Monthly Archives: September 2011

Harry Potter: the books, the films (part 3)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

This was the installment that really made the film franchise and the book series winners — because of the great chance it took with its ending. Some didn’t really care for this book, but it was the necessary bridge to the conclusion where there was not any room for the back stories told here. J.K. Rowling was not afraid to take chances and make big things happen, which not only shook the fictional wizarding world, but shook the reader’s world as well. How in the hell are they going to succeed in their mission without Dumbledore? And what of all the unanswered questions? Epic.

In this “book-to-movie” comparison, there’s no doubt about this one – the book was better. That aside, I loved the tone and the style of this one. You could feel the end coming. This was my second favorite book which many people raise an eyebrow to when I tell them. I just loved learning about Snape’s role, going into the history of Tom Riddle, albeit, somewhat “boring” and expository, and discovering not so flattering things about Dumbledore’s ambitious and controlling nature that we never knew. As Harry realizes the imperfect painting of Dumbledore, we too have a hard time believing it. Why did Dumbledore do this? Why did he not do that? It was great discovering, page by page, that nobody, not even the most powerful wizard at Hogwarts, it without his demons and mistakes. He pays for it, and honestly, things could have really been different had Dumbledore done things differently. Think about it.

Killing off main characters is always a guarantee that fans will chatter about what they think is likely to come, and stirring the world up for the eager conclusion guaranteed both huge book sales for Deathly Hallows and record-breaking ticket sales in the theaters. We would continue learning about Dumbledore, and finally find out to which side Snape is truly loyal. (B+)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (pt. 1 and pt. 2)

The biggest bones to be picked seem to always come in the closing chapters of film adaptations. People want to go out on a high note and there are very high expectations for producers and director’s to deliver to the fans that have put so much money into their pockets. The pressure must be unreal. But, they did a good thing by breaking up the final book into two films – a choice that was met with trepidation years ago. Mainly, people wanted to know, well, where is the breaking point going to be? Regardless of how you feel about the selected point, it turns out that this was probably the only way they could have kept what was in the books in the film. If this was one movie – no way.

Deathly Hallows part one, as a film, seemed more balanced to me than part two. In part two they really went all out on the special affects and the battle sequences, and though there were some good moments, maybe you will agree, upon a second watch, things are a little bloated-feeling, and given that this final part encompassed only the last third of the book, there should have been real adherence to a page-by-page adaptation if possible.

A lot of dialogue in the books was changed, and though I would like to argue that the changes fit the film better because it is a different medium and some stuff in the books would feel awkward on screen, I cannot. Especially the final scene with Voldemort. I was disappointed with the radical cutbacks in their final discussion before Harry wins, and the visually striking final blow felt emotionless to me. Harry should have said more. Anyone would in that circumstance. Not a lot, but something. But in the absence of any additional dialogue, I don’t believe the scene carries the weight it did in the book, and that was a mistake easily rendered. Just think for two minutes, writer and director, is this what feels right? Is it like the book. In that regard, the final moments were not band, but were also not what they could have been. I also believe that Neville Longbottom’s character, while having a sweet decapitation, didn’t get his full appreciation.

Lastly, the duplicating cup scene fell short for me. Where is the burning skin, where was that dire drama and fear I felt in the book? Gone.

Part One had more balance between character growth, back story, pacing, drama, dialogue, heart break and action. Also, in Part Two,  what the hell happened to the great flashback between Lily and Snape as kid’s? Why was it so short and unclear and hazy and dreamy in the movie. More time should have been spent on that part for the good of the film and for the understanding of people who had not read the books. That was a scene I was heavily anticipating and what I got was a blurred, fast mess of montage and difficult to decipher, effected voice over. I really had to concentrate and that whole segment seems over-produced in an under-produced way. Man, oh, man. What it could have been. (B-)

MH

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Harry Potter: the books, the films (part 2)

The middle of the Harry Potter series features some of the strongest and weakest parts in the series. The center piece of the series includes moments that sucked in countless young readers into the Multicultural world of Hogwarts for the long haul. From Hermione’s time-turner and the introduction of Sirius Black in The Prisoner of Azkaban, to the strange new teacher and the arrival of Voldemort in Goblet of fire, and to the one where Harry’s friends, both close and acquaintance, must grow up and enter a darker world in Order of the Phoenix; there is never a question that the supporting cast, the families, and much-loved Dobby continued to develop and entertain.

The Prisoner of Azkaban is my personal favorite film. It is the highest rated of all the films on the website Rotten Tomatoes and as of September 2011, this film is the 33rd highest grossing film of all time. This is the film that decided for many who did not read the books whether or not they “got” the series and would continue to follow it. The book was a big technical step for Rowling and she took a lot of risks with the sequencing of the story that really paid off and was widely accepted as genius. Professor Lupin is introduced here, having an integral role in James Potter’s life the future success of the gang bringing down Voldemort and the death eaters. The introduction of Gary Oldman playing the character Sirius Black could not have been better. I clearly remember reading the book and when I got to the part about the psycho escaping and all of the horror stories floating around, I was truly frightened for our heroes and believed the legend of Sirius’s loyalties. I was astounded by the twist about his relationship to Harry and his intimate and trusting relationship that would blossom through Goblet and especially Order of the Phoenix. Bravo. The ending, the map, the back story, Wormtail’s escape, the implications for the next installment. I couldn’t wait! (Only the first three films were rated PG). (rating: A)

For all the misgivings in some of the scenes in Goblet of Fire that unfortunately pull you out of the films, mostly due to producers and sometimes performances, one cannot say that the magic was not there or that the highly anticipated ending and big reveal of Voldemort’s return was not done with great relish. What hurt Goblet of Fire and all of its long haired males (joke) was the Tri-Wizard Ball and the horrible song that the “Weird Sister” performed (ugh, watch it with subtitles), and the general stop-and-go faltering of its pace. This film introduced characters that made the world seem deeper and more believable, but we meet many characters that don’t really matter. Having said that, in its defense, it was great for the main characters in subtle ways and did build on Neville, the Weasley family, Luna Lovegood, and Harry’s relationship with his past. Goblet of Fire did show what that awkward stage of all teens’ lives can be, and though it wasn’t my cup of tea, a lot of people praise exactly what I am condemning. We shall agree to disagree. It hooked many by relating to the act of simply growing up. Rowling, you sneaky thing. This is my least favorite film. (rating: C +)

Order of the Phoenix was the point of no return. These characters where growing up. The story was going to keep getting darker. Shit hit the fan. The end is coming. Not only was crucial information revealed about Dumbledore and Snape, but the continued involvement of the Ministry of Magic made it seem that this was not just affecting some kids at Hogwarts. This was serious and would affect the world around them; including other wizards, witches, and muggles. Yes. Even them. Killing Sirius Black genuinely made me sad. By this point, everything was taken away from Harry. Any hint of a family he may have had was lost, and honestly, I really wish Rowling had writeen Sirius’s death in the sixth book, not the fifth one. Next to Dobby, I think the fans really love Sirius to a similar degree. If they had not yet gotten cute, this is the film where Rupert Grint and Emma Watson really matured and starting becoming heart-throbs to the adoring fans. The make-up, hair, and costuming played to their character’s personalities and appearances. Emma, call me. I also believe this was the film where all the actor’s finally got comfortable with their roles and finally performed with continuity. No longer kids, they honed their craft as actors. Thank god, because the three movies that followed could not be messed up by poor acting. (rating: B-)

David Yates directed Phoenix, and would continue to finish out the series with it’s epic and serious tones. He would direct Half-Blood Prince, and Deathly Hallows pt. 1 and pt. 2.

BTW — Alan Rickman kicks ass. Much love.

MH

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Harry Potter: the books, the films (part 1)

 

Worldwide – It was November of 2001 when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone began a decade long shockwave in planetary pop culture. Though the first three books had been out since 1999 and before, the 2 hour and 22 minute film was everything a generation of kids had been waiting for; imagination, fantasy, and being a kid. A hero.

On Harry Potter’s eleventh birthday, Hagrid takes Harry to the opening gates of an adventure that no one expected and would last until he became a young adult. Once on Platform nine-and-three-quarters, through Diagon alley, Gringott’s bank, Ollivander’s Wand Shop, and the Hogwarts express we go. Striking the near perfect blend of a family film while eventually taking a serious turn in the series, the books and the films set themselves up perfectly for rising conflicts within the story as well as rising profits in this commercially viable phenomenon. It had heart, it had friendship, it had a school for witchcraft and wizardry, and it had merchandising. Not to be cynical (and it was NOT all about money) but big stories and profits like these come around but once or twice per generation, arguable only three have been so memorable: Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and the Harry Potter series. Whether you agree or not is irrelevant, Muggle. HP is here to stay.

The first and second book of the series is where we will begin our journey. Both film adaptations were written by Steve Kloves and directed by Chris Columbus; titled Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (in the UK) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets respectively. By and large this series began innocently enough and that was understandable. The topics and themes available to the characters and the story this early one would have felt out of place to have been too heavy and too serious (as the series later became and was more than welcome.) What we are given in the beginning is the introduction of the characters and the jargon of the world. Masterfully did J.K. Rowling paint the reader a detailed world of magic, magic, and more magic. Everything from the names of people, to the incantations, to the robes and the common household items had a name unlike our own to give the world extraordinary depth and wonder. The first two books, while establishing a larger plot conflict to come later, mostly focused on learning how these characters operate within their world and with each other. Harry Potter; the boy who lived, somehow spared by “You-Know-You”. But why? How? Hermione Granger; the smarty pants over-achiever who saved the boys more times than she cares to remember. Brilliant girl. Ron Weasley; the awkward, red-headed goof who many can relate to and, surprisingly, at least once the films came out, became the idol of many teen girl’s affection.

Together, these three characters plus an equally dimensional and realized cast (including many wonderful and sometimes shady professors, Luna Lovegood, Lucius Malfoy, and Neville Longbottom, etc.) make these two books necessart for the true appreciation of what is to come. Especially in the third book.

But for me, now that I am in my mid-twenties, these books do feel young to me, as do the films, and will always have a place in my heart—however I will be returning to them rarely. I know the basics already, and that’s what these books and movies represent. They are the starting gate. The movies and books I will surely return to first if given the choice are the stories which come after this. If you are gripped in anyway by these first two tales, you are going to be falling in love with J.K.’s series with the tales to come. Get ready. (Harry Potter Series continues in an upcoming blog with even more depth and analysis…)

MH

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Ernest Hemingway and The Sun Also Rises: an analysis

(The first half will be about his legacy. The second half will be about “The Sun Also Rises.”)

PART ONE:

My personal relationship with Hemingway’s writing has been very hit or miss, and it’s not because I don’t understand why he’s held in such high esteem. I do understand what new ways of writing styles he pioneered which did have great effect on modernists and later 20th Century writers, but I am of the mind that because you did it first doesn’t make you the best.

Ernest Hemingway is an important figure in history and in the writing world, but it is not because all of his titles were genius wonders, it was because of his fresh approach. These are two very different things. I believe that there is a difference between a writer who wrote one or two of the best American novels ever and an American writer who is one of the best writers of a century. Hemingway was not one of the best skilled writers of the all time, but he did write in a style all his own and amidst several lackluster books, Hemingway did manage to write some excellent books that should never go out of print.

Having said that, I would like to examine why I am not Hemingway’s biggest advocate and why his style was so important for those of you who do not know.

WHY I’M NOT GAGA FOR HEMINGWAY: After getting through 80-pages of “To Have and Have Not”, 40-pages of “The Old Man and the Sea”, and 50-pages of “In Our Time”, I was prepared to swear off Hemingway for good. I really wanted to enjoy these three books and chose them because his more famous books (i.e. A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises) were so famous I decided to stay away from them and read his lesser known works to see if they were just as good. They were not. And that is why I say that he wrote some of the great novels of the 20th Century but he himself was not one of the greatest writers in the 20th Century. In my opinion, a writer’s batting average must be higher than this.

It is not like me to dismiss books before the 100-page mark, and even then I read books at a 95% completion rate. I began these three books to see what all the fuss was about that I had heard about my entire life. I did not finish them because life is simply too short to read anything less than what truly grips you and makes you think about life. That’s just the kind of reader I am and you should read whatever makes you feel good. I’m not here to judge people, just novels.

THE IMPORTANCE OF HOW HE WROTE: He is the one responsible for brief sentences and long sentences, all very simple in nature, perhaps conversational, using very little adjectives and almost always being in first-person limited narration. He wrote simply to stay objective and was never deeply convoluted or overly poetic but always managed to create over-arching themes through his plots and strong metaphors throughout his pieces. While he does this well, it does not promise to be interesting. I do see these elements in his works, but I’m not always impressed. Some of that is due to the fact that these books are approaching 100-years old and were more seen as a more radical departure from traditional writing style back in the day. I respect that. But the people who rant and rave about his books fail to mention that, and when I am reading “The Old Man and the Sea” I feel like I’m watching a random conversation go on for an hour about how to catch a fish, with some hidden meaning that is not worth digging for. And some sentences are honestly almost “See Spot run. See Spot Jump.” Is this a children’s book?

He was all about “understatement” and being objective; telling the audience what was occurring and allowing them to infer a meaning of their own. He was the originator of “the Iceberg Theory” which states that much like an iceberg is only partially seen above the water, the inferences within a piece are mostly below the surface. The book needs to be thought about and digested and “read in to.”

In addition to this, he was also the writer who began the idea of writing things that—while sometimes are cryptic allegories for a larger meaning—are sometimes nothing more than your average everyday banter about absolutely nothing. Some consider this a waste of space; some see it as accurately capturing true speech and people’s slices of life. I’ll let you judge that one. I compare it to the 90s and 2000s director Quentin Tarantino, especially some of the scenes in “Reservoir Dogs” and “Death Proof” where we are really just watching people “shoot-the-shit” for about 15-long minutes. Sometimes it’s painful, sometimes it’s brilliant, but it’s always original. That’s how I feel about Hemingway.

As a side note, I will be reading “A Farewell to Arms” in the next year or so just to prove to myself that it was his best work and everything else I will ever read by him will probably fall short. I hope that is true, because I do not have time for “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, often cited as one of the best three or so he has written.

 

PART TWO:

So this brings us to “The Sun Also Rises”, Hemingway’s 1923 novel about the Lost Generation, or so I am told by every quote and reaction I’ve read by other amateurs and professional reviewers. It has left me wondering, is the swill in their brains so indoctrinated from years of being told what is good art that they’ve all just agreed to agree with one another?—because unless everyone truly picks up on the exact same things and doesn’t just copy of each other, I’d be surprised. Original opinions are impossible to find from reviewers of Hemingway.

The title “The Sun Also Rises” is supposed to resemble the down and out characters by the end of the novel. Life isn’t over for them yet, and the sun may rise again, giving them another chance to fix their fucked up lives.

It is broken up into three books. The third book is one chapter and was unnecessary to split off into its own book. Book one is mostly in Paris. Book two is most of the book and takes place in Pamplona and Spain at Bullfights and fiestas. Book three is where everyone goes home and is needlessly one chapter long.

I already was rubbed wrong about this book for two big reasons. The first reason was that Hemingway and his editor decided to throw away, yes, just toss, the first thirty pages of this book and start at some arbitrary point. He felt this was modernist and gives it the feel of not having a firm starting place. If this was his intended idea, in order to say something about the chaos of life of how complicated it can be, he did a good job and this emanated through the novel. We will never know what the first thirty pages said. I feel this detracts from the novel because it begins with a whole chapter devoted to a secondary character, giving us his back story and teaching us about who he is and why. This never pays off, because you think this was done intentionally and there will be some important focus or reason that this character, Robert Coen, is described so vividly. No. With every passing chapter I was waiting for some more clues, and each time he was in a chapter with a few lines, I really looked for some meaning to guess what big role he had in the book and prepare for a big scene later on. Never happened.

The second issue I had with this book, before I even read the first page, was that Hemingway wrote this during his stay in Paris and Spain in 1925 and it took him only 8-weeks to write. The novel is a roman à clef; the characters are based on real people and the action is based on real events. I was hesitant about this, because while all good fiction is based somewhat on a situation or emotion felt on the author, simply writing a journal about your time in a country and changing some names and making some events more dramatic is lazy to me. I was preparing myself for a bore.

Some run-on sentences marred by too many commas in the book were up to 16, yes, 16 lines long. And whole chapters I could have skimmed through because our main character, Jake, was just talking about fishing and nature with a random Englishman that never came back or had any effect on the plot. You could argue that it was to show a peaceful time where no drama was going on and show how nice things can be without women and war which are always bad news, and in that regard you would be right. Again, this writing wasn’t poor, and even these long chapters describing the skylines of Spain were well done and enjoyable, they just weren’t moving the story along, and honestly, I am a story guy. I want conflict and resolution. If there are people out there who love descriptions of places they’ve never been or want a chapter of reprieve to read on a beach every once in a while, this book is for you. It very accurately, I am told, paints a picture of café life in Paris and the bullfighting celebrations which go on for days in Spain, and for that it is great.

The thing that made me most mad—and there are spoilers coming up right here—is that none of the main characters were killed; nor did they have any epiphany type of moments. It is very anticlimactic while also begin a sad ending I will touch on later. But the main point is these characters are not learning much, there is only the faint promise that they may get it after the book ends, except for the main character and narrator, Jake, who understands his life a LITTLE better, but is still a stupid sap.

I will explain. Every male character in this book, we slowly realize, is in love with this woman, Lady Brett Ashley. I’m not going to talk about the time period or how this was the new type of woman on the city scenes of Europe and New York. I’m going to just give it to you straight. Mike is supposed to be marrying her, but she is still sleeping around and flirting with everyone. The main character Jake is maimed in some way in World War I and is rendered impotent so he cannot make love to her but he does still love her. Robert Coen, who I was sure was going to be murdered at some point, just wandered off by the end of the book and really irritated me. There’s a bullfighter named Romero who is charmed by her, but cultural differences soon destroy that relationship after Lady Ashley leaves her fiancé, Mike, to run away with him for only a few days. What a bitch. All the while, everyone is faintly aware of the evil that she resembles and all are aware that everyone loves her, but they are all still friends anyway and go on this vacation together. It’s ridiculous. The only one who seems to have any sense at all is a fourth friend, Bill, who is a funny bastard with no interest in Brett Ashley and is just trying to have fun and drink. His character is most fleshed out and “real”, and what a character he is:

“Listen. You’re a funny guy. I’m fonder of you than anybody on earth. I couldn’t tell you that back in New York. It’d mean I was a faggot. That’s what the Civil War was about. Abraham Lincoln was a faggot. He was in love with Grant. Lincoln just freed the slaves on a bet. Sex explains it all. The Colonel’s lady and Judy O’Grady are lesbians under their skin. Want to hear more?”

I actually did!—because by this page, 116, I was welcoming some humor from the hundred plus pages of complaining and drinking and bullshit talking.

A note about the drinking. It’s in every chapter. This whole book is about people drinking and talking in cafes, bars, and taxis. They do this in Paris. They do this in several places in Spain. There is a huge blowout, and since Jake loves Brett, he comes to her rescue after the bullfighter, Romero, is done with her and they go back home. Everyone is separated and Brett says she thinks she’s going to go back to Mike now, like he has no say in the matter. “of course he will take me back,” she undoubtedly thinks. Psh. Bitch. If there is one thing this book does, it makes you hate that bitch Lady Brett Ashley. She even calls herself a “bitch” on about twenty times, lamenting like she has no control over her self.

On page 148 I got my first glimpse at what this whole hellish book could have been about, and that came with the narration of Jake thinking about woman and Lady Ashley:

“Women made such swell friends. Awfully swell. In the first place you have to be in love with a woman to have a basis of friendship. I have been having Brett for a friend. I have not been thinking of her side of it. I have been getting something for nothing. That only delayed the presentation of the bill. The bill always came. That was one of the swell things you could count on.”

I’m glad this moment came, in just the right spot on page 145. This excerpt is about how he is impotent and has been receiving Brett’s friendship without really giving her any physical affection. It is clear in the text that before there was Mike, Jake was the sole owner of Ashley’s heart, and this is reinforced on the very final page as well. These two people are in love and will always be in love, but because of Jake’s “situation”, he must let her go out and play the field of men, and he must allow it. But he will also end up paying the bill when he decides he must go and pick her up via train because she is all alone an moneyless and would surely have been raped and killed out there in Spain on her own. It’s a tragedy that she can give her physical love to every man but never her heart because it is with Jake, while Jake can give all the heart he want to anyone but can never consummate it physically with Brett, so they know it is impossible. Still, I hate Lady Brett Ashley. Fuck her.

One of my favorite lines, which sums up the entire book, was on page 155 during one of the parades in Pamplona:

“They put Bill and me by the arms and put us in the circle. Bill started to dance, too. They were all chanting. Brett wanted to dance but they did not want her to. They wanted her as an image to dance around.”

She wants her freedom in more than one way, but everyone, including some of the main and secondary characters, wants her for themselves or as only one thing. Maybe the society of men made her into a bitch and she is totally innocent in the matter. Arguable. This was the turn of the tides for the new woman of the 20th Century, with flapper hair and ultimate promiscuity. On page 183, she even talks about how she’s lost her self-respect.

In closing, this book is filled with anti-Semite remarks, long passages of description, and doesn’t come through on some of the anticipated payoffs. You will both feel sorry for and hate the treatment everyone gives to Robert Coen, who is obsessed with Ashley and doesn’t get the scene time or dialogue he should have, not to mention there was never more than a fist fight with him in it. He should have been killed somehow. I wanted a big meaning to the book, and I didn’t get it. There are no loose ends though; everything makes sense, in Hemingway’s defense, it just wasn’t very satisfying.  

Read this if you like other Hemingway, but I have a feeling (from what I’ve heard) that “A Farewell to Arms” is better. I can’t back that up yet, though. This book was a drunk, selfish romp through several countries that reminded me of Casablanca mixed with On the Road by Kerouac and a tiny bit of “The Great Gatsby.”

The men are dumb for not knowing there are thousands of other women out there. These guys are all hopeless alcoholics, fated to do the same thing over and over, much like alcoholic Hemingway who writes about fishing or hunting in every goddamned book he ever wrote. Is there really nothing else you’d rather do than take a bus and train ride with people who torture each other? Again some of these complaints aren’t about Hemingway’s writing, but about the actions of these annoying, imperfect characters which I guess were people he really knew. Just felt a little thrown together at parts.

Totally underwhelmed, but did make me want to visit Pamplona.  Paris was boring. Good ending. Needed more drama. Writing above average.

MOST GRADES: 8.5/10

MY GRADE: 7/10

MH

 

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A Decade After ENRON and the Minds that Gave Us the Recession: an essay

Unfortunately, the only bad thing to happen ten years ago was not only the attacks on 9/11. The following month, in October 2001, the Enron Scandal exploded in the media. These people are truly the antithesis of integrity, aiming for profits and not watching out for us. Here is an abridged look at Enron and the kinds of people that populate Wall Street. The way the men thought at ENRON has continued with others and has given us the current economic woes we are all feeling today. The past ten years have been almost all decline.

NOTE:

The following essay was something I wrote for a class in 2008. I brushed it up a bit for the 10 year anniversary of what I consider the “beginning.” I mean the beginning of what was to come in NY and Washington leading up to our downfall from 2009-2011. The recession did not come from nowhere, and these are some of the minds responsible. This kind of great-risk-great-profit mindset has sent us into the current recession, and will surely continue into 2012. Remember, Enron are just the ones that got caught. You think it was just them doing shady stuff? This recession has already been longer and more painful than most Americans imagined, and that was because no one was paying attention. After bailouts in 2010 and massive stimulus packages in 2010/2011, the citizenry began to climb but then quickly sputtered and faltered once more when the money ran out, maintaining a 9-10% unemployment. In 2001, that was 4.9% unemployment. But how the home mortgage crisis and the $787 Billion dollar bank bailout were handled are for another paper. We are talking about one of the smoking guns here. One of the starters of it all. The freshmen class of disaster. The people with a lot of money, including access to your money, have a lot of power and have been doing stuff like this for decades. Stay informed. And check out the very detailed timeline link at the bottom of this essay to really see how many years this scandal was in the making.

So… 

Strippers, dirt biking, insider trading, suicide, and forced Californian blackouts. Sound like money and fun, especially the dirt biking. It’s safe to say the actions of a “good ‘ol boys” club like this would not be suited for or allowed in the business world, but for a while, this was exactly what Enron was. There are more people to blame than just those that will be reference here, but I only have time for the arguable key players in this scandal of biblical proportions. Well, at least the biggest in corporate American history. In the end, I hope to prove why the real reason behind Enron’s collapse was not just a couple cocky guys, but rather a broad and general attitude our corporate culture is spiraling into which needs to stop.

Many, many are to blame, the main guys however, were Skilling, Lay, Fastow, and the banks involved.

The first problem was Ken Lay and his power to appoint who he wished to be his CEO. The problem here was that he picked a very ambitious visionary named Jeffery Skilling. This was a man who wanted to reinvent the whole natural gas industry, and even if his intentions were chivalrous at the start, calamity ensued like Wile E. Coyote in a Looney Tunes short. Let us briefly look at the philosophy of these criminals (read: gentlemen). Many of these men, but specifically Jeff Skilling, were very Darwinian in their approach to business. Skilling was someone who wanted instant gratification for his brilliance. Humility? No thank you. This was something many looked up to in the organization and fueled this dog-eat-dog approach. As long as the guys up top were telling the guys down below like the traders that what they were doing was okay, even if the people down below knew otherwise ethically, they would all continue right along in step. It’s called diffusion of responsibility. They teach it in psychology.

Anyway, these acts were manifested in their frequent trips with business partners and investors to remote locations for dirt biking, jeep mud driving, extreme and dangerous hikes and so on. Lou Pai, who I will mention briefly, was an executive who preferred to take his associates to strip clubs. I wonder whose money he used. He later would be one of the few who cashed out millions early enough to get out clean before the implosion, where he then left his wife to marry and run off with his stripper girlfriend who had his baby. Now that’s America’s finest right there.

Now, back to Jeff Skilling: he signed onto Enron but only under the preface that he be allowed to implement his own accounting method called “mark-to-market” accounting. This was from the very beginning something that could never be accurate in the sense that you cannot hypothesize future projections based on an idea as soon as it comes out of your mouth. The really wild thing was that Arthur Andersen signed off on it and the S.E.C. approved it! It was ridiculous, yet no one questioned it from the very beginning because they arguably knew the benefits of never having to document a cash flow sheet, book its debts, or present a balance sheet with earning statements. Being the power house and financial institution they were, they should have absolutely been made to make one. The problem was even if they did, it may have been falsified. The scent of possible profit blinded hundreds of people who should have had stronger oversight principles for people like me and you, but everyone just played along with they’re hands out and eyes closed.

Enter stage left, Andy Fastow. This was the man who put Skilling’s ideas into action. Though they were all losing money year in and year out in 2000 and first half of 2001, it was Andy Fastow’s job to conceal the 30 billion in debt with various trickery. So he created many companies to fraudulently hide the debt. Of course, these companies only dealt with Enron and it was a clever way to lie about the loans and flow of money. It was confusing to many, so no one asked because they just figured it was too complicated to understand. That’s the mind set they wanted us to have. Bravo.

Fastow made 45 million by the way for his own benefit, but he deserved it right? How else are these executives and traders going to retire by the time they reach forty-one years old to their three houses? In selling investors pieces of companies like LJM for example who only buy Enron stock, he’s guaranteeing himself funds. He was working both sides, and was an obvious conflict of interest. Because of these fantastic claims, about 96 banking companies put as much as 25 million in each. Do the math. Yikes.

Then came the deregulation of Californian electricity. Good times there. There free-market idea was a complicated one that I don’t even understand completely, but I do know no one could clearly devise a set of rules for it, which inevitably would lead to foul play – it did.

Enron traders would call the electric plants and tell them to shut off the grid for hours at a time in order to hike up the costs of the utility so they could reach their quarterly goals. That doesn’t really seem ethical. They had more than enough power to run the state by a few dozen gigawatts, I believe. The crazy thing is there are recordings of Enron traders admitting that they shouldn’t be doing what they were doing and that they were making too much money. It made them nervous. Anybody would be. But as long as the guys up top said “carry on, gentlemen, carry on,” they would (see above: diffusion of responsibility reference).

Once these men and women rationalized to themselves that what they were doing was alright, they were a non-stop engine of capital gain, corporate lust, deception, greed, and were just a cheerleader for America’s corporate culture itself. They were not the first company to do this. It’s been going on for a long time—maybe to smaller and less detrimental degrees—but it will continue in America. Boy, has it ever (see current situation, Recession. I saw that one coming).

Who to blame?: Skilling, Lay, the governor of California for not putting his foot down harder, the president and vice president for not helping the millions of their citizens in California, the guy who picked up the phone at the power plant and flicked the switch, Fastow, all the upper level executives, the public (though only slightly) for being so disinterested and indifferent to the world around them, and especially all the banks who put money into Enron and never flinched at the miraculous and continuous climb of profits.

The banks especially knew that the gain occurring couldn’t possibly be real, but as long as they were given money in the end, they were happy and kept their mouths shut. They didn’t want to know, because that would end the ride for them and everyone; which is kind of what happened when Sharron Watkins voiced her concerns and everyone thought she was crazy to take them head on. At least some one did, and David took down Goliath. How could they not “ask why”? I’m not making this up, but that is really the slogan for Enron. “Ask Why.” Ironic as hell.

SO all of them are to blame. This was not the plot of three middle-aged profit mongers, but rather the compliance of HUNDREDS who live with weak ethics, if any at all. They had to pull this off together because it was so elaborate; everyone had to lie as the profits rose. This collapse was the result of a majority of what the American capitalist system has become… and we deserved it.

I’m sad for those who lost jobs and 401K’s, but this is what happens when you sit around eating Big Macs and watching American Idol. Enron simply took it that extra step. They recognized the pre-existing greed on Wall Street and simply took the reigns. Lay, by the way, lied about the stocks going down, all the way to the last day, when he KNEW about the millions in debt. Under oath! Everyone who should have said “no” never did, and many had multiple chances to blow the whistle; including Bush and Cheney who were aware.

Ask Why? Because these big boys with there “smoke-‘em-out, me-or-you, Let’s-get-every-penny-we-can-from-our-own-friends-and-fellow-citizens-then-retire-when-we’re-thirty-five” attitude has the potential to kill us all. Kind of like executive and personal friend to Skilling, J. Cliff Baxter; here was his suicide note when he was found dead on January 25, 2002:                    

 

Carol,

I am so sorry for this. I feel I just can’t go on.

I have always tried to do the right thing, but

where there was once great pride now there

is none. I love you and the children so much.

I just can’t be any good to you or myself. The

pain is overwhelming. Please try to forgive me.                                    

Cliff

At least some one felt bad, because no one else from Enron seemed to take any blame. It’s unfortunate that he had taken his share of the blame and his life. It is tragic. I guess it’s not all bad though; Lou Pai is somewhere with a stripper. Seriously, Ken Lay is dead, and Skilling is in prison right now, but we all know it’s still not enough. We are still living in the wake of their fuck ups, and more people on Wall Street have just made more. It won’t ever be right. Our habits haven’t changed as a people. No amount of legislation on Capitol Hill can fix it. It is us we must fix.

MH

__________________________________

Sources were solely obtained from:

1) My brain, as I personally followed the even for years.

2) ENRON: the smartest guys in the room  (2005)  (DVD film/documentary)

3) Timeline of the Enron Scandal website:

http://www.answers.com/topic/timeline-of-the-enron-scandal

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16 Years of Toy Story: a trilogy review

Buzz Lightyear. Woody. Rex. Slinky. Mr. Potato Head.

Andy and his toys. His friends.

You probably get an immediate image in your head when I mention these names and you’re not alone. I dare you to find anybody who doesn’t know who these Disney characters are, and that is in part due to the fact this 90s blockbuster was the first of its kind, was truly heartfelt, would touch several generations of people, and would change the look of animated films forever. Period. Don’t argue.

If you are reading this, then you have seen at least one of these films, driven by PIXAR. You know Tim Allen, you know Tom Hanks, and you know Randy Newman’s silly voice singing all the silly opening songs. I must tell you here and now that I will be focusing on the overarching themes and impacts of the trilogy which took fifteen years to come to fruition. If you haven’t seen Toy Story 3 (2010) then please go see it before you continue any further—unless you want my opinion of it first.

Here is my opinion: go see it now! Especially if you grew up with copies of the original or the sequel in your home. You owe it to yourself to cry with Andy.

The Toy Story films are more than original; they were the first to animate and personify toys, which is brilliant when your audience is kids who love toys. Duh. Secondly, you have not hand-drawn art, which I do love, but rather exclusively computer generated images for the first time. No drawn art, no live shots of people or objects. This movie was made entirely in computers. Many computers. And this created new challenges, opportunities, ways of editing and directing, and new hurdles in creativity and sound design. If you could dream it, you could probably make it happen, and you don’t need to damage anything or anyone. You don’t need stunt doubles. None of the “Actors” need coffee or “pee” breaks. They’re digital!!! And if a particular take doesn’t quite hit that facial feature you were looking for, there is no need to call back in the actor for a re-shoot, simply open the program, and make the smile on Woody’s face bigger or more shallow. Kind of crazy when you think about it.

Besides the technological advancements which many are already aware of, what of the cultural impacts? How did this family movie become one of the most important films of the twentieth century?

Firstly, it was the themes and the story being told. Without that, it didn’t matter how great it looked. It would be seen as a little fluke, as a small movie with fancy graphics: nothing more. But the story was relatable. The characters diverse, and the morals and motivations of the main and supporting characters were things the audience had dealt with in the past or would deal with in their youth. Betrayal, fear, loyalty, being parted from loved ones, putting aside differences to get back “home”, and most importantly, love. Had this animated franchise been about “Cars” or “Tall blue creatures”, they would be easily forgotten. But a child’s youth and innocence are not easily forgotten.  Family, a good one, reigns supreme. These emotional responses are deep-seeded, and frankly, genius of the filmmakers to tug on. Brilliant.

In 1995, Toy Story was released to theaters in November. The marketing and advertising was genius. The movie makes it own path for merchandising: Toys.

For god’s sake, how easy is that? Just make the toys that are in the movies and sell them. Bingo.

This continued for over a decade; through the 1999 release of Toy Story 2, arguably, the weakest in the trilogy and least satisfying of the three. Regardless, the characters popped up in Disney land and Disney World, and soon there were shoes, socks, t-shirts, lunchboxes, pencils, folders, sleeping bags, bed sheets, plates and plasticware—all dedicated to the money maker. I don’t mean to make it look as if they only cared about the money. I really mean to show that the films were so enjoyed by the public that all this crap was actually demanded for and sold very well. People loved these characters since the films had something for kids as well as teens as well as the parents. Disney has always been pretty good at creating films which don’t placate to solely children, since they realize “hey, the parents are going to be in the theater too. I guess we shouldn’t torture them.” Lion King and Aladdin are good examples of films with a higher level of quick wit and suggestive charm aimed at appeasing the 30+ yr. old chaperones.

Without fail, a third film would come, but not for eleven more years. I admit, when I first saw that huge blue and yellow number “3” on the movie poster at my local theater, I was bemused and skeptical. Why had they waited so long? Is this necessary to the overall story or is this just to make money? The answer is both! I decided to skip it in the theater and see the film first thing when it came to DVD. There was a huge fuss over the film while it was in the theater and I wanted to understand what the fuss was all about.

The fuss was that it was just as good as the first film, and it was the end.

Those words: The end. I hadn’t even thought about it. Apparently, the writing team did.

We all grew up with Andy and these characters and this was a warm and affecting movie in which we say goodbye to the films and the characters just like Andy must say goodbye to his old toys. We’re all moving on and Andy is going to college. The time between the second and third film was well thought out and paid off… big time.

I will say that I am surprised this film got a “G” rating and not a “PG” rating. Films like “Finding Nemo” and “Tangled” are PG (could’ve been “G”), but Toy Story 3 is rated only “G” and has a pretty terrifying scene where the toy are literally all about to die and are holding hands. That was one of the saddest scenes in a Disney film I can remember, and would probably upset some kids. That is PG to me, and this film was heavier at times that a “G” should be. Let’s move on.

While Toy Story 3 was not flawless and suffered from some weird scenes and a drag in the end of the second act, the film is a must see. “A-” film at best. Some argue that that is too high of a score and that were getting our emotions confused with how this film is as a “stand alone.” I respect that you could say that about any film that is part of a series, but this is different. I say let your emotions and connection to the past films get the better of you. Is this a good film? Yes. Is it a great film? Award-worthy in more respects than just special effects? Only if you let your emotions get the better of you, which is one of the reasons I believe it was up for “best picture” in the 2010 Academy Awards. This was not going to win that category, but I understood that its inclusion was because it was the end of an era and was a tip of the hat. This films is probably not a masterpiece, but goddamn, our hearts sure think it is! I cried at the end of 3. Don’t tell anyone.

In the end of the day, this was the best Disney trilogy made so far, without question. Many sequels and trilogies by Disney, as you may unfortunately know, go through different director’s hands, different calibers of writers, and sometimes are direct to DVD. Never a good sign. Toy Story on the other hand is a remarkable success story which was given the red carpet treatment from day one; years of development went into making the first one. 800,000+ hours of frame capturing. Wow.

I deeply recommend checking out at least the first link below the ratings, which takes you to graphs showing voters vote on their top trilogies or series. Toy Story is always up there with Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and other classics.

MH (you gotta friend in me)

Toy Story 1 rating: 10/10

Toy Story 2 rating: 7.5/10

Toy Story 3 rating: 9/10

OVERALL TRILOGY RATING: 8.8/10

The graphs – http://ainsworld.wordpress.com/2010/07/27/is-toy-story-the-greatest-movie-trilogy-of-all-time/

The contrived part of the film: http://storyfanatic.com/articles/story-analysis/the-handshake-and-the-machine

Story structure, scripting, and brilliant act by act, point by point, breakdown: http://thestorydepartment.com/structure-toy-story-3/

 

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Lord of the Flies: a response

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

 

“Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.” (Ayn Rand)

Golding’s characters symbolize ideology and the passages describing weather enhance the allegory. The deterioration of societal breakdown is obvious and predictable. Simon is the “positive”, Piggy is voice of reason, Jack is the “beast” lurking in all men, and Ralph is the naïve protagonist we stupidly cheer for.

The weak or “just” are killed while the fear mongering and ruthless thrive. This is the book Lord of the Flies.

To be honest, I appreciated the depth of what the characters were supposed to resemble and felt the work carried an important meaning, but perhaps it was more original in its own time of 1954. As this is an opinion article I will give you my honest response; Lord of the Flies is formulaic and apparent. It has some subtle passages that I don’t know are worth the digging and could have been a novella. For a psychoanalytical-societal reflection novel, I think the book could have been more intriguing with much more or a much less. A powerful, epic novel or a powerful, epic short story. Where Golding ended up writing was somewhere in between, and not for the better.

I think this story has been told before Golding’s attempt and done better. Arthur Miller, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell and Ray Bradbury all wiped the floor with Lord of the Flies. Maybe not Bradbury, who only really kicked butt with Fahrenheit 451, but you get my point. Where I understood what the characters were trying to all accomplish in LOTF, some of the repetitious chapters (of which, there are only twelve) begin and end the same way, i.e.; start a fight, introspective dialogue, blow the conch, meeting, foreshadow, conch, meeting, foreshadow, conch, another meeting—all the while packed with way too much “on-the-nose” metaphor regarding the weather. The sky did this. The clouds did that. The trees swayed. Snooze fest.

Good for young kids in high school who have never read some of the other greats I suppose, but not for me. If this book does belong on the top 100 novels of the 20th Century, it’s in the bottom half, not the top.

The truth is everything good or bad about this book has already been said and argued about, so if you want to know what is actually in the book as far as plot points are concerned I will let you read it for yourself. The book was good enough, surely ground-breaking for its time, but in story development and themes touches upon, it was “so so.” Don’t get me wrong; it was very strong at times and creatively written at others, but it was nothing I haven’t heard before in 2011, and part of the problem may be that so much time has passed since the inaugural publication in 1954. I mean, hell, here’s the author of the book, wrapping his book neatly up into a few sentences. You don’t even have to read the book—just read this from the Note section of my edition by E.L. EPSTIEN. I’m not joking:

“The theme is an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature. The moral is that the shape of a society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not the political system however apparently logical or respectable. The whole book is symbolic in nature except the rescue in the end where adult life appears, dignified and capable, but in reality enmeshed in the same evil as the symbolic life of the children on the island. The officer, having interrupted a man-hunt, prepares to take the children off the island in a cruiser which will presently be hunting its enemy in the same implacable way. And who will rescue the adult and his cruiser?”

For my time spent, I would not recommend reading this book when so many other 20th century classics are out there, especially considering most people don’t read that much to begin with. Maybe this is a really great book and I just didn’t grasp it, but… no. I get it. Make no mistake. I understand what this book is supposed to be doing. I just don’t like how it does it, how there is very little conflict in those early chapters, and how the “note” in the end of the 2006 Perigee edition made me think of the themes just as much as the entire book. It is true – who will save the adults?

Do yourself a favor, read a Golding interview online, go to the Wikipedia page, and read a professional analysis. That will take you an hour, no more. You might really like the style of Golding though, which is easily read. Read the first two chapters and see for yourself. Just see if that curiosity pushes you through all twelve chapters. It shouldn’t be hard, but was for this reviewer. Chapters nine through twelve finally delivered for me, but the payoff wasn’t strong enough for me. Granted, this was Golding’s first novel ever, so I will add half a point for pity’s sake. Perhaps if we spent more time with the boys on the island and made the novel twice as long, the big turning points, act transitions, and events in the book would strike the reader differently. More enjoyably.

Once read is enough, and I’ll keep it on my shelf because it looks nice. Too bad I can’t chop off its head and mount it one my trophy wall. Read On the Road, Lolita, 1984, and The Great Gatsby long before you read Lord of the Flies.

Rating: 6.5/10

MH

 

 

 

 

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