Everything that follows is older than Hit Girl: A brief look back at 1996

In 1996,

The murder of nine-year-old Amber Hagerman inspired the creation of the AMBER Alert system;

Yasser Arafat was re-elected as president of the Palestinian Authority;

Hilary Clinton testified before a grand jury investigating the Whitewater scandal;

Copernicium was first created;

Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov;

Alanis Morisette won Album of the Year for Jagged Little Pill, becoming the youngest person to win the award;

Major League Soccer began its inaugural season;

Braveheart won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1995;

The Unabomber was arrested;

In Romer v. Evans, the US Supreme Court ruled a Colorado law denying special protection to homosexuals was unconstitutional;

Seven monks from the Atlas Abbey of Tibhirine were kidnapped during the Algerian Civil War and executed;

Benjamin Netanyahu became Prime Minister of Israel for the first time;

The Nintendo 64 was released in Japan and the United States;

Journalist Veronica Guerin was murdered;

Dolly the sheep, the first cloned mammal, was born;

The Summer Olympics were held in Atlanta;

Eric Rudolph bombed Centennial Olympic Park;

The Ramones played their last show;

Bill Clinton defeated Bob Dole to win a second term as US President;

Prince Charles and Diana divorced;

The Big 12 Conference began its inaugural season;

Hurricane Fran made landfall near Cape Fear, North Carolina;

The last Magdalene asylum closed;

The Taliban captured Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan;

The Fox News Channel debuted;

Mother Theresa became an honorary US Citizen;

The Sands Hotel and Hacienda in Las Vegas were demolished;

Kofi Annan was elected as the Secretary-General of the United Nations (his term would start January 1);

JonBenet Ramsey was murdered;

Seven-year-old Jessica Dubroff died in a plane crash attempting to become the youngest person to fly across the United States;

Sophie Turner, Abigail Breslin, Tom Holland, Kodi Smith-McPhee, Jena Irene, Liam James, and Dylan Minnette were born;

While Francois Mitterand, Barbara Jordan, A.G. Gaston, Jonathan Larson, Joseph Brodsky, Jerry Siegel, Gene Kelly, Audrey Meadows, Martin Balsam, McLean Stevenson, Pat Brown, Audrey Munson, Haing Ngor, Minnie Pearl, George Burns, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Edmund Muskie, David Packard, Greer Garson, Christopher Robin Milne, Erma Bombeck, Saul Bass, P.L. Travers, Jon Pertwee, Lash LaRue, Timothy Leary, Ray Combs, Jo Van Fleet, Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Allen, Margaux Hemingway, Herb Edelman, Claudette Colbert, Bill Monroe, Juanita Wright, Tupac Shakur, Spiro Agnew, Paul Erdös, Rene Lacoste, Morey Amsterdam, Alger Hiss, Tiny Tim, Pete Rozelle, Howard Rollins, Carl Sagan, Lew Ayres, and Jack Nance died.

The following is a list of my ten favorite films released in 1996:

Continue reading “Everything that follows is older than Hit Girl: A brief look back at 1996”

A look back at 3172, Year of Our Lady of Discord*

*3172 in the Discordian calendar was 2006 in the Gregorian calendar.

In 2006,

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first female elected head of state of an African nation;

NASA launched the New Horizons spacecraft;

The Winter Olympics were held in Turin, Italy;

Twitter launched;

The Human Genome Project published the last chromosome sequence;

Montenegro became an independent nation;

Paul McCartney, who wrote “When I’m Sixty-Four” when was sixteen years old, turned sixty-four;

Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet;

Ban Ki-moon was elected as the 8th Secretary-General of the United Nations;

The United States population passed 300 million people;

No. 5, 1948 by Jackson Pollock was sold for $140 million, becoming the most expensive painting at the time;

Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death and executed;

Al Jazeera launched an English language version of its news channel;

Monday Night Football moved to ESPN after 35 season on ABC;

Big Love, The New Adventures of Old ChristineHannah MontanaMickey Mouse ClubhouseThe HillsCelebrity DeathmatchPsychRachel RayHeroesUgly BettyDexterFriday Night Lights, and 30 Rock debuted on American television;

Malcolm in the MiddleThe West WingThat 70s ShowWill & Grace, Charmed, and Alias aired their final episodes;

While Lou Rawls, Shelley Winters, Wilson Pickett, Chris Penn, Coretta Scott King, Betty Friedan, Don Knotts, Darren McGavin, Kirby Puckett, Maureen Stapleton, Buck Owens, Caspar Weinberger, Stanislaw Lem, Earl Woods, Floyd Patterson, Lloyd Bentsen, Billy Preston, Aaron Spelling, Kenneth Lay, Syd Barrett, Red Buttons, Mickey Spillane, Jack Warden, Mike Douglas, Steve Irwin, Byron Nelson, Jane Wyatt, Red Auerbach, William Styron, Adrienne Shelly, Jack Palance, Milton Friedman, Bo Schembechler, Robert Altman, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Augusto Pinochet, Peter Boyle, Joseph Barbera, James Brown, and Gerald Ford died.

The following is a list of my ten favorite films released in 2006:

Continue reading “A look back at 3172, Year of Our Lady of Discord*”

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Equus (1977)

When 17-year old Alan Strang blinds six horses with a metal spike, psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Richard Burton) investigates at the request of a court magistrate.

After a series of intense therapy sessions, Alan reveals he worships horses as the manifestation of the divine. When a girl took him to the stables to consummate their relationship, he felt his beloved horses watching and judging him. Ashamed, he lashed out in anger.

Burton is electric in the opening and closing monologues as he talks about the ways our desire to worship the divine manifests itself. Alan’s relationship with horses is taboo and reprehensible, but we often find examples of revered people of faith acting outside the mainstream of acceptable behavior. Despite Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of his son, we hold him as a supreme example of faith.

Dysart sees this paradoxical leap of faith as integral to the human experience and worries his professional work is undermining it. Echoing themes from A Clockwork Orange, Dysart worries his attempts to “cure” Alan will remove the passion and spark which makes him unique.


45 Years of Big Concussions

Concussion (2015)

Concussion (2015)

After forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) examines the body of former Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster, he believes Webster’s erratic behavior and suicide were the result of damage done to his brain during his playing career. Over a period of several years, Omalu investigates the deaths of several former NFL players and confirms his hypothesis.

His published findings encounter stiff resistance from the NFL. The billion dollar business uses every weapon at its disposal to discredit Omalu’s discovery.

The NFL’s attempt to stonewall are thwarted when former player and NFL Players Association executive Dave Duerson commits suicide, leaves a note about his ongoing cognitive problems, and donates his brain to Omalu’s research.

Smith is very good as the single-minded doctor and Albert Brooks is excellent as Omalu’s mentor, Cyril Wecht. This brave film implicitly asserts fans’s complicity in the deaths of Mike Webster, Andre Waters, and Junior Seau, among others. We cheered as they hurled their bodies at each other, and celebrated the deadly big hits on Sportscenter.

I’m sympathetic to the argument the players knew what they were doing. No one was fooled into thinking football was a nonviolent sport. However, the NFL intentionally downplayed the risks and suppressed evidence; they encouraged more violent action in their game, as they simultaneously learned the dangerous consequences.

The NFL’s ruthless business tactics have made football one of the most popular and profitable sports in the world, but profit margins and doing the right thing are often at odds. Invariably, businesses and other social institutions will choose the path which will least impact their bottom line, forgoing any responsibility to make the world a better place. Often their justification boils down to a variation of a familiar refrain, “it’s just business.” This rationale is unacceptable. Business is not a realm of life immune from moral considerations.

I love football, but even the most ardent fans and apologists understand the existential threat the NFL’s actions represent. It’s one thing to be unaware of risks, it’s quite another thing to hide and obfuscate them. I hope and pray the people making decisions about the future of the sport are wiling to adapt to the evidence before it’s too late.

The Big Short (2015)

The Big Short (2015)

Everyone remembers the financial crisis which temporarily suspended the 2008 President election and caused millions of Americans to lose their life savings.

We’ve seen documentaries and news reports and understand it was somehow related to ill-advised home loans. What we didn’t know is several individuals understood the structural inadequacies in the housing sector, foresaw the impending disaster, and bet against the market. While the majority of people lost their savings and retirement, these guys made a fortune.

This film is another indictment of the greedy, unscrupulous tactics which crippled the economy, leaving the less fortunate holding the bag. What sets this film apart from the glut of other films dealing with 21st century financial malfeasance are the series of short segments featuring well-known celebrities (Selena Gomez at a craps table with a Nobel laureate, Margot Robbie in a bubble bath, and Anthony Bourdain at work in a kitchen) elucidating difficult economic principles. Director Adam McKay’s experience with short comedy films on Funny or Die taught him how to present information in short segments and make it captivating.

This film was marketed as a comedy, but this undersells the film’s power. It’s not funny as much as infuriating that so many people profited from, and remain unaccountable for, their unethical tactics.


45 Years (2015)

Geoff (Tom Courtenay) learns the body of his previous girlfriend Katya, who fell into an icy crevasse a half century ago, has been discovered. Nearly fifty years after he last saw her, thoughts of this previous relationship dominate his mind, even as his 45th anniversary to Kate (Charlotte Rampling) approaches, causing the couple to reflect on their past and contemplate their future.

It’s a nice, sweet film about the accumulated memories and decisions of a shared life. At a certain point, familiarity becomes a crutch and we forget our spouses had lives before us. Kate no longer sees Geoff, she sees her husband, which are not always the same thing.

Rampling is great and deserves the accolades she’s received, while Courtenay’s work is subtle and heartbreaking.

The premise of the reappearing girlfriend is contrived, but the film provides deep insight into relationships and reminds me of Harry and Tonto or Wild Strawberries, only instead of a man reflecting on his mortality, we see a long-term relationship at its close.