Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Movie of the Week

This Week,


Starring- Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

I don't want to ruin anything about this movie for you, so in the interest of being kind I will preface this review with-


Now, with that said, I feel that this new film from director and writer Christopher Nolan is the best movie of 2010, thus far. Inception is very similar to other films in many ways, but also different, and that is why it is uniquely entertaining. It is kind of like Minority Report, Shutter Island, Vertigo and Memento had a sophisticated, complex and thought provoking baby. Nolan loves to explore the human mind in his films and that is the primary setting for Inception. In fact, most of the action takes place inside dreams. This is because DiCaprio's character, and his team are experts in stealing thoughts from the minds of unsuspecting victims. According to the film, unlocking hidden thoughts via the subconscious is easy, but implanting ideas in the mind is next to impossible.

This practice of creating thoughts in someone's mind is called inception, and if not for his desperate nature, Dom Cobb (DiCaprio) would not even consider it. To do the job, he creates a team to help him implant the idea, starting with his right hand man played by Gordon-Levitt, and a young architect played by Ellen Page. While his team works to figure out the technical aspects of inception, Cobb struggles with personal demons in his own subconscious that could threaten the entire operation.

Nolan does a nice job of making this film a thinking person's suspense thriller. Rather than having the suspense driven by emotion, the viewer is actually thinking more about what might come next rather than feeling it, and that is different from other films in this genre. Inception is helped along with a first rate cast that has in its minor roles the likes of Michael Caine, Pete Posthlewaite and Cillian Murphy- not too shabby. I don't want to give much more away because the less you know going into this movie, the better. I will say, however, that the action is as strong as what you might find in a James Bond or Jason Bourne adventure, the dialogue is realistic and the story is inventive and compelling. Even though I thought it was a bit long, Inception brings the audience to an exciting climax that will have you talking well after the credits roll.

Things to watch for-

The totem
Tom Beringer's triumphant return
Some great zero gravity fighting
James Bond meets planet Hoth

"What's the most resilient parasite? An Idea."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Schmohawk Alert!

Unfortunately the world seems to be rife with Schmohawks these days. I see them on T.V. and in person. Here now are a few Schmohawks to add to the list.


I am all for feminism and giving women an opportunity to speak their minds, but these psycho harpies are doing all women serious harm. They are so misinformed, uninteresting and unfunny that they take Schmohawkery to new heights- or should I say depths. Elizabeth Hasselbeck is the worst, but Whoopi is fast becoming her equal. I would say that Barbara Walters needs to come and straighten these Schmohawks out, but she's been Schmohawking it up since the 1970's.


Where are you at? I don't know, but it sounds like I'm in the vicinity of a Schmohawk. This has seemingly become part of the way we talk as a society, but it makes those who do it Schmohawks. You don't need the 'at,' just say 'Where are you?' That's all that needs to be said. Do yourself a favor and drop the ats at the end of your sentences, Schmohawk.


Not that she ever had a chance, but this girl has finally made the move to Schmohawk Country. Can't anybody in her inner circle show her a before and after on Britney Spears' life? She's one unplanned pregnancy from working the counter at a Maverick. Billy Ray is no help either because his Schmohawk ass is sporting the Rachel haircut from circa 1996. Sorry Miley, but your career is getting Schmohawkier with every slutty pole dance you do.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Vietnam Thesis- Part VII

Part seven in my continuing series on Vietnam.

Many at home and in Vietnam had been holding out hope that the war would suddenly go in America’s favor, and that the North Vietnamese would give up. No one knew for sure until Tet that the enemy was never going to throw in the towel. “The enemy had too much strength and will to be defeated in the South.” This idea crystallized in the weeks after the Tet Offensive, and even with Johnson’s administration on the way out, the soldiers saw no way to secure victory without even greater costs. The need to survive in Vietnam now trumped the need for victory. “I think perhaps this experience is changing me...not as I expected. I have not found much opportunity to help the people...It’s now a war of survival.” This appraisal of the nature of war in 1968 by Sergeant Doug McCormac is not as optimistic as earlier soldiers’ letters home. The thought of not being able to succeed in the ways that Americans had in other wars made many men like McCormac skeptical of the reasons the U.S. had for staying in Vietnam. Leadership in the government and high levels of the military became more and more suspect every day.

An anger began to build during this period in 1968 as soldiers continually saw the ineffectiveness of their superior officers, and were constantly in harms way. The My Lai Massacre is a perfect example of how bad things got for men in the field, and no one in the government really knew what was happening to the men under their command. After Tet, on March 16, 1968 Charlie Company, led by platoon leader Lt. William Calley, attacked a village in the My Lai area, where there was believed to be a stronghold of Viet Cong soldiers and agents. The village was completely destroyed and 400 civilians, women, children and elderly people were brutally killed. Of the attack, Kenneth Hodges said, “This was the time for us to get even. A time for us to settle the score.” 

While it was arguably one of the biggest disasters in the entire war, the My Lai Massacre illustrates a strong point. The mental strain on all the soldier fighting in Vietnam was much greater than anyone at the time thought, and nothing was done about it. Had some of these things been brought to light earlier this dark episode might have been avoided and Calley could have been spared the dishonor that the incident brought him. Unfortunately, My Lai would not be the end of the carnage.

Life at home was becoming increasingly turbulent as well, with more protests of the war and of the government. The draft was creating a good deal of the friction, forcing young men to either go to war, jail or Canada. With Richard Nixon’s win in the 1968 election, there was a feeling that maybe some of the wrongs that had occurred earlier in the year could be rectified, including a failed peace talk in mid-1968. Nixon said at the start of his term, “I will not be the first president of the United States to lose a war.” Unlike Johnson, who had been more focused on domestic issues, Nixon set his sights on foreign policy. 

This new policy, known as Vietnamization, was to be the cornerstone of Nixon’s approach in Vietnam. The idea was to gradually turn the war over to the South Vietnamese, and slowly bring troops home. Soldiers did not see the advantages to this new plan. “This gradual withdrawal is going to cause more damage than good. As there become less and less GIs over here, it means that the guys still here will have to depend more on the ARVNs (Army of the Republic of Vietnam). I would not want to have to depend on an ARVN for anything.” wrote George Ewing in the summer of 1969. This attitude permeated the U.S. ranks in the first months of Nixon’s withdrawal plan. To those not in the know, the withdrawal of troops seemed like the war was going better, and that it might be coming to an end. For GIs still having to stay and fight, the plan for turning the war over to the South Vietnamese as the U.S. pulled out was not a viable option.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Movie of the Week

This week,


Starring- Spike Lee, John Turturro, Danny Aiello, Bill Nunn

It is the hottest day of the year in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, a black and Puerto Rican neighborhood, and the tension that always simmers beneath the surface of its residents is about to boil over. In this sometimes funny, poignant and volatile commentary on race relations, Lee, as director and star, makes you feel the heat both literally and figuratively.

The main focus of the film is on the way the various ethnic groups interact, and how those interactions culminate at the end of a very hectic day. Lee plays Mookie, a pizza delivery guy for Sal's Pizza, which is owned and operated by Sal (Aiello) and his two sons who are of Italian decent. Sal's two sons represent opposite ends of the spectrum, Vito is friendly with Mookie and accepting of the different races that live in the neighborhood, while Pino is openly bigoted and says that he "detests the place like a sickness." Also living in the neighborhood is the boom box toting Radio Raheem, a large, militant black man who plays Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" nonstop wherever he goes; the matriarch of the neighborhood, Mother-Sister and her would be suitor, the drunk Da Mayor; and Mookie and Raheem's inflammatory friend, Buggin' Out.

Buggin' Out is offended that the wall of fame in Sal's Pizza Shop has no black people on it, and he gets into it with Sal and Pino as he tries to stage a protest against Sal's seeming racial intolerance. Raheem is the only one who joins with Buggin' Out, having been previously ejected from Sal's for blasting his music. Mookie serves as the bridge between the two factions, hoping that cooler heads will prevail, despite the mutual acrimony. As the day wears on and the heat refuses to break, even those who might not be provoked get stoked into action. It all comes to a violent head as Raheem and Sal fight it out in the Pizza shop. There is a more tragic end to it all, that I will not divulge here, but the riot that ensues is triggered by an unlikely source, and the resolution is somewhat bittersweet.

I credit Lee for creating a film that addresses the issue of race without being preachy, one-sided or angry. Do The Right Thing can leave you feeling ambiguous about the message, but I think the true message of the movie is to make you think about race, relationships and how they play out in your life. This film has a great variety of tones going from funny to tragic and back again while keeping you riveted the entire time. In my opinion, this film is Lee's masterpiece.

Things to Watch for-

Samuel L. Jackson as the D.J. Senor Love Daddy
The racial slur montage
Rosie Perez as Mookie's Girlfriend
Extra Cheese
Air Jordans

"Hey, Sal, how come they ain't no brothas on the wall?"

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Concert Review


In the most epic concert I've ever attended, Paul McCartney made good on all my years of Beatle nerdiness. For almost three hours the 68 year old played everything you would want to hear from his massive catalog of rock hits. He went non-stop for three hours! I get winded singing one or two karaoke songs, and I'm only 27. This guy is 68 and still rocks as well as he did in the 1960's. Unlike some other stars from his generation, he hasn't had to resort to new arrangements and lower octaves to keep performing. The songs he played last night sound exactly the way you expect them to.

Mary Anne and I arrived at Rio Tinto Stadium about an hour and half early, and I'm glad we did. This concert was rife with some really interesting people, and we enjoyed observing the crowd. It is a true testament to Paul's music that he drew such a varied group of people to the concert.  Like this guy, for example.

After a nice wait, the show got underway at about 8:15 with Paul, in his trademark collarless jacket, starting us off with the Wings medley- Venus and Mars/Rockshow that led into one of my favorite Wings songs- Jet. As the sun set on the band and the mood got more lively I felt a wave of emotion. This was the culmination of all those days and nights in middle school sitting in my room, singing along to The Beatles and Wings.

After welcoming us with his Liverpool charm, Paul cranked out a few Beatle tunes- All My Loving, The Long and Winding Road and Drive My Car. The crowd justifiably ate it up. Even though we were near the back, the large screens on the sides of the stage made it feel like Paul was right there. He was, of course, a tiny little Polly Pocket sized person when you actually got a view of the stage, but it didn't matter. Following the Beatles mini-set, was Nineteen Hundred and Eight Five, Let Me Roll It and a couple of newer songs that were good, but not great.

Once it got darker, Paul did a solo set without his band. He played Blackbird and his tribute to John Lennon- Here Today on acoustic guitar. It was nice to have a more intimate experience, but he quickly switched gears again, bringing his band back for Eleanor Rigby, Dance Tonight and a  great version of Band on the Run, complete with the cover of the album broadcast behind him.

His new hit about none other than Barack Obama, Sing the Changes, was a nice Bruce Springsteen-esque departure from the usual repitoire. I had never heard it before, and I now intend to download it. That was preceded by his tribute to the late George Harrison, Something. He started on ukelele and then was joined by the band for what I feel was the most emotional song of the night. The main part of the concert was finished off with a series of his biggest hits, but none was done bigger than Live and Let Die. There were flashing lights, fireworks and smoke and flames that really got the crowd into it. When he played Hey, Jude we knew things were winding down, but not before he took two encores- including Paul waving the Utah flag.

I could not have been more amazed by this night. Paul is a great showman who still has all of the charm and musical ability that made him so many people's favorite Beatle. The only drawback to the show was the fact that I had to pee for much of it. Live and learn, I guess. Or Live and Let Die!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Book of the Month

This month,


This book is one of my all time, favorite summertime reads. Being from the West, where this novel is set, I feel connected to this story and its characters. It is the strength of the characters that makes this book special. Edward Abbey does such a masterful job in creating nuanced, clever and original protagonists that I could read about them doing just about anything, let alone sabotaging the development of the American West.

The characters that make up the 'Gang' are the unkempt explosives expert, and former Green Beret, George Washington Hayduke; the polygamist Jack Mormon river guide, Seldom Seen Smith; the eccentric middle aged surgeon, Dr. Sarvis; and Dr. Sarvis' young assistant, Bonnie Abbzug. Once they get together, this group makes it their mission to "monkeywrench" any efforts to damage the western wilderness and desert landscape. The gang's protests are not in the vein of the Sierra Club or other activist groups. On the contrary, Hayduke and Co. eat a lot of red meat, own firearms, litter the roadside with empty beer cans and drive big cars. It is this contrast that makes the book so much fun, and the characters so compelling.

Abbey's knowledge of the west, and his own feelings give the book its tone. He writes with such depth about the landscape that it is almost impossible not to picture yourself there. I have spent time in some of the places that Abbey discusses, having grown up in Utah, but even if the desert of the Southwest is foreign to you, this book will paint quite a picture. The overall message, whether you agree with Abbey's methods or not, is to have respect for nature and reverence for the unspoiled beauty of the desert. This book has gone on to inspire many Eco-terrorist groups and the like, but I simply see it as an entertaining read that draws attention to real problems with a funny and compelling narrative. Don't feel like you need to go blow up Glen Canyon Dam after you get done reading it, just take a trip to the desert and see what all the fuss is about. You won't be disappointed.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

There's Only One Number 23- and It Isn't Him

In one of the most cowardly acts in the history of sports, LeBron James opted to leave Cleveland for the Miami Heat on July 8th, 2010. I cannot cheer for him ever again because of this. Instead of trying to lift a city and a franchise out of the cellar, he will instead go play in a city that has had its ample share of success and for a team that has had an NBA Championship this decade. Classy move, LeBron. I don't feel a shred of remorse for him as the Cleveland fans rip him, and burn his jerseys, and the owner of the Cavs insults him via a statement. The 'King' is not in the same league as Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson or any of the other greats because instead of opting to do the right thing, he did the selfish thing.

Yes, everyone needs to look out for themselves, but what if Jordan had left the Bulls in 1990 for say, the Lakers, or the Celtics? Would he have achieved the same kind of status and become the greatest player ever? NO! LeBron just cost himself his legacy with this move to the Heat. Nobody will care if he wins a championship or two, because it came at the expense of something more valuable- integrity. I will forever respect men like Karl Malone or Charles Barkley or John Stockton or Patrick Ewing more than a guy like Adam Morrison. Sure, Morrison has two rings, but he sucks. LeBron would be so much better served by never winning and staying in Cleveland than bitching out and joining the Heat for a few trips to the Finals. At least Ewing and Stockton can say they never sold out and joined up with another team to try to win a ring. What is a ring worth if it comes because of someone else's work? Malone and Barkley tried to switch teams to do it and failed, just like LeBron deserves to.

LeBron has a famous quote about how he will never disappoint anybody, but guess what- he just disappointed everybody that's not living in Miami-Dade County. I'm sorry for Cavs fans, I'm sorry for Cavs players and I'm sorry for everyone who just saw their idol quit on his team and his fans, and opt for the easy way out. Enjoy your time in Miami, LeBron, I hope it was worth it.

P.S. Pat Riley is as big a slimeball as there is.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Movie of the Week

This week,


Starring- Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Maud Adams

I feel that this is one of the more under appreciated Bond films in the series. While it is not in the same league of Roger Moore's two best Bond films, For Your Eyes Only and The Spy Who Loved Me, it has some very memorable scenes and witty dialogue. It is indeed a film that is better judged for the merits of its parts rather than as a whole. Following on the success of Moore's first outing as 007, the producers and veteran Bond Director, Guy Hamilton hurried to get another Bond movie out as soon as possible.

Based on Ian Fleming's final novel, the film only retains a few elements from the source material, and replaces the plot completely with a modern story of Bond's search for a solar cell to combat the energy crisis. This is one of the few Bond plots that now seems very dated. One of the Fleming bits that was retained by the writers is the story's villain, assassin Francisco Scaramanga. He is also known as "The Man with the Golden Gun" because he uses a gold plated gun and golden bullets to kill his targets. Originally, Jack Palance was the choice to play Scaramanga, but he declined, leaving the role to none other than Ian Fleming's cousin and Dracula star- Christopher Lee. Lee is truly one of the best Bond villains, and magnificently balances charm with a sinister edge. He is a nice foil for the lighter Moore, and the two share a nice onscreen chemistry. In the role of Bond girl Mary Goodnight is the pretty, but somewhat vapid Britt Ekland. She is not as interesting as Scaramanga's mistress played by Maud Adams, who smolders nicely as she tries to get Bond to kill her deadly lover.

The plot unfolds rather predictably, as Bond ends up in a duel with Scaramanga in his island lair, with the winner taking home the title of 'world's best assassin' and, as a bonus- the Solex. The final shootout in Scaramanga's fun house is a nice change of pace from the large scale assault on the villain's lair that we see in so many 007 movies. Scenes like this are sadly offset by silly ones, which accounts for the very uneven feel to The Man with the Golden Gun. The rush to get this film made is somewhat obvious, as the whole thing feels a bit rushed, and not as polished as some other Bond adventures.

Roger Moore's best work as 007 was ahead of him, but this film proved that Bond was still a viable entity in the 1970's. It would be three years before the next Bond outing, but without this relatively successful installment, we might never have been treated to The Spy Who Loved Me or any of the rest.

Things to watch for-

Herve Villechaize as Nick Nack
Some great Tom Mankiewicz one liners
The return of Sheriff J.W. Pepper
The dressing room fist fight
Superfluous Papila
Chew Mi

"Six bullets to your one?"
"I only need one."

Monday, July 5, 2010

Vietnam Thesis- Part VI

Here is part six in my ongoing series.

The Tet Offensive was the major turning point in the war. Not only did the attacks themselves catch the Americans off guard, but also the way in which the North Vietnamese carried out those attacks. Army soldier Donald Hines took note of the brutality of the enemy warfare during and after Tet, “Before the Tet Offensive they would sneak around at nighttime. Now they were saying ‘We’re bad and we’re gonna kick your ass.’” It was clear to many men like Hines that the enemy was now playing for keeps. 

This change in intensity made a large impact on the morale of soldiers, and made many for the first time really question the government’s handling of the war and the tactics used to fight it. Following Tet, Marine Scout Adolphus Stuart “saw that it [America’s plan] wasn’t going to work,” and asked himself “What’s going on?” Tet created many questions about the effectiveness of the American policies and tactics in the fighting of the war. The ones asking the questions were the soldiers who had seen the carnage of Tet close up, and the American public who had smelled failure coming back in 1967. In the first two weeks alone 1,113 U.S. troops died with many calling for the South Vietnamese to do more of the fighting. The huge losses in the major battle centers of South Vietnam proved that the enemy, while depleted, was not going to give up.

As a result of the huge miscalculation made by the U.S. government involving the Tet Offensive, President Johnson committed himself to move towards a peace agreement with the North. In a speech on March 31, 1968, Johnson said, “The United States is ready to send its representatives to any forum, at any time, to discuss the means of bringing this ugly war to an end.” From these words is was clear to America, now more than ever, that the war in Vietnam was not going according to plan. Johnson reaffirmed this notion at the end of his speech when he said that he would not run for president in the upcoming election. By deciding not to run for re-election, Johnson could focus his time on getting the U.S. out of Vietnam. Soldiers reacted to this move toward peace and the aftermath of Tet very strongly. The president, apart from stopping bombing campaigns and troop movements, planned to turn more of the fighting over to the South Vietnamese while still maintaining supremacy.

Many soldiers who were in Vietnam at the time saw that as wishful thinking, and knew that if the U.S. had barely stood up to the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong at Tet, how could the South Vietnamese do it alone? Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford summed up the dilemma facing the U.S. after Tet saying, “What was the plan to win the war? Well, the only plan was that attrition would wear out the communists, and they would have had enough. Was there any indication that we’ve reached that point? No, there wasn’t.” By the late Spring of 1968 feelings like Clifford’s were being felt throughout Vietnam by soldiers and officials.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Happy Birthday, United States!

This year on July 4th I am going to be celebrating this great nation with beer and fireworks and fun with friends- not bad. In addition to that, I will also be reflecting on America's place in the world. I do believe our country is the greatest on Earth, but there are some things that would make us even greater. I am proud to be an American, but I could be prouder.

First, we need to allow gay people to have the same rights under the law as straight people. Let them be married and enjoy the same benefits that my wife and I enjoy. I feel like this struggle for equality is my generation's civil rights movement. The U.S.A. seems so out of step with the times on this, and also so bigoted. I'm so tired of these people who say, "marriage is defined between a man and a woman." Guess what, people used to say that women had no right to vote and that all blacks were slaves. Get over it, things change. America has always been about being inclusive and leading by example, but in this regard we are failing miserably.

Second, in the same vein, this country needs to get rid of these ridiculous immigration laws. Having to carry documentation around in the event that you get profiled by police doesn't sound like America. It sounds like some kind of fascist regime- you know, like the ones we fought so hard to bring down during World War II?   I'm not going to go all Glenn Beck on you and bring out Nazi props, but just think about where this kind of law is going to take us. Immigration is an important issue, but Arizona has made a huge mistake in how to deal with it.

Third, and finally, let's keep the Russian spies out of America. What is this, 1960? Do we need to call England and have them send James Bond over? I know the Cold War is over, but seriously, U.S.A., nothing seems more unAmerican than letting the Russians set up shop for over a decade to spy on us. Get it together, CIA.

America is my home, and I love it, but I want to love it more. Happy Birthday, U.S.A. blow out your candles and make a good wish- (hint- wish for all that stuff I just said).