Thursday, February 26, 2009

Robbinsdale Boycott

Well, one thing we know for sure... Robbinsdale now has a patrol car monitoring the house where Jamis Marks was murdered. How do I know? Because I got a ticket.

Um, not for murder...

See, unlike Minneapolis, or any other town with laws the resemble sanity, Robbinsdale can issue tickets for anyone who parks on the street during ANY snowfall. I found this out the hard way.

In addition to my fine (see below), I just spent the last hour on the phone with various agencies determining who had issued the fine, and how I should pay it. See, instead of listing the offense and the dollar amount owed, the officer (badge #3848) simply issued a citation number, with a phone number to call.

You know how this goes. I call the phone number, and the citation number doesn't exist. Nice f------ work, Robbinsdale #3848.

So I call the alternate number (911). The dispatcher informs me they don't deal with citations (stands to reason), so I am referred to 311. This was a dumb thing to do, since 311 only deals with Minneapolis issues. Again, Robbinsdale's gestapo snow emergency laws are foreign to them.

So I call back to the alternate number, and I am referred to the Robbinsdale police. Cue banjo music. Seriously, if you go to Robbinsdale, bring your own gun. These people are useless. If I were Mr. Marks' widow, I'd sue... Just sayin'. I give my number for a call back. The Robbinsdale officer who calls me back refers me to a website, which offers me the same information as the phone number.

So I call the alternate number again, and am referred to 763-525-6216. This is the number for, well, I don't really know what. The dispatcher forwards me to Hennepin county dispatch, who tells me to dial 763-525-6216. Again, seriously, carry a gun. The police are not helping you in this city.

So I call the 763 number again, only this time, it's Robbinsdale dispatch (what, do they draw numbers out of a hat?). Again, I am asked for my number for a callback. This time, another, more belligerent sargeant calls me back.

It is here that I am informed of Robbinsdale fascist parking restrictions. See, if I had simply pulled up to the address in question, gunned down the occupants, and drove away, I would be off scot free (right Mr. Watkins?). As it happens, I owe $34.

I complain that this seems rather arbitrary, and the officer asks me if I watch the news, as though KARE 11 is infatuated with the vagaries of Robbinsdale's draconian parking regulations. I am informed that I am lucky I wasn't towed (actually, I'm lucky I'm not this guy). I explain that a citizen should never have to feel lucky not to be unduly punished for violating an arbitrary law, and sargeant whoever gets surly.

He says he's been on the job for twenty-four years, and asks how long I have lived in the Minnesota metropolitan area. I explain that I have been here for quite a while, and that I live in Minneapolis, and he tells me that things work differently in Robbinsdale.

Fair enough, prick. Things clearly work differently in Robbinsdale, and so I will avoid it. Below are a list of businesses I will boycott. I encourage my readers to do the same.

(edit: never mind. Robbinsdale made it better. Don't boycott their businesses anymore.)

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Stories from childhood

When I was six years old, my parents were looking to purchase a home. The owners of one house (the one we eventually bought) had a dog named bear. A sign read:

"The dog's name is bear. He is very shy, but if you pet him once, he'll be your friend for life."

They were right, the second time we came back to look at the house, there was Bear, waiting for attention....

That dog is dead now, just like my dreams and (presumably) yours.


This post is brought to you by Macy's.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hopeface addresses the nation

Tonight, our Pastor-in-Chief interrupts American Idol to deliver the first of his fireside chats.

Ronald Reagan used to do this a lot, if I remember correctly. One time, his address to the nation pre-empted a Peanuts special I had my heart set on. I hated Ronald Reagan when I was a kid.

My lamentation was obviously trivial, but not entirely inconsequential. In this day and age, is it really necessary for the President to take over the airwaves to address the nation? Of course not, but it suits his purposes. If I want to watch Obama pimp his stupid stimulus package, I can pull up a speech on YouTube.

But I don't want to do that. Barack Obama bores me, just like Reagan bored me. I want to watch American Idol. Americans, I suspect, would make a similar calculation. There is something inherently fascist about our leader appearing on every channel to promote himself.

So tonight, the government is depriving me of the opportunity to do what I want to do, in an effort to persuade me that further deprivation (viz. my paycheck in 2035) is what's best for me and for the country. If I'm really lucky, Bobby Jindal will deprive me further in order to tell me that further deprivation will be necessary, but not for the reasons Obama claims.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscar Musings

Hugh Jackman is gonna sing and dance his away into our hearts people... Alright, let's dispense little golden men.

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Uh-oh... Hugh Jackman is starting with standup. That's no good. Ah, there's the musical medley. For the uninitiated, medley's are like a montage, but with live performers. Say this for Hugh, he has no sense of irony.

Did he just spell "Milk" M-I-L-I-K?

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And the first montage of the evening is foiled by a scrim malfunction. Somebody just lost their job.

I wonder if Hattie McDaniel was crying because she knew she would one day become the queen bee of Oscar montages. But her acceptance speech was just so versatile... Women montages, black montages, acceptance speech montages, crying montages, Gone With the Wind montages, Oscar stuff that happened a long time ago montages...

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Okay, so instead of showing the clips of the Oscar nominated performances, we are having random past winners offer scripted praise to the nominees? Seriously? We're eschewing the one opportunity for Vicky Cristina Barcelona to get some pub in favor of Whoopie making nun jokes?

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Ironically, Goldie Hawn seems to be aging in reverse. At this rate, she'll be the world's largest-breasted toddler by 2028.

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Who knew Penelope Cruz was this sanctimonious? When movie stars yak about the universal language of film, I get queasy.

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Tina Fey and Steve Martin are being upstaged by a giant script, which is a shame, because they are actually funny. Did anyone bother to direct this show?

And Dustin Lance Black wins for Milk. Blargh. Let me put it this way. Martin Donagh could write Milk in his sleep. Black couldn't write In Bruges in a million years.

Incidentally, how is it that screenwriters always have the least interesting speeches?

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You know, for a purported comedian, Jack Black has no sense of timing. Jennifer Aniston has, what, five Emmy nominations, and you still can't make it work without bowling over her lines?

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A good rule of thumb for those who want to win their Oscar pools. The short subjects with the most unpronouncable names are locks.

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Sarah Jessica Parker harkens back to a time when people used to get dressed up to work at the phone company. Um, I'm pretty sure they still do, dearie. Gotta love it when Hollywood forgets not to treat the rest of America like the great unwashed.

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I love the acceptance speeches for the technical awards for one reason alone. There is always one guy who takes up all of the time at the podium, while a second guy alternates between awkwardly leaning into the shot and playing with his Oscar. At the end, awkward guy starts to thank two people over the ochestra, gives up, and then does a weird fist pump with his Oscar to save face.

Love it.

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This guy designs costumes for a living? He looks like a mortician. Granted, he's probably spent from having to run all the way from the Tropicana bar when his name was announced. Where was he sitting? Does Kate Winslet have a restraining order against him or something?

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Who is Jessica Biel, anyway? It's like she just materialized a few years ago and was instantly famous. At any rate, it looks like someone shot her in the chest with a fabric cannon, and she could not be LESS interested in the technical awards.

According to imdb.com, she was in Ulee's Gold. That's the movie where Peter Fonda took care of bees. It's also not the kind of movie you remember.

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James Franco can't even pronounce the winner of the film short subject. See what I mean?

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Note to Oscar producers. The musical was back, and then Mamma Mia came along and killed it.

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Alan Arkin congratulates Seymour Philip Hoffman on being an actor's actor. Philip Seymour Hoffman proves it by casting a gracious glance back at him. Yeah, this is SO much better than just watching the clips.

Also, the whole interactive thing works best when all of the nominees are, you know, alive.

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I briefly wonder why Bill Maher is presenting the Best Documentary award, and then he reminds us by pimping his own documentary. The things is, he had to remind us. Does anyone actually still pay attention to this guy?

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Isn't a montage devoted to editing a little self-serving? Shame on those glory-whore film editors.

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We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for the A.R. Rahman variety hour. Everybody sing along. Why didn't they just have him host. He had more face time than Hugh Jackman.

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Danny Boyle is amazed by the Oscar production, and wonders what it looks like on TV. I'm wondering what it looked like in the theater, because this is the worst Oscar ceremony I have ever seen. They even messed up the death montage with schizophrenic camera work.

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Onto best actress. Sophia Loren looks like pork rinds, and the nazi sex kitten takes home the gold. Kate Winslet tells Meryl Streep she'll have to "suck it up". It was intended as a compliment, but still.

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I don't know what planet you have to be on to figure Sean Penn was better than Mickey Rourke or Frank Langella, but I'll give him props for recognizing that he is difficult to appreciate. He makes no reference to his off-camera incidents, however. Ba dum-bum...

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And we get yet another montage. I heard a lot about how the producers were trying to boost ratings. They could have done that by nominating Clint Eastwood and Bruce Springsteen in the best song category. Instead, we get a world record for montages.

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And the winner is... Slumdog Millionaire, which I will be reviewing tomorrow...

I'd conclude with a montage of past Oscar musings, but my heart's just not in it this year.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Lost Nixon

Frost-Nixon tells the story of a legendary series of post-Watergate interviews conducted by Australian television personality David Frost, in which Nixon finally breaks down and confessed his crimes to the American people. Frost, who was regarded as far too trifling enough to work in London or New York, finally achieves the credibility he has been seeking, and he is largely credited for finally getting “Tricky Dick” to put his cards on the table.

The film, based on a very successful Broadway play, is superbly acted, well-crafted, and genuinely suspenseful. It is also an utter fabrication. Yes, David Frost did seek out Richard Nixon for a series of interviews. Yes, the interviews generated a lot of interest and skepticism. But Nixon did not confess much of anything, the public ceased to watch the interviews after one airing, and the skeptics were largely validated by the process.

Screenwriter Peter Morgan, who adapted his own play, evoked a similar fusion of reality and fiction in 2006's The Queen. But that film, a study of Britain’s official response to the death of Princess Diana, required conjecture. We can’t possibly know what conversations took place between Tony Blair and Queen Elizabeth, so we look to a gifted writer for illumination.

The real Frost-Nixon interviews, on the other hand, were aired before millions of people. You can find them on YouTube. This makes two nominees for best picture that have fictionalized real living characters. But the whitewashing of the title character in Milk simply renders the movie banal. Frost-Nixon seems guilty of a rather more serious crime.

The film is told in a sort of expose format, with the film’s supporting cast adding flavor through what appear to be real news interviews. The documentary style relies upon the presumption that what happens in this film is, in fact, true. This presumption lends a certain confidence to the narrative. Langella is free to portray the often prolix Nixon as an articulate and incisive firebrand, thereby stealing every scene. Frost (whose performance is less successful) is free to vacillate between timidity and arrogance on a dime, in accordance with the plot developments.

***SPOILER ALERT*** While the press has noted the use of a fictional phone conversation between Nixon and Frost prior to their final interview, I found this well within the bounds of artistic liberty. The film’s climax, however, rests on a central conceit, namely the notion that the series of interviews progressed naturally to a gotcha moment when the subject finally turned to Watergate. Not only did the real Watergate portion of the interview fail to deliver any sort of gotcha, it occurred at the beginning of the interview series. ***END SPOILER ALERT***

The fact that I feel compelled to include a spoiler alert regarding a film ostensibly based on a true story is telling. There is no denying Frost-Nixon’s screen worthiness. Howard’s direction and Langella’s performance are alone enough to recommend the film. The supporting cast (particularly Oliver Platt, who apparently only plays journalists) is top notch.

But after the thrill of the film’s final chess-match subsides, something feels amiss. The film is not without a point-of-view, namely that journalists represent our last best chance of unraveling corruption. But the real Frost-Nixon interviews were, at best, an exception to the rule. They made a lot of money for a lot of people (Frost and Nixon in particular), but they did not reveal anything knew about one of America’s most elusive presidents.

That this film pretends to do so seems a bit, I dunno, tricky.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Curious Case of Nihilism

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button gives us the tale of a man who ages in reverse. Ironic enough, given that we have seen this movie before. Button is famously similar to Forrest Gump, another work from the same screenwriter. Alas, while the plot structure remains the same, all the charm is gone.

Forrest Gump told the story of a simple man who had more amazing opportunities than anyone deserves to have in his lifetime. That the film is plausible (much less entertaining) is a testament to its adherence to its own internal logic. Tom Hanks’ Gump compensates for his intellectual shortcomings by being remarkably forthright. His wealth and fame are the fruits of his honesty, loyalty and goodness.

Brad Pitt’s Button is also simple, but he is neither loyal nor good. He enjoys three things: Sex, booze and contemporary fashion. His quest for both sends him aboard a ship, to New York, to Europe, and even to a hotel basement to eat caviar with Tilda Swinton for some reason. He sleeps with prostitutes, inherits a company, buys property and makes love to Cate Blanchett in beautiful locales.

Ostensibly, one could argue that his opportunities stem from the fact that he seems more experienced than he is. But the film isn’t interested in exploring this possibility, or the consequences thereof (though Button does consume too much alcohol at one point). Aside from his spectacular medical condition, Benjamin Button is a spectacular bore. Why everyone takes a liking to him is beyond me.

But everyone does, especially Daisy. Introduced as a child, and then later played by Cate Blanchett, Daisy sees something special in Button. Their childhood friendship (very) gradually develops into a love affair. She, of course, ages normally, so mathematics dictates that they appear the same age just before she hits menopause.

*** SPOILER ALERT ***

So they have a kid. Shortly thereafter, in a fit of consternation about the aging backward thing, Button leaves his wife to travel to very photographable places. That’s a very selfish thing to do, but the movie applauds him, as does Daisy.

*** END SPOILER ALERT ***

Ultimately, this is the curious thing about Benjamin Button. The movie wants us to love him (hence the casting of Brad Pitt), but he isn’t lovable. Pitt doesn’t do the film any favors, proving why, in spite of his looks, he really isn’t leading man material. Short of a stilted New Orleans drawl and a vacant stare, he doesn’t really do anything other than wear varying degrees of unconvincing makeup.

Button also employs one of the most bizarrely underutilized framing devices in cinematic history. The film is told in flashback, from a New Orleans hospital in the hours before Hurricane Katrina. What is the significance of this? Is it symbolic of Pitt’s journey? Is life like a box of hurricanes? You can’t just set a movie against the backdrop of one of the greatest disasters in American history without explaining why.

There is no particular justification for the film’s substantial length. Each scene exists (and many succeed) as a sort of vignette, and these vignettes are strung together like postcards. Why, then, are we treated to flash-forwards of a daughter opening postcards of the experience we just saw? This sort of monotony seems to exist to pad the running time to “epic standards”.

As you can tell from the previews, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is lavishly filmed. It’s a nice looking movie, and director David Fincher does his able best to make lemonade out Eric Roth’s bland lemon stew. But ultimately, if you don’t care about the title character, you are unlikely to care about the movie.

If a Forrest Gump was a moral fable, Button is a celebration of nihilism.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Passion of the Milk

2008 gave us one incendiary political film, a perfectly timed call to action for one of the great contemporary crises facing our population. Unfortunately, Wall-E wasn’t nominated for best picture… Instead we got Milk, which is about how awesome gays are. It has been said that Milk comes to us at least a decade too late, and that Hollywood owed the gay community a portrayal of the first openly homosexual person to hold citywide office. Perhaps so, but I’m willing to extend Hollywood a collective benefit of the doubt.

Consider Harvey Milk’s life and death. Here is a former Navy Seal who campaigned for Barry Goldwater and had a thing for suicidal men. He moved to San Francisco, opened a business, and became so irritated with the city’s absurd tax policies and hostility to commerce that he ran for public office. Along the way, he formed rather unique alliances, frequently speaking before Jim Jones’ (yes that Jim Jones) congregation.

As his reputation grew, he became a leader within the homosexual community, until he was murdered just days after the Jonestown suicides. The man accused, Dan White, was a lunatic whose lawyers invoked the now famous “Twinkie defense”, claiming that Mr. White was hopped up on junk food when he murdered Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone.

That’s a lot for one script, but the drama of Harvey Milk’s life lives in these essential paradoxes. Milk became a crusader for gay rights, and certainly became a tragic figure. But that’s the stuff of after school specials. Unfortunately, an after school special is all writer Dustin Lance Blank felt compelled to offer us. This is a hagiography, not a biography, and it isn’t half as compelling as the man himself.

The script is a tedious exercise in sophomoric screenwriting clichés. Heavily reliant on narration, the film’s underwritten supporting cast exists as a foil for Milk’s speechmaking. In an effort to gin up drama where none exists, the movie steals the opera motif from Philadelphia (another message movie that could have ran at 3pm on ABC), and creates a subplot wherein Dan White, Milk’s eventual assassin, is a closeted homosexual.

Oh, and the movie even ends in a candlelight vigil. Didn’t see THAT coming.

There is no reference to the Jim Jones affiliation, even though the Jonestown Massacre itself impacts the plot line ***SPOLIER ALERT*** Dan White snuck into city hall through the basement to avert metal detectors installed the day after the suicides, and would likely have otherwise been flagged by security. ***END SPOILER ALERT*** No mention is made of his publicly outing homosexuals who did not wish to be outed.

Plot points are introduced, then quickly discarded. Consider the scene featuring Milk’s new campaign manager, who is (gasp) a woman. After some pointed glances and a quick introduction, Milk tells her that he has been looking for a real dyke to keep the campaign in line. She responds by saying “well, you got her”. The scene abruptly ends, and she isn’t heard from for another thirty minutes.

Harvey’s main squeeze, Scott Smith is, apparently, the most boring human being ever to have lived. In an apparent effort to imbue some sort of chemistry between the two, they have cake fights. Cake fights happen in Kate Hudson movies, when the director realizes he doesn’t have any interesting material to work with.

Of course, all the boredom and whitewashing is standard operating procedure for the Hollywood biopic. But that’s the point. This SOP biopic was one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year. Why? Politics.

Milk’s climax revolves around California’s Prop 6 initiative in 1978, which would have mandated the firing of homosexual teachers AND anyone who supported them. Film critics inevitably drew a comparison between Prop 6 and the recently passed Prop 8, which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Setting aside the question of whether a film becomes better by virtue of its fortuitous release date, the two proposals were wildly different. Prop 6 was an obvious infringement upon free speech and civil liberty. It would have led to witch hunts and mass firings throughout the school system. It was even opposed by Ronald Reagan (to its credit, the film actually mentions this) and probably didn’t need Milk’s opposition in order to fail. Prop 8 was a question of whether to reconfigure an existing privilege (marriage is not a right, by any definition of the term) to apply to a broader population.

As such, I’m left to evaluate the film on the merits, and the film does have some. Director Gus Van Sant does a great job of placing these events in the context of a legitimate civil rights movement. He artfully recreates the look and feel of the Castro district in the 1970s, and accomplishes the difficult task of making crowd scenes look authentic.

Sean Penn, to his credit, refines his indulgent impulses that usually make him unbearable to watch. Even at the end, when the script gives him the Oscar-preening trifecta (death of a lover reaction, big speech, death scene), he stays in character and does not overact. James Franco and Emil Hirsch do well with what very little they have, though the same cannot be said for a wooden Josh Brolin, whose appeal eludes me generally.

Hollywood has shown that it can make movies about homosexual characters (see, for example Brokeback Mountain). In a sense, Hollywood still has yet to make a movie about Harvey Milk. This is the story of a political movement, and about how awesome that movement is. But hagiography is boring; the fact that Milk scarcely registered at the box offices demonstrates as much.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Oscar Nominees: The Reader

Note: In advance of this year’s Oscar ceremony, I am posting my annual reflections (I’ll not call them reviews) of each of the best picture nominees…. I begin with The Reader. Enjoy (or don’t).

Kate Winslet has been asked to do a lot throughout her magnificent career. She has played highly costumed Miramax types, alcoholic free-spirits, sexual masochists, sexually-repressed masochists, ugly women, and ugly flat-chested women (albeit less than credibly). She has twice pretended to be intrigued by Leonardo DiCaprio and once by an overacting Geoffrey Rush. More recently, she played, of all things, a failed actress.

Illiterate Nazi pedophile sex kitten with a heart of gold and a passion for literature? She nails it, of course. Such is the conundrum for The Reader, a film whose intriguing, ethereal opening salvos deteriorate into an emotional and ethical muddle.

The film mostly takes place during the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the civilized world was trying to wrap its head around the atrocities associated with the Holocaust. Germany, for its part, held a series of trials to hold accountable those responsible for the most egregious offenses against humanity. This period produced several settled questions, not least of which whether one could be exonerated for murder simply by following orders.

The answer is “no”, by the way. Alas, The Reader is content to re-open this particular vestibule of worms, Using Winslet’s brilliant performance as a can opener.

The film is seen through the eyes of Michael, first seen as a fifteen year old adolescent (played by David Kross, who is clearly post-adolescent). He becomes ill on the street, and an older lady, Hanna Schmitz (Winslet) cares for him outside of his flat. Over time, he finds reasons to return to her flat, and over time, she finds ways to get him to read to her.

You can look at the film’s rating to guess at her methodology. But she has an insatiable desire to hear young Michael read books, he has an insatiable desire for her body, and the cinematographer has an insatiable desire for both of them. Beneath their lust, however, is a certain tenderness and sweetness. This is the first problem, but more on that later.

Fast forward to Michael in law school. His professor, whose character exists solely to articulate Michael’s philosophical angst, takes his small class on a field trip to watch the trial of former Nazi guards who watched as a building containing hundreds of Jews burnt to the ground. One of the guards in question? One Hanna Schmitz.

***SPOILER ALERT***

Of course, all the women in question are guilty. The film introduces the two remaining Jewish survivors (I think… the film is foggy on the question of whether they were in the building) as witnesses in the trial. It is revealed (to the very unobservant audience member) that Hanna cannot read, and so we understand her attraction to Michael. Through a plot contrivance, Hanna’s illiteracy also allows the other women to make her a scapegoat.

Michael, knowing her affliction, remains silent because the movie requires him to, which sets up a series of scenes where he is made to watch as Hanna is sent to prison for life. Get it? It’s a parallel. He is just as evil as she is. That’s the second problem.

Throughout the process, Winslet’s Hanna is able to generate sympathy. She bathes and cares for Michael in their early encounters. She looks genuinely put upon and afraid in front of her inquisitors during the trial. Her peculiar behavior throughout leaves open the possibility that she is mentally disabled. After all, maybe she was incapable of understanding the difference between good and evil, and why else would she be interested in teenage boys?

This is thrown out the window when, in an emotional montage, we see her using a very elaborate methodology to learn to read. People who teach themselves to read are, by definition, highly intelligent.

But The Reader wants us to get weepy because this poor woman is finally able to comprehend great literary works. Because this particular woman is Kate Winslet, who we’ve seen while naked, but not while letting hundreds of people die, this represents some sort of victory.

***END SPOILER ALERT***

This, I think, is the film’s fatal flaw. We see Kate Winslet having sex, looking sad, being resentful, and all of the other things that make Kate Winslet great. We never see her in a Nazi uniform. We see nothing of her escorting human beings to their deaths, or perhaps killing one herself. Further, given that the actor playing young Michael is clearly over 18 (otherwise the film would be illegal), neither do we see her for the sexual predator she is.

In lieu of any of this frivolity, we get a cutting performance from Lena Olin, who decades later is unwilling to provide any salve of forgiveness for Hanna’s crimes. She is portrayed as a prototypical New York Jewess, surrounded by one of those Kubrickian post-modern Manhattan apartments Hollywood usually reserves for gangsters and Wall Street hustlers. Olin’s performance is erudite, surgical and brilliant, but she didn’t get an Oscar nomination, now, did she?

In fact, her justified antipathy is eschewed in favor of a more conventional denouement, wherein Ralph Fiennes (Michael all grown up) brings his daughter to the grave of Hanna Schmitz. Sort of a dark matter version of the end of Schindler’s List, I suppose.

Is the film’s Anti-Semitism accidental? Perhaps. But, at best, we are left with a hyper-literal film extolling the values of reading. That the film was produced by the Weinstein brothers is inexplicable. That it is nominated for best picture is shameful.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Everyone get unhappy

Minneapolis has a lot of problems. High taxes, high crime, failed schools. If only there were a group of elected officials, a council if you will, who would convene to systematically address the city's biggest issues in hopes of divining a remedy.

Instead, we have a bunch of overpaid dolts who, when not grifting or arranging sweetheart deals for Kowalski's markets, tackle frivolous issues with zeal. So, instead of fighting crime, the city council is fighting happy hour.

It seems there is some concern that students on the University of Minnesota campus are "binge drinking". This begs a number of questions, for example:

1) So what?
2) Why is this my problem?
3) Duh!

Wait, that last one wasn't a question. Councilman Cam Gordon offers his answer:

Right now it seems like almost everyone goes through a period where they have to figure it out and experiment, and find out where their limits are. And during that period sometimes they have some very detrimental consequences.


That sounds about right. And so naturally the City Council is slated to insinuate itself into this process of discovery... By banning happy hour in Minneapolis.

It's as though the council got together and said "you know what? We're tired of being parodied and lampooned for our inepititude. Today, let's be BEYOND parody."

And so, with Minneapolis bars and restaurants already reeling from the misguided smoking ban, it appears as though the city is ready to land another punch. Of course, before they move forward with this ridiculous idea, they have to piss away some taxpayer dollars first. And so they are assigning a task force.

Yep, that's right. A happy hour task force. In unrelated news, I'm available for freelance work. And I promise thorough research. Alas, I possess common sense, and people with common sense are NEVER asked to join task forces. So allow me to offer some conclusive statistics from my own college experience.

Number of happy hours I attended during college: 2
Number of times I got thoroughly blitzed during college: 135 (that I can remember)

Of course, banning happy hour isn't the option on the table. Other possibilities include only serving one drink at a time, and banning beer pong. Because nothing slows down drinking like inconvenience and boredom.

The article notes that Portland, Oregon has instituted a one drink policy. They also elected a mayor named Sam Adams who had a gay sex affair with a teenager named Beau Breedlove. Suffice to say, they do things differently on the left coast.

Let's revisit the stats here, shall we?

Number of times I played beer pong during college: 2
Number of times a bartender served me more than one drink during college: 1
Number of times I got thoroughly blitzed during college: 146 (forgot about senior week)

While I would certainly love to laugh all of this off, Minneapolis city leadership has demonstrated such a profound mastery of the absurd that this cannot be dismissed as harmless chatter. So it might be worth examining the consequences of this decision:

1) Non college students who happen to enjoy half priced appetizers will have to take their business to the suburbs (I'm just assuming that Rybak's little toady Chris Coleman will follow suit with similar policies in St. Paul).

2) Bars in Fridley will start hosting college nights. University Avenue will become innavigable to the north.

3) Students will drink more at home, and might even play beer pong if they are so inclined. They will not, however, drink less.

But, by all means, assign your task force. At least it will distract you from doing illegal things to screw up our city.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Pastor Hopeface

I believe I recently swore off making fun of Sojourners on this blog. But I can't find that particular post right now and, frankly, someone needs to make fun of this.

Did you know that Barack Obama, in addition to being our new president, is also our pastor-in-chief?

What should I expect from the group that declared Obama to be the new Joshua? If he can be Joshua 2.0, he is certainly qualified to be a pastor.

Diana Butler Bass explains:

In Elkhart, Indiana, and Fort Myers, Florida, President Obama listened to people’s concerns and answered questions with a kind of intellectual and emotional honesty that is too often rare in public life.


Intellectual and emotional honesty, eh? Would this be the same intellectual and emotional honesty that says the only way to avert economic disaster is to embrace the trillion dollar pork bomb that just went off in the Senate? That used to be known as the politics of fear. Now it's downright pastoral.

She continues:

As President Obama heard homeless Henrietta Hughes plead for assistance, I thought of the many times I have held someone’s hand at the church door after preaching and how people pour out their hearts to leaders who listen.


How credulous. Here's the story Homeless Henrietta Hughes (HHH). The Obama campaign wanted a homeless woman, and HHH has a media-friendly story. So the Obama team gave her a ticket to his event. Seizing an opportunity, the campaign arranged a stunt whereby a state representative (Nick Thompson), who just happened to hear HHH's sob story, would give her a house.

Now, that's great political theater, and will earn Obama some nice news coverage. But the pastoral equivalent would be Benny Hinn's traveling charismatic roadshow, where he slaps paid actors on the head that they would be "healed".

Her fawning concludes:

As the president engaged the crowd, he maintained the demeanor of pastoral politics—holding the nation’s metaphorical hand and offering comfort, reassurance, and help.


Right. That's what pastors do. Hold up metaphorical hands. I suppose, if you attend an Episcopal church, metaphor is the most you can ask for.

For years, left-wing groups (like Sojourners) criticized conservative Christians for making George W. Bush into a religious figurehead, and rightly so. The notion that a secular state should have a pastor is the stuff of fascism. Our nation does not have a hand to extend, metaphorical or otherwise, for America is not a collective body.

Anyone who cannot distinguish between a government and a God loses all credibility in discussing either.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Monday Musings

Rain turns into freezing rain. Just like the tears of our fathers. Let's muse.


The Common Man Dan Cole has his tournament bracket of the most preposterous sayings of 2008 up (h/t Ochuk).


Here are some of my favorites.

"I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian ... it’s also a sacred union. You know, God’s in the mix.. But..."

Obama's autistic response to a simple question about marriage, from the Saddleback Forum in August.

“When the stock market crashed, Franklin Roosevelt got on the television and didn’t just talk about the princes of greed,” Biden told Couric. “He said, ‘Look, here’s what happened.’”

- Joe Biden's inaccurate assessment of FDR's response to the 1929 stock market crash. In 1929, FDR was not president, and the television had scarcely been invented. This from the fellow who was ostensibly selected for his experience and knowledge.

"Simply put, in our form of democracy, religious leaders can't claim to speak for God... Don't pre-empt discernment by claiming "God says ..."

-Brian McLaren, calling for an Evangelical Council for Evangelical Accountability. The forum for this particular quote? A blog entitled "God's Politics".

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A couple of restaurant recommendations, if you will.

First, if you are looking for Chinese (or anything non-chain) in the Roseville area, you could do much worse than China Jen. Cheap food, gigantic portions, and Pork dumplings (A9 in the appetizer section) to die for.

Second, if you are looking for affordable upscale, Cafe Maude on 54th and Penn is a lot of fun. Their fries are a particular standout, and I enjoyed a perfectly-marinated, nicely seared piece of Hanger Steak for just $15. On the downside, the restaurant is packed with SW Minneapolis bastard people, so be sure to hurry home so you can shower away the conceit.

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The main headline on CNN.Com reads "Terrorist or Confused Kid?" Since when were the two terms mutually exclusive? According to his lawyer, Omar Khadr was just trying to please his father (by becoming a terrorist). At the end of the article, the same lawyer argues that he shouldn't be kept from his family forever.

Yeah, I'm feeling great about the whole Gitmo closing thing.

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A British National who lives in Beijing witnessed an inferno that consumed a luxury hotel there, and reported it to CNN.

His name? Fred Rice. Call it destiny.

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Regular readers know that I live in close proximity to Brookdale Center. Regular visitors to Brookdale Center know that the place smells like piss and is pretty much a place for thugs to hibernate in the winter. This summer, "Brookdizzle" lost an anchor when Steve & Barry's went under. Now, Macy's is reportedly closing it's location in the mall.

The leaves Sears and, um, some hat stores. I'm not saying someone should burn the place down. I'm just saying it wouldn't be bad if it were to burn down.

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I'm changing my name to Fred Rice.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Top Ten Fridays - Food items that prove the Twin Cities are legit

We've all been there. Your snooty cousin from the coast comes in and wants to know what to eat, reminding you that items like "lutefisk" and "hot dish" are not in their culinary repertoire. Well, take their condescension in stride, and show them what this city has to offer. Here are ten very cosmopolitan, decidedly Minneapolitan, items to show up your Bennington graduate friends.

10. Cheese Empanadas - Los Andes

Minnesota does Ecuadorian. Minnesota also does fried cheese. Put them together, and you get the most absurdly decadent appetizer ever. These crispy cheese pastries are coated with sugar (cause why not?) and accompanied by an absurdly complex sauce that may well originate from Mars. Also, wine is cheap, and the entrees are never boring.

9. Gran Torta - Manny's Tortas

Mercado Central is awesome in general, but Manny's is the claim to fame here. For $7, you get a sandwich with every type of protein (flora or fauna, pre or post embryonic) imaginable. Each item is fried individually, and there is no better sandwich in this country. And they're the perfect size to stick in the mouth of your friend who complains that we don't have a Jewish deli.

8. Adult Milk Shake - Town Talk Diner

In cities with liquor licensing that resembles sanity, the "adult" diner is a culinary staple. So take your friends to Town Talk, and show them that arbitrary blue laws can't keep a good man down. As an added bonus, order the cheese curds with the homemade ketchup.

7. Samosas - Everest on Grand

Nepal is to left-leaning city girls under the age of 30 as Mecca is to Muslims. From their early teens, these women are told that there is something exotic about Nepal that makes you vastly more interesting for having been there. Something about going without toilet paper is liberating, I think. Also, the Samosas really good. Win-win, I say.

6. Ice Cream - Crema Cafe

So is any part of this place called Sonny's anymore? No matter, you know what I'm talking about. Take your gelato-snarfing friends here to let them know what real dairy tastes like.

5. Cranberry Curry- Gangchen, Thanh Do, etc...

In other cities, "Asian Fusion" means either thai-french hybrid cuisine or nebulous greasy crap. If any metropolitan area is going to redefine the genre, it's ours. The owners of the Azia family of restaurants have done just that, with a homey touch. The Cranberry Curry sits somewhere between Vietnamese and Thai on the sweetness-spice-thickness continuum, but adds a punch of tartness to make a uniquely Minnesotan dish.

4. Red Hot Passion - Chambers

Personally, I think Chambers is a bit overwrought, but this cocktail is fantastic. Most cocktails in this city are simply deluded date-rape drugs (see: screwdrivers, greyhounds, Cosmos). A good cocktail is meant to be sipped and enjoyed. At $8 a splash, you can actually afford two of them, and the scenery is to die for. Seriously, who has an art museum in their bar?

3. The Ribeye - Von Hanson's

There are a lot of food items for which it makes sense to pay for expert culinary skills. The ribeye is not one of them. For under $10, you can pick up one of the most exquisite pieces of meat on earth (dry-aged no less), pop it on your grill, and eat like a king within fifteen minutes. This is one piece of meat that is virtually impossible to screw up. Also, you can treat your NY friends to that exotic frivolity known as a "lawn"!

2. The Borgata - Punch Pizza

One of the joys of big city living is affordable, outstanding pizza. So treat your friends to what Meryl Streep calls the best pizza she's ever had. Your friends will have heard of Meryl Streep as she was once in a Holocaust movie. Vegetarian, healthy, and served alongside microbrews, this pizza is everything a white-bread transfer from the commonwealth should love.

Uh-oh, I seem to have run out of numbers... Looks like we have a tie.

1. Lamb Chop - Heidi's

The best entree under $20 in the Twin Cities. Period.

1. Beef Curry Pho - Quang

I'll let Quang act as a stand in for the capital of Pho that is the Twin Cities, though there is nothing wrong with Jasmine Deli (or its sexy cousin, Jasmine 26). Quang, though, has an especially cosmopolitan flavor to it. It's always (and I mean always) busy, and they'll happily sit you at the same table as another party if they're packed. If your big city friends make a fuss, just give them that (gee, I thought you'd be cool with this) look that they are always giving you when they drag you to some gay bar with $9 Budweisers.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

I'm on Facebook!

It's creepy. I hate it.

Have a good day.

edit: Before I joined, I had three people who wanted to be my friend. The invitations arrived the second I joined.

edit: edit: Someone wrote on my wall. I didn't know I had a wall. I'm pissed. I'm gonna write on their wall.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Rainbow Salutes February... And Blacks!

Hey everyone, it's Black history month again, and Rainbow is on the ball! In honor of America's favorite skin color, Rainbow is having a sale on grocieries! If only Frederick Douglass were alive to see this.



Hmmmm. Rainbow salutes February? How about, Rainbow salutes black history? What, the black man gets so little respect that a grocery store would rather celebrate a time of the year? Either way, congratulations February!

The ad gives us the opportunity to call (612) 396-4338 for more details. That sounds like a good idea.

Rainbow Foods representative: Hello?
TPWK: Oh, hi, is this the Black History Month hotline?
Rainbow: Um, well, this is where you can get more information, yes.
TPWK: Oh good. I have a few questions.
Rainbow: Alright.
TPWK: Who was the first person in black history?
Rainbow: Um, I'm sorry?
TPWK: I mean, I know they've been around for centuries, but who was the first major, you know... Was it Wilt Chamberlain?
Rainbow: Well, Wilt Chamberlain wasn't the first... I'm not sure I...
TPWK: Right, cause we didn't have color photos back then, so we can't be sure what race he was...
Rainbow: Well...
TPWK: Next question. When is black history month.
Rainbow: Well, it's going on now.
TPWK: So, now until like early March?
Rainbow: No. It's through the month of February.
TPWK: Hmmm... So they gave them the shortest month.
Rainbow: Well, it's Abraham Lincoln's birthday.
TPWK: He was white.
Rainbow: Yes, but he was important. Frederick Douglass was black.
TPWK: Really? So, he was before Wilt Chamberlain.
Rainbow: By quite a bit, yes.
TPWK: Okay. What was the role of Rainbow foods in starting Black History month.
Rainbow: Well, no... We didn't start the holiday.
TPWK: But you're honoring February.
Rainbow: Right, we're honoring the month, but we didn't start it.
TPWK: Oh...

That went well.

Of course, what better way to celebrate black history month than to indulge in stereotypically black meals?



What, no watermelon sale? At least there's a sale on two different kinds of Okra. Also nice to see another shout out for Lloyd Augstus Hall. He held over 100 patents. I wonder if he ate pork hocks.

Of course, if all of this culture and heritage is too much for you, Rainbow has deep discounts on an old stand by:



Is there anything I could say to add to that one? Didn't think so.

Thank you Rainbow. Your arbitrary sales tie-in has improved the lives of black people everywhere!

Monday, February 02, 2009

Superbowl Ad Grades

Woo-hoo marketing! I have opinions about everything, and everyone should know about them! POP CULTURRRRRRE!!!!

Below are the TPWK's official grades for the 2009 Superbowl Advertisements.

The Winner

Telaflora.com : Box of Flowers

All around, the best ad of the Superbowl. Most men have no idea that the flowers they ship to their woman’s workplace come in a box. Now they will feel guilty about sending flowers. That's hard to do. Does the ad play on women’s insecurities about their appearance, and negative notions about their self-worth? Um, yeah, but shame on women anyway… That’s how sell you flowers, people. This ad took guts, but it made Telaflora.com some money.

Grade: A+

The absolute loser


Sobe – NFL Ballerinas

Okay, football players dancing in tights. Not funny, and the Kubrickian motif is perplexing. And everything’s blurry because apparently there was a promotion involving 3-D glasses in which I did not take part. Oh good, it’s those lizards who didn’t make any sense last year, and now it’s the Monsters from that terrible-looking Dreamworks movie. And, now one of them is wearing a bra.

If this were China, some creative director would be hanging from a noose with his organs harvested.

Grade: F

The runners-up

Careerbuilder: It’s Time

One of the best executions in years (Superbowl or otherwise) is torn between two running times. 30 seconds wouldn’t work for the concept, but it runs out of ideas at the 45 second mark. Still, it was interesting and funny enough for me to hold tight until the brand ID.

Grade: A

Bud Light – Swedish

Nice coup for NBC getting it’s late night star in a Budweiser ad. Actually, it’s a perfect pairing of talent and role. Conan is an absurd spokesperson for just about anything, and it’s been awhile since ads have taken on European absurdism. Plus, it does a good job of featuring the product, which is all Bud Light would hope, or need, to do.

Grade: A

Doritos – Crystal Ball

This is a very well written ad from a comedic standpoint, though the relationship with the product is debatable. Plus the lead talent is extremely similar to my former roommate Leroy, to the degree that he will spend his next two weeks deflecting “hey, that guy from the Superbowl ad for Chex Mix or whatever… He reminded me of you.” Conversations.

Grade: A-

E-Trade: Babies

This is a great campaign generally, and I think it was time to get away from “buying stocks is so easy, a baby can do it” and move to a recession message. I’m not sure what the addition of another baby adds, but watching a baby say “this isn’t the venue” is funny. Somebody fought for that line, and we win because of it.

Grade: B+

The minor misfires

Pepsi Max – I’m Good

The shot of men enduring all manner of slapstick abuse was funny to the ladies in the room who, in reality, were the target audience for this ad. The message is, “men are idiots who won’t drink diet, but women know better… Here’s a tasty soda.”

Grade: B

Castrol: Monkeys

From an originality standpoint, this is just another ironic monkey ad. That said, if you’re target audience is shop managers, they probably get a kick out of the literal take on “grease monkey”, laugh at “the monkeys made me their king” and generally don’t care if your ad is derivative.

Grade: B

Doritos – Lucky Day

A man eats Doritos, and great thing happen with each chip he eats. The message is that Doritos are lucky? In the first shot, a women’s outerwear disintegrates, which begs the question… If you walk around all day in elaborate, sexy lingerie, are you really all that ashamed when you are exposed? As a rule, women voluntarily remove their clothes for men who watch what they eat. Just sayin’.

Alas, the bag only has three chips, so the ad is actually pretty true to life.

Grade: B-

Bud Light – Meeting

Props to Bud’s ad team for making fun of itself re: drinkability (does my pen have “writability”?), but the punchline itself was banal. That said, the makers of Budweiser are well-served by reminding people that we are in a recession. No money? A night on the town is as close as your refrigerator.

Grade: B-

The major misfires

Cheetos: Pigeons

The Cheetos Cheetah is all grown up, and now manipulates flocks of birds to facilitate his love life. Another snack food revealing an essential truth: Cheetos are food only if you are not human.

Grade: C+

Audi: Grand Theft Audi

After decades of failure with those other vehicles, the Transporter finds success with an Audi. Fair enough, but the only funny moment was when he glares at a wimpy Lexus across the street.

Grade: C

Bud Light: Skier

Drinkability? It means our beer tastes like water. With those other beers, things like flavor get in the way. Flavor is like a tree, avoid it. By this point, I had certainly had enough of watching guys injure themselves.

Grade: C-

Bridgestone: Potato Heads

Potato head comedy has been done, and this ad has nothing to do with Bridgestone.

Grade: C-


Pepsi - MacGruber

So, they literally took an SNL skit and made a Pepsi ad out of it? Wow. The skit was marginally funny, at least.

Grade: C-

Bud Light Lime: Sphere of Summer

It’s summer all the time with Bud Light Lime, or so this hyper-literal ad would have us believe.

Grade: D+

Coca-Cola: Strangers:Monster online, pretty girl by day. Coke brings them together for some reason. This ad doesn’t make any sense at all.

Grade: D

Coca-Cola: Bug’s Life

Ugh, I’m going to have to sit through this ad every time I go to the movie theater, aren’t I? What is it with Coke and epic ads? That’s an awful lot of money to spend just to bore us to tears, eh?

Grade: D

Budweiser – Clydesdales

I don’t think people associate Clydesdales with Budweiser as much as Budweiser’s marketers think they do. This year, Budweiser produced three ads, each squarely aimed at women, none of them entertaining to either gender.

Grade: D

Taco Bell – Smooth

A guy meets a girl, promises to call, and does so instantly, then immediately treats her to Taco Bell. This is an old ad (I saw it earlier this week) that isn’t very funny, advertising a product that doesn’t look very good. “Enchiladas at the speed of Taco Bell” is a tagline that evokes unpleasant memories.

Grade: D

GE: Scarecrow

GE would like us to know that it is making energy more intelligent. The “If I only had a Brain” motif will appeal strongly to the coveted age 88-115 demographic. Snooze.

Grade: D-

GoDaddy.com – Enhanced/Danica Shower

By all accounts, last year’s effort to lure men online to watch car racer chick (I got her name wrong last year) to take her clothes off was a resounding failure. So why not do it again, with two more ads that trot out banal jokes that refer to events that happened years ago? Yeah, that’ll sell, um, domains.

Grade: D-

FIRE YOUR AGENCY NOW!!!!!

Pepsi: Forever Young

Pepsi greatly overestimates its role in the collective national ethos, I think. This boring, minute-long ad features random footage of historical youths. Great.
Grade: F

Bridgestone: Jump Around

I have no idea what this ad is intending to convey.

Grade: F


Cash4Gold: Get Paid

This ad is kinda funny, but it won’t work. People trade their valuables for cash as an act of desperation. If you want to profit off their poor decision making, fine. Lord knows the makers of Bud Light Lime intend to do so. But you are kick them while they’re down BEFORE they even become customers? Who wants to be the next MC Hammer? This is terrible advertising.

Grade: F