Friday, June 30, 2006

Duma (2005)****
I'm not turning into Roger Ebert I SWEAR! It's really just a coincidence that my entertainment choices lately have all been worthy of 4 stars. This is a Carroll Ballard film so you expect superb visuals, realistic animal scenes, and bonding between humans and the animals. This one though has a bit more dialogue and human interaction than I remember in his previous films. Truly a very good family film in all the best senses of the phrase.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Cars (2006)****
I really believe these Pixar guys have this stuff down now. The animation in this film is just phenomenal. The level of detail is incredible. There are so many sight gags in DEEP background, so many beautiful touches all over the screen. You can enjoy this film with no sound whatsoever. And that is a bit of a drawback since the story is not really all that engaging and the characters kind of 2 dimensional (I KNOW it's a cartoon!) and there is an extended sequence in the middle of the picture that really slows things down and seems very unnecessary. So this isn't a perfect film all things considered. But it sure comes pretty close.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Bank Data Is Sifted by U.S. in Secret to Block Terror - New York Times:
"The program, however, is a significant departure from typical practice in how the government acquires Americans' financial records. Treasury officials did not seek individual court-approved warrants or subpoenas to examine specific transactions, instead relying on broad administrative subpoenas for millions of records from the cooperative, known as Swift....While many of those transactions have occurred entirely on foreign soil, officials have also been keenly interested in international transfers of money by individuals, businesses, charities and other groups under suspicion inside the United States, officials said. A small fraction of Swift's records involve transactions entirely within this country, but Treasury officials said they were uncertain whether any had been examined....Treasury officials said Swift was exempt from American laws restricting government access to private financial records because the cooperative was considered a messaging service, not a bank or financial institution. But at the outset of the operation, Treasury and Justice Department lawyers debated whether the program had to comply with such laws before concluding that it did not, people with knowledge of the debate said. "

Well all righty then. Treasury officials concluded that this was all legal after a presumed strongly spirited debate. See, it's not really financial information, it's just "messages". And really, only a "small fraction" of the data is "messages" sent solely within the USA even though they have no idea if that data was examined.

This is very, very bad.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Loud Family - What If It Works? (2006) ****
This is not an album...this is an EVENT! The initial 10 song cycle is the best I've heard in quite a while. This is meta-power pop at its finest. Songs about songs and about our relationship to the songs and the relationships IN the songs. Typically brainy fare from Scott Miller and Anton Barbeau but with an extra layer of back beat and melody somehow squeezed in. 3 covers, 3 Millers, 3 Barbeaus and one collaboration plus 2 bonus tracks besides. I have not been a big fan of Mr. Barbeau's in the past but his contributions to this opus, especially the title track, are exceptional and much more cohesive than what I have heard from him before. Here's hoping this excellent effort gives Scott Miller the success in the marketplace that has eluded him so far.

Monday, June 12, 2006

HNN: Jonathan Zimmerman: A Florida law banning relativism in classes ignores reality and 75 years of academic tradition:
"And just last week, in an unprecedented move, the president's brother approved a law barring revisionist history in Florida public schools. 'The history of the United States shall be taught as genuine history and shall not follow the revisionist or postmodernist viewpoints of relative truth,' declares Florida's Education Omnibus Bill, signed by Gov. Jeb Bush. 'American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed.' "

You can "view" it as factual all you want but that doesn't make it so. This is what happens when fear takes control of government. Or when power hungry people are allowed to use fear for their own ends.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Big Lebowski (1998)****
Supremely funny sendup of LA and whodunits. When I first saw it, I thought it was "minor" Coens, but with each viewing I appreciate it more. Jeff Bridges delivers a tour de force performance, but even so, John Goodman nearly steals the picture with one of the most hilarious comedic performances ever. Beautifully shot by Roger Deakins.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Elvis Costello - Allen Toussaint - The River In Reverse ****
Excellent recording. Elvis Costello continues his exploration of American southern music (see The Delivery Man) with this soulful and stirring collection of Allen Toussaint songs plus some new collaborations and the "Tramp the Dirt Down"-like Costello composition of the title track. Check out this final lyric:

So count your blessings when they ask permission
To govern with money and superstition
They tell you it's all for your own protection
'Til you fear your own reflection
But the times are passing from illumination
Like bodies falling from a constellation
An uncivil war divides the nation
So erase the tape on that final ape running down creation

Wake me up
Wake me up with a slap or kiss
There must be something better than this

Amen, brother EC, amen.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

CJR Daily: Jim Lehrer on Billy Bob, Reports of Rain and Stenography As Journalism:
"JL: That's part of it. Absolutely that's part of it. I mean, if somebody says -- doesn't matter if it's the president or who --if somebody says, 'It rained on Thursday,' and you know for a fact it didn't rain on Thursday, if the person was of a nature that you felt you should quote him, 'It rained on Thursday.' Second paragraph, third paragraph -- or in television terms second or third sentence -- you would say, 'However, according to the weather bureau it didn't [rain Thursday].' But you don't call the person a liar. The person who would call that person a liar would be the person who'd read that story and say, 'My god, Billy Bob lied.' But I'm not doing that. I'm providing the information so that the person can make their decision. People might say, 'Well the weather bureau has lied. Or I was out that day and it was raining ...'
Most of the stories I have covered in 45 years have been gray stories. There are very few really stark black and white stories. On a daily basis there are some huge ones that are, sure, from time to time, but it is helping the reader sort through all this sort of gray stuff out there. It's not about, 'This guy is a liar, this guy isn't a liar.' I wish it was that simple. It seldom ever is.

LCB: Is there any place for writing, 'Billy Bob said it rained Thursday. The weather bureau said it didn't. I was out that day and I say it didn't.'

JL: I would never do that. That's not my function to do that.

LCB: Is it a newspaper's function?

JL: Look, I'm just telling you what I do, ok? I'm an expert on the NewsHour and it isn't how I practice journalism. I am not involved in the story. I serve only as a reporter or someone asking questions. I am not the story."

Unbelievably shocking stuff. I mean, why is there even a DEBATE about what happened to journalism in the past 25 years or so? Jim Lehrer, one of the most respected journalists in America, is an absolute IDIOT.