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June 2000
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The Kid

Audrey Wells obviously has an interesting off-kilter view of the world. Before writing this film (not to be mistaken for the Charlie Chaplin film of the same name), she wrote George of the Jungle, one of the better cartoon adaptations of recent years, as well as the quirky but lovable The Truth About Cats and Dogs.

Here she's written a sort of time-travel movie, sort of psychodrama, about a man who gets in touch with his inner child, literally. Bruce Willis is visited by his 8-year-old self, and since this is a Disney movie, they both teach each other some lessons. Mercifully, no effort is made to explain the science or metaphysics, and the whole issue of time-travel paradoxes is finessed by simply not ever mentioning it.

The concept is clever at base and cleverly implemented. The movie is light and entertaining and moves right along, at 104 minutes in length. It is rated PG, heaven knows why--because no one would come if it were rated G, I'm guessing. It isn't going to make anyone's list of the 100 best films of the 21st century, but if you like Bruce Willis in comedy mode, it's an amusing divertissement.

Me, Myself and Irene

The Farelly brothers direct Jim Carrey's return to knock-down, drag-out, gross-out humor. The tagline: " From gentle to mental." The plot outline: " A man with multiple personalities falls in love with a woman, only to find out that his other personalities have also. They end up fighting each other for her hand."

If you've seen the trailer, you've seen most of the really funny scenes in the movie. I mean, Jim Carrey is almost always entertaining and energetic when he's on screen, but he's at the mercy of the material here, and its just not very innovative, clever or funny. Look for another Oscar snub for Carrey, and ask yourself how long he can keep making $20 million a film if they're not all that funny. Of course, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas could change all that this holiday season; at least we know the basic material is solid and entertaining.

Rated R for sexual content, crude humor, strong language and some violence. No young teens or sensitive, mature, dignified adults.

Scary Movie

I wish I were a movie director like Keenen Ivory Wayans, so I could hire two of my siblings to write a movie and more of them to act in it.

By the way, Scary Movie, as it turns out, was the working title of Scream before it was released back in 1996.

Well, this movie isn't scary, but it is funny. It is rated R for sex and bad language, and it has lots of both, but it really should have been rated NC-17, because it is the grossest film I have ever seen. I mean way grosser than Something about Mary or Dumb and Dumber. Not arithmetically grosser; geometrically grosser. They say and do things in this film I never imagined I'd see in a motion picture in general release in the United States. I was flabbergasted, and those of you who know me know how hard I am to flabbergast.

There are great sendups of 90s teen-horror movie cliches throughout, and short scenes that mock Blair Witch Project and The Matrix.

But again, let me be clear about this: gross, gross, gross. OK? Gross.


My Plans For The Fourth

Most regular readers realize by now that I play tenor saxophone in the Contra Costa Wind Symphony. I also play annually in the Orinda pickup marching band, which marches in our town's Fourth of July parade. This year, it appears Marlow and Rae will both join me in the marching band, and then I will entertain both of them by playing on Moraga Commons in the afternoon. A lot of music on the glorious Fourth, which in Orinda, is either 90 degrees and still or 50 degrees and windy.

This column is being filed early because Vicki, the girls and I are headed out for a long weekend at Bodega Bay, north of San Francisco, one of our favorite spots. It is my intention not to take my computer. Vicki will stay through the Fourth, while the girls and I come home on the third for all that music.

In honor of the patriotic nature of the holiday, I decided to end any suspense you might be in and make my presidential endorsement. I am sure it won't come as much of a surprise. I present it in lieu of most of my regular features, which will return next week. Have a glorious Fourth! Try not to overdose on Stars and Stripes Forever (written by John Philip Sousa on the boat back from Europe during the Christmas holiday of 1898, and, since 1986, the official U.S. National March.

Al Gore For President

I have always believed that you vote your head, your heart or your pocketbook. Voting your head is easy; dispassionate analysis, logic, a careful checkbox view of the issues. Voting your heart is easier still, just go with your gut. And of course, no one but a fool fails to vote his pocketbook.

I am a fool.

I have always thought it most noble to vote with your head, most ignoble to vote your pocketbook. Every public position George W. Bush has taken on an economic issue favors my economic class and me. I am voting for Al Gore. Let me tell you why.


There is a simple formula by which you can predict position and passion George W. Bush will adopt towards any issue: both are directly proportional to the benefit that will accrue to the rich, however you wish to define them. This repulses me, intellectually.


The two exceptions are abortion and gun control, issues on which Bush reflexively adopts the position of his religion and party.

Now don't tell me abortion is a divisive issue. I know that. My best friend for a decade of grade school and high school was Tom Kervin. Our split began when he worked for McCarthy while I worked for Bobby Kennedy in the 1968 Oregon Primary (McCarthy won). But our loudest arguments were reserved for the issue of abortion, which was pretty amazing, considering that neither of us had any skin in the game (no pregnant girl friends, no sisters). He argued with passion that life started at conception. I believed then and I believe now that it begins with a live birth. I believed then and I believe now that the life of the mother takes precedence over the life of an unborn child. I believe there should be no unwanted children in this world, and I agree with Bill Clinton: abortion should be available, safe and rare. We must do what it takes as a society to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place. Issues of faith are always difficult to discuss in the commonweal, I find. If you believe abortion is murder, don't practice it. But don't make it illegal for my daughters to do so.

As for gun control, my position is simple and couldn't be more different than Bush's. Registration and licensing. We do it for cars, we can do it for guns. I'm sorry, I don't think registration is the first step towards confiscation by jackbooted thugs. This is as much a matter of faith as abortion.


It chills me to the bone to think of George W. Bush naming between three and five clones of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court. If ever Supreme Court justices made a habit of putting their thumbs on the scale of justice in favor of the well-off, the majority, the powerful, it is these two. In our poll-driven society, with elected judges at the state level, the federal courts in general and the Supreme Court in particular have been the last line of defense for the poor, the helpless, the minority viewpoint on any issue. They have been the reason we aren't Canada or Europe or Japan, consensus-bound and unalterably majoritarian. Scalia, Thomas and their ilk, itching to be elevated to the high court in a Bush administration, will give us an antediluvian court, the likes of which we haven't seen since Taft and Hughes were on the bench.


I grew up in a household, in a time, in which the Republican party was anathema, in which to vote GOP was not just wrong-headed, but bordering on the sinful. True, we heard stories of East Coast Establishment liberals out in Oregon; in 1964, we even got a close look at Nelson Rockefeller, as he made his last, belated run for the presidency. We even had some liberal Republicans in Oregon: Mark Hatfield, Robert Packwood (the destroyer of Wayne Morse, the lion of the Senate, the best thing ever to come out of Oregon) and the sainted Tom McCall. But, as a colonial state in the shadow of California, we got a good look at the dark underbelly of the GOP, the John Birch/John Wayne/Ronald Reagan/Orange Country strain of Republicanism, and it didn't look too good. And of course, we got a royal dose of Richard Nixon and Barry Goldwater, and they really didn't look good--to my family. Nixon carried Oregon all three times he ran for president, and it made me despair for my state. In third grade, the day after the election, my mother (secretary of the young Democrats at Portland State University) sent me to school singing, "Whistle while you work, Nixon is a jerk, and all his henchmen, all his doormen, all are out of work." It cemented my already burgeoning reputation as a misfit. Which just made it easier to concentrate on my schoolwork.


Strip away the frou-frou, and we have a Labor Party in the United States. It is called the Democratic Party. The Republicans have been the party of capital in this country since the 1880s that I know of. For that reason alone, I support the Democratic Party.

You know, every time I say Democratic Party, I think of the congressional Republican effort to rename it the Democrat Party. They made Liberal a dirty word, and now they think they can make my political party seem less important, less inclusive, if they can change its name. The Congressional GOP as a group have more faith in the power of language than any average group of Marxist English professors at a liberal arts college. And they may well be right; look at the mileage they are getting out of renaming the estate tax the death tax. Well, it's the Democratic Party. Always has been. Always will be.

I support the Democratic party, even though it is against my economic and class interest, because I have studied the history of American labor, and it is crystal clear to me as I think it would be to any fair observer that Capital holds all the cards. Unless government puts its thumb on the scale, or tilts the playing field, or suits up and plays on the Labor team, the working class hasn't got a chance.

I know whereof I speak. My mother taught English, my father was a milkman. Both are retired now. I am the first male on either side of my family to graduate from college, and I have devoted my life to the avoidance of physical labor. Don't talk to me of the dignity of labor. I have seen it close up. I have punched a time clock, and watched my father punch a time clock, and I'll never do it again. For centuries, the men of the Schindler and Van Ronk and Marshall families lived the life of the body, not the mind. Short lives, filled with monotony and pain, and precious little beauty and joy.

Why was I able to rise above my station in life, to leave the working class? The Teamsters Union. Plain and simple. Thanks to organized labor, my father, a hard-working high-school graduate, could own a home and two cars, support a wife and two sons. He was able to live a middle-class lifestyle, sending his boys to high-class public schools, raising their aspirations to the point where one of them could go off to MIT and become a professional journalist. I contributed a burning desire to get out of the working class, unstinting devotion to schoolwork, and native intelligence. My parents both contributed love and support. My timing--being born a boomer--was excellent. But organized labor allowed my father and his fellow workers to extract a living wage from capital. For this alone, I am a Democrat, and will be until and unless my party abandons labor.


There is a difference between George W. Bush and Al Gore. They do differ on the important issues of our time. It does matter whether a Democrat or a Republican controls the White House. America's political parties have a fundamentally different view of the polity. I prefer the one that favors the powerless, which will lessen, rather than widen, the ever-growing gap between rich and poor. I like Ralph Nader, I have heard him speak, I think he and the Green Party have done much good in this country, and when/if we ever get proportional voting, I'll cast a ballot for the Greens. But in the meantime, count me in for Al Gore, and you too if you think about it. Gore is an imperfect messenger with a muddled message. That's the way it goes in American politics. I'll take our system over Canada, Japan, Britain, Italy or Israel any day.

The Signers Of The Declaration

Well, well well. The Internet strikes again. There is a lovely, stirring, patriotic essay that makes it around the net every year at this time.

Have you ever wondered what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence? Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army; another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War. They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

Its sentiments are valid, the and the values it reflects are worthwhile and deserving of contemplation by all of us. Alas, despite its very specific detail, it is apparently inaccurate in some of its essentials, according to E. Brooke Harlowe, Asst. Prof. and Coordinator, Intl Studies major/minor, Dept. of Political Science, Susquehanna University.

What the Internet needs is a fact-checking department, one in which people sign their names to their work.

Ray and Yoli Pardo on the AFI 100 List

A pair of Boston friends, Ray and Yoli Pardo, wrote in about my comments on the American Film Institute list of the 100 funniest movies of all times:

On the list of "100 Funniest" we agree they missed the mark. However, my kids think you are a foggy for not understanding that Clerks was clearly the funniest movie of their century. I was miffed because they included a few too many Marx brothers and Woody Allen movies and left out (e.g.) "The Russians Are Coming, (ditto)", "Foul Play", "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum", etc., etc. I finally agreed to forget their ordering of the 100, and just curse them for the ones they included or didn't include. With my taste, they had entirely too many Dustin Hoffman movies (two) and too few Robin Williams or John Belushi movies. And where was Richard Pryor (e.g., Stir Crazy).