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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Sean Byrne - My Son; Not a Choice

As I saw pictures of teens and college students cheering at the conclusion of yesterday's Texas Senate session, I felt compelled to write this:

When Mia was pregnant with Sean, one of the tests came back that indicated he was at risk for Down’s Syndrome. Obviously, this was a jarring report from the doctor. I grew up with a severely mentally retarded sister. She will never be more functional than a two year old: in many areas, she isn’t even that developed. So, I understood better than most prospective parents what having a Down’s Syndrome child could entail.

Some of the advice we received was supportive of Mia having an abortion. I can tell you, not for one millisecond did we consider that option! It wasn’t even an option. God had blessed us with a child to be raised. If it turned out that he needed extra love and care than a “normal” boy, then He had picked the right parents for the job.

Sean was born on December 22, 2007. Within two days, he was so jaundiced that he was rushed to the emergency room at Children’s Hospital. He went into the Nic-U and doctors told us that if his condition did not improve within 24 hours, they were going to have to remove all of his blood and recycle it back into his system. He wasn’t even a week old!

Sean recovered and is a healthy and happy five and a half year old boy. He is the greatest blessing in our lives.
Sean, you were NOT a "choice": you were and are my son and I love you.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Chain Lightning - Bogie in the Air

I believe I have mentioned that I LOVE these old posters
I finished watching Chain Lightning, a Humphrey Bogart film from 1950. I actually enjoyed this one more the second time around.
After years of complaining about being forced to make bad pictures, Bogie had formed Santana Productions, so he could call the shots. Chain Lightning, a Warner Brothers film, was sandwiched between two Santana flicks, Tokyo Joe and In a Lonely Place. Bogart plays Matt Brennan, a bomber pilot who signs on to test jet planes after the end of World War II. Chuck Yeager had broken the sound barrier in 1947 and super speed jets were a hot topic around the world. In fact, the film was dubbed and released in eleven countries.

Raymond Massey (seen a few years before in Bogie’s Action in the North Atlantic) played the industrialist looking to make some money, with Eleanor Parker as the love interest. Parker was a popular female lead at the time and would be nominated for an Academy Award in her next film, Caged. Richard Whorf is the idealistic engineer (and romantic rival). Whorf, about to move from acting to a successful career as a tv director, had starred in Midnight, back in 1934. Bogart was a gangster in the last film of his second attempt to make it in pictures. He gave up and went back to Broadway. If Leslie Howard hadn’t insisted Bogie play Duke Mantee in the movie adaptation of the hit play The Petrified Forest, Midnight might have been Bogart’s last film: and there would be no “Bogie.” While almost an important footnote, it's not much of a film.

It’s Whorf who holds this film together. Bogie is rather unlikeable and you wonder why Parker leans towards him and away from the much better man that Whorf is (girls always go for the bad guy!). It’s Whorf that gives the viewer someone to pull for while Bogart and Massey move the plot along.
Chain Lightning is full of experimental innovations (Bogie wears what looks like a B-movie space suit) and daring flight maneuvers. Along with the flashback footage of bombing missions over Germany, the flying scenes are neat, though the JA-3 jet plane looks like something out of a Buck Rogers serial.

There’s a big finish that sets everything right and softens Bogart (who sings in this movie!). With The African Queen coming the next year and only three years removed from Key Largo, Chain Lightning seems rather lightweight Bogart. And it is. But it’s not a bad movie. It slows a bit during the big test flight, but otherwise is well paced. This is in that category of Bogart movies that don’t make any of his “Best” lists, but offer a solid view. It’s not The Enforcer, but I’d put it ahead of Sahara.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Stand in the Statehouse Door - George Wallace

He kinda looks like Edward G. Robinson
On this date fifty years ago, George Wallace stood on the steps of the University of Alabama to deny entrance to black students. Wallace's motto was "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." He was the poster boy of racism in America.

It's less well known that Wallace became a born again Christian and renounced his belief in segregation, admitting that he was wrong. He apologized to civil rights leaders and appointed several black persons to his administration during his second stint as governor in the eighties.

I am in no way endorsing what Wallace did and said in the sixties. But to any who doubt the phrase, "With God all things are possible," George Wallace, the most unlikely segregationist in American history, is evidence of it. In 1963, there was not a person on this planet that believed George Wallace
could, or would, change.

Or look at it this way: if you took God out of the equation, is there any rational way to explain Wallace's change? Movies are about character transformation: the protagonist's journey. Would Walalce's transformation have happened without God?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

'House of Cards' Kicked the Cat

The late Blake Snyder named his massively successful screenwriting empire (3 of the top 16 selling screenwriting books on, including #1) after the principle of ‘saving the cat’. This is the idea that the writer includes something when we meet the hero that makes us root for them or like them (I’m paraphrasing). Think of her holding the door open for a little old lady with an armful of groceries; Or him saving a cat from a tree. The writer wants the viewer to identify with the protagonist and pull for them: Makes sense.

Kevin Spacey is the centerpiece of Netflix’s House of Cards; a remake of a British series starring the under-appreciated Ian Richardson. He is Francis Underhill, a powerful Congressman with bigger aspirations.  In the opening scene, a dog is hit by a car in Underhill’s neighborhood. He is the first on the scene and bends down over the whimpering animal (who remains off screen).

Spacey’s character sometimes speaks directly to the camera in this show. It’s a difficult narrative technique to do well: fortunately, it works. He comforts the dog, and then explains to the viewer that there are two kinds of pain: one that makes you strong, and one that is useless pain; pain that is only suffering. And he has no patience for useless things. A situation of useless pain calls for someone willing to act to do the difficult and necessary thing. So, he strangles the dog. Then he comforts the dog’s owners, who have been summoned by Underhill’s bodyguard.
This is not exactly your typical save the cat scene. Underhill does a mercy killing and assures the owners that he will track down the driver. But the narrative gives a decidedly darker tone to the actions. Underhill is ruthless, not sympathetic. His motives (“I have no patience for useless things.”) transforms what should be a “hey, what a nice guy” moment. He doesn’t really save the cat, he kicks it.

I believe that the theme of this show is Power. Perhaps more accurately, the appearance of power. The tone of the series is set with this opening scene. Our protagonist isn’t exactly a hero. And in fact, much like with Tim Robbins’ ‘The Player’, there’s not really anybody to root for. Christina (played by Kristin Connelly) is nice but she’s really just an aide who slept with the boss: who cares? And while Gillian Cole (Sandrine Holt) is certainly someone to like, she’s barely a second tier character and not that important. Everybody else is some shade of bad.

So, while the characters are interesting, the acting is solid and the storyline is compelling, we don’t really like anyone. Taking the ‘Save the Cat’ concept and twisting is appropriate for the show. It lets us know up front that we are going to have our work cut out for us rooting for the central character. And, as it turns out, for just about every other character as well.  But credit is due here. Just as I am very impressed with The Player, I’m on board for a second season of House of Cards. Even though I don’t like anybody…