TV: Boardwalk Empire

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From one of the producers of The Sopranos, starring Steve Buscemi, and telling the story of the beginning of prohibition, Boardwalk Empire seemed like a no-brainer for me. Buscemi plays the corrupt politician who becomes an ersatz gangster smuggling liquor and happily taking payoffs. I watched the first episode and the second one named “The Ivory Tower” and I can say the show does deliver on the premise and on it’s promise with nice layers of corruption, everyone with an angle and none of them quite coming clean with exactly what they are, and a peculiar bad-ass Dabney Coleman role. Yet, I didn’t quite enjoy the show. I came away from it feeling like it was clever and well done but not the kind of entertainment I want on a weekly basis. The historical accuracies are, I’m sure, meticulously researched and appropriate as background. But it’s jarring to see characters in black face, women getting beat up in the spirit of subservience, Henry Ford’s anti-Semitic book, and KKK members recruiting in public. In today’s era, it is unusual to see such sights on screen without a bent toward showing how they are wrong. It isn’t that Boardwalk Empire presents them as good – it’s just being honest in their portrayal and recognizing that things in 1920 were a lot different than they are now. So, for me, a brief two-episode look into history is sufficient for me and makes me all the more pleased about the progress of society in those 90 years.

Rating: 6 (out of 10)

Quote for 29-Sep-2010

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Claire Dunphy (as played by Julie Bowen) describing a tenet of her parenting style:

Your kids don’t need to know who you were before you had them. They need to know who you wish you were and they need to try to live up to that person. They’re gonna fall short, but better they fall short of the fake you than the real you.

The blurb in the screen freeze is the only lame part of the whole piece so don’t let the quote stop you from clicking play. In the clip, Jon explains the absurdity of the reflexive Republican response to letting a Bush tax cut expire for income earners over 250K while still talking about the importance of being fiscally responsible.

Deductible Me

Windows7 WGA “Error”

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As I wrote before, I’ve been having a problem with WGA on my new Windows7 laptop. It’s not that I get a note saying that the validation determined I’ve got a non-genuine copy of Windows, it’s that the validation itself crashes. I started with an e-mail to Microsoft and besides the response being useless, the response include a misspelling of Microsoft – no “f”. A bad start, to be sure.

The process continued last week when I decided to call in for support. I had problems right away for the following reasons: 1.) they mistakenly thought my problem was non-genuine software, 2.) they thought I had a non-technical problem, and 3.) technical problems with the OS install are the responsibility of the OEM provider – Dell in my case. So once I convinced them I did have genuine software, then I’d be bounced to WGA people who then told me that it was a tech problem that should be handled by OEM, etc.. I went through that circle a few times even talking to some of the same people a couple of times! (And one guy tried to pretend he didn’t remember – when I said “I just talked to you!”, he asked me “how did that work out?” – I’ll give you a hint: I’m calling again, so probably no so hot, thanks.)

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Quote for 16-May-2010

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Get Fuzzy

Stewart Parodies Beck about Beck

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Brilliant parody of Beck with the subject being Beck himself. Hard to believe Jon kept in character the whole time without laughing.

The 11/3 Project www.thedailyshow.com

DVD: Babel

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Man, this movie was hyped so much and received so many awards and award nominations that I am shocked at how little I enjoyed it. As everyone knows by now, the movie has a number of stories that tangentially connect and are all little vignettes about the world today.

There’s the marquee story (marquee because of the marquee actors) of Susan and Richard who have gone on vacation to Morocco to try and escape the woes of their real life. Sure Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett deliver affecting performances but I just didn’t care about their story. First, I was annoyed that we weren’t told they were in Morocco until the final third of the film – I guess it shouldn’t matter, but I was assuming they were in Afghanistan and I was blaming them for being tourists in a waring country only to realize that they were actually making a trek that a lot of tourists probably make. I felt like I was kind of set up with a false premise there. Second, it ends up a struggle to discern what their problem is – you as the viewer have to work to piece together that they lost a young child and that rather than turn to each other in crisis, they grew apart. The moment on this journey that helps bring them back together? A touching scene when Richard helps Susan, suffering from a gunshot wound, on to a bedpan – a scene which is then ruined by them making out with her still on the bedpan. There are some interesting moments when the rest of the bus is trying to convince Richard that they should all move on, but for the most part, I just found myself saying “puh-leez” through most of that story.

Closely related to that story is the story of Susan and Richard’s two children being watched by a nanny. The nanny can’t find anyone to watch them for her so she can get to Mexico to go to her son’s wedding so she takes the kids with her. And then the guy driving them to and from Mexico doesn’t get along with the border patrol so he runs the border and ditches the nanny and the kids in the dessert. Right. This storyline does have some believability in the issue of what does a nanny who is an illegal alien do when she wants to make a trip across the border and what should she do when presented with the possibility of a long trial vs. deportation. But the device to get the kids and nanny ditched in the dessert was a little too cumbersome and drawn out.

Also closely related to Susan and Richard’s story is that of the person who shot Susan. It turns out to be a kid trying to show his older brother how he is a better shot. And the rifle is supposed to be used to kill the wolves that are killing the family’s goats. I get this and it is tragic. Initially the rifle is considered to be a boon to the family because it will help them but ultimately, it turns to trouble. But the extra-curricular scenes with the boy watching his older sister came out of nowhere and did nothing to help paint the character of the boy. I really liked the acting of the father who wore pain on his face so visibly and the two kids were no slouches either. Still, the story fell flat for me.

The only story that did interest me was the one least connected to any of the others. A deaf-mute girl in a Japanese city (I’m going to guess Tokyo but I’d rather not have to guess) is having a hard time dealing with the combination of adolescence and her disability. She wants other teens to like her, especially boys, and finds that her disability is a turn-off and even a subject for jokes. Even when she finds a group that does accept her for who she is, the guy that she starts to like ends up making out with her friend who is not as deaf or as mute. She hates herself for who she is. A cop, who has come to investigate the gun her father gave to a Moroccan (the lone tie-in to the rest of the movie), ends up finding himself trying to comfort a very naked deaf-mute girl who wants desperately to be wanted. He does the right thing once realizing the situation yet it’s going to take some time before the girl can accept herself for who she is and pass the gauntlet that is adolescence.

So, 4 stories in one movie with minimal ties to each other. The globe-hopping did none of the stories any favors. Nor did the nonlinear nature of the movie – a device deliberately intended to keep some story elements from being revealed too early to keep the viewer guessing. To me, this was like a global version of Crash that didn’t work. (And while I did like Crash, I recognize it wasn’t perfect.)

Rating: 3 (out of 10)

Quote for 26-Oct-2008

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Today’s quote comes from the plumber in the second to last panel in today’s Doonesbury comic.

RNC – I need a shower

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Fred Thompson is a great orator. Not as great as Obama, maybe, but still pretty good. And his speech at the convention on Wednesday night was very clever. He freely mixed facts, twisted truths, and outright lies. The facts drew you in so you wouldn’t realize he was fibbing at other times. He’s using his power for evil. Obama is certainly not the most liberal candidate ever to run for office. I don’t have a lot of history on the subject, but it seems that Dukakis would easily be more liberal.

I’ve been dreading Romney’s speech for weeks now – back to when I thought he was a VP contender. And of course, my dread was well founded. He said that the best way to get rid of the big government types in Washington is to elect McCain. But in reality, the current resident of the white house is the one that has increased the size of government, far more than any fiscally responsible Democrat would do. Romney needs reminding that Bush inherited office with a budge surplus and has, in 8 short years, created the biggest deficit in history. Frankly, Mitt, the Republicans may still claim to be the party of fiscal responsibility, but the Democrats beat the ‘publicans on this point now. We need more than words, Mitt, more than words.

I still like Huckabee. How can you not like the guy. Sure, his views are pretty conservative, but unlike Romney, I could listen to him talk about stuff I disagree with all day long.

Giuliani’s speech merely pandered to the crowd. There wasn’t much in it that seemed like genuine Giuliani. He smeared Obama for being part of “Chicago machine politics” – McCain’s whole campaign is built on RNC machine politics. He commented that since Palin was a mayor, she had exec credentials just like he did – apparently small-town Alaska and NYC are equally challenging to run. And cracks like saying that it must be al-Qaeda that won if the US had lost in Iraq show that Mr. 9/11 himself has lost sight of where the real bad guys are.

I do see now what McCain’s camp sees in Palin. For anyone who said that women can’t be successful politicians because of the double-edged sword (bitch vs. marshmallow) need look no further than Palin. She is both likable and somebody who commands respect. And while she may not have the experience, she does seem to have what it takes to be a leader. Despite not agreeing with her viewpoints, I was impressed. She is going to be a formidable foe to Obama/Biden.

McCain delivered one of the best speeches of his campaign. He was smoother than usual, confident, and even somewhat relaxed and smiley. He handled hecklers well. Of course I had some items to disagree with like when he complained about judges “legislating from the bench” – Republican speak for results that didn’t go their way (if the outcome had been what they wanted, it would have been considered prudent interpretation of the law). And then there’s his whole tax cut scenario which, when asked where he would get the money to pay for it a couple months ago on Face the Nation, he retorted “I’ll find you a billion dollars tomorrow” – from the budget that his own party had created and that he had voted for.

But McCain did some stuff right, too. Like pointing out that Republicans were responsible for a huge increase in government (even though he put equal blame on the Dems). And he had a nice classy shout out to Obama – right before he said that he was going to beat Obama. And he had a nice rousing conclusion, even if it was empty rhetoric.

One final comment about the convention – did you notice the big screen behind the podium was frequently showing images that didn’t seem to fit with who was speaking or what was being said? And lots of the time, the color directly behind the speaker was an odd hue of blue that made everyone standing in front of it look a little sickly.

Throughout the whole RNC, I noticed a number of words being used in odd ways:

  liberal – somebody who cares about others rather than just about themselves

  elitist – anything or anyone learned and educated

  foreign – not explicitly of our country and therefore worthless or even despised (as in “we don’t need foreigners telling us how to run our country!”)

  media – mouthpiece for liberals (see above); Limbaugh, The Wall Street Journal, and Fox News apparently aren’t “media” but merely truthtellers with radio, print, and television tools

I’m off to the showers to get the Thompson/Giuliani/Romney/Ridge/Fiorina slime off me. For some reason, I find that the petroleum-based ‘publican slime takes a little more scrubbing to come off than Democratic slime which is water-soluble and environmentally friendly.

DVD: The Bank Job

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Based on a true story in the 1970s, The Bank Job tells the tale of how a gang of amateur thieves pulled off the robbery of 4 million pounds from a London bank vault, exceeding that of the Great Train Robbery (adjusted for inflation). The plot to the movie is incredibly well layered and put together. It isn’t quite Robert Altman-like, but there are multiple stories that do intersect. By the end of the movie, I was having a hard time keeping up with the plot just because there was so much there – I don’t consider that a negative to the movie, more of a failing on my part!

The DVD extras contain a feature on the real robbery and you can hear some of their walkie talkie communication picked up by a local ham radio operator and recorded for the police. The manner in which the vault was robbed is a matter of fact and was published in newspapers at the time of the robbery. However the question as to whether MI-5 was involved in arranging for the theft in the first place or whether any British government was involved in squelching the aftermath for reasons of national security is a matter of some debate.

Rating: 8 (out of 10)

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