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Paul Scofield, RIP

The great British actor Paul Scofield has died. Here’s a short scene from A Man for All Seasons, in which Scofield played Sir Thomas More.

Roper: So, now you give the Devil benefit of law!

More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat?

This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down (and you’re just the man to do it!), do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?

Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

Airy Persiflage
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No Jedi

As everyone knows, all wisdom is contained in the movie The Empire Strikes Back. Naturally — it’s got Yoda.

One of the big slam-bang wisdom scenes in the movie occurs when Luke Skywalker tries to levitate his crashed spaceship out of a swamp. Luke grimaces and strains, and manages to raise the ship a few inches, but then he collapses and the ship sinks even deeper into the muck. “It’s too big,” he gasps.

Yoda tells Luke that size doesn’t matter. “My ally is the Force,” he says. It is a field created by all living things. It’s particularly strong in the swamp, which teems with life. “And a powerful ally it is,” collectively much bigger and more powerful than Luke, or Yoda, or the sunken spaceship. Then he raises the ship and moves it to dry land.

Luke failed because he thought he was doing it himself.

In last week’s debate, Hillary Clinton said, “The question that I have been posing is, who can actually change the country?” She says she can.

Remember Hillary’s tongue-in-cheek Christmas campaign ad, where she was wrapping up “universal health care,” “alternative energy,” “bring troops home,” and “middle-class tax breaks” as the gifts she was giving to the American people? It bothered me. I still like to imagine we have government by the people, not by the president.

In a speech last month, she said, “It’s about picking a president who relies not just on words but on work, hard work, to get America back to work.”

Just words? Obama has inspired millions of Americans who were sitting on the sidelines to get involved in building a stronger and better America — an involvement that doesn’t end on Election Day, but only begins then.

If Clinton thinks that doesn’t matter — that his message is “just words” — if she thinks that solutions to the country’s problems can be her gift to us; if she thinks she can grimace and strain and make the change America needs by the force of her will, then I think she is not a Jedi yet.

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A Dream

On a DVD, playing on a big screen, with surround sound, this scene from Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams is just breathtaking. I don’t know how effectively it will come across in a YouTube video — it’s certainly no substitute for seeing the movie properly — but I hope you’ll be able to see why I think this is worth sharing.

In fact, it’s good to be alive. It’s exciting.

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There Goes the Economy

You can never get enough of what you don’t really need. — Harold Ramis, quoting “a very wise person” in an interview on the newly-released DVD of the 1967 movie, Bedazzled, with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.

Airy Persiflage
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Small Town, Big Time

I grew up mostly in Bellefontaine, Ohio, about sixty miles northwest of Columbus.

It was a quiet little town. We would get excited whenever Bellefontaine was mentioned on one of the Dayton or Columbus TV stations — that was the Big Time! — and frustrated if they pronounced it Bell-fon-TAYNE. We pronounced it Bell-FOUN-tin.

We were proud of our little town. We had the first concrete street in America — a test of whether concrete made sense as a paving material — and the shortest street in the world. (Wikipedia says the “shortest street” claim is in dispute.)

Bellefontaine is near the highest point in Ohio — which is also the highest point between the Allegheny and the Rocky Mountains. When I lived there, the two local radio stations were WOHP (Ohio’s Highest Point) and WTOO (Top Of Ohio), so you can tell we were proud of that, too.

The Great McGonigle jugglesThe Bellefontaine Opera House opened in 1880, and when I was growing up I was told that, in its time, many prominent performers had played there, including the great W.C. Fields.

But maybe I got that last part wrong.

I just got this collection of W.C. Fields movies and watched The Old Fashioned Way. Except for an early train sequence, the whole movie is set in Bellefontaine, Ohio. Fields is The Great McGonigle, head of a theatrical troupe who perform at the Bellefontaine Opera House. I thought it might be a Bellefontaine in some other state, or a purely imaginary Bellefontaine, but the address on a letter delivered to McGonigle at the end of the movie removed all doubt.

What a surprise! What a thrill! I’m sitting on Top of Ohio! This is the Big Time!

I’m only sorry that, through the whole movie, everybody except one Pullman porter pronounced it Bell-fon-TAYNE.

Drat!

Airy Persiflage
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Found Nemo

From Boing Boing: Nemo has been found.

Nemo found at sushi bar

One more reason not to eat sushi.

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WKRP in Cincinnati

One of my most-awaited TV series is finally being released on DVD: WKRP in Cincinnati.

According to Amazon.com, the first season will be released on April 24. I’m ready!

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Must… Watch… Terrible… Movie!

I’m a big fan of the old Stan Lee – Jack Kirby Fantastic Four, but not of the 2005 Fantastic Four movie.

The Silver Surfer

I’m sure the forthcoming movie sequel will be another terrible disappointment, but the title is Rise of the Silver Surfer, and there’s a teaser trailer here. What? No sign of Galactus?

Well, I’m a glutton for punishment. Bring it on.

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Honest John

From the 1934 movie Six of a Kind, W.C. Fields tells how he got the name of “Honest John.”

Seems it would have been tough to stand by while Fields worked and keep a straight face.

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Period of Consequences

Several moments from the global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth struck a chord.

Sir Winston Churchill, on November 12, 1936, discussing an earlier crisis:

The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, is coming to its close.

In its place we are entering a period of consequences.

Al Gore says we have the technology:

We already know everything we need to know to effectively address this problem….

We have everything we need, save, perhaps, political will. But you know what? In America, political will is a renewable resource.

From the suggestions for action that appear on screen during the closing credits:

If you believe in prayer, pray that people will find the strength to change.

In the words of the old African proverb, when you pray, move your feet.

The film is out on DVD. If you haven’t already seen it, rent it or borrow it from your library.

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Turn Backward, O Hands of Time

Years go by, and the controversial issues change, but it’s always something.

Via Boing Boing, here’s a site that collects short films from drive-in theatres.

What makes this clip particularly interesting today is the exhortation, two minutes in, to oppose Daylight Savings Time.

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God Spoke: Deleted Scene

For God Spoke, the filmmakers followed Al Franken for 18 months — starting with the launch of his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, through Fox’s ill-fated lawsuit to prevent the publication of the book, through the launch of Air America Radio, through the 2004 campaign season. They caught him wrestling seriously with the decision of whether to run for Senate in 2008, a decision he still hasn’t finalized, and wrestling hilariously with a backpack that somehow got tangled up with a wheel of an office chair.

The film that was shown last night wasn’t the original version, we were told during a question and answer session. They had filmed a 2004 debate between Franken and Ann Coulter at the Connecticut Forum, but Coulter demanded they remove footage of the debate from the film. Part of what was cut was this exchange:

When [the moderator] asked [Coulter] to name which historical figure she would most like to be, she replied: “(Sen.) Joe McCarthy.” She called him “a great American patriot” who removed “communist spies from the government.” Her second choice, she said, was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “so I could not introduce the New Deal.”

“Then I would be Hitler,” Franken said. “You’d call off the New Deal; I’d call off the Holocaust and World War II. But I’d keep the Volkswagen.”

I can’t imagine why Coulter wouldn’t want that in the film.

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Spread the Word, But Whisper

Hey, a new movie! Al Franken: God Spoke. (The website uses a Flash application that doesn’t want to run in my regular browser. C’mon, guys. A little less fancy, a little more accessible, please.)

Distribution seems to be very limited. It will be here in Columbus, Ohio for one day next month. What, did they only make one print?

The trailer and clips look interesting, but distribution and that strange Flash application make it look like they’re trying to hide this movie.

Update: When I bought my ticket, I was told Franken was originally supposed to appear in person, but wouldn’t be here in Columbus. Maybe that’s why the movie’s showing in just one city at a time.

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Play It Again Scam

If you believe George Lucas isn’t yet rich enough, you’re going to be pleased in September, when you’ll have yet another opportunity to buy Star Wars movies on DVD.

If you believe Lucas has plenty of money already, thank you, but, like me, you prefer the original Star Wars movies to the tarted-up “special editions” currently available on DVD, you may wind up making him richer in spite of yourself. From starwars.com:

In response to overwhelming demand, Lucasfilm Ltd. and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment will release attractively priced individual two-disc releases of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Each release includes the 2004 digitally remastered version of the movie and, as bonus material, the theatrical edition of the film. That means you’ll be able to enjoy Star Wars as it first appeared in 1977, Empire in 1980, and Jedi in 1983.

This is good news. Next year, perhaps we’ll be able to buy the movies again, on hi-def DVD. Maybe with a bonus documentary showing George Lucas morphing from Obi-Wan Kenobi into Jabba the Hutt.

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United 93

In the days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, there were all sorts of stories in the air. It was healthy to be skeptical.

One story I doubted was that hijacked United Airlines flight 93 crashed in a Pennsylvania field because the passengers had fought back and thwarted the terrorists’ plans. It might be true, but it seemed too convenient — it was just what we wanted to hear in those dark days. Where was the evidence?

The facts were pieced together over months. The evidence: phone calls from crew members and many passengers, made on cell phones and Airfones during the flight; the flight data recorder, and the cockpit voice recorder. The incredible story was true.

I just returned from a matinee showing of United 93, a new movie that tells this story as we’ve never seen it. The film was destined to be controversial. A few weeks ago, some theaters pulled previews for the film because audiences found the subject matter upsetting. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into the theater.

There were only four people in the audience. Which is a great shame. You need to see this movie.

It’s classified as a docudrama, but there is none of the soppy back-story that has been such a hallmark of that genre. You get to know the passengers and crew on the plane much as you would if you were flying with them. You can watch what they do, sometimes overhear what they say, and you never sense the heavy expository hand of the big Hollywood writer.

On the ground, you see civilian and military flight controllers and managers doing their everyday jobs, and gradually coming to understand that September 11, 2001 was not an ordinary day.

The story is told in something very close to real time. The fumbling and stumbling we’ve come to expect from the federal government in recent years is not in evidence here. Controllers make split-second decisions of life and death. Mistakes are made. As well as possible, the mistakes are fixed. When problems seem overwhelming, they adapt and carry on. No excuses, no finger-pointing.

It’s astonishing to see how quickly the passengers on flight 93 — ordinary people, strangers — make their decision, form a plan, and get together what they need to carry it out. Their courage, strength and ingenuity saved uncounted lives. It could not save their own.

This is a movie for grown-ups. It’s not exciting — at least not in the way other Hollywood movies are exciting. It’s not fun. There is violence, but the movie doesn’t revel in it. There’s no dramatic three-act structure. In the end, the plot is not tied up with a neat bow. In the Washington Post, reviewer Ann Hornaday wrote:

“United 93” is a great movie, and I hated every minute of it.

No kidding. You have to see this movie.