One man's view of the world, from the top of this great big rock somewhere in the middle of God's Country, with an eye toward freedom....or at least some way to get back down without goin' over the edge.

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Location: West Virginia, United States

Former U.S. Army, SPC E-4, Veteran of Operation Desert Storm. If you are or have ever been a soldier, you have friends in my house.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Stander's Screening Room: BATMAN BEGINS

Folks, let me give it to you straight. I am a sucker for movies with heroes in them.

No, I'm not talking about proud-chested, concrete-chinned spandex-junkies with any number of paracosmic excuses to justify using a phone booth as a walk-in closet.
I'm talking about people who take what they are dealt, adapt to it, live with it (and all its inherent baggage), and work it 'til they can't work it no more, on the behalf of other people who can't---or won't---do likewise....for reasons that are all their own.

Spider-Man, the X-Men, Indiana Jones...all well and good. (And I really LIKE Spidey.)
But, as much fun as their movies have been....they're WAAAYYY on the back-burner tonight.

Why? Because frankly, I think there's just something special about seeing something that has been done wrong---so many times---finally get done right.

Batman Begins, in my humble opinion, is how it should have been done all along.

Don't get me wrong, folks...I liked Michael Keaton's portrayal in the first movie. He was the best they could do at that time, and I think he did Bruce Wayne as well as he could....which was pretty darn good.
And I have always been a fan of Tim Burton's work as a film-maker. In a world of cookie-cutter cinematicos, he really is an original artist, and should be recognized as such---and will be, I hope---for years to come.

The second movie, Batman Returns, was all right. Michelle Pfeiffer did okay as Catwoman, and Michael still had all his Bat-chops in more or less the right place. But that flick made the mistake of trying to copy the charm of the first one, and it just didn't work as well. (To be honest, I think Danny Devito saved that one from cutting-room purgatory...I mean, who else could have done the Penguin as well as he did, really?)

The next two movies....hell, I don't even remember what they were called, and I don't feel like expending the effort to find out. All the starpower that Hollywood had to offer couldn't save them....because they focused on Batman as a money-making cartoon cash cow, and forgot who he was in the first place. Feh.

But in truth, the one thing I feel for all of them is pity....because they didn't have Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan to work with.

Christian Bale has done it. He has pulled it off.

In Batman Begins, you see Bruce Wayne as the millionaire-man-about-town, and you see him as the nearly-terminally-obsessed Dark Knight...and, most effectively, you see him as a young man who almost became neither one.
And courtesy of Christian's sometimes-unassuming, sometimes-brutal, and above-all-honest truly see all three of them AS ONE AND THE SAME MAN.

In short....he NAILED it.

But even this sterling effort would not have been as effective, had director Christopher Nolan not given him a very REAL Gotham City to play in.

In this movie, Nolan does what no other Batman director has so far (yes, including Burton).
He shows us BOTH sides of the old girl...the shining metropolis envisioned by Bruce's father Thomas and his fellow entrepreneurs, and the dark and gritty back-alley hunting ground which it became. (And, folks, he pulled even Burton's stylized gloves off here. This place is nasty and dark, but it is also very, VERY believable.)

I must also give due credit to the supporting cast. (Supporting cast, indeed!) These folks did what consummate professional actors do....they molded themselves into the roles they were given, gave Christian solid characters to bounce Batman off of and, in so doing, really DID support the film.

Michael Caine finally gives Albert a real personality, and in many cases saves the film from becoming too dark and brooding with just the right injection of humor and humanity in just the right place. Bravo, sir.
Morgan Freeman (a man who has played God and a janitor at the same time, and made it work) wears the guise of Bruce's gadget-man like an old favorite smoking-jacket that you could never bring yourself to get rid of, just 'cause it's so damn comfy.
Gary Oldman (yes, folks, that's really him) puts in a marvelous turn as Jim Gordon, a beat-down desk cop who has no idea what's about to hit him...but is still a cop, and rises to meet it when it does.
And Liam Neeson....well, you'll just have to see for yourself. So there. Nyaah.

The only weak link here? Katie Holmes. You know....that chick Tom Cruise wants to marry. (Which, if her wet-rag-of-a-performance is any indication, may well be why she got the part.)

But that's okay, because....'cuz......oh man, I can't hold it back any longer, HERE IT COMES----


This Batmobile is the biggest, meanest, coolest, BADDEST mo-fo of a privately-owned transport apparatus you have ever seen. This Batmobile is what armored personnel carriers want to be when they grow up. It doesn't even have the common decency to LOOK like a Batmobile. It doesn't need to. This thing is the Shaft of all-terrain-vehicles. Seriously. When you honk the horn, it says "DAAAMN RIGHT." This Batmobile is what happens when a Stealth fighter and a Sherman tank break into the liquor cabinet, slam down a couple of cases of Night Train, and get on down with their bad selves on a bearskin rug by the fireplace ALLLLL night long. This is Isaac Hayes, Barry White, John Rambo and Mr. T all Freak-ensteined up into one bad-ass take-no-f[EEEP]in'-prisoners heartbreaker with an M-1 Abrams for a momma and the Terminator for a daddy.
This is not the Batmobile....this is the BAAAAAAAD-mobile.

(long-winded series of wheezes...getting it back together now....)

Sorry. I had to let that out. I'm better now.

To sum up....this film, o faithful ones, has set the bar for the rest of this summer's usual "blockbuster" fare right early...and set it rather damned high indeed.

Oh...and a message of sincere sympathy goes out from myself to the makers of the Fantastic Four movie due for release this season, and especially to Ioan Gruffudd. My wife and I have followed his career ever since we stumbled upon his brilliant work in A&E's Horatio Hornblower films. He is a stellar actor, and we both like him very much. It is truly a shame that his first real starring role in a major motion picture (King Arthur, in my mind, doesn't count) has the unfortunate timing to have to follow the unmitigated triumph that is Christian Bale's performance as the Dark Knight.

Ladies and gentlemen....Batman Begins.

Finally----FINALLY----justice has been done.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Connect-The-Dots: From Kinsey to Al-Qaeda

This new subsection of the Point was inspired by a TV program on the Science Channel called "Connections". Each episode demonstrated a sort of "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon"-style connection between two seemingly unrelated historical events and figures, and was one of the most intriguing programs I have ever seen.

Tip o' the rock to WarriorPoet, a talented writer and friend who does his homework and does it well, for the tip that led to this iceberg.


1903: Sayyid Abu'l-A'la Mawdudi is born in India.

1928: Mawdudi becomes the leader of Hyderabad, a Muslim enclave in India, where he makes a decision concerning the weakening of Islam in the world. From the article linked above:

"Casting about for explanations for the decline of Muslim power to the Hindu community in Hyderabad, Mawdudi concluded that diversity was the culprit: the centuries old practice of interfaith mixing had weakened and watered down Muslim thought and practice in that region of India. The solution was to purge Islam of all alien elements."

1941: Influenced by the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hasan al-Banna, Mawdudi and others found the Jama'at al-Islami ("The Islamic Party") in Pakistan. His teachings impress an Islamist thinker and writer, Sayyid Qutb.
1949: On a trip overseas to the United States, Qutb finds, among other things, the Kinsey Reports, the documentation of a series of sexual research projects by Dr. Alfred Kinsey. Shocked at the sexual depravity the reports and other experiences seem to portray (including a high-school sock-hop in Greeley, Colorado), he returns to the Arab world with renewed Islamism on his mind.

1952: Sayyid Qutb joins the Muslim Brotherhood and writes Milestones, in which he cements his opinions on what is wrong in the world:

...Even the Western world realizes that Western civilization is unable to present any healthy values for the guidance of mankind. It knows that it does not possess anything which will satisfy its own conscience and justify its existence...
It is essential for mankind to have a new leadership...
It is necessary for the new leadership to preserve and develop the material fruits of the creative genius of Europe, and also to provide mankind with such high ideals and values as have so far remained undiscovered by mankind, and which will also acquaint humanity with a way of life which is harmonious with human nature, which positive and constructive, and which is practicable.
Islam is the only system which possesses these values and this way of life.

1954: After an attempted assassination of Egyptian President Gamel Abdul-Nasser fails, the Muslim Brotherhood is banned and its members rounded up posthaste (including Sayyid Qutb, who spends the next decade in and out of jail until his execution in 1966), with six executed and thousands fleeing to other countries.

Among those who flee are Sayyid's brother, Muhammad Qutb, and a radical preacher, Abdullah al-Azzam. A little later on, at King Abdul-Aziz University in Jeddah, these men and their students---including a wealthy Saudi contractor's son named Osama bin Laden, and an Egyptian doctor named Ayman al-Zawahiri---form the foundations of a radical Islamist group that would, in the coming years, become known as Al-Qaeda (which, incidentally, is Arabic for "base or foundation").


This timeline is rather truncated, of course, but should give you plenty of holes to dig around in, if you are so inclined.

Go ahead....see what else you can put together on your own.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Bloggin' Around: Tuesday, June 14

Captain Ed shines yet another blinding light on Kofi Annan, gives France yet another well-deserved spanking ("Eet cannot possibly be our fault....we are FRAAAANSH!!"), and gives us his reasons why Gitmo ain't no "gulag".

Val Prieto of Babalu Blog renews his vows, and points out something that Hugo Chavez should be very afraid of...and apparently is.

Froggy does his level best to remind us who the REAL enemies are in the war on terror. (You know....the ones we're SUPPOSED to be fighting.)

Baldilocks takes some of her detractors to task for abject stupidity, and fires a courteous warning shot over Micha---I mean, FRANCE's nose.

And finally, our old buddy Mike Adams shares with us one of his greatest pleasures, and demonstrates the RIGHT way to partake of its goodness. Brad Paisley, call your office.
(Incidentally....if you didn't get that little joke at the end there, you have missed out on one of THE FINEST country music albums I have ever allowed to grace my ears. Do yourself a will learn to like this guy.)

You have your orders. Stander out.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Good People: "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition"

Those of us who used to watch Trading Spaces on TLC already know who Ty Pennington is.....the energetic-to-the-point-of-attaining-escape-velocity house carpenter and all-around handyman responsible for building all those MDF-ing shelves and cabinets the designers wanted.
I liked watching him on that show. He threw himself head-first into pretty much any project they tossed at him, made the end result work right to spec (and better, more often than not), and actually looked like he was enjoying himself in the process.

Thus, when "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" debuted, I found myself in a quandary of sorts.
I was glad that he had moved up to his own show, but at the same time, I was quite fearful that he would get a big head because of it.

Having said all that, I will now say this:
This show is NOT about Ty Pennington....and, thankfully, he damn well knows it.

This show is about people getting together and giving their fellow man a break when he really needs one.

This show is about rewarding good and faithful servants who make sacrifices for the good of others.

And, in this season's final episode, it was about giving something back to the family of a single mother...who made the greatest sacrifice of all.

Some might say that the Piestewa family has already received their fair share of aid, from organizations like the Southwest Indian Foundation (who set up a fund for the children's education) and others. (Heck, even some of the local jailbirds put their two cents in.)
But gifts like these were mostly for the benefit of the children down the road. They still needed to do something about how the family would keep going as Lori's parents got closer and closer to retirement age.

That's where Jessica Lynch, Lori's former battle-buddy and roommate, came in. It was she who nominated the family for the Makeover treatment, as her part of a pact she and Lori had made together before Iraq: that if one did not return, the other would help take care of those left behind.

And on top of all that, they did a little something extra---and LOOONG overdue---for those of her people who came before her.

Folks, I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Finally---something on TV that you can watch with your kids (and actually enjoy), and maybe even use to teach them something good about themselves, without the fear of having to change the channel in a hurry.

Ladies and gentlemen...the entire cast and crew of ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition", where new lives are built from the ashes of the old right where it's needed the home.

If that ain't "Good People", I don't know what is.