Yearly Archives: 2008

Mucking up standing still

The Day the Earth Stood Still
United States, 2008
Directed By: Scott Derrickson
Written By: David Scarpa
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Jaden Smith
Running Time: 103 min.
Rated PG-13 for some sci-fi disaster images and violence
2.5 out of 5 stars
Three years ago, I made the acquaintance of a little horror picture called The Exorcism of Emily Rose.  I didn’t walk in with high expectations – history told me that horror films about demon possession were, as a rule, terrible (thanks to the fact that genre-definer The Exorcist couldn’t possibly be improved upon, of course), and director Scott Derrickson’s only previous credit was that direct-to-video classic Hellraiser V: Inferno – but I walked out pleasantly surprised.

The film was a funky little exercise in eclecticism – combining courtroom drama with spooky atmosphere and jump scares – plus, it spoke directly to the times, and while it might not have reached Bergman levels of profundity, it surprised me with its depth of emotion and it even made me reexamine bits of my worldview.  It wasn’t a particularly well-reviewed film (though it made the Chicago Film Critics Association’s list of the “Hundred Scariest Movies of All Time”), but it did manage to change the way I thought about horror movies, and – most importantly – it got me interested in Derrickson.

Well, perhaps that interest was a bit misguided.  Or perhaps he’s hit a sophomore slump (this being his second theatrical release).  Or maybe he’s simply not at his most comfortable working with a script he didn’t write.  But most likely, he simply can’t make a great film when he’s not working with great talent.  But for whatever reason, his latest – a remake of the 1951 science fiction classic The Day the Earth Stood Still – just doesn’t make it over the bar he’s set for himself.
Acting talent seems to be the biggest culprit here.  When he made Emily Rose, Derrickson somehow managed to recruit two of the best character actors available – Tom Wilkinson and Laura Linney – in addition to talented newcomer Jennifer Carpenter.  Even when the script faltered, they were able to save it with nuanced acting and genuine emotion (in addition to some astonishing body contortions – which Carpenter apparently did herself).  With his latest film, however, we get stuck with Keanu “Ted” Reeves and Will Smith’s son.  With that in mind, I can’t believe I ever imagined the project wouldn’t fail.
Now – to be fair – Reeves might be one of the better parts of the film.  As he’s proven over and over again since Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, he has a serious knack for looking bemused, bewildered, and confused (perhaps this is why the first Matrix was popular but the other two weren’t – once he figured out what was going on, his character ceased to be interesting) – and of course, in the new Day, he has every opportunity to do this, since he plays Klaatu, an extraterrestrial who was recently reborn in a human body in order to warn humanity of its impending destruction.  Watching him figure out how to work his arms and legs isn’t without its charm, and the way his character communicates badly with the surrounding humans fits in perfectly.  The problem, of course, is that he’s one of three main characters here – and, as such, he has to grow and change.
It’s a change that’s impossible to accept, since it’s nearly impossible to determine exactly what precipitated it – especially with the lukewarm performances we get from his two costars.  Jennifer Connelly arguably does her best here, but the script gives her little more to do that blubber about how humanity deserves a second chance.  As for Jaden Smith, the less said about him, the better.  He won some acclaim for The Pursuit of Happyness (which I admit I haven’t seen), but nothing he does here rings true.  The role calls for a child who is deeply wounded by the death of his father and mistrustful of his stepmother; unfortunately, he can’t seem to fathom even half that depth of emotion.  He comes off as just another child actor trying to get by on apple-cheeked cuteness – the absolute worst thing that could have happened to the role.  Even when the script should work here, the actors manage to bring it down.
This is all terribly unfortunate; since The Day the Earth Stood Still definitely had the potential for greatness (no matter how ill-advised the remake was in the first place).  The special effects are arguably some of the best to be put forward this year, striking the perfect balance of 1950s cheese and 2000s whiz-bang CGI (with just a dash of Close Encounters of the Third Kind) – in other words, they effortlessly pull off what Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull tried so desperately to do just a few months ago.  The modern interpretation of Klaatu’s robot Gort is a thing of terrible beauty, and probably as close as they could have come to evoking the same feelings that the original might have in the 1950s. The initial, wordless encounter between Klaatu and Helen (Connelly’s character) is a truly emotional experience.  And when humanity’s impending doom is finally unleashed, it’s truly a sight to behold.  Too bad none of it means anything.
More than any other film, The Day the Earth Stood Still reminds me of Roland Emmerich’s clunker 10,000 B.C., which came out earlier this year. Like 10,000 B.C., it has an undeniable beauty – it makes you believe its action – but it fails to connect emotionally, or even thematically.  While 10,000 B.C. was possessed of a bland New Age formula, however, The Day the Earth Stood Still continues Derrickson’s habit of dipping into Christian mythology – telling the story of an all-powerful being who must sacrifice himself to save humanity from, paradoxically, his own judgment.  Unfortunately, this is just another theme that gets lost in the muddle – and while it’s nice to see Derrickson attempting something a bit more complex than Emily Rose’s themes of faith vs. skepticism, bad acting and bland pacing ultimately do it in.
It should go without saying, of course, that the original film is by far the better choice here.  What’s frustrating, though, is that this new version could have been, like Peter Jackson’s King Kong was a few years back, a colorful fantasia on the motif established by the original.  Instead it tries too hard to update it, deviates too far from its themes, and simply fails to develop its characters.  In this, it does a disservice not only to the original, but also to itself.  Those who loved the original will no doubt be angered, and those of us who are true believers in Derrickson’s skills have nothing to do but wait for his next project, which is – I kid you not – an adaptation of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. So, without any irony intended: let’s all pray he doesn’t muck up that particular classic quite so much as he did this one.

About the author:
Evan Derrick loves movies, loves talking about movies, and even makes them from time to time. In addition to being the founder and senior editor for, he is also a member of the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle and a father of two beautiful children. He can be reached for comment or complaint at

Anthony to assume Corp Commission Chair

Effective January 1, 2009, Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony will assume the chairmanship of the Commission, with Commissioner Jeff Cloud serving as vice chair.
The commission consists of three members elected statewide to staggered six-year terms.  Commissioner-elect Dana Murphy will take office January 12, 2009. The State Constitution calls for the commissioners to elect a chairman from among themselves.  A vice chair is elected to preside in the chairman’s absence.
Anthony joined the Commission in January, 1989, following election in November of 1988.  He is presently serving in his fourth consecutive six-year term and will be serving as chair for the fifth time.

Anthony currently serves as chairman of the board of the National Regulatory Research Institute (NRRI), the official research arm of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC).  He is also immediate past president of the Mid-America Regulatory Conference (MARC), which conducted its most recent annual summer meeting in Oklahoma City.
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s many duties include regulation of oil and gas exploration and production, public utility rates and quality of service, petroleum storage tanks, motor carriers and pipeline safety. 
Bob Anthony has been a statewide elected official longer than any current Oklahoma officeholder, winning his fourth consecutive six-year term on the Oklahoma Corporation Commission in November 2006. Anthony initially ran for the Corporation Commission in 1988, becoming the first Republican elected to that body in 60 years when he received more votes than any Republican since statehood. In 1994 Anthony became the first Republican incumbent in Oklahoma history to win statewide reelection to a state office, and in 2000, he was reelected receiving more votes at that time than any candidate for state office in Oklahoma history.
He serves as chairman of the board for the National Regulatory Research Institute, immediate past-president of the Mid-America Regulatory Conference, a member of the Natural Gas Committee of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, a member and past-president of the Economic Club of Oklahoma, a board member of Skyline Urban Ministry, member of Rotary and was a delegate to the 2008 General Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Anthony graduated from Oklahoma City’s Casady School in 1966 and holds a B.S. from the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania.  He also earned an M.Sc. from the London School of Economics, an M.A. from Yale University and an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University He served to the rank of captain in the U.S. Army Reserve. In 1972 Anthony was the staff economist for the Interior Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives and, in 1976 he served as a consultant to the U.S. Library of Congress. From 1979 to 1980 he served on the City Council of Oklahoma City as Ward 2 Councilman and then vice mayor. 

New year: New hope for Oklahoma

For the first time in Oklahoma history, Republicans will control both houses of the state Legislature when the House and Senate convene in February. This creates a dramatic new opportunity to enact "center-right" policies that never made it past Democrats who controlled the upper chamber for 101 years.

The man in the middle for the two years Republicans shared powers with Senate Democrats is now the man at the top. Oklahoma City Republican Glenn Coffee, President Pro Tempore, outlined reasons he is optimistic, and the particular reason he is concerned progress may be limited.

Concerning lawsuit reform, he told me in a recent interview, "We’ve got to do something about the governor’s position. I am trying to find out if we have a chance of real reform through the legislative process, with the governor’s signature at the end, this year. If that is not achievable, it might be the right time to take a proposal directly to the people. Oklahoma needs tort reform, and we need it now."

The American Tort Reform Association, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization, recently placed Oklahoma on its 2008/2009 "judicial hellholes" watch list. Coffee is not predicting failure: "We are negotiating with the governor. I have a longstanding relationship with him from days we were both in the Legislature.

I respect him. I think on this issue he feels trapped. He gets some trouble, some heat, from the Left even for talking to us. Beyond that, he was simply adamant to exclude certain items from lawsuit reform that are actually terribly important to make it meaningful."

Coffee believes Gov. Brad Henry "knows this is important to the business community, and there’s a certain momentum for it even in the media. But I have a sense he feels caught in the middle and might feel it’s easier to say no than to find a way to say yes."

Elements of lawsuit reform, within reach based on recent sessions, include joint and several liability, restricting the percentage of tort judgments to a discernible percentage of fault. Beyond that, "Class action reform is what the working lawyers indicate is essential. Bringing in federal rules on summary judgment. Caps on non-economic damages, which both the medical and the business community consider fundamental." Coffee also supports "a certificate of merit that would apply to medical and business cases."

As for the "loser pays" concept, Coffee was candid: "I am for it. However, some of the business community argue it’s a sword for the other side but not a shield for our side. It’s certainly something worth talking about. It was not in the version that went to the governor last year, which we thought had a decent chance of getting his signature. So, it might be a bridge too far."

On other policy concerns, Coffee is hopeful about school choice proposals in the Senate, where a bipartisan majority last year backed scholarships to give greater choices to students in poor-performing schools.

"I am hopeful to get some bills through this year," Coffee said. "The scholarship program you’ve written about in the past is one. There is room for further improvements on charter school requirements. And, I believe that the longstanding proposal for deregulation of public school districts is something the governor might sign and even support."
The Senate Republican caucus was still establishing a timetable for key issue consideration at the time of our interview. Asked to rank his personal priorities, Coffee said, "Tort reform is a priority without question. Education reform, to include choice and a better environment for our charter schools. Accountability and openness in government, those are issues that have been important to me all the way through my career. We can do a better job to assure transparency and openness in government."

He continued, "Another priority, frankly, is transportation. The money situation may not allow us to do much in the way of new planning, but I believe it’s really essential to protect the gains we’ve made incrementally in repairing bridges and doing important road work. I believe we can and must move forward on market-oriented reforms to make health care more affordable to more of our working people and all our citizens. Of course, we’ll also be working hard on energy-related questions to do what the state can to assure strong growth in sources of energy and help to our energy sector."

It’s a new year, giving new hope to enact a new agenda for Oklahoma.

About the author:
Patrick B. McGuigan (M.A. in history, Oklahoma State University) is a research fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a conservative think tank. He is the author of two books and the editor of seven.  McGuigan is a Contributing Editor for Tulsa Today and managing editor of The City Sentinel, an Oklahoma City weekly.

Legislation planned to end partisan selections

Sen. Kenneth Corn on Tuesday announced plans to introduce legislation that would prohibit the partisan appointment of County Election Board Secretaries.
Corn said it was important that the Legislature make a firm commitment to ending political patronage, without exceptions.  The proposal would require that Election Board Secretaries have at least three years of experience with the system.
“If we truly want to end political patronage and provide better services to the citizens of Oklahoma, then our approach to County Election Board Secretaries should be no different,” said Corn, D-Poteau.  “These are particularly demanding and consequential posts, and they should be filled by qualified and experienced administrators.  These positions are far too important to be determined by patronage.”

In 2005, Corn authored legislation that would have prohibited Oklahoma legislators from recommending tag agents to the Oklahoma Tax Commission, but the measure was not heard by the Legislature while Democrats controlled the body.  Now that Republicans hold the majority, change is possible.  Corn said efforts to end political patronage would result in improved government services.
“An office charged with administrative oversight of elections is an office that shouldn’t be treated as a patronage spoil,” Corn said.  “This is a common-sense effort to reform an out-dated system with a non-partisan, merit-based process.  I’m sure my colleagues would agree that a system without patronage would yield the highest caliber individual for any position.”

Schusterman Foundation awards services

Friday, 26 December 2008
Fifteen nonprofit organizations that provide direct services in the Tulsa area will each receive a check for $25,000 during January 2009, to offset the cost of utilities during the coming year.  These funds will come from the Tulsa-based Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, through a program called “Lights On!”  The purpose is to keep the building lights on and the offices warm and welcoming.

Lynn Schusterman, CLSFF chair, said, “This program embodies the Tulsa spirit, a community spirit that continues to meet the basic needs of those most vulnerable among us.  We are initiating this program as people celebrate holidays that symbolize light.  Our hope is that the Lights On! program will brighten Tulsa throughout 2009.”

The announcement of the grants came as a surprise to the directors of the nonprofit organizations through personal phone calls from CLSFF staff.  “We all serve on local nonprofit boards and know just how much these grants will assist the agencies. We were thrilled to make the calls and share the good news.”

The selected agencies are:

1.  Anne Patterson Dooley Family Safety Center
2.  Child Abuse Network
3.  Community Action Project of Tulsa County
4.  Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma
5.  Domestic Violence Intervention Services/Call Rape
6.  Emergency Infant Services
7.  Family and Children’s Services, Inc.
8.  Meals on Wheels of Metro Tulsa, Inc.
9.  Mental Health Association in Tulsa Inc
10. Parent Child Center of Tulsa
11. Planned Parenthood of Arkansas & Eastern Oklahoma, Inc
12. Resonance
13. Tulsa CASA, Inc
14. Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless
15. Youth Services of Tulsa, Inc.

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation was established in 1987 with a mission to spread the joy of Jewish living, giving and learning throughout the world. In Tulsa, the Foundation strives to improve the quality of life through investments that eliminate child abuse, support education and develop young leaders through community service projects.

Last Updated ( Friday, 26 December 2008 )