Archive for November, 2008

The Thinker

Review: Australia

Did you like or loathe Gone with the Wind? Gone with the Wind won Best Picture for 1939, along with heaps of other awards. Vivian Leigh, as Scarlett O’Hara won Best Actress. Victor Fleming won Best Director for the movie. It even spawned an award for the first Oscar given to an African American, the unforgettable Hattie McDaniel as Mammie, the O’Hara’s house servant.

In 1939, Gone with the Wind was a visually stunning epic of a film. There were vast and bloated movies before it on its scale, but nothing quite like it. All those stars! Cast of thousands! Bloated budgets! Burning sets! Moreover, it had hype that was probably not equaled until Cleopatra was released in 1963.

The problem is that if you go back and look at Gone with the Wind with 21st century eyes, you wonder what all the fuss was about. In actuality, it is not that good a movie. Vivian Leigh played Scarlett O’Hara, and mostly her portrayal spoke to her failings as an actress rather than her mastery of the craft. Clark Gable’s portrayal of Rhett Butler was similarly one dimensional and uninspiring. Basically, he had to act like an asshole. Many of its characters were grating, like the milquetoast Ashley Wilkes played by Leslie Howard. Scenery it had aplenty, and the special effects for its time were amazing. Yet if you watch the movie today, it’s a wonder it was as successful as it was. In reality it was a B picture masquerading as an A picture.

Why do I mention Gone with the Wind in connection with the recently released epic movie Australia? Perhaps it is because it has Gone with the Wind all over it. The good news is that Australia is a better movie than Gone with the Wind. The bad news is that it carries some of the failings of the epic picture genre.

Director Baz Luhrmann, a native Australian and director of the amazing film Moulin Rouge!, seemed intent on making his country’s Gone with the Wind. He probably succeeded, simply because movies about Australia rarely transcend its borders. Nor do Australian film companies have the deep pockets needed to create an epic motion picture like this, at least not without a lot of foreign capital. Gone with the Wind director Victor Fleming could have made a much better picture if he had done a better job of casting. Baz Luhrmann did not make this mistake. Perhaps because he already used Nichole Kidman in Moulin Rouge!, she appears here as Australia’s Scarlett O’Hara. Whoops, Kidman who actually is a native Aussie, here portrays Lady Sarah Ashley, an English gentlewoman whose husband owns a massive cattle tract in the Aboriginal lands on Australia’s north coast. Faraway Downs is much more remote than Tara, but it serves a similar role. It seems Lady Ashley’s husband is competing with King Carney, who otherwise has a sweet monopoly on the cattle business in North Australia in 1939.

Lady Ashley arrives at Faraway Downs just in time to see the recent corpse of her husband, who has been murdered. Scarlett O’Hara has to wait until near the end of Gone with the Wind to remake Tara. Lady Ashley has to quickly figure out how to save her estate, since she needs the money. She quickly realizes she is not in England anymore because her estate comes complete with a charismatic Aboriginal boy named Nullah (Brandon Walters), who quickly wends his way into her heart. It turns out that King Carney has been poaching cattle from the Ashley estate with the help of Neil Fletcher (played by David Wenham, a.k.a. Faramir from The Lord of the Rings movies), who is supposed to be managing Faraway Downs. Fletcher turns out to be the chief bad guy and nemesis, sort of like Rhett Butler, but with no redeeming qualities. Drover (Hugh Jackman, also a native Aussie) turns out to be a combination of Ashley Wilkes and Rhett Butler, but has the more immediate challenge of getting a thousand head of cattle to Darwin, Australia where they can be sold to the military, which is preparing for World War Two.

There are no nasty Union troops burning down Atlanta in this movie, but you do have the Japanese show up near the end of the movie attacking Darwin, Australia. The Japanese though are almost ancillary to this epic, since it is Fletcher and his evil boss King Carney who create most of the negative karma. Naturally, the gentrified Lady Ashley has to quickly adapt to ways on the outback, although strangely she seems as pasty white at the end of the movie as she is at the beginning. Among their peculiar neighbors is King George, Nullah’s Aboriginal grandfather, who is suspected in the death of Lady Ashley’s husband and can be frequently seen in the mountains making fires from the tops of hills and dancing.

In short, there are more plots and subplots than you can shake a stick at in Australia. Prejudice against Aboriginals is a frequent recurring theme. Nallah spends much of the movie avoiding the law, which wants to send him to a Christian missionary island off Darwin. Lady Ashley becomes the unlikely social vanguard trying to convince a very prejudiced white Australia to let aboriginals be aboriginals.

So the pleasure of this movie is that Lurhmann does a far better job of casting and directing Australia than Victor Fleming did with Gone with the Wind. That is because Nichole Kidman is a much better actress than Vivian Leigh, and either Hugh Jackman or David Wenham can act more convincingly than Clark Gable or Leslie Howard. The scenery is uniformly stunning and the acting ranges from good to excellent. It is also, at times, heart wrenching.

Yet it is an epic. Moreover, Baz Lurhmann has a certain engrained style to his directing which can be characterized as flamboyant. One way to tell an epic motion picture is to count the number of minutes without orchestration. The orchestration is virtually ever present and so sweeping it would do Max Steiner proud. Another way to tell it’s an epic is that the events in the movie must be timed so that the most dramatic things happen at the most dramatic and unlikely times. For example, at one point near the end of Australia it looks like Lady Ashley is dead. Yet, you guessed it, in the heat of battle some bad intelligence was exchanged. It was Fletcher’s wife who bit the big one, not Lady Ashley. Hooray! There are lots of moments like this in Australia, so many that by the end of the movie you just have to scratch your head. Except for the big question mark of World War II, it is a happily ever after movie, sort of, with everything so neatly tied up it becomes surreal.

Still, eh, what a ride! You can bet Victor Fleming would have preferred to direct Australia to Gone with the Wind. In reality though, Baz Lurhmann just learned from Fleming’s mistakes and made something just as sweeping and much better, just nearly seventy years later.

Overall, Australia is a fun and engaging movie, but because it so frequently descends into rank implausibility, I have to mark it down a notch or two. 3.3 on my 4.0 scale.

The Thinker

Review: Transformers (2007)

I was too young for transformers (the toys, that is), but my nephew wasn’t. He was one of many prepubescent boys enamored with these toys that with some twists, pulls and yanks could turn from an ordinary item into a fearsome and funky looking alien robot.

My assumption was that a movie about these transformers might be entertaining to this narrowly targeted set of boys, but would put the rest of us to sleep. It turns out that the movie Transformers that was released last year has transformed my vision of how entertaining such an absurd premise for a movie could be. The result is not exactly high art but a movie that is surprisingly entertaining and well done. In short, any age group except possibly those under age eight can guiltlessly enjoy a fun movie like this.

Granted, I was expecting to snooze through this movie and was even carefully rearranging the pillows on our couch so I could pretend to be watching it through half open eyes. Instead, I found this movie felt like a mixture of many fun movies, including Independence Day, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Back to the Future. Usually when a movie feels like elements of other movies, the result is an unfulfilling mishmash. That is not the case here. While not quite as much fun as any of these films, it is nearly as much fun as any of them. This is one movie that had you paid $10 a ticket to see it in the theater, you might have actually felt you got your money’s worth.

For those of you who missed the Transformers experience, there are good Transformers (the Autobots) and bad Transformers (the Decepticons) and in this movie at least they have chosen Earth as a nice place to wreak havoc. They decide, what the heck, why not screw with the American military in the deserts around Kuwait, quickly kill virtually all the humans there and destroy their base too? The Decepticons are good at hiding themselves as ordinary things like radios but can quickly morph themselves into fearsome war machines. One can understand why our military would be baffled and quickly rule out an alien robot attack, so why are they going after North Korea instead? Do the robots have slanted eyes?

Most of the movie though actually revolves around a teen named Sam Witwicky, who is of course quite a bit geeky and not exactly a hit with the girls. Between wacking off in secret and lusting after the really hot Mikaela (played by Megan Fox), Sam (played by Shia LaBeouf, who recently showed up as Indiana Jones’ illegitimate son) soon has his hands full. It all starts when Sam’s father buys him a beat up Camaro as his first car. The car though just happens to be a transformer, and he is one of the good but spunky kind. It turns out that Sam’s grandfather was part of some convoluted arctic expedition that first discovered the evil Megatron, who fortunately was conveniently immobilized deep in the Arctic ice cap. His grandfather’s spectacles are of great interest to the Autobots and the Decepticons because they point to the “All Spark”, a funky looking cube that can either bring an end to the robot war (if the Autobots get it) or give the Decepticons the power they need to win the war.

Yeah, well, I don’t make this stuff up, I just report it. It sounded hopelessly hokey to me too. Poor horny Sam is in for many adventures, but fortunately, throughout the movie he gets to hang out with the very curvy Mikaela, who turns out to be something of a bad girl. He is kept too busy chasing his car, engaging in theatrics with Transformers and helping our military to use his right hand that much or even put the moves on Mikaela.

Strangely, most of the characters in this movie rise above mere stereotypes. Sam has fun self-deprecating sense of humor. His parents are largely clueless, even when giant Transformers are trying to hide in their back yard. The movie falls apart though in trying to give the Transformers personality. Try as they might, they still come across as inflamed bit buckets with attitudes encased in metal, but without a cheat sheet, it is hard to tell the good Transformers from the bad ones. One thing is for sure: if you have Transformers in your neighborhood, they are likely to make a mess of things. Do not invite them in as they excel in lowering property values.

For boys of a certain age, and I am guessing that age is around fourteen, this is probably a perfect movie. For the rest of us the movie is fun entertainment but nothing too special, although it is hard not to be amazed by the CGI or the number of expensive props that were destroyed in making this movie. For a movie that is nearly two and a half hours long, it moves at such a brisk pace, you probably will not feel the need to nod off. No question about it, Shia LaBeouf is a talented young actor and he is in his element in this movie.

If you have to see a movie about robots, this is the one to see and is much more fun and engaging than, say, I Robot, which I recently reviewed. Still, while it manages to appeal to most of us outside its targeted age group, only teenage boys or young men who never quite grew up will care much about the Autobots and the Decepticons or who will eventually triumph in world domination. (Hint: it is not the bad guys.)

Transformers goes to prove that with a good enough script, directing and special effects you can take a silly plot and make it a lot of fun. Most movies like this would quickly flop on their bellies. This one does not exactly soar into the stratosphere but does quickly take flight and provides an entertaining view.

3.1 on my 4.0 scale.

The Thinker

Advice for Republicans likely to go unheeded

This is not a happy time for Republicans. Let’s face it, it’s a bummer when your presidential candidate, despite being something of a pragmatic across the aisle type, still loses by seven percent. Nor is it good to have lost six more senate seats (with the possibility that two more may be lost) and twenty-four house seats. If you are a Republican, you have to look hard for any good news. The only good news I could find is that Tennessee is bucking trends and is becoming more Republican. Its legislature is now in the hands of Republicans for the first time since reconstruction.

It is no fun being out of power. Only in the U.S. Senate do Republicans have any hope of flexing their muscles and that is only if they keep Democrats from winning a sixty seat filibuster proof majority. A count of ballots in Minnesota, which is still underway, shows that challenger Al Franken is less than a hundred votes from taking the seat of incumbent Norm Coleman. In Georgia, if the dynamics of the race change just a little in a runoff election between incumbent Saxby Chandler and challenger Jim Martin, the seat could move into the Democratic column also.

To think that just a few years ago Republicans were doing arrogant things like redistricting Texas congressional districts out of turn. Its champion, former Republican House Whip Tom Delay, resigned his seat after being indicted for violating election laws in 2002. (To add insult to injury, a Democrat now holds his seat.) After Republican successes in the 2004 election, Karl Rove excitedly talked about a permanent Republican majority. Now Republicans have lost the presidency, are at least nine seats away from a senate majority, and would need to turn 41 house seats to gain a majority there. Even with governorships, things look bleak. They are down to only 21 governorships, and lost another Republican governorship this November. It sure looks like the Republican Party is becoming just a regional party of the Deep South. The Rocky Mountain States are slowly turning blue: Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico all voted for Obama this year. Even deep red Idaho decided it preferred Democrat Walt Minnick in District 1 to incumbent Bill Sali.

Consequently, Republicans are now engaged in a lot of soul searching. How to get back into power? Recent history would suggest that their best bet is to hope the current guys screw up. Republicans have to hope that Barack Obama turns out to be as inept as President Bush, but it sure doesn’t look that way. The appointments Obama is making as he puts his government together suggests we will have a deeply pragmatic new president, bent on making the government work actually for the people. What a radical idea!

History would also suggest to Republicans that if your message is not selling then you should change your message. Strangely, as I read news stories, the idea of changing the Republican brand seems to be off the table. Take this story in yesterday’s Washington Post. Two fairly young Republican activists have created web site. They want to be as successful in engaging the Netroots as the Democrats have proven to be. Good luck with that. As for maybe changing their ideology? That seems off the table. The article quotes Republican Vander Platts, “We have followed the misguided advice of ‘experts’ to abandon our principles and move to the middle so we can supposedly win. In essence, we have become ‘lukewarm’ on life, on marriage, on the Second Amendment, on limited government, on balanced budgets”. His viewpoint is widely shared among Republicans. They believe they can win by more forcefully asserting the same messages that has led to their massive defeats. Never mind that America has never been a pro-life country, or that it is warming towards civil marriage for gays, or that it is not exactly embracing limited government. By being obstinate on these losing issues and by assuming incorrectly that America is naturally a center-right country, Republicans will magically get back into power!

To which I, a passionate Democrat, stand up and applaud. Yes, please Republican Party; continue to tell America that if elected you will deliver more of what we do not want. Not that I think one party rule is necessarily a good thing, because Democrats have proven to be equally as corruptible and myopic as Republicans. I worked at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the 1980s where influence was purchased. For example, a $5000 contribution got you into “The Speaker’s Club” where you had regular opportunities to press handshakes with Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill and provide him with your valuable perspective.

Republicans, you can keep your values and become a party that becomes increasingly irrelevant with every election. Or you can morph a bit toward the center and have a chance at governing again. In the spirit of bipartisanship, let me outline a Republican recovery plan.

First, the Republican Party has to fess up to its major and egregious mistakes. Mistake number one was George W. Bush. He has been something of a nuclear bomb to the Republican Party. He has been a total disaster of a president. You need to admit you made a colossal error in judgment by helping this guy become our president. Time columnist Joe Klein today said it accurately and succinctly: “At the end of a presidency of stupefying ineptitude, he has become the lamest of all possible ducks.” Do not let this guy anywhere near a Republican candidate again, not even for a closed-door fundraiser. Divorce yourself from the dude. If you see him walking down the street, cross over to the other side. Apologize to American. Here’s a script you can use. “You know, as a Republican I just have to apologize for helping to elect George W. Bush. If we had known he would turn out to be so bad, we would have voted for Al Gore. Sorry, we blew it.”

Second, you need to admit that you governed unwisely and badly when you controlled Congress. I hear a tiny mea culpa when you talk about getting back to your “core principles”. Except for a couple years under Newt Gingrich, I have never known a Republican president or a Republican congress that actually practiced what it preached about fiscal discipline. You need to put forward new candidates that have successfully demonstrated that the values they preach have worked. Frankly, you should consider any Republican in Congress to be tainted if they voted for the Iraq War or voted for bloated new federal programs or subsidies. I guess that means pretty much everyone in power in Congress except maybe Ron Paul. Do your best to get these losers out of office and maybe you can get some credibility back again.

Third, some policies you are fighting for the American people are never going to subscribe to, so stop bothering trying to sell these things. When you do, you just alienate voters. If you have to have these values, hide them until you get into office. No Democrat today with the exception of a few cranks will vote for gun control. Is it because they don’t believe in gun control? In many cases they would love to see gun control, but they also know it is no way to stay in power. Congratulations, you won the gun control debate. That debate has been won for generations, if not forever. Now you must give up a few of these loser issues too. You must stop bothering trying to overturn Roe v. Wade. Instead, you should be crossing the aisle to come up with solutions that reduce the likelihood that a woman will need to have an abortion in the first place. I don’t care how “right” you feel your position is, you cannot win this debate. Trying to do so merely inflames the opposition more, making your goal that much harder. Think of Sisyphus. You could save a lot more babies by giving money to Planned Parenthood so kids could get contraceptives than you ever will in a fruitless endeavor to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Fourth, give up the idea that you can solve deficits through cutting taxes. Its corollary: give up the idea that you can reduce the size of government. That’s only going to happen if we reduce our population. Why? Because the more of us there are around, the more services we need, the more we are in each other’s faces and consequently the more regulation will be required to keep us civilized. Another corollary: give up the idea that more freedom is always good. Freedom has consequences. If I have the freedom to drive a SUV, I am infringing on other’s rights to have a cleaner environment. We all want to have as much freedom as possible but we also want to be around as a species and have a clean planet in a couple hundred years too. We cannot accomplish it with unbridled selfishness masked as “freedom”.

Fifth, I hate to break it to you, but you guys and gals come across as really arrogant and obnoxious SOB’s. (I know the same could be said about many Democrats.) None of us have the answer to all of life’s questions. Nor does one philosophy fit all people. You need to develop a little humility. The good news is you have already mastered the passion thing.

So what should a future Republican Party look like? That’s for you guys to decide, because you can count me out. In general, you in the Republican Party urgently need to come to grips with the dichotomy between your glorified and absurd idealism and the real world the rest of us live in. If you want to earn back your street creds, give us safe neighborhoods, good schools and make sure the trash gets picked up on time. Show us leadership. If there is a new problem that government needs to address, tell us how you will find the money to pay for it. Your “you can have your cake and eat it too” philosophy is both ludicrous, dumb and has proven extremely dangerous. The wreckage is all over Wall Street and in our diminished portfolios. We see it in estimates that we need to spend a trillion dollars on our infrastructure alone just to get it up to code. That we have to spend this money now is because we didn’t spend it back then when we should have. You get the government you pay for.

If you seriously want us to have smaller government, make sure you point out to voters all the disintegrated roadways and bridges that will result. Or you can say these are common public assets and we all need to step forward and pay our fair share of taxes to fix them. The first few times you say this, it will come out weird. However, eventually you will be able to say it with a straight face. Say it often enough and you will believe it. It’s called stewardship.

So get real. Get grounded. Step away from the extremes. Be pragmatic. The best part of being a Republican is the hope and love of country that you express. Lose the naivety but keep the love of country, and join the rest of us in making this the best country for all Americans, not just people for who think and act like you.

The Thinker

Of tweets and pipes

A short announcement for those of you with mobile devices. Occam’s Razor is now mobile device friendly. I do not have a mobile device to test it, but I have installed the WordPress MobilePress plug in which is supposed to serve my blog in a mobile friendly way.

Internet technologies come and go. It is hard to tell whether one technology will develop legs or not. RSS took long enough to take off and is now well established, if something of a mystery to most casual users on the web. Recently, curiosity led me to experiment with two new Internet services: Twitter and Yahoo! Pipes.

Maybe you have been using Twitter for the year or so it has been around, but I only recently learned of it. Twitter is a way to keep in contact with your friends asynchronously during the day. That in itself holds little appeal to me, since as I have mentioned I don’t need a social network and what I actually do everyday would be of little interest to my friends. However, from time to time there may be unique events I need to track over the course of the day. If so subscribing to the associated Twitter might be useful.

The key limitation of Twitter and what makes it unique is the 140-character limitation built into text messages. By limiting messages to this size, you can send messages from your cell phone to a Twitter text message box and they will appear on other people’s cell phone, or they can be read on the web. The 140-character limitation seems arbitrary, but it is the text-messaging standard and there seems to be no way to increase it. 140 characters does not allow for a whole lot of words, which means if you send a tweet (a new message sent to Twitter) you darn well better be succinct. Indeed, with only 140 characters, sending brief one or two sentences messages is Twitter’s only practical use.

Twitter adds an asynchronous short message social networking component to text messages and to the Internet. Generally, when you send a text message via a cell phone you send it only to one person. Twitter allows you to distribute it to a small or large dynamic group of friends or interested parties. If a friend gets tired of seeing your messages during the day, they can easily unsubscribe through the site.

Twitter can have some important societal uses. While police departments tend to already have the means of sending out text messages to cops on the beat, they could also use a service like Twitter to send out bulletins to cops’ cell phones. If I ran a police department, I would not depend on Twitter. With the billions of tweets that Twitter gets, it is having severe growing pains, so the service tends to be spotty on a regular basis. As long as timeliness is not essential, if you need to broadcast to concerned groups of citizens, Twitter has a lot going for it. I can also see neighborhood associations using Twitter to send out messages about community events. While text message rates might apply, they may not have to. Twitter allows you to send tweets from their web site at no charge, and people can elect to receive their tweets via the web or as text messages on their cell phone. Twitter is rapidly being integrated into all sorts of other Internet technologies. The Firefox web browser, for example, has a number of Twitter plugins.

If you read my blog through the web site, you will notice a “Recent Tweets” section in the rightmost column. My intent is to see if I can use Twitter to add another dimension to my blog. It allows me to post a short thought or concern (providing it is 140 characters or less) when they come to me without the overhead of a blog post. You might want to also subscribe to my Twitter. (The account name is occams_razor, with an underscore, not a dash). So far, I have been just playing around but I will try to make future tweets short snippets of hopefully insightful thoughts as I think them.

My employer is blocking This is one decision I suspect will be revisited in time since after all many members of Congress are using Twitter to keep in touch with their constituents. However, I found a surreptitious way to send tweets from work if I need to through my own Twitter proxy. It turns out that Twitter publishes an Application Programming Interface (API). With about an hour of work I created this PHP script. (It is published here as a text file. Change the variables at the top of the file. Save it with a .php extension if you use it.) All you need is your own web space with PHP enabled, this script and a copy of the MyTwitter class developed Artux Scheffer in the same folder as this script on your web server.

I have also been playing with Yahoo Pipes. Since RSS is now institutionalized, many of us are seeing far more items in our feeds than we actually want to read. Yahoo Pipes allows the aggregating and filtering of RSS content. Using an online graphical user interface, you can describe the feeds that interest you and apply filters to them so that you see only relevant content from a number of feeds in one feed. While Yahoo put a lot of…

[The rest of this post seems to have gotten lost]

The Thinker

Worst President and Administration Ever

Like most Americans, I am wondering why we have to wait fifty-eight more days for a new president. Couldn’t Bush and Cheney just tender their resignations now? Nancy Pelosi would then become our president for the next fifty-eight days until President-Elect Obama takes office. Yeah, I know Pelosi is a San Francisco liberal, but she could hardly make things worse than Bush and Cheney and she would be a caretaker only. At least someone with a brain would be in charge until Inauguration Day. Meanwhile, women everywhere would rejoice because we would have (however briefly) our first female president.

If Bush and Cheney had any sense of patriotism, they would resign right now. However, it looks like they will not only tenaciously cling to power until January 20th, but they are working feverishly to make sure their toxic legacy will last beyond the inauguration. Not only have they left us with an economy that is in shambles, in their final days they are busy creating future havoc. Regulations are furiously being written, sometimes bypassing the public comment process, to ensure that our problems will continue to only get worse after they are gone. Yes, in their final days the Bush Administration is making sure it protects fewer endangered species while opening up more federal lands to energy exploration. Meanwhile, in various federal agencies its senior executives are busy “burrowing in”, i.e. changing their status from political appointees to civil servants so they can hang around and attempt to bollix up the Obama agenda, all while drawing high salaries and having the benefit of civil service job protections.

The faults of this Administration are so numerous and egregious it is hard to know which ones to single out. I keep looking in vain for something I can say in favor of this administration. I am reduced to exactly one thing: the Bush Administration has dramatically boosted the money spent on antiretroviral drugs for those with HIV and AIDS in the third world, while also strong arming drug manufacturers to make these drugs available to the third world at just above cost. Naturally, Americans who came down with HIV or developed AIDS had to pay top dollar for their drugs. Maybe they should have moved to Africa, where they might have gotten the lifesaving drugs for little or nothing.

Republicans spent much of the last few years screaming at Senate Democrats for blocking so many appointments and judgeships. In retrospect though the Democrats showed great foresight. Bush came into office with a conservative agenda. Conservatives believe in smaller government. While smaller government eluded him as it did other recent Republican presidents (in fact, Bush made government much bigger), his sidekick Dick Cheney proved unusually adept at throwing monkey wrenches into the gears of government. The result is a government that while it costs much more, is now also far more dysfunctional than it ever has been. Some examples:

  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development spends much of its time trying to reduce Section 8 housing for the poor.
  • The Department of the Interior is busy opening pristine national lands to energy exploration.
  • The Department of Defense is overextended and our armed forces are exhausted. Our fancy military equipment has been squandered in the deserts of Iraq fighting the wrong missions.
  • By taunting North Korea and Iran, and labeling them as part of a bogus Axis of Evil, both countries have become more isolated and dangerous.
  • Our Department of Homeland Security could not even provide disaster relief to the residents of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, perhaps because the director of FEMA knew how to raise Arabian horses, not provide emergency services.
  • No one in control of our government saw the housing bubble coming because they were too busy trying to give Wall Street exactly what it wanted. In fact, through changes in the law our government encouraged the sort of behavior that exacerbated the crisis.
  • We added four trillion dollars to the national debt in eight years, which was at about six trillion when Bush took office.
  • We engaged in an embarrassing national folly in Iraq that even if President Obama can get us out within sixteen months will probably cost us a trillion dollars. The long-term care for veterans injured in the war will continue for decades. Meanwhile more than four thousand of our soldiers died in the conflict started to remove weapons of mass destruction that did not exist.
  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average is about two thousand points below when Bush took office. Stocks now have approximately the same value they had in 1997. We have, in effect, wiped out all of the wealth that we accumulated in the last decade.
  • Our national infrastructure is in shambles. An interstate bridge collapse in Minnesota killed thirteen people while thousands of bridges that do need repair languish for lack of funds.
  • The rich have gotten much richer; the middle class has shrunk and have had their real earnings decline.
  • This administration spent much of the last eight years denying global warming was even occurring. After much hooting and jeering from scientists it finally agreed it was happening, but said it was part of a natural cycle so we should not do anything about it. Later, it agreed that we were part of the problem, but that we should do nothing more than set goals to reduce the problem. Meanwhile, environmental standards were regularly loosened.
  • We went to great length to limit research on embryonic stem cells, which in fact are not even alive unless implanted in a uterus and given some time to gestate, while taking extraordinary action to make sure the hulk of Terri Schiavo’s brain dead body stayed tethered to medical equipment for more than a decade.
  • Our brave servicemen and women who were wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan ended up with substandard care and spend much of their time dealing with a dysfunctional and understaffed medical bureaucracy.

The sad truth is that I could easily fill up ten pages or more with more examples like these and I would have hardly scratched the surface. It would be easy to say that this Administration was just inept, but the sad truth is they were inept when they were needed to be savvy and malicious and mendacious when they were not, answering only to themselves and tone deaf to anyone with a different opinion.

If any good is to come out of this, it is that the Republican Party has become a minority party with little likelihood of resurgence for at least a decade. In addition, social conservatism has backfired and neoconservatism has had a stake driven through its heart. It seems that with such sterling examples of what doesn’t work, we have a good idea what will: just do the opposite.

Meanwhile, all Americans are enveloped in a feeling of dread knowing that if any team can make things worse in just fifty-eight more days, the current boobs can and probably will. January 20th cannot come soon enough.

The Thinker

An experiment in mindfulness, Part Two

In my last post, I discussed what I learned from a Naikan workshop where we focused on just three questions. The first question was: What have I received in the last twenty-four hours? I learned that for me, as well as most of us, blessings are abundant. Life is not the bed of nails that many of us perceive it to be, but more like a comfortable mattress. If my life were a mattress, it might have a few lumps in it but they should be easy to ignore. It takes work for many of us to perceive that we receive much more than we give. Periodically contemplating your blessings, as I did last week, helps put your life in perspective.

Having realized that I was blessed in so many ways, the teacher gave us a second question: What have I given in the last twenty-four hours? Here are some of my gifts that I scribbled down on paper:

  • I gave my seasoned guidance to my employees. I hope that it was actually good guidance but there is no way to tell for sure.
  • The notes I recorded during a conference call
  • The thought and creativity I applied to my job
  • My labor in general, which hopefully made the world a bit better place and for which I was well compensated
  • My cat, as usual, received a belly rub on our bed before I retired. From his purring, he was obviously grateful.
  • I shut the blinds to our bedroom windows so we could have some privacy
  • I turned up the heat because we were getting a bit chill
  • My wife got my companionship watching TV
  • I dished out more than a few I love yous to immediate members of my family, including the feline
  • I spent about an hour in the morning doing the family bookkeeping
  • I put my daughter’s dishes in the dishwasher
  • I took out the trash
  • I listened well (I hope) to my wife as she expressed her thoughts and feelings
  • Not to be too crass, but I contributed my salary. I am by far the family’s major breadwinner. Without my income, my family would have fewer modern amenities to enjoy.

We had the same amount of time to write down what we gave others but when we were done, we quickly noticed that that our list of gifts was far smaller than our list of items that we had received. Few things on my list amounted to much. Yet, in spite of my limited contributions I received far more than I got.

The last question was the hardest: What trouble or difficulty have I caused in the last twenty-four hours? I found it hard because I do not like to dwell on my failings and imperfections. The instructor asked us to record any small inconveniences we caused on our list. If we cut into line ahead of someone, that inconvenienced someone. If we dodged our way through traffic in order to make it home a minute sooner, we likely caused other drivers to check their driving. When I contemplated my own failings, I found some I was uncomfortable even putting down on paper.

I know I can be perceived as domineering or arrogant even though, of course, I rarely perceive myself to be this way. To the extent that I am, I certainly regret any hurt feelings I might have caused. Fortunately, since the period was limited to twenty-four hours, there were few egregious things on my list. My minor transgressions included:

  • I spurned letting the cat on my lap because I was deeply into the middle of doing something on the computer. At the time, I thought that was more important than my poor feline’s impulsive desire for my companionship.
  • My daughter had rearranged her bedroom and was anxious to show it to me. Rather than rush up the stairs to see it when I got home, I made her wait several minutes while I unpacked myself and sorted the mail. I could have been more sensitive to her feelings.

What do exercises like this mean? It means whatever we want to glean from it. However, I did find it useful to spend a couple hours doing nothing but engaging in focused introspection. I am definitely more mindful now of how life has showered me with so many blessings. Some I can say are the fruits of my own labors. While I am grateful for my job, it would not be possible without education, and my education did not just happen. While I had to work at it, I was also blessed with parents who provided stability and encouraged me to learn, teachers who poured out their knowledge and passions, and society that demonstrated its values by spending tax money so that I could attend school free. In 1987, I spent a week in the Philippines. There I saw children running around in the streets. Back then (and it is likely still this way today) schooling was available only to those whose parents could afford it for their children. The children I saw were impoverished and spent most of their days trying to eke out a slightly higher standard of living for their families. The boys watched cars of wealthy foreigners like me, or tried to sell cigarettes. (They also smoked them.) Too many of the girls, once they were in adolescence, worked in bars and sold their bodies for money, even though they were still minors. Fleets of horny U.S. sailors took advantage of the opportunity. What a blessing that I was spared that sort of childhood!

I also learned that while I had my transgressions, overall I am a decent human being. If I do not cause much trouble, perhaps it was because life has largely treated me kindly, so I saw little reason to cause trouble. For me, for the most part life is truly good and rewarding. I am blessed because I received much of it without asking. I learned that my problems were not so much mountains as they were molehills, that life can be a great gift, and that I am fortunate and lucky to be alive at this time and in this place.

The Thinker

An experiment in mindfulness, Part One

I am not a Buddhist, but lately my wife has been wading hip deep into Buddhism. For as long as I have known her (and that’s a quarter of a century) she has been proudly unchurched. She praised the Lord by sleeping in on Sundays. This summer though she did something totally unexpected. This was especially startling given that she is the most predictable and habit bound creature I have ever met. She started attending a Buddhist temple. Moreover, she liked it so much that she has become a member.

She came to the belated realization that Christianity has never temperamentally agreed with her. Even my Unitarian Universalism, which has its roots in Christianity but really cannot be considered Christian, felt too church-like for her. Yet, like all of us, she felt some spiritual tuggings. One day this summer, they reached the point where she could no longer ignore them anymore. She decided that if she was going to have a spiritual home, it would have to be something really different. At least for us Westerners, Buddhism is really different. We Westerners are conditioned to follow religions where you slavishly follow some holy book (generally The Bible) and holy man (generally Jesus) who claims to be the only path to God. While Buddhism is silent on God, it speaks many volumes about human suffering and how to alleviate it. It is an inward focused religion that concentrates on the here and now, rather than an outward focused religion such as those that predominates the Western world. I plan to write more on Buddhism when I feel a bit more informed.

Saturday though found me at the exceptionally pleasant Ekoji Buddhist Temple (the temple my wife decided to join) that sits among the trees in gloriously suburban Burke, Virginia. Just as Christianity is broken up into numerous denominations, so is Buddhism. This temple practices Jodo Sinshu Buddhism, a denomination that was born in Japan and which seems more laidback and less dogmatic than other forms of Buddhism.

I was there with my wife to attend a Naikan workshop. In the workshop, you have an opportunity to engage in some focused self-reflection. As you can imagine, Buddhists have many ways to engage in mindfulness, which to my non-Buddhist mind amounts to self-reflection. A Naikan workshop is another form of mindfulness. Fortunately, for this exercise no chanting, bell ringing, incense or contemplating of your navel was needed. All you needed was some paper and a pen, which were thoughtfully provided, along with a free lunch.

We were asked to contemplate three questions. The first was, What have I received in the last twenty four hours? For most Americans, unless they won the lottery they would probably say nothing. As I put my own list together, I realized what most Buddhists realize: that I am surrounded by a universe that provides me with bountiful blessings and gifts. The problem is that we learn to take them for granted.

In thinking of my blessings, I started with the basics. I live in a house instead of on a street corner. It is heated and cooled to within a narrow range of temperatures so that I feel continuously comfortable. Inside my house is pretty much all I need, plus the people that are most important to me. There is my wife, who loves me in spite of my eccentricities and well as my loving and affectionate daughter. We also have a five-year-old cat, which we adopted two years ago. He gives me the gift of his presence by sitting on my lap several times a day and purring contentedly.

My house though is part of an interconnected society that also provides me with many blessings. There is the newspaper that lands on my driveway and which for thirty-five cents or so provides timely and relevant information on my world. There are our toilets and the sewage system, which magically removes the disagreeable aspects of being a human being. There are our faucets, which magically provide limitless clean and potable water. There is also this iMac computer that I am using to write this post, and the high speed Internet service we enjoy.

It is true that I pay for these privileges but that they happen at all and are so routine is practically miraculous. In my fifty plus years on this planet, I remember going to sleep cold perhaps twice in my life, and that was because I was silly enough to go on a winter campout with the Boy Scouts. I have been spared so much discomfort and misery. Yet had I been born a thousand years earlier, this kind of misery would be commonplace. In fact, had I been born a thousand years ago, the mortality statistics would suggest I would already be in my grave.

Nor have I ever known hunger. Certainly, I have been hungry, but I have never suffered for a want of food because it has always been there. Moreover, the food that I consume is plentiful, abundant, cheap and easy to acquire. Buying food sometimes feels miraculous. How is it that I am able to purchase blackberries in November? As I wrote down the blessings I had received in those last twenty-four hours, the list spanned many pages. Here are some:

  • Unsolicited hugs
  • Sex
  • At work, someone just showed up and emptied my trash can
  • Someone also cleaned the restroom I used so it didn’t smell
  • In fact, unlike my house, the building that I work in is virtually always clean. The windows are generally clear of grime, the floors are polished, the furniture is dusted, the elevators work flawlessly, and in the basement there is a cafeteria full of convenient, tasty and nutritious food.
  • There is a lovely and bucolic view out my office window, which looks southwest over a canopy of trees. On a clear day, I can see the Shenandoah Mountains. I can also watch airplanes arrive and depart from Washington Dulles airport.
  • My office, with an actual door I can close and real walls. Most of my career was spent in a cubicle. Four years later, I still appreciate and marvel at this gift.
  • Watching an episode of Battlestar Gallatica on DVD with my wife (although it has to be one of the most depressing shows ever filmed!)
  • I slept soundly on a comfortable mattress
  • I had a nice, nutritious breakfast full of foods that I love
  • I got to surf the Internet
  • The temple provided a free lunch just for attending the seminar. (The black bean soup was to die for!)
  • My blue jeans were so comfy
  • My health, which I take for granted, but without which many of the blessings I experience would lose meaning

Why is it that despite having so many blessings showered on us on a daily basis so many of us feel so disgruntled? Why are we whining so much? Why are we so unhappy? As our instructor pointed out, for most of us the universe provides us far many more blessings than we actually give out in return. The blessings begin at birth and follow us magically through childhood. Someone gave us birth, nurtured us, changed our diapers and made sure we did not foolishly jump off a cliff. Should we not feel these constant blessings? Should we not wake up every day happy and grateful at how pleasant and ordered our lives are?

Perhaps we should but most of the time, we do not. We have been hoodwinked into a philosophy that says good is never good enough, so we must always aspire for better. The desire for better makes us inured to the numerous blessings we receive every day.

We were asked to put our thoughts down on two other questions. I will tell you about them in future posts.

The Thinker

Message to Sarah Palin: please, please fade away!

Like many electoral weary Americans, I have this urgent post-electoral request of Governor Sarah Palin: is it too much to, like, just fade away? It’s the patriotic thing to do.

John McCain knows his job as loser is to fade away. The press is helping. The other day he spoke at a campaign rally for incumbent Saxby Chambliss, who is in a runoff election for the Georgia Senate seat against Democrat challenger Jim Martin. You probably didn’t know this. That is because the press largely ignored the event. CNN showed some live pictures from the rally, but was far more interested talking to Ted Turner, who was also at the rally, than reporting McCain’s endorsement speech.

But Sarah “I can field dress a moose” Palin, McCain’s stunningly bad choice for a running mate, simply refuses to fade away. She had her sixty days of national fame. She liked being recognized by sight by most of us in the lower forty-eight. Between her welcome home rally, an interview in her home with NBC’s Matt Lauer (where she made some moose meat chili in her gosh darn real kitchen), another interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, and trying to steal the show at the Republican Governors Association meeting in Florida, Mrs. Palin is working hard to make sure we will not forget her.

I know I sure would like to forget her. I would like to forget the $150,000 her campaign wasted on her clothes and a hairdresser. I would like to forget her annoying “you betcha’s”, her Canuck accent, her high heels and her pregnant daughter Bristol. I want to forget about Trig having Downs Syndrome, and her being for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it. I would like to purge forever from my brain her claims about being a tax cutter when she raised taxes on oil companies. I would like to forget about the bloated sports complex she built in Wasilla as mayor. In fact, I would like to forget even the name of Wasilla. I would love to forget her crude campaign to remove her ex-brother in law from the state police. I would love to forget that condescending wink she gave during the vice presidential debate. If she would just fade away, maybe in time these memories would vanish!

In short, I would be happy to go back spending as much time hearing about the governor of Alaska as I do about the governor of Delaware. Unfortunately, the media will not let me. They remain intrigued by all things Sarah Palin and she is happy to take every opportunity to make sure she stays in the national spotlight. Is she trying to succeed in her comeback by never leaving our national consciousness? You betcha! Since we are pretty much sick of Paris Hilton, she is glad to assume the role of our new national feminine distraction. The first rule of politics is that negative attention is better than no attention at all.

It might help if our president elect spent more time in the public spotlight. Instead, Barack Obama seems determined to hide behind the scenes until President Bush leaves office. It is already clear what an Obama Adminstration will look like: it will be unsexy, low key and pragmatic, lead by a serenely unruffled president. Our new president may have a magnetic personality to many, but if he likes being vainglorious, he is keeping it well hidden. In the years ahead, when there are political successes from an Obama Administration, do not expect them to break out the champagne that often.

So perhaps instead the media fixates on Palin. Palin knows that she has an image problem. The whole point of inviting Matt Lauer to Wasilla was to begin an image makeover. Maybe Mrs. Palin does know that Africa is a continent after all (it was an urban legend that she did not, but it sure sounded like something she would not know), but she might be able to soften her image a bit by showing that while being governor she too is a domestic goddess like millions of other wives and mothers. Obviously there is little point in softening up her image if she imagined governor of Alaska being the zenith of her career. No, quite clearly being a party’s vice presidential nominee and speaking to all those adoring crowds whetted her appetite for grander ambitions. Her next stepping-stone may be to serve in the U.S. Senate. Her real ambition, after having a thorough image makeover, might well be to be the nation’s first female president. If I were Palin, I would begin with a large number of flashcards. Maybe she can borrow some from Bristol.

Given that the Republican brand is in tatters and a plurality of Americans thought she was unfit for the vice presidency, let alone the presidency, she might not be the ideal candidate in 2012. In fact, if the Republican Party wants to control Congress and the White House again, some reinvention of the party will be necessary. Clearly, what they are selling no longer holds much appeal with swing voters. It is unlikely that this can be done in the short term. Sticking to principles no matter how unworkable they have proven in the past, is something most Republicans view as an asset. Arguably though, John McCain did relatively well in this election in part because his role as the Republican maverick did help with some independent voters. In a disastrous electoral year, he only lost by seven points. A repackaged and more mainstream Sarah Palin could appeal to independent voters. To do so, she will have to help persuade Republicans to be less insular and headstrong party. This could be a big challenge as she exhibited both these characteristics during the campaign. Palin shows some accommodation toward reality. She is more tolerant of gays than many Republicans, perhaps due to a pervasive libertarian streak out West.

While I desperately want Sarah Palin to go away, some other part of me hopes she stays in the public spotlight because her presence is likely to be counterproductive. Now that her brand has been established, changing her image is going to be quite challenging. Memories of Republican rule may fade in time. However, if she is there as a constant reminder of why Americans threw Republicans out of power, this could actually help broaden the Democratic Party as well as harden the still wet cement of its electoral footings.

My suspicion though is that the Republican Party of 2012 is going to try to look at lot more like the pragmatic, intelligent and bipartisan Mitt Romney than the eccentric Sarah Palin. In the short term, it will probably not succeed in this marketing, given its long history. However, if Americans need a constant reminder of why they threw the Republicans out of power, having Sarah Palin regularly in the media could be the gift that keeps on giving to the Democratic Party. Since Palin insists on being in the media spotlight anyhow, perhaps I just need to cover my ears instead.

The Thinker

Review: Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Are you easily offended? If so skip Zack and Miri Make a Porno, which is now playing at your local theater. There is so much over the top swearing in this movie that even sailors might legitimately take offense. Practically every other word is an expletive. And it’s not just the S word and the F words that are repeatedly uttered, but very clinical but crude sexual terms and phrases that populate sex magazines like Penthouse Forum Variations.

Then there is the subject of the movie itself, which is ostensibly about the filming of a really bad XXX pornographic movie. The nudity in this movie is not nearly as offensive as its language, although you do get some brief shots of full frontal male and female nudity, as well as a fair amount of screen time of buxom women with fake boobs going braless. Yeah, sensitive people like devout Mormons and Roman Catholics will definitely want to skip this flick.

Nor are any of the characters in this movie particularly likeable. However, almost all of the characters are memorable. The movie centers on two longtime platonic friends Zack Brown (Seth Rogan) and his fellow cohabiter Miriam Linky (Elizabeth Banks). Zack and Miri are pals whose relationship stretches back to childhood. They have spent so much of their lives being pals that the notion of them as lovers is inconceivable, even though both have oversized sex drives. Zack in particular obviously never came within a hundred miles of a charm school. He treats Miri like a frat brother even though she just happens to be blonde and drop dead gorgeous.

Neither is great with remembering to do financially responsible things like pay the rent on time. Yet somehow, they seem to struggle through mediocre lives at their near nadir. Zack makes his living as a cappuccino guy at a local strip mall in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. Starbucks it ain’t, because everyone in the shop including the owner spend most of their time cursing each other, even in front of their customers who seem bizarrely inured to their swearing. Zack and Miri share a wreck of a car and inhabit an unattractive brownstone apartment in an ugly part of Monroeville. Thanksgiving is approaching. For some reason Thanksgiving is also the date of their tenth anniversary high school reunion. Despite having had their water and electricity abruptly cut off, they both rush off to the reunion. Zack arrives and gets busy crudely propositioning former female classmates while Miri makes a beeline for her high school crush (played by Brandon Routh), who she shamelessly propositions before she discovers he happens to be a very successful gay porn star.

Doubtless, their encounter with Bobby inspired Zack’s idea to make a porno movie as a way to escape their financial condition. With little money, they are getting desperate and are reduced to making bonfires in their living room in an old trash bin to keep warm. Both agree that when they make the movie they will do a sex scene together, which is their contribution to the seamier aspect of this endeavor. They quickly put together a cast of dubious, troubled but generally hot looking people from the Pittsburgh area that have experience showing their privates on camera or in public. One of their cohorts is the real life ex porno actress Traci Lords (appearing here as “Bubbles”).

If you have an appreciation for crude humor like the kind you find in classic bawdy movies like Animal House or more recently, Borat, this patently offensive movie will be right up your alley. That is because this movie (aside from rising offense meters right through the roof) is also frequently hilarious. This movie is definitely not art, but it is damned funny. It is also unexpectedly touching at odd moments.

If there were annual Academy Awards for best performance of a crude, rude and socially unacceptable character, there would be plenty to choose from in this movie, with Seth Rogen’s portrayal of Zack being the likeliest pick. This is the sort of movie that you expect John Waters to have directed. Instead, it was written and directed by Kevin Smith, a mostly unknown artist who has done a variety of work acting, writing and directing movies and television over the years.

It is also, surprisingly enough, a romantic comedy. That’s right, it’s hard to discern at first among all the expletives but at its core this movie is really a quirky comedic romance. In reality both Zack and Miri do love each other, they just don’t know it and haven’t a clue how to move forward in their enduring but loveless relationship. Making a bad pornographic movie turns out to be an unlikely catalyst where they discover not kinky sex but something far more surprising: real love. Few couples deserve each other more than Zack and Miri.

In short, if you have the stomach for this kind of movie, you will not be disappointed. This is impossible to rate, but it is a fun though cheaply made movie with many hilarious and memorable characters. Certain scenes will have you laughing uproariously days later.

By the way, make sure you stick around until the credits end.

The Thinker

Review: The Prophecy (1995)

What a confused muddle of a film! What a waste of time! I would say that this film was a waste of money too, except obviously they did not spend much money on it. Presumably, in 1995 actors like Viggo Mortensen and Christopher Walken could be had without producers digging too deeply into their pockets. No need to shoot in a fancy Hollywood studio either. Pick some washed up town in the west with an abandoned copper mine, and a dilapidated school that could probably be rented for a couple hundred bucks. Viola! A set! Fill the rest of the movie with actors and actresses who rarely go beyond television like Amanda Plummer and Virginia Madsen. I doubt they paid them more than union scales.

Bloom County Comic Strip

Next, keep your fingers crossed. Hope that more than twenty years after The Exorcist was released that there will still be enough of a market for people being possessed by spirits to line your investors’ pockets. Come to think of it, The Exorcist was pretty dreadful too but at least it was novel. The Prophecy though is not the least bit scary, though at times it is a wee bit gross. You may find yourself looking at your watch and asking yourself, “Is it over yet?” I know I did.

If however like my wife and I you are connoisseurs of bad movies, this is one may be worth renting, although one viewing should be enough. Here is the plot as best I can figure out. When God distanced himself from Lucifer and his group of dark angels, Lucifer got really pissed. He has been working hard since to get the big guy’s attention. What he needs to get God’s attention is a soul belonging to a recently deceased citizen of this washed up town. It inhabits the body of an officer who while fighting in the Korean War also engaged in a little harmless cannibalism. Apparently, to exchange a soul you have to do it through the mouth. The Angel Simon (Eric Stoltz) has the duty to retrieve the soul from the body of this ex-cannibal, with the help of his wild-eyed sidekick Jerry (Adam Goldberg) who apparently is already dead, sort of.

Simon for some reason is one of the good angels. In trying to keep the soul away from the Angel Gabriel (Walken), whom I always assumed was one of the good angels, he has to redeposit into the body of another living person. He picks a young girl named Mary (a virtual no-name actress named Moriah ‘Shining Dove’ Snyder). She is in turn a pupil of the very radiant and hot (in a girl next door kind of way) Katherine Henley (Virginia Madsen). Henley teaches to a diminished set of students of all ages in this washed up copper mining town. Most of the classrooms are boarded up, but some of the students like to hang out during recess in a creepy classroom upstairs. It is here that Mary stumbles upon Simon.

Mary quickly discovers that having the soul of an evil cannibal does not agree with her. She quickly gets sick and is taken back to the reservation where she is attended to by her Indian grandmother. Detective Thomas Daggett (Elias Koteas) has the dubious privilege of figuring out what is going on. It helps to move the plot along that Detective Daggett at one point nearly became a priest, and only left because while he was about to be ordained he saw visions of dark angels.

At least the angels in this movie are not one-dimensional. They have a perverse sense of humor, which must have evolved from being so long out of God’s favor. That is likely why Walken was hired for his role as Gabriel. Lucifer (Viggo Mortensen) does not show up until near the end of the movie. In what is supposed to be a climactic scene, but which is not the least bit scary, the bad angels converge at a place where an Indian shaman is trying to extract the evil soul from the body of poor, innocent Mary. She never pukes like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, but she does spit out stuff from time to time. That will have to do.

When the angels show up, the movie often feels more campy than serious. The movie’s main problem is that you simply do not care about any of the characters. We might have felt sorry for poor little Mary if we actually learned enough about the girl to care about her. We do not. The characters are more cardboard than real so it is hard to give a damn about any of them.

Oddly enough, the movie must have done well enough because The Prophecy 2 was released in 1998 and Mary reappears in The Prophecy 3: The Ascent. I have to assume that enough moviegoers enjoyed Walken’s humorous approach toward playing Lucifer to want to see him in the role again. That mystifies me because he was not that good in the original. I have to assume the original was so cheap to make that sequels were not risky.

I wish I had been prophetic enough to warn you away from this movie. If your taste in bad movies goes toward the campy kind, see it. Otherwise, give it wide berth.


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