Thursday, June 28, 2007
Boy, was I wrong.
Cornyn has quickly risen in the ranks in the Senate, has become a force for good on the Judiciary Committee, and now, as we've seen over the last month or so, has really taken the lead on working to defeat this shamnesty immigration reform bill. Kay Bailey hasn't really made much of an impact in Washington that I can tell, but Cornyn has quickly become one of my favorites.
Monday, June 25, 2007
The opening section, where our heroes join together with the once-late Captain Barbossa to rescue Jack Sparrow from Davy Jones' Locker. This involves a trip through some Gilliamesque environments (that's Gilliam-lite-esque, by the way). Particularly amusing is Jack's personal hell - a ship full of himself as crew members (this multiple-Jack effect would be used a few times later on as well, to not as good an effect as it is at the start, though). And the solution of how to escape from the underworld back into reality was particularly well-executed.
Unfortunately, once back in the real world, things bog down as the negotiations dragged on into the night. Well, not really, but this section is mostly involved with various characters acting on hidden agendas, setting up and breaking alliances, and so on. It's not particularly clear in this section who is setting up whom, and how many of our heroes are aware of the others' plans. The movie itself gives us mixed messages, sometimes dropping hints that everything is part of a master plan, sometimes not. The scene in the Bretheren Court was well-done (and smartly played by Jack), but a lot of the rest of this segment probably could have been trimmed up without adversely affecting things.
I also wasn't happy about the changes in a couple of characters during this part. The second film looked like it was going to do some interesting things with Norrington, but most of that was thrown out in this film - he gets a change-of-heart once he sees what he has signed on for, and then is suddenly (but heroically) killed off. And Davy Jones spent much of the movie as an unwilling hired gun, which had the effect of making him a lot less threatening. It's not until the end of the film when we get a little look inside his characters and the shackles come off that he regains the menace he showed in the prior movie.
And speaking of the end of the film, here's where things shift into overdrive, finally getting us out of the doldrums of the middle section. The movie sets up a battle between the pirate fleet and the East India armada, but as it ends up, there's only a battle between the Black Pearl, the Flying Dutchman and the East Indian Endeavor (why everyone else packs up and leaves after that, I'm not sure - the "bad guys" still have vast numerical superiority, don't they?). The main battle takes place in a giant maelstrom and is one of the few times this kind of sea battle was shown in an interesting and exciting way on screen (to me, anyway). Yeah, there's a few too many Spider-Man moments (Jack swinging his way just about anywhere he needs to be), and the marriage in the middle of a fight scene was a little too cute, but the action keeps moving at a fast clip to keep minor issues at bay.
Thinking back, it might be possible to work through all of the machinations of the middle section of the film, and that might bump things up to four stars. But for now, a solid three stars, and a good ending to a good series.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Saturday, June 23, 2007
There's also the aspect of characters coming back from the dead. It sure looks like in this universe that no one can die - even Barbossa from the last film managed to survive. So it kind of lessens the threats against our heros knowing that anything that happens can be undone - and that especially includes Jack's "death" at the end of the film. Of course he's not dead permanently - and no one in the audience thinks it for a second.
Given that the plot involves about five different groups chasing after a heart locked in a chest, the film didn't seem to do a good job of explaining just what the power of that heart was. The whole story (Jones cut out his heart, and became a human squid, and the heart somehow gives control of the ocean, and what about the kraken, etc. etc.) just doesn't make a lot of sense. And if the heart is so important, why doesn't Jones keep it somewhere safe? For that matter, if he can't go on land, why does he have it buried?
I know, I know - he's a pirate. That's what they do.
The movie does give us the expected touches - Jack Sparrow prancing around, speaking gibberish; Will Turner swordfights; Elizabeth, well, trailing around a couple of hours behind everyone else. At least until the end - her betrayal of Jack was about the only true surprise in the film. Bill Nighy does a good job as the heavily CGI'd Jones, although his crew of nautical Hellraiser rejects could have been a little better designed.
I wasn't as disappointed as some in the ending, since I already knew it was a cliffhanger (everyone knew there was a third film - did they really think it wasn't going to be set up like The Matrix Revolutions?). But the whole thing could have been a bit tighter, especially at the beginning. Three stars, and I'll be seeing the conclusion tomorrow.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Sure, we've all heard all the now cliched lines - "Here's looking at you, kid", "round up the usual suspects", "I'm shocked - shocked!". But fortunately, this movie's more than just a set of famous quotes.
Not to say there aren't a lot of famous quotes, but the script is full of great lines. When Rick threatens to put a bullet through Renault's heart, he replies "That is my least vulnerable spot." Just about every conversation between Rick and Renault is outstanding.
It's a movie full of great characters. Yeah, Rick and Ilsa, but Claude Rains' Captain Renault steals every scene he's in; just a great performance of a great character. And even all of the small roles are well-done. Consider Rick's employees - that group would make a fine cast of a regular series, not just a two-hour movie. (Yeah, I know they tried - I didn't say it would be a good idea.)
Well, I don't need to say anything about this movie. It's a classic, and justifiably so. Five stars.
He hadn't been deported. Why? Because Houston police don't report or check on illegal alien status - they're a "sanctuary city". They don't want to ruffle any feathers in the immigrant community. So a city still reeling from the influx of Katrina criminals can also look forward to less enforcement of laws towards Hispanics.
This comes a couple of days after hearing about what the Houston police do consider important - citing drivers for being in violation of our stupid "obscured license plate" law, a law that the legislature has already stated is being interpreted overly-broadly by some, and which is already scheduled to be clarified in the fall.
But that doesn't bring in money.
So - now we see what the priorities are in Houston. Police used for a money grab, rather than protecting the public. I would condemn Houston for this - except my city of Austin probably wouldn't be any better.
Monday, June 18, 2007
Is Brewster lying?
Is Wynn lying?
Are the Perez sisters lying?
Is Marriott lying?
Who can tell at this point? The answer to all is probably yes.
There's also a separate sub-plot about racist cops who inadvertently light a match in the middle of a racially-charged powderkeg, and who are tracking down our heroes in order to cover-up their deeds. This part is handled a bit hamhandedly - the cops (one of whom is a younger Vincent D'Onofrio) runs around torching cars, spraying automatic fire around, firing into crowds - without much notice from anyone. Seems a little much even for the environment posited by this movie. And a police beat-down towards the end is too derivative of the King beatings (which allegedly directly inspired that sub-plot) - seems like they could have found a slightly different way to frame that point.
Two other points. As mentioned, a lot of the motivation of the plot revolves around three men surrounding one woman - Faith, played by Juliette Lewis (not too far removed from Cape Fear and Natural Born Killers). The problem here is - she isn't attractive. Not physically, not in terms of her singing, certainly not emotionally. Nobody seems to connect to her at any level - she just runs around with skimpy clothes on. Why all of these guys basically give up everything for her just isn't clear. Second, Lenny Nero (what a great name!) is an anti-hero here, but it still seems like Angela Bassett's Mace character gives up an awful lot for him. Yeah, the movie does give us the backstory between the two, and does take the time to show her exasperation with Lenny as she goes, but still.
The positives far outweigh the negatives, though. Writer James Cameron wrote a mostly great script here, and with the exception of Juliette Lewis, the cast delivers. (Oh, and you get to see two future nut-jobs in Tom Sizemore and Vincent D'Onofrio!) Four stars.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
All this crap about "iconic businesses" was exactly that - crap. This was simply the city buying off the Perez sisters on behalf of Marriott.
The link goes to Austin City Council member Brewster McCracken admitting to local talk show host Jeff Ward that the fund to move iconic business located on Congress Avenue was in fact a one-time slush fund to be used to pay off Las Manitas to get access to an alleyway that was holding up the Marriott project. He doesn't expect it to ever be used again. They knew it, and they refused to tell us. Instead, they came up with this lame cover story about preserving "iconic businesses" with forgivable loans - a cover story that isn't any better than the reality of the situation.
But then - it's always about the cover-up, isn't it?
I've got no problem with the Perez sisters using the leverage of their ownership of a key piece of property to get some money - but that money should come from the developers, from Marriott, and not from the city. (And this is not to say the Perez sisters aren't still racist whiners - that's still true.)
The City Council of Austin knew all of this and decided to lie to us. Recall them. All of them.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
I haven't really seen many samurai films - I'm more into the Jackie Chan-style, hand-to-hand fighting films. Samurai fights seem to fall into two categories - large masses of fighters slashing at each other, and one-on-one fights where the competitors stare each other down, there is one quick strike, and then after a pause, one fighter falls down. At any rate, that's the way things go here - there aren't really many fights that leave your jaw on the ground because of the technical nature of the action. There is a fight late in the film that leaves your jaw on the ground for a different reason - an evil leader sends his fighters out to wipe out a village that knows of his treachery, and the movie spares no details - including a soldier running a spear through two young girls!
So while there is some action, that really isn't the focus here. This is really a political intrigue film. A shogun dies at the start of the film, and the rest is the battle for succeed him between his two sons. The elder son is first in line, but he is scarred, has a stutter, and is generally considered unfit to lead. However, he does have some powerful friends and retainers, and so he is able to get the upper hand over his younger brother, who many would like to see ascend to shogun. The film quickly adds in many additional parties - the imperial nobles, who serve as the titular leaders of Japan but are generally considered subservient to the shoguns; a village of warriors looking to regain their stolen homeland; and a large group of leaderless samurai looking for a fight anywhere they can find it in order to regain their lost glory.
For a while, I was concerned that there were going to be too many sub-plots to keep track of. In addition to introducing the main parties listed above, the film also gives us a pair of "fencing instructors" (essentially the shogun's main military man), one for each brother, who have an ongoing feud. There's also a young dancer who is having an affair with one of the brothers, and who gets some valuable intelligence late in the film. However, after setting out a lot of pieces, the storyline runs pretty clearly for the second half of the film, and shows lots of nice little twists and turns along the way. This isn't a happily-ever-after movie either - one brother ends up winning the battle with still about thirty minutes left, and that leaves plenty of time for him to make some fatal mistakes that leave almost every character in the large cast touched by some kind of tragedy by the end. Oh, and Sonny Chiba is far from the lead character, but he does end up as the main instrument of vengeance at the conclusion.
This is probably a film that would improve with multiple viewings, as I'm sure I missed some bits of political maneuvering among all of the parties. If you go in expecting the right type of martial arts action, and can manage to make it through the opening section, it's well worth viewing. It's just not my particularly favorite genre of film. Three stars.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
A couple of weeks back, I was flipping the channels and came across the second half of The Communicators, an on-going interview series on C-SPAN that focuses on media issues. This episode (from June 2, 2007 - link goes to MP3, a video feed is available from the C-SPAN web site) discussed the Fairness Doctrine, an FCC-enforced set of regulations that were taken out of effect in the late 1980's. The end of the Fairness Doctrine is largely credited as allowing the rise of conservative talk radio, in the form of Rush Limbaugh and his followers, and thus eventually extending to cable news channels and blogs and such. The revival of Democratic control of Congress, along with the not-unlikely prospects for a Democratic President in 2008, has led to speculation that the Fairness Doctrine might be put back in effect, long desired by the left as a way of both extending the government's control over the national media and as a way of potentially silencing (or at least cramping the style of) the Rush Limbaughs of the world.
I missed the first half of the show, which presented the "anti" side of the Fairness Doctrine, but caught the second half, which featured Andrew Jay Schwartzman of the Media Access Project, who is a proponent of reinstating the Fairness Doctrine. Frankly, what I heard from him was truly scary - one of the scarier concepts to come along in a while. I had not understood what the true scope of the Fairness Doctrine encompassed, and if it goes forward and is implemented as Mr. Schwartzman and his ilk desire, we will see a vast change in the way television and radio operate.
I had thought the Fairness Doctrine would just include "balance" - that is, in exchange for broadcasting three hours of Rush Limbaugh, a station would be required to broadcast three hours of "liberal" talk. Now, this would have only minimal effect on Rush - he is the most profitable show everywhere he is broadcast. I had believed that Rush would largely go on as before, and simply rely on the stations to "balance" him out on their own. This they would do by taking time from their less profitable shows - the second-and-lower-tier talk shows (Neal Boortz, Michael Savage, Glen Beck, etc.). The beneficiaries would be the Air Americas of the world - those liberal shows that would now receive in effect station sponsorships, so that they can demonstrate enough balance to hold onto their licenses. But as I heard Schwartzman's ideas about what would be included under a revived Fairness Doctrine, I realized that I didn't understand just how broad the effect would be on both stations as a whole and individual shows.
Among his proposals and claims:
- Every broadcaster must carry "controversial" programming - some discussion of community information and issues. This means your all-classical radio station - it must have public affairs discussions. That rap station? Same thing. Classic rock station? Them, too. What counts as "controversial"? Well, he claims it must affect large numbers of people in some "legislative or governmental sense", but then he goes on to say it could be something as simple as a discussion on "who is the best center fielder"? Does anybody think this makes sense? Does anybody this having a classical music station discussing baseball really increases the value to the public of the station license?
- He claims this is not having the government guide content. He justifies this by saying the government would not proscribe what issues must be covered, or how (but more on that later). Of course, he is exactly guiding content. Do you think a station could claim to have covered its public affairs quotient by playing (for example) Coldplay, as it wishes to? No? Then the station is not guiding the content - the government is.
- Attacks on persons - or groups - get a "brief right of reply". What defines an "attack"? More importantly, what defines a "group"? Is "the Democratic Party" a group? Are "women" a group? Are "blacks" a group? If so, then who gets to respond? And when does the response happen? If Rush "attacks" a person, does that response occur during his show? Or just sometime on all stations that carry his show? Or just on some stations? What about all of the recent Paris Hilton coverage - wall-to-wall, every channel out there. Does she get to issue a reply to all of those shows? Note that this doesn't appear to depend on the truthfulness of the attack - if a person is attacked untruthfully, there are already remedies in the courts. What a hornet's nest this provision is by itself.
- Shows that cover only one point-of-view would have to include content on other points-of-view as well - and this would appear to be directly in the show, as an example provided by Schwartzman was that the show would have to take callers representing the "other" side. And he goes on to suggest that a host in the habit of cutting off callers with a particular viewpoint might need to "be a little less quick on the dump button". So here, the government is not only specifying what issues are to be covered, but now they are specifying what specific callers a show must take on the air and how long that caller would be allowed to stay on the air. Again, this wouldn't affect Rush Limbaugh much - he already takes liberal callers, mainly because they are easy to humiliate. But for most shows, this proposal would be death. What if a show doesn't get any callers with an opposing viewpoint - would the producers have to prove they didn't receive any calls with the "other" viewpoint?
- He claims that only a "half a dozen" cases a year involved challenges to the Fairness Doctrine back in the 70's and 80's. I don't doubt it - there were much fewer stations and much fewer watchdog groups monitoring them. Does he truly think that now, in this current political environment, with the constant monitoring of every outlet by political groups of all bents, that there would only be a few complaints issued about content under a new Fairness Doctrine? Common sense denies this.
- He repeated described this as having "great bi-partisan" support. However, when directly asked what Republicans had expressed support for its revival, he could only stutter - he couldn't name one.
- Note that political campaign coverage is handled under different rules, not by the Fairness Doctrine. We know that the news media's coverage of campaigns is slanted towards the left - that won't be changed by this reinstatement. How convenient.
Not just no - HELL NO!
So I was all set to try out the new Safari Beta 3 for Windows. Unfortunately, this is clearly an early beta. Right off the start, Safari launched successfully but then failed to display correctly - none of the fonts were loaded. I found a fix for this from my favorite technology news site / message board, Ars Technica. Apparently, having lots of fonts (for some definition of the word "lots") can cause the font index in Safari to get borked. There was a lot of complaints on that board about the usual things, plus a new one - the font rendering. Apparently, Apple decided to bring over their own font renderer instead of using the one in Windows, and the results end up being a bit bolder and darker than most other Windows programs. Again, I don't see a lot of consistency across Windows programs either in this regard - in particular, the new Office 2007 I've been using renders fonts quite a bit softer and lighter than other apps. It's not "broken" or "wrong", it's just different. And to me - better. On the other hand, a lot of users are running fine, and most seemed to be impressed with Safari's speed.
But three big problems made me remove Safari and fall back to Firefox. First, the proxy handling is not quite right. We use a proxy/firewall at my company, and Firefox requires me to provide the password once per session. Safari seemed to want it once per remote site - that is, many more times than Firefox. Second, there seem to be some security issues - not good for a corporate environment. Third and most important - stability. Safari crashed twice in about fifteen minutes for me, and that's unacceptable.
It's just a beta, so I'm not overly concerned at this point. But I'm going to have to wait for the final release. Sorry, Apple.
Friday, June 8, 2007
The mayor trained with Al Gore last January to present the slide show on which An Inconvenient Truth is based, and you can join him today at one of two presentations based on what he learned. He'll talk not only about the global impacts of climate change but also about Austin's role in confronting the challenges.
I couldn't find a direct link to the notice, but it can be found on the Chronicle's event page for June 10.
Now today, we find out what really rises when the global warming activists come into play - taxes. Mayor Gore, err, Wynn is proposing spending $1.2 million to produce Austin's plan to deal with global warming.
And, by the way, the city is forecasting a budget deficit. Which they will solve by raising property taxes.
Granted, Will Wynn still has a way to go to catch up to that paragon of genius, Gus "Giant Cloud Of Smoke" Garcia, but over the last couple of weeks, he's rising up the charts. Fast.
This movie plays things a lot less ambiguously than the remake. Here, Gregory Peck's lawyer was just a witness against Max Cady, where in Scorsese's version, Nick Nolte's lawyer actively screwed DeNiro's Cady. All of the marital infidelity of the remake is missing here, too. All this serves to make Peck's character more of a true victim than Nolte's. Not that he comes off crystal clean - he does hire thugs (and Telly Sevalas!) to try and run Cady out of town. But still, you never feel like he in some way had something coming to him like you did with Nolte's version.
I've never been a big Gregory Peck fan, and he didn't do much in this film to sway me - not bad, just nothing special. Robert Mitchum is the reason this film works. The elements that DeNiro would turn into cliches a few decades down the line - the Panama hat, the southern drawl, the repeated "Counselor" - here are done with just the right amount of laconic menace. And once we hit the houseboat, Mitchum becomes truly scary once he starts slithering around the swamp. DeNiro's seduction of Juliette Lewis in the remake was by far the creepiest part of that film, but Mitchum's attacks on the daughter here are more savage if less icky.
Just a little let-down at the end - Cady had the daughter and could make his escape, so why did he abandon his plan and come back to fight Bowden? Granted, he almost won the fight, but it seemed like he was still more interested in punishing Bowden than killing him at that point. But otherwise, a fine film. Four stars.
So the issue is…we’re undeserving? Is that the issue? Only your people, not mine? Only you, not us?
That's a quote from Cynthia Perez, who was just given a low-interest loan of $270,000 city dollars and an outright gift of $500,000 city dollars. Some people are justifiably upset, but it's OK - they're just racists.
I've heard a lot of arguments against this loan, and posted multiple rants about it myself. But I haven't heard any that are bringing up race as a reason to oppose it. She sure seems to think "the man" is out to get them, though. I guess I need to update that image:
You're welcome. Bitch.
Thursday, June 7, 2007
Council Member Jennifer Kim said she supports the loan because the Perez sisters would have to repay part of it, and that money would go back into the Business Retention fund to help other small businesses.
"Some people think this is a blank check, and it's not," she said.
Well, there you go - it makes sense to make this a forgivable loan, because we can give them $750,000 from the fund and they'll pay back $200,000, so then there will be $200,000 available for other small businesses!
And this moron is one of the people spending my property taxes. Jesus Christ.
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
To that mouth-breathing moron who's basic ignorance about the basics of his own job tripled the length of my morning commute today...
Fuck you. You idiot.
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
Of course, living here in Austin, it will probably be lonely - and there's maybe a 10% chance of his truck getting keyed.
(Oh, and I actually made it to 100 posts. That's about 90 more than I thought I would make.)
Monday, June 4, 2007
I don't follow the NBA very closely, and the little I do is focused mostly on the Western Conference where the Mavs play. So I had completely forgotten about former Longhorn Daniel Gibson's playing for the Cavs - and not just playing but excelling. He won't ever be the leader of that team - not with King James around - but if he can be that key support man to make the Cavs not just "Lebron and four other guys", then more power to him. So go Gibson, and go Cavs!
But I'm still not going to be watching.
Sunday, June 3, 2007
The whole thing seems to be largely an excuse for (a) the usually broad comedy found in these kind of films and (b) some fairly good and funny comedy stunt/fight routines. It seems like everyone ends up falling off of a three-story building at some point - and of course just casually walk away as if nothing happened. Sammo is his usual great self, smashing through chairs, doors and windows with ease, and showing more agility than anyone who hadn't seem him before would expect. The opening scene, with Sammo stripped down to his skivvies in the snow, fighting and escaping from a lawman, ends with a funny stunt that it looks like Jackie Chan would crib later on in Operation Condor.
Everything descends into mass chaos as the many criminal gangs all converge on the town, with only Sammo left outside to save the day - which of course he does. It's all a kind of low-tech silliness that points towards the more high-tech silliness of later films like Shaolin Soccer (and I still have to catch up on my Stephen Chow films). Four stars.
Friday, June 1, 2007
The movie seemed to start off as a fairly episodic story - more like a R-rated sitcom than a movie. (Dialog from very first white guy in the movie: "Looks like we got a couple of neee-gro bounty hunters here.") I did like that Truck Turner's first act of violence was against his cat - definitely in the plus column. (Oh, and don't bet on the cat making it out of the movie alive.) But just when I was beginning to despair, along comes one of the funniest car chase scenes this side of Mitchell. It's one of those scenes where everyone's wheeling a cart of some kind across the road just as the cars get there. My favorite was when the pimpmobile hit a flower cart - and the rear door just falls off for no reason. The pimp later runs over the obligatory fire hydrant, and then abandons his car as it runs over a ditch - exploding for no reason just before it crashes. Outstanding! And then just when you think the chase is over, it starts up again - the pimp eludes Turner, doubles back and steals his car - because he left the keys in the ignition!
It's pretty much downhill from there though, as the pimp's lead lady (disturbingly played by Star Trek's Nichelle Nichols!) puts a contract out on Turner and the movie descends into a series of assassination attempts, all of which Turner easily avoids. Yaphet Kotto is the "smart pimp" who ends up being the main bad guy, and is pretty much the only guy in the movie even close to acting. Certainly he has no competition from lead actor Isaac Hayes, who isn't too bad just bullshitting with his partner, but is just sort of there during the action scenes and (surprisingly) the love scenes. (Sample dialog: Turner is late to pick up his woman from jail (!). She asks: "Didn't you even bring flowers?" He replies: "I brought beer.")
So the plot of the movie wasn't much, but there were enough funny moments scattered through the film to keep things moving (another highlight - the pimp funeral featuring a procession of pimpmobiles!). Three stars.