Old Film Critics Never Die

It  is probably true that old film critics never die, they just slump face down into their box of popcorn.

You get to be a certain age and so much of what passes for movie entertainment these days seems simply lost on me.

And while I would never make a prediction on what movies will actually win Academy Awards, it is probably a reasonable bet to suggest what films will at least be nominated for something.

That is certainly true with “Winter Bone,” which the Marigold of Macy’s and I saw last night. Like last year’s “Hurt Locker,” which was shot on a budget of about $1.25, so too is this movie about a young woman trying to find her father, who has apparently jumped bail, in order to save the family home, was shot in the Ozarks for a paltry $2 million.

Still, it’s a pretty good guess “Winter Bone” stands of good chance of being nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (Debra Granik), Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Best Supporting Actor (John Hawkes) and Best Screenplay (Granik and Anne Rossellini).

This is just a great movie, capturing the grittiness and destitution of the Ozarks and the tribal nature of the people who scratch out an existence amid such grinding poverty.

Most of these performers are relative unknowns, with a few television credits to their names. And so it is always fun, if you are a movie buff, to see something like this – a director, an actress and an actor – all on the verge of a break-out performance.

In the old days, when I actually reviewed film and television for a livng, I would rate productions on a star basis. In this case I would have given “Winter Bone” an easy three and a half-stars. By the way, if you take my recommendation and decide to see this movie, you will never quite look at a squirrel in the same way again.


For Better Or …

Eighteen years ago today I became Mr. Bombshell of the Balkans.

It’s interesting because later this afternoon, Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky will say their “I do’s” at a posh estate in upstate New York.  Barbra Streisand and Steven Spielberg are rumored to be guests. In all, the whole affair – sorry, bad word choice perhaps when it comes to a Clinton – is estimated to cost between $2 million and $5 million.

Good grief, the portable toilets for the guests will run $15,000.

Eighteen years ago, the Sunflower of Saks and I tied the knot,in Las Vegas at the Little Chapel of the Bells, in a company of a my brother and his then girlfriend and a minister who was a cross between an Elvis impersonator-in-training and Jimmy Swaggert.

Now to be sure the Clintons are very wealthy and they hang out with other wealthy types and yes perhaps there is an expectation that the marriage of their only child should be a grand and lovely event. Fine, no problem.

But really now, could these two wacky, crazy, coo-coo-in-love kids still manage to get married, have a nice reception and all the rest for say, a lousy, stinking $500,000?

This is hardly an original thought, but cannot a case me made today that two many young couples spend more time preparing for the wedding than they do preparing for the marriage?

Long ater the tony Port-A-Johns have been carted off, Mr. and Mrs. Mezvinsky are going to have to get on with the business of husband and wife.

We got married in relatively humble, albeit tacky, surroundings. But we are no less married than the Mezvinksys.

Here’s what I hope for the new couple. That after they’ve been married for 18 years and experieinced the ups and downs, the good times and the bad, the truimphs and the setbacks that they will be able to look at each other, as I have done so many thankful times and say: “I would do it all over again.”

Mein Dummkopf

Maybe it is a matter of age. Maybe I’m just getting grumpier.

But the older I get, the bigger a particular pet peeve of mine continues to grow and annoy.

With the passage of time, it has become ever more socially acceptable – and rarely challenged – for people to treat World War II and the extermination of six million Jews in the Holocaust as little more than a punchline.

The latest is movie director Oliver Stone, who sees a conspiracy behind every box of popcorn. Meeting with a bunch of critics the other day, Stone argued the murder of six million Jews in Hitler’s ovens gets so much attention simply because of Jewish control over the mass media.

Uh, not quite. The murder of six people innocent people gets so much attention because – now pay attention Ollie – it involved the murder of SIX MILLION people. Sheesh!

But wait! Stone wasn’t even remotely finished, suggesting Hitler, while yeah sure a craze,  hideous villain, also had his bright side, too, who had a lot of support from the world’s industrialists. “Hitler is an easy scapegoat,” the noted historian Oliver Stone continued. “We can’t judge people are only bad or good.”

Now that sort fo logic might apply to your mother-in-law, but Adolf Hitler is certainly in a class by himself.

Because of this single man, the world was plunged into a nightmare it still has not fully recovered from, resulting in the deaths of tens of millions of people.

This sort of stuff, echoed far too frequently, sadly demonstates what a woeful misunderstanding of history so many people have today.

We see it in our political discourse, with Barack Obama often compared to Nazism. Insanity.

To disgree with Obama on health care, or the stimulus, or any other public policy is just swell. But Obama hasn’t sent anyone off to an oven, or annexed Austria or brought the world to the brink of conflict. He just wants a universal health care system folks – that’s it.

The tragedy of Oliver Stone’s stupidity is that he’s hardly a lone – ignorant voice. And if you don’t believe that, come read my email sometime. If you have the stomach for it.

Not Dead Yet

To the vast audience of two or three readers of these scribblings out there, my apologies for not posting more frequently. Frankly, I simply haven’t had the time.

Such is the price of being a graduate student.

Since January, I’ve been rushing to complete my studies for a masters in mass communications out at USF, which as any of you who have been down this path yourselves know, involves considerable reading and writing many, many papers. And along with teaching out at the university and preparing my Times column, well, there simply hasn’t been much time to dedicate to this blog.

To date, I’ve complete 30 hours of course work and have only one more cognate course (in education), my comps and the completion of my thesis and at long last I’ll be finished.

At the moment, I have  a brief respite before the fall term begins and so at the urging of the Bombshell of the Balkans, I’ll try to post a bit more frequently to the one or two readers who every  now and then visit this space.

Three quick idle thoughts.

I had the pleasure of meeting Daniel Schorr on a several occasions when he either spoke to or was a guest at the Holocaust Remembrance Esssay Project banquet that the Sunflower of Saks organizes every year in Washington.  He was a  very charming man and with his passing, we are once again reminded of those old glory days when CBS News was indeed the crown jewel of broadcast journalism.

Also, two book recommendations. I just finished reading “A Traitor To His Class,” a wonderful book by the historian H.W. Brands on the life and times of FDR. If you are a history buff, this should be a must read.

And finally, Alexander Zaitchik’s book on Glenn Beck-  “Common Nonsense – Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance” is a terrific book on this certifiably insane and dangerous silly person. And – ahem – the book also includes a brief section on my dealings with Beck, which constitutes a shameless plug.

So while I’m at it, I should also mention I’m included as well in Kitty Kelley’s new book on Oprah – shameless plug two.

I’ll try to weigh in later this week for the dining and dancing pleasure of the none of the regular visitors to this space.

You Talkin’ To Me? You Talkin’ To Me?

To my legions of fans – both of them – out there, my apologies for not posting for the past few days.

But when you’ve been twisted into a fetal position, sucking gin out of the bottle with a straw, it’s not that easy to unfurl oneself.

I suppose the reason for my wanting to just crawl under the nearest barstool until I was more in the bag than John Daly meets “The Lost Weekend,” has had something to do with the on-going insanity of the health care debate – the town meetings, which have turned into something out of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” the crazier than Ezra Pound radio pundits spewing more disinformation than the birther wackos, the endless commercials suggesting Barack Obama is plotting to send Luca Brasi after your beloved grandmother.

But perhaps the most surreal image has been the arrival of protesters showing up at town hall meetings attended by Obama armed with handguns and assault rifles. And – amazingly – it’s all perfectly legal.

Now any of you who might have read my scribblings over the years know I have always been a strong advocate for more stringent gun control. And these scenes of armed morons showing up at presidential events only helps to support my beliefs.

To be sure, the gun nuts all have valid permits to walk around with their little guns, a replacement perhaps for their Viagra needs.

But if the government can restrict the airspace over Washington and anywhere else the president of the United States may be appearing as a national security measure, why is it then that that folks walking around with guns cannot also be restricted from getting within miles of a locale when the president may be speaking?

At the same time, while these buffos claim they are only exercising their Second Amendment rights by showing up at these town hall events decked out with their Rambo starter kits, it certainly has to be something of an intimidating sight for some people who merely want to stand on a street corner and petition their government without having to worry about “The Taxi Driver’s” Travis Bickle standing next to them.

The Secret Service and local law enforcement assigned to provide protection and crowd control at these events have enough on their hands to do their jobs without also having to contend with right-wing extremist dolts also showing up to feebly demonstrate how faux macho they are.

Let’s be honest here. If you are so paranoid, so insecure, so delusional about black helicopters following you to the loo, that you need to parade around at public events displaying weapons to compensate for your manhood, you are probably in need of government-funded mental health treatment.

Or put another way, in their own feeble manner, these militiamen from the Planet Zircon 12 are unwittingly making a case for government health care for all – especially the Deliverance crowd.

Cue the dueling banjos.

As for my legion of fan – I’ll try to post with greater regularity.

Rush? It’s Just Health Care, Not The London Blitz

This may come has something of a shock to that big tub of foaming at the mouth goo otherwise known as Rush Limbaugh, but it’s just a health care plan bubelah, not the invasion of the Sudetenland.

But there was the Mr. Dithers of the lunatic fringe the other day attempting to compare Barack Obama with (oh dear) Adolf Hitler simply because the president of the United States wants to reform the nation’s health care system.

Limbaugh’s ham-handed demagoguery notwithstanding the drive-by bloviator, talk radio’s answer to Crazy Guggenheim, has revealed himself to be a dumber than a sack of Sarah Palins when it comes to having even the remotest understanding of history.

For the average Joe Blow, being more clueless about World War II than an Irish Setter is merely a social embarrassment. Being the host of a national radio program and exposing that sort of illiteracy borders on the terrifying.

It is all too easy – and common – these days to accuse people we might disagree with as Nazis, or in this case comparing the leader of the free world with one of the most evil mass murderers who ever lived.

Disagre with Obama’s health care plan if you will. That’s fine. There’s plenty in the initiative to take issue with. No problem. That’s America. That’s democracy. That’s free speech.

But Obama as Hitler? Please.

It’s a bit scary to ponder this, but didn’t Rush Limbaugh ever take a history class? Did he not have relatives who perhaps fought in World War II? Or did all those drugs really rattle his brain?

The era of the Third Reich and its Axis co-conspirators were ultimately responsible for some 60 million civilian and military personnel deaths. The Holocaust alone claimed some six million lives, including more than one million children. 

All Barack Obama wants to is reform health care. He’s not interested in bombing Pearl Harbor, or subjecting London to the blitz, or laying seige to Russia.

The inherent danger, of course, by so blithely injecting Hitler into the health care debate diminishes the horror of World War II. When the murder of six million Jews becomes a punchline in public policy discourse, it trivializes the memories of those who died and the service of the men and women of this nation who fought and sacrificed to end the terror of Nazism.

Limbaugh should spend more time with veterans of WWII and ask them how they feel about having their service reduced to a political one-liner. He should spend time with Holocaust survivors, listen to their stories of what they witnessed and endured and then ask himself if a beef with a president over a single-payer system rises to the level of the Warsaw Ghetto.

My father flew 50 combat missions in World War II and although he passed away more than 30 years ago, I rather doubt – as conservative as he was – he would equate the carnage, the misery, the death of his friends with the on-going health care kerfuffle.

It’s  pathetic Limbaugh doesn’t understand that. It’s tragic he so publicly revels in his ignorance.

And yes, that rumbling you just heard were the souls of Arlington rolling over in their graves.

Mel Martinez Pulls A Palin

Really now, with the remote possible exception of  being Paris Hilton, is there a cushier job than serving as a United States senator?

You only work three days a week. People bow and scrape before you. You get to take junkets all ove the word on the taxpayer dime. You get a nice office. And for all practical purposes once you’re elected, unless you get caught in a bathroom stall acting randy, you’re pretty much set for life in the job.

And yet, it all just too terribly too much work for Florida junior (in more ways than one) Sen. Mel Martinez, who announced this week, he was pulling a Palin and walking away from from Washington before his first term had even ended.

Martinez had said a few months ago he wouldn’t run for a second term in 2010, complaining about having to fly back and forth from Florida to Washington, as if he never realized there was a commute involved when he first sought the senate gig back in 2004. Cue the violin strings.

Okay, fair enough I suppose. Perhaps the thought of having to sit next to the smarmy likes of Arizona’s Jon Kyl, or that crazy nut, South Carolina’s Jim DeMint, was enough to send Martinez packing.

Still, Martinez also knew that when he ran for office it was for a six year term. When his constituents voted for him, it was with the expectation he would honor the commitment to serve a full six years. And he welshed on the deal.

This isn’t so much about politics as simple good manners. You could probably make a case that there are few honors in public service more coveted than serving as a United States senator, even given a workload that would barely tire Maynard G. Krebs.

The rumor mill is already speculating Florida Gov. Charlie Crist would do well to appoint one of his predecessors, Bob Martinez to keep the seat warm until Crist can get elected to the job himself next year. That only makes sense and it would be a savvy appointment.

Now in his early 70s, Bob Martinez represents no political threat to pursue the job himself. He knows Washington, having served in a number of capacities over the years, including a stint as drug czar.  And Crist could appoint an Hispanic to replace an Hispanic. It’s a win-win for Crist.

However if you are Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, who lost the senate primary fight with Mel Martinez in 2004, or Betty Castor, the Democratic Party senate candidate who lost to Martinez in the general election, you have to feel a bit stiffed.

If Mel Martinez wasn’t all that crazy about being a senator, about fulfilling his obligations, why did he even bother to run in the first place? His cutting and running before his term ended is a disservice to his party, a slap in the face to the many Floridians who supported him and an embarrassment to the Cuban-American community who so rightfully took pride in seeing one of their own become the first member of the United States Senate, only to have him quit on them.

To be sure, it is not easy for Republicans who held power for so long to now find themselves as back-benchers. But that’s politics. That’s life.

As for Mel Martinez, who stumble-bummed his way through his senate tenure, he’ll probably be best remembered that when the going got tough, Mel Martinez ran away and shafted his party, his supporters and his state.

Some legacy.