Governor Corbett Manages to Lower the Sleaze Bar

Governor (and Space Cadet) tom Corbett takes on the NCAA's attempt to flush PSU's football ambitions. 

Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. Just when you’ve convinced yourself that you’ve seen all the sleaze imaginable, another slime ball climbs out from under a rock. I mean, how can you top the Nazi Rifle Association’s response to the Newtown massacre? Congratulations to Tom Corbett, who managed.

If you’ve not yet heard, Corbett is the Republican (natch!) governor of Pennsylvania who recently announced his intention to spend some taxpayer money to sue the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). That’s because of the NCAA’s pathetic standards for scholar athletes, right? No–guess again. Is it because the NCAA has refused to curtail exploitative recruiting practices that allow colleges to bring academically ill-prepared inner-city black kids onto campus just long enough to get a fall’s worth of football out of them before they flunk out? Wrong again. Nope–old Governor Corbett is livid that the NCAA banned saintly Penn State from playing any bowl games for–my God!–four years. Such a harsh sentence for such a trivial matter!

I’m talking, of course, about the Jerry Sandusky pedophilia scandal that took down Joe Paterno and PSU’s president. I mean, all that happened was the at least 8 minor children were raped during a 16-year period while Paterno turned a blind eye and the Athletic Department covered it up. Hell, that’s just one little boy every two years–hardly enough to warrant keeping the university’s football team out bowl games!!! What was the NCAA thinking? I mean this is Penn State after all–a football powerhouse. What’s a young boy every now and then when gridiron supremacy is on the line?

Corbett sure put the “pig” back into pigskin. As it happens, I’m also furious with the NCAA. I’m livid because it didn’t lower the death penalty to PSU football. Sixteen years of pedophilia and all PSU got was a four-year bowl ban and the loss of a few athletic scholarships? That’s it? If the PSU faculty has a collective scrap of decency, its response to Corbett’s pathetic lawsuit will be a vote to dismantle the football program. Don’t give me any of that crap about how the young men on the team today had nothing to do with Sandusky. My response is that inconveniencing those who would have to transfer would teach them a greater lesson than they’d ever learn at State College. That is, if we still believe that protecting children is more important than football.

Pennsylvania taxpayers should be up in arms over this. First of all, no one has ever successfully taken on the NCAA, so Corbett is a fool on a fool’s errand. Second, I’ve driven Pennsylvania roads recently and can think of at least one better use for state monies. Third, the federal government has got to be watching all of this. Corbett has already said that he intends to have the Commonwealth opt out of the healthcare exchange network under President Obama’s medical reform act. Is a federal lawsuit in the offing? It should be. If Corbett has money to burn on making the state safe for football coaches who play footsies with children, he’s got the cash for healthcare reform! 

I can’t recall who wrote the first article I read with the title “Does America Hate Children?” I know it was in the 1980s and I think it was in Newsweek, but I might be mistaken. No matter–dozens of such articles have appeared since. No doubt Pigskin Corbett’s gross insensitivity will spark a few more. At the very least it’s another confirmation of a frequently slung aphorism about the GOP–it’s a party that believes that life begins at conception and ends at birth. Unless, of course, the child is a boy that looks like he might grow up to be a halfback. 


The Hobbit an Unexpected Unpromising Start

Better advice: Save the money and see it in 2D (or don't bother at all). 

Directed by Peter Jackson
New Line Cinema/MGM, 169 mins. PG-13 (for beheaded orcs)
* *

I devoured everything J. R. R. Tolkien ever wrote about Middle Earth (including The Silmarillion) and I’m also a fan of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films (one of the few DVD sets I actually own). For filmmakers, though, prequels are tricky business. Just ask George Lucas, whose three Star Wars prequels failed to generate the enthusiasm of parts IV, V, and VI, which were released nearly two decades earlier. Peter Jackson is the latest director to toss aside caution, and perhaps he shouldn’t have done so. Although The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, part one of his three-part adaptation of Tolkien’s 1937 novel, is cleaning up at the box office, it’s no Lord of the Rings. In fact, it’s not a very good film at all. Unless Jackson has something quite different in the can for parts two and three, it’s hard to imagine that the critical reviews of part one will help the box office for what comes next.

The first problem is one of padding. The Hobbit was a single contained book of just 388 pages. In order to make this into a trilogy, Jackson has added touches from other Tolkien writings on Middle Earth. Alas, much of this material is for devotees only, the sort of hardcore stuff that’s analogous to inventing an entire Klingon language for Star Trek über fans. You will, for instance, be introduced to twelve dwarves–too many for most viewers to absorb and more than anyone needs to know about. The salient fact is that they are a small band intent upon restoring Erebor, the dwarf kingdom conquered by the dragon Smaug. So let’s just form the fellowship and move on, shall we?

Jackson doesn’t. He opens with a sequel to his prequel–an aged Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) busily finishing the memoir of his youthful adventure–The Hobbit–for his nephew Frodo before he disappears from The Shire. Sound familiar? It’s taken from The Fellowship of the Ring, part one of the Lord of the Rings (LOR) trilogy. Finally we flash back in time and see Gandalf (Ian McKellen) attempting to convince a youthful and reluctant Bilbo (Martin Freeman) to forsake his comfortable hobbit home and stuffed larder to undertake an adventure.

Soon we encounter the film’s second problem: tone. LOR was fantasy for older readers, but The Hobbit was originally meant for children. So how does one target the film? As the opening drama for what is ultimately a grander one, or as a cartoonish children’s story? Jackson tries to have it both ways and it doesn’t work. He introduces Bilbo to the dwarves by having them invade his home and clear out his well-stocked pantry in a hedonistic evening of gluttony, drunkenness, and burping. I wondered if Terry Gilliam co-directed, as these scenes played as they were outtakes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The dwarves are supposed to be fierce fighters, but our first impression of the barrel-chested, pint-sized sons of Erebor is that they are a cross between Snow White’s companions and The Three Stooges (x4).

Equally trite is the story of Gandalf’s wizard colleague Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy), the protector of Mirkwood. He’s St. Francis by way Dr. Doolittle and a Summer of Love acid test. He tends a forest of cute animals including–and I kid you not–a team of speedster rabbits that pull his land sledge at rocket velocity.

Then we get more padding, including a trip to Rivendell to meet the elves and experience the enchantments of Galadriel (Cate Blanchett). What isn’t padding or background is wall-to-wall ambushes and battle scenes. Pick your Middle Earth villains–trolls, goblins, wargs, orcs–and they are all here, including the Pale One, a mutant super orc thought to have been mortally wounded by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) after the orc killed his grandfather.

The battle scenes are spectacular, but they also flunk the plausibility test, even for sci-fi and fantasy. It’s easy to see why the LOR fellowship will ultimately triumph over evil–any dark power that relies upon orcs and goblins for its army is doomed to fail. They are so inept that, in one scene, our Erebor-bound band of 14 manages to rout thousands of them in a single go on their own home turf! An Unexpected Journey only takes us to Bilbo’s discovery of the ring, his first encounter with Gollum (Andy Sirkis), and a draw showdown with the Pale One. Quite a bit remains, and we didn’t really get a lot of story for a nearly three-hour-long film.

So how about the cool special effects? These and the battle scenes are often thrilling, but so too are car chases in run-of-the-mill mob films that induce similar sensations for far less money. Plus, we’ve already seen these in LOR. What about the 3D? My advice: don’t bother. It’s nothing you’ve not already seen in other 3D movies and the glasses dramatically darken the picture. Rivendell should be viewed in full light. It is a CGI marvel of the first magnitude. (I can attest from experience that the few bits of actual New Zealand landscape for Rivendell come from one of the most nondescript parks in the entire country!)  How about the acting? McKellen and Sirkis are fine, but they could do Gandalf and Gollum in their sleep and sometimes do. Freeman is easily the best thing in the movie, but even he has trouble redeeming some of the paste-up performances from the dwarves. And, if I might, Armitage’s portrayal of Thorin Oakenshield is particularly wooden!

In all, not a promising start, though I suppose we can thank Jackson for not tossing in any Jar-Jar Binks characters. The tale will continue. But should it? Sometimes it’s best to rest on one’s laurels. --Rob Weir


Top Ten Albums of 2012

Rob’s Top Ten for 2012

It wasn’t a great year for music by any means. In fact, it’s gotten so easy to produce an MP3 or a CD that just about everyone does. DYI is cool for friends and family, but such projects often add to the background noise and make it harder to find the really good stuff. And, as politically incorrect as it is, I find 90% of all hip-hop and rap to be unworthy of being viewed as music. Ask me to judge by the standards of slam poetry and we can talk, but spoken word over sampled music and programmed percussion doesn’t meet my melodic measurements. So here is my Top Ten for 2012 in the genres (such as they still exist) of rock, pop, folk, country, and world music.

 1. Le Vent du Nord, Tromper le Temps (Borealis):  From Québec comes a jewel from a band so good that the only open question is whether we prefer their energy or their polish.

2.  Ari Hest, The Fire Plays, (Project 4 Records): Baritone vocals evocative of John Gorka and compositions worthy of Billy Joel or Paul Simon. Score one for the Metro (NYC) male.

3.  Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Psychedelic Pill, (Reprise): The old man still has it! Perhaps overlong at two discs, but a classic Young mix of country, folk, rock, and grunge.

4. Altan, Gleann Nimhe, (Compass): These Irish-folk veterans stepped back in time for a new release the evoked the band’s early days and their back-to-the-future project succeeded brilliantly.

5. Caroline Herring, Camilla, (Signature): If Country music was run by talent scouts instead of empty suits, Caroline Herring would be one of the industry’s brightest stars.

6.  Genticorum, Naguez Rameurs, (Mad River): A tick below Le Vent du Nord, but just a tick. Add both to your collection and you’ll clog your way through 2013.

7. Karine Polwart, Traces, (Hegri Music): From one of Scotland’s most fearless singers, an album about loss, bruised hearts, and renewal. Raw emotions meet heavenly vocals.

8. Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer, Little Blue Egg, (Red House): Recovered demos and shelved songs from the late, great Dave Carter–a hit from beyond the tomb and renewed life from Tracy.

9. Jason Myles GossRadio Dial (Jeswaldo Sounds): This rising talent from Boston’s fertile folk scene is back with an album full of compelling stories from the down side of life.

10. (Tie), Steep Canyon Rangers/Mairi Morrison & Alisdair Roberts, Nobody Knows You/Urstan, (Rounder/Drag City): Sometimes the hippest new thing is the old made new. Steep Canyon Rangers aren’t your daddy’s bluegrass, and Morrison & Roberts give a fresh treatment to Celtic waulking songs and mouth music.--Rob Weir