Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt; liked it until the last spoken line, and then DESPISED it!

I had never heard of this movie until checking out the local Robinson’s online movie list the night before. Of the four films offered today this one looked the most attractive. Michael Douglas, a favorite actor of mine, is in it, so I figured, ‘what the heck, let’s check it out.’

The TV CSI shows have ruined a lot of the latest “whodunit” movies for Hollywood. I say that because the CSI series has raised the bar so high that it’s now difficult for the big screen versions of crime solving fare to measure up to what used to be the inferior little screen form. I must report that this trend continues to hold true in the case of 2009’s Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.

The contemporary adaptation of this film stems from one originally done in 1956, the year before I was born, starring Dana Andrews. I can’t remember having ever seen it so I can’t compare them, but I’m going to bet myself ten bucks that I will like the earlier one more. Why? Read on…

I didn’t used to be such a fuddy-duddy, but I love the old 50s movies for their decency; generally, they lack profanity and do not include nudity and sex. A well done fully clothed clinch or two and some soulful kissing is plenty; I don’t need the distraction of sweaty naked bodies grinding away on a bed, which is what you’ll see too much of in the ’09 film. But that’s just the 52 year old conservative me speaking I guess.

The plot is simple. A young reporter, C.J. Nicholas, from Buffalo New York, now trying to make it big in Shreveport Louisiana, suspects that the district attorney’s perfect streak of 17-in-a-row murder convictions is just too good to be true. The ostensibly corrupt DA, played by a weathered Michael Douglas (how old is this guy now anyway?), is setting his table for a run at the governorship. C.J. sees what everyone else doesn’t, that every guilty sentence has resulted from last minute DNA evidence, while the rest of the evidence is completely circumstantial.

C.J. is a user. First, he manipulates Ella, a doe eyed assistant DA, into falling in love with him so he can make use of her position in the DA’s office. She sees an award on display in his living room for a documentary he had made back in Buffalo about a young black female drug addict living and dying on the winter streets of ice cold Buffalo. She watches a copy of the documentary and is struck deeply by its sad humanity. C.J. has completely reeled her in.

Then, C.J. comes up with an idea to trap the dirty D.A.; he’ll document himself framing himself for murder. Ultimate user C.J. talks his TV cameraman friend, Corey Finley, who also happens to be C.J.’s fellow news worker, into filming every step. The idea is to use that day’s newspaper in each shot to prove that each piece of evidence was acquired days after the murder. I watched this part thinking, ‘Filming all that crap wouldn’t prove he didn’t do it. If that was the case then any criminal could just get rid of the original items and document buying all new similar ones to cover himself, and that just wouldn’t hold up. I’m not getting this at all.’

As part of the plan C.J. gets himself arrested on a bogus DUI, at which point the one likable character in the film, a black detective played by Orlando Jones, ties the circumstantial evidence of C.J.’s unique Italian jogging shoes to the murder of a young black prostitute. C.J. goes to trial for the stabbing death of the girl and his scheme seems to be right on track when, lo and behold, DNA blood evidence is “found” at the last moment in the seams of his jogging pants, the same pants bought by C.J. after the murder was already committed.

But, the evil DA and his equally evil henchman soon figure out what C.J. is up to. They conspire to prevent C.J.’s buddy from delivering the proof of the planted evidence by stealing the video disk copies that he had filmed with C.J. before they can be brought to the courthouse. The henchman chases the panicked cameraman into a horrible collision with a bus and finishes off the unconscious would-be-Pulitzer-award-winner with the flick of a cigarette into the spilt gas of the crash.

Subsequently, C.J. is sentenced to death. Now he’s in big trouble. His self framing job was too perfect, too convincing. With the slick talking DA making light of C.J.’s claims, just as I had foreseen, the jury was not convinced that he had set himself up simply to bring down the well respected DA.

But, the love struck Ella still believes in her man, thinking that anyone who could have made that poignant documentary about the ill-fated young Buffalo prostitute could not possibly be a murderer. She starts to dig into some of her boss’ previous verdicts and finds decisive proof of tampering. Ella has done it, but not without the critical help of Orlando Jones’ character, who saves her life while shooting dead the DA’s murderous henchman. In a dramatic reversal, the Michael Douglas DA character goes to prison while her beloved C.J. is released. All seems well.

I really thought the movie was over at this point, but it wasn’t.

Of course Ella is there with C.J. on his first night home after his release when she makes a cruel discovery while he is sleeping. Looking at the crime photos of the dead Shreveport prostitute in her possession she realizes it’s the same girl in C.J.’s Buffalo documentary. But according to C.J. THAT girl is supposed to have died of an overdose in midwinter Buffalo. Stunned, Ella puts it all together and realizes that C.J. really had murdered the girl all along. By doing so, he had killed two birds with one stone: he’s ended the threat of being discovered for the fraudulent documentary, while becoming famous for exposing a corrupt DA; and he ALMOST got away with it.

It’s actually a pretty good movie all told. Not quite as good as a TV episode of House or a two-hour CSI special, but pretty good nonetheless. But here is what absolutely ruined it for me and thus turned me against recommending this film: at the very end of it, Ella, played by Katie-Holmes-lookalike Amber Tamblyn, has called the cops on her now erstwhile lover C.J., played by Jesse Metcalfe. C.J., with great alarm, demands to know, “Ella what have you done?”

In a calm voice she answers, “It’s done.” She opens the door as a half dozen squad cars pull up in front of the house. Just before leaving she gives C.J. one last disgusted look, and gathering herself, she utters the words that can NEVER be said on ANY of the CSI shows, “F@CK you!”

THAT last line busted the whole movie for me. I HATE that word—hate it, hate it, hate it! I cannot remember once in the whole course of the movie where anyone used that type of mindless profanity, and it IS mindless. Those who use it so often now justify it with, “Well, that’s how we talk now. Get over it.” My answer is, “No. We didn’t used to talk that way. YOU talk that way because it has been accepted by a vulgarized society. It’s a stupid bad habit. It’s crude. It’s ugly. It’s unnecessary. The acceptance of that type of profanity in our everyday language has ruined us, made us less than what we used to be. When I was a kid growing up I NEVER heard it said by other children, or in the movies, or even much by responsible adults. As a personal reaction to it, I try not to put up with it. If I read a blog where everyone feels comfortable using the F word, I stop reading it. If someone posts it on Facebook I click them to “hide.”

I imagine the simpleton filmmakers had a meeting about that last line in their movie. It probably went like this: “Well, the movie is good, but what can we do to make it DIFFERENT from the better TV shows just like it? I KNOW! We can have her say F@ck you. Let’s see ‘em try THAT on network TV!”

I left the theater disgusted and deeply disappointed. Up until that last line I had been thinking, ‘See, they really CAN make a thoughtfully interesting movie without vulgar language…’ Then they threw it all away for that one foul-mouthed final line. Did they think the viewers would jump up and applaud? Well, that’s not likely going to happen since the Ella character never does become all that sympathetic.

It’s ironic; because I was even MORE disgusted as I first took my seat in that Robinson Theater. A filthy mouthed American “urban” gangster rap “song” (if you want to actually call it a song) was playing so loud that even with my earplugs I could still hear the profane lyrics that included a host of disgusting language like, “F@cking Ho, Ni@@er, Sh@t, Mother F@cker, etc.” And in the style of the genre they don’t say these words once, but again and again and again. I kept my temper and my seat until a second song with even fouler words started up even louder, at which point I marched out into the lobby and demanded an end to it. Why can’t they play regular pop tunes or elevator music in the theaters and malls over here? Drives me nuts!

As far as watching this movie in a theater; don’t bother. Wait for it to come out on cable.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Horsemen. HATED it!

I saw Dennis Quaid yesterday in Horsemen. I expected to see at least an adequate movie since he usually picks fairly good ones to be in. Unfortunately, he chose to be in a real dog as far as The Horsemen goes. I like Dennis Quaid, but I didn’t like him in this movie.

Horsemen refers to The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a New Testament book by the Apostle John, apparently written after he got old and crazy. Try reading it and see what I mean. Compared to the rest of the New Testament books this last one by John comes across as the nutty ranting of a holy man on acid. Sorry if that’s sacrilege, but I’ve always thought that, ever since I was a little boy Catholic.

Anyway, this movie starts out like a CSI episode, but quickly loses any of that kind of positive momentum. Quaid, playing a cop named Breslin, is called out to a gruesome crime scene in what I believe is midwinter rural Minnesota. He’s supposed to be a crime detective (probably in Minneapolis) with a specialty in forensic odontology; so, that would make kind of make him a crime fighting tooth specialist I guess. Odontology is usually what convicts “biters” by their distinctive bite mark pattern, but there is no biting in this movie, other than a very short reference to a biting rapist by Quaid’s short-tempered boss much later in the movie.

I disliked Quaid’s character almost immediately. Breslin shows up at the icy crime scene and is met by a local county policeman who offers his hand with great deference to the detective. But rather than shake hands Breslin instead sneers with obvious annoyance and impatiently begins to ask questions of the awestruck uniformed cop. At that point I leaned over to Divine and whispered, “What a dick!” I wanted nothing but bad things to happen to him from that point forward. Having experienced that kind of arrogance I hated him and wanted him to fail. If that’s what the director had in mind, mission accomplished.

The reason Breslin was called out was because of the improbable presence of a fancy covered silver serving platter on a table in the middle of small frozen-over creek. Man, it looked cold, brought back bad memories of frigid Michigan winters. Under the platter cover was what used to be a mouthful of adult teeth. These were nauseatingly bloody.

Immediately I thought, ‘Hey wait, why isn’t all the blood congealed and frozen; and why is there so much blood in the first place? There shouldn’t be that much blood on a bunch of pulled teeth no matter how they were extracted, unless they were bludgeoned out of someone’s mouth so that there is still gum and nerve tissue still attached.’

So, right off the bat I began to think that I was now watching a bullshit movie. Turns out it was worse than I thought.

This film isn’t good enough to provide a full description of all the major scenes so I’ll just touch on a couple of the really BS ones that totally caused me to shake my head disapprovingly, something I did a LOT in this movie. Here’s one: Breslin shows up at a real murder scene this time. A woman in a prone position has been hung by her skin from hooks and painfully bled to death. It’s a revolting scene and gratuitously so. I suppose we can thank the CSI shows for that. But the part that caused me to shake my head (yet again) was the appearance of the woman’s three grief stricken “children.” Two of the girls were little Caucasian kids with the third being an Asian “teen.”

Then I got a closer look at the Asian “teenage girl” and realized that she was obviously in her mid to even late 20s. ‘What’s up with that? ‘Divine! Look how old that chick is? They’re trying to make her out to be like a young teenage girl. It’s too obvious she’s not. She’s probably about your age!’ My fiancĂ© just giggled agreeing with me.

The core plotline is that Breslin is struggling to deal with taking care of his two boys after the recent death of his wife. The oldest boy is quietly intelligent and longsuffering, always waiting for his detective father to give him and his little brother as much time and effort as he does to his murder cases. And now, Breslin also has to deal with this really horrible serial killing spree by a group of ritual killers.

There are maybe three plot twists in this flick. I got way ahead of one of the first ones when the oldest boy’s homeroom teacher tells Breslin at a parent-teacher conference that his son does extraordinarily well WHEN he bothers to show up to class. Instantly I thought, ‘Hey, so where is this kid at when he’s NOT in school? Uh oh. He’s the ONE, its Breslin’s own son!’ I told that straight off to Divine and indeed, THAT turned out to be THE major plot twist of the entire film. Buddabing!

The “too old” Asian “girl” turned out to be Breslin’s son’s evil accomplice. She had been molested by her adopted father and she was just getting back at him by killing HIS wife (her supposedly beloved adoptive mother), who, as it turns out, had done nothing wrong and knew nothing at all about the molestation. By the way, the ancient Asian chick was also one of the self-styled four horsemen, with Breslin’s son being the ringleader of the four.

A third horseman had to be sacrificed by the other three, but that part wasn’t given a whole lot of movie time. The fourth horseman was a homosexual high school boy with a real butthead of an older brother who had evidently spent years belittling and demeaning his little brother for his “embarrassing” choice of “lifestyle.” Ugh. This angst-ridden apparently over-sensitive gay young man kills himself in a particularly ghastly fashion in front of his jerk of an older-brother. I blanch thinking about how he did it.

So, by now the writers have apparently established that all three of these “young” people have reason to despise society and to viscerally hate members of their own families to the point that they seek to punish these family members. And THAT is exactly what they do in as sickening a manner as they could possibly come up with.

But, in the movie we learn that these tormented young people are only the tip of this vile ice berg. They (the Asian girl and Breslin’s son) claim that there are in fact thousands of disaffected people in our “f@#ked up society” (as Breslin’s son describes it), spewing out his invective to his now remorseful father at the end of the movie as he takes his own life in that weird hanging-by-fishhooks-and-wires fashion that these sick “horsemen” prefer.

In this role Quaid looks every one of his 55 years plus a few more. I don’t know if they were going for the old and tired look, but they certainly achieved it. He looks as bad as he possibly could. He would only look worse if he had gained weight for the part. He smokes in the movie, so maybe his character doesn’t get fat because of the appetite suppressant effects of the cigarettes. He’s only three years older than me and it got me to thinking.... So much so that when I came home from the movie I looked close in the mirror for the first time in months to see if I was looking “that bad.” Maybe I am? Nawww! No way.

But the real “moral of the story” behind Horsemen is apparently this: Our culture sucks. Our society is filled with people who are homophobic, with lots of really selfish people, with the adulterous and the murderous; and finally, those of us who do not abuse children, disregard them. And so, the moral goes on to warn us: do NOT be surprised then, if young people react against this evil they see all around them and become evil themselves.

What a crock!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Turning OFF the Sound

If you’ve followed my posts going back about a year you’ll know how tortured I’ve been by the various kinds of clamor coming from my multitude of neighbors, and I do have plenty of them. In fact, even with my bad pitching shoulder, I could probably chuck a baseball from the middle of my yard and hit the roof of any of a dozen houses. That is how closely packed the homes are in this part of the subdivision.

Last month marked the beginning of my breaking point when it comes to this never-ending racket. A new neighbor on the other side of the wall from my master bathroom put a caged dog under the eaves of their east side roof. This phobic animal is no more than a dozen feet from where my head hits my pillow. From spying over the wall it appears to be some kind of husky or pug mix. It doesn’t “go off” all the time, maybe a dozen times a day, but that’s plenty.

Folks around here routinely acquire dogs with the sole purpose of raising a ruckus in case anyone approaches. These poor animals then never leave their tiny enclosures for the rest of their miserable lives. Most become neurotic and bark at anything, out of sheer craziness if you ask me. You hear them all the time, these wretched animals barking incessantly for hours on end, probably to simply while away the unending hours of close captivity. It nears the height of animal cruelty, but few people here seem to understand this. ‘The very poor and the plight of animals, eh, so what; we have our own problems, so why worry about some stupid dog?’

The absolute final straw was my “favorite” neighbor, the one that nearly caused me to pull stakes and take off earlier this year when I had the temerity to ask the woman of the house to control her new puppy’s continuous yapping. Three times since then they’ve brought in roosters for a few days at a time, each occasion the piercing sound of the cock’s erratic crowing caused nerve-racking exasperation. Even with two layers of foam over all my windows sandwiched between two panels of plywood, it was not enough. So, enough was enough. I called in Eddy, my fiancĂ©’s brother-in-law, a man who has become my personal builder, for a planning session for one last try at fixing the noise intrusion problem.

I told him I wanted to try four things: first, pack insulation thickly between the ceiling and roof; second, attach shag carpeting over all the walls; three, completely seal all the cracks around the air conditioner; and four, rubber seal all the openings around the doors.

He listened carefully and then countered with: “How about this: We’ll brick up and seal over all four windows of the bedroom and bathroom, and instead of insulating the space between the roof panels and ceiling, we’ll install a second ceiling and insulate the space between the two ceilings.” He agreed that we could easily seal around the aircon and doors, and then, if all that wasn’t sufficient, we could go ahead and put shag carpet on the walls.

“All right! Let’s do it!” I gave him an enthusiastic go ahead. That was last Sunday, a week ago.

Monday was a holiday so they started work on Tuesday morning the second I took off for the office at 0845. After working with my last client at noon, I dallied at the fitness center so as not to get home until well after 4pm. By that time Eddy’s boys had finished cementing in two of the three large windows. Before working with installing cement blocks though they first they had to remove all the glass panels along with the louvers and aluminum framework.

By Wednesday afternoon they had the last of the three windows filled in with cement blocks. When I came home on Thursday half the new ceiling was up and all the finishing cement neatly covered all the blocks where the windows had once been.

Friday was a long day. Eddy and his workers stayed till well after 5pm to finish painting the new ceiling and the walls where the windows used to be.

By yesterday, Saturday, they had the bathroom done as well. The small window in there had also “disappeared,” while the new second ceiling with its own layer of thick insulation was up, with the ceiling and walls given a final whitewashing signaling the completion of the big sound proofing project.

The neighbor’s dog yapped away when I entered my renovated bedroom for the first time after all the new sound resistant features had been added. I closed the door and sat in my easy chair with the TV off. I could still hear the dog, but barely; it sounded miles away.

‘Ahhhh! Success!’ I sighed with great satisfaction. I turned on the aircon and ran a small fan aimed at the open bathroom door where I figured the exhaust fan would help reduce the strong odor of the fresh paint. I notice that the low hum of the aircon along with the small fan completely masks whatever hint of outside sound still manages to infiltrate the room.

To further illustrate the effectiveness of Eddy’s work a storm passed through early in the afternoon today. Normally I cannot hear the TV over the drumming of hard rain on the corrugated metal roof panels overhead, even with the volume full up. But now, with the newly insulated ceiling I could barely hear a faint drumming. I listened to the TV just fine without having to adjust the volume at all.

Most Filipinos cannot understand the consternation I feel every time a dog “goes off” or when one of the neighbors plays karaoke at full volume till way past midnight. I’m not even sure other Americans get as agitated as I do when these horrible sounds invade my space. But for me, it is supreme torture; or I should say, WAS torture, because NOW, all that is behind me.

Last night, my first blessed night under my “new roof,” was one of uninterrupted dreams and tranquilty. In fact, I stayed asleep way later in the morning than I normally do, all because of the wonderful lack of outside sound. The kitchen is just across the breezeway from this room and the usual morning clatter of pots and pans, not to mention the conversation of the girls and the maid as they prepare breakfast was no longer to be heard. In effect, this room is as quiet as the inside of a sealed coffin. Thus, I literally slept like the dead. The hundreds of dollars I paid to achieve it was worth every penny.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Pothos, I Hardly Knew You

Last year when I had landscaped the area under my newly built tower and equally towering fruit trees to the point that it was ready for planting, I sent Divine out to do some shopping at the local nurseries. Of the 20 or so types of plants she came back with, four were types of vines. I liked her choices thinking that the different colored runners would look great crawling through the recently placed stones of my rock garden. I was right; among the stones, the natural mix of plants is living art.

It turns out that three of these ivy-like plants that Divine bought are different kinds of Pothos. I’ve seen these viney plants all over the world, used as house and office plants, but never worried about what they are called. I am ashamed to admit it, and me a self-styled lover of all things in nature. Why had I never heard its name before?

Even though I wasn’t familiar with what they are called, it was fairly easy to find and identify it on the net. I typed “tropical houseplants” into the search engine and there it was on the first page of possibles.

‘Ah, Pothos, so that’s what it’s called!’

What a strange name; it definitely doesn’t roll naturally off the tongue, at least not off mine. I keep tending to call it Porthos; which would be pretty cool, naming a plant after one of The Three Musketeers. I guess I could break it down into Pot-hos, which said out loud phonetically sounds like the plural of a trampy pot. Weird how my mind works.

I planted all the vines Divine brought home in the shadiest part of the new garden, figuring they wouldn’t do well in direct sunlight. I’m sure the fact that they don’t prefer full sun is why you see these plants all over the world in every mall you’ve ever visited and on display in so many doctors’ offices.

The vines flourished in their new home among the shady rocks beneath my thickly leafed mango trees. In no time my many Pothos plants began to sprawl out of the confines of the small rock garden. One particular vine pushed its way beneath the bench against the wall upon which the bench rested, although I didn’t really pay much attention to the wayward tendril until it popped up above the bench back. It was neat how its roots attached to the painted concrete blocks and then, as the Pothos pressed ever upwards, its roots continued to attach themselves tightly to the decorative painted bamboo above the blocks.

The roots don’t seem to care what it is they find themselves up against. As the vine sprouts outward into the world, the brown worm-like roots attach themselves to whatever it is they happen to touch up on, and so tightly that it seems as if they have glued themselves onto that host surface. Once Pothos has tacked itself to something it ain’t coming off; it actually seems to become chemically part of the surface to which it is attached.

I can’t believe I’m devoting an entire post to this plant, but the more I watch it in my garden the more fascinating I find it to be. It’s next amazing feature after its efficient roots are its prolific leaves. They aren’t all that amazing as they grow in a potted plot in your grandma’s living room, but the leaves of the Pothos plants become truly extraordinary once it begins to grow upwards on a tree or up a wall, for once the plant starts to climb, each successive leaf grows larger than the one beneath it.

The Pothos growing up the wall behind the garden bench is now about 8 feet up, and incredibly, its top leaves are almost a foot wide. When I first noticed the size of the uppermost leaves on that plant I thought I was witnessing some kind of natural miracle. I had never seen any similar plant with such elephantine leaves. Why were they doing that? I had to find out why they were growing so large and how much larger could they possibly get? And so, I looked up this otherwise ordinary plant on the internet to learn that it is called Pothos and to find out its secrets.

Researching the plant I was amazed to learn that in the tropics it can grow upwards into trees to the height of 65 feet. Even more amazing is that the leaves on a mature climbing Pothos can actually grow three feet across! None of that would have seemed even remotely possible until I had the opportunity to see my own Pothos plants now in action. None have climbed that high nor have any of the leaves reached those yard wide proportions, but at least now I know of their exciting potential.

I also have several Pothos plants growing outside in hanging planters and their vines seem quite content to grow downwards with some vines as long as 20 feet so far. The interesting thing is that none of these potted Pothos vines seem to have the least inclination to grow upwards when they come in contact with a wall. It seems that only those plants that grow rooted in the ground will send their vines upwards into trees and up walls. I really do not understand why this would be. Nature can be so quirky at times, but those miraculous eccentricities are much of the attraction for me.

Another curiosity is that the Pothos leaves stay small and ordinary as the plant travels outward along the ground. It’s only after it grows upwards that its roots begin to activate by attaching themselves deeply into the vertical surface, growing deeply and quite snuggly into that material. The same is true of the leaves; it is not until the vines begin grow upward attaching to some kind of surface, that its leaves become robust and start to reach their full potential in size and thickness. To compare, I have another different type of tree climbing vine that sends out super long reddish tendril like roots all the way down to the ground; unlike the Pothos vines though its leaves do not increase in size as they grow upwards into the tree.

I’ve already trained several Pothos plants to start growing up the massive trunk of my outdoor mango tree using u shaped staple nails to hold them in place on the tree to get them started on their journey upward. So far they are doing wonderfully and seem to love their new home growing up the side of the tree.

Seeing how beautiful those tree growing Pothos have become, Divine and I were inspired to transplant a half dozen Pothos “babies” to the base of our “indoor” mango tree by using the end cutting technique. It’s been about a month so far and the six little vines are just now beginning to send out their first new leaves. I can’t wait to see if they will thrive as well as their outdoor tree climbing counterparts.

As far as I’m concerned, Pothos has become my new favorite plant. Pothos is king.