4.23.2010

I've Got Milk, the DVD, starring Sean Penn, written by Dustin Lance Black




A lot of people can't stand Sean Penn. He's anathema to them, both as a person (they claim he's got an arrogant sneer and can't act) and for his robust political outspokenness on controversial social issues he should just shut his trap about, since he's, after all, just an actor with nothing better to do.

The Penn-haters (I work with a few; I'm personally Penn-neutral, like Switzerland) won't even consider watching a movie if Sean Penn's name is associated with it in any way. They've missed some good movies: Dead Man Walking and The Assassination of Richard Nixon, to name a couple. And if the movie is already left-leaning politically, as it is in Milk, the haters might even get angry with me, when I assert (as is my God-given, American right!) what a wonderful (no joke, excellent movie) cinematic experience and acting performance it was.

And the haters will argue also that Sean Penn's nomination for best actor for Milk was just a shady backdoor political maneuver by the Academy to spotlight the gay rights movement (yesterday the Academy's pet social-gospel was global warming, today it's gay rights, right?), hot on the heels of the failed gay marriage initiative here in California. While I'll counter that the nomination, based solely on Penn's sensitive portrayal (Sean Penn, sensitive?) of the charismatic, Harvey Milk, was justified by his acting ability and by his acting ability alone.

I think it took a complicated cat like a Sean Penn, able to shed his standard, bristling machismo and attitude and anger and angst and woodenness he brings to so many of his roles to embody instead, the sensitive and empathic and nurturing (but strong) trimmings of an openly and flamboyantly gay man - a complicated cat in his own right - like Harvey Milk. That role took guts, love Penn, or hate Penn's guts.

How did Penn get that goofy grin of Milk's down just so? And that awful late-70s hairdo! Shouldn't the hair-stylist for Sean Penn been nominated for an Oscar too? And that's just to name but a few perfect personifications of Harvey Milk that Penn pulled off. I'm not sure I could adequately describe the subtler, more nuanced components of Penn's performance/impersonation, not having seen much of Harvey Milk in person on the tube.

I remember my Dad telling me about the "Twinkie Defense" way back when, him being upset about it, describing to me how a disturbed San Francisco city supervisor, Dan White, (played chillingly by Josh Brolin) essentially got away with murder, having, in cold blood, shot both Milk and San Francisco mayor, George Moscone, execution style, for the dubious rationale (what a genius creep of a defense attorney Dan White had) of having gone on a junk food binge the night before; ergo, an acute, temporary sugar high compelled Dan White to pull the trigger...over a half-dozen times. Ridiculous defense arguments, but sadly (and absurdly) true. Dan White served only five years in prison for what today would've been criminally classified a hate crime: murdering a homosexual because of their homosexuality. A year-and-a-half after his release, Dan White committed suicide.

I also remember seeing from that dark time what now's become the iconic television clip of a shaken Diane Feinstein, literally being held up by the police chief of San Francisco, as she made the horrible announcement that Milk and Moscone had just been shot and murdered (Feinstein was first on the scene to witness the murder's aftermath of gore), and her voice, once she made the announcement, became barely audible over the anguished outcry of disbelief among city government staffers and reporters, as she stated that the suspect was her colleague, Dan White. Left a deep impression on me, to say the least.

And so when the movie came out of course I had to go see it (and have since recently bought it) and it never fails to take me high and take me low. The highs are Milk's political risings through Castro Street. Namely, how in the mid-70s, he brilliantly wheeled-and-dealed with the Teamsters (the Teamsters union!), at the time an organization as rednecked as The Dukes of Hazard, to hire gay drivers for beer transport ops, in exchange for the gay bars in the area boycotting Coors Beer (the Teamsters at the time were on strike against Coors). And the grass roots activism Milk led worked! And that's just one of Milk's earliest successes on his journey into San Francisco politics.

Later, as the movie progressively depicts, Milk ran and won a seat on San Francisco's Board of Supervisors from Dist. 5, thus becoming the first openly gay, major political figure in California (this was January 1978), a position he held for eleven months until his senseless, bizarre death, later that year on November 27th.

Was Milk perfect? No. And Milk shoots straight with Harvey's early political losses and roadblocks and personal foibles and self-destructive tendencies, his self-doubt and control-freakishness, and ruined relationships along his way to power. But did one imperfect, passionate, individual, Harvey Milk, with a big heart for politically downtrodden and oppressed people of all orientations, change (and this is not a blurb or propaganda or hyperbole, but historical fact corroborated by the gay/civil rights legislative changes he implemented and which have remained in effect since his all-too-short tenure in office) politics in California, and by extension, the United States, forever? Indeed Harvey Milk did.

Whether you're gay or straight, bisexual, asexual, the movie's great.

4.17.2010

Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon by Michael P. Ghiglieri and Thomas M. Myers



Are you morbid, and also enjoy the outdoors?  Then you'll absolutely adore this book!

Over the Edge: Death In Grand Canyon reads like an outdoorsy-death-lover's delight! This book honors the names of more deceased than Forest Lawn. In fact, The Grand Canyon may as well be a Forest Lawn Cemetery, since almost one thousand folks have died there. And we're not just talking good old fashioned everyday death by falling, slipping, or tripping over the edge of The Grand Canyon, either. Oh no, there's plenty of other exciting (and more creative) means of dying documented in The Grand Canyon too. Because the great Grand Canyon's no one trick mule ride when it comes to death and dying.

Like, for instance, death-by-not-setting-your-parking brake. Remember Thelma and Louise; how at the end of the movie the two heroines linked hands and Thelma, I believe it was, floored the gas and launched their convertible into The Grand Canyon? Well, imagine Thelma and Louise, rather than flooring the gas, instead simply not setting the parking brake after parking their car at the very edge of the Grand Canyon; and imagine next that they've exited their convertible to enjoy the sublime Grand Canyon view, but lo and behold, they've forgotten - dipshits - about their kids in the back seat!

And now, finally imagine the parking brake fails, and Thelma and Louise, mere feet from the car, but too shocked to shout for help (as if there were time for help anyway), watch with a mixture of paralyzed horror and disbelief as their little children buckled snug in their carseats begin rolling fatefully forward toward the yawning edge of The Grand Canyon, closer, closer, until...finally...the front wheels leave the earth, and a moment later, Thelma and Louise see their children alive for the last time as the car enters the air of the unforgiving chasm and plummets, plummets...crash. Explosion. Burn. Quite compelling (if not grotesquely gratuitous) outdoor reading! How would you have liked to have been those parents, all jazzed and excited on your family vacation upon having finally arrived at The Canyon, and in a flash, bye bye babies, forever?

Or, like death-by-diving-into-an-18-inch-pool of water! From 180 feet up off of a sputtering waterfall! Ouch.

Of course, one should never glibly (and never gleefully) relay these tragic tales of untimely demise one reads about in a book that tallys every death (and near death) in detail, during The Grand Canyon's "civilized" history, since that would be distasteful, disrespectul, and certainly insensitive to the memories of the poor victims and their loved ones left behind.

But, good God, how fricking stupid do some of these nincompoops have to be to find their names, dates of birth and death, itemized in the pages of an unputdownable tasty entertaining treat titled Over the Edge: Death In Grand Canyon? Some of these people are so naive and ill-prepared for a walk down the block (let alone for a backpack into The Canyon) that I couldn't help almost rooting against them and hoping they would in fact meet their maker and not be rescued. And let me tell you how disappointed I was in reading the harrowing accounts of people who indeed survived their stupendous stupidity!

Look, helicopter sightseeing disasters caused by The Canyon's unpredicatble wind shears will occur, or whitewater rafting accidents in the Colorado River's world class rapids, or flash floods, airline collisions over the Canyon, murder (including one serial killer victim), lightning strikes, rattlesnake bites, spooked mules roped-together going one-by-one, like doomed dominoes, off the precipitous, narrow South Rim Bright Angel Trail over the edge (along with their terrified human riders) - I can live with that kind of arbitrary, absolutely-nothing-you-can-do-about-it, death. That's Death that Fate dictated, or Destiny decided, and left you out of its existential equations.

But dying from heat stroke or heat exhaustion - dehydration - because you thought three pints of water per person for a three day backpack in July, when temperatures in the Inner Canyon regularly soar over 110 degrees (and that's 110 degrees in the shade) would be enough water both to drink and to cook with? - is it wrong to suggest such foolhardy imbeciles had it coming to them?

Maybe next time some of these misinformed morons (assuming they've survived) will remember the importance of always securing their parking brakes before putting the Chrysler or Chevy Nova into park. Especially if they're foolish enough to park the car at the very precipice of The Canyon. And maybe too they'll check how deep the water is before dying (I mean diving). Hope so. Because The Grand Canyon's a national park, People, not a national morgue.

4.09.2010

Know What You Believe by Paul Little



If you're a Christian and, like most Christians, are confused and/or ignorant about what you believe; haven't a clue, really, as to what (or what you should) believe; believe, that is, as it pertains specifically to Sola Scriptura, then, never fear, Pilgrim, for Paul E. Little's Christian classic, Know What You Believe, is here! Here to help you and enlighten you one easy-to-read page at a time.

While reading Know What You Believe, you'll learn the Absolute Truth and nothing but the Absolute Truth (and how to tell the Absolute Truth from an Absolute Lie) as it pertains to Kingdom Come. This process of discerning Doctrinal Truth from Theological Error is known as Apologetics in Christian circles. "Apologetics," when used in conjunction with "Christian," doesn't mean that Christian's are apologizing for what they believe (may it never be!), but instead are providing sound, well-reasoned arguments and rationale for the beliefs they believe. "Always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that lies within you," from one of the Books of Timothy, is the Scriptural foundation from which the architecture of Apologetics, as espoused by Little, rises into this dark and depraved world like a lighthouse's high-powered beams of light searching the blackest night; as envisioned in a Thomas Kinkade painting, say, illuminating and conquering sin as the pure, pastel radiance of the gloriously ubiquitous painting overcomes the powers of perdition as surely as David slew Goliath, as surely as the Apostle Paul went blind, and as surely as Rahab hid the spies.

After reading Know What You Believe, the studious, observant, and sensitive Christian should be able to finally answer the following important (and essential) questions concerning their Faith, namely:

Q: Did Jesus die on the cross for your sins?

A: Of course He did, Stupid! And after reading this book by Paul E. Little, Know What You Believe, you need not doubt the historicity or veracity of the event; the event, in fact, overarching all of "His-story," corroborated by that blasphemous, unbelieving Jew, Josephus (who believed that the messiah hadn't come) ever again.

Q: Is Jesus the Son of God?

A: Is Obama (or Sarah Palin) the anti-Christ? Hmm?

Q: Did Jesus rise from the dead three days after He was crucified? - on Easter Sunday?

A: Duh! Do bunny rabbits multiply fast? Faster than, say, autistic savants? Heck yes they do, Dummie!

Q: Was the Virgin Mary a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus? That is, did Joseph, Mary's husband, not once, prior to Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, hot and bothered and all horndoggie as he must've been as a teen at his sexual peak, during the time preceding Mary's Immaculate Conception, insert what must've been his throbbing, pent-up, about ready to explode like Mount Vesuvius', Unit, into her Holy Who-Ha?

A: In lieu of possibly spoiling the answer, let me ask you something else, Christian: Do rivers flow downstream? Does the sun set in the West?

Q: Do the righteous (those who claim Jesus Christ as their Saviour) go to Heaven, while the unrighteous (those who deny Jesus Christ as their Saviour) go to Hell?

A: Do horses neigh? Do pigs oink? Does sulphur and brimstone stink to high heaven?

Lots of other quality questions get answered unequivocally too, in Paul E. Little's, Know What You Believe, like, "Why Haphazard Evil and Meaningless Human Suffering and Surreptitious Sickness and Disease and Death and all kinds of other Arbitrary Injustices the world over are all really good for you ...God's Honest, to Biblical Truth!"

After reading this book, the Christian will finally know what they believe (finally, thank Yahweh!) and no longer need to pretend that they know what they believe and, in pretending that they know what they believe, piss their profligate, Hellbound neighbors, friends, co-workers, family, acquaintances, and anonymous passersby on the bus or subway or in the elevator not at all interested in having the unsolicited and misrepresented Gospel shoved down their unrepentant throats again, off incessantly.

Buy Know What You Believe today! Read it and believe it, Brothers and Sisters, then go buy Paul E. Little's handy-dandy accompanying volume, Know Why You Believe, so you'll then know why you believe what you believe, because when you finally know the multitude of what you believe and all the multivaried reasons why you believe it, you'll be a better Believer for it, and perhaps able then to leap the Empire State Buidling in a single bound! Ha! Like a SuperBeliever!

And let me sell tell you something, People, if you're bitter...God can make you better! Amen? Preach it, Brother? All right, then, I will!

Knowledge is power, as they say. So go and buy Know What You Believe to-day, and then come tomorrow, you'll (check this out) Know Why You Believe it! Exciting stuff! Praise the Lord? Amen? Because if you don't be-lieve it, My Friend, you can't re-ceive it! Do you understand that this is God's plan? And if you can't re-ceive it? Well, you won't be-lieve it, will you? And without Faith (and Faith is synonymous with Be-lief) it is impossible (did I just say "impossible"? Did you just hear me say "impossible"? It's what I said, right? And I said it because it's the truth! And where the truth is there can be no Serpent's a-lying in wait, amen?). Without faith it is impossible to please God! Impossible! And if you're not pleasing God (have you not been pleasing God lately in all your thoughts, attitudes and actions?) then I don't really need to tell you all who it is you're pleasing, do I? What'chu want to be pleasing that deceiving Fiend that slithers like a snake across your soul, the Accuser of the Brethren, for, huh?

4.08.2010

The Blind Side Will Open Your Eyes

The Blind Side, without being too didactic (at least not beat-you-over-the-head-level-sermonizing) about it, is a cinematic manifesto expounding the Golden Rule. It inspires non-cynical viewers (and even cynics like me, willing to suspend their cynicism for one hour and forty-five minutes) for all the right - if only mildly trite - reasons. Universal reasons like Good overcoming Evil. Compassion conquering Redneck Racism. Sacrificial, beyond-the-call-of-duty, Hospitality, trumping pampered self-interest and indifference to a pulp, even as it undermines the movie's matriarch's (played Oscar-marvellously by Sandra Bullock) standing in high-falutin', Southern high society.

The Blind Side is about a wealthy, entrepreneurial, and loving family that opens it home, er, mansion, to an abandoned, neglected, near-mute young man, Michael. Michael's near-mute because of his sickening-to-consider, family losses: No Mom, no Dad, no nothing. Michael is big and athletic, with "protective instincts," which is about all he's got going for him. Turns out, along with his big heart, that's all he'll need. And a tutor. And a football coach willing to let (or maybe he didn't have a choice) Michael take some unsolicited, on-the-field and in-your-face "coaching" from his "Mom," Sandra Bullock.

Feel-good cliches gallore? But of course. Am I complaining? No. Because The Blind Side will open your eyes. It will.

Do the bad guys on the football field and their foul-mouthed denim-vest clad Dads in the high school stands get their collective, beer-gutted and bigoted asses smacked without the good guys having to throw a single punch? Hmmm. Could be. Wouldn't be a family friendly, heartwarming football flick without it, would it? Will you cry? You just might!

Remember Rudy? Remember the Titans?

Hell yes I do, and I think The Blind Side, a decade out, will be remembered fondly alongside them. And the story of Michael ("Big Mike") - homeless at seventeen and in the NFL at twenty-two - is a true story too, as well as a courageous young man's dream come true.

4.01.2010

The Magic Christian by Terry Southern



I adore this tiny book.  I adore it not because it's a great book (it isn't) but because it's impurely and simply a book comprised of pranks. Beautiful, elaborate, socially conscious, inspired pranks. Mostly lowbrow Borat or Bruno style prank vignettes a la Monty Python, but intelligently, artfully executed nonetheless. It's Punk'D meets a strange, stiff brew of Airplane! and Dr. Strangelove: or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Absurd, often politically incorrect, ridiculosities. And funny I should mention Dr. Strangelove, as a certain Terry Southern co-wrote the screenplay.

1st ed., from Royal Books
As I earlier alluded, Southern's style in The Magic Christian is nothing to write home about. Which was okay for me since its plot equals pranks and nothing but pranks, and my resulting laughter, since I'm a silly, arguably infantile sucker for pranks, overrode concerning myself too much with Southern's slack style. But I will say that if Pynchon were The Sun all pomo'ers revolve around, Southern, stylistically, would be inhabiting Pluto thereabouts (or mysterious Planet X maybe), assuming of course that David Foster Wallace inhabits Mercury; Don Delillo, Venus; Richard Powers, Mars; and so on and so forth.

I'd never heard of Terry Southern until I saw his name dropped in a book review I don't recall, mentioning him alongside the usual pomo suspects inevitably referenced whenever the next great postmodern alleged masterpiece nears its long anticipated, over-hyped release date, which typically and swiftly metastisizes into a pathetically sad day in the publishing world when all is said and done, a tragic day indeed, involving much unavoidable anti-climax. Not to name names, but The Brief & Wondrous Life of Oscar Who? To me, it meant nada, muchas gracias. In fact, I haven't personally experienced such an embarassing anti-climactic episode since my lovely, well intentioned wife, suggested I try weening myself off Cialis. But I digress. Oops.

So, I saw what was for me at the time the unknown name of Terry Southern listed in the same paragraph with Thomas Pynchon in whatever book review that was, and think, wow(!), holy Shiiite Muslim, how can I not seek out a copy of The Magic Christian? And I'm glad I did. However, since the experience of reading the book differs little from sitting in a movie theatre and watching mostly funny comedy previews one right after the other, I'd hate to reveal the pranks here one by one and thus potentially spoil the best scenes. So, go see it, er, read it. (Actually you could go see it I suppose, the film version starring one of cinema's master thespians, Ringo Starr).

Find The Magic Christian used somewhere cheap. Plop down your buck fifty like I did, drive home, or bicycle (think green!) open the first page, and laugh your lowbrow ass off.