Friday, December 31, 2010

Wi-fi and other revelations

I have been busy as a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest.
Just completed
a major move and moving is always been an
ordeal for me because I always try to
drag fifty-four years of my
life with me. In fact, for eight years I lived in an
undesirable sit-
uation (two break-ins in the last three years; horrible landlord;
worse neighbors) because I absolutely abhor moving.

This time I did a major purge, throwing away stuff I had been
toting around for
thirty years. Still, there were hundreds of books
to move and scores of boxes
to lug them in.

I threw away hundreds of video tapes. Turns out my late brother
and I were
delusional, self-appointed archivists: we recorded
every episode of The Cosby
Show and A Different World and
every movie we loved because we could not foresee
a world where
Netflix would put anything we could possibly want to see at our
fingertips with a wi-fi connection.

I had boxes of old Jet magazines - all of which are available on-
line in their

Ditto for boxes of skin slick magazines collected during my sane
and sober youth
- all content available on-line for a monthly fee
(although, there's nothing
like the real thing, baby).

I did tote my hundreds of vinyl records and my thousands of CDs.
I did not tote
my hundreds of cassette tapes and scores of 8-tracks
(although I did preserve a

It was a blast rediscovering books, magazines and photographs
that I had forgot
I had (even though trips down memory lane
slowed down the moving process quite a
bit - it took me three
weeks to move a three-story townhouse - if I ever ask you
to help
me move - RUN!)

Lastly, I have been without a home wi-fi connection from
November 17th until
yesterday (worse than Chinese water torture).


Friday, September 24, 2010

Bloom Day

Undercovers, J.J. Abrams new I Spy/He Spy/She Spy high concept espionage series is as improbable as it is watchable. Steven and Samanta Bloom (who despite being played by actors whose birth names are Boris Federic Cecil Tay-Natey Ofuatey-Kudjoe and Gugulethu Mbatha-Raw have character names that sound like they came straight out of James Joyce's Ulysses), are upscale caterers who used to be highly competent spies. They are called back into the game because an undercover operative has disappeared and in all the world these retired former spies, five years removed from their last assignment, are the only ones capable of handling this particular assignment.

I am willing to suspend belief and believe that five years ago the Blooms were elite covert operatives (despite the fact that actress Mbatha-Raw is only 27, which means she would have retired at the top of her spy game at 22) which makes it easy for me to appreciate the pure J.J. Abrams-ishness of Undercovers. Given carte blanche by the covert agency that covets their particular skill sets, the Blooms are able to globe trot while wearing great looking clothes.

With a single phone call to their star-struck, overly obsequious factotum (Ben Schwartz) the Blooms are able to parachute into Spain, France and Russia at the drop of a hat where their sudden appearance goes unnoticed because they also speak Spanish, French and Russian fluently.

As pure escapism, Undercovers is kind of a kick. For one, for once, although the leads are not of the Caucasian persuasion, no expense has been spared in making Undercovers look rich. Martha Stewart would die for the Blooms catering kitchen and I would die for the office/loft that overlooks said kitchen.

And the action, while occasionally derivative, steals from the best. When little bitty Mbatha-Raw has to hoist a big rocket launcher to stop a bad guy, it is reminiscent of Rae Dawn Chong doing the same thing in Commando and the couple stopping mid-caper to tango is right out of True Lies.

The married Blooms are probably improbably fond of each other but I rather liked that, too.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Socratic Method

I have been waiting eleven years for a follow-up to Walkin' the Dog, the second of Walter Mosley's profound and moving Socrates Fortlow short story collections. I devoured Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned in 1997 and voraciously consumed Dog in 1999. I am such a fan of Mosley's Fortlow novels that I find it incomprehensible that I missed the publication of The Right Mistake: the Further Philosophical Investigations of Socrates Fortlow (2008). And, yet, somehow I did. In a remarkably serendipitous "recommendations" e-mail from (received in the summer of 2010) I was advised of a hardcover edition of Mistake at a bargain price ($8.74) - less than both the paperback and e-book editions.

Some things are meant to be. Two years ago I may not have been in the proper frame of mind to fully appreciate the delicious irony and profound wisdom of something, anything, being the "right mistake." Today finds me not only in the right frame of mind but primed and ready to receive Fortlow's sad, savvy and always deeply human further investigations.

It is also somewhat fitting that I come into possession of the third book of the Fortlow trilogy in the fiftieth anniversary year of the publication of Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. Atticus Finch (played in the movie of the same name by Gregory Peck) is To Kill a Mockingbird's most upright character, representing the moral ideal of both a lawyer and a human being: he is brutally honest, highly moral, extremely opinionated, a tireless crusader for good causes (even hopeless ones), a virtual pacifist and, for the most part, devoid of any of the racial or class prejudices afflicting the other citizens of fictional Maycomb, Alabama.

Finch goes to great pains to instruct his children on the importance of being open-minded, judicious, generous neighbors and citizens. He is eventually revealed to be an expert marksman, but he had chosen to keep this fact hidden from his children so that they would not in any way think of him as a man of violence. He was once the best shot in Maycomb County, but quit shooting because he felt he had an unfair advantage.

Now, Socrates Fortlow is everything Atticus Finch is - brutally honest, highly moral, extremely opinionated, a tireless crusader for good causes - and he is everything Finch is not. While Finch is better than his peers, a lawyer, a state representative, a loving father, Fortlow is the worst of us - a double murderer and a rapist. While Finch has been re-elected to the state legislature many times, often without opposition, Fortlow has spent twenty-seven years doing hard time for the crimes he committed. Finch is our highest ideal; Fortlow is nothing nice.

This is what makes Fortlow the greater literary creation.

When we first meet Fortlow in Outnumbered he is living in negative space, in a hallway between two burnt out furniture stores. His kitchen is "only big enough for a man and a half" and the second room, where he sat and slept, was no bigger. He has a card table for dining and a fold-up plastic chair for a seat. He cooked all his meals on a single hotplate and drank his beverages, mostly water, out of mayonnaise jars.

Fortlow is a man living off the grid. He is literally a man who has nothing and no one. But, from the opening pages of
Outnumbered to the last pages of Mistake Fortlow does what he do - teaching life lessons, doing favors small and large, and gaining grace from his noble, selfless actions.

From the depths of depravity, Fortlow becomes the eminence grise of his South Central Los Angeles neighborhood - a journey movingly and memorably examined in The Right Mistake.


Friday, August 6, 2010

El Sargento Negro

I know this is a day late and a dollar short but TMC had a Woody Strode marathon on yesterday.

Strode, an All-American athlete at UCLA (he played football with Jackie Robinson) was one of the first blacks to play in the NFL. He is probably best remembered for his brief Golden Globe-nominated role in Spartacus (1960) as the Ethiopian gladiator Draba, in which he fights Kirk Douglas to the death.

Strode played memorable villains opposite three screen Tarzans. In 1958, he appeared as Ramo opposite Gordon Scott in Tarzan's Fight for Life. In 1963, he was cast opposite Jock Mahoney's Tarzan as both the dying leader of an unnamed Asian country and that leader's unsavory brother, Khan, in Tarzan's Three Challenges. In the late 1960s, he appeared in several episodes of the Ron Ely Tarzan television series.

He became a close friend of director John Ford, who gave him the title role in Sergeant Rutledge (1960) as a member of the Ninth Cavalry falsely accused of rape and murder; he appeared in smaller roles in Ford's later films Two Rode Together (1961), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and Seven Women (1966).

I watched Sergeant Rutledge, which contains some of the best and worst black characterizations I have ever seen on film juxtaposed against Ford's iconic Monument Valley tableaus, and Once Upon A Time in the West, a truly great spaghetti western directed by Sergio Leone and starring Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, Charles Bronson, Jack Elam, Strode and Claudia Cardinale.

The opening shot of 6 foot four inch Strode from his boots to the top of his cowboy hat is worth the cost of admission.

Henry Fonda, as a truly evil man; Bronson, as a zen-like drifter, and Cardinale as a strong-willed frontier heroine, are all revelations.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dream Weaver

Viewing a movie in a darkened theater has long been called a shared dream experience. Christopher Nolan's Inception gives a whole new meaning to this idea; a notion he twists into pulse-quickening knots before turning the whole enterprise on its head - not once, not twice but three times - and then once again for good measure.

It is hard to quantify how good Inception is. It is a two and one half hour roller coaster ride with enough thrills and chills to keep you glued to your seat - when you are not perched on the edge of it. Inception is full of good actors doing good work, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

DiCaprio gives another fine performance confirming himself as "the actor" of his generation and, for anybody who hasn't already seen his indie work in films like The Lookout (2007), Levitt is surprisingly good. He gives a steely performance that is lean, sinewy and remarkably balletic. Add to this heady stew Oscar winner Marion Cotillard. She is chillingly affective as DiCaprio's dead wife and dream nemesis.

To the aforementioned trio, Nolan brings his favorite players from the Dark Knight franchise for which he is most famous. There is Michael Caine as DiCaprio's father-in-law and mentor, Cillian Murphy as the rich industrialist/mark, and Ken Watanabe as the murky client who sets the whole enterprise in motion.

Full of action and fantastic but seamlessly integrated and organically woven-in landscapes and dream-scapes, Inception is a cinematic recitation on artistic inspiration, the nature of dreams and questions about what is and is not real. We explore dreams, yours and mine, their necessity, their siren call and the dark, murky depths hidden just beneath.

It is mind-boggling and mind blowing and yet, at its core, it is a Hitchcockian story about love, lost and redemption that is both harrowing and heartwarming. Through it all, Nolan is our Morpheus, our dream-weaver, a benevolent and malevolent conductor who takes us on a mystical, magical tour of the dream world and all its environs.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fifty Years Old and 30 Million Strong

June 11, 2010 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. A staple of English classes nationwide, the book has sold well in excess of 30 million copies and been translated into three dozen languages. The book continues to sell one million copies in the U.S. every year. I have yet to read To Kill A Mockingbird, a glaring gap in my cultural literacy, but I have seen the excellent movie directed by Robert Mulligan often and it pisses me off each and every time.

In acknowledgement of the golden anniversary of Harper Lee's magnum opus, I re-watched the movie this weekend and, once again, it irks me mightily that Tom Robinson, an innocent, upstanding black family man gets railroaded for a rape he did not commit - a rape that, in fact, did not even occur - and is subsequently shot dead "trying to escape" while Arthur "Boo" Radley, the white town idiot, commits murder, albeit altruistically, and walks away scott free. This, I am lead to believe, is a happy ending.

I think Harper Lee's only published novel continues to endure and prosper because most readers want to believe they are Atticus Finch, the principled lawyer who is the moral center of the novel. That, in fact, they are probably closer in thought and action to the drunken redneck Robert E. Lee "Bob" Ewell (who actually commits the crime for which Tom Robinson is tried and convicted) or, more charitably, to Walter Cunningham (the dirt poor farmer who begrudgingly pays off his legal debt to Finch with bags of nuts and other forms of barter) who allows himself to be coerced into the mob that converges on the courthouse to lynch Tom, notwithstanding.

They want to believe in a man as good and kind and decent as Atticus Finch, a man who refuses to judge any man less he has walked a mile in that man's shoes. They want to believe America, at its core, is as good as Atticus Finch. They want to believe that they, at their core, are as good as Atticus Finch. But while the road to Rome may have once been lined with hundreds of martyred men nailed to crosses and each proclaiming "I am Spartacus!" - there isn't, and never has been any profusion of men like Atticus Finch.

Fifty years out and thirty million copies sold and there remains precious few of us who would stand up in the face of withering opposition and do the right thing.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Natalie Could

TCM is running a Natalie Wood film festival this month. Back
in my sane and sober youth I loved me some Natalie Wood. For
little boys of color she was the ethnic "it" girl. Russian descended
Natasha Zacharenko played white-girl-turned-Native-American
(The Searchers), Hispanic (West Side Story), Jewish (Marjorie
Morningstar) and Italian (Love With the Proper Stranger).

Wood had this ineluctable quality of being able to play both the
tomboy (Gyspy and Inside Daisy Clover) and the vixen (Gypsy
and Bob&Carol&Ted&Alice); the ingenue (West Side Story) and
the full-fledged woman (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof). She was Annette
Funicello and Marilyn Monroe rolled into one. And, for this child
of the sixties and seventies, that was a heady combination.

I felt as if I had suffered a personal loss when Wood accidentally
drowned while filming Brainstorm in 1983.


Slanty-eyed White People Playing Asians Marathon

There is a slany-eyed white people playing Asians marathon on TCM today.

Thus far this morning I have seen that great Asian actress Katharine Hepburn starring as Jade Tan in the great Chinese resistance movie Dragon Seed (1944). This movie also stars notable "Asian" actors John Huston (as patriarch Ling Tan) and Agnes Moorehead (as third cousin's wife). There is a scene where Hepburn is holding an actual asian infant that looks eerily like Kim Hunter holding a real chimpanzee in Escape from the Planet of the Apes.

Dragon Seed was followed by that great Asian actor Anthony Quinn playing Chen Ta in "China Sky" (1945).

I am currently watching those great Asian actors Paul Muni (Wang Lung) and Luise Rainer (O-lan) in The Good Earth (1937). Is Luis Rainer the only Asian to win an Academy Award for Best Actress?

The Good Earth will be followed by:

The Bitter Tea of General Yen, (1933) starring that great "Asian" actor Nils Asther."

7 Women, (1966) starring Ann Bancroft (which I may skip because all the Asians are played by Asians)

55 Days at Peking (1963)starring that great "Asian" actress Flora Robson as Empress Tzu-Hsi and notable "Asian" actor Leo Genn as Gen. Jung-Lu.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Not-So-Great Unknown

I watched the premiere episode of Persons Unknown. It achieved what I would have thought would be an impossible combination: it is giddily ridiculous and maddeningly engaging.

Instead of an island, this Lost-esque knockoff takes place in a hotel that is straight out of The Shining. You half expect Jack Nicholson to hack through a wall - "Heeere's Johnny!" - at any moment - or, at the very least to be found typing "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" ad nauseum on a manual typewriter.

Like a malevolent trickster, Persons Unknown baits and tricks you. The opening scene plays like scores of others we have seen before on countless episodes and incarnations of L&O, a single mother is distracted at a playground while her daughter wanders off and disappears. The mother lurches and screeches her daughter's name in a frantic and futile effort to find her when the authors insert a cruel twist - it is mommy who is about to show up on a milk carton. Which doesn't ratchet down your fear for the missing girl; it only acerbates it.

Then there is the bland band of abductees. These people have obviously been assembled for their particular skill sets - like the matronly white woman who conveniently knows all about biometric implants and slow-release tranquilizers - but stereotypes still abound. For instance, the black character, a trained soldier, should be the one in change but it is the generic "mysterious" white guy who consistently steps up to the mantle.

The black guy is, instead, used as sort of a mine canary. When a band of cliche-R-us refugees from a Chinese restaurant arrive to cook and serve copious amounts of Chinese food and everyone looks at it like little Mikey's siblings looked askance when first served Life cereal - "I'm NOT going to eat it!" And they don't eat it until "Little Mikey," the black guy, digs in and chows down.

"How is it?" a middle-aged white woman asks tentatively.

"Best damn Chinese food I ever had. I could eat it every day!" the black guy says as he shovels food into his mouth.

Later, when everybody reads their fortune cookies, the black guy says, "Mine is in Chinese."

Oh, yeah, the key that will unlock each of the hotel rooms where each member of the "lost" group initially and mysteriously finds him or herself is found inside each room's hotel bible.

I never would have found mine.

~rave? (I dunno. I will watch again, though)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Not Quite Wright

Just Wright, the new movie produced and starring Queen Latifa, plays like a not-so-special episode of Livin' Single, her sitcom that ran on FOX from 1993-1998. Latifa plays Leslie Wright, a 30ish, "big bone-ed," good ol' girl who is looking for love but continually finds herself in the "friend zone." Yet, full of pluck (if not much luck) Leslie sallies forth bright-eyed and bushy tailed, always leading with her big heart.

Leslie is a variation on Georgia Byrd the character Latifa played in Last Holiday but with much smaller dreams. Leslie is content with her job as a physical therapist, her old-and-busted mustard-colored Mustang and the big old house she is rehabing with the help of her father (Grey's Anatomy's James Pickens, Jr.). A chance meeting with Scott McKnight (Common), all-star point guard of the New Jersey Nets changes everything.

The casting, with the probable exception of Common (he is just tall enough to be almost believable as an NBA star) , is spot on - Pickens as Leslie's father, Pam (Coffy) Grier as her mother, Phylicia (The Cosby Show) Rashad as Common's mother and Paula (Precious) Patton as Leslie's gold-digging friend - but, with the exception of Common and Patton, this great cast is given precious little to do.

The core of the movie, the aftermath of McKnight suffering a possibly career-ending knee injury during the NBA All-Star game (improbably played at the Izod Center in New Jersey), should be his grueling rehabilitation under physical therapist Leslie's stern but capable hands, but is, instead, soft and shapeless, giving us none of the blood, sweat and tears this intense enterprise should engender.

Director Sanaa Hamri ((Something New) exhibits zero flair for framing NBA action. One wonders if she has actually seen a pro basketball game. The climatic basketball game in Teen Wolf has more dramatic tension than the game seven we-need-a-three-pointer-to-win snoozer that ushers in Wright's final act. And speaking of said game seven, we are given no sense of how this team (the Nets - Really?) has advanced to the NBA Eastern Conference finals without the "Great Scott," their biggest star, and we are given no insight into how McKnight feels about his team being so successful without him.

While most of the rom-com conventions are here, Just Wright remains sluggish in execution and lacking in drama. You sit there and you long for Hamri to set-off a Tyler Perry-esque emotional firecracker. Anything to ignite this languid enterprise.

Just Wright is anything but.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Scarjo, redux (2010)

There may be hope for the Scarjo Hotness Meter after all. After Scarlett Johansson tumbled from 2 to 34 in last year's Maxim Hot 100 (losing considerable "hotness" by marrying Ryan Reynolds) we feared for the worse but ("hail, glory!") she has rebounded to number 14 and made the SHM respectable again.

Using the recalibrated SHM, where Scarjo is par for the course, the ubiquitous Zoe Saldana is a -11. Rihanna is a -8. Eva Mendez is a -3. Selita Ebanks is a +2.

Dania Ramirez +16
Jessica Alba +20
Gabrielle Union +43

And, for the third year in a row, Halle Berry and Rosario Dawson remain so hot they are OFF the Scarjo Hotness Meter.


Friday, May 7, 2010

Imma Be

Emma has been replaced by Isabella as the most popular girl's name.

I love Isabella as a girl's name. Isabella Rossellini is one of my
favorite names to roll around in my mouth. But Isabella should
not be a popular (or common) name. What are these parents

Emma is such a good and plain name. Anybody can carry that
name around. There are very few women who have the beauty
and sweet, ineffable "lightness" of feminine being to carry a name
like Isabella (which means "My God is a Vow," incidentally).

When my children were young, I sent them to a private
Montessori school where there was this precious Chinese girl
named Isabella. I thought Isabella was the oddest name for an
Asian girl but little Isabella embodied that name in every
sense of the name.

This will not be true of every poor Isabella burdened with this
currently hot name.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

She Creature

I stumbled across this movie on thrillerMAX this afternoon:
Mermaid Chronicles Part 1: She Creature (2001). I am surprised
I haven't seen this before as it stars Carla Gugino, a personal fave,
and is directed by Sebastian Gutierrez (who also directed my
favorite C. Gugino movie:
Judas Kiss).

She Creature showcases Gugino in various stages of Victorian dress and undress in addition to featuring a red-haired, nekkid-from-the-waist-up (who later grows legs and becomes completely naked) mermaid played by Rya Kihlstedt. What happens after that ain't so pretty.

Gugino has apparently become Gutierrez' muse. She also stars in his movies Women in Trouble (2009), where she plays a character named Elektra Luxx, and Elektra Luxx (2010), where she plays a character named Electra Luxx. Ms. Kihlstedt is also a frequent Gutierrez player. She is in both Women in Trouble and Elektra Luxx.

Gutierrez also directed a movie called Rise (2007) starring Lucy Liu as a female reporter who wakes up in a morgue to find herself a member of the undead. She vows revenge against the sect that put her there and hunts them down. This movie also features Ms. Gugino.

I have already added Women in Trouble and Rise to my Netflix queue. Elektra Luxx is on my "saved" list.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Iron Marvel

If Iron Man 2 is the first tent pole of the summer of 2010, Hollywood should sigh a huge sigh of relief.

Iron Man 2 may be the best movie sequel since James Cameron's Aliens. I would invoke The Godfather 2 - possibly the greatest movie sequel ever - but, like Aliens, Iron Man 2 is still fun, retaining all the chills, spills and thrills of the original while spiffing up the whole enterprise with some honest-to-goodness grown-up angst, and taking it up a notch.

There is so much that could have gone wrong with this sequel. Rushed into production after 1's surprising and unexpected success in 2008, Iron Man 2 is in theaters a scant two years later. To put this in perspective, The Dark Knight, the one billion dollar gorilla of the summer of 2008, won't be back in theaters until 2012. Usually, rushing an unscripted sequel to the box office this soon leads to Batman and Robin size debacles.

But such is not the case. Iron Man 2 snaps, crackles and pops with the ebullient insouciance that made 1 such an unexpected delight. Everything is better in 2. Mickey Rourke's Ivan Vanko is better than Jeff Bridges' Obadiah Stone, Don Cheadle is a significant upgrade in the James "Rhodey" Rhodes role, Sam Rockwell is his usual cock-squirrelly best as Justin Hammer (Solieri to Stark's Mozart) and there may not be a better melding of actor to character than Robert Downey, Jr. essaying his role as industrialist/bon vivant Tony Stark.

Unfortunately, while Scarlett Johansson scores as super-efficient Natalie Rushman/Romanoff, she is less effective in her Black Widow catsuit. Favreau and his team employ some funky special effects to augment her limited martial art skills and it is more disorienting than impressive. Yet, even this scene is saved by the visual and verbal quips frequently provided by writer Justin Theroux (Tropic Thunder).

It is action that sells this type of enterprise and the "two men enter one man leaves" ethos of the first Whiplash/Iron Man "cage match" and the War Machine/Iron Man clash-of-the-titans are visceral and brutal. The only thing better than the mano-a-mano is ol' Shellhead standing back-to-back with Rhodey as Danko and an army of war machines advance on them.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Come Back Little J-Lo

The Back-Up Plan, Jennifer Lopez's cinematic come-back vehicle, fits neatly into her film catalog. It is a middling project probably a step or two above Maid in Manhattan but not quite as good as The Wedding Planner, which may be the zenith of the J-lo oeuvre. Still, the Plan is not without its charms.

As far as cinema chicas go, Lopez is the bridge that gets you from Rosie Perez to Jessica Alba and, thus far, she is only one who has successfully top-lined a movie. Plan is the seventh movie Lopez has starred in, beginning with Selena, but her first since 2005's Monster-in-Law (which took in a hearty $155 million worldwide). In the meantime, in-between time, she has co-starred in three movies, El Cantante (with her husband Marc Anthony), Bordertown (with Antonio Banderas) and An Unfinished Life (with Robert Redford) that have a total haul of $33 million at the box office.

Then there is the matter of La Lo's age. Twenty-eight when she winningly portrayed the Twenty-three year-old Selena, Lopez is now forty-one. As Julia Roberts ruefully demonstrated in the box office failure Duplicity, it is much more difficult to sell plucky ingenue-ness at forty-two than it was at twenty-two (Pretty Woman). The camera is no longer kind to Roberts, and Lopez, just two years younger, is awash in the same danger water.

Let's not get it twisted, Lopez still looks awesome. Too awesome , perhaps, to play maternal clock challenged, pet shop owning Zoe who, with all her ducks in a row (minus one), decides to get herself inseminated by an anonymous sperm donor. Feeling giddy and with nothing able to rain on her parade, Zoe runs into Stan (Alex O'Laughlin) and fitfully realizes he is "the one" she had been waiting for all her life. Still, as played by the sleek and well-toned Lopez, one can't imagine this particular woman risking her fabulousness with a pregnancy.

All the essentials of modern romantic comedy are here: the "meet cute"; the initial mutual dislike; the dislike that turns into like; the like that turns to love; the love that leads to misunderstandings; the misunderstandings that leads to break-up; and the realization that leads to love and reconciliation.

The push-me/pull-you of The Back-Up Plan mirrors the broadly played mood swings of the lead character. A laugh out loud scene will be directly followed by a scene that will bring you down faster than a double-bill of Gigli and Jersey Girl.

O'Laughlin, 34, who has had respectable runs on little seen series (Three Rivers and Moonlight), plays the overwhelmed, exasperated and oft put upon Stan, who becomes not only J'Lo's main man but our man. Clearly enamored, Stan stands pat in the face of Zoe's frequent bouts of angst and insecurity. I mean, I realize Zoe is pregnant, but geez louise!, can a cheese-making farmer/econ student catch a break?

This being a movie about pregnancy, there are lots of body fluids to deal with including but not limited to vomit, urine and excrement. And surprisingly, each one elicits unexpected if not surprising gales of laughter. Let me insert here that comedian Robert Klein gooses the film nicely with his portrayal of Lopez's gynecologist.

Speaking of the sixty-three year-old Klein, it is jarring to see eighty-three year-old Tom Bosley (say it isn't so, Mr. C!) and seventy-three year old Linda Lavin (Alice) as Lopez's grandmother and her geriatric fiancé. It doesn't seem possible that these actors, who had their heydays from the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties, could have gotten this old. Bosley, who is playing a ninety-three year-old in the film, looks too old for the part.

My heyday was also in the late to middle seventies and eighties. I am scared to look in a mirror.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Death Becomes Them

Neil LaBute's remake of Death at a Funeral is both faithful and radically different from director Frank Oz's original. Recasting the movie with a primarily African-American actors colors everything while casting white actors in two of the showcase roles retains familiarity.

Death reunites Chris Rock with LaBute who directed him in Nurse Betty. For my money, Betty was the first movie where Rock played an actual human being instead of a caricature of one. There was real menace in Wesley, the junior hitman Rock played in Betty. And, under LaBute's direction, there is some of that in Death. But whereas Nurse Betty was a black comedy, Death is a black comedy, and a frequently hilarious one at that.

Edward (played by legendary stunt man Bob Minor) has passed and eldest son Aaron (Rock) has been given the responsibility of giving his father a proper send-off. Complications ensue when his childless wife (Regina Hall), who is ovulating, wants to engage in a quickie before the wedding. This is acerbated by constant diatribes about not having any grandchildren uttered by his grieving mother (Loretta Divine).

Making love to his wife is the last thing on Aaron's mind. Among his many responsibilities, he has to finish writing his eulogy, which he is writing against the wishes of his extended family. To add insult to injury, his famous brother (Martin Lawrence), a best-selling author everyone else wants to write the eulogy, arrives with Louis Vuitton luggage but nothing to contribute to the mounting funeral expenses.

Then there is the matter of Oscar (James Marsden) the fiancé of cousin Elaine (Zoe Saldana) who has mistakenly been given acid instead of a Valium to calm his nerves at the prospect of once again enduring the blistering disdain of Elaine's disapproving father, Duncan (Ron Glass).

Marsden (Scott Summers/Cyclops in the X-Men movies) turns in an surprisingly nuanced, touching and hilarious performance as his drug addled character blissfully destroys the decorum of Edward's funeral.

That is, the decorum that is not upended by the arrival of Frank (Peter Dinklage reprising his role from the original) and his disconcerting news for Edward's sons.

The biggest laughs in the movie come during a scene involving Tracy Morgan, Danny Glover and Columbus Short and may be the funniest scene involving the porcelain goddess since Sergeant Roger Murtaugh (Glover) discovered a bomb under his loo in Lethal Weapon 2.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Sum of All Parts

I just saw the movie Dororo based on the manga comics of the same name. The movie is an epic, odd and moving mishmash of Frankenstein, Pinocchio, Edward Scissorhands, the Karate Kid, and the story of Moses, if all those stories had taken place in feudal Japan during the age of Samurais.

At the heart of Dororo is an incredibly silly and wondrously irresistible premise: the warlord Kagemitsu Daigo has made a pact with demons - in exchange for giving him the wherewithal to rule the world, he will allow the demons to take 48 body parts from his unborn son (the demons need the human body parts so they can deceive and wreck havoc and mayhem).

Daigo knows his deal has been sealed when his son is born without arms, legs, mouth, nose, eyes, ears, liver, heart and forty other undisclosed body parts. Daigo wants to kill his newborn son who, sans heart and other vital organs, still lives and breathes (or a facimile thereof since he doesn't have a mouth or lungs). Daigo's wife intervenes, places the baby in a woven basket and sets it adrift on the river.

The baby is found by Jukai, an alchemist-healer who proceeds to turn our hero into a real boy via miraculous prosthetic limbs and organs. The deaf, dumb, blind kid (who will wield a mean set of demon-slaying swords/hands) is also given a clockwork heart that allows him to see and hear (How does he see? With his heart!).

When Jukai dies, Hyakkimaru sets out in the world to kill demons and retrieve his stolen body parts. Every time he discovers and dispatches a demon, his prosthetic parts are replaced by real parts.

Hyakkimaru is joined on his quest by the feral girl-thief, Dororo, who is masquerading as a boy. Dororo's father is killed by Daigo's dark army and she has vowed to stay a boy until she has avenged her dead parents.

Satoshi Tsumabuki as Hyakkimaru and Ko Shibasaki as Dororo, an alleged couple in real life, are fetching and compelling as the stars of this movie. Filmed in New Zealand by director Akihiko Shiota (with the beautifully acrobatic sword fights choreographed by Hong Kong master Siu-Tung Ching), Dororo rises above its hokey and unconvincing demons, a mishmash of bad special effects and worse CGI, to wring actual emotion out its outlandish premise. Improbably, it makes you care and long for parts two and three, the promised sequels.


Monday, April 5, 2010

Tyler Perry Land

Tyler Perry Land is a piece of intellectual property as valuable and deep-seeded as Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville. It ain't real estate but it is where Mr. Perry's characters live. So you can complain of false motivations and false emotions if you want while Why Did I Get Married Too?, Tyler Perry's latest opus, mines the same lucrative vein of middle-brow humor and angst he has worked for years.

The gang's all here from Why Did I Get Married only it is four years later and the locale for confrontations and shocking revelations has moved from the snow white of Colorado to the white sand of the Bahamas. There has been much adding and subtracting. Dianne (Sharon Leal) had relented and given Terry (Tyler Perry) the son he desperately wanted while Sheila (Jill Scott) has traded up from Mike (Richard T. Jones) to Troy (Lamman Rucker) and made Troy a proud papa, too (Officer Troy's deep well of bed-rock confidence, so appealing in WDIGM, was apparently left in Colorado when he and Sheila relocated to Atlanta so she could be closer to her family and friends). Meanwhile, Marcus' (Michael Jai White) career is on the ascent while Angela's (Tasha Smith) has been buffeted by the recession. The only couple maintaining status quo appears to be Patricia (Janet Jackson) and Gavin (Malik Yoba).

The wheres and whys of a Tyler Perry plot are often too tortuous, ridiculous and/or fantastic to repeat but he understands how to play his peculiar and particular audience, cueing up tears, laughter, hoots of recognition all the while retaining the ability to shock if not surprise. Perry's plays taught him how to please an audience, how to clown like a master and how to move people with jokes and a song. It is a stage savvy; a performer's savvy. In years of relentless touring with his self-authored and self-financed plays, Perry has learned and honed a craft.


Friday, April 2, 2010

Avatar to the IMAX

It is hard to believe anything can surpass the experience of watching Avatar in 3-D. Then James Cameron and crew takes it up a notch and releases the movie in the IMAX format. And I am not talking about seeing it at some rinky-dink flat IMAX screen, I am talking about crystal clear images on a six-story-tall screen with wraparound digital surround sound at an IMAX® Dome Theater.

Settling back in your stadium seat and seeing the movie unspool in front of you, above you and on either side of you is a transcendent experience. Filmed to take advantage of the full IMAX experience, Avatar has so much to engage the eye and ear it is sometimes hard to decide what to focus on.

And all of it is spectacular, stupendous, marvelous - you lose track of superlatives.

This format allows you to appreciate the proper scale of the ten-foot tall Navi and the majesty of Hometree. The flora and fauna is awe-inspiring and the predators are truly menacing. "That was scary!" my seventeen year-old daughter exclaimed as Jake Scully (Sam Worthington) made a hairbreadth escape.

The photo-realism is stunning. With the world of Paradox literally wrapped around you, everything is heightened: the drama, the suspense; even the romance. You can actually look into Neytiri's face and see every facet of her large, expressive eyes.


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tale of the Titans

First things first. If you are asked to pay more to watch Clash of the Titans on the big screen in 3-D, don't waste your money. There is absolutely no bang for your 3-D buck. Clash was not originally conceived or filmed as a 3-D movie and this becomes quite evident in climatic scenes that beg for the 3-D treatment but, oddly, do not get it. Tellingly the best use of 3-D in the entire movie is when the CLASH OF THE TITANS title flashes on the screen at the beginning and the end of the film. Woo! Woo!

For anybody who has seen the original Clash of the Titans (1981), the new Clash is a knockoff in several regards. First of all, the first Clash was top-lined by Sir Lawrence Olivier (Zeus), Claire Bloom (Hera), Maggie Smith (Thetis) and Ursula Andress (Aphrodite) while the new Clash features Liam Neeson (as Zeus), Luke Evans (as Apollo) and Izabella Miko (as Athena). Fiennes does his best Lord Voldemort shtick as the God of the Underworld but his Hades is another odd add on, replacing the god Poseidon. The star power of the actors playing the gods is not the only thing that has been devalued in Olympus. The goddesses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite, who have prominent roles in both the original myth and movie, have been almost completely excised in the new movie.

Then there is the matter of Sam Worthington's portrayal of the demi-god Perseus. In the original, the kewpie-lipped Harry Hamlin actually looked as if he had been kissed by the gods. Worthington, on the other hand, is another slab of Aussie lumber from Down Under, a blunt piece of wood who goes about his hero's journey with a sullen, stolid resolve. Worthington's performance coupled with Louis Leterrier's (Transporter 2) direction robs Clash of most of its wonder and magic and turns it into another grim retribution flick, albeit one with flying horses and chicks with snakes for braids.

The love story between our hero and Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) has been completely jettisoned and replaced with a completely contrived relationship between Worthington and Gemma Arteton (Io). That said, Clash is satisfactory in a Harry Potter sort of way, with well-trained British actors slumming amidst competently executed special effects. The Kraken and the Gorgon Medusa are given impressive life on the screen and the Pegasus is a wonderfully impressive creation. It is not a terrible way to spend an evening. It is also not necessary to see it in 3-D.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Less than Wonderful

I saw Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland and I was powerfully underwhelmed. Unlike my Avatar experience, the glasses were large and clunky and whole thing felt like watching a movie through one of those old View-masters - a sincere sensation when I was twelve - not so much now.

Whereas Tim Burton's original flights of fancy (Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands), were and are often exhilarating, there is something somnambulant and sleep inducing about director Tim Burton's remakes (Planet of the Apes, Alice).

Oddly, I was more enchanted by the flashbacks featuring Alice's first Wonderland visit as a young girl than I was by her feminist's progress as a headstrong young woman. This movie might as well be titled Merchant and Ivory's Alice in Wonderland - in 3-D. There is obviously an audience for this; it just doesn't include me.

I will say Helena Bonham Carter is a big-headed hoot as the Red Queen and Crispin Glover is appropriately dastardly as her wicked knave.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Game of Death

As a metaphor for being poor and immigrant, In America features the most insidious arcade game I have ever seen. A barker conjoles you to spend a dollar to win an Elmo doll. All you have to do is throw three baseball sized balls into the mouth of an aluminum drain pipe (that is surrounded by happy little Elmo dolls). The catch is, if you fail to place all three balls into the mouth of the pipe, you pay the barker double - but it is double or nothing. If you wager another $2 and you win, you owe nothing. If you lose you owe $4 in addition to the original $2 you lost. But, once again, if you wager another $8 and you win you owe nothing. But, if you lose, you owe $16. If you quit while you are ahead but behind you are now out of $26. But if you bet just $32 and you win, well you owe nothing. Do the math. You can walk away $26 poorer but for just $8 more you could owe nothing AND win an Elmo doll. Shoot, that's almost breaking even. So you pony up ANOTHER $32 dollars. And lose. Now you owe another $64 dollars. Now you are in for $90 but in you just wager another 128 dollars...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

American the Beautiful

I just finished watching Jim Sheridan's In America. I remembered when this little film got three Oscar nominations back in 2004 (Best Actress for Samantha Morton, Best Supporting Actor for Djimon Hounsou and Best Screenplay for Sheridan). At the time I was like WTF? because I had never heard of it (it made $25 million at the box office, which is kinda impressive because I don't know anybody who saw it). I was intrigued primarily because of Hounsou's Supporting Actor nod (like Denzel Washington's Glory character Trip, who "ran for President," Hounsou didn't win).

Well, I just saw it and it is a remarkable little film. Both the acting nods were well deserved and, frankly, Paddy Considine should have been nominated for Best Actor as well for he carries much of the movie.

Hounsou's performance is problematic because it is the archetypal "magic negro" role. I won't spoil the ending for you but you know what happens to magical negroes, don't you? (They win Academy Award supporting actor and actress nominations).

Also, the Irish immigrant family embodied by Considine, Morton and the wonderfully guileless Bolger sisters, Sarah and Emma, seem to land in a pastel-colored, magical-realist New York City. Sure, times are hard and they live in a tenement, but the girls roller skate on hardwood floors, attend Catholic school and walk unmolested to an old fashioned ice cream parlor run by African immigrants.

Still, the movie is full of wonderful little grace notes and is worthy of all the awards it won.


Monday, March 22, 2010


Apparently there is a gay couple on Desperate Housewives (I wouldn't know - I haven't watched since the Alfre Woodard train wreck season). My 17 year-old daughter, who is a devout fan of the show, tells me the relationship doesn't bother her because "they never do anything."

All of this was brought up by my coming late (as usual) to the on-line dust up that has arisen around ABC 's daytime drama One Life to Live's decision to end their "Kish" gay-themed story arc. "Kish" is a cutesy mash up of the character names of Kyle and Fish who, since 2009, have engaged in the sin that "dare not speak its name" without, apparently, ever engaging in the sin that dare not speak its name. Embarrassingly, for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, GLAAD had just honored OLTL for showing a positive portrayal of gay life.

What I find interesting is how Mark Cherry, who is gay, has spoon fed this storyline to mass America. Darren Starr and the gay writers and producers of Sex in the City (which I continue to insist is a thinly veiled expose of being white, gay and fabulous in NYC) also found a way to integrate safe, viewer-friendly gays into their narrative.

Other "minorities" have also done this. The Dick Van Dyke Show, one of the whitest shows ever to to hit the airways, was actually a faux reality show about Jewish writer/producer Carl Reiner's real life in a predominantly Jewish New York suburb (which is why the very Jewish "Helpers," played by Jerry Paris and Ann Morgan Guibert, live next door).

When the Soprano's David Chase became the producer of Northern Exposure, all of a sudden we discover that Cicely, Alaska has a Sicilian enclave. Who knew?

Likewise, Grey's Anatomy producer Shonda Rhimes has inserted Chandra Wilson's Dr. Miranda Bailey as her personal doppleganger. There are probably other racial avatars in "Anatomy" that I am not yet aware of.

Wouldn't it be nice if writers of all stripes could write to their heart's content without this obfuscation?


Monday, March 15, 2010

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner, Now

Our Family Wedding is the latest entry in the Guess Who's Coming to Dinner oeuvre of awkward interracial mixing and matching. The one constant of these movies is that the black person is "the catch," in many ways more attractive, gifted and talented than the object of their affection (0kay, Guess Who's Ashton Kutcher may be prettier than Zoe Saldana, but his character is also unemployed) and all could, obviously, do better. The on-going conceit is that the black half of these matches has to be this fabulous just to be palatable to the ostensibly "better" family they are marrying into. There may be a black man in the White House but it remains the same as it was in 1967; the same as it was in 2005; and the same as it will be in this post-racial society - allegedly.

At first blush, Wedding is more faithful to Dinner than the clunky Guess Who remake starring Kutcher and Bernie Mac. Marcus Boyd, the too-good-to-be-true doctor played by Lance Gross (Tyler Perry's House of Pain), is a direct descendant of Sidney Poitier's Dr. John Wade Prentice. Dr. Boyd is not only handsome and intelligent, he is also kind, well bred and selfless. It is his decision to join Doctors Without Borders in Thailand that precipitates the ensuing complications and shenanigans.

Top lined by Forest Whittaker and comedian Carlos Mencia, Wedding is better balanced than both its predecessors. Mencia's years as a stand-up comedian allows him to employ a nervy confidence that enables him to more than hold his own with Academy Award winner Whittaker. By the same token, Whittaker's lazy-eyed homeliness brings a bashed gravitas to his portrayal of suave late night radio host Brad Boyd - you can see the pride and hurt of his 49 years as a black man on his face. Boyd is a bon vivant who appreciates both fine art and fine wine while Mencia, the owner of a detail and body shop, is an exacting craftsman who is lovingly restoring a classic car to give his daughter as a gift when she graduates from law school.

Wedding is surprisingly balanced in other ways, too. We get to see Marcus' interact with his father, an unrepentant ladies' man, his outspoken uncle (Charlie Murphy) and his preppy, milquetoast cousin (an uncredited cameo by Taye Diggs) while his intended, Lucia Ramirez' (Ugly Betty's America Ferrera) interacts with her unfulfilled mother (Diana-Maria Riva), her tomboy sister (Anjelah Johnson) and her outspoken grandmother (Real Woman Has Curves' Lupe Ontiveros). Lastly, we are allowed to see the playful "bromance" between Whittaker and his best friend (Southland's Regina King) while it evolves into something more as they take the lead in planning Marcus and Lucia's last minute wedding.

There are herks and jerks to Wedding, unfunny wild goat and Viagra jokes to mention a few, but, on the whole, this is a more than moderately pleasing enterprise ending, as it does, in a fond melding of electric slide and mariachi band as the Boyd and Ramirez families decide to keep the best of both their worlds with neither having to give up their cherished cultural identities.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Complexion of the Situation

I was listening to a local morning sports talk show and one of the topics was about whether or not the National Basketball Association (NBA) was a "thug league." I found this topic interesting, especially on the morning after a National Hockey League (NHL) player had knocked off the other player's helmet and then proceeding to assault the player with said helmet. But, apparently, that wasn't a topic worth discussing. When I called in to challenge the notion of the NBA being a "thug league" and asked why fighting was appropriate for the NHL (a league where men wear razor sharp skates and carry club like sticks) and inappropriate in the NBA ( a league where men virtually play in their skivvies), I was told that "fighting was part of the NHL's culture."

Say what? Back in the primordial age, when the NBA was as white as the NHL, basketball games were a rough and tumble affair that were actually played inside cages - which is why, in some quadrants, basketball players are still called "cagers." Even after the complexion of the league changed, on court fights and bench-clearing brawls were part of the NBA's culture. Just like in today's NHL, enforcers like Rick Mahorn and Maurice Lucas patrolled the hardwood providing muscle for their more talented and fleet-footed teammates. People tend to forget that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar broke his hand and, for all intents and purposes, center Kent Benson's career with a hard shot to his jaw - this a few short months before the famous Kermit Washington to Rudy Tomjanovich "punch that changed basketball forever."

Current NBA commissioner David Stern, then the NBA's chief counsel, later said that the incident made NBA officials realize that "we couldn't allow men that big and that strong to go around throwing punches at each other." Interestingly, the NHL feels no need to impose such a sanction even though their players, on average, are bigger, travel faster (on skates) and wield club-like sticks. Many hockey players have taken sticks to the face and are missing teeth but this is considered a badge of honor.

The ridiculousness continues on the race track where NASCAR drivers are allowed to settle beefs by ramming into one another at ungodly speeds. Last week at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, Carl Edwards sent fellow driver Brad Keselowski airborne by clipping his car from behind. This is not the first wreck between Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards. At last year's race in Talladega, Alabama, Brad Keselowski sent Carl Edwards out of the race that Edwards would have won had Keselowski not have wrecked into him.

Former race car driver Rusty Wallace defended Edward's retaliation.
Some of his comments:
"It's all about respect."
"About time Brad paid his dues."
"Nobody likes getting knocked around."
"Everybody in the sport - loves it"
(If someone messed with him) "I stuck his butt in the wall!"

Apparently everyone understands "honor," and "manhood rites." Except when it applies to a league populated primarily with players of the African-American persuasion.

Then, of course, this kind of behavior, will NOT be tolerated.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Android, my android

Byung-chun Min’s Natural City is both shockingly new and maddeningly derivative. At once, you can see its antecedents: Blade Runner, The Fifth Element, The Matrix, and Battlestar Galactica to name four off the top of my head, and a slew of other South Korean movies I have viewed recently. Much of this has been done and seen before, yet there is something fresh and compelling about the story of R and Ria the droid who loves him.

The plot twist that propels Natural City is the shockingly short lifespan of the androids, both military cyborgs and pleasure dolls: they only live for three years. There is even an aural countdown as repeated public service announcements remind the droid owners of their planned obsolescence and of how to dispose of them. Further, the droids themselves wind down as they near their end.

This is a wrenching reality for the rogue military policeman known only as R ((Ji-tae Yu, Won-mo in Lady Vengeance and Won-jin Lee in Old Boy). He has fallen for a doll who dances at a night club owned by a mobster with whom R has done dirty business. Ria ((Rin Seo), nearing her expiration date, no longer has the coordination to dance and R talks the club owner into giving her to him in exchange for chips R illegally liberates from defunct cyborgs to sell on the black market. It is the first of many bad deals R will make in order to save his doll.

R’s desire to rescue Ria dovetails with the plans of a renegade cyborg named Cypher (Jeong Doo-Hong) and the diabolical plans of the enigmatic Dr. Giro, all of which revolve around a gamine-eyed sex worker/fortune teller named Cyon (Jae-un Lee).

The post war world of Natural City is beautifully rendered, with a gleaming new metropolis co-existing next to the partially submerged old city (the movie was filmed in Busan, Korea and in Thailand). There are Fifth Element-esque flying cars and Blade Runner-esque barrios and noodle bars. The wire work of the choreographed fight scenes are impressive but lack a certain wow factor because it has all been seen before. Some visceral excitement is goosed from the brutal firefights between the black clad military police and the black battle droids but it is often difficult to tell who is shooting who.

While Natural City is worth seeing, it is, on final reckoning, unsatisfying. A much better movie seems to be lurking in the sum of its uneven and diverse parts.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Criminally Good

Shutter Island begins with a woozy, sea-sick U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and neither he nor the audience will gain their equilibrium for the next two hours and twenty minutes. Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel of the same name, is a wonderfully actualized piece of filmmaking. Scorsese has concocted a savory stew out of Lehane’s story of paranoid isolation and ever ratcheting psychological trauma. Stripped of their guns – and their power - at the ironclad gates of the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane, Daniels and his new partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) are set adrift on a remote and barren penal colony where everybody is a suspect and no one is a reliable narrator. Saturated with color, and full of elements as primal as a hurricane, Shutter Island plays like the kind of movie Alfred Hitchcock would have made - if Hitchcock had had Scorsese’s prodigious talent.

Shutter Island may be the best movie Scorsese has ever made. It is Casino good. Masterly directed and sure-footed, Shutter Island shows all the colors of Scorsese’s palette without any of the showy pretentiousness that sometimes upstaged his earlier work. Everything he has learned about camera placement and movement is utilized here but all is in employed to illuminate and advance the story. Some of the framing is absolutely gorgeous. Shutter Island is Scorsese’s valedictory turn.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Little Black Girl

A stranger was seated next to a little black girl on the airplane
when the stranger turned to her and said, “Let's talk. I've heard
that flights go quicker if you strike up a conversation with your
fellow passenger.”

The little girl, who had just opened her coloring book, closed it
slowly and said to the stranger, “What would you like to talk

“Oh, I don't know,” said the stranger. “Since you are an Afro-
American, do you think that So-called President Barak Obama is
qualified for the job?” and he smiles.

“OK”, she said. 'That could be an interesting topic. But let me ask
you a question first. A horse, a cow, and a deer all eat the same
stuff - grass. Yet a deer excretes little pellets, while a cow turns
out a flat patty, and a horse produces clumps of dried grass.
Why do you suppose that is?”

The stranger, visibly surprised by the little girl's intelligence, thinks
about it and says, “Hmmm, I have no idea.”

To which the little girl replies, “Do you really feel qualified to discuss
President Barak Obama...when you don't know shit?”

The Help Haiti Didn't Receive

My first column as a new Community Columnist for the
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

New West Morality Tales

I watched two episodes of Have Gun, Will Travel this morning. The first "No Visitors" concerns a wagon master who considers himself a prophet of God. The wagon master places a town under his thrall by uniting them in fear, bigotry and self-serving religiosity. The town has ostracized the one town doctor (June Lockhart)because of her gender and has banded together to prevent Paladin from bringing a woman and her sick child into town. They choose to believe the bible toting wagon master who says the child has typhoid fever instead of the doctor who diagnoses the malady as a case of three day measles. It turns out the pompous wagon master had left the woman and her child to die in the wilderness because she had spurned his lecherous attempts to "marry" her when her husband died - announcing that God had told him it was his "duty" to do so. It is telling that this episode with its thinly veiled metaphors is as topical today as it was in 1957.

The second episode, "Scorched Feather" is written by Bruce Geller (Mission: Impossible) and concerns Monsieur Robert Cielbleu who hires Paladin to protect former scout Billy Blueskies (Lon Chaney, Jr.) from a young but dreaded Comanche war chief. Cielbleu is the son of Billy Blueskies and Blueskies has spent a lot of money buying an education, refinement and social respectability for his son. Turns out Cielbleu and the Comanche war chief are the same person - a result of a liaison Blueskies had with a Comanche woman - a woman who dies in an army massacre made possible by Blueskies scouting. So, in essence, Blueskies' refined, educated "passing" son has hired Paladin to protect his father from his other "true" identity, the blood thirsty, revenge seeking Comanche who wants to avenge his mother's death. The young man has literally gone schizoid, trying to live in two different cultures, and is trying to honor both his father and his mother. Good stuff.