Saturday, January 28, 2006

2005 Remakes That Miss The Mark #2

Another film that missed the mark in some respects as compared to the original version was "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," Tim Burton's new interpretation of Roald Dahl's classic children's book. This version was very much a Tim Burton film in style and look, but it lacked the same sort of character touches that made the fist film.

Early in 1971's "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," Charlie shows his frustration at not finding Willy Wonka's "golden ticket" by mouthing off to his grandparents. He over-reacted in disappointment as kids sometimes do, and that's one of the touches that gave this fantasy a touch of authenticity.

In contrast, 2005's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" lacked any such touches. Charlie is sad and disappointed when he fails to win the golden ticket, but he doesn't over-react or act otherwise inappropriately. Like the kids in the remake of "Bad News Bears," Charlie lacks some of the depth he had in the first film, and so leaves the audience less engaged in his life and his adventures. Kids, in particular, will identify more closely with characters of their age that are less than perfect.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

2005 Remakes That Miss The Mark #1

2005 saw the release of a number of remakes of films that are now considered classics. Many of these remakes were well made, but few seemed as honest as the original versions of decades past.

Take, for example "The Bad News Bears." The original 1976 film was wildly successful and unusually honest in portraying a little league team of outcast kids and their drunken coach (Walter Mathau). The kids were real: they cursed, one smoked, one even threw out racial slurs. But like real kids, we occasionally saw beyond who they tried to be and learned who they really were. Early in the film, when the Bears have been humiliated in yet another defeat, the team tells the coach that they can't take the humiliation anymore, and they want to quit. The coach asks each of the boys how they feel, and almost everyone agrees. Finally, he asks Tanner, the smallest kid and the biggest loudmouth in the group, if he wants to quit. Despite his seemingly cynical attitude, he responds quitetly to the coach, "Hell no, I want to play." It was a moment when Tanner's true personality came through - and it made him seem real.

The 2005 version, in some ways, was faithful to the original, leaving intact the basic characters and plotline, with some adjustments to reflect the world we live in 30 years later. Billy Bob Thornton takes over the Walter Mathau role, still a drunk, but now an exterminator instead of a pool man. Most of the kids on the team are the same, and some even look eerily like their predecessors. Overall, however, the film simply didn't feel as authentic as the original. The young actors seemed to be impersonating the actors that came before them, and the script missed those moments that made the original work so well. In this film's version of the quitting scene I decscribed, Tanner's heartfelt response, and the reaction it elicits from the coach and his teammates, is missing. He's reduced to a one-dimensional approximation of the original Tanner. It's a pattern repeated throughout the film. All the Bears become stereotypes. This remake is like so many of the films that followed in the genre the original created: It lacks heart.

Monday, January 23, 2006

First they came...

This quote, by a German clergyman who lived through World War II, is particularly important advice to keep in mind in a world of prejudice and susupicion. In the days and months after 9-11, otherwise intelligent people were filled with suspicion at others strictly on the basis of their appearance. I know of some people who today make it their business to stalk and spy on indivuduals for no other reason but mistrust based on ethnic origin:

“First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”
Pastor Martin Niemöller.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Google vs. the US Government

You may have heard about the refusal of Google to turn over search statistics to the US Government, which is demanding the information supposedly as part of an investigation into internet pornography. Already, Yahoo and Microsoft have turned over their stats. The government claims it is only searching out stats to help argue their case for further protections for children on the internet, but I believe this is simply a smokescreen.

Since 9-11, the government has violated privacy laws extensively in the name of National Security. Holding people without charge, searching library records for unusual borrowing habits, tapping phone calls and even questioning what we search for on the internet is increasingly seen as acceptable. This isn't about internet pornography and children - which most everyone would agreee is a serious concern - this is about using fear against the American people.

Uncontrolled access to even more private information of every American citizen is dangerous. In times of crisis, this government has violated the privacy of individuals dissenting from the norm. For forty years, J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI had his agents spy on those in power, from FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt, to Martin Luther King, JFK, and any of the major players in the protest movements of the 1960's. They were all seen as threats for their independent perspectives, or manipulated lest Hoover reveal their personal lives to the public. With today's technology, it is possible to put tens of thousands or even more on a "watch list" simply for political views contrary to those in power. The definition of a "threat" to national security can be changed at will. In fact, both Republicans and Democrats have in the past accused their opponents as being threats to national security.

I applaud Google for recognizing that this is not simply about creating stats about pornography. Would the government then subpeona further information on those searches it deems suspicious in relation to national security?

This is about preventing the creation of an unrestrained, secretive government that will keep us "safe" by creating an atmosphere of fear. If that occurs, freedom of expression disappears.

The Votes are In!

The votes have all been tabulated, and the kid is Kreepy, by a vote of 2 to 1!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Kreepy Kid

It has been brought to my attention that this kid isn't really creepy. If you haven't met him before, he is my official blog mascot. I found him on the internet. The pic dates back to 1938 - you can find the specific info in an early blog.

Is he creepy? Or is his STARE creepy? Or is he just misunderstood? Click on comment and submit your vote.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

News of the Day

Here are some instant reactions to the lead stories on the first page of today's Los Angeles Times, presented without having read much more than the headlines and perhaps a few paragraphs.

1- "Supreme Court Upholds Oregon Right-To-Die Law"
A complicated and contentious issue. With proper safeguards, it may very well be a compassionate option in some cases. In this case, the then-US Attorney General John Ashcroft attempted to define what is proper medical care - which was beyond his authority. A good decision. One of the three dissenters, by the way, is the new Chief Justice, John Roberts.

2 - "Is California Next in Line?"
A sidebar to the first story, this explores the chances of passing an assisted suicide law here in California. Again, the validity of this law depends upon the safeguards written into the law itself (whatever that may be).

3 - "'Tomato King' Has a Few Hurled at Him"
A successful tomato farmer in California returns to his hometown in Mexico and wins the race for mayor. His opponents keep up their attacks even after the election. Is he corrupt as they say, or the victim of prejudice because of his success in America? Either way, this focuses on the cultural divide between the US and Mexico. Mr. Bermudez, the 'Tomato King' learned how to succeed in America over three decades. He learned, in fact, the American Dream. Apparently this does not neccessarily translate. Either his tactics are being misunderstood, or he hasn't learned to adjust the lessons of success in America to the cultural subtlties of Mexican society.

4 - "SF Airport Set for the Big One"
No, not the earthquake, but the Airbus A380, the huge new passenger. San Francisco has built an entirely new terminal to accomadate the jet and its 555 passengers. Meanwhile LAX is stuck in ongoing intertia. Two gates at the already cramped international terminal at LAX will be altered for the jet, but it may not be enough. This story points out for me an ongoing lack of forward thinking by many of our elected officials. Some of our infrastructure is at risk here, with few solutions in sight. Our quality of life in Los Angeles, I believe, is beginning to slide ever more rapidly. We'll leave that topic for an upcoming blog (very soon).

5 - "If You Want It, Forget It"
This column analyzes the process by which the United Nations will choose the next secretary-general next year. Like the Pope, the potential candidate should not be seen as coveting the job, or they will likely not be elected. The article points out the intense secrecy by which a candidate is chosen (again, like the Pope). The United Nations isn't the Vatican, however, in that it can be said to represent the interest of every human being on earth. Taking that into consideration, I tend to understand the importance of keeping this process secret. This is an international decision that is being made off the international stage.

6 - "Lawmakers May Have to Fund Own Trips"
With a Lobbying scandal spreading across Washington, both parties are jockeying for position. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, a Republican, is proposing doing away with all travel paid for my private groups. It's a very popular perk - and one that shouldn't have ever been allowed. He's also proposing that limits be put on gifts lawmakers may accept, and how long a former lawmaker or staffer must wait before they can take the role of a lobbyist. These are all the sorts of things that should never have been allowed, and I suspect that such bans will never be encacted, or else will be gutted and made easy to circumvent. This isn't something to place on Rupublicans or Democrats - it's been around for a long time. I find it offensive and hypocritical that the same politicians who benefited from these quirks have suddenly seen the light. Where were they while Congress was being highjacked? By the racket they're making about reform, I suspect they were conspriing with the highjackers.

7 - "City Can't Bar Cell Towers on Looks Only, Court Says"
Looks vs. progress. Cell Phone towers are ugly. Convenience of service is important for cell phone users, and is important for business. La Canada Flintridge has been told by the US 9th Cicuit Court of Appeals that it can't deny building permits on public rights of way for purely aestheitc reasons. I can't entirely agree, in this case. I think that they should have that right. I also think that they should have presented a compromise to the cell phone companies, challenging them to create more visually unobtrusive cell phone towers. Again, my initial reaction is to wonder where the forward-thinking, visionary leadership was in that city. I would hope that the cell phone companies will take into account the sensitivity of this particular city and work with them to create acceptable towers.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


This was it, headquarters for all my Country Village Lane exploits.
1 - That's me, at seven years old, claiming my territory. You can't see it, but I was wearing my proudest piece of clothing, a v-neck shirt I called my "Lost in Space" shirt for its similarity to the costume worn on the televsion show.
2 - This is the infamous crabapple tree. In an earlier post, I've told about it's role in one of my strange little experiments. Crabapples were also handy to use as weaponry against enemies and annoying friends.
3 - This is the antenna that brought in those great images on our black and white television set. My father consistantly refused to buy a color television set until the technology improved (it would be years until it was advanced enough for him to finally relent). This house never saw a color television set during our stay.
4 - This was the side of the garage that was full of "stuff" (the car parked on the other side. This is where my Schwinn Stingray bike lived until it was stolen at the Pond.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Chronicles of Good and Evil

I saw "The Chronicles of Narnia" last night. It was a well-produced film, if overly long. It also was no more a "Christian allegory," as numerous excited little groups have claimed, than any other piece of fictional literature that reflects the culture in which it was written. Perhaps "Narnia" draws upon those traditions, but its basis lies in the struggle between good and evil. "Star Wars," "Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter" all feature a battle between good and evil. You may call it "Heaven and Hell" if you wish, but Good and Evil are concepts that extend beyond one particular religion. The search for understanding of just what "Good and Evil" means may, in fact, have led to the development of religion.


It occured to me during a visit to the bookstore last night that I can't recall the last time I was "astonished." I've been surprised, flabbergasted, befuddled and shocked, but I don't recall my last episode of astonishment.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Dark Side of Country Village Lane

(I get all these images from:)Oh, sure, life on Country Village Lane seemed ideal as I grew up, but it held dark secrets. Sort of.

1 - This is where I buried several successive "time capsules," allowing me to preserve Country Village Lane as it existed only 2 or 3 months before. I held those month-old newspapers in awe as I read old news. That is, if I tightened the lid of the milk bottle tight enough so that water didn't seep in and ruin all the contents. This is also about where we buried "Charlie," the last in a line of parakeets my sister raised over the years. We gave him a proper burial here in my favorite cigar box, which I had painted with glow-in-the-dark paint. I may have left a time capsule there when we moved, so there could be some early 70's artifacts buried there to this day. It's private property, though, so I wouldn't recomment an expedition!

2- This was where we waited for the school bus to Wickshire School, the elementary school I attended until we moved after 5th grade. When I returned to the communty after an 18 year absence, I discovered that the aluminum light pole here still had the etched graffiti some kid has scrawled on it when I was a kid. Without going into too much detail, the now-forgotten kid had attempted to include every bad word he knew into one bizarre nonsensical phrase. This is also the location where one of the local kids, finished with his baseball cards, dumped them all here one morning for all of us to fight over. For a few seconds, I had most of them gathered around me, but Chris noticed my advantage and sounded the alarm before I could get them to safety. I was mobbed by half a dozen boys and was left with just a few.

3 - This is Chris's backyard, where his St. Bernard, appropriately named "Nard," spent his days. This is also where Chris and I played baseball (I was the pitcher, and he was the catcher). This is also where he and his dad launched a model rocket (as we watched from inside the back door of their house). It's also where we dug up a huge ant colony, and I became so fascinated with all the activity within that I didn't notice half of the ants were all over me.

4 - Our school bus stop moved to here in later years, for reasons that will forever remain forgotten. The move across the street made it seem somehow less our own bus stop. It was on the corner of another street, and not purely Country Village Lane. The magic was gone. One day, as we waited for the bus one morning in 5th grade, I gave a 2nd grade neighbor kid a "Vulcan nerve pinch" (that's when Spock on Star Trek pinched some bad guy on the back of the neck to knock them out). Well, the kid didn't like getting his neck pinched for some reason, and ran crying home to his mother.

5 - I hid behind a bush here, knowing the kid's mother would be at the bus stop to scream at me. I could only hope that the bus would come before she did. She didn't, and I got screamed at while I sat in my not-very-effective hiding place. The kid calmed down, and we went on to school. Later that morning I was summoned from my fifth grade class to my former second grade class (I was escorted by Country Village Lane's own twin boys). My former second grade teacher then informed me how disappointed she was to learn that I tried to strangle the very same kid, who now had magically begun to cry again. Some kids learn revenge early.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

You Have to Wonder....

I read in the paper today about a couple who left their five and nine year-olds alone at home for four days while they went to vacation in Las Vegas. Every once in a while, these sorts of stories pop up, which naturally means that it happens a lot more frequently than we know. That being the case, what does the phrase, "common sense" really mean? How often do all of us see people lacking in "common sense?"

Common Sense, as I understand it, represents the basic unwritten rules of behavior that define so-called "civilized" society: Protect your kids, wear clothes in public, don't walk in front of a speeding semi-truck. How could a couple be so lacking in common sense that they believe that there would be no problem leaving their small children alone for days? Perhaps they believed the nine year old was brilliant and gifted, and would know exactly what to do in an emergency. Of course, if I had such a talented kid, I would want to make sure he and his talents were carefully protected. It would seem to be common sense that even the most brilliant child isn't emotionally mature. Regardless of his intellectual abilities, that nine year-old's repsonse in an emergency situation is unpredictable. All this assumes, of course, that the nine year-old is brilliant. If he's of average intelliegence, the dangers are even greater. Either way, it's impossible to understand how two parents could convince themselves that they were doing the right thing. Let's consider thier possible reasons:

1 - The kids will learn valuable lessons in independence.
2 - They play with their XBOX all the time anyway; they won't know we're gone.
3 - They know how to use the microwave.
4 - It's a good opportunity for the kids to build their problem-solving skills
5 - There hasn't been a fire here for ages.

Police are investigating. Nobody has been arrested. After all, you don't need a license....

Monday, January 02, 2006

More Random Video Adventures: is another video site, offering a bit more personalization, and the same slice-of-life videos. It's been a while since I've posted, so here's just a couple of selections:

Jack's Can Of Whoop - ASS
Once again, real kids at play the way real kids play. I remember kids like who volunteered for abuse. Don't watch if you're offended by bad language.

Security Forces Ambush

There are numerous videos this one: video of an attempted ambush of American troops in Iraq. It really gives you a sense of the sudden terror our troops face every day: