Sunday, September 26, 2010

How "Snakes on a Plane" could have been good.

I picked up the Snakes on a Plane DVD in the $3 bin at Big Lots. I did not expect it to be a great film, but I thought it would be an entertaining and perhaps fun way to spend an evening. After watching it last night, indeed while we were watching it, my husband remarked that we paid $3 too much.

In case you just got out of a multi-year stint in a bio-dome, here's a brief synopsis of the film. Nathan Phillips plays Sean, a young man who witnessed the violent murder of a Los Angeles prosecutor in Hawaii. He is taken into protective custody by FBI agent Neville Flynn, played by Samuel L. Jackson. The pair board a plane for L.A. so that Sean can testify against the killer.

In the meantime, the killer ordered an assortment of deadly snakes from an exotic reptiles dealer in California, had the snakes loaded into the plane's cargo hold, arranged a small explosion to free the snakes mid-flight, and sprayed cartons of souvenir leis with snake pheromones, so that when the snakes are freed, they will attack anyone and everyone who got lei'd getting on the flight.

We get no sense of passage of time between the murder and the flight. It didn't seem like more than a day or two. How did the bad guys fly in a few dozen poisonous snakes (a) without anyone noticing and (b) in time to get them on the L.A.-bound flight carrying the witness? It's an unnecessarily complicated plot, when a slightly stronger explosive device could have been rigged to take the plane down in the middle of the Pacific, and no snakes would have been needed.

When the snakes get out of the box, they waste no time and quickly spread throughout the plane. A pet cat in the cargo section is violently killed. Then the young couple joining the mile high club in the plane's restroom are attacked, while flight attendants listening to the screams outside remark what a good time the couple is having. Soon, snakes drop out of the overhead compartments and passengers run screaming while others are gruesomely killed.

The mass chaos makes it hard to follow exactly what's happening. Many of the victims die gruesome deaths that I think the filmmakers intended to be funny, but it's just not. One man is urinating when a snake leaps out of the toilet and bites the closest appendage; a women is bitten on the eye by a snake that slipped into her dress while she was sleeping; another woman is screaming when the snake darts into her mouth and bites her tongue.

I didn't find any of this humorous, just sick and unnecessary. Maybe the filmmakers didn't introduce us to most of these passengers, because they didn't want us to care about them; they wanted us to laugh at their deaths. We didn't even get a lot of background on Flynn, his associate agent, or the witness, Sean, and we got only brief introductions to a few of the other passengers and flight crew.

The rest of the movie is spent trying to correct systems failures caused by the snakes, while attempting, mostly unsuccessfully, to protect the rest of the passengers until the plane can reach California.

"Snakes on a Plane" started with a clever enough concept, and it could have been a decent film.

They only needed three or four snakes that slither around unseen biting unsuspecting passengers and crew. Suddenly people are saying they got bitten by something and dying and no one knows what it is or where it is. That could have created real suspense.

They should have had a smaller plane. The plane they showed on the runway did not look as big as the interior of the plane set, which had two coach sections and an upstairs first class section. A smaller plane would have created a more claustrophobic setting, and fewer passengers would have allowed us to get to know everyone over the course of the story. The body count would have been lower, but the suspense would have been much greater.

Alternatively, if the filmmakers were trying to make a comedy, they shouldn't have put at risk a cat, a small dog, two young children and a baby. The deaths should not have been so gruesome. It wasn't written or shot like a comedy, not even a bad comedy.

In the end, investigators in Los Angeles have linked the sale of the snakes to a dealer in exotic reptiles, so Sean's testimony against the main bad guy isn't even necessary to convict him of murder. Still, it would have been nice to have a shot of Sean and Agent Flynn looking at a headline saying the killer was going to prison for life or getting the death penalty before we see the happy-go-lucky final shots of the two men surfing together.

The movie cost about $33 million to make and earned about double that worldwide. It probably wouldn't have made that much had the film not generated a lot of internet buzz months before it came out. It's a shame that the film didn't live up to the hype and deliver a decent, well-acted story of terror in the air. With a little attention and thought, it certainly could have.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Who's Behind the Tea Party?

On Thursday, September 16, 2010, I heard a very interesting discussion about the Tea Party movement on NPR. Click here to listen to it yourself.

In the segment, Morning Edition anchor Steve Inskeep talked with two supporters of the Tea Party about what the movement stands for, and he got two very different responses.

Ms. Toby Marie Walker, lead facilitator for the Waco Tea Party, believes the Tea Party movement should focus on fiscal responsibility in government. TEA supposedly stands for Taxed Enough Already, so one could infer that the Tea Party's primary purpose is to reduce taxes and control spending in the national government. Ms. Walker seemed to think that was the most important issue for Tea Party supporters to focus on.

The original tea party, you may recall, was an action taken in 1773 by colonists in Boston who resented paying taxes to the British government. Remember the slogan from the Revolutionary War, "No taxation without representation"?

According to Wikipedia, the current movement began when Graham Makohoniuk made a post online suggesting that people mail a tea bag to Congressfolk who voted in favor of a federal government bailout intended to keep the shaken economy from completely collapsing.

From that simple suggestion grew a movement that now boasts several national organizations or coalitions that promote local chapters and events. In some cases, they are also pushing the agendas of particular parties or politicians. That's my opinion based on the little bit I've heard about the organization and what I've been reading today on their websites.

The media continues to refer to the Tea Party as a grassroots movement, but I believe it's grown beyond that. One example: the California-based Tea Party Express was founded by a political action committee run by Republicans, a fact I found in an article on Salon.com.

The Tea Party Express website doesn't say anything about who runs the organization. Neither does the Tea Party Patriots website. It disturbs me when a website (political or otherwise) doesn't say who is behind it. Is it run by paid staff members or volunteers? Where are these people located? How can organizers (paid or volunteer) be reached, outside of filling out a generic contact form on the site? This kind of identity opaqueness is a red flag for me.

Moving on, the Tea Party organizations that name their intentions all seem to focus on the same issues. Here's one national organization's mission statement, as presented on http://www.teapartypatriots.org: "The impetus for the Tea Party movement is excessive government spending and taxation. Our mission is to attract, educate, organize, and mobilize our fellow citizens to secure public policy consistent with our three core values of Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government and Free Markets."

This brings me to the other guest on NPR, the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer. He says the Tea Party should stand for everything that the Founding Fathers set down in the Constitution. In his mind, the phrase pledging "that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" means the Founding Fathers were against abortion and gay marriage.

Oh, but wait. That's not from the Constitution. That's from a different document, the Declaration of Independence. If the phrase were in the Constitution, or if one chooses to include the Declaration as part of the Constitution for some reason, I could see how someone could use the right-to-life phrase as an argument against abortion, even though, "In early post-Revolution America, abortion, at least early in pregnancy, was neither prohibited nor uncommon." That's from Constitutional Law professor Lawrence Tribe's book, "Abortion: The Clash of Absolutes." It seems to me that granting the rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" would do more to support the legality of gay marriage. Shouldn't any American have the freedom to pursue happiness by marrying whomever he or she pleases?

BOTTOM LINE

I believe that the grassroots beginnings of the Tea Party movement allowed common citizens to express their opinions on the proposed corporate bailout to their elected representatives. The Tea Party name has now been adopted by fundamentalist right-wing extremists who are surreptitiously using it to pretend a more wide-spread adoption of the same rhetoric they've been spouting for years.

The religious right and the Republican Party have the right to believe and say whatever they want. That right is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, Amendment 1. However, they should do that openly, not in secret behind the name of a true grassroots movement that has now, by and large, become a tool for political deception.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Star Wars Saved My Life

This past Monday, I drove my mom up to her cabin in Mansfield, Indiana. As we were passing through Huntsville, Alabama, I saw a billboard advertising a Star Wars exhibit at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and immediately started making plans to stop by for a visit on my way home. (Left, the poster that saved my life!)

EXHIBIT CLOSED

On Tuesday, we went into the "big city" of Brazil, Indiana, and while mom was shopping, I got my internet fix using the free WiFi at McDonald's (thanks, Ronald!). I looked up the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, and to my extreme disappointment, the exhibit had ended eight days earlier. Eight days. ::sigh::

THE FORCE IS WITH ME

On Wednesday, I was driving home, south on Interstate 65, and I saw a sign for a rest stop up ahead. "Next Rest Area 81 Miles" it said. Hmmm. Better stop for a potty break. Then I saw one of those electronic signs typically used around construction zones, and it said "REST AREA CLOSED." Great. Then the words changed to say "TO TRUCKS." Okay, then, I'm in a passenger vehicle. I can still stop. Wonderful.

When I pulled into the parking lot, I could see why the truck area was closed. It was filled with law enforcement vehicles, primarily trucks hauling trailers and those large "mobile command center" vehicles. I could see the top of a boat behind one of the trailers. A law enforcement helicopter was swooping by overhead.

Oh, dear. It's not going into a heavy drive period like a holiday weekend, so it's probably not one of those demos for the TV news where they kick off a safety initiative. Hmmm.

While I was inside, I spotted a poster for the now closed-and-moved-on Star Wars exhibit, so I stopped by the desk and asked the staff member if - since the exhibit is definitely over - could I have the poster. While the very nice Mr. G. Knox hunted for tools to detach the frame from the wall, I wandered about the small area looking at the posted map (222 miles to Pensacola), and I overheard someone say that the LEO were out in force because of some kind of chase. One traveler mentioned that he'd heard something about it on the CB, but they were headed south, implying - or at least I inferred - that the chase was happening in the northbound lanes.

When Mr. Knox handed me the poster. I thanked him and walked out the door.

AVOIDING AN ACCIDENT

And that's when the law enforcement vehicles took off. Woosh, woosh, woosh, one after the other. I hung out by my car, tried my cell phone and realized that it didn't actually charge while it was plugged in overnight (probably because it was pre-occupied with trying to find a non-existent signal in Mansfield), considered taking out my camera to take action shots of the chopper swooping low over the now-backed-up lanes of traffic. The last LEO vehicles pulled out and the stopped traffic started moving, so I figured I'd just go on.

Traffic was moving along well, and then it stopped. All those LEO were lined up along one lane of traffic, while traffic crept by. News trucks from Montgomery channels 8 & 12 were set-up on the side of the road by what appeared to be an accident. Here's the CBS 8 report on what happened:

video

And a report on the accident from WSFA 12:



Once past that scene, traffic opened back up. I noticed more people pulled over for the next hour or so, so I guess as long as all the law enforcement was in the area, they were racking up a few tickets. I also noticed streams of LEO heading north again, including that boat plus an airboat. All for a guy wanted on domestic violence charges?! Doesn't make sense.

Then I found another report at Channel 12 WSFA:



The proliferation of LEO vehicles was not related to the chase, although I suppose everyone was ready to help if needed.

WHY DID THIS HAPPEN?

The thing that gets me is, if I hadn't pulled off in the rest area and waited that extra few minutes for the poster, I might have been in the middle of this chase. They couldn't use that electronic sign to warn drivers to clear the road? An innocent civilian now has damage to her car and thankfully she's okay, but whatever she was supposed to do Wednesday afternoon was blown, and she'll be dealing with the aftermath of this accident for weeks, explaining to her insurance and having to get repairs done. None of it had to happen, if drivers could have been warned.