Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Cheap Critic: The Fallen Ones


The Fallen Ones is a made-for-TV film (SyFy Channel) that offers an extremely enjoyable, immersive viewing experience... to me and a few of my fiends -- but possibly not to anybody else. My DVR caught it almost a year ago. I watched the first bit of it then told the machine to save it so I could finish it later. I was not particularly excited by the first few minutes and it took me a while to get back to it.


There are two ways a film can offer an immersive experience -- can take you out of yourself for a while. The first way is for the film to provide a transparent window on the story. That way, one moment you are sitting in the theater watching the opening credits, and the next you are in the tomb with Indiana Jones, batting at spider webs while you wade through piles of snakes and dodge blowgun darts that seem to come out of everywhere and nowhere. Making that kind of movie requires a high degree of craft for the writer, director and actors.

The Fallen Ones doesn't offer that kind of immersive experience. It offers another kind. One moment you are sitting on the couch watching the tube and the next you are there on the set with the actors, wondering if this will all look as cheesy in the rushes as it does during the shooting; you finish your bit and wait for the director to yell "CUT", hoping that the caterer's trailer still has any more of yesterday's ham sandwiches which were really good, especially the pickles.

The Fallen Ones is totally opaque. While you are watching it you can think about the script, the wooden dialog, how much fun it must be for young actors to work with well known, semi-retired celebrities, and whether the arid location where the film was made is that lot just outside of L.A. (the one where half the westerns of the forties were shot -- and most of the B-movie science fiction films of the fifties). You are free to daydream about all these things without being particularly distracted by the story line.

By any objective standard the film is dreadful... but many god-awful films tend to be uneven and The Fallen Ones has its odd glimpses of failed potential. For one thing, it has a decent concept (from which an appallingly bad script was written) and a few brief sequences that are really, really good. One sequence in particular sticks in my mind. I won't trouble you with too much of the plot but it deals with a 40-foot tall mummy that is found in the desert southwest. We spend most of the movie waiting for it to come to life and then comes a sequence where we think we have finally seen it. We see something in the distance, lumbering through the darkness, but when we get closer it is... something else. That sequence is wonderfully macabre and, although it lasts less than a minute, quite wonderful. It was worth watching the whole mess just to have seen it.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

GOP Has No Clue on Healthcare

gopbulbIf you listen to the congressional debates on health care you will hear the members of the GOP criticizing the plans put forth by the Democrats while offering very few ideas of their own. The Republicans have no idea at all how the country's health care industry should be run, and they know it. That's why they are my guys. All they know, really, is that they haven't a clue. But that's one more thing than the Democrats know, and, actually, may be all they need to know.

Let me explain:

The problem of determining the best, the most efficient, the least expensive and the most humane way to deliver health care to the public is hard -- really, really hard -- and there is nobody in Congress who can do it. That's because the members of Congress are all human and the problem is simply too hard for mere human reason to make much of a dint in it. I suppose, as a theological notion, that God ought to be able to figure it out, but the problem is so difficult that those of weak faith may find it difficult to believe in a being who can solve so knotty a problem -- I mean, divine omniscience is fine as a theory, but surely there are limits...

But until that voice from the sky pipes up and straightens us out we are more or less on our own to figure out what to do. God help us. You should have figured out by now, since I a merely a man, and since I make no claim to have a pipeline to divine wisdom, that I have not the slightest notion what to do about health care -- or more accurately, I do have my opinions (don't we all) but I have no convincing arguments that my opinions are right. I have no plan for health care. But I do have a meta-plan -- a plan about coming up with a plan -- and based on the insight provided by my meta plan I am quite confident that the current administration has it exactly, 180 degrees bass-ackward, wrong.

So here is my meta-plan for health care:

Step one is to give up on the idea that we can figure it out. There isn't going to be any clear, universal, over-arching theory that solves all of our problems. It's not going to happen. We need to get over it. A corollary to this is the realization that all the five-year plans currently being touted for health care are wrong in some important particulars, and many of them are wrong in all particulars. This isn't because the people who formulated the plan are lazy, or stupid, or ignorant, or evil. They have merely taken on a task too difficult for them to accomplish, and their only real fault is a certain lack of intellectual modesty.

Step two is to get more people working on the problem. I'm not talking about a hand full of Czars and blue-ribbon panels here, or even a few thousand politicians or tens of thousands of bureaucrats, what I had in mind was more like, well, everybody. I think we should all run off, willy-nilly in all directions, and look for the best way to manage health care in our own personal lives based on our own individual silly-assed notions of how to go about it.

I admit that result won't be pretty. Since we all have opinions about how the problem should be handled, and since all of our opinions are different, we will find ourselves looking out over a chaotic sea of people doing things that strike us as wrong. And most of them will be wrong (remember that the problem is hard) but some will be less wrong than others and people will notice. After a while clusters will start to form. It is perfectly fair to crib off your next-door neighbor's health care plan. If his plan seems to be working out better than the mess you've made of things then maybe you make your plan look more like his. Maybe you and he and some of your other neighbors team up and pool your resources. Eventually, small pockets of spontaneous order will emerge, but mostly, things will still look pretty much a mess.

While this part of the meta-plan will be characterized as "every man for himself" that's not altogether fair. It's more like every man for himself... and for his family and friends... and for his neighbors, his business associates, and for the people in his care... and when need be for strangers in need who appeal to him directly. But the locus of control would remain with the individual and I would expect him or her to be kind and fair to others.

Finally, step three is the step my more progressive readers have been waiting for -- the step where we harvest the empirical evidence gained by our higgly-piggly experimentation and finally condense it down to a coherent plan. Well, I have some bad news. There is no step three. Step two is all there is. The unfortunate truth is that the messy hodgepodge envisioned in step two is probably the best of all possible worlds -- not perfection, because that is seldom possible -- but the best we are going to ever see.

All the plans for "Universal" health care lose me on the word "Universal." The mess we find ourselves in now stems, in large part, from a near-universal plan for health care that our grandfathers thought up fifty years ago. They devised a targeted plan for big-company wage slaves who worked the same job for forty years, and then retired and were promptly buried with their new gold watch. Using a combination of mandates and tax-incentives they managed to herd a majority of the public into employer-provided health care plans, most of which worked reasonably well until the world changed. Then, with people living longer past retirement, and with people changing jobs more often, what used to be a "one size fits all" plan started to bulge at the seams. But the incentives and mandates associated with the old plan prevented the growth of alternative setups that might have been better suited for the new realities. And here we are.

It perturbs me that people look at our current problem that stems from having too many of our eggs in the same basket and they decide to blame the basket. Most of the plans being pushed call for the creation of a spiffy, modern new basket, and this time making sure we put all of our eggs in it. As if the only problem with the current setup is that, last time, we missed a few eggs.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cheap Critic: Angels and Demons


My wife occasionally watches how-to crafts shows on television. One of the episodes I remember sitting through (keeping her company, mostly) was a lady who took photographs (either personal snapshots or items cut out of magazines) and cut them into strips which she wove together and glued down to make a new composite image that was hoped to be more interesting than the photos she cut up.

angels and demons

Ron Howard's sequel to The DaVinci Code is a cinematic version of the same basic technique. In this film, director Opie took several tired, formulaic plots, cut them up into pieces and wove them together to form a rather-more-interesting composite. I can't think of a scene in the film that isn't a hoary old cliche, but the film, taken as a whole, is much more interesting than the sum of its parts.

It's well worth seeing, especially if you can find it in a reduced-price, second-run theater. (I paid $1.50 at our local second-run multiplex.) And if you don't have a local second-run theater it will be more-or-less OK on a decent television if you rent the DVD; it's not particularly and eye-candy extravaganza.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Spawn of Das Ubermaus!


In a previous installment we demonstrated the superiority of my homemade mouse trap because it captures clearly superior mice. Well, I caught another one last night.

As I was getting ready to head off to my secret location for releasing mice -- in a city park as far from other houses as feasible -- an idea hit me. What good is it to catch such high-quality mice in my garage if I can't find a way to use them to my advantage. That's when it occurred to me.


I had found this device in the Teleodaughter's room after she moved out. When you press the button on top a red ray shoots out the nose. I had immediately recognized it as a mind-control ray projector for mice. Perhaps I could use it on my ubermaus.


I applied the ray to the subject while thinking my instructions slowly and clearly. The mouse was to creep into homes people in the area and impersonate a Microsoft mouse. It should use the mouse-driver software installed on all modern computers to take control of the machine. It should then open the browser to this posting and wait for further instruction in the comments section.


So, my mind-controlled agent was ready for insertion which was performed at oh nine thirty this morning. All that remains now is to wait for him to report in from the field.

Are you there, Perry Rhodent?

Friday, August 07, 2009

9 0 9 0 6

One of my old, bald tires was also flat yesterday when I was leaving for work so I switched cars with the wife who made her shorter commute with the temporary, undersized comedy-tire spare while I drove her car to work. When I got home I swapped back, headed for the tire shop, got very slightly lost, and arrived just after they had closed at 6:00 pm.

Sitting in my car with the key-drop envelope I copied the odometer reading onto the blank -- 90906 miles -- and glanced at the sticker telling when I was due for my next oil change -- 90906 miles. What are the odds?* When Earl (the manager of Bull Tires) called this morning to say the car was ready I told him to change the oil, too. It seems I am supposed to change my oil. I can take a hint.

*about one in four thousand, more or less.