PS... A Column
By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Some things are impossible to know, but it is impossible to know these things.
May 31, 1999
Remember Those Who Died
I have a day job, so I need to make it clear to anyone who comes here that the opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not represent those of my employer, my family, or your great-aunt Mathilda. Offer not valid in Wisconsin. You must enter to win.
Table of Contents:
Memorial Day’s Meanings
The Onion, a Midwest-based humor magazine with a funny website, has published a very funny book, Our Stupid Century. I’ll spare you the details, because humor doesn’t always travel well, but trust me, it is very funny. The conceit is that the Onion, which was actually formed in the 1980s, has been publishing since the 1700s in the United States. The book simultaneously makes fun of great events and newspaper writing and design styles of the 18th(briefly), 19th and 20th centuries.
One of the headlines on the VJ day issue (that's Victory over Japan, August 1945) was "Soldiers Return Home, Promise To Raise Whiniest Generation Ever." And they did. That's us, the boomers (I'm a late boomer, 1952, and my dad was too young for WWII, but you get the idea). We're not only the whiniest generation, ever, we're also the most ungrateful, although as they age I am sure our children will give us a run for our money, in both senses of the word.
My generation was, indeed, scarred and scared by the Vietnam experience, one way or the other: either we served and suffered the usual indignities of military service, or we avoided service (legally in my case) and protested the war.
But despite that, we owe a debt of gratitude to the men and women who fought in this country's wars, who earned with their blood the freedom we now so blithely enjoy. Of course, as our educational system has been dumbed down, fewer of our young people even know about this debt.
Holidays engender a fair amount of debate in this country. Are they just three-day weekends and excuses for sales events? Or should we all spend at least a little time considering the meaning of the holiday?
I try to put in some time and effort thinking about holidays. I mean, I don't have to work. I can and do use the time to relax and unwind. But I try to spend some time personally, by myself, and with my daughters, talking and thinking about the meaning of the occasion, whether it is Memorial Day, or the 4th of July, or Veterans' Day, or Thanksgiving, or Christmas.
You don't have to be maudlin and you don't have to overdo it. But whatever your age or the age of your children, you can spend a few minutes pondering--in the case of this holiday--the sacrifices that made your way of life possible.
You know, chances are they didn't want to go either.
Rethinking The Microsoft Case
I know some of you are going to think I am going soft on one of the most important issues of the day, but I've begun to have second thoughts about the Microsoft antitrust case and I want to share them with you.
I recently spent a day with Dr. Jerry Pournelle, Byte.com's senior contributing editor and quite possibly the dean of the computer press pundit corps. As you might expect, we discussed many of the issues of the day.
I knew from previous conversations he didn't think much of the government's antitrust case against Microsoft. I told him something I still believe to be true: that Microsoft sold products for below cost or gave them away in an effort to drive competitors out of business, and that such activities are prohibited to a monopolist in this country.
Jerry countered that it wasn't Microsoft aggression, but competitor's bone-headed moves that drove them out of business, and he cited the particular case of IBM and OS/2, with chapter and verse on some very silly moves by Big Blue that limited the acceptance of its operating system. Most spectacularly, it charged for the driver development kit at a time when Microsoft gave away the Microsoft driver development kit (DDK). The result: Microsoft Windows quickly gained an insurmountable lead over OS/2 in the number of hardware drivers available.
I was covering that exact industry segment at that time, first for InformationWEEK and then for what was Windows and OS/2 Magazine and became Windows Magazine. And I remember how critical the driver competition was, and how thoroughly Microsoft trounced IBM. Until Jerry told me his story about the DDK, I never understood why.
Then, I read a feature story about the government antitrust case against American Airlines. What struck me was the airline experts who were prepared to testify that it wasn't American's predatory pricing that destroyed its startup competitors, but their own inept management.
I got to thinking about my own 20 years covering the computer business, and the ratio between competent, intelligent management and fatuity that I have witnessed, up-close and personal, during those two decades.
And now I am starting to wonder if Jerry is right: maybe Microsoft's triumph really wasn't the result of its anti-competitive activities, but rather of it capitalizing on the mistakes of its competitors. Which makes the whole case seem rather less worthwhile. I'm not ready to throw in the towel yet, but I am taking another look at my assumptions. You may want to do the same.
This is one of those sites that you wish would happen to you, but always seems to happen to someone else. I don't have the exact details, but I've been using it since it was a labor of love for some college student, hosted on the college computer. It is now clearly a commercial site (and, I presume and hope, a successful one), which means that someone has made their dream, their avocation, their hobby, into an Internet destination for thousands if not millions.
I love this site. You used to have to pay big bucks to access a commercial database that had much LESS information about FEWER films. IMDB isn't perfect, but it is damn good, and is one of my favorite reference sites. If you like movies, it should be one of yours as well.
Clark Smith sent me this apt aphorism:
It has been posited that an infinite number of monkeys sitting at an infinite number of keyboards could produce all of the world's great books. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know that this is not true.
Paul Makes Top 5
OK, I came in 14th out of 14 and it was a three-way tie. I still made the list.
Selected from 96 submissions from 34 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Dave Henry, Slidell, LA -- 1 (8th #1)
Just the facts (courtesy of the Internet Movie Database).
Director: Robert Altman. Writer: Anne Rapp. Tagline: Welcome to Holly Springs... home of murder, mayhem and catfish enchiladas. Plot Outline: A murder-mystery tale in a small town in Mississipi invovlving two sisters. Glenn Close: Camille Orcutt: Julianne Moore: Cora Duvall: Liv Tyler: Emma Duvall: Chris O'Donnell: Jason Brown: Charles Dutton: Willis Richland: Patricia Neal: Jewel Mae "Cookie" Orcutt: Ned Beatty: Lester Boyle.
My friend Fran Strykowski warned me this film was a little slow. Wow! She was right about that. If you look up slow in an on-line dictionary, you'll find a clip of Cookie's Fortune. In the end, it was a satisfying little film of minor ambitions, competently achieved.
There was a time when we expected a lot from Robert Altman, whose best-known film is probably Nashville. But his last few films have been small and personal and episodic. They have plots, but the plot isn't really the point. There was his Los Angeles film, and his Paris fashion film, to cite two examples.
But what he had then and has now is the ability to draw from his actors PB (personal best performances). We see them in ways we never saw them before and are unlikely to see them again. I mean, where did Arte Johnson go after Nashville?
Patricia Neal, for example, in the title role as Cookie, gives this year's best old-lady performance to date. Watch her at least make a date with Oscar for best supporting actress. She might even take the little guy home.
You've seen Glenn Close do crazy before. You've seen Liv Tyler do sexy before. You've seen Chris O'Donnell do dumb before. You've seen Ned Beatty do everything. You've never seen them do it as well as they do here. And what an all-star cast! This film is almost worth watching just to see them acting together.
And as for Charles S. Dutton as Willis, the handyman, well, his performance will leave you simultaneously applauding his performance and gnashing your teeth over Hollywood's waste of black dramatic talent. Why hasn't this man been making two or three films a year since his Fox-TV series folded? Because with the exception of Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte, Hollywood has never been able to offer a black dramatic actor a sustained career. Our movies and our culture are the poorer for the abuse of Samuel L. Jackson (although he looks like he might be having a career after all), Forrest Whitaker, and all the other black actors who showed us some promise they were never given a chance to fulfill.
OK, end of sermon, back to the film for a quick finish. If you can stay awake and in the theater for the world's most agonizing exposition, you'll be rewarded with a fun and funny--albeit almost completely predictable--ending.
There are several implied sex scenes, but none on screen. No nudity--not even two people waking up in bed together. There is a suicide off-screen, with blood spattered on the walls and all over the sheets, but we never see the body.
Just the facts (courtesy of the Internet Movie Database).
Director: Roger Mitchell. Writer: Richard Curtis. Plot Outline: The life of a simple bookshop owner changes when the most famous star in the world walks in his shop and kisses him. Julia Roberts: Anna Scott: Hugh Grant: William Thacker: Tim McInnerny: Max. Rated PG-13 for sexual content and brief strong language. 123 minutes.
Too long for a romantic comedy!
Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant. Are there two movie actors in the world who bring more baggage to their parts than these two (with the possible exception of Woody Allen)? Notting Hill makes one of the most compelling cases I've ever seen for letting the work speak for itself.
Forget everything you've ever heard or read about these two and just sit back and enjoy their performance in one of the most nicely crafted romantic comedies of the year.
If Meg Ryan is the gold standard against which all romantic comedy actresses must be compared, (Establishing an enviable track record of quality in Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail and French Kiss), then I feel safe in calling Julia Roberts the new Meg Ryan, based solely on this film. She's pretty and innocent in a special way and has a nice touch with droll irony and light, self-deprecating humor.
Hugh Grant will probably never be the new Cary Grant. But now that he's apparently come to his senses after a brief foray into drama and returned to his metier, drawing-room comedy, we can look forward to a productive and entertaining career output--as long as he sticks to his knitting and doesn't try to "stretch."
I need to relate an anecdote here. This morning I was playing doubles with a men's tennis group and mentioned that I had seen Notting Hill. A fellow player, 73, a retired Chevron executive, told me he really loved Julia Roberts. Couldn't put his finger on it, but it was a special twinkle, and he'd go see anything with her in it.
I'd heard of this phenomenon but never witnessed it first hand before. I am not susceptible to it myself, but it was kind of breathtaking to run into it up close and personal. This is liable to carry Julia a long ways, through any number of bad choices (and good).
I should warn you (as I was warned by the San Francisco Chronicle) that there are several false climaxes in the film. I like their advice, so I'll repeat it here: if you don't like the ending the director picked, you can always pretend the film ended at one of the previous false climaxes.
The story goes like this: Hugh, divorced, has a comic relief roommate, Max ("think of the stupidest person you know. Now double it," he says by way of description at one point). Hugh runs a book shop. Julia stops in one day. A few minutes later, he spills an orange juice on her. She goes to his house. They kiss. He goes to her hotel and finds out how famous she is. They date. Her boyfriend shows up. They break up. She needs a place to hide, they get back together. They break up. And so it goes (can't give too much away).
The supporting characters are decidedly minor and supporting. They exist solely to move the plot along, which they do competently and professionally.
There is some coy talk of sex, but only one or two "f" words. There is one bedroom scene, but it's the next morning, and nothing is visible. During that scene, there is a discussion of breasts, but it is relatively innocent.
If you like romantic comedies, you'll love Notting Hill.
Just the facts (courtesy of the Internet Movie Database).
Director: Alexander Payne. Writers: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor III.Tagline: Reading, Writing, Revenge. Plot: An overachiever running for student body president is opposed by an unlikely candidate. Matthew Broderick:Jim McAllister:Reese Witherspoon:Tracy Flick:Chris Klein:Paul Metzler. Rated R for strong sexuality, sex-related dialogue and language, and a scene of drug use. 103 minutes.
Hey, at least it wasn't too long!
This movie reminds me why I find the MPAA rating system so annoying and useless sometimes. I went to see it with my two daughters. There were some scenes of simulated sex and one pot-smoking scene. But usually, strong sexual language means multiple uses of the f-word.
Now for some reason, I'm not really offended by "What the f is going on here," or "you really f'ed up this one," or even the way Eddie Murphy uses the f-word twice a sentence. But in this movie there's one scene where the unlikely candidate says "I was surprised when Lisa came home and gave me…" and another where he said, "So I went to her house every day and we…" I must be some odd kind of prude, but when it is used casually in the original sexual sense, I find it much more offensive then when it is used as an expletive. Frankly, I wouldn't take anyone to this film whom you don't consider an adult.
Well, at least it wasn't too long. And, by the way, expect big things from Chris Klein, who plays Paul Metzler in this film. He resembles Keanu Reeves, my daughters noted, both physically and in the ease with which he plays a slack-jawed slacker. They were sure they'd seen him in other films, but it must have been television, because he only other credits are the unreleased American Pie and Here On Earth.
Now, as for the film itself. With six minutes of gratuitous crudity cut, it would have been an exquisite PG-13 meditation on the nature of morals and ethics, as demonstrated by the irrational dislike of a dead-end mid-life crisis-afflicted civics teacher (Broderick/McAllister) for a totally amoral, driven over-achiever (Witherspoon/Flick). As it is, it is still makes all these important and thought-provoking points, but in an R-rated movie whose entertainment value is constantly being dragged down by unnecessary sex and sex talk.
McAllister's life has gone nowhere, he knows nothing will stop Flick from reaching the top, and it drives him insane. Plus, she has an affair with his best faculty friend that destroys the man's marriage and life. As a result of his efforts to destroy Flick, McAllister instead destroys his marriage and life. This is high school life writ large, in an accurate, devastating, amusing and entertaining piece of work that is flawed, but still worth seeing. I'm sure the airline version will be a better movie.
Star Wars Redux
Marlow was at Great America, Rae was spending the night with Tiffany and Vicki was in Los Angeles. CMP said we could halt work at 1pm for the long weekend. So in addition to seeing Cookie's Fortune and Notting Hill on Friday night, I went for my second shot of Phantom Menace.
I particularly enjoy seeing this kind of movie a second time because I know how hard the filmmakers work on the "background" stuff in crowd scenes. I had a great time looking at the little pieces of "business" I missed the first time. Also Jar-Jar Binks' annoying accent and vocabulary are much easier to decipher the second time through. Finally, as this is hay fever season, I flat out had trouble hearing the first time. Friday, I sat in the third row. I saw everything and heard everything. Clearly.
If you haven't been back for a second look, I suggest you take one. Of course, if you haven't been a first time, you are missing something: a solid piece of entertainment.
What's With Star Wars?
Joe Brancatelli wrote:
Is it just me? Am I the only one NOT to get Star Wars. I mean, I never even saw the original trilogy until last year, when they went on sale as a set for $20 in Sam's Club. I mean, they were okay movies, but... a industry? a religion?
No, just some above-average movies. Not great ones, just above average. Makes you stop and think about how much drechh there is out there....
And Joe concluded:
I just got in from Cleveland and had ZERO energy. Planned to zone out in front of the basketball game, but there was Independence Day on Fox. Now THAT was a fun movie. In fact, I LOVE Will Smith. The kid has a wonderful swagger.
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