Friday, February 25, 2011

'Unknown' is a Fast-Paced, Solid Thriller

Director Jaume Collet-Serra's "Unknown" is an easy movie to overlook at a time when the Oscar contenders are all around, but it is a solid thriller, one that will leave you breathing hard and feeling challenged as the credits roll.

It is the story of a professor attending an important international conference in Berlin who becomes separated from his wife because of an auto accident, then finds he has lost his identity--and his wife--to another man. He is confused, angry and intent on getting to the bottom of what happened. And that's the rub. Nothing is as it seems and Liam Neeson's Dr. Martin Harris is left to put together an unlikely coalition of an illegal Bosnian immigrant, a former German secret service spy and a few other incidental people to sort it all out.

The supporting cast--particularly Frank Langella and Diane Kruger--is solid and the writing is fast-paced and intelligent.

It is playing at several theaters in the Roanoke area. (This movie is not to be confused with 2006's "Unknown" with Jim Caviezel.)

The New Economy: Good Jobs for Bad

Graphic from Sen. Al Franken's Web site.^

As the Koch Brothers and their toady-boy Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin attempt to strip any remaining voice from the American worker, there comes word that the job growth we've been experiencing nationally of late is a good bit more underwhelming than you might expect.

Richard Eskow tells you what you need to know about the Koch gang and its attempted takeover of the American workplace (and the huge government contracts it will reap in the process) here, but as important is that good jobs in our economy are being replaced by jobs that either don't pay a living wage or are barely there.

The National Employment Law Project tells us that jobs in high wage industries constitute 14 percent of growth and 40 percent of job loss; jobs in low-wage industries had a 23-percent loss rate and gained 49 percent. The middle lost 36 percent of its jobs and gained 37 percent back.

The housing and financial sectors lost the most jobs. Here's a look at the report.

And here's a final insult to injury caveat courtesy of my pal Bonnie Cranmer. Seems employers and recruiters in the U.S. want job applicants who have jobs, not those who are unemployed. How many ways can that be wrong?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Words Just Won't Come

A few minutes ago I received a 564-word e-mail from one of my favorite writers explaining that her 600-word story, due a week ago, isn't finished. Just can't find the words, she says.

Sometimes editing is a real riot.

Friday, February 18, 2011

'Barney's Version' Thoroughly Entertaining

My suspicion is that it is a lot better for the moviegoer not to have read Mordecai Richler's 1997 novel Barney's Version if you're going to enjoy Michael Konyves' version on the silver screen. This was a deep, multi-layered novel covering 40 years of a complex man's life, crammed into 132 minutes and, frankly, I enjoyed every one of them. I didn't read the book.

Paul Giamatti, as Barney Panovsky, is, as always, just about perfect and he is ably supported by Dustin Hoffman as his beat cop, Jewish dad and three wives played in succession by Rachelle Lefevre, Minnie Driver and the lovely Rosamund Pike. You'll note that I say Ms. Pike is "the lovely," ignoring that description for Ms. Driver, whom I've been in love with for 15 years. Says something about Ms. Pike, I think.

Anyhow, it's a fun, involving, loving and touching movie that I truly liked and didn't expect. Nice treat for a pretty spring-like evening in mid-February.

Here's Why We All Adore Republicans

This is random, I know, but logging headlines in today's Huffington Post, then Googling "GOP Opposes" and "GOP Supports" resulted in the following:

  • GOP Sends State Troopers After Dem Leader
  • Planned Parenthood Funding Blocked In House Vote
  • House Votes To Defund Health Reform
  • House Blocks EPA From Regulating Greenhouse Gases
  • Government Shutdown More Likely Than Not
  • GOP Goes After Funding for Public Broadcasting
  • Sarah Palin Goes After Michelle Obama Over Breastfeeding Initiative
  • House Debates Blocking Funds for Reform
  • Goodlatte Seeks To Block Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Funding
  • GOP Opposes Vote Extending Middle Class Tax Cuts
  • GOP Opposes Meatpacking Changes
  • GOP Opposes Federal Fracking Regulations
  • GOP Opposes DREAM Act (immigrant education bill)
  • GOP Senators Oppose U.N. Children’s Rights Convention
  • GOP Opposes Medical Funding for 9/11 Victims
  • GOP Opposes U.S. Envoy to Damascas
  • GOP Opposes Policies That Will Help Economy
  • GOP Opposes Expanded Water Act
  • GOP Opposes Extension of Unemployment Benefits
  • GOP Supports Extending Tax Cuts for Wealthy
  • GOP Supports States’ Rights
  • GOP Supports Offshore Drilling
  • Iowa GOP Supports Amendment To Strip Obama’s Nobel Prize
  • Montana GOP Supports Police State
  • GOP Supports Survival of Fittest

Saturday, February 12, 2011

'That's the dress I wore to the prom ...'

Samantha Hawley, who plans to wed in June, tried on wedding dresses Feb. 12 at the Goodwill Industries retail store on Williamson Road and ran into quite a coincidence as she looked behind her. Deidra Stultz (in the blue dress) had left Northside High School's Saturday morning basketball practice to look for a prom dress and this one seemed to score. Samantha looked at Deidra as she was being photographed and said, with delight, "That's the dress I wore to the prom last year!" The bridal gown day was a special promotion at Goodwill.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

River Laker: Funny Guy or Public Menace?

Here's River Laker in better times and clothed.^

River Laker's impromptu striptease (with a bicycle helmet covering his jewels) has caused something of a ruckus and brings to mind a simple question: What the hell did you people expect? This is River Laker. He does things like this all the time.

The defensive posturing by event sponsors and owners of 202 Market, where the stip occurred, would be laughable if not so pitiful. OK, so some minor ABC law might have been smudged, but this is River Laker. Riv is quoted in this a.m.'s daily paper as saying he likes to see how far he can push the envelope before the employment police terminate him.

Lighten up, people. River seems to be the only person involved in this who has the proper perspective: it was a joke. It was funny. So laugh and get on with what's next.

Bobby Pence Triology Begins To End Tonight (With Nudity)

The finale of Kenley Smith's Bobby Pence triology begins tonight at Studio Roanoke with "The New Testament" (the poster calls it "The Brand New Testament") and if you've seen the first two, this is a can't miss. And it has nekkid people in it. Briefly, it warns. Lots of cussing, too. And, my guess is, lots of Kenley Smith's memorable, fall down funny writing.

In the final episode, Bobby has become a "charismatic healer, lay preacher and budding Internet phenomenon" and all that raises questions in the mind of a young researcher looking for the truth. Kenley's understanding of Southerners and their love-hate relationship with religion has been spot-on in the two previous installments of the triology.

"The New Testament"follows predecessors "Devil Sedan" and "Twelve Stations of the Cross." Buy tickets online here for $15 or call 540-343-3054 and buy them for $20. Seniors and military personnel pay $12.

The play runs Feb. 9-20 at 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturdays with 2 p.m. matinees Saturday and Sunday.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

How a Dope Gets Elected to Congress

If you've wondered how a plodding, slow-witted, dim bulb like Morgan Griffith defeated one of the most consistent, intelligent and honorable men in Congress during the last election, a story in the L.A. Times will give you a pretty good clue. Here it is. My pal Tom Barger sent me the link.

One point that the Times article doesn't make is that the Republican Supreme Court's decision on campaign finance (effectively saying a corporation or any other organized group is a "person" with full citizenship rights of free speech, which is patently absurd, but is the kind of logic you expect from this pack of ravenous Constitution shredders) enabled massive infusions of secret, outside money to be channeled to people like Griffith.

He's a man of such monumental lack of accomplishment and narrow intellectual scope that he has never wanted to operate in the open. He is a guy who doesn't like to speak publicly, debate or even be interviewed because he is so easily exposed as a doctrinaire fool. These are the people who are manipulated by the obscenely wealthy people like those in the Times story.

The Times article is scary on a lot of levels, not the least of which is watching people like Griffith replace capable, intelligent, accomplished legislators.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Striking a Beneficial Deal in Richmond! How Novel

There seems to be the smallest hint of effective collaboration coming from this region's delegation to the General Assembly, something you haven't heard much of for a number of years. Del. Bill Cleaveland of Botetourt County is watching his modest bill that would give Roanoke the option of starting its school year earlier than the state mandates move forward.

The bill may not pass--and it may; hard to say at this point--but more important than whether children are in your living room or the school room in late August is that the Morgan Griffith-less delegation is working together for the benefit of the entire region and not just for Morgan Griffith's campaign chest. Griffith resigned recently and won a U.S. House seat--one I suspect he'll occupy for two years until the horror of what they did settles on the Ninth District voters.

A story in Roanoke's daily paper (here) gives the details of the detail--including that two thirds of Roanoke's school children depend on free or reduced-price meals, meaning when school's not in many of them don't eat--of the dealing and it's impressive for a group of mostly new-ish representatives. One could take heart if one were of a mind.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

James Taylor in Roanoke May 20

OK, Boomers, Sweet Baby James is on his way.

Singer James Taylor will appear at the Roanoke Civic Center Friday, May 20, with tickets going for $67 and $87. Tickets go on sale Friday, Feb. 11 at 10 a.m. at the civic, online at or by phone 877-482-8496.

Taylor has earned 40 gold, platinum and multi-platinum awards and five Grammy Awards for a catalog running from 1970s “Sweet Baby James” to his Grammy Award-winning efforts “Hourglass” (1997) and “October Road” (2002), to his Grammy Award- nominated Covers, his last solo release.

His individual hits are standards: "Fire and Rain," "Country Road," "You’ve Got A Friend," "Mexico," "Shower The People," "Your Smiling Face," "Carolina In My Mind," "Sweet Baby James," and many more.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

To Sour Or Not To Sour

A rhetorical question (based on recent experience):

If buttermilk goes sour, how can you tell?