Team America: World Police (***½)

Posted on October 17th, 2004 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

"Do you have any idea how *&#$ing busy I am!?!"

When I first heard about this film I almost couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the duo behind South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut, were making a movie about America’s role as police force to a world terrorized by, well, terror…and they would make it using not animation, not actors, but…marionettes? I figured it had to be a joke, and they were just punking us all. Believe me, they weren’t.

Team America: World Police may be the most subversively intelligent political satire that I have seen since…well…Dr. Strangelove. Part of me is almost embarrassed to make that comparison, but it is nonetheless valid. Strangelove is an undisputed masterpiece, and when viewed today it is very easy to marvel in a clinical way at how groundbreaking, offensive, daring, and dangerous it would have been to the politically naive Ward Cleavers of that day. However, it is not the least bit controversial, offensive, or groundbreaking to the jaded audiences of today, who have seen it all. But we haven’t seen it all, and Team America proves it.

Just as Strangelove shocked the sensibilities of the America of its day, Team America will shock you, if you go see it. And I highly recommend that you do, but leave the kiddies at home (but take the later teens, who might actually learn something amid all the cursing, stereotypes, violence, and puppet sex). In today’s political era where every supposed “news” outlet proudly wears its affiliations on its sleeve (FOX is conservative/Republican, CNN is liberal/Democrat, etc), it’s nice to experience balanced political commentary, which is exactly what Team America is, if you have an open mind.

Parker and Stone attack the hegemonic hubris of America-as-latter-day-Roman-Empire, with our government’s proclivity of presuming to tell the rest of the world how to run its business (to our advantage, of course). But they also attack the rise of celebrity/activists, who presume to tell world leaders how to run the world, presumably using the insight they gleaned from scripts someone else wrote but that they nobly memorized (or read from cue cards).

In both cases, Team America hits the bull’s-eye with laserlike accuracy. One might think that if Parker and Stone are smart enough to see North Korea as a greater threat to world security than Middle-Eastern terrorism that the US government would be, too, but one would be wrong. One might think that celebrities would understand that the even though people listen to and report what they say, their opinions are no more valid or informed than anybody else’s, but one would, again, be wrong. One might think that there are no great truths to be learned by watching a drunken marionette collapse in a pool of his own vomit, but one would, again, be wrong.

The film itself is painfully funny, in that I laughed so hard that it hurt. It’s almost impossible to offend

Rape Shield Laws and Equal Protection

Posted on October 15th, 2004 in Commentary by EngineerBoy

The current Kobe Bryant case has highlighted the rape shield laws of Colorado, which protect the identity and sexual history of the accuser in rape trials. Rape shield laws are enacted to protect women from the embarrassment and degradation they might feel if their identity and sexual history, as well as the specifics of their rape charges, were made public. The goal is to make it easier and thus more likely for women to come forward when they have been victimized in this way. In the past, the public nature of our criminal justice system sometimes drove women to decide not to report incidents of sexual assault.

I think these laws have had their intended effect, for the most part, but I feel that they are unfair to the accused, in many instances. For example, in the Kobe Bryant case, my understanding of the facts is that Kobe checked into a hotel, and then invited one of the staff members, a 19 year old young women, to give him a private tour of the facilities. She agreed, and provided the tour. According to the accuser’s own testimony, during the tour Kobe flirted openly with her, and she was flattered by the attention. He then invited her up to her room, and she also agreed, and went willingly alone with him to his room. Up to this point, the facts are clear, undisputed, and publicly known.

Behind Closed Doors

After this point, however, the two were behind closed doors and nobody but them really knows what happened. She says that he raped her, and he says that they had consensual sex. One of them is lying, and either way it is a tragedy. The evidence does show that they had sex, but does not clearly show anything else. She had some minor injuries, but nothing that couldn’t also have resulted simply from an energetic tryst (or from her having other encounters before or after the one with Kobe).

In this particular instance, where it is simply he-said/she-said, I do not agree with the rape shield laws. There is no evidence of a crime other than the young woman’s accusations. Kobe has no history of any behaviors of this kind. Also, there is evidence that the young woman had sexual relations very soon before and very soon after her encounter with Kobe. The evidence was strong enough that the judge permitted it into evidence, even though in most cases a victim’s sexual history is inadmissible.

And now, as the criminal charges seem to be slipping away (editors note: actually have been dropped due to the young woman’s refusal to testify), the young woman has filed a civil suit for monetary damages. In civil cases the burden of proof is lower, as evidenced in the O.J. Simpson saga (where he was acquitted on criminal charges, but lost the civil case). In the O.J. case there were mountains of evidence against

The Forgotten (**½)

Posted on October 8th, 2004 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

We went into The Forgotten knowing almost nothing about it other than what we saw on the few, brief trailers we had seen on television. We had a day off, headed to the theater, and decided to let fate play a hand by picking the next available, acceptable movie, which turned out to be The Forgotten. The film stars Julianne Moore, Gary Sinise, Anthony Edwards, and Dominic West, and follows the travails of Telly Paretta (Julianne Moore’s character) as she attempts to deal with the grief of losing her son in a plane crash.

One of the other parents at her local park, named Ash Correll (played by Dominic West), also lost his daughter in the same crash, which was of a plane headed to a summer camp that both kids were going to attend. They do a little reserved commiserating, but really only know each other distantly as parents of one of their kids acquaintances.

Telly is undergoing psychotherapy to help with her grief. Her doctor is played by Gary Sinise. She has been fixated on her son’s death for the nearly two years since it happened, spending several hours a day in his room, pulling his belongings out to look at, watching videotapes of him, and generally not getting on with life on the schedule that those around her would consider normal.

But then, one day, she has either a breakthrough or a breakdown, where her husband and doctor tell her that she never had a son, and that all of her memories of him are delusional and were brought about by a miscarriage that caused her to snap. Based on the film up until this point, it seems obvious that they are trying to pull one over on her, and I started to get quite annoyed that she didn’t just go down to her son’s school and ask any of the 200 kids there if they remembered him.

But she doesn’t do anything like that, at least not at first. But over time she does. She eventaully talks to her neighbor, a fairly anonymous lady who we saw interacting with Telly’s son in flashback, but the neighbor appears not to know who she’s talking about. At this point I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on, as this neighbor did not appear to be anyone that the husband/doctor could get to and convince her to play along with their charade.

Telly finally heads over to Ash’s apartment, which she had been to once before when her son and his daughter had a play date. At least, that’s what Telly remembers, but the guy has no recollection of her, her son, or his (alleged) daughter. When Telly vigorously attempts to convince him that he had a daughter, Ash surreptitiously calls the cops to come get this crazy lady out of his apartment and into some kind of help.

At this point I was confused enough to be very interested in just

Desperate Housewives (***)

Posted on October 3rd, 2004 in Television by EngineerBoy

Combine Sex in the City, the Stepford Wives, and The Gilmore Girls, add a dash of Twin Peaks, and you have the recipe for Desperate Housewives, based on what we saw in the pilot tonight. The story focuses on the ladies of the house along a stretch of Wisteria Lane in an unnamed, but hyper-American, upscale suburb. The primary characters run the gamut of stereotypical suburban American ladies, and include the single mom (replete with wise-beyond-her-years teenage daughter), the Martha Stewart-esque “perfect” housewife (replete with desperately unhappy husband and children), the former model who married for money (and regularly gets her lawn trimmed by the yard boy, if you know what I mean, and I think you do), the former high-powered executive who abandoned corporate life to become a full-time mom (replete with three little boys who make the Tasmanian Devil look like a narcoleptic sloth overdosing on Ritalin), and the divorced slut.

The pilot was entertaining, sly, surprising, and quirky…things that I like. To those of you who understand what this means, you can understand everything you need to know about this show by hearing that the theme music is done by Danny Elfman.

The pilot sets the stage for the series with a voice-over by one of the ladies. She happens to be the one who appears to be the most strong and the most normal of the bunch. Things kick into gear when she promptly commits suicide. Her voice-over persists after her death, and provides running commentary on the goings-on of the neighborhood, while providing only tantalizing clues as to the reasons for her self-off-age. Suffice it to say that it wasn’t because of suburban malaise, or anything else mundane and/or every day. The reasons for her suicide are hinted at by the end of the pilot episode, but nothing is revealed or explained.

There’s also a new guy on the block, a single plumber who is renting one of the houses. He may or may not be more or less than he seems, but I couldn’t quite figure out how a plumber could afford to live on this street (notwithstanding what they charge).

Round things out with one of the wives attempting to kill her husband (maybe accidentally, maybe not, but she does apologize to him), and one of the husbands taking a pickaxe to the bottom of his drained pool to dig up…who knows what…and you have a pretty good idea of what’s going on with this series.

The stories go in unexpected directions, the show is funny (but isn’t a comedy), some of the situations are textbook soap opera (but it isn’t a soap), bizarre things happen (but it’s not The X-Files), and several crimes are committed (but it’s not a police procedural). It’s an interesting mix of all of these things, and more, and the pilot was very interesting and entertaining. Based on buzz, we had set TiVo to record the pilot, and we have now set