Movie Review: The X-Files – I Want to Believe

July 30, 2008

Spoilers: yes, go see the film first unless you are one of those types who doesn’t mind getting a little bit of info about the plot first.

First off, I give credit to Chris Carter. He talked about this film being a stand alone film … a film that anyone that had never seen the series could sit and enjoy. To that is right ….. sort of … but I think he (intentionally or not) pulled a fast one on the movie going public. This film (unlike the last) is not connected to the “mythology” of the series, which were the episodes that dealt with the alien-government conspiracy. So, you really do not need to know much history to understand what is going on. It helps to know that Dana and Fox were long time partners at the FBI, and that they investigated cases involving the supernatural. If you’ve got that, you’re good to go.

The story picks up a few years after the close of the series. Dana Scully is now a pediatric surgeon at a hospital. Her lover, Fox, is secluded from society in their home, on the run from the FBI, and acting very much the part of the unabomber (except that he doesn’t mail letters or make explosives, and his shack is a small if not respectable home away from everything) …. he kinda just broods a lot and gets to occasionally bed the good doctor. He was finally drummed completely out of the FBI after years of it being threatened. It’s a life, but it is made out to be not much of one (though given the fact that he gets an occasional redezvous with Scully …. is life all that bad???). But I digress …..

An FBI agent has gone missing. The FBI has been contacted by a man claiming a psychic connection to the case. After the psychic turns up a severed arm related to the case, the FBI is cautious, but really needs a psychic expert to decide is he is the real deal, or perhaps an accessory. The FBI approaches Scully to get Fox Mulder … they grant amnesty in return for his assistance. Initially reluctant, Mulder jumps in, dragging a highly reluctant Scully along.

The rest of the film deal with Mulder chasing down the missing agent with the psychic (did I mention that the psychic is a convicted child molesting ex-priest). Of course, when they catch up to the perps, there is a really creepy reason that the agent was kidnapped for.

Meanwhile, back at the hospital, Scully is dealing with a boy who has a rare degenerative brain disease that will kill him. This hospital has written him off, though she wants to try a radical surgical therapy. There is a small chance it will work, but not without putting the boy through pain. A lot of people are telling her “no”, but deep down, she does not want to give up on the boy.

These are the “main plots” of the film, or so movie critics would have you believe … but I suspect they were fooled. The main plot, which to many is the “secondary plot”, deals with what happens in a relationship when things suddenly change. Scully and Mulder had settled into a routine: Scully worked at a job she liked …. didn’t have to worry about alien abductions or shotting it out with some mutant … Fox brooded … they got together every so often. Life is good. However, as Fox gets dragged into this case, he undergoes a rejuvenation: he is the old Fox again, and Scully does not like this. Scully has a nice monologue discussing how she now likes the darkness being out of her life, and feels that they are both better off without it. Fox however learns he needs to be out investigating. Dana has to deal with a patient being at the crossroads: when does one give up the fight? It parallels the Mulder-Scully relationship. As Scully gets more and more upset over Fox being involved again, she has to make the decision: hang with the old Mulder, or get out.

In the end, it is Scully who must wrestle with this idea: “Don’t give up” ….. with her patient, or her love (and make sure you stick around for the end of the closing credits for what is a brief, and almost certainly final David Duchovney and Gillian Anderson farewell to the fans). This is echoed in the subtitle: not just a belief in the paranormal, but a belief in self and a belief in each other, especially in times of change or difficulty.

I suspect that fans of the show will like this film. People who aren’t fans may occasionally get twisted around in the relationship aspects of the characters, since they are not familiar with the back story. Could it have been better somehow? Maybe, but if this is to really be the end for Agents Mulder and Scully, I don’t see it is a poor one and unlike so many episodes of the film, one that ends with a little hope.

Notes to parents: while this is based on a commercial television show, there is a little language. There is some blood, but hardly anything gratuitous. Almost all of the violence is implied, with little shown on screen (about the worst is an agent being pushed from a high floor at a construction site. You see her gun hit bottom next to some really nasty looking steel rods sticking up out of the concrete. Nothing is shown, but you know that her end was pretty nasty).


School choice in ….. Sweden?

July 26, 2008

Could the bright and shining beacon of world socialism be showing cracks by borrowing a page from the play book of the …… American anti-education movement?

It seems that in one of the last places on Earth you would expect it to happen, school choice has latched on …. of course for the most part these are not religious schools, these are mostly schools set up by corporations, whose job it is is to run schools. School companies would be one way to look at it.

There’s a particular quote that I find troubling, though I am sure it is not indicative:
For some pupils, private and public schools have become wholly interchangeable.

In the Vittra school, a 10-year-old boy named Oliver has an assignment to write a crime novel, but he says, “I don’t have the patience to become a crime novelist.” He is leaving Vittra in the fall for a public school specializing in music because, he says, “music really is my life.”

I have nothing against music … I love many different genres …. used to try my best to play myself. The fact is, while I think writing a novel seems a little over the top for a 10-year-old’s homework assignment, I’m not sure I would like the idea of any child specializing so soon in life.

One of the things I genuinely like about the school where I teach is that there is an emphasis on exploration: try things: see what you like, what you think you like but don’t ….. where your talent lies. The idea of specialty schools has never appealed to me much, especially for younger kids because invariably elements of their basic education get left behind.

There is a religious school not far from where I teach. I have spoken to students and teachers and parents who have sent their kids there. They spend a lot of time on religious studies. I have no problem with that. I have a problem when you set X% of the schedule aside for religious learning/events, and then as the year progresses regularly usurping the other courses for that. In the end, the students non-religious education is short changed, and that can have a negative impact down the road. I suspect specialty schools operate in a similar manner, except don’t pretend to set a schedule that accommodates the regular education classes the time they need.

Once again, it smacks of the business model being applied to education: that a well rounded education is really all about a few courses that you like, and the rest are hoops to jump through. come to our school, and we either make the hoops really easy to walk through, or eliminate them altogether. Plus, we’ll throw in a brand new iPod for registering today (this is in fact happening at some of the schools in Sweden). It is a situation where more and more education decisions are being taken out of the hands of educators, and handed over to business people.

Of course, not all private school are specialty schools, and not all private schools are bad (I thought I got a great education at the private high school I attended), just like not all public schools are as repulsive as the media/government would make you think.

Of course, this begs to wonder: Sweden has in the past always scored very high on those international tests that have made certain conservative elements in our country claim “The sky is falling: our public schools are terrible”. This change makes me wonder that there must be a pretty healthy percentage in Sweden that think otherwise. It makes me wonder how good those standardized tests (or any test) are at measuring how good a nation’s schools are.

Sign #257: The world is ending, and we may be better off

July 26, 2008

My moral indignation …..

A few years ago, the International Olympic Committee, in an attempt to appease European nations who just couldn’t understand why East Asia, the Carribean, and North America have embraced baseball, voted it off the Olympic program after 2008. This will be the last time (at least for a very long time) a gold medal will be given in baseball.

So, instead of sending the highest evolved game on Earth out with dignity, the IBAF (the people in charge of international baseball) have decided to alter the rules of the game, just a smidge.

Should a game reach the 11th inning, the team coming to bat will choose where in the batting order they wish to start batting, and send the previous two batters in the lineup automatically to first and second base to start the inning.

If this were late March, I would assume that this was some sick twisted joke. Even little league would not stoop to such a measure. This is an abomination the likes of which I have never seen! Of some people will say the DH is as bad …. but they are wrong. This smacks of Europeanism: let’s decide the game by putting the ball in front of the goalie, and decide the game based on whose goalie takes a lucky jump to the left at the right moment …. and call it excitement.

And why would this abomination take place:

Federation president Harvey Schiller said the extra-innings change was adopted to save time.

“Extra-inning contests can bring about the most exciting results for players and fans, but such circumstances also make it difficult in the context of the Olympic program,” Schiller said. “We must demonstrate to the International Olympic Committee (that) not only does our game belong alongside the other great sports of the world, but our sport is manageable from a television and operational standpoint.”

For F!@#$%^ ratings!!!! If that’s the case, they can stage womens volley ball with players stripping an article of clothing every time their team blows a point. But please don’t mess with a game that represents the ultimate evolution in sport. This is just stomach churning.

Worse, considering Bud Selig’s aversion to ties …. I wonder if the All-Star Game will see a variation of this some time in the future.

Maybe it is just as well that baseball and the Olympics are cutting ties.

Bitten in the butt?

July 24, 2008;_ylt=Au95oYbfwKswiOyxapg.ZJqs0NUE

San Francisco …. bastion of extreme liberalism … or so people think. The problem with extreme liberalism or extreme conservatism is that it is well …. extreme, even when well meaning and frought with the best of intentions.

One Edwin Ramos gets proturbed with backed up traffic in an intersection. He gets out of his vehicle, brandishes his AK-47 and murders a 49 year-old man and this 20 and 16-year old sons. Thank goodness they have that hand gun ban in place!

Here’s what complicates the problem: Mr. Ramos is an undocumented alien. Now, I will be the first to say that aliens are as law abiding as anyone, and anyone who thinks this is a cause to bar immigrants or something is not hearing the point of the story.

San Frnacisco has a standing policy since 1989 of not turning over certain undocumented aliens to INS …. and has been doing so at considerable tax payer cost. To state the case, SF has been turning over any adults known to have committed a felony. Even underage persons convicted of felonies were not turned over (this was overturned by the mayor of SF in May this year).

Many juveniles were put up in housing. Some criminals with non-felony background were put in minimal security half-way homes. In the case of some drug offenses, the City of San Francisco paid to have the offenders flown back to their home nation. Why? Because if they were turned over to INS, the belief was that they would be barred from ever returning to the United States.

Mr. Ramos, as is coming to light, was convicted of two felonies, and was reputed to have ties to a large El Salvadoran gang, the second one was the possession of a firearm used in a double homicide. He still was not turned over to INS.

Now first: Mr. Ramos is pleading innocent. There is little doubt he was present, but it may have been one of two other men who pulled the trigger. He has not been convicted yet.

The anti-immigration forces are of course circling the wagons, and getting ready to pin the tail on the left wing.

For what its worth, I do not side with anti-immigration folks. All I would ask is that anyone who wants in come through normal channels. I could frankly care less where they come from. Yes, if you have a criminal history, in most cases we will be keeping you out. If the problem is with quotas being set too low, than those quotas need to be the focus of change. This crime changes nothing.

But … it does shed light on something: what gives any city the right to simply refuse to go along with a federal law? I would be the first to say: defiance of an unjust law is fine, but this seems to be going to extreme for the sake of making a point.

This is essentially what historians call nullification. It is historically somewhat dangerous:
1798: two exceptional people, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison pen what are known as the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which claim that the recently passed Alien and Sedition Acts were unconstitutional, and that they were not to be followed in their states. Alexander Hamilton suggested that sending the army would be a good idea to test just how much these renegade states were willing to stand up. Given that there were no other states to support them, it went no further. Heart in the right place, but the Civil War might have broken out there and then under slightly different circumstances.
1814: the Hartford Convention essentially seeks to nullify Thomas Jefferson’s 1807 Embargo Act which hamstrung the New England economy. There was even talk of New England seceding from the Union.
1833: perhaps as close as we got to a Civil War before we really did, the nullification crisis of 1828 which saw South Carolina nullify a federal tarriff. South Carolina raised a 25,000 person army ready to act in the event federal officials attempted to enforce the law, and the idea of secession started to spread across the South. It was finally settled, but some say that at this point, any chance of preventing the Civil War was gone … it was just a matter of time.

There were others, and again I reiterate that an immoral law is not anything we should have to follow, but it also goes to show that when sub governmental units aren’t careful, even when they have the best of intentions, invariably these things do not have the happiest of outcomes. I hope that the gentler angels of our natures will win out on this one.

Taking a stand against parents who refuse to think!

July 24, 2008

A New Zealand judge hearing a custody dispute, made the child involved in said dispute a ward of the state for purposes of renaming her. Her given name had been “Talula does the Hula”. This came up apparently during the questioing of the child in the case who admitted to being so embarrassed by the name that she would not even admit it to her close friends.

Apparently, New Zealand has a law which permits the state to block names which could be considered “offensive to reasonable persons”. Among the proposed names which the New Zealand government has refused parents from giving children when they applied:

Fish and Chips
Yeah Detroit
Sex Fruit

Yet, even with this law, names like “Number 16 Bus Shelter” were permitted.

As a teacher, I do occasionally run into a name which makes me wonder what type of mushroom the parents were smoking in the delivery room, because certainly, no amount of planning would lead them to this name, and planning that long on drugs would certainly have killed them before the child is born. Now don’t get me wrong ….. I’m not saying that every kid has to have names like “Elizabeth Mary” or “John William” …. that’s obviously a very traditional Eurocentric stance on things. However, I think most sane individuals would realize that when a parent names their son “Yorhiness” (pronounced, “Your highness”, as was a student of mine years ago), that this is going to cause some problems for the boy down the road. (the student in question said that he had “dealt with it”, but could not wait to legally change it when he was old enough).

So I plead to parents out there: creativity is a fine thing in art and music and writing and engineering. When it comes to a child’s name, take a deep breath and think: if you had carried that name for your life, would you have blamed the bullies for stealing your lunch money every day? If you hem-and-haw for even an instant, move on! You will have plenty of opportunity to torture your kids as they grow older. Let the name be something they can at least be comfortable with.

Coming soon ….

July 22, 2008

Since the Dark Knight just came out, and I have a little time, I thought I would update my list of films to put on the docket …..

The X-Files: I Want To Believe (Jul. 25)
–The plot has been notoriously quiet, and about the only two things out are that Gillian Anderson had a problem getting back into character after many years, and that this will definitively not be a story continuing the so-called “mythology arc” of alien invasion, and will rather be a stand alone story. Very cool crossed-shadow movie poster though! Hey, that’s this weekend!

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Aug. 15)
–Episodes 1-3 kind of fizzled after hype of unimaginable heights, so George Lucas goes and gets a new studio (for the first time Warner Brothers, instead of 20th Century Fox … can you have Star Wars without the famous Fox opening music?) and went all animated. Even though there was already an appreciable amount of animated material put out on TV regarding this, George thinks there’s enough for a film. As many are calling it: Star Wars: Episode 2.5.

Righteous Kill (Sep. 12)
–I likely won’t see this NYPD murder mystery, but any film that pairs De Niro and Pacino is worth making a note of.

W. (Oct. 17)
–Just in time for election day (though in limited release), Oliver Stone’s story of the man, the myth, the soon to be unemployed president of these United States. Normally, I would suspect something afoot that turns into a hatchet job and martyrs the spirit of Bush, but after seeing Stone’s underrated Nixon, which I felt was pretty sympathetic to the man, it will be interesting to see his take on perhaps the only president since Nixon to have been as loathed. Hopefully he learned from Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 which ended up making the president look like he was being picked on, and helped rejuvenate his supporters prior to the 2004 election.

Quantum of Solace (Nov. 7)
–Daniel Craig is back as James Bond, and for the first time this film is an actual sequel, picking up right after Casino Royale. Bond is out to bring down the organization that was behind the plot in the last film, though in Bond’s case, it may be a bit of revenge for the loss of precious Vespa.

Frost/Nixon (Dec. 5)
–While The Queen‘s Mrs. Blair gets stuck in Harry Potter hell, I’m interested in this play coming to the screen with Mr. Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) playing BBC reporter Robert Frost as he sits down for a 1977 interview with Richard Nixon (Frank Langella), in what some historians believe to be the most honest interview Nixon ever gave about Watergate (not that he was ever that open about the facts). Ron Howard directs.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (Dec. 12)
–So help me if these people f#$% up this movie! The original is one of the great classics of both science fiction and the cold war genre. With Jennifer Connelly and Keanu Reeves as Klaatu. Ironically, this may be the perfect era to make a film like this, but they had better not screw this up by making it too overtly political … the earlier Robert Wise film worked because the message was very clear while the politics were very subtle.

Race to Witch Mountain (Mar. 19)
Call me nostalgic … Alexander Ludwig and Anna Sophia Robb play Tony and Tia, the telekinetic and ESP brother and sister team originally played by Ike Eisenmann and Kim Richards in the 1970s. Both Ike and Kim will be in this film, with The Rock and Cheech Marin also on board. Could be good for the kiddies … not sure if it will be on my view list.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (May 1)
You like brooding loners (and honestly, who doesn’t) … here is the origin story of the great mutant. There are not many characters from the trilogy appearing, and those who are have been recast except for Hugh Jackman in the title role. A little behind this, but slated for late 2009 will be X-Men Origins: Magneto with Sir Ian supposedly back for that role.

Star Trek (May 8th)
–Kind of going the route of James Bond, this appears to be an entire relaunch of the original franchise. Normally, I would say that there is no way this can be pulled off …. Trek mythology is just too ingrained in the fandom … they’ll never accept it, and it is too soon to cultivate a new fan base. But, JJ Abrams is in charge, and if anyone can do it, he can.

Terminator:Salvation (May 22)
–There will be no governator in this film, though Christian Bale (The Batman) will take the lead as John Connor, leader of the human resistance in the film that should be the end as it serves as sequel to the awful Terminator 3 and prequel to the great original. The big problem is that the film is being directed by the notorious McG who has very little good films to his credit.

Superman: Man of Steel (June ??)
Follow up to Bryan Singer’s remake. Singer stays at the helm.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (June 26)
That’s right, its PRIME time again …. Michael Bay is back for another adventure about the only vehicles on earth that don’t worry about the rise in gas prices. I wasn’t crazy about the first, might not see the second.

Land of the Lost (July 17)
None other than Will Ferrell dons the garb of Park Ranger Rick Marshall, joining Will and Holly on a routine expedition ….. there will be Chaka and pylons and dinosaurs, and a mini army of sleestaks. I don’t know what to think of this newest incarnation of the Sid and Marty Kroft classic, other than to think the drug addled musings of H.R. Pufnstuff are not likely far behind.

G. I. Joe: Rise of Cobra (Aug 7)
The “Real American Heroes” are now an international force led by Dennis Quaid (General Hawk). Ray “Darth Maul” Park gets the masked “Snake Eyes”, but the really intriguing casting may be the villians: Arnold “The Mummy” Vosloo as Zartan, Christopher “Dr. Who” Eccleston as Destro, and Joseph “Third Rock From the Sun” Gordon-Levitt as the Cobra Commander. The word on the street is that the main focus of the plot will be the conflict between Snake Eyes and the Cobra ninja “Stormshadow” (Byung-hun-Lee). Jonathan Pryce plays the president …. how bad could this be?

Plan 9 (Sep 9)
Yes, that plan 9: wake the dead, and conquer the Earth. To quote Ben Kenobi: “Who’s more foolish, the fool, or the fool who follows him.

Film Review: The DARK Knight

July 21, 2008

First off: if you haven’t seen this film, just stop …. go see it …. you don’t need to see the rest of this, no matter how TEMPTing it might be to peer forward. Skip down and read about the Space Elevator.

First off, it is a great film. For all of the hype, it is a very good film. The writing and performances are solid top to bottom. The plot does get a little complex at times, and you sometimes catch yourself saying, what is going on here. But then again, this is not a film about “plot”. It is a film that has everything to do with character. I find it important to shut off the problem solving part of the brain … stop worrying about where the film is going and follow the characters.

Unlike the portrayal with Jack Nicholson (and as alluded to at the end of Batman Begins, the Joker has already made a name for himself. There is no origin story. While Nicholson basically took the Cesar Romero TV Joker and made him a little more sadistic, Heath Ledger starts anew. His Joker is far less openly psychotic and far more of an anarchist. The Joker’s usual slew of deadly toys and props are totally missing. Except for the makeup, there is nothing comical. As a matter of fact, while the Joker himself is normally seen as an ironic character (that is, a clown who is a sadistic killer), in this case, I think it is the clothing and makeup that are ironic. Everything underneath is very much psychotic. While on the surface he appears clownish, he is also intelligent, well spoken, to the point, and generally tells the truth. While the Nicholson Joker is more monstrous, Ledger’s Joker is more of a monstrosity … more calculating; he almost never acts without thinking clearly. With Nicholson’s Joker, you could figure out from the beginning that he would eventually slip up because his psychosis would cause him to make a mistake. That is not the case with Ledger’s …. a man with nothing to lose, a man of clear intelligence, and a man who wishes to give life to chaos. It is a brilliant portrayal. I won’t go as far as to say that it is an Oscar slam dunk, but if he were nominated, I would not think it simply a move of kindness to a late actor.

What has not been widely discussed in the media is another great performance: Aaron Eckhart as District Attorney Harvey Dent. It is a critical role in the film, and was written and pulled off greatly.

Oh, the plot:

Chicag …. er .. GOTHAM City (anyone who has lived in Chicago will tell you that no matter how hard they tried, this was Chicago) is at a turning point. A lot of small time criminals are on the run, but the mob is still standing, though new D.A. Harvey Dent is hell bent on bringing them down. He is nearly as tenacious as Batman, though does not wear the mask. Citizens are starting to see him as a hero.

With their option running thin, the Mob has turned to a Chinese businessman, Lau, to launder their money. When the Batman goes to China and haul him to justice, the Mob has only one more option: the mad man in purple who has been robbing them, and volunteers to return things to status quo by killing the Batman.

However, with Lau in jail, he breaks and gives up most of the mob. While seemingly working for the Mob, going after Dent, the mayor, and the police commissioner, he is in fact working for himself to spread absolute chaos.

Bruce Wayne has to deal with that, plus the fact that his girlfriend Rachel has fallen for her new boss Harvey.

The film is really a contrast of three: the Joker, Bruce Wayne, and Harvey Dent. Dent is the real hero (even called “The White Knight”). He is the law, he does not hide behind a mask, he is incorruptible, and does not back down. Wayne is the antihero: while he stands for what is right, he is not the law, and breaks many of them to accomplish his goals. The Joker is of course the villain, a living embodiment of chaos. The characters are, paradoxically, parts of each other, and it is in their comparisons and interactions that the film’s center is found. Dent follows the law, but in doing so gives crime the time to counter. Wayne is more chaotic, and “gets things done”, but at a cost to his personal life. The Joker wants to play …. have fun destroying things, and it is made only more fun with an adversary like the Batman. In the end, all of them lose, though some lose more than others. I’ll leave it at that. It is a far different film than most super hero films, and in most ways, far better.

edit: I did forget to mention: comic book film or not, there is a lot of intense stuff going on. Not a lot of blood, but there is a lot of shooting, people blowing up, stabbed, and for those that know who Harvey Dent is, let’s just say that the effect of “Two -Face” on Tommy Lee Jones was simple Halloween makeup compared to the rather grotesque disfigurement that he suffers in this film. There are scenes of children being held hostage, There was one scene that even caused me to jump, and two women to scream. This is absolutely not a film recommended for the youngins. The film is rated PG-13 … there’s a good reason. Lock up the kids, send the dog to the neighbors, and go out for a nice film night with a friend or significant other, but make sure that the young kids are not in the theater watching this.