Kerry is a New England Patriot!
This morning it was pointed out to me that John Kerry looks a lot like Andrew Jackson. See for yourself here. The similarity is so striking that perhaps he is the reincarnation of the former president, and he has come back from the dead to reclaim his throne. Or something.

Other comparisons have been made, notably his resemblance to the New England Patriot logo. Naturally, this would cause some people to have schisms. There is no other purpose here.


Movie Speeches
In keeping with today's theme of "all play and no work makes Matt a literate boy", Jaquandor found a site which is dedicated to speeches. Notably, for me, it even has a section for speeches made in movies, and their sound clips.

It's a pretty good list. I supposed I shouldn't be shocked that one movie isn't mentioned at all for its famous rules explanation clip. I am, of course, referring to Fight Club (the clip is here, FYI).

However, I was glad to see my favorite two speeches appear, both from the same movie. They are done back-to-back in the underrated classic, Other People's Money. Two charismatic leaders, played by the late Gregory Peck and Danny Devito, spar off in a stockholder's meeting debate, presenting both sides of a potential company buyout with wit, wisdom, and poignancy. If nothing else, it's an education into what stocks are all about. Listen or read Peck's first, and then the finale. Obey.
Two Cents for Six Titles
Not to be confused with Two Mules for Sister Sara -- great flick, that. No, this is about the recent title release of the sixth and last Star Wars film in the saga, Revenge of the Sith. Exciting times, these -- nowhere else will you get as much hype and anticipation over the title of a film that won't be out for 294 days (estimated). Nor has there been as much angst about title choices. I've been alive and conscious for every title announcement, and, the classic trilogy included, this is the first time that a title has been, more-or-less, universally praised.

I have this CNN video-clip of Ewan McGregor's (with Nicole Kidman) reaction to the naming of Episode II, and it is priceless. I don't have a link to it anymore, but here's a transcription:

    EWAN and NICOLE are at a Moulin Rouge promo. A reporter is in mid-interview.

    Ewan, did you hear the title for the new Star Wars movie?

    Yes, yes I did!

    NICOLE (to Ewan)
    What is it?

    It's called 'Attack of the Clones'.

    NICOLE takes a beat to absorb this. Then:

    NICOLE (disbelief)

    EWAN (nearly bursting into laughter)
    It is!

    They look at each other and laugh.

Not too good when you have the actors in the film reacting that way. The reaction was different for The Phantom Menace; not so much ridicule as confusion. It didn't sound like a Star Wars title. Another criticism was it was too confusing and vague of a title -- what did it mean? Ironically, this was in tune with what happens in the movie.

Even the vaunted Empire Strikes Back was ridiculed for its Saturday-afternoon-matinee cheeseball title. It hardly even seems like the title could be questioned these days. [As for the original, hardly anyone (who wasn't a fan) even knew the real title of the film, so that one doesn't apply here.] Return of the Jedi was originally titled Revenge of the Jedi (see below), but realizing that emotion wouldn't be part of being a Jedi (rightly so), Lucas changed it a few months before the premiere. Fans liked the more menacing 'Revenge' title because it sounded cooler, and there was a lot of negative fan response. Now, two decades later, they finally get their wish.

The Force.Net noticed that ESPN this week, on the Daily Quickie, ranked the top 5 Star Wars names as thus:
    Empire Strikes Back: How gutsy to use for a sequel
    Revenge of the Sith: How nasty does THAT sound?
    Attack of the Clones: Meant what it said
    Return of the Jedi: Originally “Revenge”
    A New Hope: How innocent it was!
In keeping with this ranking, and looking for something to do on this slow work day, here's the REAL rankings:
  1. Return of the Jedi: Even though the film isn't my favorite, I think it's a great title. Snappy, accurate, and bonus points for having the word 'Jedi' in it.
  2. Revenge of the Sith: I agree with the fan reactions; sounds bad ass. Much better than 'Birth of the Empire' would have been. Plus, 'Sith' factor.
  3. The Empire Strikes Back: Classic and menacing. Like 'Sith', you know it's going to be a dark film.
  4. The Phantom Menace: I admit it. I like the title. But not good enough to beat any of the big three. It's only just a bit better than...
  5. Attack of the Clones: Because Ewan McGregor has ruined it for me. Love the movie, but I can't say the title without sometimes slipping into his Scottish accent. And giggling.
  6. A New Hope: Limp.
And that's the way it is.

AND ANOTHER THING: Just in time to capitalize on the frenzy of the title release, the official site is offering a Revenge of the Sith t-shirt, styled in the same manner as the rare Revenge of the Jedi t-shirts that were distributed in 1982 before the title was changed. Please don't order me one; it's already on the way ;). DORK ALERT!!
Audience Reaction
One of the things that writers need is feedback. It is invaluable to know that someone has read and liked (or disliked -- aghast) what you have put out there, but even more so when those people give you some kind of usable responses. Not only is it part of the learning process, but, moreso, it's kinda cool. Blogging or writing scripts or books (I know, I know -- I slack) are ostensibly to post opinions, witticisms, and stories for reader consumption. But without getting something back, I might as well put them in a diary and lock them away. And then you'd be sorry.

Yesterday's little post about Obama (truthfully, I'd never even heard the name until Jaquandor's post), elicited a couple of interesting comments from my friends. And I know where they both live. Needless to say, they both got me thinking. They both made party-line criticisms (which is not to discount them) about my rather silly political post. I really had no intention of making a political statement, but rather an observation that related to a film (which, of course, is the only way I interact successfully with society).

Firstly, the "roommate" (whose identity is as well kept a secret as our president's middle initial) said:
    I get your point and I think it's legitimate... provided the president doesn't rely on weak/exaggerated intelligence to justify dragging the country into a war he "believes is right". To put it plainly - does the end justify the means?
Firstly, the term 'dragging' should be applied to those who share that point-of-view, and not necessarily this country in which millions others of us don't believe we were 'dragged'. The intelligence, which was shared with all the member of congress and the allies, was enough for our legislature to vote yes to invading Iraq way back in 2002. Even so, mere intelligence isn't enough to prompt a full-scale invasion of another country. There has to be higher objectives and/or perceived threats to commit a nation to this level of interaction. (If you want to read a good summary overall, go here.) I think the disagreement you present is based on your perception of our administration's agenda.

I am guessing that you (and many others) perceive the Bush administration as doing this for either a war-mongering or daddy-revenge reason, and I (and others, again) perceive it in strategic terms. I take this as a difference in belief and perception, such as how one could see Hillary Clinton as a 'spurious bitch' and others see her as a great woman ;). As with all things, our views are greatly influenced by our preconceived notions or biases. I don't like Hillary. You don't like Bush. Fair enough on both counts. These biases will hinder our abilities to appreciate a more logical view, just as those who can't see all the intricacies and beauty in Attack of the Clones because they don't want to or they don't get it (must have at least one movie reference!). Of course, I may be judged insane by those who can't stand the prequels, but therein is another example of the prejudicial difference. Blathering aside, I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. But more to the point: You can't encapsulate a complex issue with a tidy sound-bite, such as 'ends justify the means', without missing a helluva lot in the expurgation.

As for Jaquandor's quote, well, you just suck. Kidding. He said:
    Not wishing to get into a whole debate on the war in Iraq, I think you're completely missing Obama's point. The film is talking about fighting the political fights, whereas Obama was referring to a very common criticism of the Iraq effort (and one with which I agree): that the military commitment was not sufficient to the task at hand.
Kelly here does indeed hit on a key point. I was making a very loose comparison from a quote that was out of context, and I knew it. It just reminded me of the movie-line, and I thought it interesting to compare two liberal speeches that had different points about similar things. As to the amount of men or commitment, I'm not too familiar with that critique. Do we need more troops? More artillery? Last I checked, we had been fighting terrorist insurgents, not armies, for the last year, and I don't think that an extra 10,000 men would matter in that scenario. If what you are talking about is a longer commitment to stay and ensure the democracy of Iraq, then I agree. To stop now or fall short would be disasterous. No war is ever perfect, and changes are always made in process. The effort can be criticized with 20/20 hindsight wisdom (fairly or unfairly), and the history books yet to be written will have their final say. This criticism doesn't seem like much of a political one as a military one, so I don't see how it's relevant (unless, of course, Obama is a logistics and tactical expert).

In any event, food for my brain, and hopefully for yours.


Sorkin, can I get an edit?
When I woke up this morning and checked the blog of ultimate evil, I found a very brief and tantalizing entry, "Barack Obama kicks ass." Having missed the democratic convention coverage last night, and being slightly more right-leaning than anyone else reading he-who-shall-not-be-insulted's blog, I was forced to google to find out just what was meant by this cryptic message.

Turns out this guy is a young tyro for the demmies and up for Senator this year. And apparently he gave quite a stirring speech last night. I just read the article, which only has a few blurbs from it, but one passage in particular struck me as very odd:
    "When we send our young men and women into harm’s way, we have a solemn obligation not to fudge the numbers or shade the truth about why they’re going," Obama said, "and to never — ever — go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace and earn the respect of the world."
I couldn't put my finger on why this passage bothered me for a while. Obviously, I don't agree on the democrat party line about Iraq, but there was something else. It took me a while before it hit me. The line "...never — ever — go to war without enough troops to win the war..." reminded me of an point that a character makes to the president in the film, The American President:

    Other than not knowing the difference
    between Harvard and Stanford, has he
    said something that isn't true? Am
    I not a Commander-in-Chief who's
    never served in the military? Am I
    not opposed to a Constitutional
    amendment banning flag burning? Am
    I not an unmarried father who was
    sharing a bed with a liberal lobbyist
    down the hall from my twelve-year-old

    And you think you're wrong?

    I don't think you win elections by
    telling 59 percent of the people that
    they are.

    We fight the fights we can win.


    You fight the fights that need
    [emphasis mine]

    Is the view pretty good from the
    cheap seats, A.J.?

    I beg your pardon.

    It occurs to me that in 25 years I've
    never seen your name on a ballot.
    Why have you always been standing a
    pace behind me?

    Because if I hadn't been, you'd be
    the most popular history professor
    at the University of Wisconsin.

    Fuck you.
The American President, although unabashedly liberal, is a great film, not unlikely Aaron Sorkin's other writing effort, The West Wing. Unfortunately for Obama, I don't think he's seen the flick. His line about the troops contrasts with the moral of the film, which is the president doing what he believes is right rather than what the polls show or what is safe to win. Of course, this is real life and that is a movie, but I don't think it's very rousing to declare, "Let's make sure that we only fight if we are guaranteed victory!" Not exactly an exciting tag line for your campaign.


Bourne for Steady-Cam
After seeing The Bourne Supremacy in the theater this weekend, and having given it much thought, I feel that it is a worthy sequel to the original. The film goes further into the troubled psyche of 'bourne'-again assassin Jason Bourne, who struggles to find out who he is while taming his violent nature. Far from shirking his past, his skills are seemingly innate and deadly, and the film succeeds in creating an enthralling picture of a man without a past whose only talent appears to be in creating mayhem. So, I give this film a big thumbs-up, but I would recommend that you wait until video to see it.

My sole reason for this is the direction of Paul Greengrass, whose style is best compared to The Blair Witch Project. Greengrass has such an affinity for hand-held cameras that it is distracting to the point of irritation, and in several of the action sequences I had to actually look away from the screen for fear of mild nausea.

It's difficult to see what is going on in or even manage to focus on any object for longer than a period of a moment. There are photos in last week's Entertainment Weekly which show a couple of stills from a hand-to-hand combat, and they were by far clearer than anything I saw on the screen. But worse, from the article, was this quote, explaining that it was no error:
    The car chase through the streets of Moscow, filmed with Greengrass' favored handheld cameras. "If Bourne ran, I wanted us to be running," Greengrass explains. When told that his technique worked so well that one audience member promptly puked during the scene, he exclaims, "Excellent!"
It turns out that the director is purposefully trying to disorient the audience instead of letting them just watch. While this tactic would surely appeal to art-film creators, it does nothing more than to call attention to his direction and pull away from the film. I believe that the mark of a great director, like a great umpire in a big game, is that you are virtually unaware of their hand in controlling the action.

Of course, I sat relatively close (say, 30 feet) from the screen, so I'm sure that added to the discombobulating effect, which is why I am recommending it on DVD. However, should you still brave the theater, I suggest you sit far enough away so that you don't get dizzy. In short, any other director the next time around will be fine with me.

UPDATE: Here's at least one critic who had the same experience, and says it more concisely:
    Shakey camera is not a style. It does not simulate any kind of real life stress. I’ve been quite jostled in my life, and I don’t know about you, but my vision stays steady. Shakey cam is a sloppy excuse for not being able to shoot something interestingly. By the way, there’s nothing wrong with a locked off shot. It’s nice to see the scenery.


I Can't Lose On 'Jeopardy', Baby, Ooooooo...
In all previous years of the trivia game-show, "Jeopardy", the winners had a finite number of chances to cash in and prove their worth. After five consecutive victories, the champion would have to step down with his earnings. (Not without getting an automatic bid to come back on the end-of-season "Jeopardy Champions" tournament, however.) While this was good strategy for keeping fresh faces coming in, it also precluded any sense of 'greatest' regular season player. I'm sure this was on purpose -- I think it would be very defeating to have your chance to go on "Jeopardy" be against a 20-game winner.

Well, the rules have changes. This season, "Jeopardy" has thrown away that 5-game rule, and now it's a win-til-you-lose format. And it didn't take long for someone to win 37 games in a row and counting. That translates to 1.2 million dollars won so far. It also translates into very intimidating trivia knowledge. Naturally, the guy is a software engineer from Utah. I don't know if you could be from anywhere more square. Maybe Allegany, NY.


Bourne to run
Someone asked me last night what movies are coming out that you want to see, and for the past three months, my first answer has been the same: The Bourne Supremacy.

The Bourne Identity was a 200-million-dollar box office "underground" thriller by today's standards; although the film received great reviews and was very profitable, there wasn't a frenzied comic-book like following or media circus surrounding the flick. Also, there was (and is) general skepticism regarding whether Matt Damon could play the deadly amnesiatic assassin. Directed by Doug Liman of Go and Swingers fame, the film succeeded tremendously by being the anti-action film. Characters and interactions have a tangible quality to them, and the action sequences aren't eye-rollingly outrageous, but real, fast, and deadly. The cool kids knew it and, very quietly, made The Bourne Identity the top video-rental of 2003.

All of which leads those of us who know (and there are very few) to chomp at the bit for the sequel's release. Well, it's here, the reviews are positive, and, yes, my boy Walter Chaw's big thumbs-up doesn't hurt. I can't wait.


"Moore" social distortion
I've been asked a few times if I've seen Fahrenheit 9/11 yet, with the implication that OF COURSE I am planning to see it. Luckily we do not live in a country where films are required viewing, although if Leelee Sobieski had her way, it would be so. (Based on the weekend box office, I thought Spider-Man 2 was afforded that title.) Needless to say that Ms. Sobieski has cemented herself as the poster-child for half-wits.

Although this film has been viewed by some as a moral imperative, and by some as a democratic duty to inform yourself of all sides, and by some as reprehensible filmmaking, I just haven't had much desire to see it. Like The Passion of the Christ, it is one man's mythology, or presentation of 'truth', come to the screen, pandering to the feeblest mind or most ardent supporter. And unfortunately, it is done by Michael Moore, who brought you such films as Bowling for the truth and hey-did-anyone-see-me-drop-my-pants-at-the-Oscars? The guy pretends to be a serious filmmaker, but in reality his films are one-sided polemics, sadly in need of fact-checking, and the man himself is what I lightly refer to as 'pathetic scum'. I have as much desire to put money in this man's pocket or validate his pseudo-documentaries as I do to join a church.

Vanity Fair contributor Christopher Hitchens' revealing commentary on the film is eye-opening. Well, at least for those who don't currently have them open. There are plenty of reasons to read the entire piece, and although he takes apart Farenheit 9/11's 'logic' piece-by-piece, this excerpt best sums up my objections:
    Some people soothingly say that one should relax about all this. It's only a movie. No biggie. It's no worse than the tomfoolery of Oliver Stone. It's kick-ass entertainment. It might even help get out "the youth vote." Yeah, well, I have myself written and presented about a dozen low-budget made-for-TV documentaries, on subjects as various as Mother Teresa and Bill Clinton and the Cyprus crisis, and I also helped produce a slightly more polished one on Henry Kissinger that was shown in movie theaters. So I know, thanks, before you tell me, that a documentary must have a "POV" or point of view and that it must also impose a narrative line. But if you leave out absolutely everything that might give your "narrative" a problem and throw in any old rubbish that might support it, and you don't even care that one bit of that rubbish flatly contradicts the next bit, and you give no chance to those who might differ, then you have betrayed your craft. If you flatter and fawn upon your potential audience, I might add, you are patronizing them and insulting them. By the same token, if I write an article and I quote somebody and for space reasons put in an ellipsis like this (…), I swear on my children that I am not leaving out anything that, if quoted in full, would alter the original meaning or its significance. Those who violate this pact with readers or viewers are to be despised. At no point does Michael Moore make the smallest effort to be objective. At no moment does he pass up the chance of a cheap sneer or a jeer. He pitilessly focuses his camera, for minutes after he should have turned it off, on a distraught and bereaved mother whose grief we have already shared. (But then, this is the guy who thought it so clever and amusing to catch Charlton Heston, in Bowling for Columbine, at the onset of his senile dementia.) Such courage.
I'm not prepared to pay 10 bucks to see Moore and his propaganda machine in theaters, but I might rent it just to get a kick out of it. Hopefully by then I'll find it in the new releases -- comedy section.
UPDATE:  Yet another review of digust. Lies, lies, lies.


And fans collectively let out a sigh of relief
Any Duke follower, or ACC and perhaps even just a college basketball fan, had their world thrown into brief disarray and doubt upon hearing the news that Mike Krzyzewski, the venerated coach of the team, was offered the head coach job for the L.A. Lakers. He had been offered NBA jobs before and turned them down, but this time was a little different. Changes in the landscape of pro and college basketball, namely the early entries of college and now high school students into the pro game, have had quite an impact on the NCAA game. Now programs that could count on at least 3 if not 4 years of contribution from quality recruits have found that they may be lucky to even get 1 year if at all. (Duke's prize recruit this year skipped out and went in the top 10 of the NBA draft, for instance.)

One of the reasons (certainly, one of the top) that Duke gets top players every year is Krzyzewski, a great teacher of the game, has created an environment where young kids can learn and grow under his tutelage. Parents know that their progeny will be under great care and will, if nothing else, have the skills upon leaving to make them successes in life. Coach K is, like Dean Smith before him, a role model and representative of the best conference in college basketball (not subject to debate, and I went to Penn State).

Now that the rules have changed, and the kids are no longer staying or even stepping foot on campus, I think that Krzyzewski saw an opportunity where there wasn't one before to lend his knowledge and experience and guidance to the kids in the NBA, to help where it is needed most. This led him to take a long hard look at the Lakers' lucrative offer. And led a lot of fans to hold their breath; this would seem to be the textbook definition of some fans (and maybe even myself) of selling out.

Thankfully, it's all over. Coach K turned down millions and the Lakers to stay at Duke. When I saw the news flash on the TV today, I let out a victory cry (not unlike Xena's yelp) for NCAA fans everywhere, and for myself. I've been a fan of Duke basketball for the last 20 years, and a Laker-hater for longer than that; let's just say that if he signed on I would have felt like the dark side won.

I think Mike Celizic encapsulates it very well:
    By staying at Duke and turning down $8 million a year, Krzyzewski said as emphatically as possible that the job he has is the best job he can get. He said that coaching college kids, even if they come for a year or two and leave, has more intrinsic value than trying to get NBA players to do what you tell them to do. He said that education is important, that a college can be as big a franchise as a city.

    Most important, Krzyzewski said money isn’t everything. He said there is a point at which a bigger paycheck doesn’t justify tearing apart your life, leaving a place you’ve loved for nearly a quarter century and come to think of as your own, and moving to a land of bigger headlines and more camera crews. He said that personal satisfaction and a sense of belonging has a value that can’t be measured in digits to the left of a decimal point.
And it was a good weekend after all.