Somebody, Anybody

December 15th, 2009

I am against the death penalty, not because I think everyone has the right to life regardless of what they do, but because I don't trust the State.

(Now, before any cries of "But you're a liberal! You love the State!" come tumbling out, let me observe that I don't trust the State, but I trust private entities, particularly corporations, even less.)

And my distrust is justified again and again, as people thrown in the slammer (or sentenced to death) twenty, thirty, forty years ago keep being proven innocent through DNA testing. Here's the latest. Donald Gates has been in jail for more than 25 years after being convicted for a rape and murder that he did not, apparently, commit.

Now, it's reprehensible that an innocent man was thrown in jail, and that steams me. But what really angers me nigh-unto-tears-of-rage is the fact that Catherine Schilling did not get justice. The man who raped her and then shot her in the head got away, and thanks to the zealous get-a-conviction-at-all-costs prosecutor, they stopped looking for him.

That's the heart of what really angers me about this whole "find someone, anyone, and string 'em up!" situation we currently have in our justice system. When you convict the wrong guy, the actual rapist - the actual murderer - gets away scot-free. I don't give a flying fuck how bad the crime is, if you are nailing the most convenient suspect on dubious evidence what you are really doing is not only harming an innocent man (who is usually a scumbag, but an innocent one) but you are guaranteeing that the actual criminal gets away.

The prosecutor who pushed the dubious evidence and the false testimony did not only send Donald Gates to prison, he made 100% certain that Catherine Schilling did not get, and would never get, justice. May he burn in hell right alongside her killer.

Something of a movie review

December 15th, 2009

We took the girls to see The Princess and the Frog last weekend. I thought it was certainly decent, but not great. Although I think my opinion is warming the more that I think about it.

What bothers me is the pacing. I'm not sure how well I can describe it, but the pacing just seems off. Not quite right. Something about the flow of the story bugs me. I think it's uneven, moving in a bunch of small, jerking scenes. It seems to take a while to get to the ending, and then the end rushes by.

The character development is also a bit wonky. The princess in question isn't bad, but...actually, I can't complain. Thinking about the rest of the Disney princesses, Tiana is massively complex in comparison.

However, the prince is another story. During the course of the film he...

Ok, here there be spoilers.

The prince falls in love with the heroine, as he should, but it feels arbitrary. And in doing so, he changes completely. Just a few minutes before, he's singing about how much he loves his carefree, no-responsibility life. Then, BAM! He falls in love, and decides that hard work is the way to go.

The only rationale is that it's a fairy tale, and that the character has to change to fit the story. At least the prince is likable enough from the start, with a bit more personality than most Prince Charmings. Still, the transition is pretty sudden.

However, the movie regained a lot of my goodwill by doing something hugely unusual: A character, who appears to get killed...actually dies. Not Tiana's father, who dies offscreen, but that's hardly surprising (as there are very few Disney protagonist with a pair of living parents; there's a very strong Dead Parent(s) rule in Disney movies). No, this is actually one of the entertaining sidekicks. Who is badly wounded during the climactic battle, and, miraculously, does not shake it off to dance and sing during a joyful final scene.

Which sounds like I'm being a cynical bastard, but it means that a character who leaps into danger, knowing the risks, actually makes a meaningful sacrifice. He dies nobly, and although he gets a pretty damn cheesy death scene...well, it's a death scene. For a good guy. That's pretty damn amazing, and made me appreciate the movie quite a bit more (if the character had survived, I'd be writing the movie off right now).

As for the villain...well, he looked and acted appropriately evil, but I thought his end happened a bit suddenly. I'm not sure about that either, though, because more of him might have been too much. Maybe a little more backstory would've helped, because he was basically a moustache-twirler. But that was his role, he played it, and he met a nasty (and rather loud) end. You don't always want a sympathetic villain, right?

The voices were good. I didn't get the sense that actors were hired for their names more than their actual voice acting ability. That bugs the heck out of me.

But was it good? Yes, overall. Flawed, but good.

Plus, it followed a set of previews that made me want to run screaming, so that didn't hurt my opinion of it (the previews included another Alvin & The Chipmunks movie, something with talking cats and dogs, and a movie about Miley Cyrus learning the value of family...each preview more painful than the last).

Natural Outflow

December 12th, 2009

I've had live Christmas trees for enough years that I know they need lots of water. However, our tree this year seemed exceptionally thirsty, requiring refills of the basin twice a day. Sure, the house air is dry, and my son tries to keep the lights on as much as possible, but I was surprised at how much water the tree was consuming.

Surprised, that is, until I came out this morning to find the cat drinking out of the tree basin.

Review: What Hath God Wrought?

December 11th, 2009

What Hath God Wrought? The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 by Daniel Walker Howe - 8.5/10

A very interesting book about a largely forgotten period of American history. Part of the Oxford History of the United States series of which I have read a number this last year, and give a blanket recommendation to all of them.

What Hath God Wrought? really conveys the dynamics of the 'Era of Good Feelings' and the subsequent Jacksonian period, the people involved, the social movements (Second Great Awakening anyone?) and the beginnings of what we now call technology, as evinced in the book's title. (The first message transmitted over telegraph wires.) This era is largely overshadowed by the Revolutionary War and Jeffersonian periods before it, and the Civil War afterward; and to be honest, rightfully so. But although the moon is dimmer than the sun, it's worthy of study, and this an era in which much of the foundations of the Republic were laid.

As with all of the books in the series, it was tremendously readable; the individuals involved had real life and animation, the material was interesting, the pacing good. It did flag somewhat when describing the various nascent social movements, but I think that's hard to avoid. And it painted great pictures of Jackson, Henry Clay, Polk, and a wide range of once-towering and now ignored American figures.

I recommend it. Good book, and possibly the best way to fill in one's knowledge of an American period frequently overlooked.

Reviews: A Serious Man, Pirate Radio

December 11th, 2009

A Serious Man - 3/10

It was like slowly poking an icepick into my brain. And then running electricity through it.

There was a real dearth of interesting movies this fall. The miracle of babysitting arrived one Friday, and we wanted to see a film, but nothing exciting was playing. A Serious Man was 87% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, and I really enjoyed some Coen Brothers films (Oh Brother Where Art Thou, Barton Fink, although I don't like Fargo), so it seemed like a good bet.

Turned out it was pretty much distilled essence of 'The Winter of my Despondancy', albeit in Yiddish. It was like a black comedy with absolutely nothing funny in it. Bad stuff happens, then more bad stuff, then things take a turn for the worse... yet totally lacking in irony somehow. Like someone telling you at length and in detail about a relative's ultimately fatal bout with Crohn's Disease.

Hell, that might have been preferable to watching this movie. (The retelling, not the disease.)

The film suffered deeply from the fact that almost all of the problems faced by the main character stemmed from the fact that he's an utter doormat. No spine whatsoever. And that makes it really hard to sympathize with him. Impossible, in fact. Nor would he have ever attained the things he had in life - family, job, etc - given how utterly pusillanimous (coupled with clueless) he seems to be in the film.

So I hated it. Top 10 worst films list. Right up there with critic-beloved films The Thin Red Line and There Will Be Blood.

Pirate Radio - 5.5/10

Another choice from a long spell of unattractive films, this time my wife's pick. The premise was, well, very promising.

The film not so much.

It had interesting characters. That's pretty much the high point. The plot barely existed, there were at most minor flareups of conflict, and in the end it was little ado about very little indeed.

What's really bothersome is that the premise - "pirate" ships broadcasting rock n' roll radio to Britain - had so much potential, and damn near none of it was capitalized on. Not only could I have made a better film, I am confident that you could have as well, and almost but not as confident that my four-year-old son could have.

At least it wasn't A Serious Man.