Wednesday, January 30, 2013

People refuse to learn...

The recent nightclub fire tragedy in Brazil drew inevitable comparisons to similar tragedies, including the fire at "The Station" in Rhode Island a decade ago.  That particular one hit home for me in a number of ways. I had spent four years in the state while going to URI and Warwick was not too far away (nothing really is in Rhode Island).  Being an "older" student, i.e. in my mid-twenties, my friends there where either grad students or people in the real world in their twenties and thirties who lived there year - round and didn't lead the the typical undergrad life. Long story short we often had to find ways to entertain ourselves and sometimes that meant going to one of the many small clubs for the locals in the area.  I never went to or even heard of the Station before the fire, and certainly wasn't a fan of Great White, but I can imagine a group of us going there just for a laugh for lack of anything else to do.  In this day and age you would think that one could go for some mindless fun with a reasonable expectation of safety but that was not the case. And Rhode Island is in New England, an area where public safety and regulation is not looked down like it is in the South or ignored like I noticed it was in the Northwest.

What makes it worst was the fact that anyone New Englander with two working neurons should have heard of the 1942 Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston, especially a club owner and local fire inspectors. The Cocoanut Grove is internationally infamous and is even more applicable to the Brazil fire.  Maybe twenty years ago the owners and officials in Brazil could be excused for not considering the lessons of a fire on another continent 50 years prior, but with worldwide news coverage and the internet and the immediate international notoriety of the Station fire and others there is none today. Sadly, the Boston Historical Society's account of the Cocoanut Grove seems to have called it,
The lessons of the Cocoanut Grove are with us every day. Exits blocked or locked, smoking and use of matches, overcrowding, flammable materials within buildings and a lack of sprinklers and smoke detectors. Hardly a person in Boston or New England during the 1940's could be found who did not have a friend or relative who wasn't at the Grove that night, or had planned to go, or had left before the fire started, or wasn't affected by this tragedy. The question then and now is: "Can this happen again"? The answer is yes, it can and will happen again.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Monday Movie Madness: Mean Streets

Monday Movie Madness, where I review a movie that I recently saw for the first time. This week's inaugural offering (get it?) is Mean Streets (1973).

Any time you have a period piece there will always be a discussion on how accurate the depiction is, the recent release Lincoln is a case in point.   For a movie set in a time before film, audio and video recording this is a question that will never be answered with certainty.  On the other hand, if you a made a movie today about the 1970’s you would at least have a wealth of material from the time to draw on.  But too me the best efforts can never match the way some movies accurately capture the look and feel of the times they a made in. There is a lot to say about Martin Scorcese’s first real foray into the world of New York’s streets and underworld, but the thing the thing that stood out for me was how gritty early Seventies it looked.  Now I’m not from New York and I only vaguely remember the time, but there is something in all the litter, cheap plastic, poorly-built gas guzzlers, and obnoxious paneling that can never be reproduced with complete accuracy, even in Scorcese’s own later flicks like Goodfellas or Casino. Mean Streets will make you feel like you have been transported not only into the Italian-American community, but smack dab into the urban decay of Northeastern American cities in that decade (even though much was shot in Los Angeles). You can almost smell the garbage and see the smog.

The story itself is much simpler and covers a much smaller area and time than his later gangster movies.  A very young looking Harvey Keitel and gangly Robert DeNiro (who looks barely old enough to be out of high school) are associated with the lowest level of organized crime in Little Italy. DeNiro is not the menacing figure he would play later in his career, his character Johnny Boy is a bit of a loose cannon but is more immature than psychotic.  Keitel’s Charlie is set to move up in his Uncle’s mafia crew, but is troubled by the conflict between the life he leads and his faith.  None of the characters leave the confines of New York’s Little Italy nor show much inclination to do so and running to Brooklyn at the end is like traveling to an unknown, foreign land.  For a Scorcese movie the violence is remarkably subdued. Some realistic fisticuffs go down, there is a chaotic hit that is as much a mystery to the characters as it to the viewer and finally an act of violence pivotal to the plot (no spoilers). There is a pretty funny scene where some of the low-level mob types rip off a couple of uptown teenagers looking to buy fireworks, using the money to go to the movies.
Robert Ebert said “If Francis Ford Coppola's ``The Godfather'' fixed an image of the Mafia as a shadow government, Scorsese's ``Mean Streets'' inspired the other main line in modern gangster movies, the film of everyday reality. ``The Godfather'' was about careers. ``Mean Streets'' was about jobs. In it you can find the origins of all those other films about the criminal working class…”

Definitely worth viewing. Look for cameos by Scorcese’s mother and himself.

The most important takeaway from the Inauguration...

...was Scalia's hat:

People were obsessed over it, with some saying it looked like something out of the Vatican. I disagree, it's obvious that the Justice imagines himself to be a doge like those that once ran places like Venice.  It all makes sense. Scalia imagines a United States like medieval Italy, a land of corrupt, chaotic constantly scheming and warring city-states.
But hey, think of all the great art!

Whoa, I was way off. Scalia wasn't going for the Doge look, he was all about Martin Luther-

Who'd a thunk it!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

So all I do is stupid, surreal Sunday now?

That will change soon, nevertheless since it is indeed Sunday....

You can't make this stuff up:  Gun Appreciation Day Celebrated With Accidental Shootings at Gun Shows in North Carolina and Ohio (complete with ignorant, ahistorical paranoid comments from weapons fetishists).

From the blindingly obvious file: If she's afraid of kids, maybe this woman should pick another profession (just sayin'). 

How bad is Beijing’s air pollution?  Try “beyond index.” 

Don't hassle the dead boy, they have eerie powers.

Yeah, this isn’t racist. 

The NHL is back! Apparently so is the enticing aroma.

Cash is cash.

Sure, the dog ran him over.

We now know Walter White's nemesis for the final episodes of Breaking Bad

Just let me state for the record, this woman does not represent all cat haters.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the sweatiest part of your body (if you have to know).

So now I have to get naked the old-fashioned way at the airport?