Define "a Life"...

... still searching for a clear definition of that thing people keep telling me I need to get...

Location: Springfield, PA

Monday, August 29, 2005

Not Much Meat On These Bones

I need to go to the movies more often, if only so that my aggregate experience of moviegoing stands a better chance of adding up to something positive. As an indirect result of a scheduling mixup at work today, I ended up going to the movies. I’d intended to see The Brothers Grimm (and still do) but in acknowledgement of the nasty weather headed towards New Orleans (and because I missed the Brothers Grimm showtime) I decided instead to see the other film written by Ehren Kruger, The Skeleton Key.

Now, Universal’s pre-release ad campaign for this flick was so inflated with self-importance that I must confess to being a little predisposed to finding fault with it. I’m used to people throwing around comparisons to The Sixth Sense whenever a movie has some sort of mindfuck twist ending. (Remember The Others, anyone?) But when you’re daring enough to compare your movie to Rosemary’s Baby you’re setting yourself up against some mighty imposing criteria.

And the fact of the matter is that The Skeleton Key just doesn’t have the chops to come away from any of those comparisons looking good.

Kate Hudson gives a committed performance as Caroline Ellis, a would-be nurse who’s working as a hospice care worker while she fumbles through some barely suppressed issues about her absence during her own father’s illness and death. Her transferal onto the dying men she cares for is rendered with the same ham-handed lack of subtlety that keeps the film from ever being as creepy as it thinks it is. After a particularly disillusioning incident at a nursing home, Caroline takes a job as an in-home caregiver in order to more thoroughly bond with her charge. (Hey, you’re never going to make much headway on those unresolved paternal issues as long as you maintain a professional detachment.) She packs up her vintage 1970s VW Beetle and heads out into the bayou to the Devereaux estate, a tired old plantation house nestled amid the spreading cypress and hanging spanish moss.

Old Ben Devereaux (John Hurt in an almost, but not quite, wordless performance) has been left bedridden by a recent stroke, or so we’re told by his wife Violet (Gena Rowlands). The Devereaux’s lawyer, Luke (Peter Sarsgaard) assures Caroline that Violet’s cold shoulder is nothing personal – she’s just having a hard time dealing with her husband’s condition. Of course, it only takes a few days for Caroline to get the impression that Violet is “dealing with her husband’s condition” by acting pretty damn suspiciously. There’s Ben’s non-prescription “remedy,” prepared by Violet herself with loving care and more than a little secrecy. There’s the fact that there’s not a single mirror to be found in the house. There’s Ben’s late night attempt to escape his second floor room through the window, a mighty hefty bit of nocturnal wandering from the guy who’s supposed to be unable to walk. And then there’s that mysteriously locked attic room, the one with the skulls and the chicken parts in mason jars and the black and red candles and all the other voo doo sorta stuff.

Of course, this is just a short drive outside New Orleans, so the presence of that sort of stuff is a good deal less surprising that it would be in, say, Vermont. Hell, it’s practically expected. But Caroline’s from Hoboken, so she’s a little freaked. Not so her friend who’s a native of the Big Easy. She’s quick to clarify things for Caroline: what she found in the attic is a “hoo doo room.” Voo Doo, we’re told, is a religion, while “hoo doo” is all about the hexes and curses and magic spells and such. (Is this a real distinction or ate the folks at Universal just being a little paranoid and trying to avoid offending any real voo doo practitioners who might feel inclined towards boycotts and law suits? Who knows?) At least the hoo doo angle explains the absence of mirrors and the lines of brick dust in the house’s doorways. Or does it?

When Caroline finally confronts Violet about the hoo doo in the attic, she gets the “you’re not from The South, you wouldn’t understand” routine. For about 27 seconds. Then Violet recounts the history of the house, which was marked with the lynching of a pair of household servants who, it turns out, were also hoo doo mystics. And, it seems, amateur recording artists – Caroline finds several old LPs of their ceremonies. This seems like it’s going to be a major plot point, but like a number of the specifics in the movie’s build-up it never comes to any distinct resolution. In that respect, Skeleton Key reminds me of several of Kruger’s other screenplays, particularly The Ring. Kruger also penned The Ring Two and Reindeer Games, which I haven’t seen, and Imposter, a muddled and overwrought sci-fi adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story with a twist ending. His track record makes me worry a bit about Brothers Grimm.

Skeleton Key isn’t helped by Iain Softly’s pointlessly stylish direction. Softly directed Hackers, a strange cross between guilty pleasure and some sort of amusingly misinformed cultural artifact (also handily useful in games of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon). Part of the reason something like The Sixth Sense works is the deliberate control with which it’s structured on every level; Softly’s flailing camera and stylized ultra-close-ups are constant reminders that we’re watching a movie, a layer of artifice that distances us from the events of the movie by making us overtly aware of the form itself. It doesn’t help that the heavy-handed touch is present almost from the outset, before the film has established its world or earned any liberties.

Oh yeah. The movie thinks it has a twist. I saw it coming. I don’t think it’s a twist. Barely a bend, really. Actually, I think I may have seen more or less the same thing on a Twilight Zone or Night Gallery episode or something like that.

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Old Grey Lady Still Has Balls

I've been getting New York Times links e-mailed to me for a while now. I don't post links here so much in large part because Blogger's interface to the Mac is not too friendly for doing anything other than plain old text. (Ever notice that I don't use italics much here? It's 'cause I can't figure out how to make then work...)

But there are a couple of editorials that got my ferver going, with observations like:
"... the campaign for [Social Security] privatization provided an object lesson in how the administration sells its policies: by misrepresenting its goals, lying about the facts and abusing its control of government agencies."
So here're some clunky links (sorry they're not clickable):

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Stickie Quotes

One of the things I LOVE about the Mac OS is a little desktop feature called “Stickies.” For those who’ve neither shared in nor witnessed the Joy of Mac, “Stickies” is exactly what it sounds like – little virtual Post-It notes for your virtual desktop. I find them endlessly useful.

One of the things I do with them is save cool quotes I come upon while online. I could paste these quotes into an ongoing Word file or something, sure. But just throwing the quote onto a Stickie is so much more convenient. Back in the days before Stickies, I’d use the Mac’s “Notebook” in the same way. It’s all about convenience.

Well, I’m doing some virtual desk cleaning and I want to cut back the number of Stickies on my desktop. Like their material namesake, they do tend to accumulate. And even though you can collapse a virtual Stickie into just a title bar, they still take up space. So before they vanish with a click, here are a couple of quotes I’ve had sitting on my iMac for a while now.

"I don't think homosexuality is a choice. Society forces you to think it's a choice, but in fact, it's in one's nature. The choice is whether one expresses one's nature truthfully or spends the rest of one's life lying about it."
-- Marlo Thomas

“Note: In the spirit of the epic yet mysterious turning point you're at, Virgo, I'm providing you with an extravagant yet cryptic oracle. Read it with the nonlinear side of your brain. Your escape from the false "home" is imminent. Are you ready to change about 10 percent of your mind about who you really are and about 20 percent of your mind about where you truly belong? Regard it as a lucky sign if the prospect of fresh freedom rouses an ancient fear. It means you're close to finding the lost key to the kingdom of childhood, which is also the key to the secret garden of adulthood.”
-- Rob Brezney’s Free Will Astrology

“No drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we're looking for the sources of our troubles, we shouldn't test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power.”
-- P. J. O'Rourke

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Damn, I'm vulgar...

Okay, so I took the humor test but I can't figure out how to nicely paste my results into the blog. Grrrr. I guess I really do need to learn HTML tags if 'm going to continue blogging. I'm too much of a fussy text fetishist not to.

Anyway, what most surprised me was not my astonishingly high score on vulgarity. It was that I didn't score higher on "dark." Huh.

the Provacateur

(57% dark, 34% spontaneous, 47% vulgar)

your humor style:

You'll crack on anything, and you're often witty, even caustic, about it.

Therefore, your sense of humor is polarizing. You're transgressive, and you've got a seriously sharp 'edge'--maybe too much for some folks. If they get you, people think you're one of the funniest (and smartest) people in the world. If they don't, they think you're an ass. Whatever, right? While some might question your judgement, your comic intellect is unquestionably respected.

PEOPLE LIKE YOU: Chris Rock - Lenny Bruce - George Carlin

My test tracked 3 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:

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You scored higher than 67% on dark

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You scored higher than 14% on spontaneous

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You scored higher than 89% on vulgar
Link: The 3 Variable Funny Test written by jason_bateman on Ok Cupid

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Coming Attactions Sometimes Too Forthcoming...

I hate it when movie trailers give away key plot points of a film. It just pisses me off.

I just saw an ad for The Cave, a movie which I pretty much already knew I wanted to see based on the (very) little I knew about the premise. Some massive subterranean caverns; group of explorers go down to explore them; creepy stuff ensues – okay, maybe I’m not there opening day, but my interest was already hooked.

So I was interested when an ad came on during a commercial break in Stargate. Silly me. The ad quickly clarified what I already knew about the movie, then just as quickly went on to tell me things I didn’t want to know. The sort of plot twist I wouldn’t want to know until it came up in the course of my actually watching the film. Piss me off.

Hell, at least now I know when the thing’s coming out. And what it’s rated, not that that matters much.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Devious SOB

Okay, the Weed is now officially over the line. In what cannot be seen as anything other than an act of outright defiance and (in my opinion) reckless arrogance, Bush subverted both Houses of Congress by shoving Bolton into the U.N. post while Congress is in recess.

This is not what the provision for recess appointments exists for. The phrase “misuse of power” leaps to mind.

You have to ask yourself which portions of Bush’s behavior are parts of the good old boy persona he’s affected, which are just plain dumb stubbornness, and which are manifestations of mental deficiency or instability.

This act says to me that Bush genuinely has no respect for the checks and balances of our government.

It’s this simple: if you can’t get an up-or-down vote on your nominee, then you need to nominate someone else. It’s that simple. You don’t get everything you want. The system is designed that way. A narrow win of the presidency does not mean that you’re in charge of the entire government; a simple party majority in either or both houses doesn’t mean you’re in charge of the entire government; part of what democracy’s about is the prevention of that sort of exclusive rule.

My reaction, at this point, is a mix of outrage, revulsion and fear. Both as a man of conscience and a member of several minorities, this display of moral and ethical bankruptcy angers and scares the hell out of me.