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Posts Tagged ‘movies’

I’ve been thinking about a movie I saw recently: Source Code, starring Jake Gyllenthaal. This science fiction cum action thriller (with a dash of romance) had a fair amount going for it: stellar cast, great special effects, tight plot; even the requisite happy ending.

I liked it. A lot. But then again, I’m a sucker for films that posit such an optimistic view of the brain’s power to transcend any and all physical limitations.

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Charlie Kaufman, screenwriter of such quirky films as Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Adaptation has written and directed a new one, called Synecdoche New York. The critics have helpfully provided a definition of “synecdoche”, which means “a figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole or the whole for a part, the special for the general or the general for the special.” The reviews have been almost as baffling as I suspect the movie must be. I think I’ll rent it; that way I can watch in small doses so as not to overly tax my mind, which is plenty baffled these days.

But the movie and its brainiac title got me thinking about vocabulary during this election season. Words – their meanings new, old and just plain baffling – are certainly getting their due. I decided to visit dictionary.com (http://dictionary.reference.com/) to look up a few of those that keep popping up in political speeches of late to see what the reference books think we mean:

  • liberal: favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs. Also open-minded or tolerant, esp. free of or not bound by traditional or conventional ideas, values, etc; also and marked by generosity
  • elite: the choice or best of anything considered collectively, as of a group or class of persons
  • taxes: fees charged (“levied”) by a government on a product, income, or activity. The purpose of taxation is to finance government expenditure. One of the most important uses of taxes is to finance public goods and services.
  • debate: a discussion, as of a public question in an assembly, involving opposing viewpoints; a formal contest in which the affirmative and negative sides of a proposition are advocated by opposing speakers; to deliberate upon or consider; Obsolete: to fight; quarrel.
  • socialism: any of various theories or systems of social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy.

I admit I’ve used only a portion of the multiple definitions I found for each of these words in order to make them as “neutral” as possible. The more definitions we find, the more choices we have as to how we might feel about a particular word. As language evolves, words are sometimes given new meanings which may come to dominate or eliminate older definitions.  Yet sometimes all it takes to give a neutral word a negative spin is to, say, substitute a partial meaning for a whole meaning or swap a general definition for a narrower one. Call it “Campaign Synecdoche 2008.”

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We’re in the midst of our second heat-wave out here on the Eastern Seaboard and my electricity bill just came in. Apparently setting the thermostat at 78 isn’t good enough especially in my townhouse, thanks to my energy – inefficient design. I’d drive to the beach but well, you know the price of gas.

I’ve been alternating between Barnes and Noble and the public library. This has given me a chance to borrow someone else’s air conditioning, get a little work done and also sip on an iced cappuccino while checking out some new book titles under anything and everything from fiction to current events to philosophy. The buzz is about Jane Mayer’s new book, “The Dark Side – The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into the War on American Ideals”  but I want to read another book on the table by Richard Shankman called “Just How Stupid Are We?: Facing the Truth About the American Voter” – although I think I already know how it’s going to turn out.

Speaking of dark, saw “The Dark Knight” last night. A little confusing, a whole lot dark and featuring some terrific performances not only by Heath Ledger and Christian Bale but also, in my view, Aaron Eckhart. I’ve been a fan of his for a few years and could never understand why a guy who played his impossibly good looks into some nice ironic performances had never made it. Then I remember George Clooney was nearly out of his thirties. Anyway, I figure this performance should kick him up a level. Worth a look-see but note: it’s two and a half hours. 

Al Gore gave a speech that was either inspiring or unrealistic, depending on what you read about it.  Maybe it was both. He does seem to be uniquely positioned these days to point out our problems, issue challenges and speak optimistically about a future in which we have become free of our dependency from carbon-based fossel fuels – a future in which we don’t have to be “borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet.” Strangely enough, Gore seems to think we can do it, er, not borrow money to burn oil to destroy the planet but actually reduce or eliminate our oil dependency.

His optimism stands in stark contrast to the way the rest of us seem to be feeling. One recent poll says 81% of Americans feel America is headed in the wrong direction and a Rockefeller Foundation/Time Magazine poll that measured Americans’ concerns about the economy also revealed that nearly half the 18-29-year-olds “feel that America’s best days are in the past.”Speaking of economy, just about everything I read says we’re in it for the long haul, negatively speaking.

Kind of dark thoughts and we haven’t even reached the dog days of summer.

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Many of my friends like to brag that they’re lucky to get out to the movies once a year. I, however, have the opposite problem, especially at the begining of the summer when, seduced by big marketing campaigns and tired of running my air conditioner at home, I dash over to the local multiplex to catch the new blockbusters, the better to have bragging rights, should anyone ask. Except for the pain of sitting through half dozen or more previews and countless television trailers (hint: bring a book), it’s a pretty painless experience, especially if you buy tickets in advance and can combine various points from the various cards you carry in your wallet to score free popcorn or a companion ticket. So far, it’s worked out well.

I missed “Sex and the City” so probably can’t claim to be completely on top of the summer season. I found the television series only show fitfully amusing; I’m highly ambivalent about the talent and looks of most of the leads and anyway, only certain fashion icons age well and well, that doesn’t include the “Sex” ladies in my book. So sorry, no review.

However, although not at all a fan of adolescent male comedies, I saw “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” Adam Sandler’s absolutely hysterical and over-the-top poke at mid-East misunderstandings. It may be politically incorrect to admit to finding a politically incorrect movie so funny but I did. You go in knowing there’ll be more than anyone deserves of sex-on-the-brain jokes but come on, the target audience is not me. The fact that I enjoyed it so much, however, suggests that it broke more than a little out of its genre with its mix of message and predictable Adam Sandler schtick.

Actually, a number of the movies seem to be playing with their genres. The new hybrid movie means that you either get a flick filled with mind-bending nuance or you get a high-minded mish-mash. Kudos to the directors for trying, though. Makes me feel as if they have some confidence in my intelligence.

The “Indiana Jones” franchise is one that doesn’t mess one little bit with its niche, except to remind us that 65 is the new 40; at any rate, Harrison Ford looks pretty damned good. But the thing about the latest installment is that it’s like going to see a live concert featuring your favorite band from the 60s, 70s or 80s. You love them whether they’re great, or maybe slightly less great. So yeah, I liked the movie (“Go Harrison! Yea, Karen Allen!”) but he seemed tired and she seemed a little startled to be there, although game. Cate Blanchett had a great time as a dominatrix-type spy but that dialect made me think she was playing a German/Russian raised in Australia by way of Los Angeles. The special effects looked tired as well, like the second installment of the “Mummy” series starring Brendan Fraser (not the good one, by the way). I looked at my watch more than once.

I never looked at my watch once during “Iron Man” but that’s because Robert Downey Jr. is not only fun to watch but fascinating. I like his character, an amoral type seeking redemption as much or more than revenge. That’d be appealing even if you didn’t know Downey’s back story. Not only that, I like the way the gadgets work. The movie is thoroughly up-to-date but old-fashioned too. It’s out of the theaters but if it come around again, see it – or rent it.

“Get Smart” also updated the TV show conceit; I just can’t see Don Adams from the TV series in any enterprise labeled labeled “comedy/action.”  The original “Get Smart” was completely over the top but Steve Carell is positioned as a little more suave than all that. Yeah, there were some amusing comedic physical pieces but I got the feeling everyone was trying to look good (and they looked fabulous!)  and the leads were holding back. The supporting players got the funniest bits and some of the best lines and helped fill the time during some of the slower scenes.

“Hancock” is two movies in one, I swear. I adored the first one and went along with the second one which potentially sets up a sequel, although you wouldn’t believe it looking at the trailers, which focus on the first half of the movie only. Will Smith can do no wrong – seriously, I’d watch the man do ANYTHING – and the idea that he’s playing an angry dude with super powers who ticks off (and then confronts) the people he’s trying to help is very funny. I was apparenly one of a handfull of people who wasn’t surprised by the mid-movie twist but I think I was sighing with impatience as the plot unfolded at that point. Still, I understand how it allows for a return of the character. NOTE TO THEATER GOERS: Several movies, including “Hancock” are leaving at least one critical scene to show during the credits. I like to read the credits but for those of you who don’t, if you find yourself out the doors of the theater one they start rolling, you’ll miss a pivotal scene. Same with WALL-E. 

Ah, WALL-E: See it. Or read the article that Frank Rich wrote in today’s New York Times and see it. Or read any number of other reviews and believe them and see it. I don’t know what to say about those folks at Pixar but whatever they’re smoking, injesting, eating, drinking or dreaming about, I want some. At least I want some if it will make me an eighth as creative as they are.

 So Hollywood, if you’re reading this, smile for a minute because at least one reluctant movie-goer has become a regularmovie-goer (at least temporarily). But please, not SO many sequels. You’re killing me!

PS: Stay tuned for “Batman” – I can’t be more impressed by some of these Australian actors who seem to have it all over our homegrown ones and in this one we’re talking about Christian Bale and the late, great (and would’ve and should’ve been greater) Heath Ledger.

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It’s normal to be disheartened by the death of someone young or in the prime of life. It’s also “normal” these days to be especially affected when the person in question is a star or public persona. These are people whose faces we see regularly, whose lives we scrutinize and who we feel we know. For younger people who are just one video clip away from YouTube celebrity themselves, the death of Heath Ledger a few days ago was on the order of the loss of a family member or close friend. In any instance, it’s major news.

The death of a twenty-eight-year-old actor who had also demonstrated  prodigious talent and heart seems like a terrible waste. Whatever might have caused lethal harm, he apparently felt the need to have anti-anxiety medicine and sleep medicine at the ready. “I can’t understand how stressed out he must have been,” commented a young friend of mine earlier today, “although I guess that being a celebrity sucks.” Well let’s put it this way; it doesn’t always help.

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A friend and faithful reader (hopefully I don’t have any faithless readers) has asked me to say something about the Writers Guild of America strike. Fair enough. I admit that the quality of TV, which I keep on in the background, has seemed to me to be sinking for some time. I tend to multi-task. Still I’d kind of enjoyed watching Christine Applegate’s marvelous comic turn in “Samantha Who?” and the addition of Joe Mantegna to the “Criminal Minds” cast.  So yeah, I could say I have a personal interest.

Actually, I know writers on the picket lines and it’s no laughing matter to them – or to the hundreds of boutique businesses, from caterers to hair stylists to limo drivers whose livelihood is taking a serious hit while the studio heads apparently tough it out in their second homes or on the golf course. My rudimentary understanding of the arguments is that they relate to DVD residuals, animation and future revenue from the Internet, among other issues. I don’t know why the producers don’t just make a deal, although I’ve heard stories about how disrespectfully writers are treated.  Maybe that’s the game in Hollywood. Maybe the producers are figuring they can ride out the strike and make a buck on tenth-rate reality shows.  Maybe they think the viewers won’t notice the dip in quality, which is pretty disrespectful too.

Hopefully at some point, Los Angeles officials will feel the pinch, via their constituents and someone will step in and get this thing settled, maybe even the Gubenator. In the meantime, I thought I heard on TV (I wasn’t paying attention) someone mention George Clooney as the guy who could get both sides to the table. What a great idea.  Who’s gonna say no to George Clooney?

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I was amused to see a new Rambo movie on the horizon (less than two weeks). After all, Sylvester Stallone has always been a kind of loveable lunk, even as he took out the bad guys with as few words and as much hardware as possible. He’s not nearly as much fun to watch as Bruce Willis but he’s nothing if not sincere.  But an article in the paper today suggests that aging eighties heroes are making a comback because we (well maybe the male version of “we”) yearn for iconic heroic types in this uncertain world. Thus we have Stallone stomping, Chuck Norris stumping (for Mike Huckabee) and Hulk Hogan hosting a new version of American Gladiator. Is this cause for proto-feminists to panic? After all, in the coming election, gender seems linked to the issue of toughness in a less than enlightened way.

It’s not that women don’t get to kick their share of tail nowadays, at least in the fantasy world. There are plenty of video examples, although how those gals work around their Barby-like curves is beyond me. Fox’s new show, “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” features a very tough-love heroine and “Live Free or Die Hard” showcases a throughly lethal villainess who almost gets the upper hand until Willis’ character realizes it’s okay to punch a woman if she’s trying to kill you. These ladies strike me as a lot more dangerous than the pumped-up young studs who seem to have acquired their muscles for the purpose of snagging babes at the beach (e.g. Matthew McConaughey). In general, though, the young guys don’t make much more headway than the women for the legions of mostly male fans who apparently like their testosterone delivered with an air of world-weary authority. I don’t know if this signals a yearning for the good old eighties, although it’s true that half our candidates seem to think the Reagan years represent the last time America had it all figured out. I prefer to think of this mini-phenomina as a way for aging baby boomers to prove they can still bring it to the table – well, in entertainment, if not in politics.

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