Saturday, February 26, 2005

Sam Elliot, An Appreciation

Certain actors are famous for doing one thing really, really well.

Ron Silver is probably a sweetheart of a guy, but he oozes synthetic slime all over the screen every single time. Keanu Reeves does Zen Inscrutability about as well as anyone. Bertolucci felt this so strongly that Keanu was his first and only choice to play the Buddha.

Sam Elliot does tough like no one else.

Not tough in the pumped-and-vaguely-homosexual schwarzenegger/Stallone/Vin Diesel sense. He's not muscled and ripped. Elliot's tough in the way our grandfathers were tough. The kind of man who's maybe fought in a war and seen things. Things he doesn't like to talk about. The kind of man who'd see a man roughing up a woman and quietly step between them, staring the motherfucker down until he backs off without having to throw a single punch. The kind of tough borne of life experience. It's a hounddog, tired, granite-solid integrity kind of tough that doesn't seem so much acted as innate.

That's both helped and hindered Elliot in his career. He's played a succession of admirable character roles, from Wyatt Earp's brother, alongside Bill Paxton and Kurt Russell, in the satidfyingly pulpy Tombstone, to the iconic Wade Garrett, alongside Sir Patrick Swayze, in the camp-classic Roadhouse. But he seems sort of trapped there, in badass limbo, a victim of his own success. Type-casting is a way of life in the film world, and Elliot has been good and soundly boxed and labeled as the tough, smoldering second tier character.

This can't be easy on you as an actor. It's got to be frustrating, boring even, to play essentially the same guy over and again. I love the guy, but I'd love to see him stretch. Play something other than stoic. So, I was happy to read he'll be doing just that in Off The Map. He's Joan Allen's husband, apparently, and the prospect of seeing him act alongside her makes me all tingly. It's an indie film, so unless it "breaks out," it'll probably only play in selected cities. But if I'm allowed to dream, I'd like to see him just tear that role up like the gigantic chance this is and earn himself an Oscar nomination.

A world with more Sam Elliot is a world we'd all be happy living in.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Istanbul was Constantine's Opal? Excuse Me While I Kiss This Guy.

I’ve read maybe two issues of Hellblazer in my life, so I’ve got no real background on this John Constantine character except that in the comic, Constantine is:
- British
- Blonde
- Vaguely Sting-esque
- A Rogue
- A Magician. I think.

Keanu Reeves is none of those things except, perhaps, a magician. It would explain how he keeps landing these sorts of blockbuster roles (Thank you! Thank you very much! Don't forget to tip!). It’s not that Reeves is a bad actor. He’s not. He’s certainly focused, dedicated, committed. All the things great actors tend to be (with the obvious exceptions of old drunk English actors, who appear to have been able to conjure great work from the bottom of a whiskey bottle). But he is limited.
If I was a fan of the comic, I think I’d be pretty outraged by the way they’ve altered the character of John Constantine from the source material on its way to the big screen. As it is, I found the character intriguing enough that I wished they gone with someone who could really…well, emote. JC is an interesting cat. From the dialogue and the way Reeves half-successfully conveys him, this is one screwed-up, lost soul, and in the hands of the right actor, this could have been much more than a fun ride. It could have been classic.
My final verdict? It’s pretty good. I’d see a sequel. It’s not great, though it might have been. This is a film that could have been a cousin to Blade Runner, Aliens, Pitch Black, the Exorcist…a movie that could have given us what I’ve been longing for since first catching Fred Ward in HBO’s underrated “Cast A Deadly Spell” over a decade ago: A great supernatural film noir. The two genres are a natural fit for one another, sharing the same taste for the seedy underbelly of existence. Its just that one of those underbellies is Chthulu’s, and the others’ is Crime.


The biggest thing Constantine has going for it is its approach. The director is way more comfortable directing a movie like this than he should be, given that he’s never shot a feature before. The movie is confident. One never gets the sense that the director is trying to dazzle you with fancy camera work. Instead, he lets it tell the story. The effects, almost uniformly well done, blend pretty darn seamlessly, and as a whole, the film is visually compelling, and admirably detailed.
In addition, the script sort of drops you into the middle of this strange world and takes off, not waiting for you to catch up. Unlike a lot of films, Constantine doesn’t beat you over the head with its mythology, as if afraid you won’t understand it. Grace notes like the screech beetle in the Cleopatra matchbox, Midnite’s past friendship with Constantine and his friends, Balthazar’s meeting with Midnite in his club, are not fully explained, lending them an air of history and mystery that’s refreshing. It lets your mind fill in the blanks on these characters in a way novels seem to feel more comfortable doing than films.
Several of the supporting players make favorable impressions, chief amongst them being Gavin Rossdale. Rossdale is the ex-lead singer for Bush, a band that was briefly popular in the 90’s, and the husband to Gwen Stephani. So it makes perfect sense to cast him as a devil, as he’s obviously sold his soul to one. He’s really good in this. He’s totally relaxed and confident, and it makes what could have been a Tyler Mane Sabretooth role into something memorable.
A side note: Has anyone else noticed that in Rossdale’s conference room there are two televisions playing a rotating display of fluttering American flags, bald eagles and fireworks? Is there a statement being made here by the director?
Also quite good is Shia LeBeouf (sp?). I despise “kid sidekicks,” and his role in I, Robot felt shoehorned in for no good, discernable reason, but that was less his performance than the script. I’ve seen him on late night tv, and he seems like kind of a punk, but a nice, intelligent punk you’d want around for beers and good conversation. I like that they killed him off, but again, Keanu’s not enough the character to sell any real grief in that moment.
Tilda Swinton’s good enough I suppose, though she’s largely an expository device. The real revelatory performance here is Peter Stormare who gives one of the iconic Prince of Darkness Performances. First, the visual is pretty classic. Stormare arrives in the film wearing a slightly chintzy white suit, no tie. Spiked tribal tattoos peek out from his collar and shirt sleeves, his feet bare, slightly smoking, and covered in an inexplicable black tar. It’s creepy and cool all at once. And Stormare does the audience one better by giving satan a twisted, feyly menacing inhumanity. Its as if the slightly bloated Stormare is simply the skin suit this ancient evil has slipped on, and its almost possible to see a presence shifting under Stormare’s uncomfortable, twitching figure.
If they’d had someone of depth and emotional gravity playing Constantine, this could have been one of the greats. Imagining someone like Paul Bettany or Jude Law in the role makes me a little sad. If we’d bought a little further into Constantine’s humanity, maybe his quasi-redemption at the end would have some heft behind it. As it is, it’s a perfectly serviceable first entry, not unlike the first X-Men in the small details it nails perfectly, and a larger central defect that’s sort of glaring.

You Like Me! You Really Like Me!

From the comments:
"CC" said...
Is this in opposition to the Democratic Party that loves dictators and hates the idea of freedom for dark-skinned people? Democrats talk big but bring little to the table in the discussion of world events... hey, even elected Democratic officials cozied up to Saddam right before the war... as did Dan Rather... and Sean Penn. Do you see a pattern here?Maybe when you start caring for people who are suffering from a lack of basic human rights you'll feel more like a Christian...


My first "flame."

It'll never be as sweet and singular as this again. Savor these moments...they are the ones worth remembering.

I'm assuming the above is courtesy one of the readers at www.chud.com, where I've just posted a link to this blog. That's somewhat disappointing, as most of the people that post to that site are reasonable, intelligent people.

But I'd rather make a big negative impression on one of the brain-washed, than no impression at all.

I've edited the settings on the comments to allow anyone to post, not just registered users.



Did You Know the T-Rex is the Physical Manifestation of Man's Sin? This Truth, and much more, at the Creation Museum!

"Giant bugs—marvels of God’s creation—buzz overhead in our themed gift shop and resource center! Find shelves crammed with the latest books, tapes, CDs, DVDs, videos and other resources that’ll strengthen your walk with the Creator and embolden your defense of His Word. Stock up and tell others what you’ve discovered!" - The Creation Museum

Good morning to you all. I'm MMorse, and I'll be your guide today through the Creation Museum, an eye-opening, fun-for-the-whole-family experience that will shame your education and reveal the truth: science is a big fat hairy lie. What does science have to do with creation? Not much, apparently, as a quick trip through the Creation Museum reveals.

"Peer back into the deepest recesses of the heavens, and discover that the latest images of the stars confirm an all powerful Creator, not a random bang!"
Well, that's a relief. It's sort of heartwarming to see the age-old tropes of school science (the Planetarium) used to dispel the myth of science.

My natural skepticism makes me wonder what sort of proof or evidence the Creation Museum might have to show the irroneous nature of such heretical concepts as evolution, the big bang and other "controversial" topics. Luckily, the CM gives me (and ALL the dirty sinners) a hint:

"The Bible is true. No doubt about it! Paul explains God's authoritative Word, and everyone who rejects His history-including six-day creation and Noah's Flood-is ‘willfully’ ignorant."
Ah. Well. I don't know about that...that seems sort of...well, flimsy. But luckily for my eternal, wicked soul, the Creation Museum elaborates on their revolutionary theory of "Total Biblical Truth" in a calm, reasoned and eye-opening manner.

"And the Bible’s clear—heaven and earth in six 24-hour days, earth before sun, birds before lizards. Other surprises are just around the corner. Adam and apes share the same birthday. The first man walked with dinosaurs and named them all!"

Boy, those are some surprises, alright! But, you know, I remember fifth grade science class, and I've got to tell you, there was some pretty compelling evidence (what the fine folks at the Creation Museum might refer to as godless, baseless, physically ascertainable fact) showing that the dinosaurs were precursors to today's avian life and, in fact, were in existence long before man. So, its Mrs. Gurland in the fifth grade VS. the Creation Museum. How do I know what to believe? How can my heathen mind be convinced? The Museum has the answer.

"God’s Word is true, or evolution is true. No millions of years. There’s no room for compromise."
Well. I think we've all learned something today. Don't you? Your foolish quesitons about the validity of an ancient text written long before advances in intelligence and technology are not only bothersome, but actually kind of annoying. And maybe its my heathen-ness showing through here, but the fine folks at the Creation Museum appear to be going off the rails of common sanity at around this point in their virtual tour.
"The horror! All a result of disobeying one simple command in God’s Word. Yet God is love. He promised a Redeemer through Eve that would bring salvation. But the only way to cover our sin is the horrific death of an innocent substitute.When God clothed Adam and Eve, it required the first animal death, a picture of the promised Lamb of God."
Now I'm just confused....The Horror! Yet, God is Love...But...an innocent must die in a horrific way. Apparently, as God was throwing some rags on Adam and Eve and telling them to get the hell outta his stinkin' garden, those lousy good for nothing kids, he decided he'd give us all a hint as to what he had coming in the future. Sort of a "Coming Atrocities" trailer. Booming Heston-esque voice: "You think this is bad? Wait til you see what I'm willing to do to my SON!"

Some more highlights:
"T. rex—the real king of the beasts. That’s the terror that Adam’s sin unleashed! You’ll run into this monster lurking near Adam and Eve. How’s this possible? Find out soon!"

I'm dying to know how this is possible. Seriously. These people make the ancient world seem like Judeo-Jurassic Park. Memo to Spielberg: Listen, you're a Jew and all, and thus ultimately unworthy of God's redemptive love, but man...Sin-Dinosaurs! There's your sequel!

And my personal favorite exhibit...
"The most incredible event in history—told by a Gentile. The room darkens as a Roman centurion comes to life, sharing a gripping tale of a Man who claimed to be God and was hung on a tree to die."
Just what we need, another Hall of Presidents.

I'm all for Bible reading and appreciation of the Scriptures. There's much food for the mind and soul located therein. But this sort of "willful" (to borrow their word-in-quotations) ignorance is both frightening and morbidly amusing.

Don't take my word for it. Visit the Creation Museum for yourself at:
http://www.answersingenesis.org/museum/

Thursday, February 24, 2005

God Hates Fags, and Other Pearls of Mid-Western Wisdom

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1029829,00.html

Excerpted from the article:
"Residents of Topeka, Kans., accustomed to seeing daily placards with such coarse slogans as GOD HATES FAGS and GOT AIDS YET?, have learned to put up with the family responsible for those signs in the same way some people endure living next to screeching railroad tracks. Now they're enduring the typically grating campaign of a young member of the clan who is trying to unseat the first openly gay member of the city council. "

"Since 1991, the Rev. Fred Phelps, 75, has led his family in campaigns against everyone from "sodomites" and "fag enablers" to victims of 9/11. More recently the Phelpses initiated a referendum on the March 1 ballot that would prohibit laws protecting gay rights. The family is also supporting one of Fred's 53 grandchildren, Jael Phelps, 20, a prim nursing student who once picketed Matthew Shepard's funeral, in her run against city councilwoman Tiffany Muller, 26, who co-sponsored a law late last year that shields gays from discrimination in city hiring."

Silly me. I thought the Christian God wasn't capable of hate. Note to all trendwatchers: "God is Love" is out. The new Christianity prefers their Lord and savior lean, mean and elitist.

God Hates Homophobes, a terrific and inspiring site, has lots of information on the Rev. Phelps and his scary family's crusade to end the "Gay menace." Of particular note is the extended writing on Rev Phelps located here:http://www.godhateshomophobes.com/homphelps.html

If you click that link, you can discover that Phelps is a disbarred attorney who supports the death penalty for sodomy. Says Phelps, "The death penalty was violently carried out by God on a massive scale when the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire and brimstone," says Phelps. "I am inclined to the view that the closer man's laws come to God's laws, the better off our race will be."

Man of God, or Nazi Eugenicist? I report...you decide.

Faith, Hope, and Modern Right Wing Christianity

I'm not much of a Christian.

For starters, I'm a member of the Dutch Reformed Church. That already qualifies me as wishy-washy to a lot of folks.

I don't attend church regularly. I go more often than the "Christmas and Easter" people, but not much.

I tend to believe, like Mr. Gibran, that we are all fingers on the hand of a loving God. Whatever your tenets of belief, they tend to boil down to the same simple precepts. Treat others as you'd like to be treated. Judge not, lest ye be judged. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, but render under the Lord that which is the Lord's, a camel will sooner enter the eye of a needle than a rich man, the gates of heaven.

I tend to believe, as Jesus did, that there was no man unworthy of God's love, no length one should not go to for the sake of righteousness. As human beings, its all too easy to fall short of that goal, and I do it on a daily basis.

But I keep striving. I believe that in being a better man the world becomes a slightly better place. And I believe that the great strength of Christianity is that it encourages men and women alike to treat each other with respect, love and humility.

Respect, love and humility. That's what it comes down to for me. Respect for others and their beliefs, love for your fellow man, and humility in the face of God's creation and your tiny but important place in it.

That's why I tend to vote democrat. And it's why I can't understand why the Republican party has managed to crown itself the party of Christiandom. It's not that either party is more holy (certainly not that). It's that the ideals and goals of the democratic party tend to fit nicely with my own Christianity-influenced beliefs.

There is little of the respect, love and humility I find in the gospels in the actions and words of our right-wing, conservative brethren. In their intolerance toward "the homosexual agenda," the "liberal media" (whose crime, it appears, is occasionally squeezing in bits of truth between corporate sponsored product clips and stories about people dying, or buildings on fire, or people on fire in buildings), free speech, women's rights, and the plight of the poor and the disenfranchised, they seem less like followers of Christ than modern Pharisees, preaching the word of God while dipping into the collection plates. Living like Kings while the poor died and prayed around them.

This is not hyperbole, in my humble opinion. This is fact. The actions that this administration have taken are the actions of extreme moralists who have gone beyond the teachings of Christ and embraced a newer, more repugnant faith. One that preaches the gospel of "specialness" and exclusion. That rewards believers for hatred, and encourages suspicion of people not like themselves. This new gospel replaces humility with braggadacio, love with hate, and respect with contempt.

Jesus Christ made his following with Whores and Tax Collectors, the dregs of the ancient world. Today, the self-described Christian right shuns those outside their considerable tax bracket, surrounding themselves with reassuring faces and prejudices to hex off the encroaching progress of an increasingly more Christian secular society.

As the secular world becomes more and more accepting of other cultures, lifestyles, and beliefs, it grows closer to the very tenets Christ's gospels preach. A world of unity under faith. The irony is that our extremist Christian brethren, in their sorrowful attempts to "moralize" (Read: culturally, spiritually, sexually, and arguably, ethnically, homogenize the Nation) America, most closely resemble the very people they claim we're in Iraq trying to fight.

They are reflections in a mirror. Fundamentalists fighting to hold back a frightening tide of freedom that threatens to sweep over them, trivializing their deeply held bigotries and hatreds, making everyone equal in the eyes of man and God. Oh the irony. I'd laugh, if I wasn't so busy crying my goddamn eyes out.