Friday, July 31, 2009

District 9 opens Aug. 14

Non-humans create an overcrowding problem on the blue planet a few years from now.


This was the most vile, vülgar and disgusting movie I have ever seen. Some parts were hilarious. For much of the movie, I had to cover my eyes with my hands to avoid having full frontal male nudity super-sized on the movie screen. Note to MPAA: If this is rated R, how does a movie get an NC-17* rating for sexuality? I'm thinking of Lust/Caution, a movie that came out in 2008 or 2007. My guess is that the answer is related to the company releasing the film. Sony/Universal released Brüno. Sony/Universal is one of the seven Big Studios in Hollywood, along with Fox, Paramount, MGM/UA, Warner Brothers, Columbia and Walt Disney. These studios control the MPAA and generally receive the film ratings they want. Perhaps an independent studio without any clout released Lust/Caution and received the NC-17 rating as a result. (I did not see the film and cannot comment on its content.) An NC-17 rating means many theatres won't screen it, many newspapers won't print ads for it and Wal-Mart and Blockbuster refuse to carry it on DVD. So NC-17 puts a big hurt on a film's chances for profitability.

I have a high tolerance for bad taste and sexual content in movies; this one really pushed the limit. Recommended only for mature audiences who are not easily offended. I can't imagine an "unrated" DVD version of this film since just about everything one could imagine being cut from the theatrical version was actually in the film. If you think the R-rated trailer is crude....

*NC-17 No children under 17 admitted regardless of parental escort.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Guns in the City

From Chicago Tribune Voice of the People, July 18:

Make city safer

July 18, 2009

Make city safer
This is in response to "Weekend sees rash of killings; 11 people slain, dozens injured in city violence" (News, July 7). Most were shooting victims.

The prevalence of shootings in a city with some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country shows that these restrictions are meaningless; they also provide the best argument for Illinois to join the majority of the states by permitting qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons.

Mayor Richard Daley is busy rhapsodizing about the virtues of blowing taxpayer dollars to host the 2016 Olympic Games in the city. Why would the committee that decides where the games will be held want to put athletes and staffers in Chicago where the odds are too high that they will be shot or killed by some moron?

I truly love Chicago and I fully acknowledge that our suburban enclaves wouldn't be worth much if they were not located near the city. However, my trips to the city have dropped sharply as the sales taxes have soared, as parking lot and parking meter prices have spiked, as the potholes have become more numerous and deeper, and as violence soars out of control. I suggest that the mayor forget the Olympics and redirect his considerable enthusiasm toward casting a new marketing plan for the city. The new plan should focus upon making the city a safer and more economical venue for those who want to come into town for recreation and fun. Ideally they could do this while legally packing a pistol in their belts or purses -- just in case.

-- Charles F. Falk, Schaumburg

Monday, July 27, 2009

Six Flags: Such a bad environment?

For the first time in more than a decade, I drove up to Six Flags Great America Thursday morning (half-hr. drive). I had been meaning to go up for a number of years, and a great deal on admission and parking ($27 inclusive) convinced me. I arrived at 10:20, 20 minutes after the park opened, and waited about 10 minutes to acquire a parking space. (I parked in Robin 54.*) There is Preferred Parking for an extra $10. From regular parking, it's a five- or ten-minute walk to the entrance. Be prepared to walk all day; Six Flags is really big.

I was about to channel the President of the United States: "There are some who say...." Yes, some orthodox Jews advise against going to Six Flags because other guests are not appropriate dressed or may not behave in an appropriate manner. Allow me to address that. Most people are dressed for summer--i.e., t-shirt and shorts. Six Flags is pretty strict about what people wear and how they behave. For example, someone wearing Drew Peterson's favorite t-shirt, "It's not my job to blow sunshine up your ass," would be turned away at the gate. Profanity and unruly behavior are prohibited, as is smoking--a huge plus. Yes, cleavage is often visible. Yes, some guys have tattoo sleeves. Yes, ladies' shorts have become shorter over the past two or three years. All that is on display at Six Flags. On the other hand, the bare midriff trend of the 1990's has all but disappeared. I saw many more headscarves than bare midriffs. There were plenty of church groups and one Jewish Council of Youth Services camp, all of which were proudly wearing their group t-shirts. On Raging Bull, I sat next to a trio of girls from East Chicago's Christian Revival Center, whose initials, hilariously, are cRc. The girls were wearing frum denim skirts and looked at first glance like orthodox Jewish teenagers. So there is a mix of "shopping-mall America" and religious groups, all having a great time. I should note that I did not go to Hurricane Harbor, a water park about one-sixth the size of the rest of Six Flags. Admission to the water park is included with Six Flags admission. July 23 was not a particularly warm day, and it ended up raining between 5 and 7pm. Six Flags strictly prohibits swimwear outside the water park, so there are no women wearing bikini tops instead of t-shirts outside Hurricane Harbor.

Superman: Ultimate Flight - lots of fun. Spectacular and worth the wait in line. After loading, in which riders sit upright in the seats, the metal floor drops, and the seats rotate 90 degrees, so riders are facing the ground (to give the illusion of flying like Superman). The girls sitting in front of me left their flip-flops at the boarding area, so I was treated to watching their feet for the entire ride. Thank you.

Vertical Velocity - I'm still trying to figure out the physics of this ride. How does it propel and accelerate the train so quickly? The ride simply sends a train full of riders straight up, backward, straight up, and so on a few times. It shook me up a little bit.

Batman the Ride - Still lots of fun. Riders are suspended from the track rather than sitting in normal train cars.

Does the train that loops the park only have one stop, at the front of the park? That's not very practical. At one time, Six Flags had a skyway (with cabs that held 2-4 people) that ran between the front of the park and the American Eagle, in County Fair at the rear of the park. Now the skyway station in County Fair is a funnel cake shoppe. Oh well. Walt Disney World took down its skyway, too, which ran from Adventureland to Tomorrowland. Very convenient.

Buccaneer Battle - not a roller coaster but a pirate ship ride in which riders (and spectators) can shoot water at each other. Unfortunately the pumps are hand-powered, not electric. Quite a workout!

American Eagle, the Demon and Iron Wolf - I did not ride because I was worried about motion sickness.

Dare Devil Dive - free-fall from 125 feet - $35 single rider, $25 double, $20/ea for three riders. Fun to watch people strap in, hoisted up on a pulley system and dropped. Not worth it in my estimation. I think when MGM Grand Adventures existed behind MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, it only charged $18 or $20 for a single rider.

The Viper - fun wooden roller coaster.

Raging Bull - fantastic roller coaster with huge initial drop.

Giant Drop - Vertical drop, like Twilight Zone Tower of Terror or The Edge, a ride that Six Flags installed in 1983 and removed after an accident. Fun to watch. (I did not ride.)

The Dark Knight - boy, was this disappointing. I advise against waiting longer than 30 minutes for this ride, and I waited for more than an hour. Remember Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World? (It still exists at Disneyland Resort. At Disney World, it's a shoppe for Snow White.) It's like Mr. Toad with a small vertical drop. Instead of an electric car, the car is propelled by gravity from that initial drop. Lots of sudden twists and turns. The concept is excellent--the Gotham subway run amok after being overtaken by the Joker and his crew. But it doesn't last long enough for riders to enjoy it.

Flash Pass - Walt Disney World doesn't charge for its "Fast Pass" (yet). Six Flags charges $27 for one person to use the Flash Pass; the cost decreases incrementally to $87 for six. The pass, which looks like a Tomagochi toy, allows guests to enjoy the park while "waiting" in line. Probably worth it, especially if the park is crowded. It was not crowded on Thursday, and some of those roller coaster lines were pretty darn long.

The digital screens showing Six Flags ads to the ride queues get annoying very quickly.

My family and I had at least two unpleasant experiences from theme park guests smoking cigarettes near us. One family member was burned waiting for a parking tram at Walt Disney World. Standing in line for a ride next to someone smoking is so unpleasant because there is no way to avoid his noxious odor. I am so pleased that Six Flags took care of that. Every employee wears a button that says "Smoke-Free Park." That's not 100 percent true. Smokers can light up in designated areas all over the park, but they are strictly forbidden from smoking on the walking paths and in the ride queues. That makes all the difference. There's no need to worry about people sneaking a puff because the penalty is ejection from the park. Thank you, Six Flags.

Kosher: Well, there are several very expensive Ben & Jerry's locations, Cold Stone Creamery and novelty ice cream sold at concession stands. One restaurant, the Pink Flamingo, has fresh fruit. And Six Flags says food can be brought in if guests demonstrate a dietary restriction. So leave it in the car or bring a note from your rabbi.

*People who deliberately take more than one space should have their vehicles booted. It just means a longer walk for everyone else.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Dr. Joe Cytrynbaum 1972-2009

"Cerebral aneurysm?"

WTF, G-d?

Joe's parents, sisters and wife, may they be comforted in their sorrow, must be asking themselves that very question, albeit in slightly different form. What did he or we do to deserve this?

I hadn't gone to a memorial service since my father died in 2002. I wanted to go to my high school classmate Kevin Foster's funeral, but it was on a Saturday, so I could not attend. Joe and I had a close friend in common--whom I saw at the service--and I felt like I should attend.

Joe's family's synagogue, Jewish Reconstructionist Congregration, hosted the service. I had never been in the "green synagogue," which opened in this decade. Why is the sanctuary on the third floor? So the view from the seats is the tree canopy? And is the synagogue so green it's not air-conditioned? The lobby felt cool, but people in the sanctuary were using the shiva guides as fans. Yeesh.

I shouldn't complain. Not here--not now. As the obituary in the paper indicated, Joe was quite an accomplished individual who touched the lives of hundreds of people. I was lucky to grab a back-row seat as about a hundred people stood against the walls. "This room has never been so crowded," the rabbi told us.

It feels like G-d slamming the door shut.

That occurred to me as I walked into the building at Evanston's southern border. How could this happen? Why do bad things happen to good people?

It's a great, classic challenge to G-d. We don't know the answer. (And yes, Rabbi Kushner, G-d does control the world, including life and death.) We are mere mortals. G-d's infinite wisdom is far beyond our comprehension. The loss of an infant--a tragedy a friend recently endured--the loss of a child, the loss of a young father and husband in the prime of his life--what is sadder than that?

One of the several qualities I admire about the Lubavitcher rebbe z"l is the potential he saw in every Jew. This leviya service on July 16 served two awesome purposes: it humbled and inspired me. Humbling to see how one person could accomplish so much and touch so many. Inspiring for the same reasons--what Joe had in his neshama, his soul--is in all of us. We are all capable of maximizing our potential and making a difference in people's lives. That would be the best way to keep Joe's memory alive.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Does Emirates allow Jews to board?

I just finished reading Dick Morris' best-selling book Fleeced. In discussing former President Bill Clinton's profitable speaking fees and Clinton Presidential Library contributors, Morris mentioned Dubai and wrote that Dubai does not allow Jews to enter the country. So I wonder what the policy of the national airline of Dubai is. This airline, Emirates, operates nonstop flights between JFK International Airport and Dubai. I would think that the U.S. State Department would require airlines operating from American gateways to observe American non-discrimination laws. That would mean that Jews and passengers with Israeli stamps in their passports, as well as Israeli citizens, would be entitled to seats on Arab state-owned aircraft. I guess I'm wrong. (For the record, I had a problem with South African Airways operating in Atlanta until the apartheid regime abandoned its rule.) Emirates does allow passengers to make connections at Dubai International Airport (DXB) without holding a visa to enter Dubai. So I tried to find clues on the Emirates website that would suggest its Arab boycott participation: no Jews on board, no Israelis on board, no one with Israeli stamps in their passports on board. It's very subtle. Here are stated reasons for refusal to board. See if you can read between the lines:

7.1.1 refusal to carry is necessary in order to comply with any applicable government laws, regulations, orders or governmental policy; or

7.1.5 carriage of you and/or your Baggage may endanger or adversely and materially affect, or has endangered or adversely and materially affected, the safety, health, or security of the aircraft, other Passengers or members of the crew, or the comfort
of other Passengers aboard the aircraft; or

7.1.12 you appear, in our exclusive opinion, not to meet requisite visa requirements or not to have valid or lawfully acquired travel documents or to have acquired them by fraudulent means or you wish to travel to or enter a country through which you
may be in transit for which you do not have valid travel documents or meet the requisite visa requirements, or you destroy your travel documents aboard the aircraft or between check-in and boarding, or you refuse to allow us to copy your travel documents, or you refuse to surrender your travel documents to the flight crew, against receipt, when so requested; or

7.1.13 we have been informed (orally or in writing) by immigration or other authorities of the country to which you are travelling or through which you may intend to transit, or of a country in which you have a Stopover planned, that you will not be permitted entry to such country even if you have valid travel documents;

All these excuses give Emirates an "easy-out." The airline can say:

1. Our government does not allow us to seat you.
2. Your presence would make our Arab and Muslim passengers uncomfortable.
3. Your presence would make our aircraft a target for Arab (I mean, international) terrorism.
4. You do not qualify for a visa into Dubai, so we will not seat you, regardless of your intentions of entering Dubai.
5. Even if you possess documents allowing you to enter Dubai, by 7.1.13 we reserve the right to refuse to seat you.

I wonder how often this happens at JFK--every flight?--and if the airline springs for the $45 taxi ride back to Manhattan.

The Emirates' website accepts inquiries (or "enquiries," as it would probably call them) in limited subjects, and "Jews on aircraft" is not one of them. I selected "Booking query" and asked about Jews and Israeli passport stamps. I also posed a question to the Twitter feed of the Burj Hotel, that supposedly only-one-in-the-world seven-star luxury hotel in Dubai. No reply.

Information taken from Emirates' website.