The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Untraceable at the Cinema

Ali and I decided to check out the double-feature at The Cinema TheatreMySpace link (957 South Clinton Ave.) The two films were Le scaphandre et le papillon(The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) and Untraceable but I'll talk about them in reverse order. Oh, and this time Ali's lap was graced by Princess, the Cinema's resident cat — forcing her to be paralyzed for 3 full hours.

So Untraceable is a film about how the Patriot Act is good and how brainy people in universities are the source of all truly evil enemies. See, the FBI, NSA, and law-enforcement in general are all infallible organizations: when they go after someone, that person is guilty; otherwise, they wouldn't go after them, would they?

This is proven in the introductory sequence of the film where FBI Agent Jennifer Marsh finds someone using stolen credit cards on the Interwebs. She uses credit-card fraud techniques learned from a television commercial and deduces that it isn't the little old lady in the house whose IP address is the source of the transactions, but rather the next-door neighbor using her wireless access point. After all, the guy has guns which means he's a criminal.

Then a tip comes in about a website where someone's letting a kitten die on live-fed video. But the site is [wait for it …] untraceable. The film uses mumbo-techno speak to explain how the site is being redirected from foreign countries and stuff so it can't be traced. Then the guy starts killing people and the mystery is on.

Well, not the real mystery, but the attempt to find who the guy is who's doing all these mean things and why. The real mystery is how this evil, university-educated genius can transport and set up elaborate killing techniques that would make James Bond scriptwriters blush. He has access to all sorts of equipment, drugs, and chemicals that — to the average person — would be all but impossible to get, requiring lots of signatures, picture ID's, and money. It must be that pesky university! But even if we write that off, he is also able to transport his computer rig to anywhere in the city without anyone so much as blinking. Whatever explains these magical powers is probably the same one that lets him move around victims with equal ease and invisibility.

In stark contrast, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was excellent. It's about a guy who was perfectly healthy until a stroke rendered him completely paralyzed except for being able to move and blink his left eye. He starts out feeling trapped, depressed, and annoyed. Once a speech therapist helps him to speak by reading letters to him and blinking when she gets the right one, his imagination and memories come to the forefront and he eventually decides to complete a book contract he had. It's an interesting movie exploring the will to live and the human need to find contentment and happiness in any situation.

I have heard reviews where people talk about it being "amazing" what this man went through, but in a way, it was more a demonstration of necessity than anything. Because of his condition, there was no way for him to kill himself — in fact, it was because of the quality of health care he received that kept him alive at all, so in a way, it wasn't that he was unable to kill himself, but that he was unable to prevent others from keeping him alive.

See, there appears to be a level of personal happiness that is unrelated to one's life condition. If happiness truly were tied to one's life condition, then extremely well-off people would be constantly overjoyed and poor people would beg for brevity in their miserable existences. Clearly, though, this is not true.

But remarkably, it seems to have no limits. It's challenging to imagine a worse fate than being completely paralyzed and kept alive irrelevant to your consent. Yet here was Jean-Dominique Bauby (the character was based on a real person) who lived that very nightmare. His personal disposition — once the trauma of the sudden, dramatic change in his life wore off — seemed to return to a level not dissimilar to himself in his past, fully ambulatory life.

Anyway, there's sort-of a game to see how the Cinema's double-features are related. This one is a tough one. Judging by how I personally felt, I think Untraceable was supposed to be as bad as The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was good — that the latter was to cancel out the former, and you were supposed to leave the theater feeling exactly the same as when you went in. In 10 years, I invite you to recall this combination and see which still has relevance.

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Arms and Sleepers at Boulder Coffee

I decided to head to Boulder Coffee Co.MySpace link (100 Alexander St.) to check out the show. I only stayed through most of Arms and Sleepers'GarageBand linkMySpace link set — arriving after they started and leaving after they finished. I thought they were a really good ambient/drone band. I'd like to have stayed for the rest of the show but I had other things to attend to.

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Firestone and Jitters

Well February is coming to a close and since we bought the Buick Wagon last year at the beginning of February, it was time for its inspection. Since I had a coupon I decided to go to my usual garage of Firestone (369 Jefferson Rd.).

I also brought along a coupon for "free coffee" at Jitters CaféMySpace link (3333 W. Henrietta Rd., in Southtown Plaza) since it was in the same plaza. It was a snowy day and it appeared that there was only one person working. They were hidden in back making someone else's sandwich — for around 3 or 4 minutes with not even an acknowledgment of myself or the woman who came in after I did. This didn't bode well. When the solitary employee finally got to me, I ordered a breakfast sandwich and the free coffee. She pointed out that the free 12-ounce coffee [I didn't notice whether the coupon even specified a size] would probably not fill my travel mug — all 14 ounces of it..

Ok, now I don't know everything about running a coffee shop, but I do know that the cost of a cup of regular coffee is almost completely labor — coffee for a whole pot (even fancy coffee) might cost 50 cents.

Me and the woman behind me got our food at the same time, presented collectively with bland indifference. Fortunately they were different kinds and it was clear whose was whose.  In all, I'm not very impressed.

But to top things off, the Buick needed a few things. I had intended on bringing it in soon anyway for a regular shakedown but today I just wanted to get the inspection done quick. It passed — but the power steering pump was leaking as was the pinion bearing on the rear differential.

I thought it funny that I had to step back and rethink the day. I had originally planned to stay and wait, but the repairs would take until early afternoon. I almost stayed anyway but decided instead to get a few things done at home. They offered me a ride back to my house. Later in the day I returned and paid for the repairs, and then Ali brought me back when she got out of work to collect the beast.

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Dillinger is Dead is a terrible movie to try and watch.

Tonight George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) showed Dillinger è morto (Dillinger is Dead) in the Dryden Theater. Ali and I went and neither of us enjoyed the film at all. I gathered it was supposed to show the boring existence of the bourgeoisie by making a laborious, boring movie out of it. I felt a bit duped, though, because the Eastman House calender described it like this:

A bored industrial designer discovers an old revolver in his home, wrapped in a 1934 newspaper announcing the death of a famous American gangster. He paints the gun with red-and-white polka dots, seduces his maid (Annie Girardot), and contemplates suicide as well as his wife's murder (Anita Pallenberg). Writer-director Ferreri's (Le Grande Bouffe, The Last Woman) surreal and symbolic head trip belongs in the tradition of the "theater of the absurd." Almost never screened in the US, don't miss your chance to discover this oddball puzzler. New 35mm print!

In actuality, it's about a boring industrial designer who returns to his boring home and decides to prepare a decadent meal in as boring a way possible. He happens to discover a gun in a newspaper and he splits his cooking time with cleaning the gun in olive oil. Most of the screen time, though is spent on his monotonous existence — in point-of-fact, the externally uninteresting bits of life we all experience.

It would be like me making a movie about JayceLand which would consist of me sitting in front of a computer for a couple hours with occasional breaks to get coffee or answer the phone or eat an orange or go for a walk around the block.

I felt like the movie was a joke on the bourgeoisie of the film world — the art-house film-goers who chafe themselves with their furious masturbation. Yes: the film turns the focus of the story onto the least interesting parts, and as such it is an example of how to not make an interesting film. However, the resulting product is one to be endured for the sake of bragging that you "really understand what the artist is getting at". It reminded me a lot of the garbage that Andy Warhol produced: more things to antagonize the masses and create a self-aggrandizing class of people who celebrate an artist courageous enough to deliberately produce shit.

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The Lobster Quadrille and more at the Bug Jar

The Bug Jar (219 Monroe Ave.) was having a good show tonight and Ali and I got to join in on the fun. First up was The Lobster Quadrille who did a very polished set of their own satirical gospel — even incorporating a bit of Vaudeville-like sketches. Ali headed home early but I stayed for Telephone Jim JesusMySpace link. I really didn't care for it … I think I would have been more lenient if the guy were younger. He did loud laptop-based beats with video, but it failed to really grab me … rather, I was kind of annoyed by it. Finishing up were Sole and the Skyrider BandMySpace link who were a great live hip-hop band. Unfortunately I was getting tired fast and went home early … I'd love to have stayed, though.

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Frostburn at Cooper's Lake Campground

Ali and I headed to Cooper's Lake Campground (205 Currie Rd., Slippery Rock, PA) to go to FrostBurn this weekend. It actually started yesterday but the early population was mostly from around Pittsburgh or from places farther away … or, I guess, mostly just not us and a few other stragglers. In all there were about 120 people who showed up so it was just the right size to get a chance to say hi to everyone.

The event was excellent. Although not an official Burning Man regional event, it was run by people who had gone to Burning Man and generally held the same vibe. Well, the part of the vibe that I personally liked: the part where it a group of people who got things done and worked together and wanted to have a good time. It was also winter camping (and Cooper's Lake had winterized their facilities so there weren't showers or bathrooms — just port-a-potties) so the element of "physical difficulty" was also present — something that's difficult to achieve when you can see a major highway and your cell phone has "full-bars" all the time.

We stayed until Monday and met lots of nice people. We got to see the iconic snowman-man burn, had hot chocolate at Camp Total Fucking Armageddon, had hot buttered rum in the sauna-like steam shed, participated in the Naked Mr. Rogers Sing-A-Long, and otherwise dance, dance, danced until the morning sun.

It's actually the first time I wanted something like a "decompression" — a time to recollect with friends and otherwise relax before jumping back into the daily grind. I came back and had to catch up on work but I really wanted to just chill out for a couple days — and the friction between the two ideologies wreaked havoc with my state-of-mind.

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Sweeny Todd at the Cinema

Ali and I — despite her living right down the street — finally visited The Cinema TheatreMySpace link (957 South Clinton Ave.) for the first time in years. We saw Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street which was one of the most gruesome musicals I've ever seen. I was actually surprised it got an "R" rating from the MPAA — admittedly, it was free of pie-fucking and nudity altogether so I guess fountains of blood sprouting from sliced necks over and over and over again is just A-OK.

Anyhow, the movie was great — such a bitter and sympathetic view of the worst that humanity can muster. I did notice that Johnny Depp seemed outclassed in singing by his lifetime-practiced co-stars; but as a non-connoisseur of Broadway musical talent, it didn't bother me nearly as much as others. And certainly an excellent choice for Valentine's Day.

As an added bonus, I was a special guest of the Cinema because their cat, Princess, decided to sleep through the movie on my coat. Apparently she wanted us to see the second feature as well because Ali eventually had to bodily move her so we could get going.

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Happy Birthday, Wanda June at the Dryden

The Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) showed Happy Birthday, Wanda June and Ali and I got to see it, despite the terrible road conditions getting there. It was a film based on a play by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. with a very theatrical feel, giving it a bizarre edge. It was funny and poignant, making the point that war is really quite pointless and that there really isn't any value in the "heroism" of fighting and killing. Oh, and how incredibly silly and dangerous the idea of "heaven" is.

The plot of the film follows a woman and her son. Her husband has been out-of-contact for 8 years on some kind of heroic journey — wars, killing animals and the like. She gets a college degree and begins to piece her own life together by courting two men: a pacifist doctor and a hero-worshiping vacuum cleaner salesman. Her husband makes a surprise return and tries to retain his brazen, hero's status.

The point, in a way, is to ask, "what the fuck is so heroic about killing?" It really resonated with me. I had been asking more-or-less the same question for a while. For instance, it's common knowledge that you thank soldiers for defending the country. But given our eternal conflict in Iraq, it's become … unsatisfying … for me to do so. When you fundamentally disagree with the idea of war in the first place, and then add on that further fighting is only inciting existing enemies and creating more then how can you thank someone for making America less safe? It gets to the point of patronizing — like thanking the neighborhood cat-murdering idiot for keeping your house safe from cat infestation.

In fact, it's more about fear. I feel compelled to thank a soldier for the sake of not getting in trouble, yet my opinion of the situation is so bad that I want to tell them, "stop fucking volunteering!!!!" [With extra exclamation points, even.] Please.

And what scares me more is people who believe in an afterlife — especially those who think it's the promised land of 57 varieties of virgins. And before you think I'm bashing Islam alone, ask a Christian how much they're looking forward to meeting Jesus and how lucky people are whose miserable earthly existence is cut short. It's really quite scary. I really would like it if people believed like I did: that we get one shot at life and that we should make the best of it and help everyone else to make the best of theirs too.

But that makes me some kind of Godless monster, right? I mean, true evil in the world comes from the Others — the people who don't read the Bible and don't go to church and don't hate gays and don't believe women are just baby incubators.

Sorry … I digress …

The response from war hawks is always the same: "your pacifist beliefs are all well and good, but what happens when someone sticks a gun in your face?" Well then the rules change, don't they? If you believe in the value of life — especially that you only get one go around — then you'd better believe I'm going to try and avoid kisses from bullets rushing to show me the love.

The trick is this: "peace first". Or, if you must, "war last".

In other words, if you come upon people who say, "we hate America," figure out why first. At present, the only reaction is to blow the fuck out of them. You see, we can talk and understand and resolve for a long time — even have an ebb and flow about the whole thing — but you can't un-blow the fuck out of someone. So save that for last.

Then the response from the hawks and jingoists is, "what about 9/11?" Oh yeah — what about that? We need to get "them", right? And who are "they"? Why Osama bin Laden of course. Haven't heard that name in a while, have you? Of course not: if you watch 9/11 Press for Truth or read The Complete 911 Timeline or the related book, The Terror Timeline: Year by Year, Day by Day, Minute by Minute: A Comprehensive Chronicle of the Road to 9/11—and America's Response, you'll find that the Bushies carefully herded bin Laden to safety in Pakistan.

You've been had, America.  Wake up!

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Breakfast at Blue Horizon and Driving the Wrong Way on 390

Ali and I had a late breakfast at The Blue Horizon Restaurant (1174 Brooks Ave.) As diners go, this is one of the best: of late my number one qualification is that my coffee stays full — and not only did it not get empty, it barely hit the halfway mark. The food is good diner-grade food and the prices are low diner-grade prices.

We left around 1 or so and on the way home I thought, "I should just take Brooks Avenue" but I got on 390 anyway. As I was getting on the ramp, I saw that traffic was at a standstill. We got in line anyway, figuring it would clear up. However, a steady stream of emergency vehicles kept coming. Some cars behind us rushed ahead to get to the second lane, but we were in no hurry and didn't mind being one of the last ones through. State Police closed 390 at Brooks behind us and were directing all traffic off the highway. A State Police officer started having cars entering at the exit turn around and drive the wrong way up 390 then turn off on the exit. We followed suit. It's the only time I've ever driven the wrong way on the highway. It was wild — it made me feel all sophisticated like I was driving on The M1 or something.

We decided to see what happened so we got back on at Mt. Hope but traffic ground to a halt around Scottsville Rd. Police were directing all traffic off the highway at that point as well, but we could see a multiple-car pileup — rubbernecking, we saw at least 6 cars involved. The hill formed by the new tunnel under the runway for the Scottsville Road access road had caused drifting snow to form a whiteout and had coated the road with snow. As it turned out, there were way more than 6 cars involved: 36 in all. As you've probably heard on the news, one young girl got killed and there were about 20 people taken to the hospitals with various degrees of injuries. The accident was apparently caused by a driver who stopped in the middle of the white-out.

People say the "cause" was the driver who stopped, but that was just the final straw. A whiteout totally sucks and there's no ideal solution. Initial wisdom says that if you can't see, stop, but it's also a highway, so you don't stop. Second best is to proceed slowly. In my opinion, that means very slowly compared to highway speeds (i.e. 20-30 miles-per-hour) but judging by the damage to cars, it appears that people scarcely took their foot off the accelerator and instead plowed into whatever was in front of them at full-bore. Then again, it was clear skies and dry roads right up to the bend, so only the properly attentive drivers even had a chance.

I also think it's interesting that nobody faults the airport. If it were a private residence and they had put up a privacy wall, they'd have hell to pay. But because the airport presumably wanted to extend a runway to accommodate larger planes, it's all good — dead girl and all. I'm not so much advocating suing the airport, but I'd like to see a fair assessment. Rather than let it slide with a passive-voiced "the conditions were dangerous," I think it's important to realize that prior to this construction project, this was not an issue. And as such, to determine if there is something that can be done to change the structure of the tunnel to prevent these kind of conditions from forming again.

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July '64 at the Little

I headed to The Little (240 East Ave.) to see July '64 for a second time. It's an interesting view of what happened (in detail) on three nights in July, 1964. The flash point — shortsightedly referred to as the "cause of the riots" — was when police attempted to arrest an intoxicated man. Friends of the man had it set in their minds that they'd take care of him and keep him out of trouble; police had it set in their minds that he was to be arrested.

Taking one step back, this is an indication that the police were not trusted — they were not welcome in the neighborhood as protectors and more likely considered thuggish oppressors. Take another step back and you'll find that the blacks were forced to live in the 3rd Ward and 7th Ward of the city (if I remember correctly): if they applied for housing in other areas, they were either rejected or their application ignored, so college students and day laborers alike were crammed into crowded housing. Take another step back and you'll see that blacks were similarly dismissed for positions in the cornerstone companies like Kodak and Bausch and Lomb — unless they were willing to work as janitors.

So now you have a situation where you have to put up higher and higher walls to keep the "dangerous element" in the 3rd and 7th Wards contained in their prison. At some point they revolt, though, and July 1964 was a taste of that.

Filmmakers Carvin Eison and Chris Christopher were on hand to answer questions. They said they wanted to compare the situation to today and see if things have changed so they had The Center for Governmental Research (CGR) (1 South Washington St.) perform a study. The results were, well, frightening: the social and economic conditions in the two Wards compared to the City of Rochester in 1964 are almost exactly replicated when comparing the City of Rochester to the County of Monroe today. As "zero tolerance" efforts escalate, as relatively well-off people move to the suburbs and take industry with them, and as suburbanites soak in the belief that the city is a dangerous urban wasteland, conditions are ripe for another revolution.

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