Copyright

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Abortion Clinic Tragedy

Let me state right at the beginning that I am personally against abortion. I feel that there are enough options out there for both men and women, including abstinence, condom use, and chemical and surgical options, that pregnancy is an extremely remote possibility for the conscientious. However, I understand that a very sizable minority of women want and need abortion as an option, so I feel it should remain safe, legal, and affordable for those times when circumstances out of a woman's control occur and/or an abortion is deemed necessary by the woman/couple/doctor.

Today, I read articles (here's one) about a doctor in Pennsylvania who was running what can only loosely be called an "abortion clinic." From what the article describes, this man was simply a modern day Dr. Frankenstein or, worse, serial killer masquerading as a doctor. I will not go into detail and I advise those with weak stomachs or who get nightmares easily from disturbing images not to read those articles. This man and some of his staff are up on multiple charges of murder.

These articles show why a) abortion needs to be kept legal, b) it needs to be overseen very stringently as a medical procedure, c) it needs supervisory oversight on a very regular basis, and d) women need to consider this a medical procedure and go to an established medical facility with a good record to have an abortion done.

What was described in the articles was similar to what we used to read about pre-legalized, back-alley abortions, where women literally put their own lives at risk to get the procedure done. It hard for a modern mind to wrap itself around the idea of the acts this man performed on these low-income, minority, and recent-immigrant women, who didn't know any better in a lot of cases. It is upsetting to think that no oversight group had been to his clinic to ensure safety and compliance since 1993.

My hope is that they throw the book at this man and his staff for the heinous and barbaric things to which they subjected these women. I hope that this stimulates better oversight and regulation, and certainly better and more frequent in-house inspections, of abortion clinics.

And, in the end, I hope it galvanizes more women to seek pregnancy abatement options outside of abortion, so they don't put themselves at further risk by going to one of these charlatans masquerading as a doctor.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Movie Round Up, 2010

I usually have specific dates for each movie, as I keep my ticket stubs. This year, I had a little accident involving losing my glasses case and whoever found it at the movie theater "helpfully" threw all my stubs out (but put the case in the lost and found). So I have to guess on some of the movie dates.

Avatar 1/16/10
Disappointing film. While visually stunning, of course, and with surprisingly good acting, the plot was weak. There were plot holes so large you could drive a space cruiser through it. It was, quite literally, Dances with Wolves and Pocahontas mixed together and set in outer space. If you don't believe me, check this site out and laugh. And damn James Cameron for starting the whole 3-D craze which, thankfully, seems to be dying out already.

The Book of Eli January 1/10
This was a disappointment only because the first three quarters of the film, nay, more, was really effective and interesting. The "twist" ending, however, absolutely destroyed the otherwise decent movie that they had made about a post-apocalyptic world and a traveler who may or may not be a modern day messiah. When a twist ending invalidates and makes laughably ridiculous everything that has come before it, it has failed.

*Spoilers*
First, why would a blind man wear headphones throughout most of the movie, negating or limiting his remaining good sense to make many of the action scenes impossible? Why the trick with the Bible? Why not have him listening to the Bible on tape, via his headset (which would make sense with how much he is willing to spend to get batteries)? Why have Mila Kunis' character leave the sanctuary as some sort of bad ass?
*End Spoilers*

The Wolfman February 2/10
I had such high hopes for this film. I am a werewolf fan and I thought that they could remake the original film with today's technology and it would so much better and all kinds of good. Instead, they put in about 40 minutes of needless back story, had a plot twist that anyone could see coming a mile away, and the effects were anything but special. A relatively decent acting job by most of the cast was wasted here. I'm still hoping someone will make a scary, sexy, engaging werewolf story using today's technology.

A Single Man 2/25/10
The photography and acting are superlative. The story has some small weaknesses, but nothing major.  The emotional impact is strong. I'm not a huge fan of Colin Firth, like my wife is, but he was excellent as the main character. Rich, deeply moving, and nuanced in the role. And the use of colors in the photography is incredible. Overall, one of the best films of the year I've seen.

Clash of the Titans 4/4/10
I have a soft spot for the Harry Hamlin movie. It is the last Ray Harryhausen stop-motion effects movie, and he was a Golden Age god of special effects. This is the second of the films I thought could be remade with today's technology and be pretty outstanding. Instead, this new movie is ... okay. It took itself WAY too seriously, had huge plot holes that didn't make much sense, and the acting, as in the first, was rather tepid. Ralph Fiennes as Hades was a thrill and Liam Neeson as Zeus was a  standout. This movie wasn't bad, but neither was it any great improvement over the cheesy-goodness of the original. The effects, entirely digital this time, were good but not thrilling. I think the sequel will do much better and will be much stronger.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5/10
I'm a big fan of the original NES and thought that this was another movie that could be remade with today's technology and be superb. The casting of Jackie Earle Haley was fabulous and I was expecting new and wildly inventive nightmares that took full advantage of digital effects. Instead, I got a rehash of the original movie, using digital versions of the exact same effects plus a back story that watered down the visceral impact of Freddy. *sigh

Iron Man 2 5/12/10
The sequel to one of the best movies of 2008 was more of the same. And I mean that literally. They mashed up two comic book villains into one screen villain (Whiplash and Crimson Dynamo), who has to build an uber-version of the Iron Man armor and fight Iron Man and War Machine at the end. There are quips, there is drinking, there are double entendres, and a sexy new addition of Scarlet Johanssen as a version of Black Widow. All runs smoothly and is relatively successful, but it lacks the emotional depth and visceral excitement of the first movie. If the first was an A, then this one is a solid B.

The A-Team 6/10
There was a decent movie in here somewhere. They got decent actors who fulfilled their roles admirably and with some flair. There was a nice mix of action and humor. There was, in short, the chance for this to be a worthy successor to the TV show. But they had to add that scene where the team "flew" a tank falling out of the sky, shooting down drones along the way, and getting the falling tank to angle into a deep lake so they could survive the fall. This scene was stupid, had bad CGI effects, was nonsensical, and left me high and dry. Also, the surprise ending wasn't much of one. After the initial opening sequence I was certain of the final villain and was right... it just took another 90 minutes to get there. This movie could have been a Wow, but ended up a dud.

Toy Story 3 7/5/10
This is, without a doubt, one of the best films of the year. It is exciting and fun for children, and emotional for adults. It has a strong story, good effects, and excellent voice acting. The Toy Story franchise is one of the better series overall in film history, with no real weak links in the chain, and the final one being arguably the best. Definitely worth a watch. I'll be surprised if this isn't up for multiple awards, with a possibility of a Best Picture nod.

Predators 7/10
Here is another of this year's theme of movie that should be better with today's technology and just isn't. It is not a bad film, however, and delivers on most of what a die-hard fan of the Predator series is looking for. However, the editing really lets this movie down (I'm assuming; it could also be sloppy writing or direction, but it felt like important pieces were left on the cutting room floor). Scenes jump around too much, it feels like important linking events or dialog were left out, and they overdid the use of aliens in the movie a bit (the entire scene with the dogs could have been cut out and replaced with a bit more back story and horror-like build up to actual Predator use). Overall, a decent movie, fits in with the original Predator, but not stellar.

Inception 7/20/10
Another of the year's best. It is, essentially, a heist movie on steroids. The editing, direction, cast, and effects are all excellent. The story has some minor weak spots, where things could have been defined and explained better and more succinctly, and the opening with the addition of the Ariadne character could have been shortened by about 15 minutes or so, but overall a fabulous piece of entertainment. However, it comes with this caveat-- you have to pay attention while watching. This is not a movie to do something else while viewing, as you could miss key visual or dialog clues. And, it proves that Hollywood can have very successful films without a remake, re-envisioning, or repurposing of existing material. This is one to watch.

The Expendables 8/10
Schlocky, hokey, 80s-nostalgia, fun action movie. It doesn't try to be Shakespeare and it isn't. If you liked the 80s action flicks, you will most likely like this one. Don't expect to strain your noggin while watching it, though.

Unstoppable 11/22/10
This movie was surprisingly good. A very good cast, a surprisingly taut story, good action sequences, good direction, and good editing all come together to present a very nice movie. What I particularly liked about it was that no one is a super-hero. There are moments where they could have gone with the "impossible jump, that the character makes" or similar, but instead they have the people all be human with human limitations, and work within those to solve the problem. The other incredible part about the movie is that there is virtually no back story. All of the back story is presented in about the first 15 minutes of the movie, and any additional back story for each character is presented along the way and where it makes sense for the story. Take note of that, Hollywood. While this is most likely not going to be nominated for any Academy Awards, it is a movie which falls just shy of that in every category and is, therefore, far superior to the vast majority of schlock, hokem, and swill that Hollywood turns out. Definitely worth a watch.

Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader 12/14/10
And the last of my major disappointments of the year. In the previous movies, they missed the mark by slightly more margin with each. And it each case, it was a matter of deviating from the original story in ways that didn't make sense. And the money shows it-- the first movie was the closest to the original work and made the most money. The second was much farther, but still recognizable, and it made a healthy amount, but not as much as the first. This one, however, basically used the themes and characters and made nearly an entirely new movie, and did the worst at the box office of all of them. This isn't a bad movie at all-- if they had just changed the characters and named it something else, I would probably give it a much better review. But it is NOT The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. And therein lies the problem. They took the most immediately film-able story, with plenty of action and interest, and changed it to have more action and a tighter, completely unnecessary plot device that is nonexistent in the original story. This was a major disappointment. That being said, Georgie Henley has grown up and is becoming a decent actress. She stole every scene she was in and provided some much needed depth and emotion to the story.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Shot Congresswoman

Someone shot a Congresswoman while she was out on a meet-n-greet in Arizona. Along with the representative, a Chief Judge for AZ, a 9/11 baby, and a few others were shot and killed, and some number more were injured in the shooting. I do not condone this violence in any way, shape, or form. This is a heinous act and I hope those responsible, including family members and others who may have known and can be held accountable as accessories before or after the fact, all get prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

However, this violent act may cause some good. Hopefully, it will have a mediating effect on Congress. It is time for this asinine "war" between the Republicans and everyone else be shelved and the parts of Congress to work together to find solutions to the very serious issues that face America.

It is true that, after being under the thumb and steamrolled by Republicans for years, the Democrats when they got control of Congress turned around and did the same to them. However, neither side was right and the now Republican House needs to acknowledge that as they move forward with their small majority. If not, this "war" will continue and more Congresspeople may get caught in the crossfire, both literal and figurative.

America is on the precipice of a great fall. Political leaders are acting just as the leadership of Ancient Rome did as their nation was beset by both internal and external issues and relied on being the biggest and the best to survive. In the end, they ignored their people, they ignored the threats, they ignored the failing infrastructure, and they failed to heed the incursions by rapidly rising external forces long enough that Rome, as they knew it, ceased to exist and is now a minor player in the world. American political leaders need to stop the strife, figure out a way to work together toward the middle/common ground where solutions can be found, and solve the internal and external problems of the country.

America has a failing infrastructure of bridges, dams, sewage systems, levees, roadways, and railways that are in imminent need of repair, or more collapses like what happened in Minnesota will occur. This seems like an excellent opportunity to put Americans to work solving America's problems and injecting American cash into America's financial system, all of which would solve a host of other issues in America.

America needs to curtail military intervention in favor of diplomacy and respect toward other nations. Rome teaches us that a strong nation that always has its military off in foreign lands tends to leave itself open to attack at home. It also leads foreign nations to grow to resent and distrust the nation that solves all problems by military might. Any of this sounding familiar?

Lastly, we need to buy American, grow food locally, work toward energy independence, and respect the rights of citizens and the world. We need to once more be a shining light of progress and freedom, rather than the terrifying military and economic might of a decadent society.

Here's hoping that the reprehensible shooting of a Congresswoman can bring about the first steps of change and growth in the pompous, bombastic, and narrow-minded who now inhabit Congress. Let's hope for positive change that leads to economic growth, better leadership, and compromise that all Americans can accept.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Musical Importance

I have been wondering lately why none of the music that comes out seems to have meaning or impact on my life. When I was in my teens and early twenties, music had importance. A band like U2 came out and they not only had a message, but that message had a great beat and you could dance to it. George Michael had songs that were potent and fit into the rhythm of my life. Prince and Guns n Roses spoke to my inner wild child in various ways. Tori Amos had deep, emotional resonance. These days, nothing speaks to me. I don't think in terms of songs expressing an era of my life and I don't feel the same rhythms. I simply listen to music and either enjoy it or not.

That led me to wonder, does music being important and a way of expressing your life have a shelf life? Each person I speak with seems to have the same 14 to about 25 age range wherein the music spoke most loudly and clearly to them, and meant the most to their lives. Today, those who still love music, seem to be searching to replace, replicate, or recapture that feeling. And, while they may get a nostalgic glimmer here and there, it is usually of the "this reminds of when..." rather than being a completely new moment of music importance.

One person I spoke to thought that his younger relatives, who just happen to be entering or in that 14-25 age range, were having that feeling about music now, with today's music. Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Rhianna, Justin Timberlake, and others are speaking to them and those songs are becoming the rhythm for their (current) lives, just as my 80s and 90s artists were for me. This seems to lend credence to the idea that it is an age, rather than the type or quality of music.

On the other hand, music has proliferated in the last decade and a half, as have most other forms of entertainment. Our discretionary dollars are stretched thinner and our attention spans are shorter as there are so many channels of TV, types and sources of music, number of movies, games, and internet distractions. Using YouTube and other internet sources, a person can pick up a lyric sheet and a guitar and self-promote and self-publish themselves, and develop a following without going through the usual musical path. With so many choices to weed through, maybe the entire product is watered down.

As late as the 1980s, the recording industry had a stranglehold on new artists and the music pipeline. While some would argue this stifled creativity, it also meant that the artists had to be hungrier, more creative, and better than all the others to rise to the top and get on the radio and into your hearts and minds. Today, the average person has to weed through the detritus of crappy talents and hackneyed artists to get to that cream. Does this affect how we view the music, when we have to do so much more of the work? Or does it make that cream of the crop we do find that much more important, because we had to work for it?

Lastly, does age itself have anything to do with it? When I was 14-25, I was still forming who I was to be and my impressions of the world. I had little to do beyond that except school, so I had more time for music, movies, TV, books, friends, family, and just being. These days, I have a wife, I have political and social concerns, jobs, a mortgage, and other issues that plague me on a daily basis. I don't have the same time to be affected by a new band, that hip new song, or time to spend thinking about music. Music is something I put on in the background while I am working or doing other things, instead of something I purposely did, as an end unto itself.

At most, I get a strong sense of nostalgia and I remember the "good ole times" when particular songs come on. So, in the end, I guess music still has importance to me today. However, where once it defined and set the rhythm of my life as it was and would be, now it is a tool to take me back and help me remember what I once was and where my life has been. Before, it was the window and telescope I used to see my life and my future, now it is the mirror and magnifying glass I use to see my past. In the end, I guess I have answered my own question: music is still important. However, like most everything in my life, that importance, and its meaning to me, has changed as I have changed.