the library. He's been stabbed. It looks like that's not the only thing which killed him either. Some genially incompetent police arrive and start to question all the servants and big shots. Zany drollness ensues.
This film works well as a straight murder mystery. But given that it soon becomes apparent that just about everyone and their mama had a motive to bump off Sir William, this walks very close to comedy. The humor is really dry though. Nothing slapstick. The real focus of the movie is not necessarily the murder but the dysfunctional social (especially class and sexual) relations between the aristocrats and their servants, what it costs each group and how limited and hypocritical their bonds are with each other. These relations are detailed exquisitely. Via simple self-preservation the servants see things more clearly. Just as the aristocrats attempt to one up each other based on heritage and wealth so do the servants though their social ranking is based on who they serve. In fact the servants are not even known by their own names, but by that of their employer. So my valet would be "Mr. Grady" for the weekend. This film is a visual treat as well. Don't miss this one. It's an oldie but goodie.   TRAILER

Supernatural Season 3
This season brought new challenges to the heroes but you never want to bet against the Winchester Brothers. For the Season Two finale, big brother Dean Winchester (Ackles) personally and permanently settled the score with the yellowed eyed demon, Azazel, who had murdered his parents. But there was a cost. Younger brother Sam (Padalecki) was killed. Supernatural's recurring theme is that there is nothing the Winchesters won't do to save each other. Dean makes his own deal with the infernal powers to bring Sam back from the dead. Dean has just one year to live before Hell claims his soul. In the process of killing Azazel, the Winchesters unwittingly released several more demons into the world. And maybe just maybe, Hell put a little something extra into Sam when it resurrected him. So the Winchesters have a full plate this year-find and kill the demons they released, work their normal case load, deal with the fact that Dean isn't long for this world and as usual... get laid. Dean is particularly insistent upon the last as you might be too if you knew you were going to spend eternity in Hell.
It's surprisingly good acting here by Ackles and Padalecki. They were both able to stretch their chops. Initially Dean tries to hide the truth from Sam because as oldest brother he's trying to bear total responsibility. That's what their Dad would have done. I can relate to that. Sam is no dummy though. The whole thing is written similarly to what you might expect the experience of learning you have a terminal condition to be like. Sam embarks on his own desperate mission to save Dean's life and soul. Sam becomes more ruthless over time. He also discovers some new abilities, which are quite worrisome to his big brother. And unless your name is Dean Winchester, DON"T call Sam Winchester "Sammy". He doesn't like it. Taunting a 6'5" man with anger issues is not very smart.

Dean and Bela on business
New women characters were added to take the show into some different directions. These included Bela (Lauren Cohan) a self assured and extremely selfish treasure hunter who crosses paths with the Winchesters, and Ruby (Katie Cassidy) a beautiful demon who claims not to be like her brethren and wants to help Sam. The most dangerous demon released was Lilith , who is played by an intensely creepy little girl. She reminds me of those kids from Kubrick's The Shining. Jim Beaver returns as family friend and new paternal figure Bobby Singer while Charles Malik Whitfield channels Denzel Washington as FBI Agent Victor Henriksen, who is hunting the Winchesters for several "crimes" they've committed. Some twists didn't work for me but maybe some fans enjoyed seeing seeing the congenitally unflappable and smugly chauvinist Dean taken down a notch, which is what Bela lives to do.

Ruby gets personal with Sam
This is a great show to watch on a weeknight when you just need to crash or better yet on a Saturday afternoon. Growing up, Saturday afternoon local TV featured various monster movies. Supernatural would have fit right in.
Like any good series you get more from watching things from the beginning but each season is self-contained. With introductory recaps, flashbacks and a few short expositions here or there you can watch each season in its entirety without becoming hopelessly lost. The sadness and fatalism lingers over this season from start to end.  TRAILER

Dracula A.D. 1972
No single studio crafted better mid century horror movies than Hammer Films, a British film production company. Hammer was known for lavish gothic sets and costumes,vivid technicolor, talented actors, beautiful exotic women, period stories, and for the times shocking violence. I will write more on Hammer later.
By the 1970's however, Hammer was on a downwards spiral. Distribution issues and changing tastes threatened to sink Hammer Films. Modernization was needed. A result was Dracula A.D.1972. Evidently the studio execs looked at declining revenues and brainstormed what the kids wanted to see.
Their answer was akin to watching your grandmother dougie. The film has badly dated music and jokes, drug references, Rolling Stones or A Clockwork Orange wannabes, and of course lots of cleavage. This last was a signature feature of Hammer and probably a big reason some former teen boys (myself included) may have fond memories of Hammer films.  Circa 1872, as usual, vampire hunter Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) and Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) are fighting. Somehow the fact that it's BROAD DAYLIGHT doesn't kill Count Dracula. Right. The stagecoach on which they're duking it out crashes. Old Drac gets a bad case of wheel impalement. The dying Van Helsing grimly leans on the spoke to finish off Dracula. Dracula is dust. A young man rides up, puts the dust in a vial, takes Dracula's ring and rides off. He later buries the dust (or at least some of it) near Van Helsing's grave. 
Fast forward 100 years. Some London mods, including Mick Jagger mistress Marsha Hunt, have crashed a blueblood party and won't leave. The police evict them. The pack leader, Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame), promises them something REALLY FAR OUT. No, he really does talk like that. Alucard (and did you notice the so dumb you missed it backwards name spelling) is the descendant of the young man who gathered Dracula's ashes.
Alucard wants to perform a Satanic Mass. His associates aren't crazy about this, especially Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham) who along with Caroline Munro proves the impressive tensile strength of 1970's era blouses and gowns. But Johnny convinces them. Shortly afterwards Count Dracula is dead and walking again.  Professor Van Helsing (Cushing again), Jessica's grandfather, figures out what's going on and battle between Dracula and a Van Helsing resumes. Dracula doesn't intend to fall for the old "wheel spoke through the heart" trick again either.

Yes. I am a polygamist.
This movie's funniest scene may not be intentionally so. One vampire death scene is almost Three Stooges like in hilarity. I'm chuckling now just thinking about it. Cushing made this movie right after his wife had died and was incredibly gaunt with grief. It was a tribute to his work ethic that he persevered through this. Cushing brought gravitas. Christopher Lee hated the script and only agreed to do it after his salary was greatly increased. He struggled along gamely. 
Rod Stewart and The Faces were set to be in the film but negotiations failed. This was the weakest of a 4-pack DVD re-release. Hammer was better off sticking to gothic horror, which the film Twins of Evil, released a few months earlier, did much more successfully. Interestingly enough Dracula A.D. 1972's ending was pure gothic and was much better than the nonsense which preceded it. Stephanie Beacham would find future success in Dynasty and The ColbysTRAILER

Friday, February 24, 2012

Busted Looking at Royal Cleavage

Sometimes I don't mind talking about something silly with little to no redeeming value. Like today. Men look at women. Always have and always will. One of the hazards of looking is that you may inadvertently cross the line between a quick admiring glance and a long creepy ogle. If a lady blocks your view, yup you just might be a creepy little perv. Pentti Arajarvi, man that he is, may know all about that. The husband of the Finnish President, Arajavi was attending a state dinner in Denmark last month when he evidently noticed something quite interesting about the Danish Princess Mary, wife of the Crown Prince of Denmark. Watch the video below.

That didn't look too inadvertent to me. No, no it didn't. Now back in Viking days that sort of thing may have started a war but of course we live in more civilized times. Old Arajarvi must have been admiring the lady's....necklace. Yeah, that's the ticket... And then when Princess Mary noticed that he admired her ...necklace, he then noticed what wonderful chandeliers she had. Obviously we have all just misinterpreted what he was looking at. Yeah, that's the ticket...

Men: Have you ever been caught looking at something you shouldn't have been looking at? What did you do?
Women: Have you ever caught someone ogling you and/or making you feel uncomfortable? How did you handle it?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Santorum questions Obama's "phony" theology

Sometimes I  like respect people that are unafraid to stand up and tell you what they think, right or wrong. Many people can't always do that, whether it's because we'd like to keep our job or because we realize that maintaining a good relationship with a loved one is more important than sharing exactly what is on our mind.

There is a big difference between saying what you think or believe and insulting someone else's beliefs. There is also a contrast in stating that you believe that someone is wrong on an issue and saying that someone is a bad person. Unfortunately Rick Santorum seems to find it constitutionally impossible to make those distinctions. These are really important distinctions to make in a country where there are a multitude of beliefs about God, sexuality, reproduction and any other hot button issue you care to list.
"It's not about you,' Santorum declared."It's not about your quality of life. It's not about your jobs. It's about some phony ideal. Some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible -- a different theology."
"I can't help but think that those remarks are well over the line," Senior Obama Campaign Adviser Robert Gibbs said Sunday on "ABC This Week." "It's wrong. It's destructive."
This isn't just a dog whistle to those who are convinced that the President is an Alinskyite/Atheist/Muslim/Kenyan/Socialist/Communist/Ghetto Crackhead who hates America. (though it certainly appeals to that crowd)  It is also a tell that Santorum doesn't realize that he's running for President of the United States, not Grand Inquisitor. Those two jobs require different experiences and personalities. For President, I want to know that someone understands this BEFORE I hand him the keys to a massive national security apparatus and a military might unmatched by any other nation. But if I were hiring for Grand Inquisitor I would definitely call Santorum back for the second round of interviews. He certainly has the smug moral certitude needed.

I'm on a mission. A mission from God.
Santorum's attack also reveals a reductionist religious view. If I told you that there was a religious organization whose leaders regularly issued pointed broadsides against the death penalty, povertyracism, free-market capitalism, war, and the increasing concentration of wealth, you might be surprised to learn that Santorum was a member. Evidently, as many people do, Santorum struggles with those teachings which he finds inconvenient and embraces those which he likes. The Roman Catholic Church is about more than opposition to abortion, gay marriage and contraception. Both Santorum and his detractors should remember that. The call to share and help the poor is just as important as the sexual proscriptions. It doesn't look like Santorum is heeding that call

Santorum also revealed that he was opposed to prenatal testing because he thinks it leads to abortion. 
"Yes, prenatal testing, amniocentesis does in fact result more often than not in abortion. That is a fact," Santorum said.
Okay. I almost never think that more knowledge is in and of itself a bad thing. That sort of arrogant know-nothing attitude is in direct opposition to what middle school Jesuit teachers taught me. If doctors discovered that an unborn child might face challenges, the new parents could use the time before birth to research those issues. They might consider adoption. They might alter their plans so that one parent provides full time home care. They might purchase more insurance. They might ask an extended family member to assist. One or both parents might change their career path to something more lucrative so that they could afford the additional medical costs. Everyone won't automatically seek abortion. And even if 99 out of 100 couples did, that doesn't mean that 100th couple doesn't have the right to prenatal testing.

The problem here is that increasingly, too many people across the political spectrum seem to believe that their opponents are not just wrong or misguided but bad and downright evil. Our system features divided government and limits on federal power precisely to ensure that you must work with detractors. So this doesn't bode well for Santorum's ability or interest to get things done if elected President.
I write this not as someone who thinks that partisanship is necessarily a bad thing or that some people on the opposite side of the political spectrum from me aren't truly malicious whack jobs. But if you assume that everyone with whom you disagree is evil or has "phony theology", purely as a pragmatic point you blind yourself as to their true motivations. You make mistakes, costly ones.

Never hate your enemies. It affects your judgment.
-Michael Corleone


  1. There is no religious test for political office. Why is Santorum acting as if there is?
  2. Were he to become the nominee, would Santorum's beliefs and attitude find support in a general election? Am I overreacting to a poor choice of words?
  3. Could a President Santorum reach across the political divide?
  4. Will attacks on President Obama's authenticity continue to be part of the political landscape?
  5. Are you surprised at the sudden rash of social issues getting play this year?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Movie Reviews-Beneath the Darkness, Drive, Phantom Punch, Death to Smoochy

Beneath The Darkness
"And I would have gotten away with it too if it wasn't for you meddling kids!!"
If you recognize and are amused by this quote then Beneath the Darkness might be tolerable for you. If you know where it comes from and don't find it funny at all then you should probably skip this film. If you never heard that before then this film will be new to you but I still can't recommend it without reservation.
Dennis Quaid plays a small town widower Texas mortician and former football hero named Ely, who in the opening scene jogs up to a neighbor walking his dog, boasts about his biceps and then produces a gun and tells the neighbor he's had this coming for a very long time. Ely takes the neighbor for a ride in his van. A one way ride that is.
Well at least the dog gets away. I wouldn't have liked it if the dog had gotten killed too. Dogs are cool. Neighbors? I can take them or leave them. Some neighbors I'd miss. Others???
I'd have to think about that for a while. 

Fast forward to the local high school in which a troubled teen, (is there any other kind?) Travis (Tony Oller) is not doing well academically.  He believes he had a paranormal experience when his sister died. So it makes PERFECT sense that he works as a cemetery groundskeeper for the just this side of manic Ely. Travis argues with his Mom about his faulty schoolwork and lackadaisical attitude. He hangs out with three other teens, one of whom is a girl, Abby (Aimee Teagarden) whom Travis would also like to take on a ride, but presumably a different kind than that which Ely gave to his neighbor. Abby however, appears to be more interested in another member of of the foursome, the quarterback of the football team. The names are REALLY not important. There's Travis, the quarterback, Abby, and Travis' best friend, who is apparently a wide receiver.
Foolishly, Travis admits his belief in the supernatural to his friends. Quarterback mocks him. To keep the peace Abby and Wide Receiver Guy point out that there are rumors of paranormal activity at Ely's house. The group agrees to go ghost hunting there though Quarterback reserves the right to mock Travis if nothing happens. Well something does happen. The group breaks into Ely's home and sees something that should not be. But Ely surprises them and chases them off. Well, Ely chases them all off except Wide Receiver Guy, who he kills in such a way that it looks like an accident. The film's balance is as you might suspect a series of chess moves between Ely and the remaining trio as they try to reveal his secret and stay out of jail. This may appeal to you. I dunno. I felt it it was extremely derivative of a certain 70's cartoon show.

I wasn't expecting too much from this movie. I thought it was just going to be another take on Fast and Furious or Faster. I was wrong. Gloriously, totally and indubitably wrong. Drive is actually a modern film noir but in color. It's a throwback to a movie making style last seen in the seventies, in which directors are fine with just letting things play out at their own pace. Not everything is explained.
If Drive has one moral it would be "A man's gotta have a code". The hero of the movie is unnamed. Let's call him Driver (Ryan Gosling). Driver doesn't talk much. He lets his actions speak for him. Driver works in a garage owned by the garrulous Shannon (Bryan Cranston). Driver also works as a Hollywood stunt car driver, a racer and as a getaway driver for armed robbers.  Driver appears to be at peace with himself and the world.
Driver meets a pretty young woman Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son when they have car trouble. As it turns out they are neighbors and Driver starts spending time with Irene. Again this moves slowly and naturally. They DON'T have sex.
Shannon is looking for the big score so he arranges for Driver to be backed in his racing by the mobsters Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Pearlman in a very menacing role). Bernie and Nino have loyalty to each other and that's the extent of their milk of human kindness. Unfortunately for Driver's future plans for Irene, her convict husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) is released from prison and is about as happy as you might expect he would be to find another man trying to shake his peach tree. He not so subtly warns Driver off. Driver complies. But not soon after Standard is badly beaten and must ask for Driver's help. This sets off a chain of events that cause all of Driver's carefully separated worlds to start to collapse together.

The lighting, attitude, acting and action of this movie are just superb. Top notch stuff. I wish there were more movies done like this. You really enjoy the quiet parts and the frantic parts of this movie. It uses dynamics in its pacing and storyline. This could have won an Oscar. Well maybe that's stretching it a bit but it's not just a drive-fast shoot-em-up movie. Gosling does a really good job here. Camera work excites without leaving you queasy. Albert Brooks and Ron Pearlman play off each other nicely as the gentleman gangster and unreconstructed thug, respectively. Check this one out. It's easily the best of today's group. No competition. Look for Christina Hendricks in a small role.

Phantom Punch
I hadn't seen anything by Robert Townsend in a very long time so I decided to check this out. This movie purports to tell the true story of Charles "Sonny" Liston, one time thug and mob heavy, one time heavyweight champion of the world, who lost two controversial fights to Muhammad Ali and later died in very suspicious circumstances. The film title refers to the widespread belief that Liston, at the behest of his mob backers, took a dive in the second fight.

This should have been a better movie than it was. It starred Ving Rhames as Sonny Liston. Although I can't immediately think of someone who could have theoretically better captured Liston's aura of menace and forboding, the harsh fact is that Rhames was a few years too old for this role. His acting was the best in the film but it wasn't enough. Phantom Punch is apparently low budget. The camera work is okay but the sets and lighting, with a few exceptions don't really hold up. I understand that a film about Liston does not want to focus on Ali. But given that Ali was known as "The Mouth From The South" for his nonstop chatter, mastery of the dozens and general ability to get under the skin of opponents, it doesn't make a lot of sense to have the actor playing Ali be virtually silent.

The fights definitely don't convince the viewer as to authenticity. I mean they REALLY don't. Nick Turtorro plays Caesar Novak, Liston's direct mob handler. David Proval is the local mob boss. Stacey Dash plays Sonny's wife Geraldine, while Bridgette Wilson-Sampras is Caesar's girlfriend Farah. This movie suggests that Liston's demise was as much for personal (and classic) reasons related to Farah as it was for business ones. Generally this had a very made for TV/direct to DVD feel to it. There were some accurate depictions of incidents in Liston's life and of the open and casual racism of police officers and sportswriters. The film did have a strong sense of sadness and wasted talent which it could have investigated further. Phantom Punch made me want to learn more about Liston but it wasn't that entertaining (Dash and Sampras-Wilson in tight/revealing clothing aside)

Death to Smoochy
Okay just upfront, I liked this film a LOT.  It was however a complete box office disaster. I think the mixture of kids' shows, cynicism and mobsters was a bit too much for most people.
It is an adult comedy that centers around kids' shows. There is a tension here between TV producers and performers who are presumably trying to inculcate good, selfless behavior in children while at the same time fighting for ratings, raiding other shows for talent and generally behaving in all sorts of selfish, if not criminal ways.
One performer who has become thoroughly disillusioned by the whole sordid business is Rainbow Randolph (Robin Williams) the current popular host of a top ranked children's show.
Randolph is about this close to telling everyone where they can go and has long since lost any sense of happiness at entertaining children. He is only concerned about making sure his checks clear. When Randolph is busted in an FBI bribery sting operation, the self-serving station president Stokes (Jon Stewart) doesn't want to know him any more. The show's hard driving head producer Nora Wells (Catherine Keener) drops him.
The producers want a soft sap who won't make any waves and they think they've found what they need in Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton) an earnestly submissive and irritatingly pleasant and optimistic young man who performs as Smoochy the Rhino. Mopes was playing to literally captive audiences in methadone clinics. This didn't bother him. Mopes is the kind of man who, if someone throws something heavy at his head, will reluctantly duck and then calmly ask if the assailant wants to talk about her feelings. There are reasons for his demeanor though.

However as rapidly becomes apparent, Mopes actually believes in helping kids first and foremost. Mopes believes in organic foods and is anti-sugar. He gets extremely agitated at any suggestion of commercialism or endorsement activities. At first this is merely mildly annoying to Wells and Mopes' agent Burke Bennett (Danny  Devito). But as Mopes holds his ground, showing previously unknown backbone, Bennett and Wells start to run afoul of the larger crime charities, including one presided over by Merv Green (Harvey Fierstein). They are decidedly NOT happy about having their income stream limited by Mopes and put pressure on Bennett to get him to play ball. Or else.

Meanwhile the disgraced, impoverished and increasingly insane Rainbow Randolph is shocked to see that the show's ratings are better with Smoochy. He convinces himself that he must get rid of Smoochy, by disgrace and scandal if possible, or by good old fashioned murder if necessary. Williams carries this movie. I loved his over the top performance here. I am really confused as to why this film didn't do better but everyone has different needs for humor I guess. It's fair to say that Keener and Norton don't light up the screen together but again, Williams' performance more than makes up for that in my view. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Urban Beat: Patricia Stephens Due

A problem with the "great man" view of history is that it not only elides the fact that there were also "great women" but more importantly it overlooks that fact that social movements are indeed just that. They are made up of numerous people (men and women) who made contributions, both big and small. Many of these people don't get into the history books but were it not for their collective actions, the man or woman in the media spotlight wouldn't have the ability to make the changes they did.

One such woman who just passed away who may have not gotten the recognition from us all while she was here was one Patricia Stephens Due, a leading civil rights activist, author and mother of author Tananarive Due and mother-in-law of author Steve Barnes.
Read more about her incredible life here.

Patricia Stephens Due, whose belief that, as she put it, “ordinary people can do extraordinary things” propelled her to leadership in the civil rights movement — but at a price, including 49 days in a stark Florida jail — died on Tuesday in Smyrna, Ga. She was 72.
At 13, Patricia Stephens challenged Jim Crow orthodoxy by trying to use the “whites only” window at a Dairy Queen. As a college student, she led demonstrations to integrate lunch counters, theaters and swimming pools and was repeatedly arrested.
As a young mother, she pushed two children in a stroller while campaigning for the rights of poor people. As a veteran of integration and voting rights battles, she went on to fight for economic rights, once obstructing a garbage truck in support of striking workers. As an elder stateswoman of the movement, she wrote a memoir to honor “unsung foot soldiers.”
She fought beside John D. Due Jr., a civil rights lawyer, whom she married in 1963. For their honeymoon, they rode the Freedom Train to Washington to hear the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. give his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Mrs. Due paid a price for this devotion. She wore large, dark glasses day and night because her eyes were damaged when a hissing tear gas canister hit her in the face...

I thank Mrs. Due and all the men and women of generations before and after her that kept up the good fight, even when things looked their bleakest.
1) Had you heard of Patricia Stephens Due before?
2) Are we collectively doing a good job of capturing the stories of the older civil rights generation and giving them the respect they deserve? 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mitt Romney converts dead people

Do you know what happens when you die? Well Mitt Romney does. He's going to baptise you into Mormonism. Since you're dead you won't be able to object. And another soul is saved from the fires of hell. Praise the Lord!!! Someone should tell the Jehovah's Witnesses of this approach. It just saves a LOT of time and hurt feelings. Think about it. Rather than go door to door and have people pretend they're not home, slam the door in your face, set their dogs on you or openly mock your "kooky" beliefs, you just wait until AFTER they're dead and convert them anyway. No muss. No fuss. And no expenses for Watchtower pamphlets. All in all it's the perfect approach for the more introverted missionary, or perhaps a missionary who's just tired of trying to outrun the local Rottweiler.

Who could object to such a swell setup? I mean it's a win-win for everyone right? The church gets "converts" and you don't have to explain to the pious young person standing on your porch that no you aren't interested in coming to a Bible reading,  no you aren't giving him any money and no you don't want any literature. 

Well as it turns out there are quite a few people who object to this practice. One of them happens to be Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, Nobel Peace Prize Winner and activist. And I think I would object as well. I mean imagine that you are minding your own business and then find out that Mormons are claiming that your deceased relatives converted to Mormonism and are presumably off ruling their own planets in Mormon heaven. Or consider that you're getting up there in age and discover that the Mormons have already calculated the likely time of your demise and are preparing to posthumously convert you to their faith. Wiesel wasn't pleased.

Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor who has devoted his life to combating intolerance, says Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney"should speak to his own church and say they should stop" performing posthumous proxy baptisms on Jews.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner spoke to The Huffington Post Tuesday soon after HuffPost reported that according to a formerly-Mormon researcher, Helen Radkey, some members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had submitted Wiesel's name to a restricted genealogy website as "ready" for posthumous proxy baptism. Radkey found that the name of Wiesel had been submitted to the database for the deceased, from which a separate process for proxy baptism could be initiated. Radkey also said that the names of Wiesel's deceased father and maternal grandfather had been submitted to the site. 
A spokesman for the Mormon Church claimed that the names were simply entered into the database, and none were submitted for baptism, which he described as a separate process. The entry of a living person, he said, was a mistake, and he provided no explanation for the submission of Wiesel's father and maternal grandfather. By Monday the records for the names of Wiesel and his family had been changed to "not available," according to Radkey.
Ouch. Now far be it from me to question anyone's faith. I don't really care what you believe so much as how you behave. But at the very best it's sort of rude and at the worst downright arrogant and kind of creepy to run around claiming you've converted dead people. It's remarkable thoughtless and insensitive to their beliefs and more importantly to the beliefs and feelings of their living relatives. It's a sort of rewriting of history. I knew about this practice but I'm a little surprised that the Mormons are still doing it. Seems like that they would have gotten the message that their missionary outreach needs to be restricted to those who can still say yes or no: that is the living.
But perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. After all back in 2007 When asked by Newsweek if he has done baptisms for the dead -- in which Mormons find the names of dead people of all faiths and baptize them, as an LDS spokesperson says, to "open the door" to the highest heaven-- he looked slightly startled and answered, "I have in my life, but I haven't recently". SOURCE
O-KAY. So perhaps the biggest question of the 21st century will not be whether or not America was ready to elect a black man with an African name to the White House but rather if America was ready to send a self-admitted necromancer to the White House. Maybe we'd better vote for Mitt while we have the chance. Otherwise he's just going to wait until we're dead and then claim we voted for him anyway. Yikes. He could be the first President seriously to go after the critical dead demographic. Kennedy made some overtures in 1960 but Romney could really win this under recognized voting bloc.

1) Is Wiesel right to be upset? Would you care if this happened to your deceased loved ones?
2) Is this a fair area of discussion or should the media have stayed out of it?
3) Will stories like this have any impact on the primary nomination (or general election should Romney be the nominee)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Jason Whitlock Racially Insults Jeremy Lin

If you don't keep up with the NBA you might have missed this year's current feel good story. The Knicks, in a fit of desperation after injuries, absences and players that weren't quite working out, turned to the end of the bench and started playing Jeremy Lin, a journeyman guard that was about THIS close from being bounced from the league altogether.

However Lin so far has not only shown that he belongs in the NBA, he's shown that he's someone other teams need to plan for and worry about. The undrafted Harvard grad is playing with (and outplaying) people like Kobe Bryant. Time will tell if he can keep up this pace but right now he's handling his business.

Of course anytime someone is successful there will shortly be along someone who feels it's their duty to bring them back down to earth. Enter one Mr. Jason Whitlock, previously best known for making insulting comments about Serena Williams' looks, physique and work ethic.
Mr. Whitlock felt it necessary to go to twitter to drop this knowledge on the world immediately after Lin scored 38 points in a win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

Some lucky lady in NYC is gonna feel a couple inches of pain tonight.
Oh that's a laugher that is. Yup. I wonder how many times Lin has heard that stereotype before.
This brings up a few things which really amaze me.
Unless he's been living under a rock, Whitlock just saw another black male celebrity journalist post something stupid on twitter and get chin checked hard. Now, regardless of whether you thought it was right or not that Roland Martin got the reaction he received, it seems that you would have taken notice and adjusted your public utterances accordingly. I mean really, Whitlock, how hard is this? Don't make insulting references to people's gender, race, religion, ethnicity, sexuality in public and ESPECIALLY don't do it over twitter. Because unless you happen to be a new Facebook multi-millionaire/billionaire and thus just don't care, chances are you're putting your job at risk.

Of course Whitlock made a half-hearted apology :
I then gave in to another part of my personality — my immature, sophomoric, comedic nature. It's been with me since birth, a gift from my mother and honed as a child listening to my godmother's Richard Pryor albums. I still want to be a standup comedian.
The couple-inches-of-pain tweet overshadowed my sincere celebration of Lin’s performance and the irony that the stereotype applies to pot-bellied, overweight male sports writers, too. As the Asian American Journalist Association pointed out, I debased a feel-good sports moment. For that, I’m truly sorry.

Who knows what's in Whitlock's heart. But this should show us a few things.
Black people are not by definition more sensitive to other people's issues.
Black people have ingested stereotypes just like anyone else. The "good" ones we like. The "bad" ones we reject.
It is quite possible for some Black people to be threatened by non-black excellence in traditionally Black dominated sports the same some whites are in the reverse (remember Fuzzy Zoeller's
comments about Tiger Woods??)  I think Whitlock should be fired, primarily for stupidity. But I'm interested to hear your take.

1) Should Whitlock be suspended or fired for his comments?
2) Are you impressed with his apology?
3) Are stereotypes ever ok to joke about in public?