Monday, May 01, 2017

Could Jackson have trumped the War Between the States?

Okay, first off, from what Trump said it’s obvious that he was aware that Andrew Jackson was dead before the Civil War. (Which really wasn’t a civil war, but that’s a whole nother discussion.)  And while I don’t know that Trump was talking specifically about the nullification crisis, state-federal issues were very much a problem during Jackson’s tenure.

Second, slavery was the issue that pushed the states into war, but it was simply the most volatile aspect of a widening rift between north and south over diverging economies and cultures. The two were going to continue butting heads and it’s possible they might have split anyway, but absent slavery it probably wouldn’t have turned into a bloodbath.

Third, he’s dead wrong that a strong leader could have prevented the war. In fact, it was the election of a strong leader that touched off the war. Previous presidents had been compromising nebbishes and that was why the uneasy peace continued. Maybe if they’d managed to keep dithering until industrialization made slavery unprofitable, it could have died a peaceful death. Maybe. But no, Jackson neither could nor would have prevented war.

Trump’s right about the way Jackson’s wife was treated in the press, though. They literally hounded her to her grave. I notice that part of the interview hasn’t been reported much in the press, probably because they’re so gleeful about savaging Melania. Hard to blame Trump for identifying with that one.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

For your St. Patrick’s Day viewing pleasure

There are certain movies that I just have to dig out in March when my non-existent Irish heritage needs a little boost. There’s “The Quiet Man,” of course. That’s a perennial. There’s “The Secret of Roan Inish,” which is mostly for children but I still find it charming. (And for the life of me I can’t seem to find out what became of Jeni Courtney after she grew up. Jeni, if you ever google yourself and see this, please leave a comment.) I tried to like “The Luck of the Irish,” I truly did, but the acting was so wooden not even the irrepressible Cecil Kellaway could save it. There’s the Neil Jordan/Liam Neeson biopic “Michael Collins.” And then there’s “I See a Dark Stranger,” far and away my favorite.

The clip I uploaded so many years ago here is gone, but sure, isn’t the whole darn film on YouTube now, and therefore also at On The Other Foot?

“I See a Dark Stranger” (inexplicably released in the U.S. as "The Adventuress") would be just another British post-war relic were it not for Deborah Kerr as Bridie Quilty. If all you remember her from is “The King and I” or “An Affair to Remember,” hold on to your hat. As I blogged when she died almost ten years ago,

Deborah played a "little slip of a girleen" from the west of Ireland who tries to join the IRA, finds she's about twenty years out of date, and instead winds up spying for the Germans. The film was okay in and of itself, but it would have been just another late-night British relic except for her. She took a rather generic role and made the young lady into the sort of beautiful, innocently sexy, and self-contradictory creature that so many girls that age really are. When she turned up her nose at Trevor Howard, you could see her looking at him out the corner of her eye. When she declaimed her principles (mostly an inchoate hatred of Cromwell), she sounded just like a thousand other young women who throw themselves so passionately into their causes, never dreaming that they're not alone in them. She wasn't a part in a script, she was a real girl, and the kind that makes you tear your hair out and champ at the bit by turns. She might as well have been sitting next to me, rather than on screen, she was so thoroughly real. I was smitten with her by the third scene.

Speaking of Trevor Howard, he's excellent here too, at his understated best. William O’Gorman is fun as Bridie’s inebriated little father with tall tales of heroism. I do have to close my ears when a crowd of British extras shows up pretending to be American, but that’s a picky. And the dialogue has some lovely dry wit:

Bridie : I'm 21; I'm me own mistress.
Old woman (under her breath): That's an occupation that could change hands overnight.

Watch now and fall in love with Deborah Kerr all over again.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

What bigotry really looks like

This is a lie of the most despicable kind. This walking skid mark is deliberately slandering good people because of their goodness. What kind of person does that?

And it is a lie. (Thanks to my friend Katie-Lou for the link.) The Salvation Army believes that any sex outside the context of a monogamous, heterosexual marriage is a sin and they expect their members and especially their clergy to assent. That’s it. That’s the extent of their position on the subject. They also believe in giving and spend long hours for little or no pay running soup kitchens and shelters for the poorest of the poor, and they don’t ask those people about their sex lives. They’re consistently ranked among the most efficient of charitable organizations when it comes to funneling donations to the needy. They do enormous good with very little. As a member of another church that does a lot of charitable work, I’m in awe.

I don’t see sign-boy out there rubbing shoulders with icky, smelly poor people.  He just wants to take revenge on the folks who do because they don’t affirm him enough. And unlike the people he wants to deprive, he probably goes back after a hard day of standing there to a warm home and a full meal.  If the LGBT community wanted to convince the world that it was nothing but a pack of spiteful narcissists, the best way to do that would be to drag down Sally Ann.

Ghosts of “Christmas Carols” past

No Christmas season is complete without endless versions of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” We’re subjected to it so much it’s come to rival the actual Nativity story as the defining narrative for the season. Darn near everybody has taken a whack at being Scrooge: Mr. Magoo, Henry Winkler (his is excellent – see it if you can), Bill Murray... God help us, every one!

I know it’s not good form to put multiple embedded videos in one post, but I just don’t have it in me to stretch it out over three. So here’s a sampler. Leave a comment if you watch any of them.

The good

"Karroll’s Christmas" has a few surprises for a story that’s been done to death. The protagonist Allen (Tom Everett Scott) is kind of a schmuck, but could never equal his neighbor, Zeb Rosecog (Wallace Shawn) for sheer loathsomeness. This guy makes the original Scrooge looks like Mother Teresa. Allen’s relative harmlessness cuts no ice when the ghosts get the wrong address and drag him through time and space to review Rosecog’s inconceivable (I couldn’t resist) misdeeds. By the time he’s able to convince them that he’s not Rosecog, he finds himself sympathetic to the old coot and drafts them to save him.

The ghosts are brilliantly cast: Deanna Milligan, Larry Miller, Verne Troyer and Dan Joffre as a Rasta Marley. (Yes, really.) The ending is familiar and more sappy than necessary, but what the heck? It’s worth it alone for the cringe-inducing (in a good way) proposal scene. You’ll have to watch it to see what I mean.


The bad

I started to review “Christmas Cupid” on its own and just couldn’t get through it. I’m not entirely sure it even qualifies as a Christmas Carol knockoff, as it has only one ghost. The shade in question is a train-wreck celebrity (Ashley Benson) who chokes to death on an olive in her drink and comes back to haunt her agent Sloane (Christina Milian). It’s just one eye-rolling Millennial cliche after another. Milian is okay, but she can’t redeem this stinkeroo by herself. Dear God, please make it stop.


The sublime

Everything becomes funny when you add Blackadder to it, sort of like fart jokes or LSD. This is perhaps the only genuinely original take-off I’ve ever seen. (Update: I found a better copy.) Kind, generous Mr. Blackadder is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past (Robbie Coltrane), who helps himself to the liquor and regales his target with tales of his despicable ancestors. The future sequence alone is brilliantly funny. I don’t think I really need to introduce the cast of the Blackadder shows to you; if I do, you’re reading the wrong blog. Some of the characters in the opening scenes are a little too annoying, but they're balanced out by Victoria and Albert (Miriam Margolyes and Jim Broadbent, respectively). For some reason I can't get past his Teutonic "Damn, damn, damn." And how they managed to get through the future scenes with straight faces, I cannot conceive. (A line that's used to good effect in the show, incidentally.) Watch it all and marvel.



Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Finally, a good one!

Okay, “Trading Christmas” isn’t good good. But definitely a cut above the offerings we’ve had here so far. This may be because it’s based on a novel by an actual writer water than the stable of underpaid, toymaking-deficient elves that are evidently chained in the basement of the Hallmark Channel building churning out cookie-cutter plots. This one has actual characters, and actual dialogue, and although it’s predictable, it has an actual story line.

Three of them, actually, neatly braided together:

(1) In Boston, college student Heather Spengler (Emma Lahana) has always spent Christmas with her widowed mother, but this year wants to go to Arizona with her boyfriend. Knowing that Mom will flip out if she tells her the truth, she begs off and insists she wants to spend the holiday at school.

(2) Back home in South Woodbourne, Washington, Emily (Faith Ford) is terribly disappointed by this and decides to take the mountain to Mohammad and does a house-swap with writer Charles Johnson (Tom Cavanaugh) in Boston. The writer’s charming brother Ray (Gil Bellows, who apparently does a lot of these movies but whom I mostly remember from "Ally McBeal," and don’t ask me why I watched that show) happens by the house.

(3) Emily’s best friend Faith (Gabrielle Miller) is overcome with sympathy for Emily having to spend her first Christmas alone, and comes up from San Francisco to keep her friend company. When she arrives, she finds instead Charles, who is decidedly not charming, and is forced to impose on him for a place to stay until the next bus to Seattle, which just happens to come through South Woodbourne on Christmas. (South Woodbourne's location is pretty vague. It's described as being a hundred miles from Seattle, which coincidentally is almost the distance to Abbotsford, B.C. where it was filmed.)

Hilarity ensues and romances bloom. But we knew that.

I’ll be honest; I only watched this because Gabrielle Miller was in it. Her character on “Corner Gas” was just about the only thing that show had going for it (except for Lorne Cardinal, who’s not pretty enough to watch for very long). She doesn’t disappoint here. Bellows is his usual competent self and Faith Ford is clearly also a veteran of sappy movies.

Emily is clearly the first among equals in terms of character importance. Her widowhood isn’t just a plot trope; it’s clear that she clings to every shred of her old life through her daughter, who chafes at being conscripted as a surrogate for her late father. Charles, alas, is just a walking trope: the writer with writer’s block and a chip on his shoulder from an ex who done him wrong. But for Gabrielle Miller, I'll put up with that.

It’s clean and innocent, as Christmas should be. Enjoy. And leave a comment.


Sunday, December 04, 2016

Why did I enjoy this movie?

Seriously, why? I’m still cudgeling my brain about what aspect of Crown for Christmas I liked. I don't mean to be overly hard on it. The film was sweet and pleasant and I came away feeling good for having seen it. And that's what a cheesy Christmas movie should do, right? Mission accomplished. I'm just trying to parse why it did.

It can’t be the acting (in general; more on that anon). That was textbook recitation more than anything. Courteous courtiers, jovial servants, a nasty spoiled aristocrat, a single father who just happens to be a king. They weren’t so much dramatic roles as cogs in a machine.

And for the love of heaven don’t get me started on the realism. By which I mean there was none. At all. Whatsoever. Not a setting, not a plot point, not a single syllable of dialogue was plausible. Kings do not have their marriages arranged against their will. Servants and royalty do not all speak the Queen’s English in the same accent. In fact, there are no English-speaking countries at all on the European continent (except the Duchy of Grand Fenwick). Hotel maids in New York are not (so far as I know) fired merely for making eye contact with a guest. And that’s not even getting into the actual fairy-tale elements of the story, which strain believability like a piece of gum stuck to your shoe on a hot day.

(Several IMDb commenters pointed out that the proper mode of address for kings is “Your Majesty” rather than “Your Highness.” Technically true, although they are sometimes styled as “highness” in other contexts. Anyway, my understanding is that today they tend to prefer “sir.” Believe me, that’s the least of the film’s credibility problems.)

So back to the original question: why did I enjoy a film with so many howlers? Because, in the end, I actually did. I think maybe it’s because Danica McKellar doesn’t seem to be acting. I don’t mean that she’s a really good actress, although she may be with other material. I mean that I’m not sure she actually knew that the whole thing wasn’t real life, like maybe instead of a script they gave her hallucinogens and just let her interact with the cast. Also, the little girl (played sparklingly by Ellie Botterill) was so charming and delightful that the rest of the cast didn’t really need to be anything but her props.

So, like Abraham’s ten righteous men of Sodom, for the sake of those two actresses the film can be spared from the flames. Behold!




(Check out my other movie reviews here.)

Thursday, December 01, 2016

A poetic interlude

Salvaged from the Crappy Poetry Corner at the now-defunct “Bob From Accounting” website. I’m not sure why I bothered to track it down; it just seems to fit with my newfound holiday spirit.

Christmas in New Hampshire

by Debby, Roanoke, Virginia

The snowy white of Christmas
Basking together in the warmth
Of an electric space heater
Gazing at the twinkling lights
Of a Douglas fir

Then begin the lies
Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies
Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies
Come out of your mouth
Thick and heavy like home fries

No hot tub action for you
Big man with wavy hair
I wanted an engagement ring
You gave me a Chia Pet
And a coupon for a Brazilian waxing

The eggnog flows
Like your Lies
Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies
The electric heater drops into the water
As you bathe alone

Oops

A little light housekeeping

So it turns out that leaving my blog untouched causes a lot of dust bunnies and mouse turds to collect in the corner. My kids’ ages are up to date and I’ve bid a fond farewell to some of the blogs in the sidebar that aren’t posting anymore. I’m usually really reluctant to do that, but some of them just pure down don’t exist and others will probably never know. If you (O hypothetical reader) own one and wonder why you’ve been removed, let me know and I’ll put you back.

(I refuse to remove Villainous Company no matter how stubbornly Cassandra away. Someday she’ll come back. I believe with all my heart.)

(I also won’t remove Strange Spanners. That blogger was an old friend who died a day or two after his last post. He never married and had no children and his blog and Facebook page are all that remains of him. Memory eternal.)

I’m also dumping Disqus for the native Blogger comment system. The only reason I ever installed it to begin with was a a workaround to try and import my Haloscan comments when the latter shut down. The import to Disqus didn’t work anyway. If anyone ever figures out how to import them directly into Blogger I still have the files.

Oh, and I changed the icon of St. Expeditus so he wouldn't be so pixellated. I don't know who painted it; I found it through a Google image search on some Pinterest page. I couldn't find out more because I don't have an account and I'm durned if I'll start yet another social media thing I'm never going to use. If the owner of the image ever sees this, I hope they'll let me know whether to credit them or take it down.

Also, since I'm reviving Cheesy Christmas Movies, I'll be going through and fixing broken video links a few at a time. Some of them I just can't find; others I just haven't gotten to yet.

I’d be grateful if you’d leave a comment so I know I’m not just shouting into an empty blogosphere.

The funniest English Spaniard ever to come out of Germany...



... now travels in elephants. I didn't know he'd actually gotten hurt playing slapstick on Fawlty Towers. A professional indeed, and apparently well loved in real life.

Adios, auf wiedersehen, cheers!

Speaking of Christmas, here’s a turkey

Actually, I fear that may be a slight to the noble and tasty fowl. Upon finishing “Snowglobe,” I was ready for a bit more along those lines. When it comes to Christmas movies, I tend to prefer the ones with a little magic in them, as opposed to the ones that are just straight romance or syrupy familial dramas. (I’m not running those down; there are some good examples of both. But on the whole, I like a dash of fantasy in my Christmas fare.)

So the plot of “Christmas Do-Over” seemed like a good fit. Sure, it’s derivative, but let’s face it, there’s darn little originality left in the genre. How bad could it be?

Put it this way: If you took “Liar Liar” and “Groundhog Day,” mashed them together like Play-Doh, and then somehow extracted every bit of sympathy or humor, this is what would be left.

Jay Mohr, an SNL alum from one of its less-funny eras, plays Kevin, a divorced father dragooned at the last minute into spending Christmas with his ex-wife Jill and her parents, who make no secret of their dislike of him. Bad enough, but also joining the festivities is Jill’s new boyfriend Todd, who bought her a car for Christmas and is going to propose. Not having time to shop, Kevin accidentally bought his son an Easy-Bake oven, while Todd got him a train set. No opportunity is missed to rub our face in Kevin’s overall inferiority like a poorly-trained puppy.

You know where it goes from here. Every morning Kevin finds himself back on his outlaws’ doorstep, holding the same stupid girly-toy. Poor schmo doesn’t even have time to buy something else. So he resorts to some dirty tricks to try and get his wife and son back, culminating in a fight where he beats up Santa Claus and gets his butt kicked by Jesus. Yes, really.

Eventually, of course, he has a change of heart and redeems himself in the eyes of his son and ex-kinfolk. But it still leaves an aftertaste of defeat.

There are a few fun spots. Seeing Todd slip in dish soap and hurt his back over and over is strangely satisfying. (By this time you’re actively rooting for him to be injured.) The lecherous tipsy grandmother is a kick too.

But nothing, I repeat, nothing can possibly justify climactic scene with Mohr rapping some version of “Silent Night” dressed as a snow pea pod. Nothing. There is no forgiveness in heaven or earth for that sort of abomination.

Watch and be appalled.



Note: there are a couple of short spaces where the sound cuts out. I assume that's to keep the all-seeing eye of YouTube from noticing that it's under copyright.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The return of the cheese

It’s finally happened. I’ve gone over a year without posting on my blog. Ordinarily, this would be where I hang up my spurs and call it a day as so many other bloggers have done. But one thing keeps me going:
Cheesy Christmas movies!
Things have changed a lot since I started the tradition lo, these many years ago. Back then I was pretty much limited to the few I could find on the Internet Archive. A couple of those I still enjoy going back to every so often. I have a special soft spot, for example, for “Beyond Tomorrow” and “Son of the Navy.”

But thanks to the treasure storehouse that is YouTube, we have more cheese to select from than the whole south of France. Part of my workday is spent doing stuff that requires neither reading nor writing, and that time is often spent with a video playing on my phone. Nothing heavy; preferably something I don’t have to look at and can follow by audio. Being as how ’tis the season, I started browsing the other day through Hallmark Christmas movies. (Seriously, I had no idea there were so many.) This led me to a fluff-fest called “Snowglobe.”

“Snowglobe” is one of those films that takes a magical premise and tries to mold it to seasonal sentimentality. Young Angela Moreno (pertly played by Christina Milian) lives with the sort of family that make you want to move out of state and change your name. That is to say, she doesn’t actually live with them per se, but you’d never know it from the way they crowd into her life and make free of her apartment.

Meanwhile, Angela dreams of a perfect traditional Christmas right out of a Victorian diorama. Or, in this case, a snow globe given to her by the usual magical deliveryman. As she falls asleep gazing at it and dreaming of a spherical paradise, she finds herself sucked inside it, where she’s greeted by a tall, handsome fellow with perfect teeth and a perpetually bewildered look. Mister Perfect invites her to stay at The Inn, where mouthwatering food magically appears in the kitchen of a sweet grandma archetype. It’s all too good to be true, so naturally, it is.

This is supposed to be the point when she realizes that her perfect Christmas really isn’t what she wanted. Nuh-uh. The Snowglobians find their way into Brooklyn and hilarity ensues.

There are a couple of factors below the surface of this film. One is the ethnic/racial element, which is never actually mentioned but hangs out in the living room dropping elephant poo on the carpet. Angela’s mother is of Italian extraction and her father a black man from Cuba. Obviously, the globe people are as white-bread as you can get (think of the cheerleaders from that hoary old SNL sketch). The new love interest the family picks out for her (Josh Cooke, who apparently is in a season of “Longmire” I haven’t seen yet) is somewhere in between: all Brooklyn, still WASPish.
The other is that the globules (what do you call the denizens, anyway?) aren’t just paper dolls. In their own plasticky way they have feelings too and Angela’s self-centered (but not malicious) meddling has impacted their lives.

Obviously, we’re not talking high art here. It’s cheese. Enjoy.




Monday, November 16, 2015

The speech President Obama needs to make

Like it or not, the Paris attacks have placed us in a situation where war is probably inevitable. These people aren’t going to go away, and they won’t ever make peace. What’s more, it has to be done soon, not just because ISIS will continue to grow and metastasize, but more importantly because it’s vitally important that there be a Democrat in the White House if we’re to have any possibility of victory.

I know that sounds counter-intuitive.  But consider: If we wait until after the next election they will paint it as a purely Republican war and hamstring it at every opportunity, whereas Republicans are unlikely to hamper a war effort. (Yes, yes, the GOP has its own set of shameful tactics, But that’s not one of them.)  Our only hope of winning the war is if both halves of America are behind it. And this, my friends, is a war we absolutely cannot afford to lose.

This is what the President needs to say:

My fellow Americans,
I have hoped with all my heart not to speak the words I am about to say. For several years we have watched the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria with growing concern. Up until now their predations have been confined to the Middle East, a region far from our shores. Those actions have been reprehensible - genocide, slaughter and destruction - but America has taken only limited measures, primarily aiding and supporting our Kurdish and other allies in the region. We have seen ISIS take the form, not of a shadowy terrorist organization, but of a full-fledged territorial nation bent on expansion. ISIS has made it abundantly clear that they will not countenance peace, that they intend to dominate all other nations and will never recognize another nation as its equal.
The attacks upon our French allies in Paris have changed the situation drastically. As members of NATO, we are obligated to come to France’s defense. Therefore, as soon as I have finished speaking, I intend to call a joint session of Congress and ask them to declare that a state of war exists between ISIS and the United States.
I do not take this action lightly. If the last 14 years have taught us anything, it is that the American people do not relish the roles of conquerers and occupiers. We prefer to leave others in peace and live in peace ourselves, often at great risk or cost to ourselves. But this, ISIS will not have. In light of their intransigence, it is better to stop them while they are relatively small rather than allow them to grow larger and more dangerous. War will come, whether we like it or not; the only question is when and what size foe we will face.
Let me be clear: this is not a war on Islam itself. I spent much of my childhood among Muslims whom I knew to be good and decent people. Many of our own citizens are Muslim. Indeed, the vast majority of ISIS’ victims have been Muslim. I call on American Muslims to demonstrate their loyalty to this country, and non-Muslims to treat them with the respect you would show any other compatriots. Your neighbors are not your enemies. Nor are many of the people in the regions we intend to invade. Our enemy, rather, is any person who identifies as a subject of ISIS’ caliphate or bears arms on its behalf.
American soldiers have a long tradition of protecting civilians from harm. I will direct our troops to continue this tradition. Unfortunately, civilian casualties cannot be completely avoided. Innocent people will be hurt and killed despite our best efforts. For this I take full responsibility, and may God judge me for it as He sees fit.
Our men and women in uniform have been through a great deal in recent years, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Against our wishes, we must call on them once again to place their bodies between their beloved home and an enemy who would destroy it. I thank them for their service and honor them for the work they are about to do.
I call on Americans of all faiths to join Michelle and me in prayer for the safety of our troops and a quick end to this war. Thank you, and God bless and defend the United States of America.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The perfect liberal candidate

He’s black. He grew up poor and knows what it is to depend on welfare and food stamps. He’s a healer and a man of science. He’s owned by no corporate interests. He doesn’t shrink from war, but he’s no hawk by choice. He’s a reconciler, speaking kindly and peaceably to people on both sides of the aisle. He believes strongly in free speech, freedom of religion and freedom of the press. He has a passion for higher education and wants to see it funded for poor students.


In short, he’s exactly what liberals have said all along they want in a president. If Dr. Carson gets the nomination, voters on the left will have to choose between being genuine liberals and being Democratic party loyalists. So far, it’s the latter.