Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Personal Life Of A Chief Executive

“I’ve known Bob Rumson for years. And I’ve been operating under the assumption that the reason Bob devotes so much time and energy to shouting at the rain was that he simply didn’t get it. Well, I was wrong. Bob’s problem isn’t that he doesn’t get it. Bob’s problem is that he can’t sell it. We have serious problems, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only- making you afraid of it, and telling you who’s to blame for it.” ~ Andrew Shepherd

“Mr. President, I’m sure there’s an appropriate thing to say at this moment. Probably some formal apology for the nice ass remark would be in order. I just don’t quite know how to word it.” ~ Sydney Ellen Wade

“With all due respect, sir, the American people have a funny way of deciding on their own what is and what is not their business.” ~ A.J. MacInnerney

“Bob Rumson is the only one doing the talking. People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.” ~ Lewis Rothschild

The American President is a 1995 romantic comedy from director Rob Reiner and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. It tells the story of a widowed President trying to get a crime control act passed and manage the political minefield that is Washington, while getting involved with a lobbyist. The film has an outstanding cast, and an idealistic tone throughout. Its protagonists are sympathetic, while its antagonists, led by a senator who reminds me of Dick Cheney, are suitably Machiavellian. This is the sort of film that Frank Capra would have gotten into.

The film opens with President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) and his White House advisors preparing for re-election. His chief of staff and best friend A.J. MacInnerney (Martin Sheen) hopes that a crime control bill can be enough to ensure re-election. The president, a widower since the death of his wife three years earlier, is raising his daughter Lucy alone, and has a bit of a predicament: a state dinner is coming up, and his cousin, who was going to attend with him, has fallen ill.

Shepherd happens to meet Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening) at a White House meeting. She’s a lobbyist for the environment, very outspoken, and the two find themselves intrigued by the other. He invites her to join him for the state dinner- and from there, sparks begin to fly of both a romantic and political nature as the unlikely relationship ends up becoming fodder for Republicans looking to unseat the President in the coming election.

The film’s origins started with another actor: Robert Redford mused on the notion of a presidential romantic comedy of sorts, and Sorkin was brought in to write the screenplay. While Redford withdrew from the project, Sorkin was perfect to write the story. He first came to prominence with the play that was adapted to movie status, A Few Good Men, and after this film he developed the television series The West Wing. Sorkin’s writing throughout shows a strong idealism in a profession- politics- that should be cynical. The cynicism tends to be confined to Republican politicians, so we see where his political beliefs lie. Sorkin’s writing in general is smart and highly character driven, and we see that here, from the leading characters to the supporting characters. The idealism of Sorkin’s script shows itself most strongly in the President’s speech late in the film- his authoritative message is something that could easily be applied to certain wannabe politicians these days.

Rob Reiner was a good choice as director. He had already done a mixture of film genres as a director before this one, including one of my personal favourites, The Princess Bride, and the aforementioned A Few Good Men. While he has a gift for comedy, he certainly knows his way around drama, and that shows itself here, as well as the way he brings out the best in actors. Reiner keeps the film paced smoothly-  there’s never a sense of the film slowing down. He brought together the right crew for the project- their work really pays off in the look of the set, for instance; the White House set built for the production looks like the real place, with a lot of attention to detail. The sense of idealism in the story is reflected as well by Marc Shaiman’s music score; the composer got an Oscar nomination for the music, fused with optimism and romantic themes.

The cast were brilliantly chosen- some of them went on to have roles in The West Wing, as one might have expected. Richard Dreyfuss is the only real antagonist of the story, playing the ambitious Republican senator Bob Rumson. His performance is that of a devious opportunist, seeking his own play at power, pulling strings and orchestrating those around him. Rumson is a weasel of a character, and ends up reminding me of a less evil Dick Cheney, utterly without principle or conscience. It’s easy to dislike the character- and one wonders if Dreyfuss was enjoying himself playing someone so totally unlike him.

Nina Siemaszko has a turn in the film as Sydney's sister Beth, supportive in her way, and the way she and Bening work together on screen conveys that sisterhood strongly. David Paymer is one of those character actors who has a wealth of roles to his credit, and an everyman, hangdog sort of look, which works well for him. He plays Leon Kodak, the Deputy Chief of Staff, giving the character a deadpan but smart sensibility. Samantha Mathis plays Jane Basdin, a personal aide to the President, coming across as organized and calm under pressure. Anna Deveare Smith, another character actor who you’ve seen in many roles, plays the press secretary Robin McCall with a slightly sarcastic feel. I particularly like her interaction with Michael J. Fox’s character.

Speaking of whom, Fox plays the senior advisor Lewis Rothschild with conviction. The character is principled and smart, and comes across as perpetually worried. He doesn’t back down from speaking his mind and argues for his position- in some ways the character is the most idealistic of the story, and Fox plays to that throughout the film.  Even if he doesn’t remotely look like the name Lewis Rothschild suits him.

Martin Sheen is ideally cast as the Chief of Staff. The actor would later play President Bartlett on The West Wing, and his take as A.J. seems to be a prelude to that role. A.J. is calm under pressure, wise and authoritative. I like that the character’s ever mindful of protocol- his best friend’s the president and yet he calls him Mr. President. Yet the way Sheen interacts with Douglas throughout comes across as a believable, decades long friendship.

Annette Bening made for a good choice as Sydney. The character’s outspoken (perhaps too much), intelligent, principled, and dedicated to her work. As capable she is in doing what she does for a living, she’s not above getting flabbergasted or flustered in a socially awkward moment. The actress, whose career work has tended to lean more towards drama, turns out to have a good comedic touch, and Bening has good chemistry with Douglas throughout the film.

Michael Douglas brings the sense of authority and gravity one would expect in a fictional President throughout the film. Andrew Shepherd is a man balancing principle and pragmatism- running a country means trying to work with people you don’t particularly get along with, and making difficult decisions, and Douglas brings that across in his performance. He also gives the character a dry sense of humour as well as poignancy, and the character proves to be likable as we get to know him.

Rob Reiner had a big hit with The American President. Well received by audiences and critics alike, the film certainly wears its idealism and political stance on its sleeve. It boasts a terrific cast, is funny and smart, and offers a refreshing alternative to the general nonsense that is the current election campaign.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Egomaniac Comes To Riverdale

Self Absorbed Director Announces New Comic Books Film Adaptation; Fans Outraged

Los Angeles (AP) Reporters were summoned this week to the offices of Digital Domain, home to director Michael Bay, who has unleashed the Transformers franchise on the world, as well as Pearl Harbor and Armageddon. The director, prone to filling his films with explosions, loud noise, more explosions, babes waxing cars, and even more explosions, has been announcing many new projects over the last couple of years, leaving one wondering when the whole lot will ever be done.

Real reporters were among the crowd, doomed to be here for one reason or another, often because of their vindictive editors, wretched fiends who have no... (editor: hey! Don’t you even get started, you hear me? I have every reason to despise you!) Entertainment reporters were mixed in as well, outnumbering the real reporters. Entertainment reporters were gushing with anticipation, wondering what their hero might have to say. The real reporters were rolling their eyes in anticipation of whatever the blowhard egomaniac might have to say.

All of us were gathered in the usual auditorium on the premises, with the buzz of the dementedly stupid entertainment reporters filling the space. The stage had its usual podium in place, with a full length mirror in place beside it. A spokeswoman finally came out, announcing the arrival of her boss. And out he came. Michael Bay was smiling in his deliriously gleeful way, rather like a deer in the headlights. He was dressed in his usual style- blue jeans, denim shirt, and casual blazer. And as always, his hair was dishevelled and he had three or four days of stubble on his face.

Bay strode out onto the stage, waving. The entertainment reporters applauded wildly. The real reporters collectively rolled their eyes and sighed with dismay. The director grinned and laughed, pointed at some of the crowd, and walked up to the podium. He took in a good look at his reflection in the mirror, smiled again, and then faced the crowd.

“Hello!” Bay called out in that overly cheerful totally in love with himself way. “How wonderful of you all to come. But of course you’d want to come, wouldn’t you? Because everyone wants to know what great project I have in mind for my next film, right? Of course right. Because I’m the greatest film director ever.” He laughed again, oblivious to those real reporters who were repeatedly rolling their eyes. Just how stupid was he? That was a question that couldn’t be answered- but needless to say, Bay is really dumb (editor: hey! Stop insulting Michael Bay! I love his films!)

This reporter, doomed by a cranky editor to pointless assignments like this, simply because his cranky editor was born cranky and it just got worse from there (editor: hey! Shut up or I’ll send you to somewhere with a raging Ebola outbreak!) This reporter, stuck here regardless, settled in for the long haul of putting up with the self absorbed ramblings of a halfwit hack of a director (editor: what did I just tell you?).

Bay smiled and got to the point. “You know, I’ve done a lot of great, great work over the years. Big films, epic stories, lots of explosions, babes, Aerosmith theme songs, and more explosions. For some reason the Oscars haven’t given me my due yet, but that’s just a matter of time. You know, when I look at my film history, there’s something I really haven’t done. Not really- I mean, sure, the Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have had comics done, but basically those started out as toys. I haven’t really done a comic book adaptation into film.”

He shrugged. “And comic book adaptations have become really big business as of late. And I’m really well suited for that sort of film. Now I had been going around to Marvel to see if they’d let me direct one of their big franchise films. They told me to go to hell. Seems they didn’t like the idea of me recasting Captain America with Shia LaBeouf for some reason. I don’t know why, I mean, can’t you see Shia wielding that shield and yelling Revengers Assemble?”

“Are you aware it’s the Avengers, not the Revengers?” one reporter asked.

Bay looked confused. “There’s a difference? That doesn’t matter. Marvel wouldn’t do business with me. It’s annoying, but hey, they don’t recognize a sure thing when they see it, that’s their problem, not mine. Anyway, so I went to DC. It seems they don’t want anything to do with me either. Hell, if they’re too short sighted to recognize true genius when they see it, that’s their loss. Anyway, I considered talking to Image about adapting one of their works, but seriously, who cares less about Spawn? Except Todd McFarlane, and if you ask me, that guy has an ego problem. Totally narcissistic, totally in love with himself, totally oblivious to reality.”

This reporter spoke up. “Has it occurred to you that might apply to you?”

Bay seemed puzzled. “What? I’m humble and modest. Isn’t it obvious?” He looked at himself in the mirror again, nodded to himself, and smiled. Then he continued. “And then I realized what comics world I wanted to adapt in a movie. An epic movie with babes waxing cars and explosions and Aerosmith doing a theme song and some more explosions and did I mention the explosions? A beloved character whose hijinks have amused countless readers for decades. I decided I wanted to direct an adaptation of Archie.

Real reporters groaned and rolled their eyes. Entertainment reporters broke out in applause. The comic book tales of Archie Andrews and his teenage friends have been around for years, presenting a group of vacant headed nitwits in an idyllic unchanging town, where these characters are always teenagers. It is a world of a ginger haired moron caught between two girls, a world of an overeating anorexic with a weird hat and a weird name, a world of a dimwitted football jock who got hit in the head too many times with a ball and bears the name of an animal... (editor: Hey! Stop making fun of Archie Comics! I love reading those!)

“Archie Comics? Seriously?” another reporter asked.

“Of course I’m serious,” Bay insisted. “Now, we’d have to put them all up in age a few years, because my cast really don’t seem to fit the teenager model anymore. So we’ve got young adults instead of teenagers, but in one way or another, they’re all still loyal to living in Riverdale. That idyllic town will, over the course of the movie, become ground zero for the fate of a country, with a megalomaniac original character- he has to be an original, because I don’t think the readers would forgive me making Dilton into the villain- posing a threat to the whole world, and with only a gang of loyal and not so loyal friends standing in his way.”

Bay paused before continuing. “Now then, let’s introduce the cast, and for once, I’m starting with the villain of the piece. One of my favourite actors, folks, and he’s going to be playing the pivotal antagonist, the nephew of a long time Riverdale character, the ruthless mad bomber Wolfgang Weatherbee... ladies and gentlemen, say hello to Nicolas Cage!”

The real reporters continued with the groans, sighs of dismay, and eye rolling. The entertainment reporters clapped wildly. Cage came out on stage, staggering as if a bit drunk. “Hello! Thanks for coming out! It’s going to be fun playing this role.” He lit up a cigar with a hundred dollar bill, confirming the idea that he’s really bad with money.

“Mr. Cage, how can anyone buy the notion of you playing the nephew of a rotund principal?” this reporter asked as the actor joined Bay, the two laughing as if at some shared joke.

Cage shrugged. “Don’t confuse me with logic. It’s a comic book movie. Logic doesn’t apply.”

Bay smiled. “You know, I wanted to cast a natural red head as the lead in this. I thought of the actor who played Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films, and on a complete aside, I’m still miffed that I never got to direct one of those movies. Well, long story short, Rupert Grint told me that if magic was real he’d use one of those forbidden curses on me. Then I thought, does Archie Andrews really need to be a red head? Or could I talk another actor into getting a dye job? Well, I talked to this guy... and he said he was willing to colour his hair. Ladies and gentlemen, you absolutely loved him in The Lone Ranger, and you’ll love him again as the lead in this film... say hello to Armie Hammer!”

The actor with the world’s dumbest name came out on stage, looking as one would expect of him: befuddled and confused. He waved, walking over to Bay and Cage, seeming as if he’d been hit in the head far too many times. “It’s great to play such an iconic character!” he called out. The collective eye rolling and groans continued to circulate among the real reporters- honestly, did anyone in the world love The Lone Ranger? Aside perhaps from this reporter’s cranky editor (editor: don’t even think of insulting that masterpiece of cinema!)

Bay carried on speaking. “One of my favourite actors, playing the pivotal role of Jughead Jones, I’m giving him a chance to play a comedic role... ladies and gentlemen, give a big hand to the one, the only... Shia LaBeouf!”

The actor came out on stage, smiling like an idiot, waving. “Hello!” he called out. “You have come to see Shia! And Shia is pleased that you are here to bask in all that is Shia!” LaBeouf strode over to join Bay and his fellow cast members.

Bay spoke again. “One of the big aspects to these comics is the eternal rivalry between two women, both obsessed about Archie. One is incredibly rich, spoiled, and selfish. The other is good natured but just a little crazy. Ladies and gentlemen, first, playing the pampered princess Veronica Lodge, an actress I’ve worked with a whole lot, and perfect for this role... Megan Fox!”

The actress came out on stage, dressed in her usual revealing outfit sort of style, blowing kisses and giving the reporters an eyeful of her cleavage. “Great to be here!”

Fox joined the group, and Bay continued to speak. “And the other half of that equation, an actress I haven’t worked with before, but I’m looking forward to work with this time... she’s playing the radiant Betty Cooper... ladies and gentlemen, give a big hand to Emma Roberts!”

The actress came out on stage, looking nervous. “Look, that guy swindled me into signing a contract for one film. I don’t like it any more than you do, and I’m going to have my lawyer find a way to get me out of this.”

Bay laughed. “Isn’t she funny? Okay, that’s the main casting thus far... I’ve still got to cast Reggie and Dilton and Moose and Midge and Weatherbee and so many other roles... but it’s going to be a big epic film. Heroes against a villain. Explosions! Cat fights between Betty and Veronica! Impossibly huge meals eaten by Jughead! Explosions! Aerosmith doing a theme song! And more explosions! It’s all going to come in the epic film Archie Vs  Weatherbee: Doom Of Riverdale! Isn’t that a great title?”

Bay and the cast strode off the stage, some more quickly than others. Bay himself was last- pausing to give a wink at his reflection in the mirror. Entertainment reporters were deliriously happy. And the real reporters were shaking their heads with dismay. What had we done to be doomed to cover Michael Bay press conferences? Especially for a comic book adaptation no one was asking for? In fact... (editor: hey! Michael Bay and Archie are a great combination! Stop criticizing true genius!)

The last word goes to fans of the comics. Ashley Charles, president of the Worldwide Archie Devotees Association, expressed her rage at the announcement. “Michael Bay is a horrible director who has no idea how horrible he is. We’ve all seen what he’s done to other franchises when he’s directed them. We can’t let him do that to Archiekins and Jughead and Betty and Veronica and Moose and Dilton and....” She went on and on, reciting nearly every character in the Archieverse for twenty minutes. “And we won’t let this stand!” she told reporters. “We’re going to march on Michael Bay and we’re going to show him what happens to people who mess with Archie fans.”

In a low, threatening tone, she coldly declared, “And we take our lessons on revenge from the untold tales of Professor Flutesnoot. He wasn’t just a chemistry teacher, you know...”

In the opinion of this reporter, the membership of the Worldwide Archie Devotees Association need to develop better tastes in reading material. Though it might be far too late for some of them, such as this reporter’s cranky editor, who... (editor: I’m having you chopped up and fed to Jughead.)

Monday, April 25, 2016

Return Of The Annoying Scammers

They were something that Moses could have never saw coming if he was thinking of extra plagues on Egypt. They are an abomination that Nostradamus would looked on and have said, "you know what? This is too much." They infest the world and hope they can ensnare someone just gullible enough to buy this week's latest ploy. They're like rats, scurrying back into the shadows when exposed, and when one is, well... eliminated, more take their place. It's been awhile since I've last been bothered by spam comments turning up in my blogs. It's also been awhile since my email folders have caught much if any spam or scams. Until a few days ago.

It was just a short sentence, with an email address embedded the sentence (I've left that one out). It was sent, of course, by another email- one whose provenance is suspect at best, even while it does mention an actual person. Here it is.

You have been picked by Foundation De France. Email: for details

Well, that's nice. Picked for what? Their team for dodgeball? To join the Freemasons? To dig up the corpse of Victor Hugo? To find the real treasure of Monte Cristo? To pay homage to the two biggest egos in French history (Napoleon and de Gaulle, I'm looking at you)? To be a human sacrifice to Gerard Depardeau?

This is particularly surprising since I've never heard of the Foundation De France, let alone made any applications to anyone under that name. It turns out though that there is a Foundation De France (Fondation De France, actually), and if you google it and the word scam, you'll see a whole lot of entries on the fact that scammers are using its name as a cover. Some of the posts I saw there while looking about had the usual long winded scammer letters copied in full. Apparently these days the scammers using that organization as a cover are rather short and to the point, as opposed to using the usual rambling cover story about being a widow/ daughter/ mistress/ masseuse to a beloved reverend/ general/ president/ cult overlord.

Now mind you, the address listed, which I've not copied, has an Outlook address, unlike the real organization, which would have in-house email addresses. That's a big scammer tell-tale. Another being that they use the English spelling of Foundation and not the French translation, which is Fondation. Another being that they write in English. The actual Fondation writes exclusively in, you guessed it, French. So of course this is, in a word, bull, and the actual person behind this is some scammer in some part of the world with little in the way of extradition treaties (Nigeria, I'm looking at you) and able to burn their cyber trail with a moment's notice.

The sender is one Pauline Oldham (Oldham Pauline in the email header, but sufficed to say, nobody goes through life with the first name Oldham), supposedly with the National Health Service out of Stockport, Great Britain. The email address uses, but a look at the contact email for the real Stockport NHS has the email address ending: I would expect that any real staffer from the organization would also have that in their email address.

But the scammers would have us expect that a British staffer for their health program would be involved with a French foundation soliciting total strangers. 



Uh huh.

Nice try, scammers, better luck next time.

We need to have ourselves a definitive way to get rid of you dirtbags once and for all. The Ebola virus would do the job quite nicely, I think, but there'd be too many ways you scammers could get away from the disease. I think, to borrow a phrase from Zeus, we'll just have to release the Kraken and let it finish you off.