30 August 2005

Cheesy Film Review: Grizzly Man

I saw a great movie this week.

It's a documentary by Werner Herzog called Grizzly Man.

We've already established that a young girl getting
killed by a pet tiger on an ill-conceived school trip is
nothing less than a senseless tragedy.

But what about when a dimwitted adult decides to camp
out in the Alaskan wilderness to live among and "protect"
the native Grizzly Bear population -- and is eventually
killed and eaten by one of his furry pals?

That, my fellow cheese-lovers, is what's known as
Comedy Gold!

The dimwitted adult was a man named Timothy Treadwell.
Throw a rock in any direction on Melrose Avenue or Venice
Beach and you're almost guaranteed to hit a dude just like
him: easy-going, self-absorbed, poorly educated and
embarrassingly immature. Just imagine your average
reality show contestant and you'll get the idea.

Having failed to hit it big in Hollywood (he claims to have
been the second choice for Woody Harrelson's role on
Cheers) Treadwell decided to create his own reality show.
The premise: see how long someone can live among deadly
Grizzly Bears while pretending to be a wildlife expert, before
getting killed. The game lasted thirteen years, during which
(not surprisingly) Treadwell finally gained some celebrity.
He appeared on David Letterman's TV show where he
described the bears as mostly harmless "party animals."

But now that the party's over, the job of sorting through all
of Treadwell's footage and crafting a final film that does
justice to its quixotic hero has fallen in the lap of German
auteur, Werner Herzog.

Herzog, who also narrates the film with a voice not unlike
Dr. Strangelove, does a brilliant job picking the essential
moments: some obvious, some not-so-obvious. (One of the
coolest shots is when Treadwell momentarily walks out
of frame and the landscape is suddenly brought to life by
a gentle breeze -- you just have to see it to understand.)

Of course, there are plenty of amazing shots of the bears,
up close and personal. But since the audience already knows
how this story will end, even the scenes where Treadwell
keeps a safe distance from the massive animals have a
dreadful undertone. Despite all attempts to portray himself
as a real-life Dr. Doolittle who can communicate (or at least
"connect") with nature's creatures, the camera cuts through
all the psuedo-spiritual bullshit to reveal a much starker
reality: a deeply delusional narcissist who has no connection
whatsoever with a bunch of dispassionate, unsentimental
killer beasts that, under the right circumstances, wouldn't
think twice about making Treadwell their next meal.

Intercut with all this footage are recent interviews with friends,
relatives and various locals. Their opinions of Treadwell span
the range of love and admiration to "he got what he deserved."
But the most insightful comments come from an interview
with a Native American curator of the local Grizzly Bear
museum. Though he sympathized with Treadwell's
passionate love for these majestic creatures (seemingly
wanting to "become a bear" himself), living with these animals
and acclimating them to human contact was ultimately an act
of "disrespect" that endangered not only himself, but also
the very animals he was trying to protect.

And now, I'll address the questions that are bubbling
somewhere in the back of your mind: Was the fatal bear
attack captured on video? And is it included in the film?

Answers: Sort of, and no.

We are told that a camera was rolling with the lens cap still on
while the attack occurred, so there is audio but no video of the
attack. But Herzog wisely decides not to play this audio in his
film. Instead, it is described to us in excruciating detail by the
coroner who examined the bodies (unfortunately Treadwell's
girlfriend was a victim as well) after they were recovered from
inside the bear, which perhaps just as tragically, was put to
death too. In addition, the camera rests behind Herzog's
shoulder as he listens to the audio on headphones in the
home of one of Treadwell's friends. Herzog is obviously
shaken by the experience and after a speechless moment,
offers the following advice to the friend: "You must never
listen to this. Destroy it, or it will be the white elephant living
in your home for the rest of your life." By now, no actual audio
or video could surpass the gruesome scene vividly concocted
in our own imaginations.

But like most great films, Grizzly Man contains the perfect
blend of both tragedy and comedy. Throughout the interviews
with the eccentric Alaskan locals and during much of Treadwell's
on-camera pontifications, Herzog seems to almost dare the
audience to laugh at the absurdity of it all. Maybe I'm just a
heartless cynic, but I thought the whole thing was pretty damn
hilarious -- and so did audience I watched it with.

So, as we approach the merciful end of one of the most
sucktacular summer movie seasons ever, Grizzly Man
stands out as a rare treat: quality entertainment that
contains the unique power of real life rendered on film.

And the bears are cool too.


20 August 2005

What the Hell is up with Kansas?

Kansas moves to stem role of evolution in teaching
By Carey Gillam

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (Reuters) - After months
of debate over science and religion, the Kansas
Board of Education has tentatively approved new
state science standards that weaken the role
evolution plays in teaching about the origin of life.

The 10-member board must still take a final vote,
expected in either September or October, but a 6-4
vote on Tuesday that approved a draft of the
standards essentially cemented a victory for
conservative Christian board members who say
evolution is largely unproven and can undermine
religious teachings about the origins of life on

"We think this is a great development ... for the
academic freedom of students," said John West,
senior fellow of the Discovery Institute, which
supports intelligent design theory.

Intelligent design proposes that some features of
the natural world are best explained as products of
a considered intent as opposed to a process of
natural selection.

The dark ages are back! And we can thank our good
friends at the Discovery Institute for pushing the
students of Kansas just a little further behind the bell
curve by adopting this pseudo-science curriculum.

And what exactly is the Discovery Institute?

It’s a conservative Republican think-tank founded by
Bruce Chapman, former deputy assistant to President
Reagan. Here is the mission statement from their

"Discovery Institute's mission is to make a positive
vision of the future practical. The Institute
discovers and promotes ideas in the common sense
tradition of representative government, the free
market and individual liberty. Our mission is
promoted through books, reports, legislative
testimony, articles, public conferences and
debates, plus media coverage and the Institute's
own publications and website.

"Current projects explore the fields of technology,
science and culture, reform of the law, national
defense, the environment and the economy, the
future of democratic institutions, transportation,
religion and public life, government entitlement
spending, foreign affairs and cooperation within
the bi-national region of "Cascadia." The efforts
of Discovery fellows and staff, headquartered in
Seattle, are crucially abetted by the Institute's
members, board and sponsors."

But where are the scientists? Surely there must be
some scientists at a place called the Discovery Institute.

"Discovery's Center for Science and Culture has
more than 40 Fellows, including biologists,
biochemists, chemists, physicists, philosophers
and historians of science, and public policy and
legal experts, many of whom also have affiliations
with colleges and universities."

But none mentioned by name.

"The Center's Director is Dr. Stephen Meyer, who
holds a Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of
science from Cambridge University."

Hmm... philosophy of science. That’s sort of like
being a scientist, right?

"The Center's Associate Director is Dr. John G.
West, who holds a PhD in Government from
Claremont Graduate University and a B.A. in
Communications from the University of

But he probably took a few science classes too. I mean, I
was an English major and even I had to visit the science
lab once and a while.

So... if I were a parent in Kansas, I guess I shouldn’t be
too concerned that my child’s science ciriculum was being
influenced by a political P.R. firm in Seattle. After all,
they do mention the words common sense in their
mission statement. Maybe if they had complete contol
over the schools, tragedies like this would be avoided:

Tiger kills Kansas teen
Mauled while posing for pic

By Corky Siemaszko

A Kansas teenager who was posing for her senior
year photo with a Siberian tiger at an animal
sanctuary was killed when the big cat suddenly
clamped its jaws on her, police said yesterday.

Haley Hilderbrand was unable to escape once the
7-year-old animal pounced on her Thursday.

"The handler pulled it off of her," said Sheriff
William Blundell of Labette County, Kan. "The
tiger was later killed."

The 17-year-old from Altamont, Kan., was rushed
to a nearby hospital and died of her wounds.

Blundell said no charges have been filed against
Doug Billingsly, owner of the Lost Creek Animal
Sanctuary in Mound Valley, Kan. "We're still
trying to figure out what caused the tiger to
attack," he said.

On Monday, all 1,000 residents of Hilderbrand's
hometown are expected to attend her funeral at a
municipal auditorium in nearby Parsons, Kan.

"It's a terrible tragedy," Altamont Mayor Herb
Bath said. "Everybody is friends and family here
whether they're related or not."

For years, Labette County High School seniors
have gone to the 80-acre animal preserve to pose
for pictures with the tigers. Hilderbrand was
carrying on the tradition when she was attacked.

Like I said, what the hell is up with Kansas?

You know, someone should really should write a book.

16 August 2005

Start Spreading the News

Greetings cheese lovers!

The Big Cheese is back in the Big Apple, setting up
shop in the town so nice they named it twice:

New York, New York.

But fear not, Left Coast-types. TCS still has several
friends west of the Rockies who will be checking in
from time to time.

Meanwhile, it appears that the other Big Cheese has
finally met his match in Crawford. If you haven’t
heard the name Cindy Sheehan, read all about her, here.

You would think that a president who had even the
smallest bit of compassion and political sense would
find some time in his month-long vacation to speak
with a grieving mother of a fallen U.S. soldier.

But not this president.

CRAWFORD, Texas – President Bush, noting
that lots of people want to talk to the
president and ‘‘it's also important for me to
go on with my life,'' on Saturday defended
his decision not to meet with the grieving
mom of a soldier killed in Iraq.

Bush said he is aware of the anti-war
sentiments of Cindy Sheehan and others
who have joined her protest near the Bush

‘‘But whether it be here or in Washington or
anywhere else, there's somebody who has
got something to say to the president, that's
part of the job,'' Bush said on the ranch.
‘‘And I think it's important for me to be
thoughtful and sensitive to those who have
got something to say.''

‘‘But,'' he added, ‘‘I think it's also important
for me to go on with my life, to keep a
balanced life.''

The comments came prior to a bike ride on
the ranch with journalists and aides. It also
came as the crowd of protesters grew in
support of Sheehan, the California mother
who came here Aug. 6 demanding to talk to
Bush about the death of her son Casey.
Sheehan arrived earlier in the week with
about a half dozen supporters. As of
Saturday there were about 300 anti-war
protestors and approximately 100 people
supporting the Bush administration.

Sheehan is seeking a justification for the
war, as well as her son's death.

‘‘I don't want comfort from him,'' she said
Friday. ‘‘I want answers. I want the truth.''

Bush on Saturday said, ‘‘I've heard their
complaints about my policy. I think it would
be a big mistake to withdraw immediately
from Iraq, which is what they're suggesting
we do.''

In addition to the two-hour bike ride, Bush's
Saturday schedule included an evening
Little League Baseball playoff game, a
lunch meeting with Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice, a nap, some fishing and
some reading.