Archive for February, 2009

They picked!

I really do think this is a great pick.  We almost adopted one in Richmond.  By “almost” I mean I said, upon seeing one up for adoption, “Ben, isn’t this dog adorable?  What do you think?”  And Ben said, “It has a rat tail, no.”  Instead, Graceface walked into our lives.  Graciebear, as you may know, also has an exceptionally long tail.



Craptastic take two

Saw The Reader yesterday. My first words (letters, really) when the ending credits rolled were, “WTF?”  Seriously, WTF?  I am so confused by the seriousness with which people are taking this movie.  I am floored that this movie has gotten positive reviews.  It is, in a word, craptastic!  It starts out ok — the relationship between Michael, the boy, and Hannah, the woman, is somewhat interesting and benefits from the young Michael’s charm.  During this portion, we are in late 1950s West Germany (at least mostly; sometimes we are in a more modern-day Germany with Ralph Fiennes being all cold and distant).  And that’s pretty much where any part of the movie that could be considered good ends.  After this point, the acting deteriorates rapidly and the inanity begins.  Michael goes off to law school in Heidelberg and takes what can only be described as the dumbest law school class I’ve ever seen.  The six or so students sit around and look morose and pained while discussing the then-current prosecution of former members of the S.S.  One of the students is prone to ridiculous outburts that are all over the map — he alternately thinks the judicial proceedings against six female guards is “justice!” and then, later, a “diversion!”  He screams and screams while his professor stupidly stands around looking impotent and saying things like, “A diversion? From what?”  and “Exciting?  How so?”  These kids really should demand their tuition back.  Anyway, as you know, Michael attends these proceedings to discover that Hannah is one of these former guards on trial for her life.  It is at this point that Kate Winslet really lost it, in my opinion.  Her constant forlorn, deer-in-the-headlights, confused look as to why she was on trial for sending her prisoners to Auschwitz was just plain ridiculous.  Is she stupid, naive or evil?  Are we somehow supposed to find nuance or humanity in her here?  It’s just dumb and unbelievable.    This stupidity and unbelievability are summed up in the image of another of the defendants knitting during the trial.  I don’t dare to suggest that it seems entirely implausible that any country’s justice system would allow a defendant to knit during her trial, but how annoying and over-the-top was it to force this image down our throat?  Oh, these women are just horrid!  They were guards in a concentration camp and in the mid-to-late 1960s they still don’t get it, they are callous, unapologetic, evil ladies.  Making characters purely evil like that is the place of comic book stories.  I just had to roll my eyes. 

After this point, Michael’s behavior becomes inexplicable to me.  Actually, everything after this was inexplicable to me.  The law student becoming such a hystrionic weirdo; the other law student storming out of the class; the vacant, Alzheimer-suffering professor; Hannah deciding it would be better to admit to horrendous war crimes than to admit she can’t read; Michael deciding he must confront her about this, only to back out; Michael growing up unable to be close to anyone made known to us by him telling us that (was this because Hannah was a Nazi or because of the fact he had a serious affair at 15 with a much older woman or because he had suffered from scarlet fever as a kid or just because?  Does anyone care?); Michael making cassette tapes of the books he had already read to Hannah and sending them to her in prison, but refusing to acknowledge her attempts at literacy; Michael visiting her in prison when she is set to be released and refusing to touch her (this seems way more to me because she is old now, and not because he now knows she was a Nazi); and Hannah’s you-could-see-it-coming-from-almost-the-first-frame-of-the-movie-suicide.

Maybe the weirdest of all, though, was the near-final scene of the movie.  Hannah is dead and she has left her money to a woman who had been a young girl in the camp at which Hannah worked and grew up to write a book about her experience (she had testified at Hannah’s trial).  This woman, played by Lena Olin, is so unbelievable I felt I had missed something.  Michael goes to see her in America and their conversation is beyond odd.  I want to recount it word-for-word just to emphasize the totally bizarre quality of it, but I will summarize it as this:

Michael:  I don’t know if you heard, but Hannah just died.

Lena Olin:  Am I supposed to feel bad?

Michael:  No, but she was a friend of mine.

Lena Olin:  I demand to know what kind of relationship you two had!

Michael:  We had an affair a long time ago.

Lena Olin:  People always ask me what I learned in the camps.  No one goes to the camps for an education.  Nothing comes out of the camps!!!!

Michael:  Anyway, she left you this money.

Lena Olin:  I cannot accept that money!!  If I gave it to a Jewish group having something to do with the Holocaust, it would be inappropriate!!!!

Michael:  I was thinking a literacy group.

Lena Olin:  Oh, yeah, that’d be ok.  But Jews can read.

Michael:  Thank you so much.

Lena Olin:  I’m keeping this tea tin.

Basically, the end.  Again, WTF?

A cliched Monday & a wrestling spoiler

I am in such a bad mood again and I feel terrible about it.  The day started out fine.  I mean, it’s Monday and I’m still shaking this cold, so I was a little foggy, but mostly it was ok.  Pup and I took a stroll around the block.  My bus driver asked me if I was spoiled on Valentine’s Day.  And a nice lady in the elevator made a friendly comment that I didn’t understand until she got off on the fourth floor.  Oops.  But then. 

The first thing was there was a message for me on my work voicemail left a little after 8 am from the Board president telling me he had sent me an email and needed my vote on something asap.  Well, it was now 9:30 since that’s what time I get to work.  I check my email and there’s a dozen emails about said-item-on-which-to-vote that indicate I am the last to vote.  Oh, shut up.  Then I try to pay my mobile phone bill because I got a letter this weekend saying, “Oops!  Did you forget to pay us?”  And, of course, I have.  I must have signed up for webbills or something because I have not received a paper bill from them in some time.  This is Credo mobile, which used to be Working Assets.  Does anyone else have them?  I used to really love Working Assets but since getting their mobile plan, I’ve had nothing but trouble, really.  I’ve had to hassle on several overbilling problems and their failure to give me credit for switching plans, which they had promised.  Anyway, that has all been in the past.  But today I am trying to pay the bill online and I’ve been thwarted.  You have to enroll in their webbilling program to pay.  Well, I tried and get the response that I’ve already enrolled.  But, I tried using my normal, and variations upon the normal, userid and am locked out.  To retrieve your user id?  You have to send them an email.  What?  So, hmm.  I wonder when I’ll hear back about that.  I am trying to pay my bill, and I can’t.  I really, really hate that.

And the last thing is, my office is a total mess and it’s driving me crazy.

What I actually wanted to talk about, though, is The Wrestler.  Have you seen this little film that has generated so much buzz?  Well, if you haven’t, I definitely am not going to be the one to suggest you do.  I have no idea — other than Mickey Rourke being Mickey Rourke and being in the movie — why in the world this movie has received so much attention.  Though not nominated for best picture (thank God), it has received too big of a share of the awards season’s spotlight.  Interestingly, Springsteen’s song — easily the best part of the movie (not just because the movie isn’t very good, but because the song is a masterpiece) — is not nominated for an Oscar, despite winning Best Song at the Globedy Globes.  Explain that!  Anyway, back to the movie.  I thought the trailer was great — it looked compelling, heartfelt, honest and redemptive.  I suppose it was maybe honest.  But not really in a good way.  More in the sense that a grocery store looks kinda like the one in the movie. 

Mickey Rourke plays Randy the Ram, a professional wrestler whose actual name is Robin.  Isn’t that hilarious?  The thing is, I thought the movie was about an on-in-years professional wrestler who tries to stage a comeback, despite the industry telling him he’s finished.  I thought the movie was about pursuing your dream and not letting others tell you you’re not good enough.  I thought the movie was going to be one man’s tale of victory in the face of defeat.  Boy was I wrong.  This is a movie about a guy who’s really, pretty much, a selfish ass.  I suppose it’s a tragedy — Robin’s fatal flaw is his love of wrestling in front of a crowd cheering for him, wearing flashy tights and cutting himself with a razor blade for his fans entertainment.  And it is his fatal flaw.  Well, one of them.  The other seems to be he can think only of himself.  Let me be clear: this movie is bleak.  It is violent (in the sense that there’s a lot of blood and guts, not in the sense that people are really maliciously hurting each other) and there is a lot of ugly sex stuff, including a really super vulgar sex scene.  Marisa Tomei, playing the proverbial stripper with a heart, is in a dumb role.  She’s fine in it, of course, since she’s Marisa Tomei, but the role is ill-defined and cliched.  I know it would be unusual for Randy to meet a woman at, say, a library or the symphony, but really, it has to be that he’s in love with the on-in-years stripper?  And I fail to see any meaningful parallels between their worlds.  Yes, they are both aging in a young person’s profession.  But he loves wrestling.  I don’t get the impression that she loves stripping and is sad that the frat boys at the bachelor party reject her for being too old.  [Sidenote: I found that sort of unbelievable.  I know I’ve never been to a strip club, but I have to imagine having someone as attractive as Marisa Tomei working in a tacky Jersey strip club  would not be something a young man would thumb his nose at.]  In any event, what basically happens is Randy is going along, wrestling on the weekends, stocking stock at a grocery store during the week.  One day, bam, he takes it too far and has a heart attack.  The doc tells him to knock off the wrestling.  He asks Marisa Tomei out for a hamburger.  She says he should call his daughter.  He buys Evan Rachel Wood a pea coat and takes her to the Jersey Shore where they discover an abandoned ballroom.  He has fun at his new job at the deli counter.  He asks Marisa Tomei out again.  She tells him she doesn’t date customers and, really, he doesn’t know her and she has a kid, does he really want that?  Instead of convincing her he does want that and telling her that he’ll stop being a customer, he insults and degrades her.  He then blows off Evan Rachel Wood by having sex in a bathroom with a firefighter-loving cokehead (what was this about?).  He then decides to wrestle again.  He tells Marisa Tomei about it when she comes to apologize to him.  Yes, you heard that right.  She apologizes to him.  She quits her job and runs to find him at his big event, asking him not to do it, offering herself to him.  He rejects her, goes out to the ring, his heart is failing him, he adopts some sort of Christ-like pose and bam!  Springsteen!

What the hell was the point of this movie?  I have no idea.  I found it self-indulgent and pretty vacuous.  Plus, the handheld cams made me dizzy.

Different rules for the rich & famous? Nah!

Like many, I’ve always been intrigued by Roman Polanski’s story.  Born in France, but raised in Poland, Polanski survived the Holocaust by hiding in a barn in Poland’s countryside.  His father survived the Austrian concentration camp he was forced into, but his mother died at Auschwitz.  Polanski went on to become a famous and successful director of Polish films.  After conquering the Polish film industry, Polanski moved west to France and England.  It was in England that he meant and married the American actress Sharon Tate.  They married in January 1968, but in August 1969 Tate — along with their unborn child and several others — was brutally murdered in a house in Hollywood by members of the Manson family.  Polanski was in London at the time and was, originally, considered a suspect depsite the improbability of it.    

So, wow, quite a story, right?  Well, then we all know what comes next.  In 1977, he rapes a 13-year-old girl he is supposedly photographing for some version of Vogue. 

When I was at Sundance in January 2008, the documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired was being screened.  I dutifully lined up to see it, but was turned away as were many others.  It was an incredibly popular film there.  The good news, I was told, was that it had already been picked up by a distributor so that meant I would be able to see it at a later date.  That date was last night.

The documentary contains interviews with Polanski’s defense attorney, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case, the victim, the victim’s attorney, Polanski’s friends (including Mia Farrow), a gossip columnist at the time of the rape case, and even Polanski himself.  The film is more than sympathetic to the rapist.

Polanski was charged with several crimes, including rape by the use of drugs and sodomy.  The victim, through her lawyer, expressed her desire for a plea agreement.  After all, she was 13 years old and folks were figuring out who she was; she was being harrassed and wanted to put the incident behind her.  The ADA stated he was not interested in plea bargaining, so the victim’s lawyer went to Polanski’s lawyer who also said he had no interest in it.  That was before the girl’s underwear was found and analyzed.  After that, Polanski was very open to a plea.  The ADA acqueisced in the victim and her family’s wishes, and Polanski pleaded guilty to the least serious of the sex charges: unlawful sex with a minor.  Apparently, the sentence he faced for this crime was “indeterminate,” which seems to me that it could range from probation to fifty years’ imprisonment.  This is where things go even more awry.  I won’t go into too many details, but will say this: the judge may have been a little wacky, a little corrupt, a little unreliable and a little susceptible to public pressures, but Roman Polanski spent 42 days in a state prison for psychiatric evaluation before being sentenced and that is all the time he has ever served.  The judge sentenced him to 90 days in the facility, but he was released early, presumably because he was not actually crazy.  Apparently, this really pissed the judge off.  According to the film, the judge had been prepared to give him the 90 days and then sentence him to probation, but because 90 days turned into 42, all bets were off.  Now Polanski may have faced some time in county jail or something more serious.  Though the judge still seemed all over the place in what he wanted.  Putting aside the oddness of this (90 days is perfect, but 42 is outrageous!), it still seems to me to have been a &^%#$#* great deal for a rapist.  Polanski’s lawyer tells him that he can’t trust the judge and that they can appeal whatever sentence he is ultimately given, but that appeals take time and he will have to be in prison during the appeal.  Now, I know nothing, really, of California law, but I do know that’s it’s not terribly uncommon for a defendant to be free on bond pending an appeal when the sentence he received was small, like the one Roman would probably have gotten (had he gotten any time at all).  I’m also not sure why Polanski’s lawyer waited so long to move for substitution of judge when, by all accounts in the film, the judge was not to be trusted by either party (when the defense attorney finally did move for substitution – after Polanski had fled – the ADA did not dispute the motion).  In any event, hearing the news from his lawyer, Polanski gets on a plane to France and has never returned to the States.  He can’t.  He’s a fugitive and were he to do so, he would be arrested.

So, here we have a man who, at 44, with an incredibly successful film career, chose to rape, drug and sodomize a 13-year-old girl and then flee from the country when it came time for him to face his sentence.  Now, all these years later, he is requesting to be forgiven by the American justice system from which he ran.  And people are lining up to help him.  The victim, it is said, now wants the case to be dropped because she is sick to death of it.  I understand this position and I sympathize with it.  But I’m fundamentally disgusted by the actions of this pig of a man.  He is unapologetic about the rape (having flounted his relationship with a 15-year-old in the years prior to the rape, no one should really be surprised) and frank in his admiration for young women and girls.  He was famously unfaithful to Tate and seems to continue to do just as he pleases.  His career was certainly not harmed by his criminality (having  won a best director Oscar for The Pianist in 2002).  All that has happened to him, really, is that he is not allowed into the United States — a country not his own — without risk that he will be rearrested, taken to court and forgiven in front of a camera.  Yup, that’s right.  The film ends stating that the latest negotiations broke down because — despite California’s readiness to close the case — Polanski wouldn’t agree to appear if there was a camera in the courtroom.  Yeah, because this guy is so afraid of publicity.

Please excuse the rant

I am about to sound — and I know I do enough of this already but please indulge me — like a complete cliche.  What the *&%$#^* is going on in this world?  I just opened my bill for my mortgage and was astounded to find it $43.87 more than it has been for the past year.  At first, I thought they were actually charging me more for escrow or something, which would have been nonsensical as my real estate taxes had actually declined last year (barely, but still).  No, I then realized, it is not escrow or more going to mortgage or principal.  It is more going to the collective wallet that is *&^%#@^* Countrywide Bank.  It is a $43.87 late fee because, according to them, they received my payment — with my check dated January 12 — on January 20, when it was due January 17, a Saturday.  So, I called.  I expected — naively — to have the late fee erased given my timely payments in the past, as well as the credit/banking/housing/economy disaster that we are all currently drowning in.  Instead, I was given a fax number to use to dispute the charge.  What?  I argued and argued, I asked to speak to someone above Augustus (the nice young man with whom I was speaking), I implied that I didn’t believe that they had received it late, I threatened to bank elsewhere, I nearly lost my head.  I told Augustus that I did not control the mail, to which he sharply replied that Countrywide did not, either.  I said, yes, but you do control the late fee.  At this, he again directed me to the fax number.  This is simply ridiculous, says I. Seriously, although I’m not particularly keen on the idea of going through a refinance again, I’m going to look into it.  We’re going to spend billions bailing out these banks so that they can turn around and assess ridiculous late fees on those of us that actually borrowed money in a responsible manner and consistently pay it back.  So angry, am I. 

February 2009

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