October 31, 2004

RAY – A Movie Review

A Biopic About The Great Ray Charles and His Music
By Fred H. Arm
WHEN Ray Charles died last June, he had ascended to the most profound level of fame; no longer merely a celebrity, he had become an icon. Some of Charles's music has become so familiar that we risk being blinded (forgive the pun) by the creativity and innovation that made it great in the first place.

In "Ray," this film biography directed by Taylor Hackford, much of the greatness is relived, albeit somewhat lengthy and redundant. Hackford plods through the signature R & B hits of the mid-1950's, the astonishing forays into orchestral pop, and country-and-western of the early 60's as if we were hearing it for the first time. In this film version, "Hit the Road Jack" emerges almost spontaneously from a hotel-room lovers' quarrel between Ray (Jamie Foxx) and Margie Hendricks (Regina King), one of his backup singers. Although this episode may be somewhat fictional, and is no doubt embellished Hollywood style, "Ray" unusually succeeds for a movie of this kind, by presenting a vivid, convincing portrait of a great artist.

"Ray" occasionally strays into mushy sentimentality and simplistic psychobabble; nevertheless, Hackford and James L. White, the screenwriter, have refined an insight that eludes most filmmakers who try to display the lives of famous artists on-screen, in that the real story lies in the art of cinema itself.

"Ray" occasionally flashes back to Charles's childhood in Florida, describing his life-long suffering due to his younger brother's death and his own blindness. The film does not shy away from his constant womanizing or his heroin addiction; its main concern is his wonderful music.

What makes "Ray" such a fulfilling motion picture, in spite of some deficiencies and compromises, is Foxx's inventive, intuitive, and enormously intelligent performance. That this one-time comedian possessed such formidable acting abilities was evident even back in the days of "In Living Color," and has been more recently demonstrated in “Collateral”. Foxx has totally mastered Charles's leg-swinging gait, his open-mouthed smile, and the tilt of his head, his spasticity, as well as his speaking style. One gets the sense that he is not just acting as if he were Ray Charles; he also understands him completely and knows how to communicate this understanding through every word and gesture, without explanation. Jaime Foxx is Ray Charles.

"Ray" although not a great movie is a really good movie about greatness, in which honoring the achievement of one major artist becomes the vehicle for the emergence the other. Of course I am referring to Ray Charles and Jamie Foxx, although at this point I am not entirely sure I can tell them apart. The movie could have been thirty minutes shorter as I caught myself nodding off occasionally as the tempo of the film dragged itself along. It nevertheless remains a wonderful film celebrating one of the all time music greats.

"Ray" is rated PG-13. It has sex, drug use, and some profanity.

Posted by fredarm at 06:19 PM | Comments (0)

October 29, 2004

It's Not Just Al Qaqaa

Just in case, the right is already explaining away President Bush's defeat: it's all the fault of the "liberal media," particularly The New York Times, which, so the conspiracy theory goes, deliberately timed its report on the looted Al Qaqaa explosives - a report all the more dastardly because it was true - for the week before the election.

It's remarkable that the right-wingers who dominate cable news and talk radio are still complaining about a liberal stranglehold over the media. But, that absurdity aside, they're missing a crucial point: Al Qaqaa is hardly the only tale of incompetence and mendacity to break to the surface in the last few days. Here's a quick look at some of the others:

Letting Osama get away Just before the story about Al Qaqaa broke, the Bush-Cheney campaign was frantically trying to debunk John Kerry's statement that Mr. Bush let Osama bin Laden get away when he was cornered at Tora Bora. That getaway, Mr. Kerry asserts, was possible because the administration "outsourced" the job of closing off escape routes to local Afghan warlords.
In response, Gen. Tommy Franks claimed that we don't know that Osama was at Tora Bora, and, anyway, we didn't outsource the work of catching him. Dick Cheney called Mr. Kerry's claims "absolute garbage." But multiple reports from 2001 and early 2002 confirm Mr. Kerry's version. As Peter Bergen, a terrorism expert, writes, Mr. Kerry's charge is "an accurate reflection of the historical record."

Letting Zarqawi get away On Monday The Wall Street Journal confirmed an earlier report that in 2002 the military drew up plans for a strike on the base of the terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in an area of Iraq not under Saddam's control. But civilian officials vetoed the attack - probably because they thought it might undermine political support for the war against Saddam. So Mr. Zarqawi, like Osama, was given the chance to kill another day.

The situation in Iraq Dick Cheney is telling supporters that Iraq is a "remarkable success story." But the news from Iraq just keeps getting worse. After 49 Iraqi National Guard recruits were killed, execution style, even Ayad Allawi, the Iraqi prime minister - who usually acts as a de facto spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign - accused coalition forces of "gross negligence." It's now clear that the insurgency is much larger than U.S. officials initially acknowledged, and that Iraqi security forces have been heavily infiltrated.

$70 billion more Earlier this week The Washington Post reported that administration officials were planning to seek an additional $70 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan after the election. Whatever the precise number, it has long been obvious to knowledgeable observers that this was coming, but the news will come as a shock to many people who still don't realize how deep a quagmire Mr. Bush has gotten us into.

All of these stories would be getting more play right now if it weren't for the Al Qaqaa mess. Still, one can understand why the right is so upset.

After all, Al Qaqaa illustrates in a particularly graphic way the failures of Mr. Bush's national security leadership. U.S. soldiers passed through Al Qaqaa, a crucial munitions dump, but were never told that it was important to secure the site. If administration officials object that they couldn't have spared enough troops to guard the site, they're admitting that they went in without enough troops. And the fact that these explosives fell into unknown hands is a perfect example of how the Iraq war has worsened the terrorist threat.

The story of Al Qaqaa has brought out the worst in a campaign dedicated to the proposition that the president is infallible - and that it's always someone else's fault when things go wrong. Here's what Rudy Giuliani said yesterday: "No matter how you try to blame it on the president, the actual responsibility for it really would be for the troops that were there. Did they search carefully enough?" Support the troops!

But worst of all from the right's point of view, Al Qaqaa has disrupted the campaign's media strategy. Karl Rove clearly planned to turn the final days of the campaign into a series of "global test" moments - taking something Mr. Kerry said and distorting its meaning, then generating pseudo-controversies that dominate the airwaves. Instead, the news media have spent the last few days discussing substance. And that's very bad news for Mr. Bush.

Posted by fredarm at 04:22 PM | Comments (0)

October 10, 2004

The Debates –What Do They Mean?

When A Man Truly Believes An Obvious Lie, It Can Only Lead To Disaster
By Fred H. Arm
I recently had the fortune, (or misfortune) to watch the Kerry-Bush and Cheney-Edwards debates. Millions of viewers like me were pondering the veracity of the participants and for some voters, their reactions will decide who they will ultimately vote for. I frankly expect most politicians to bend, stretch, and/or distort the truth to one degree or other to make them selves more or less appealing to the public. I doubt whether there has ever been a politician who speaks the truth at all times. This quasi-truth I have grown to accept as the way it is, not how it should be.

Assuming this condition to be well founded, how can we as voters decide whom we would rather have as President of the United States? I listened very carefully, not only to the statements made and observed their respective demeanors, but I also tried to discern whether the politicians espoused their lies and exaggerations with a motive for the public good or to foster their own agenda upon the gullible public.

What became palpably obvious was that Bush seemed to actually believe the bullshit he was handing out! This man, whether driven by his obsessive compulsiveness with religious dogma, has simply a warped personality, or is so patently incompetent, that the nonsense simply rolls off his tongue without a moment’s reflection. I could excuse his behavior if I thought he was only blowing his horn to look better, but the man accepts the garbage he spews out as true and appropriate.

The entire world knows that there is not now nor in the immediate past weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq. A president who really cared about his people would have admitted that the Nation made a grave error in running off to war so quickly and apologized for the error. Not Mr. Bush. He is still singing his same old song. The same truth has been revealed with suspected ties to Al Queda as a justification for pre-emptive strikes against Iraq. Still no words of contrition from Bush. What does this man need to admit he has made a mistake?

I am reminded of an old joke by the late Red Foxx when he said, “If my wife ever catches me in bed with another woman, I just tell I am holding her for the police”. We can laugh at this because Foxx is obviously lying to avoid a tongue-lashing by his wife. The tragedy of Bush is that he seems to believe his lies. It is one thing to make up stories to make yourself look better or to get out trouble if you screwed up. But to fervently believe your stories when the opposite has been demonstrated many times over is simply too dangerous and aberrant for the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth.
I can foresee some dangerous scenarios arising if our glorious leader chooses to subvert, distort, or ignore reality irrespective as to how much has already been proven to the contrary. One needs only to look back briefly into history to find another such delusional leader. No matter how much valid information Adolph Hitler received during the latter part of World War II, he fervently believed he could still win the war and accordingly millions of people lost their lives on both sides due to his defective belief system.
Is Bush cut from a comparable cloth? It seems so as the debates seem to bear out. Obviously, his staff is not about to speak up against him. They seem to be on the same page. Whether their interests and beliefs are the same, only history will reveal. More likely persons such as Cheney are more interested in the monetary spoils a victory in Iraq will mean to him personally and to his cronys. Bush himself does not seem to be that mercenary; however, the effects of his stupidity and incompetence will live on in infamy. I cannot in true conscience consider this man for President.

Posted by fredarm at 04:24 PM | Comments (2)

October 07, 2004

What If?

We’d Probably React The Same As the Iraqis If Invaded
By Fred H. Arm
Lately, the war has been on everyone’s lips, blaming the people of Iraq for one thing or the other. We are outraged that the Iraqis have the nerve to attack our troops as well as their militia brethren. How unacceptable or unexpected is such behavior? Is this not a normal reaction of a nation under siege?

Let us take a journey into our logical imagination. Suppose our fearless leader, Mr. Bush, became a ruthless dictator (not all that farfetched, but bear with me). Let us suppose that he has been murdering and torturing hundreds of Americans, particularly Muslims. Just imagine if you will, that since America is in need in oil, that the United States will simply invade Canada and grab their oil reserves.

The US raids Canada and threatens them to submit or be bombed back into the Stone Age with Atom and Hydrogen bombs. Naturally, the Canadians could not resist such a threat. So, the US takes over Canada. The United Nations and every freedom-loving nation cry out in protest. Bush simply ignores them, rationalizing that Canada should have belonged to us all along and to "stay out of my face".

Logically, the UN will not sit still for this and the whole world joins in with the UN and drives the Americans from Canada. The UN now denounces the US and demands that we dismantle our Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) so that such a thing does not happen again. After a number of years of UN inspections, we finally dismantle all our WMDs. China does not believe this, so they petition the UN to continue the inspections.

In the meantime, Bush is still the same asshole and continues to persecute and murder his people to retain power. China also thinks that Bush’s right wing connections to another terrorist group who has been blowing up embassies and the like will someday invade their shores. After many more inspections by the UN, things calm down somewhat, until this terrorist group blows up a city in China. China is outraged and invades the country sponsoring the attack. At the UN, they complain that the US still has WMDs and is in collusion with the terrorist group. No such evidence is actually presented. The leader of the Chinese government simply believes this and wants to attack the US to get rid of our hidden WMDs and to punish us for our supposed terrorist affiliations.

Meanwhile the American people would also like to get rid of Bush, but since they no longer have anything to say about anything, they simply acquiesce in his despotic regime. The Chinese demand that the UN sponsor an attack on the US to depose Bush. The UN and most other countries will not go along with this scenario. So what does China do after being abandoned by the UN and other allies, it sends its armies to attack the US to finally depose Bush from power. The war is over in about thirty day and thousands of Chinese troops have taken over America and put Bush in jail along with many of his tyrannical cronies.

The Chinese have taken over everything. They tell us when we may leave our homes, who will be in charge of this and that, and generally maintain a kind of martial law to contain and control us. Of course, this does not sit well with the American people. It’s one thing to be finally rid of Bush, but to have the Chinese Communists hanging around running things is clearly unacceptable and out order, especially since the Chinese could never find any WMDs that we were supposedly hiding for Bush. Nevertheless, the Chinese remain in control, refusing to let us govern ourselves.

A handful of American patriots are outraged at this state of affairs and accordingly arm themselves. They stage various attacks on the Chinese army and any Americans who are helping them. There are many car bombings, invasions, and attacks upon the troops, journalists, and any foreign government workers who are laboring for the Chinese and taking their jobs away.

Sound familiar? I thought so. So why are we so incensed that the Iraqis want us out of their nation? Sure, we got rid of Sadam Hussein, so thank you very much and give them back their nation. Admittedly, we invaded under false pretenses and misconceptions. So, by what authority are we still in Iraq? My hypothetical with the Chinese invasion is no different. We would be very upset if the Chinese did not leave, especially after they admitted they attacked us under a mistaken belief that we still had WMDs.

It seems to be a lot chutzpah to remain in a nation when your justification for being there has just evaporated. Is it any wonder that the rest of the world is incensed by Mr. Bush’s tactics? Are you really shocked and angry that the Iraqis are fighting to get us out of there? Would we have done any differently? I think not. Perhaps it is time to rethink the entire issue, especially now that it has been definitely established that there are no WMDs in Iraq, nor is there any connection to Al Queda and 9/11. Or is Mr. Bush turning into the despot depicted in my hypothetical?

Posted by fredarm at 03:44 PM | Comments (1)