Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Reader Mailbag - Inspiration Down Under

A reader wrote in about the current Candorville storyline, in which Lemont is interviewing a Hurricane Katrina survivor:

Dear Darrin Bell,

I thought you may like to know about something you inspired me to do. I contacted the State Emergency Service in my home state (Victoria, Australia), and suggested that (if they don't already do so) they develop and maintain a database of volunteers who would have space to carry extra people in an evacuation - and offered my family as volunteers.

I thought about how many empty car seats would have left New Orleans before the hurricane struck. I thought about the fact that we would have four adult seats and two child seats available, if we had to evacuate. And I decided to do something about it, not just on a personal level, but on a state level.

You were not the only inspiration, but the stories of the people Lemont has been interviewing, and the fact that they're based on true stories... well. I've done something. However small. And should we have to evacuate here, for real, I'll at least try to carry out people who need it.

Victoria, Australia

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Circling the Drain - Perjury and Obstruction of Justice

It's looking more and more likely that Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald may indict Scooter Libby on perjury and obstruction of justice charges. The New York Times is reporting that previously undiscovered notes taken by Scooter Libby himself prove beyond doubt that he learned the identity of Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife from Dick Cheney. However, in sworn testimony given before the Special Prosecutor, it looks like Libby perjured himself by claiming he first learned her identity from journalists, and obstructed justice when he declined to name Dick Cheney as his source.

"It would not be illegal for either Mr. Cheney or Mr. Libby, both of whom are presumably cleared to know the government's deepest secrets, to discuss a C.I.A. officer or her link to a critic of the administration. But any effort by Mr. Libby to steer investigators away from his conversation with Mr. Cheney could be considered by Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special counsel in the case, to be an illegal effort to impede the inquiry."


"The notes help explain the legal difficulties facing Mr. Libby. Lawyers in the case said Mr. Libby testified to the grand jury that he had first heard from journalists that Ms. Wilson may have had a role in dispatching her husband on a C.I.A.-sponsored mission to Africa in 2002 in search of evidence that Iraq had acquired nuclear material there for its weapons program.

But the notes, now in Mr. Fitzgerald's possession, also indicate that Mr. Libby first heard about Ms. Wilson - who is also known by her maiden name, Valerie Plame - from Mr. Cheney. That apparent discrepancy in his testimony suggests why prosecutors are weighing false statement charges against him in what they interpret as an effort by Mr. Libby to protect Mr. Cheney from scrutiny, the lawyers said."
Mr. Fitzgerald is expected to announce whether he will indict either Libby or Karl Rove (or both) on Friday when the term of the grand jury expires. You'd think Fitzgerald would announce his decision a few days early, to give cartoonists a chance to get something in before press deadlines Friday.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Serenity Now

The thing about being a married 30 year-old with bills to pay and work to do, is that you rarely have time, money or the inclination to see even the most kick-ass movie twice in the theater. For the first 20 or so years of your life, having your shoes stick to the floor while a brat sitting behind you kicks your seat is sort of charming. Especially if you bring a date, in which case you don't notice all that because you're trying to time your popcorn-reaching just right so you brush against her hand with yours. But by 30, it gets kind of old -- and that's before you factor in the $30 you're going to spend for two tickets, popcorn, a hot dog and a drink. Even if you still love seeing first-run films in the theater, odds are good you aren't going to see any one film twice in that theater.

2005, despite the hype about Hollywood being in the dumps, has been a good year for films, at least as far as I'm concerned. Revenge of the Sith largely washed away the bitter taste of the first two prequels. Batman Begins showed this fan of Tim Burton's films that they had been jokes - pretenders - all along. Sideways, which many have taken to labeling "overrated" (no doubt because calling anything "overrated" always bestows some unearned cool points), was engrossing. And now there's Serenity.

The New York Times has a dead-on writeup of Serenity, the new film by Joss Whedon based on his defunct TV series, "Firefly."

It probably isn't fair to Joss Whedon's "Serenity" to say that this unassuming science-fiction adventure is superior in almost every respect to George Lucas's aggressively more ambitious "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith." But who cares about fair when there is fun to be had? Scene for scene, "Serenity" is more engaging and certainly better written and acted than any of Mr. Lucas's recent screen entertainments. Mr. Whedon isn't aiming to conquer the pop-culture universe with a branded mythology; he just wants us to hitch a ride to a galaxy far, far away and have a good time. The journey is the message, not him.
Somehow, with a fraction of the budget, Whedon and the vfx wizards at Zoic Studios created a universe every bit as fantastic and realistic as Lucasfilm did for Star Wars. But damn, the writing and the characterizations in this film are something to behold. Not because of how impressive they are, but because of how down to earth they are.

Serenity cost $40 million to make, and word on the Net is if it earns $80 million (at least $40 million domestic), we'll get at least one more sequel. So far it's earned about 1/4th of that domestic number. In an ordinary world that would be great news, but we're living in a world where a film that doesn't open big is considered DOA unless it gets enough word of mouth business to keep it on screens for a few months (like Big Fat Greek Wedding a few years back).

Trust me, guys, this film is worth seeing, even if you're not familiar with the TV series it was based on (all the backstory is included in the first five minutes of the film). It's worth seeing even if you're not a fan of science fiction, because this is an engaging, fun and poignant story about a group of people down on their luck who discover something to believe in. The people and their relationships are what's important here, not the visual effects. Science Fiction is only a genre they chose to tell the story in, but this could just as easily have been told as a Western, or as a contemporary action drama. These people could just as easily be driving around in Toyotas to escape Homeland Security rather than flying around in space ships to escape an interplanetary alliance, and it would be just as entertaining.

There aren't too many films I'd care to spend $30 to see more than once. I would have seen Batman Begins five times if I could have rounded up enough people to go with me. I saw Serenity a few days ago, but I'm going to see it again this Friday in Emeryville, partly to do my bit toward making sure we get a sequel, but mostly because that's just how good this movie is. Who's with me?