It's time once again for Campbell's Chunky Soup's annual Click for Cans promotion for charitable hunger relief. Select the logo of the pro football team of your choice, and Campbell's donates a can of soup. Once again the New Orleans Saints is ponying up a can on my behalf.
Sorry for the light posting so far. I'm in an all-day training session, and I had to spend part of lunch break running to the post office. Training lets out around 3 (Eastern Standard Time), so we'll see what happens then. I do plan to make a real effort to at least post some link clearance by Monday, but as we'll be out of town part of the day Saturday, again, we'll see what happens.
I ran a batch of errands with The Girls yesterday evening, including just about finishing off our Xmas shopping with a stop at an electronics store. While there, I spotted a DVD of one of my favorite movies, The Big Easy, for a mere six bucks. Needless to say, I grabbed it. Best of all, it isn't a fully fledged cheapo DVD, but rather a genuine studio release at an irresistible price. I look forward to viewing it.
The purchase is interesting in light of my reading of Jaquandor's post yesterday about sex scenes, because The Big Easy has, in my book, one of the most erotic ones of all. The initial encounter between Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin is unusual if for no other reason that it's Quaid, not Barkin, who winds up topless. It also has an endearing quality as, rather than being a flawlessly but unrealistically choreographed sequence of erotic pantomime, the two are just slightly awkward and clumsy around each other. There's a sense that much of their passion arises from a genuine liking of one another. Their self-conscious approach to physical intimacy in based less on overwhelming physical attraction – although it's certainly a factor – than on a realization that there's genuine affection building, despite an initial animosity.
What makes the scene powerfully erotic in my book is that it isn't explicit at all. Instead, the camera lingers in a close-up of Barkin's face as she reacts to whatever Quaid's character is doing. The specifics are left up to the audience's imagination. With the computer-aided "showe everything" mentality pervading Hollywood these days, that's a secret of superior filmmaking that's rapidly becoming lost.
I've disapproved of President Bush's failure to visit the troops wounded and maimed in the ongoing war in Iraq. Thus it's only right to give Bush props for finally doing so yesterday. I might add, it's about time.
I still believe that one of the hallmarks of Bush's character is to overemphasize gains – even merely symbolic ones – and underestimate the costs of his policies. Of course, most politicians share those tendencies, but I believe Bush does so most immoderately.
And regardless, the excuses of Bush's spokespeople that he's too busy to perform this duty are, frankly, an insult to the US military. Bush has lots of time to jet around on the public dime to attend fundraisers. It's a prerogative of incumbency, but its price is that pleas of a crowded schedule just don't wash.
I planned to get them this year, but was disappointed to note that they'd been sold out at Anime Castle. Fortunately, after some diligent Google searching, I found a pair here and ordered them. They arrived today. Asuka currently adorns our TV set, while Rei will take her place among the few Xmas decorations I have up at work.
It’s helpful to consider that when Tolkien set up elvish social systems, he was in a way creating his own ideal people, based on his own values.
The good news is that elves like sex. “The union of love is indeed to them great delight and joy.” (LACE) The bad news is that elves tend to lose interest in sex after they’ve had kids. “With the exercise of the power (of generation), the desire soon ceases, and the mind turns to other things…they have many other urges of body and of mind which their nature urges them to fulfil.” They do look back happily on the sexually-active time in their lives, though, a period of one to several hundred years. (LACE) Also, “they are seldom swayed by the desires of the body only, but are by nature continent and steadfast.” (LACE) Sorry.
No word on how technically acuurate the Japanese hentai anime Elven Bride (itself a seeming X-rated riff on the human-elf relationship in the fantasy anime Record of Lodoss War) was.
Bonus fact: The nearest Elvish translation of "you sexy thing" is "narlyë nat vanya."
Last night's showing of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was a magnificent cinematic experience. I agree with those who've dubbed the climactic episode the best of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Jackson, in my opinion, got the ending exactly right. Of course, the battle scenes – especially the amazing assault on Minas Tirith – outdo the spectacle of even the impressive Helm's Deep in the previous films. And the heroism displayed by the major characters – especially the hobbits Merry and Pippin – are tremendously satisfying.
Surprisingly, I didn't miss the absence of the Harrowing of the Shire as much as I expected (indeed, the hobbits' return to a placid and pleasant Shire was, in terms of the film, a welcome development). Saruman is mentioned in the initial scene in the ruins of Isengard, and while I missed Christopher Lee's absence personally, I must admit it doesn't harm the film. (The movie's PR folks deserve props for making such potential detractions public in advance, so fans in the audience are prepared.)
In addition, with this third installment, Jackson is able to draw upon what he's established in the previous two and fill in any continuity gaps. For example, although I don't recall whether Galadriel's gift of the Phial is explicitly shown in the original release of Fellowship, its origin is established with a voice-over (a handy reminder, even if its presence was already established two movies ago).
Of course, the third film – as the final episode in a genuine trilogy – Return of the King enjoyed advantages the other two didn't. Essentially, the final film is the third act in an epic tale, and as such needs not pay so much attention to characterization and motivation (some, to be sure, but it's permitted to presume the audience is familiar with the story from the first two films). Therefore, it's largely payoff for the situations set up by the first two flicks: The defense of Gondor, the final confrontation with Mordor, Aragon's ascension to his birthright as king of Men, and not incidentally, the fate of Frodo and the Ring. Jackson is able to pull out all the stops and winds up the tale with a bang (several, actually, from the eruption of Mount Doom to the impressive destruction of Sauron's keep of Barad-Dur.
The third film also left a distinct impression for a different reason. The third installment of Tolkien's trilogy is rather short in story terms, as he, too, winds up his story relatively swiftly. (Destruction of the One Ring, check; battle of Minas Tirith, check; Aragorn's birthright, check; fate of Our Heroes, check.) Roughly half the book's length is occupied by appendices covering the origins and fate of Middle-Earth; material from these was brought forward in the earlier books (and forms the basis of the pleasing concluding sequence, which although unusually long, is far from tedious – quite the opposite, in fact). Thus, Return of the King is the first of the films in which elements from the story weren't conspicuously absent. Of course, Jackson did excise a few elements, but they're noticeable only in retrospect. I look forward to the Extended Edition with great relish – I predict that with this one, Jackson will spend less time filling in back story and more in extra mayhem.
One final comment – as Andy Serkis appears in the flesh as Sméagol (in an opening flashback depicting how Gollum obtained the One Ring), there's no excuse not to bestow a richly deserved Oscar for his incredible performance.
Before the film, there was the now-typical slew of ads, public service announcements, and trailers. The teaser trailer for the upcoming Spider-Man sequel looked pretty cool. (In a nice touch, there's a shot showing that Doc Ock's tentacles appear to be fused into his spine, with metallic implants reaching almost up to his neck.) There was also an amusing PSA about silencing cell phones disguised as a trailer for a submarine movie. Another trailer previewed Vin Diesel's latest sci-fi action flick. I was wholly unimpressed – the trailer made it appear as if it were a soulless collection of mayhem, impossible stunts and special effects – but there were murmurs of "cool" throughout the audience. (And seriously, what's the deal with keeping the star's identity a poorly-concealed "secret"?)
There's no question that films have been "dumbed down" over the years. The other night, my lovely wife and I watched Breakfast at Tiffany's (a first time for both of us). I was impressed that the ending of that film is done without dialogue – the audience is expected to know what the characters' actions represent. These days, though, there would no doubt be a lengthy speech (as in the remake of Sabrina) attempting to convince the audience the romance character that the protagonist has changed and how. It's depressing to consider that, despite the significant attention director Peter Jackson and his co-screenwriters paid to the dramatic arcs of the films' many characters, all the audience perceives is the spectacle of the massive battles. It's even more so to imagine that audiences don't absorb from a film like Return of the King the difference between a good movie and a bad one. Faithful readers will know that "lots of stuff blows up real good" doesn't automatically qualify a flick for the former category as far as I'm concerned.
As we located our seats, I asked Crystal, "Are we sitting close so you can see Orlando Bloom's eyes?" (riffing on this FoxTrot comic). She replied, "I've already told you how I feel about that." So I responded,: "Oh, so we're sitting close so you can see Viggo Mortensen's stubble?" As I expected, she responded in the affirmative. I noted with some satisfaction that when Aragorn finally ascended the throne of Gondor, he also made the commitment to grow a full beard.
Update: In the comments, my friend Dodd reminds me that not only did the theatrical version FotR establish Galadriel's giving Frodo the phial, but that he'd mentioned that very fact to me scarcely a month ago. Since my memory on this particular subject is obviously unreliable, the reminder was welcome indeed.
My lovely wife and I have tickets to tonight's showing of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. We're awaiting the babysitter, and eagerly anticipating an excellent show. I'll have more later.
It seems spammers are staying topical in their efforts to trick recipients into opening their bogus ads for generic viagra or whatnot. This evening my lovely wife received a spam email with the following header:
Saddam Husssein has esscapeed.
It might have been even more compelling had it been, you know, spelled correctly...
Thanks for your patience over the past couple of days of light posting. Things are very busy around here, and I need to focus on matters around here. I'm not giving up, however; I plan to alter my posting schedule a bit over the coming month, and see how that works out.
Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight in Kitty Hawk, South Carolina, and thus a century of aviation. In 100 years of flight, aircraft have gone from wooden and cloth contraptions to beautiful and swift passenger airliners -- with Boeing's new 7E7 the latest among them -- and sleek and intimidating warplanes. The ability of the airplane to connect the globe is second only to the Internet in its importance in unifying different nations and cultures.
That said, progress has seems to have lagged shamefully over the past few decades. At the dawn of jet travel, nearly everyone assumed people would be commuting to the Moon on a regular basis, and NASA was working on a rocket plance that would make transit to low Earth orbit routine. (Ironically, the moon landing program casued seemingly terminal delays in this project.) The end of supersonic passenger flight, while understandable, is another symbol of the rather sad lack of vision and ambition, and a failure of the promise the future once held.
Update: Jaquandor comes thru with a photo of th Wright Brothers' Flyer, an essay and a groovy collection of links.
In a pleasant surprise today, along with my paycheck, my employer provided a gift card. On my lunch break, I bopped out and picked up the special edition DVD of El Mariachi. On the way to the checkout counter, I passed a cheapo DVD of Jackie Chan's 36 Crazy Fists for a mere four bucks, and so grabbed it as well.
Kung Fu Cinema provides an update on the situation in which Miramax sent the site a cease-and-desist letter or merely linking to a Web site that sells import DVDs (and, in fact, had discontinued US sales of Miramax properties -- sheesh!). KFC's Mark Pollard reiterates the irony that his site supports the US release of Asian films, and makes the spot-on observation that "if Miramax were smart they would release the original version on DVD. Imports would become a non-issue and that would put an end to this whole conversation."
Over the weekend, I made a video CD of the Love Hina Christmas Special that concludes the series. I got to watch it last night, and was pleased with the result. Transferring video to video CD is a spotty prospect, but in this case it turned out quite well indeed.
(Courtesy the Love Hina Wallpaper Gallery. Warning: Contains a loud embedded MIDI of the Love Hina theme; turn down those speakers at work.)
By now everyone and their uncle has expounded on the capture of Saddam Hussein. Of course the news of his capture is welcome indeed. By themselves, the prospect of Saddam facing international justice, and the elimination of the fear that he might somehow regain power, are of course a Good Thing.
A good thing, sure. But it's also clear that Saddam's capture has not ended the resistance to the American occupation. Nor has it pointed the way to a stable government that'll deny the haven for terrorists the invasion has created.
I recall after the killing of Saddam's sons Uday and Qusay that many predicted that Saddam's capture was a matter of days, and that the resistance would surely falter. As we've seen, neither prediction was correct.
In addition, it bears repeating that Saddam's capture does not retroactively justify the Iraq war. Of course Saddam was a loathsome dictator and all that. But he posed absolutely no threat to national security – and no potential threat that sanctions and containment wasn't more than adequate to counter.
Moreover, while Saddam's capture is undeniably a welcome success in the coalition's war effort, it, like the restoration of power, water, and other services, is the minimum obligation of the occupying power. These successes are indeed welcome, but should not be portrayed as efforts above and beyond the call of duty. What success the coalition has enjoyed in rounding up the former Baathist leaders and restoring services are well and good, but they represent the occupation forces doing their duty. And the rate at which these successes are accruing – especially in the face of a stubborn guerilla resistance – is fair game for criticism.
Unfortunately, this Administration has not displayed the same acumen as our troops on the ground. The Administration's fiasco last week of excluding non-coalition members from reconstruction contracts on the eve of the US request to some of those same countries to forgive Iraqi debt seems just another in a series of blunders and missed opportunities. And much more than capturing Saddam, these big-picture efforts to stabilize Iraq have a direct bearing on national security.
Probably the best indication of Saddam's capture is the fact that it points to better intelligence being cultivated by the coalition. Good intelligence is absolutely essential in ending the resistance, restoring order to Iraq and defeating terrorism. Sadly, while the US is clearly enjoying some good tactical intelligence, this Administration has made crystal clear that it regards intel data as something to use selectively to sell its predetermined policies, not as information on which to base a course of action.
(I noted, for example, another news development over the weekend, understandably overshadowed by Saddam's capture. Mere weeks after neo con war hawks released a bogus memo – consisting mostly of unverified reports and conjecture – that purported to "prove" Saddam's ties to al Qaeda, an Iraqi intelligence official has gone on the record denying that he met with Mohammed Atta in Czechoslovakia.)
And the supposition that Saddam's capture somehow hurts anti-war presidential candidates is true only in the most distorted public perception. As I said, capturing Saddam does not retroactively justify a war waged on apparently baseless claims of a threat to national security, nor does it excuse the Administration's prewar mendacity or postwar incompetence.
Although this Administration loves to give short shrift to the costs of its symbolic accomplishments, it's Bush who should justify the coast in American lives and treasure – not to mention the very real degrading of national security – his vendetta against Saddam has incurred.
Really, though – the predictions of some conservative bloggers that war foes would disparage Saddam's capture are examples of rank ignorance at best and rampant intellectual dishonesty at worst. No doubt some yahoo will post a thoughtless screed that will wind up widely cited. But although I haven't spent much time reading blogs this week, opinion among prominent anti-war bloggers seemed largely congruent with my own: Saddam's capture is a Good Thing, and it doesn't solve our problems in Iraq.
...Well, not really, but yesterday morning I finally replaced the bad CD-ROM burner in our computer with a secondhand but functional version. Since then I've been working on some long-overdue backups, and also creating some video and audio CDs. Life is good when one has a working CD burner.
Last night we indulged in one of our favorite holiday traditions. We invited a few friends over to help decorate our Xmas tree. It was a small but pleasant occasion. We enjoyed good food, good company and good cheer, and on a whim I ventured out into the snow for club soda to make Old Fashioneds according to my grandfather's recipe. Hot mulled cider proved a warming beverage as well. Our freind Onye stuck around to watch my DVD of the Sammo Hung-directed wu xia pian flick The Moon Warriors.
Last night, snow began falling and sticking in earnest for the first time this winter. Indianapolis received nearly two inches of snow, but clearing it off the car this morning and shoveling the walk proved easy tasks, and the snowfall was reported as relatively trouble-free across the city.
Here are a couple of pictures I took this morning.