Sunday, November 30, 2008

Another One Where I Say Mark Caserta's Wrong

Mark Caserta is a businessman and resident of Cabell County (WV) who regularly writes opinion pieces in the local paper, the Huntington (WV) Herald-Dispatch. More than a year ago I posted a response to a piece he wrote in which he detailed his belief that removal of government sponsered prayer in schools helped lead to a downfall of values in America.

That blogspost received several hits during the following months from the googling of "Mark A. Caserta" through various hotel-based Internet provider systems. Because Mr. Caserta mentioned previously in editorials that he regularly travels the country for business purposes, I feel safe in my presumption he read the post.

(If you find yourself here, feel free to comment, sir. Weblogs are sometimes goofy--particularly those kept by someone who thinks it's funny to have the nickname "Film Geek." But it's very much like the Letters To The Editor in the Herald-Dispatch. You put your thoughts and ideas out for the public consumption, and people respond.)

Mr. Caserta's newest column in the paper on Saturday caught my attention. So, here's an open letter to the author:

Dear Mr. Caserta:

In your editorial "Look out, America, here come the liberals," you attempt to make hay with the same tired arguments pundits have used against President-Elect Obama since it became clear he was the DNC's nomination for President: that Obama will be the "most liberal president ever to grace the White House," that he will radicalize abortion rights and practice set by Roe vs. Wade, the anniversary of which (as you cleverly amp up the drama) "will likely become a national holiday in the Obama administration," that marriage will have a "multitude of meanings" under an Obama presidency, that far-left judges will be nominated to the US Supreme Court, and that the President-Elect is interested in the "dismantling of our right to bear arms."

Nice touch using an NRA source to back up that last point! I wonder how many memberships that organization has gained since November by using that soundbite.

In addition to your predictions of how the Obama administration will govern, you attack those who have different political perspectives than you by describing them as "liberal loons," who have felt "oppressed by values and principles" and who are now "crawling out from under rocks to pursue the liberal agenda."

There is such hatred in your language, Mr. Caserta. Hatred and arrogance. And that's why I think you are wrong.

This country has been divided along political lines for far too many years. At one time, political disagreement was somewhat civil. Differences of opinion were noted and argued, sure. But liberals weren't described as being without morals any more than conservatives were considered to be racist hicks. Political differences, and the outcome of honest, productive debate, should be valued and respected in--of all places-- America.

Not ridiculed.

And that's what you accomplish in many of your editorials. Hateful, arrogant ridicule. When you describe the "loons" who are "oppressed by values" and who are now "crawling out from under rocks" you define anyone who differs with your political perspective as less intelligent, less sane and less values oriented than you.

In other words: you describe yourself--and people who think like you--as being better than those who are different.

It's time to stop fear mongering and put away the arguments that create division, Mr. Conserta. This country must unite in order to survive. I'm sure that it's sort of cool to be a lone voice predicting well in advance the downfall of America--even Sean Hannity has now started calling his radio program The Conservative Underground--but let's put aside the name calling over differences and the fear tactics over what we think might happen in order to solve together America's greatest challenge: divisiveness.

Let's agree to disagree, stop the name calling and start working together, Mr. Conserta. It's the only chance we have for success.


The Film Geek

PS. By the way, please don't read too much into the fact that this open letter is sandwiched between a Hong Kong Phooey video and a post called "Film Scenes That Matter." We liberal loons have lots of unusual interests.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Tradition Is Over-Rated

The moment I decided my Thanksgiving traditions should change occured many years ago, shortly after my wife and I married. We traveled mid-state for some ham and turkey, and to visit with my family. One additional person--my paternal grandmother--was visiting too. It was odd and uncomfortable; we barely knew each other because she was reclusive and sort of selfish with her time.

I think it was one of the first times--if not the first time--my wife had met my grandma.

As we sat around the table, my grandma mentioned a young woman she'd recently met at church. During a conversation they had, the young woman realized the family connection and mentioned she dated me during our junior high school years. I confirmed we had.

It was at that point in the conversation my grandma said:

"I wish you had married that girl."

As my friend Jackie says, it was "a Thanksgiving miracle" moment.

Enjoy the day! And be sure to make your own traditions and memories.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Livin' In Vampire Hell

I effen hate vampires!

Hate 'em. And that's all that's being talked about at my house these days. How beautiful they are. That vampires are kinder and more humane than humans, sometimes. I'm having lengthy discussions of how vampires are tragic characters, who can learn and grow and evolve and be better and less evil and...

GRRRRAAHHHHH! I hate the freakin' undead!

Mrs. Film Geek is addicted to HBOs True Blood, a soap-ish series depicting vampires and humans co-existing in society. It's a modern day Dark Shadows, with the usual dramatic trimmings and lots of sex and nudity thrown in for fun. Like her obsession with The Sopranos, the show (which just ended season one) was a must-see on Sunday night, and a must-discuss on Monday and Tuesday.

Mrs. Film Geek really loves the anti-hero.

My daughter--who at 12 is ripe for new ideas her old man didn't explain to her first--devoured the four Twilight books. Within a week she had read them all, and was an expert in all-things-fang-y.

"Don't you think vampires are evil?" I ask. Because, well, I sure do. Her look at me was one of complete confusion.

"No, they're misunderstood."

Oh boy...

In my youth, I slept each night with my sheet and blanket tucked between my shoulder and neck. Really tight, so that if a vampire flew through my window and into my room, he'd have to yank the blanket from between my vice-like contraption to reach the veins in my neck. By the time he was able to get the blanket out, I reasoned, I'd be awake and maybe able to fight him off.

There's no way I'm gettin' out of this, though. I'm livin' in a nest of vampire-lovers. And I'm scared.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Punching A Gift Horse In The Mouth

Watching the film Year Of The Dog recently caused me to reflect heavily on my years growing up in central West Virginia, on a small but functional farm. In the movie, Molly Shannon's character relieves extreme loneliness through a close relationship with her dog, Pencil, and then experiences tremendous grief when Pencil ...

I won't give it away. Catch the movie yourself.

We had pets on the farm, but I don't think I ever really felt a closeness to to any of them. There were lots of dogs, but those dogs were really tools we used to get food. Lots of wild animals those dogs hunted down were cooked up and placed on our dinner table during my youth. We had horses and ponies, but they were used on the farm too. It was common to see my father or grandfather use the horses to plow fields or haul logs. Even my favorite pony, Comet, was often used for burdensome tasks. Rabbits were sometimes on the dinner menu, and a goose we had made a fine Christmas meal once, as I recall.

I avoided naming pigs; one's breakfast sausages shouldn't be too familiar. And, of course, a hamburger made from a cow you thought was pretty ain't really that appetizing.

Animals were food, or tools to get food. I never really learned to develop relationships with them. And that's sort of sad, considering my wife is such a lover of all-things-furry. When Cecil, the canine love of her life, died several years ago after being hit by a car I was unable to really help her get through the grief. I just didn't get it: the mourning, the trauma and the angst. Those emotions are usually reserved for people in my world. But I'm trying, and even making some progress.

My favorite pet story goes like this:

My dad purchased a new, coal-black pony when I was 12 and my brother, Jeff, was 6. Jeff tried to ride the pony most every day, but it would buck and bounce and try to throw him off. It was really a mean-spirited animal; it wasn't uncommon for him to take a nip or two at the kids with his teeth, and he'd step on us on purpose.

(I may have made up that part. At this point in my life, I'm not always sure what's real and what's not. I do know that damn pony was mean.)

One Sunday, after Jeff jumped on it's back, the pony started thrashing around. Dad, witnessing this happen from several yards away, ran to help , arriving just as Jeff hit the ground with a thud. A really big thud!

Without pausing, my Dad hit that pony in the mouth with his fist as hard as I've seen anything get hit. Ever. A straight fist to the teeth. The pony immediately dropped to the ground. My Dad checked on Jeff to make sure he was OK, then tied up the pony. It was gone the next day.

My Dad was my hero for a long time after that.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Year Of The Dog

It would be a safe presumption, given that this film is written and directed by Mike White and stars Molly Shannon, that Year Of The Dog is a comedy. The studio even suggests the genre, with the tag line, "Has the world left you a stray?" (get it..."a stray?" It's a knee-slapper), and trailers that highlight neurotic characters from the film.

But don't believe it. Not for a second. Year Of The Dog is not a comedy. Sure, it has some funny lines, but it's no comedy. The movie is, instead, an inside look into the emotional deterioration of a woman experiencing extreme loneliness, grief and disconnection.

The movie reminds me of Falling Down, with Michael Douglas.

Year Of The Dog is well written and boasts a terrific cast, which includes supporting actors Peter Sarsgaard and John C. Reilly. But it's Molly Shannon's performance which gives Year Of it's real substance. Shannon's ability to express an incredible range of emotion from within a stoic, reserved role was remarkable. That performance alone made the movie enjoyable to watch.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

War, Inc.

War, Inc. is yet another anti-W commentary masquerading as a movie. Set in the near future, John Cusack plays government assassin and fly-in-the-ointment Brand Hauser who...

Aw, hell. Who am I kiddin'?

When the best scene in a movie involves Hillary Duff putting a live scorpion down her britches, the movie's a bust anyway.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Lions For Lambs

Lions For Lambs was the first movie Tom Cruise produced for United Artists, the studio he helped form after his very public split with Paramount Pictures.

He wanted his first-at-bat to be a home run.

Instead, he hit a single.

Lions For Lambs tells four distinct stories, each centered on the current war on terror and connected by a common thread. The film follows: two idealistic college students as they volunteer for war duty so they can help make a difference in the world, a college professor who tries to rescue a brilliant student from his apathetic world-view, an ambitious US senator who's willing to do "whatever it takes" to further his career and a journalist who has previously allowed herself to be used as a tool for the distribution of propaganda.

The plot involving the college students (Derek Luke and Michael Pena) who enter the war in order to make the world a better place has the most potential of any of the stories. Luke and Pena are college classmates, and end up in the same Army platoon. Finding themselves in a life-or-death crisis, the soldiers demonstrate a bravery that is compelling, and helps hold the viewers interest.

For a while. A very short while.

Bouncing back and forth between story lines can be an effective technique, as long as each of the components are equally interesting (read Crash, and Pulp Fiction). But that doesn't happen with Lions. The stories peter out over time, each ending with a watered down and cliched conclusion.

Robert Redford (who also directed) is fine as the inspiring college professor. But the segment focused on his story is too obviously an allegory of the general apathy that seems to currently exist in America. His dialogue with a bright but intellectually lazy student contained insights with which I agreed; but, the discussion came off as preachy and sometimes condescending.

Meryl Streep, as journalist Janine Roth, spends most of her time on-screen with Cruise. His Jasper Irving is politically ambitious, and willing to use and disregard people to further his ideas and career. Much of the conversation that takes place between characters Roth and Cruise sounds similar to the debate going on currently in America over the Bush Doctrine, and how America has carried out it's military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I agree politically with the overt message central to the Lions For Lambs plot. But during the movie I felt as if I was at a town hall meeting, listening to a debate about the current war and hearing the same soundbites over and over. The dialogue of the movie--and it is very heavy in dialogue--seemed superficial, and one-sided. So one-sided that it annoyed me.

But that's the effect propaganda can create. Expecially if it's done poorly.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

My Top 5: Holiday Movies That Don't Suck

That time of the year's here, like it or not. And that means holiday movies will be in heavy rotation on the boob tube. Some of the flicks are gawd-awful--anyone else see Christmas With The Kranks?--but there are a few gems in the genre.

Here is My Top 5: Holiday Movies That Don't Suck

Trading Places: A holiday classic that doesn't feel like a Christmas movie. The scene with Dan Akroyd as a disgruntled and drunk Santa made the movie great.

Bad Santa: The uncensored, unrated version makes me laugh 'til I nearly puke. And that's what Christmas is all about, isn't it kids?

Gina's Very Merry Christmas Orgy: Um...not sure how that got into the list.

A Christmas Story: No matter how many times I've seen it, I'm compelled to watch it every year. It's not tradition; it's just that good.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation: My all-time favorite Christmas movie until the release of Bad Santa, watching Randy Quaid get under Chevy Chase's skin is like witnessing a Christmas miracle.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Straight Outta Appalachia Message Board

I love message boards!

Particularly those boards that offer something unique with which I can connect. That's why I'm thrilled my friend Elvis Drinkmo has created a board specific to Appalachia, with the most comprehensive topic boards I've ever seen.

Stop by Straight Outta Appalachia. Register, start talking and get to know your neighbors.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Jacknut Chronicles' Sunday Edition: People Able To Think For Themselves Again!

The rum bottle was nearly empty when I twisted it's lid down tight. The end of the long political season had arrived, and I was thrilled. No more red states vs. blue states, or arguments about whether or not the candidate I supported was a Muslim. The last sip went down pretty smooth as I quietly calculated the remaining days in President George W. Bush's presidency.

And then I heard the shout.

"I'll be damned! Whooda thunk it?!?"

The yell came from my home office, so I tiptoed in to see The Duct Tape Bandit hunching over my computer.

"Lookit this," he said. "Dat 'bama dude was right." He waved for me to come closer to the screen to see what he was reading.

"Sez here, if people do infiltrate their car wheels to where dey should be, we really would save 'bout as much oil a year as we'd get drillin' in America. That Mc-something-or-other guy made it sound like a stupid idear."

The Bandit isn't really a political junkie, so I wasn't sure what he was getting at.

"I think the words 'inflate,' Bandit. And I read the same thing too. Back in August. Why are you interested in that comment now?"

"Dude, durin' the 'lection ya can't hear a goddamned thing anybody says. It's like smokin' a blunt and trippin' off X at da same time. Words float at ya in waves and echos. By the time you hear one dude's comment, dat blond chick on The View is already tellin you why it's wrong. She and Whoopie are gonna throw down soon. Word."

"So I take it you're doing research then. On President-Elect Obama's ideas?" I was still thinking about Whoopie punching Elizabeth Hasselback as I said it.

"Sure, why not? Da dude's my president too, ain't he. I figure dis: I can listen to someone else tell me my opinion, or I can make my own. I'm sorta tired of da soundbites and da quick retorts and how those things just piss people off. Dey make people a-scared, and make 'em angry. And I'm tired of being dat after all these years. So I'm figurin' it out on my own."

I was impressed. "Well, aren't you the maverick. Listen, while you're online, you wanna read some blogs that make fun of Sarah Palin's gaff about Africa being a country and not a continent?"

"Nope, I'm too busy lookin' up Obama's ideas on da capital gains tax. I gots no interest in dat other stuff. Dat's all bullshit, anyway."

Maybe soon-to-be-President Obama's election can heal the divide in this country, after all.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

88 Minutes

Dear Mr. Pacino:

Too often in our society, legends are built way too fast and torn down way too early. It's the American way, I think. We recognize what looks like talent, get overly excited about, ride it like a horse until we find it's flaw and then we tear it down. We wonder aloud if the substance was there in the first place, and mock the wanna-be as we kick him or her in the ribs one last time before walking away.

Take Sarah Palin for example.

But you, Mr. Pacino, are the real deal. You've starred in some of the most important films in American history, and given performances that inspired generations of actors into their craft. Your work helped shape and mold the industry, through your diversity, depth of character and commitment to the role. Kids grew up wanting to be Al Pacino.

I know that for certain.

Out of respect for your talent and the incredible body of work that you've produced, I'm trying to give you the benefit of the doubt about some of your recent movie role choices. I'm well aware that, sometimes, films start out as a great idea and go bad along the way. A movie can get ruined in post-production, even. The editing can set a poor pace and turn an audience away. Those types of problems are out of the control of actors, of course, and shouldn't be attributed to their performance.

But 88 Minutes, Mr. Pacino...88 Minutes is something else entirely.

As Forensic FBI Psychiatrist Jack Gramm, you study the really bad guys in our society. The serial rapists and killers who seem compelled to commit horrendous crimes again and again. You study them, give your professional opinion in court so they can be locked away forever and then you teach up-and-coming profilers how you did what you did. Gramm's got some personal demons; he drinks too much and is a notorious womanizer. But he's a rock star in the world of CSI. Gramm's reputation is hard and fast, edgy and decisive, always-two-steps-ahead. Of everyone.

Except in how you portray him, Mr. Pacino.

Your Jack Gramm is slow to act, awkwardly dramatic and a diva. He's surrounded himself with incompetent employees and unstable students, and doesn't seem to notice. Gramm's reputation with his FBI colleagues should be solid based on his past efforts, but their relationship falls apart at the mere hint of a crisis. And Gramm's taste in women leaves a lot to be desired.

The movie was lame, Mr. Pacino. I'm guessing you know that. But most disturbing to me is that your work was lame in it as well. The effort wasn't there, sir. The dedication was missing. I've seen your work turn a bad movie idea into an pretty good popcorn flick, so I know what you can bring to the screen.

You phoned this one in.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Jacknut Chronicles: A Special Weekday Edition

Some acts of jacknuttery simply can't wait until Sunday to be shared.

Thanks to Stanton for passing this newsclip along. The man knows his jacknuts as well as he knows a good West Virginia-style hot dog.

Woman accused of trying to set father on fire with mouthwash

"Charleston, WV: State Police arrested a Charleston woman accused of battering her parents.

Laura Katherine Joslin, 23, of Asbury Road is being held at South Central Regional Jail. Trooper P.T. Kelly was dispatched to the home at about 8:20 p.m. Monday in response to a domestic disturbance where dispatchers warned that a woman was fighting with her parents inside, according to a complaint filed in Kanawha Magistrate Court. Marilyn and David Joslin told Kelly when he arrived at their home that Laura, their daughter, had physically battered them, according to the complaint.

Laura struck Marilyn across the head with a styling brush and caused a minor cut on her head, the complaint stated. Laura also swung at David twice, then poured mouthwash over his head and tried to light it to set him on fire, according to the report.

Laura Joslin was arrested and charged with two counts of domestic battery."

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Is "Audacity" Spelled With A "C"?

For now, I'm tired of talking about red states vs. blue states, mandates, flip-flops, socialism, taxes, Joe the Plumber, whether he'll be tested in the first 6 months, Reverend Wright, campaign promises and even Tina Fey's impersonation of Sarah Palin. (Although that still makes me laugh so hard I snot.)

Here's the campaign promise that's making me smile most this morning:

“You have more than earned the puppy that is coming with us to the White House.”