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Friday, June 30, 2006

Syriana — Movie Review

Syriana offers a look into the world of the oil companies, and drives home the message that curruption runs rampant throughout the industry. I’d be lying if I even suggested that I understood every nuance of the political implications covered in the film, but the point was clear enough — the titans of the oil business will stop at nothing in pursuit of profits.

The film follows various “players” in the oil game with a pending merger of two of the largest companies forming the backdrop. From a CIA operative, to a lawyer for the oil company, an oil broker, and a forward-thinking foreign prince set to take power and try to bring democracy to his country, each faces the back-door dealings that seems to make ever reigning in the oil industry an impossibility.

Syriana is one of the more difficult films I’ve tried to review. I felt like I was working so hard to truly grasp everything, it was very hard to sit back and just watch the movie. Ultimately, I don’t think the film is all that complicated, but it makes the casual viewer work a bit too hard to get a handle on what’s going on.

George Clooney plays a fictionalized version of former CIA operative Bob Barnes. He headlines the effort to show the various personal stories on all sides of the battle for oil. However, the attempt to show that despite cultural differences people are all the same, which is discussed in the DVD extras as being a major aspect of the movie, really did not come through.

For me, Matt Damon’s character, Bryan Woodman, helped bring home the pending disasters that society’s reliance on oil has set the world up for. Despite the tragedy of losing his young son, he attempts to forge ahead to help change the power structure of the Middle East. It underlined more than anything else the importance of bringing stability to that region.

In contrast to the theme of “we’re all not as different as we think,” the sad reality of the oil business depicted in the movie came through just fine. The corruption is shown as extending to the point that the oil companies actively seek to keep the Middle East in a state of chaos, which benefits their bottom lines. Of course, the scariest reality that the movie points out is that the reliance on oil will end some day since it is an unlimited resource, and then true chaos can begin.

I hesitate to say watch that you should this film to get a better understanding of how ownership of oil is as key an element to worldwide politics as anything, and broaden your horizons. My guess is that I could watch the world news every night for a year and still not be informed enough to know if this film can do that. Nonetheless, my guess is also that it can and you should.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

16 Blocks — Movie Review

16 Blocks was dubbed a thriller on the back of the DVD case. Yet, somewhat strong characters carried this fast-paced, if not necessarily action-packed, film as far as it could go.

A simplistic plot consisted of run-down cop Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis) being assigned to escort a witness to court. Eddie Bunker (Mos Def), the witness and an ex-con, turns out to be on his way to implicate several dirty cops, including Mosley. The short trip to the courthouse is rife with danger, as the dirty cops try to take out Bunker before he testifies against them. Mosley, for once, tries to do the right thing by following through on his assignment to get Bunker to court.

The film opens with a brief foreshadowing of Mosley dictating his will, which pulls you in right away. The action actually gets a bit bogged down as it approaches what is supposed to be the climax. Bunker and Mosley sort of stumble into a standoff with police, presumably not all of whom are corrupt, which seemed like the perfect opportunity for them to stop running. Instead, the corrupt cops paint Mosley as having taken hostages, and the action continues.

There’s some good chemistry between Willis and Def that allows the film to work. Though the quirkiness in Def’s character doesn’t cut it as the intended comic relief, the desire to start a better life manifested in a copy book full of notes for a planned business lets you root for him. The transformation of Willis’ character comes from his gradual belief in Bunker’s ability to start over.

David Morse, an actor I’ve liked in numerous roles, does an ok job in the role of Frank Nugent. Mosley’s old partner and the head of the effort to kill Bunker, the character seemed like a missed opportunity to add depth to the plot.

While 16 Blocks is just entertaining, it won’t make you wish you’d spent your money elsewhere.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Cars — Movie Review

A rainy day down the shore with the neices and nephews led us where it leads most others . . . the movies. The latest from Disney-Pixar, Cars, ended up being an above average way to pass some time with the kids. At the very least, I went over an hour without hearing, “Do it again, and you’re getting a timeout!” — no small feat, I assure you.

Of course, there wasn’t much to the plot. Lightning McQueen is a rookie sensation just coming into his own as a star on the racecar circuit. The cocky animated car soon finds himself stuck in a small town far from the spotlight working off some community service instead of preparing for the big race. Throw in a love interest, wise older character offering tough love, and a few quirky characters — all cars, of course — and the stage is set for lessons to be learned about what’s important in life.

While an adult sees where the film is headed within minutes, a relatively quiet theater suggested it took the kids’ along for the ride (forgive the pun) with little problem. Unfortunately, the quiet also meant there wasn’t much laughter. In fact, at one point my nephew got the biggest laugh when he shouted out a response to a quandry of McQueen’s.

I rarely notice soundtracks, especially in animated flicks, but this one wasn’t bad at all. Rascal Flatts’ cover of Tom Cochrane's 1991 hit "Life Is a Highway" was very good, and John Mayer does a nice job on "Route 66" (Chuck Berry's version is also included on the soundtrack). James Taylor’s "Our Town" also stood out for me.

I wouldn’t suggest an all-adult viewing or anything, but if you’re looking to entertain the kids, Cars is worth watching.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

One More Geno's Supporter

I was amazed to be sitting in Stone Harbor still hearing about some little sign in the window of Geno’s Steaks asking customers to order in English. I began wondering if Geno had moved to Rome, and was making some sort of absurd request. But, no, Geno’s is still right here in Philly, and the liberals merely have something new to cry about.

I found this at

The city's Commission on Human Relations yesterday filed a discrimination complaint against Geno's Steaks over signs that read: "This is AMERICA ... WHEN ORDERING SPEAK ENGLISH."

. . . "We think it is discriminatory, and we are concerned about the image of Philadelphia," [said Rev. James S. Allen Sr., commission chairman].

According to the complaint, . . . the restaurant is in violation of two sections of the city's antidiscrimination laws: denying service to someone because of his or her national origin, and having printed material making certain groups of people feel their patronage is unwelcome.
Clearly, the city’s Commission on Human Relations needs more to do. Are they seriously suggesting every establishment have the ability to serve customers in whatever language they damn well choose to speak?

While the blogosphere has already done it’s thing on this story, I just wanted to add one more voice of support for Geno’s. As a guy — speaking English — who has been hung up on by human resource people countless times due to a speech disability, I find it laughable that a so-called Commission on Human Relations decides this is worth pursuing.

Allen and his commission need to get a clue. Geno’s is not acting in a discriminatory manner by any logical definition of the term. The owner of Geno’s merely took the step politicians are too weak-kneed to take themselves, and announced that English is the language spoken in America.

The fact is he’s not even targeting any immigrant who has come to America to make a real effort to be part of this country. He is not denying service based on national origin, nor targeting any specific group as unwelcome.

He’s clearly tired of dealing with those who come here expecting everyone else to “respect” their culture — the one they left, hoping for a better life in America — with no intention of respecting our culture. He’s far from alone.

There’s plenty of real discrimination in this country. The Commission on Human Relations should feel free to deal with it, and stop defending those who could not care less about the city, and country, the commission serves.

Friday, June 9, 2006

War Coverage Getting Absurd

Last night I saw Larry King interviewing the commander of the attack that killed al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaida in Iraq who personally beheaded Nicholas Berg.

King literally started the interview with Lieutenant General Gary North of the United States Air Force (his official designation is Combined Air Forces Component Commander) asking, “How did we pull this off general?”

Have we completely abandoned the idea of “a need-to-know” basis? Does the media have any boundaries left? Better yet, why was North made available to the media?

It’s absurd that military attacks now come complete with the equivalent of a post-game news conference. Just because technology makes it possible to cover a war in this way doesn’t mean it should be. I’m still struggling with the concept of reporters embedded in military units. Seeing video of bombs hitting their target are almost commonplace.

Now, it seems, the media is determined to take it further. How far are we from post-flight questioning of bomber pilots?

The argument against what I’m saying is that the public has a right to know. It’s an argument that has already cost lives, and helps make wars about individuals.

Our military knew al-Zarqawi helped killed Berg because the murder was taped. It was taped because the terrorists knew it would be aired in the United States. It’s actually considered restraint on the part of news outlets not to have aired the actual beheading. As revolting as Berg’s murder was, it was one more example of the media creating news.

While killing al-Zarqawi has been cause for awkward celebration, the thought comes to mind that the very thing that made him a target, or at least recognizable to the U.S. public — television — is now a tool of terrorism.

Every video Osama bin Laden puts out reaches the news. Every rant by Saddam Hussein is aired over and over. Reports of what the 9/11 terrorist that went to trial had to say flooded our TV screens.

Terrorists don’t want to kill one American. They want to kill all of us. Killing one of us on video is about sending that message, and the same desire to hear how we pulled off a military operation allows their message to be broadcast far and wide.

Instead of doing whatever it takes to support our country’s efforts to fight terrorists, we soak up every detail. The problem is that the same desire to defend our right to know seems to be more important than defending our country.

Thursday, June 1, 2006

Fixing a Night at the Movies

I actually went out to see a movie for the first the first time in a while this week, as opposed to just waiting for the DVD or catching the flick on cable. Though I haven’t heard the complaint in recent months, I thought I’d offer theater owners that like to wine about movie rentals killing their business some advice.

Turn up (meaning give us less of) the freakin’ air conditioning! I’m not sure when it was decided that we like to freeze our you-know-whats off at the movies, but I’d like to change this rule. I really don’t want to bring a jacket just to watch a movie when its sweltering outside. What exactly is wrong with having the thermometer at 70 degrees? Maybe theater managers are the type that like to have a blanket over them as they watch a movie on the couch at home. Ok, fine. This isn’t possible at a theater. Stop making me shiver.

Confiscate cell phones. It’s bad enough every sporting event now has at least one idiot waving with a cell phone in his ear at a camera he can’t even see with his buddy saying, “Dude, you’re on!” (It’s TV, people. Get over it.) Now, we have glowing lights popping up every five seconds because putting the cell on vibrate is apparently too unreliable, and the world may end if we miss the 10th “Whatyadoin’?” call of the day. Here’s a tip: If you’re not a doctor, it can wait. If it can’t, don’t go to the damn movie.

Anything over two hours needs an intermission. Yeah, this one’s a bit picky, but c’mon! Even if you skip the concessions and avoid all liquids for an hour before leaving, you know you’re squirming to use the bathroom by the end. Give us a break!

Stop giving away other entire movies in previews. Adam Sandler’s next movie, Click, looks decent, but I already know the basic story. He’s given a clicker that can do all the things a regular clicker can do, except it works on life. Fast-forwarding through fights with his wife, some guffaws with the pause button, etc., all seems pretty cool. Sounds like a funny film. But then the preview shows how the fast-forward function gets stuck. If you can’t guess the rest of the movie except for details, put your head down and rest.

Finally . . . clean the men’s room! I’m not saying make it sparkle. But some of us actually need the accessible stall, and would like to be able to hold the bar without wondering what the hell got it wet.

Try even a couple of these and maybe, just maybe, waiting for the DVD won’t seem so appealing.