Friday, June 10, 2005
Sith happens, but it doesn't have to if you don't want it to. Here are a few good films that might be playing at a multiplex near you.
Layer Cake: The bad news is that this British neo-noir combines the labyrinthine plot of The Big Sleep with the "capitalism-is-crime" message of Force of Evil. The good news is that it also has everything you'd want in a classic noir: Nail-biting suspense, witty dialogue, style to burn, and a flawless lead performance from character actor Daniel Craig (who appears in nearly every scene). First-time director Matthew Vaughn is best known as a producer for Guy Ritchie. Now he's come into his own.
Millions: Well, here it is -- the first film from Danny Boyle to live up to his 1996 cult hit Trainspotting. Like Guy Ritchie and new arrival Matthew Vaughn, Boyle belongs to the "Young Smartass" school of British filmmaking, crime-caper craftsmen who've managed to out-Tarantino Tarantino. Fortunately, the story of Millions is strong enough to withstand Boyle's tendency toward visual overkill, combining crime caper, religious meditation, family drama and childhood rite of passage. The plot, such as it is, involves a parcel of stolen British pounds, accidentally intercepted by two brothers (played by Alex Etel and Lewis Owen McGibbon). Since Great Britain is switching to the Euro, the money will be worthless in a few days: The boys' question is how to spend such a problematic windfall without their parents -- or the authorities -- catching on. As a seven-year-old child who talks to Catholic saints in his reveries, Etel gives what might be the best performance you'll see this year.
The problems occur in the third act, when the real thief begins to terrorize the children. This ought to be prime Night of the Hunter territory, but for once, Boyle holds back when he should press ahead. The bad guy is remarkably polite and soft-spoken, and despite heavy-handed sound cues that practically shout "Terror!" whenever he appears, he's about as menacing as a bowl of oatmeal.
Boyle seems to believe Millions is a "family flick," when it's really a movie for grown-ups in which children are primary characters. Though it never satisfies on either score, it's still worth seeing.
Kung Fu Hustle: Stephen Chow -- writer, director and star of Kung Fu Hustle -- is no Jackie Chan. Still, he wants to recreate the fusion of Buster Keaton and Bruce Lee that characterizes Chan's best work. This film never quite hits that mark of inspired lunacy, partly because it features too much CGI and not nearly enough fight choreography, and partly because Chow isn't nearly as adept at comedy as Chan.
Still, Chow's images are delightfully absurd; the elaborate sets for "Pig Sty Alley" -- a cross between a tenement building and an open-air market -- are themselves worth the price of admission. (See Hustle on a big screen, so you can appreciate all the background business.) In what may be a first for grindhouse cinema, Kung Fu Hustle features a Gay supporting character, a tailor who makes a speedy progress from screaming fairy to kung-fu warrior to hapless corpse. I doubt GLAAD will give Chow any awards for the effort -- and frankly, I don't know what to think of it myself.
Crash: Million Dollar Baby screenwriter Paul Haggis has made a message movie about racism in America. To be fair, Crash is well-shot, with several good performances (most notably from Matt Dillon, Don Cheadle and rapper Ludacris). Some of the scenes are well-written: One exchange between two young Black men leads to an unexpected payoff ("Because we have guns?"), and at the one-hour mark, a stunning plot twist suggests the great movie that might have been. Alas, Crash tries to tell too many stories at once, and falls prey to the usual racial stereotypes: Vengeful, superstitious Middle Eastern immigrants; gangsta thugs and Buppie sellouts; racist White cops; saintly, long-suffering Hispanics; callous, privileged White elites. As bleeding-heart twaddle goes, this movie falls somewhere between Spanglish and Bowling for Columbine.
Matt Dillon gives the obvious tagline: "You think you know who you are, but you have no idea." It's certainly true enough for the film, which couldn't exist without the prejudice it purports to condemn, and which in its hurry substitutes irony and coincidence for complexity of character. Crash is a racist film against racism, a superficial film against superficiality, a caricature disguised as a true-life portrait.
Of course, the most interesting thing (to me, anyway) about Haggis's view of contemporary Los Angeles is that it includes no Gay or Lesbian characters. So much for realism.
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
Last Sunday, Texas governor Rick Perry made this "compassionate" statement to Gays and Lesbians in his own state:
"Texans have made a decision about marriage and if there is some other state that has a more lenient view than Texas then maybe that's a better place for them to live."
Sound familiar? Notoriously racist Mississippi governor Fielding Wright (Strom Thurmond's running mate on the anti-integration "Dixiecrat" ticket in 1948) gave some remarkably similar advice to Black Mississippians half a century ago:
"If any of you have become so deluded as to want to enter our hotels and cafes, enjoy social equality with whites, then kindness and true sympathy requires me to advise you to make your home in some state other than Mississippi."
Perry has just entered a remarkably exclusive club: In the annals of American bigotry, he has earned a place next to Theodore Bilbo, Orval Faubus, George Wallace, Ross Barnett, Lester Maddox, and all the other opponents of civil rights and individual freedom.
Fifty years from now, Texans will look back on Perry's statement with the same profound embarrassment in which Mississippians regard Fielding Wright and his Klansman cohorts. To their credit, some Texans already do -- and many of those Texans are Gay.
Hat tip: Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the Perry quote.
Update (6:00 p.m.): It gets worse. Apparently Perry was addressing his remark to Gay and Lesbian veterans returning from Iraq.
Gay conservatives are fuming, and rightly so: Essentially Perry has told thousands of American servicemen to get the hell out of his state. These are people who fought and bled for American values, and now many of them want equality under the law, nothing more. Perry won't even tolerate their presence, any more that Wright, Bilbo, Faubus or Wallace would tolerate those "uppity" Black servicemen, fresh from the fight against Hitler, and insisting on their right to vote in the country they defended.
Even Michael Moore never sank this low, though doubtless he's chuckling up his sleeve. He and his leftist ilk have long claimed that America stands for stupidity and intolerance. They believe that our values are not worth defending, that in the end we're no better than the terrorists we're fighting. And Governor Perry has just proven them right.
Think any heterosexual conservatives will object?
Sunday, June 05, 2005
Gentle reader, cigarettes can kill. Here's proof:
I spotted "Smokes," the squirrel in the above photograph, near the entrance to Helen Keller's childhood home. (Yes, that Helen Keller.) Although I'm not in the habit of photographing dead animals -- or dead anything, for that matter -- I still get morbid chuckles out of this image.
Urbanites often wonder why deer and other mammals frequent our national roadways. One reason is that, to an animal's eyes, these ribbons of concrete and asphalt are basically gigantic mineral deposits, full of calcium and other nutrients your average herbivore isn't like to obtain in his/her daily diet of leaves, twigs, nuts and berries. Any animal that sweats needs a good dose of salt, so a salt lick is likely to prove a fairly popular location for game. Hunters use artificial ones all the time.
Of course, when these animals take the pause that refreshes in a parking lot, they're likely to discover chemicals that they don't usually find in their natural habitat -- like nicotine. Some years ago, a tour guide at Oregon Caves National Monument informed me that deer can get hooked on tobacco, just like people: In fact, several deer in the area frequented the monument's main parking lot, licking discarded cigarette butts. I can't imagine what a deer on a nic fit looks like, but it can't be pretty.
We'll never know how or when little Smokes took up cigs, but the photo shows his sad fate: While enjoying a discarded butt in the middle of the street, he failed to notice an oncoming vehicle. At least it wasn't a lingering, cancerous death: That squirrel never even knew what hit him.
I guess you could say Smokes was lucky.
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