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February 2011

Neal Vitale Reviews: Barney's Version

3 stars out of 5

Based on the Mordecai Richler novel of the same name, Barney's Version starts out with vibrancy and verve, telling the story of Barney Panofsky over several decades - as the title suggests, not everyone has exactly the same reading of Barney's life. The film (released briefly in Los Angeles and New York late last year for Oscar consideration, and reopening next week for a normal theatrical run) is a foil for a marvelous job of acting by Paul Giamatti (The Last Station, Cold Souls, HBO's "John Adams") as Barney, imbuing his character with a heady blend of cockiness, insecurity, calculation, bluntness, and lust. Dustin Hoffman (Little Fockers) and Minnie Driver (mostly television, of late) turn in fine performances as Barney's dad and first wife. But Barney's Version can't sustain the excitement of its early moments and collapses under its own weight in its second half, staggering to an awkward and enervated ending.

Neal Vitale Reviews: Another Year

1.5 stars out of 5

Arrgh! Another patience-testing close-up of real life, kind of a chatty Somewhere (which I excoriated here last week) translated into the British. Written and directed by the often-dour Mike Leigh (Secrets & Lies, Happy-Go-Lucky, Naked), Another Year follows a long-married couple through sundry interactions with friends and family members that do not share their skills at clear-eyed self-assessment. The acting is a bit better here than in Sofia Coppola's Somewhere (Lesley Manville [Milk, virtually all of Mike Leigh's films] is talked about as an Oscar possibility for her performance here as the scattered, delusional Mary) but my conclusion is still the same  - "ultimately, who cares?"



Belated Christmas Humor, Peterman on New Years, Dan Grobstein File

Jon Carroll cat column

Belated Christmas Humor:

1. Schizophrenia --- Do I Hear What I Hear?
2. Multiple Personality Disorder --- We Three Kings Disoriented Are
3. Dementia --- I Think I'm Home for Christmas
4. Narcissistic --- Hark the Herald Angels Sing About Me
. Manic --- Deck the Halls and Walls and House and Lawn and Streets and Stores and Office and Town and Cars and Buses and Trucks and Trees and..
6. Paranoid --- Santa Claus is Coming to Town to Get Me
7. Borderline Personality Disorder --- Thoughts of Roasting on an Open Fire
8. Personality Disorder --- You Better Watch Out, I'm Gonna Cry, I'm Gonna Pout, Maybe I'll Tell You Why
9. Attention Deficit Disorder --- Silent night, Holy oooh look at the Froggy - can I have a chocolate, why is France so far away?

Kent Peterman shares some quotes:

New Year's Resolution: To tolerate fools more gladly, provided this does not encourage them to take up more of my time. -James Agate

Never tell your resolution beforehand, or it's twice as onerous a duty. -John Seldon

New Year's Day: Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. In a week you can begin paving hell with them as usual. -Mark Twain

Dan Grobstein File

  • An anti-poverty program that works. What a neat idea. We have the earned income tax credit here but I think this idea is better because it has an idea of what it wants to achieve and can control the money and results where the EITC I'm sure gets spent, but doesn't have a goal to better the kids and the family life.
  • Column: America's other deficit quote:
    The two deficits are more alike than people realize. Larry Summers, the outgoing director of the National Economics Council, explains it well: "You run a deficit both when you borrow money and when you defer maintenance that needs to be done. Either way, you're imposing a cost on future generations." A dollar in delayed road repairs and a dollar in borrowed money are not, in other words, that different: Both mean someone is going to have to spend a dollar later. In 2011, America should stop passing that buck.
    Borrowing costs for the federal government are around 3.5% for 10 years. It's raining fresh soup & we're trucking the canned soup that we have stored in the warehouse to landfills because we don't want to pay for the storage.
    another quote:
    The government can no more cut its way to a strong economy than a person can starve himself to health.
    Now's a great time to spend. (I wouldn't be against having the rich and corporations pay some more taxes too).
  • Prison Higher Education Programs: An Unfunded Unmandate. You have to spend money to make money.Just like the Brazilian/Mexican anti-poverty thing I sent you the other day, if we could change the prison cycle we will eventually save a lot of money.The Republicans want to punish people for their entire lives. And meanwhile their donors make a lot of money and that money can't be used for programs that progressives want. Win Win for them. Lose Lose for us.
  • I Wasn’t Kidding Remember yesterday when I wrote that the media could not care less about informing the public and really don’t think the job of journalism is to deal with facts and the determining truth...

Our week in Kauai

Sunday: Out by 6:30 am Sunday for our 9 am flight from Oakland to Honolulu. Five hours over the Pacific in tiny seats, pitched closely together. A 90 minute layover in Honolulu's weirdly designed airport, then a short 40 minute hop to Lihue, the airport on Kauai. An hour's drive to the north shore (it's not that far away, but the roads are narrow and the speed limits low). When you consider that 6:30 in Orinda is 4:30 in Hawaii, we basically spent 12 hours en route to this amazing Upstairs Beach House on the beach in Hanalei. We walked on the beach and hit the hay early

Monday: Which turned out to be a good thing because starting at 5:30 am it was like being at the bottom of a swimming pool being filled while someone was taking flash photography of us and beating triple forte on a kettle drum. I got up at 6:30, a half hour before dawn so I could watch the lightning sitting up and with a clear field of view. I was rewarded with one great flash to the mountain to my left. It rained four inches in 24 hours.

We went to Princeville, where the girls went to Yoga and Vicki and I grocery shopped and walked. Imagine our surprise to discover that the road to Hanalei was closed, with no alternative routes. Flooded out by the swollen river and the high tide. So we had lunch at The Garden while we waited for the river to go down and the road to reopen, which it did.

Tuesday: No thunder and lightning, but apparently about an inch of rain overnight, and 20-30 mph winds that clattered every door and window, again starting at about 5:30 and noisy enough to wake us all. Some oatmeal, and then off to the beach where we walk for an hour. The difference between high tide and low tide here is about a foot, so there isn't much wet, hard sand to walk on. Also, the drop off at the tide line is so steep that you are basically walking at an angle, which is hard on the hips. I walk barefoot, which, because of my neuropathy, limits me to the sand. V and M run up the asphalt to the kayak rental place and decide we're going kayaking, which we do after lunch. First, however, a bit more grocery shopping--the store is completely out of fruit, and a stop at Banana Joe's, where I am treated to a Williams hybrid of the Cavendish banana--quite tasty! After lunch and a nap, we all four rent kayaks, V and M in one, R and I in one-person kayaks. It is much easier and less scary than I thought (we go up the river, not out into the ocean). My only problem is an inability to get out of the boat when we land, which causes me to be covered with river mud, to the amusement of my family. A quiet evening of stir fry and reading (I am getting a lot of reading done) and early to bed.

Wednesday: Last night was our first night with no rain. By the way, there's rain and then there's rain. Readers of this from Oregon, Washington or Massachusetts will be thinking of mainland rain: cold, dark and drizzly. And, of course, in the Northwest it goes on for ever and ever and ever. Here, it rains hard, then gets out of the way. And it's a warm rain. So that's... well, if not all right, at least different. During the partly cloudy morning, M and R took a two-hour surfing lesson while V and I walked on the beach. M injured her foot, and they both got scraped up. We had massages at Hanalei Bay Massage, a lovely establishment with top-notch masseuses. Then we went to the dinner-theater production of South Pacific. I have heard it said that the problem with dinner theater is that neither the dinner nor the theater are all that good. The dinner was an adequate buffet. As for the theater: this production has been running for 7 years, so there must be something to be said for it. They claim it is the world's longest-running production of the musical. I'd say it was about as good as a top-notch high school production, with extra-strong leads and pretty good chorus work. On the hour-long trip back to the North Shore, we ran into a phenomenon we have now seen twice. There is only one road (basically) on the island, and it is two lanes wide. Some people apparently really enjoy halving the speed limit, doing 25 in the 50 mph zone and 15 in the 30 mph zone. They don't pull over and they can't be safely passed. On a five or ten minute drive, such behavior makes no actual difference, but for an hour-long drive, they can add 20 minutes.

Thursday: One of the Kauai tourist magazines mentioned a plantation railroad. I am a railfan. Hence our first activity of the day, a 40-minute ride on the train that included 20 minutes of feeding the pigs. What was neatest was that the open car allowed me to view the wheels as they interacted with the track--the first time I had ever seen this relationship which had always been theoretical to me. How cool was that? The plantation also had a lovely restaurant based on local food--much of it, including the herbs, grown on the plantation--called 22 North. During yesterday's surfing, M injured her foot, so our next stop was the trauma center at the Wilcox Community hospital. Trauma centers are so cool--much, MUCH better than emergency rooms. Turns out her foot wasn't broken, and the mnemonic for treating it is RICE: Rest, ice, compression and elevation. Not just on a hassock--over your head!\

Friday: Vicki wanted to do the two-hour walk to Wailea Falls that seemed to be promised by one of the tourist magazines. Turned out the hike didn't exist, but it took us several hours to figure that out. Oops! There went the morning! Our other activity today was a Luaua at the Smith Family Plantation (an English Smith married a Hawaiian woman four generations ago). We started with the traditional conch shell blowing and Imu ceremony (where they unbury the pig in the fire pit). Marlow had done one before, and said the pork was amazing. It was. Turns out poi is supposed to be tasteless, like rice or mashed potatoes, so you mix your pork in it to eat it. We are going to go on a snorkeling cruise out of Port Allen, two hours from our rented house. So we rented two motel rooms for one night that were just 15 minutes from the dock.

Saturday: Blue Dolphin Charter runs a catamaran snorkeling tour. It turns out when they say 7 a.m. for an 8 a.m. departure, they mean 7 a.m, not 7:15 a.m. We barely had time to process our paperwork before we boarded. They warned us that the huge rainstorm Monday had put so much mud in the water that there had been no snorkeling on any previous day this week. We had a chance to back out. We didn't. Blue Dolphin may have been the only tour that had four openings, but I can't figure out why; Captain Jack, Jason and Kevin were a great crew. We had a wonderful time, and saw whales and dolphins pretty close up. The continental breakfast was cinnamon buns, which made it something of a bust. As we motored along the coast, I looked back at the light coming through a break in the clouds. It was as if mother nature were pouring milk into the ocean. We went past the snorkeling area--it was clear enough! We were going in. I thought I might not because my heart drugs make me sunburn quite easily. But in the end, I concluded that a life lived in fear is no life at all. After we got back, Vicki and I celebrated our 31st wedding anniversary by going body surfing in Hanalei Bay.

By the way, how many chickens does it take to cover a tropical island with crowing roosters from one end to the other? The answer is: however many were released by the category 5 hurricane that leveled much of Kauai in 1992. Eighteen years later, there are wild roosters and hens everywhere, but the hens are plain, brown and quiet, whereas the roosters are red-headed, handsome and have a serious problem with the concept of dawn--they crow all day.

Who are we?

I was watching a wild storm from my front porch in Kauai, and thinking about how much my mother loved ocean storms. That got me to thinking that a little construct of her lives inside of me (Vicki says they're called introjects). And a little bit of her mom was in mine, and Dolly Gillette lives on in all three of us. Plus, I'm a little bit my dad, and a little bit his dad. We're all mosaics, composed partly of pieces we've made ourselves, and larely of little pieces of all our ancestors. Our personality, our humanity, is composed of all these many parts.

Political Briefs

  • Fed Facilitates Burglaries By Banks
    "We had 200 years of a precise title recording system, where the county, the bank, and everyone involved knew exactly who owned the home, who lived in it, and what the payments were. That time has come and gone, broken by greedy bankers who wanted to securitize mortgages quickly and save money on recording fees. They caused this problem, but they’re not feeling the pain as a result. The suffering is borne by homeowners who are getting robbed, literally robbed by the banks.
    "When you read that the Federal Reserve is resisting rules on servicers, consider this story. They don’t want to stop the banks from breaking into your house."
  • Mr. Kissinger, Have You No Shame?
    Ignore the recent excuses. Henry Kissinger's entire career was a series of massacres and outrages.
  • Tax Cutters Set Up Tomorrow's Financial Crisis

Love and Other Drugs

3 stars out of 5

Too long (two hours) and too much sex. That's my bottom line on this romantic comedy. Don't get me wrong, Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway, who get 90% of the screen time, and swell and easy on the eyes. But I saw more of Anne's breasts and Jake's butt (male dorsal nudity, as the Pythons used to say). But I can't figure out how it took three people (Charles Randolph, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz) to write a movie based on Jamie Reidy's book "Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman." The Viagra stuff was great and interesting, but this wasn't a film about Jake's professional life, it was about Jake and Anne's personal life (he's a sex-mad drug salesman, she's a 26-year-old with early onset Parkinson's, and they're both afraid of commitments). And just when you think the movie might break free of the romcom cliches, it falls right into line. The only one it missed was withholding the kiss until the last scene--unless you think meaningless sex is somehow less than a kiss--which, come to think of it...

I Love You Philip Morris

3 stars out of 5
Tis the season for the obscure art film, and they don't get much  more obscure than this one. How, you ask, can Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor  be in a film that cost just $13 million and  is only on 35 screens making back $300,000 in the U.S.? I mean, this film is doing WAY more business in Europe than here. Is this Jerry Lewis all over again? Perhaps. "Based" on a "true" story, what we have is Carrey being directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who also wrote the screenplay based on Steven McVicker's non-fiction book about a gay Texas conman and his prison lover. I don't know what it is about writing Bad News Bears, Bad Santa and TV's The Angy Beavers that removed every last ounce of restraint from this pair, but they have written the most over-the-top gay characters to appear on the screen since Franklin X. Pangborn (look him up).  It's enjoyable enough and rarely embarrassing, and the stars have nothing to be ashamed of, but they would both have been better served by a better script and direction.

Queen of the Lot

3 stars out of 5
Well, of course, it is possible to get more obscure than I Love You Philip Morris. The way you do that is to be writer/director Henry Jaglom, and make a $500,00 film that is playing, literally, on 4 screens in the U.S. Talk about NOT coming to a theater near you! Tanna Frederick, Noah Wyle and Christopher Rydell star. Only Wyle, the second-billed actor, is someone you've heard of, although Frederick is adorable as the drink-addled actress and Rydell is pitch-perfect as the self-absorbed movie star. This is a backstage Hollywood movie, which is why I made a 45-minute special trip into SF to see it--that's a genre I can't resist. Why yes, I will be seeing Sofia Coppola's more mainstream Somewhere. It isn't what you would call plot-driven, and the improvisation in some of the scenes is so obvious as to be painful, but hey, if you want explosions, go see RED.