The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Quarantine" (2008)

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One key to success in life is to align all aspects of your "self" into coherent movement in a single direction. Your mind (goals and skills), your emotions (beliefs, positive/negative emotional anchors, value hierarchies) and your body (your physical energy and actions). When all of these are cooking, you're in good shape.

I was recently reminded of this while working with one of the writers on the new Hannibal series. He was really quite good at finding something to be excited about in our discussions. Turn the story this way, and then that way, and he still found a way to connect with it. For years, I thought that people in Hollywood are phony for the way they get excited about projects. Now I'm convinced that the ability to access your excitement is one of the core skills an artist needs, if that artist is to work in a commercial, collaborative environment.

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Obama is running about as close to a perfect campaign as I've seen. That opinion comes with a warning that I haven't really been watching closely in the past. But wow. I may regret that he's had to play politician games, but I still think he's more of a political philosopher than a politician, per se. How that will pan out is anyone's guess, but so far, he's pretty much what I thought he was.

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And America is what I hoped she was. While race is still problematic, it is clear that the public is willing to grant "exceptional" status to those members of the "Other" group who have proven themselves. While one can carp all one wants that it's "unfair" that some have to work harder to prove themselves, that' s just life. Get over it. I know of nowhere in the world that has dealt with its messy history much better than America. No where else I'd really want to live. The Republicans have, thus far, used less coded language and oblique bigotry than I actually expected. It's clear that they, and most Americans, are trying to live up to the American mythology about equality. Even when it's painful.

Trust me: it's been painful on this side for a long time.

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"Quarantine" is a terrific little horror movie, about a film crew stuck in a quarantined building, whose residents are increasingly infected with...well, let's just say something very very nasty. A cross between "Blair Witch" and "Night of the Living Dead" it was scary enough that I was laughing...and I mean that in a good way. A solid "B" for those who love to scream. And really not bad across the board.

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About the Palin brother in law situation: the Governor of the state didn't have legal recourse to deal with a threat to her family? I assume there is a bountiful paper trail of what she tried to do, including restraining orders and so forth? Getting a guy fired from his job doesn't actually protect your family, does it? Doesn't that actually make him a little MORE likely to explode? Just asking.

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I like the idea for dress codes for kids who get under a 3.7. That's kind of fun, and I'd like to see what would happen. Might not work...but then again it might.

28 comments:

Mike Ralls said...

Which is easier, dealing with a cop, or dealing with an ex-cop?

And really, firing a cop who drinks in his car and tazers his stepson should really not have been something that was hard to do. That fact that it was, and is, speaks volumes about the ease of firing government employees.

Also, I'd like to note that yet another anti-War film, "Body of Lies" staring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe and directed by Ridley Scott bombed at the box office. This film got written, green-lighted, and produced despite _every single_ previous anti-war films bombing or doing poorly. And we've yet to get a pro-war film other than Team America; World Police. But of course Hollywood has no agenda and is only after money.

Bradipo said...

Getting the guy fired makes it harder for him to get custody, and I understand that there was a custody fight going on at the time.

Steve Perry said...

A pro-war film?

What person in his or her right mind is pro-war, Mike? You pro-rape, too?

You might want to rephrase that comment.

Bennett said...

I'm fairly sure what Mike meant is the sort of films that are supportive of American involvement in armed conflict as a necessary action. I still don't buy it myself, but pretty much any John Wayne movie--or any film produced during the WWII period at all, for that matter, could fall under 'pro-war'. In the sense that it portrays American soldiers in a positive, heroic light and their actions as having ultimately beneficial consequences.

Trick is that a film supportive of an unpopular war will tank for obvious reasons. Yet most anti-war films also do poorly because people are (yay cognitive dissonance) invested in viewing the war as somehow necessary. If we came around to seeing warfare as what it is--wholesale government-sponsored slaughter--no one could ever be coerced or persuaded into it.

It's the one place where I actually agree with Ayn Rand. If the government can draft you, that means they have the authority of command over whether you live, die, or murder another individual. After they've got that, everything else is a step down. So long as there is warfare, the status of 'human rights' or 'individual freedom' is tenuous at best.

Mike Ralls said...

If you are pro-abortion or pro-death penalty or pro-war that doesn't mean that you regard executions or soldiers getting shot or abortions as good things in and of themselves. It means you support the policy in general.

Now, some people like to try and hide what they are supporting. They like to call pro-abortion as being pro-choice for instance. They have the right to do so, but I regard it as cheapening and propagandizing the language.

I support the policy of hundreds of thousands of Americans to go on fighting and getting wounded and dieing in Iraq because I think the end result will be better than any alternatives. I'm pro-war.

I support the policy of millions of fetus being legally sucked out and ending their existence because I think the end result will be better than any alternatives. I'm pro abortion.

I support the policy of convicted criminals being hanged, electrocuted, or shot for violent crimes. I'm pro death penalty.

I'm not a politician. I'll call a spade a spade.* It's a moral duty to examine what you support and sugar-coating it is not helpful to anyone.

* The phrase dates in English from 1542, and did not have any racial conotations until the 1920's, btw.

Anonymous said...

"They like to call pro-abortion as being pro-choice for instance. They have the right to do so, but I regard it as cheapening and propagandizing the language."

Maybe they have a view of the bigger picture: that your skin is the border of a sovreign territory that no government should be allowed to invade.

-------------------------------

Body Of Lies probably tanked because the previews made it look like ass. The two cardinal sins of the movie trailer:

1) Plot spoilers.
2) Failure to make the audience even slightly curious as to what else happens in the movie.

Ximena Cearley said...

I'm in favor of a dress code for all students regardless of their grades. Even the ones with good grades should know how to dress.

Anonymous said...

" like the idea for dress codes for kids who get under a 3.7. That's kind of fun, and I'd like to see what would happen. Might not work...but then again it might."

It would NEVER work. Kids with good grades would be easier to single out and those doing the singling would have even more motivation to harrass them. Assuming those kids actually DID try to dress different once or twice, they'd have THAT notion beaten, shunned, or ridiculed out of them right quick.

Much better idea: you want to convince kids that learning gets you tangible rewards, while ignorance leads to a life of misery?

Only give -SUMMER VACATION- to students above a 3.7 GPA.

Students of all levels will BUST ASS to meet that standard. How can dressing as you like possibly compare to 2 MONTHS OF FREEDOM? Meanwhile, the better students will be outside the system for those months, while their tormentors (if any) will still be TRAPPED INSIDE IT. Whatever suffering awaits come the next school year, those kids will get a taste of what it's like to work hard towards personal freedom, and actually GET IT -- and they'll KNOW it's worth it to keep plugging.

I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't cut down on the (already statsistically microscopic) rate of school shootings.

Pagan Topologist said...

I'm in favor of a dress code for all students regardless of their grades. Even the ones with good grades should know how to dress.

"...know how to dress." should not mean "...know how the older generation thinks I should dress." My high school had a dress code which forbade jeans. I had worn them all through elementary school. At least one boy who was a friend of mine dropped out because he did not want to dress the way the principal said he must. I suspect that he could not afford to do so.

Kukulkan said...

" like the idea for dress codes for kids who get under a 3.7. That's kind of fun, and I'd like to see what would happen. Might not work...but then again it might."

Won't happen. Someone would notice that such a policy has a disparate impact along racial lines. Discrimination. As easy as that.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

If you want more attention to academics, one place to start would be for the adults to put their actions in line with that value. In other words, the money goes to the library and the classrooms. No intramural sports. They're very expensive in terms of money, and more importantly, they grab the adults, and the kids are apt to get their values from what energizes the adults.

Nerds shouldn't be bullied. Neither should anyone else, and kids shouldn't be learning at school that they can get away with bullying. If you don't want bullying, you need an anti-bullying policy, and from what I've heard about successful policies, a lot of it is building an anti-bullying culture among the kids. Treat them as though they're conscious rather than reward-punishment machines.

I have so much trouble with self-discipline myself that I'm not going to try to figure out how to force everyone else to have it. I think (speaking from introspection) that it's necessary to believe that success is possible and worthwhile. If that's absent or broken, external reward and punishment aren't likely to be reliable tools.

Mike Ralls said...

>Maybe they have a view of the bigger picture: that your skin is the border of a sovreign territory that no government should be allowed to invade.<

That would only work if "Pro-Choice" meant pro-choice about other things, legalized recreational drugs as a choice people are free to make with their own bodies for instance. But pro-choice doesn't mean that in political usage.

Mike Ralls said...

>Body Of Lies probably tanked because the previews made it look like ass.<

The point is the pattern, more than any specific movie. Body of Lies may have bombed for some specific reason, but that doesn't explain why all the other anti-war films bombed.

Tons of anti-war films = tons of anti-war films losing money = studios making more anti-war films. I really don't see how anyone can not conclude that they are making them for reasons other than profit maximizing.

SB Fan said...

It's simple. The white males in control of Hollywood -- face it, that's what most of them are -- act according to a predictable pattern. If they think it will make them appear noble to take up a particular cause, they will do so even if it goes against the grain in the heartland of America. Thus the anti-war movies coming out despite poor performance of previous, similar entries.

Switch the issue from the war to racial inequality and suddenly all the erstaz nobility is gone. There's zero motivation to showcase non-white males in depictions that even hint at reproductive success. On this the white males are in full agreement with the heartland. Taking up the cause won't make them look good to their peers.

Generally speaking, white males themselves have trouble figuring out such dynamics. So even if I know nothing about Mike Ralls, his comments pretty much nail down his gender and ethnicity.

Steve Perry said...

A dress code. With all the problems in today's world, does anybody truly believe a dress code in school is going to do anything to help?

Frank said...

Mike Ralls

And we've yet to get a pro-war film other than Team America; World Police. But of course Hollywood has no agenda and is only after money.

Blackhawk Down did pretty well.

And I notice that the movie No True Glory about the Battle of Fallujah (from the book by Bing West) is still supposedly in the works.

Harrison Ford was supposed to play the "Warrior Monk" General Mattis. IMBD says that the release date is 2009 but that is at least a two year slip from when I first heard about it.

Does anyone know the real status of this?

Steven Barnes said...

Hollywood has no agenda, and is only after money. INDIVIDUALS within Hollywood have all kinds of personal and social agenda. They get production deals, and get together to pool resources. But all studios care about is money. Sometimes they will bankroll a pet project by an actor or director they want to work with, but people lose jobs when their movies tank. "American Carol" opened last weekend, too--purely Right-wing. Satisfied?

Pagan Topologist said...

Steve Perry:

I think that if something can prevent students from spending time on status games and trying to one-up each other with fashion choices, and instead divert their efforts to academics, then it is to the good, as far as that issue goes. The civil liberties issue, however, is in my mind very real.

When I was in school, teachers mostly dressed casually. Only a minority wore ties. The women dressed more formally than the men, but not overwhelmingly so.

When I got to college (1961) I was somewhat surprised that professors always dressed in suits, or at least tweed jackets and ties. The women dressed about the same level of formality as the men.

By contrast, nowadays, I am pleased that not usually having to wear a jacket and tie seems to be one of the perks of an academic career.

Mike said...

>Hollywood has no agenda, and is only after money. INDIVIDUALS within Hollywood have all kinds of personal and social agenda.<

That's true only insofar it's true for every organization. "The Republican/Democratic Party has no agenda, and is only after political power. INDIVIDUALS within the Republican/Democratic Party have all kinds of personal and social agenda."

If 90% of group X believes in Z, I don't really have a problem saying that group X believes in Z.

>"American Carol" opened last weekend, too--purely Right-wing. Satisfied?<

Not really. There's been plenty of films with conservative themes and values and I've never claimed otherwise.

The complete absence of a movie set in the Iraq War and taking an explicitly pro-war line is what I was talking about. It's unprecedented in American history. Didn't happen in WWI, didn't happen in WWII, didn't happen in Korea, didn't happen in Vietnam. (The Gulf War was really over too fast to have any movies made during it.)

"We're good, the enemy is evil, let's watch our good tribe members kill the evil enemy," is an _easy_ story to sell. It taps into our natural human instincts, and is a lot more natural fit for movies (which tend to like good-guys vs bad-guys stories) than the stories we've been getting from Hollywood about the Iraq War. That's telling, and indicative of Hollywood as a collective entity.

Mike said...

> Blackhawk Down did pretty well.

Made before 9-11, incidentally.

Steve Perry said...

"I think that if something can prevent students from spending time on status games and trying to one-up each other with fashion choices, and instead divert their efforts to academics, then it is to the good, as far as that issue goes"

Not gonna happen. All the status games and one-upping just shift somewhere else -- or don't you remember?

Just saying no! to drugs, sex, or T-shirts and jeans doesn't work very well on the raging bundles of hormones that are teenagers.

A national dress code is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. If that's the best anybody can do, it's gonna be a short and cold swim.

Dan Moran said...

Mike, seriously, your argument goes:

1. Hollywood makes pro-war films.
2. For Iraq, Hollywood didn't make a pro-war film.
3. Hollywood sucks.

Maybe there's something ... different ... about the Iraq war, versus those other wars.

Mike Ralls said...

>3. Hollywood sucks.

Well, nothing that gives me Iron Man and The Dark Knight in the same year can suck too badly, but if Hollywood is only out to make money, then the only difference that would matter would be if there was no market for pro-war movies. Even at the lowest point of support for the Iraq War, 1/3rd of Americans thought it was the right decision and at it's height over 70% did. That's a market of at least 100 million people that's being ignored essentially for ideological and political reasons.

Christian M. Howell said...


Students of all levels will BUST ASS to meet that standard. How can dressing as you like possibly compare to 2 MONTHS OF FREEDOM? Meanwhile, the better students will be outside the system for those months, while their tormentors (if any) will still be TRAPPED INSIDE IT. Whatever suffering awaits come the next school year, those kids will get a taste of what it's like to work hard towards personal freedom, and actually GET IT -- and they'll KNOW it's worth it to keep plugging.

I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't cut down on the (already statsistically microscopic) rate of school shootings



To all who doubt the importance of a dress code imagine this scenarion:


You are a junior in high school. You wear ratty jeans and t-shirts everyday. You become a senior and career counselors approach you and say "you aren't dressing for success."

You ay no attention and go to a job interview with the best outfit you could find. A person who is used to wearing a tie (we're talking about males, females have it together unless they end up with a bummy guy) will be more comfortable and will have a better chance of getting the job.

More jobs are done in an office now so you at least have "business casual" DRESS CODE.

You let a person slack off for twelve years and then they're supposed to do a 180? THAT WON'T WORK.

By getting them used to dressing for success they will have it or at least a better chance of having it.

I wouldn't single anyone out because it's not meant to be a competition it's meant to ready them for entry into the job market.

I do agree though that sports needs to take a back seat to academics but you have to start somewhere.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Christian, if it's only about teaching kids how to dress well enough for work, why not only require it one or two days a week? Why choose a starting place where the only costs are to the students?

Pagan Topologist said...

Steve Perry: I was so out of the loop in high school that I was only interested in academics. I was surprised years later to learn that my high school was regarded as a "party school." I never partied at all, and did not know any such thing was happening. I don't think I ever had a date in high school. Any time I was not studying, I was busy at ballet class, which was my other passion at the time. I hurried through high school, college, and grad school, getting my bachelor's degree at 20 and my Ph. D. at 24.

So, I had absolutely no clue about any status games that were going on.

Josh Jasper said...


You let a person slack off for twelve years and then they're supposed to do a 180? THAT WON'T WORK.

By getting them used to dressing for success they will have it or at least a better chance of having it.


A excellent point.

Steve Perry said...

Pagan --

I'm sorry you missed the sociology of high school -- since life in the U.S. is pretty much a bigger version of it. All the people you meet in the real world are the same ones you ran across in HS, and if you can learn to deal with them there, it gives you a head start in life afterward.

Plus there are things you ought to do when you are young, because the newness of them gives them a fresh taste you tend to lose as you get older.

For a lot of people -- especially the geeks and outsiders -- high school is a miserable experience. But the lessons are invaluable.