Nov 30, 2008

Solid gay, all the way through

"Sean Penn’s smile lines in Milk are a wonder. They’re not crinkles, they’re furrows; they seem to stretch all the way down to his soul. As the gay activist Harvey Milk, who was shot to death in 1978 along with the San Francisco mayor, George Moscone, the volatile Penn is unprecedentedly giddy. There’s anger in his Milk, but it never festers—it’s instantly channeled into political action... he shakes off Method self-attention the way Milk shook off the shame of being gay. As the personal becomes political, he opens all the windows and gets visibly high on the breeze." — David Edelstein, New York magazine
It's the happiest I've seen him. And certainly the best reason to see the movie: come see Sean Penn happy! There were moments in Sweet and Lowdown when he seemed blissfully transported by his guitar playing, but this is different. It's not solitary, its the infectious sort of happiness that calms everyone around him, leaving his political opponents with only sour the taste of their own unhappiness, and no option but to get unhappier still. I loved Philadelphia, too, and never quite got the charge of Uncle Tommery levelled at it. Watching Milk, I understood it a little better. There's no Denzel Washington character to hold the audience's hand: this movie is solid gay, all the way through. There's barely a straight character in the whole thing, except for a superbly played Dan White (Josh Brolin) who is drawn to Milk in ominously tighter circles, with an itch he can't quite scratch.

I'm not sure what this does to my Oscar Predictions. It's always easier not to have a horse in the race. I had Di Caprio and Winslett for Revolutionary Road, Benjamin Button for best film, director, and adapted screenplay, Milk for original screenplay, Australia for costumes and cinematography, Heath Ledger for supporting in Batman and Amy Adams for Doubt. I have a feeling Revolutionary Road is going to be a worthy bore (loved the book, hated American Beauty) but the reunion of Di Caprio and Winslettt, both overdue, both now sucking up in the right way, is going to be hard for Academy voters to resist.

Nov 29, 2008

Colouring in Coppola

The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette as seen through their colour schemes. I'm puzzled: is there really no blue sky in Marie Antoinette? And no flesh tones in The Virgin Suicides?

Instant messaging

A gallery of messages from Americans to their new president elect.

Nov 22, 2008


"Barack Obama has a tough dilemma. If he staffs his administration with talented outsiders, he satisifies citizen demand for “change,” but the problem is that outsiders don’t have a clue about how to govern in Washington. Yet if Obama staffs his administration with insiders who do know how to govern (clearly, his chosen option), he undercuts his “change” mantra – mostly because so many of those insiders logged time with the Clintons, and, on occasion, became soiled by the association." — Dick Polman, American Debate
I've heard a lot of this over the last week, as Obama unveils his new cabinet appointments. Clinton? How is that change? Daschle? Old hat! Richardson? I've heard of him, too! It's hard to know what would satisfy the 'change' brigade. A cabinet of total strangers? Plumbers? Cable technicians? Greeks? I'm sure that when Obama used the word 'change' when speaking to millions of Americans over the course of the campaign, the thing that popped into their heads was not 'I do hope change means a cabinet position for someone untouched by Washington experience.' I'm pretty certain they were thinking of their mortgages, or gas prices, or the war in Iraq. Just a guess.

Nov 19, 2008

Michael Moore not Roger Moore

"This Bond film is explicit that the United States under Bush has become the bad guy, that US intelligence is in league with rogue mercenaries and brutal, rapist-generals who plot coups against elected governments. Bond therefore has to take on the United States government (at one point, a SWAT team from the CIA Special Activities Division tries to capture Bond in a bar in La Paz, but fails because Leiter tips Bond off to their approach. The good American in this film is the one willing to betray the US government to a more virtuous MI6 field officer). Craig's Bond is an intimation of the sort of Britain that could have been, if Tony Blair had stood up to Bush and refused to be dragged into an illegal war of choice, and into other actions and policies that profoundly contradicted the principles on which the Labour Party had been founded (and you could imagine Craig's Bond voting for Old Labour, while Flemings's was obviously a Tory). In a way, this Bond stands in for Clare Short, who resigned as a cabinet minister from Blair's government in 2003 over the illegitimacy of the Iraq War." — Juan Col, Informed Comment
I had a good time. It's a little confusing (whatever happened to the Bond villains patiently explaining their master plan for the benefit of us ignoramuses?) but the action sequences are genuienly classy as opposed to fake-rolex classy, and the women are great — particularly Fields, the prim English red head who sends men flying to their doom with a cry of "gosh, I'm sorry". There's a great detail, about 50 minutes in, when Bond takes off his shirt as we see a bunch of scars on his body: not nicks and smears from the last fight, or even the last fight but one, but slowly healing welts from some fight three weeks ago. Maybe the car chase at the beginning of the movie? Or the torture scene at the end of Casino Royale? How long does he have between missions anyway?

Foreign Policy meanwhile lists Five Real Missions for 007: infilitrate Pakistan in search of the H-bomb; check up on China's naval capabilities; investigate Russia's new energy wealth; bribe the Taliban; and establish Kim Jong Il's successor.

Nov 13, 2008

Quote of the day

"Sitting here in these chairs that I'm going to be proposing but in working with these governors who again on the front lines are forced to and it's our privileged obligation to find solutions to the challenges facing our own states every day being held accountable, not being just one of many just casting votes or voting present every once in a while, we don't get away with that." — Sarah Palin
It's rare that one comes across a Palin sentence that doesn't contain at least some clue as to what her intention was before she opened her mouth. In other words, they have intent, if not content. This one has neither. It's one of the purest instance of verbal freefall — wind-in-your-hair, 200mph ground-rushing-up-at-ya mush — I have come across in years. A person who comes up with a sentence like that is almost incapable of knowing whether they are lying, which is one of the great things about these interviews she persists in giving: in her own head she really does think she's setting the record straight. I can see why John Cleese is such a fan.

Nov 11, 2008

How it is for New Yorkers

Kurt Anderson compares the mood in the city to that following 9/11:—
"In Union Square, a friend realized that the last time he was part of such a spontaneous emotional gathering there was on 9/11. And I choked up just hearing about the very young crowds in Union Square and elsewhere breaking into “The Star-Spangled Banner... Starting now, New York City is part of America again, the happy-happy-joy-joy obverse of the way it was after 9/11, when we and the rest of the country embraced in our shared American shock and grief. This time we are not victims, but winners. Victimhood, at least, was a familiar part of New Yorkers’ repertoire. Now we have no choice but to be both cheerfully pro-American and earnestly optimistic, which are not exactly our default positions. Around 2003, most of us became highly invested in loathing a national regime that we know is wired to loathe people like us. A symbiosis was established. We’ve been shouting and pounding on a locked door with mounting fury for three, four, five, six years—and now that it’s suddenly swung wide open, all of us outsiders welcomed right inside, we’re sweaty and breathless and a little unsure exactly what to do next without someone to demonize and blame. New Yorkers enjoyed being prophets without honor in their own land. Righteous political umbrage felt good. An Obama-loving friend admits that now he actually feels slightly let down without his beleagueredness and anti-Republican rage to energize him. A majority of Americans … agrees with us?" — New York Magazine

The whole piece is worth a read.

Nov 7, 2008

Awaiting the results

Malia, in Chicago on election night: a series of behind the scenes pictures released by the Obama campaign on Flickr.

Oops, apocalypse

"Accounts suggest that Georgia’s inexperienced military attacked the isolated separatist capital of Tskhinvali on Aug. 7 with indiscriminate artillery and rocket fire, exposing civilians, Russian peacekeepers and unarmed monitors to harm.... The monitors have also said they were unable to verify that ethnic Georgian villages were under heavy bombardment that evening, calling to question one of Mr. Saakashvili’s main justifications for the attack." — New York Times
And yet Sarah Palin claimed we might have to go to war with Russia because "that is the agreement when you are a NATO ally, is if another country is attacked, you're going to be expected to be called upon and help." Not a single clause of that sentence is devoid of untruth: not only is Georgia is not a NATO ally but now it transpires it was launching rocket attacks on Russian civilians. Russia was not "unprovoked."

How agreeable it is to have avoided another unnecessary war! It really bucks you up. Puts a spring in your step. Fills your heart with gratitude this woman has been tagged and released back into the wild. Everyone's talking about the need for Obama to manage expectations so as to avoid the inevitable disappointment that will beset his first term, but really the bar is set pretty low. All he had to do is get up in the morning, not raise my taxes and fail to go to war with Russia and I will be happy as a clam.

The heart of unreal America

The East Village on Tuesday night. The East Village is not normally a star-spangled banner kind of a place. Its a great place to get a tattoos, or buy a bong, or a T-shirts that reads "Buck Fush" or "Fuck Milk: Got Pot?" But spontaneous singalongs of the national anthem are not all that frequent.

Nov 5, 2008

Tuesday 4th November 2008

Nobody likes a braggart but I got the popular vote margin — 52%/46% — dead on, and was out on the electoral college — 364/163 — by just one state (Indiana). In case anyone is wondering the music playing during Obama's victory rally was 'Titan's Spirit', by Trevor Rabin, from the Denzel Washington movie Remember The Titans. Which just goes to show that sometimes — just sometimes, under certain rare conditions — real life can turn out better than a Denzel Washington movie.

It was the crowd that commanded your attention as if it did at Invesco field, where the cheers and applause rippled around the stadium in great rolling waves. There were even more people at Grant Park, some 240,000, but it felt smaller, somehow: hushed, expectant, intent, as if taking their cue from the grave, sober man who walked out to meet them. They cheered and then quickly fell silent; and at the end, when he loosed his old "Yes We Can" call-and-response, it didn't turn into a chant, as it had in Iowa, but came back to him just the once. It didn't need reiterating. It wasn't a promise any more, just a statement of fact.

Welcome to Obamaland

From my Daily Beast blog about volunteering for the Obama campaign:—

“Do not depart from the script. Do not canvas alone. Only in pairs. And do not under any circumstances enter the house. It’s like one of those old horror movies: Do not go into the house. It’s quick and dirty. Make your pitch and get out.”

So says Tara Martin, one of the field organizers for the Obama campaign. She’s a short but energetic African-American woman whose bubbly good humor cannot quite hide her mission’s similarity to that of the Louis Gossett Jr. character in An Officer and a Gentleman: to whip the 200 or so lily-livered, latte-drinking New York liberals she sees in front of her into a crack squad of electoral marines, ready to parachute into a battleground state and go toe-to-toe with the Republican party faithful.

“I want you to look around you,” Martin says. “The people next to you: This is family. You’re not going to be talking to family. It’s been two years and these people are still undecided, you hearin’ me? Anywhere you want to go on vacation because you’ve heard it’s real nice? Those are not the places we are going be going. We’re not going to Santa Fe. We’re not going to be going to Aspen. These are not the spots we are heading....”

Nov 4, 2008

Beyond his control

Everyone seems to have agreed that the timing of Toot's death is "terrible," "awful","tragic" etc. She won't get to see what happens to her grandson today. If anything I think the opposite: on the eve of what could be his greatest triumph, with full pomp and ceremony waiting to claim him, a reminder of just how little one man can control, even if that man happens to be the next president of the United States.

Nov 2, 2008

John Cleese's ode to Bill O Reilly

Bill O'Reilly's No Spin Zone,
is rated highly by his own beloved mother,
but ... no other.
Except that Bill, for all his faults,
still has one skill, a skill of sorts.
He can amuse a true dumb ox,
the dullest crayon in the box,
the kind of ox that watches Fox.
And Bill will pander to this group,
with propaganda, right-wing poop,
knee-jerk views and censored news.
Thus Bill O'Reilly earns his crust,
behaving vilely as he must.
He will not shirk from Rupert's work.
He really is a perfect berk.

Nov 1, 2008

The bias against bias

Harold Evans finds a worrying media bias towards Obama:

"In the primaries, the press let the Obama campaign get away with continuous insinuations below the radar that the Clintons were race-baiters..... All the mainstream national outlets were extraordinarily slow to check Obama's background. And until it became inescapable because of a video rant, they wouldn't investigate the Reverend Jeremiah Wright connection for fear of being accused of racism. They wouldn't explore Obama's dealing with the corrupt, now convicted, Chicago businessman Tony Rezko. After years of inveighing against "money in politics", they've tolerated his breach of the pledge to restrict himself to public financing as McCain has done (to his cost). Now the LA Times refuses to release a possibly compromising video, which shows Obama praising Palestinian activist Rashid Khalidi at a 2003 banquet, saying its promises to its source prevent it from doing so."

Where to start. There were no "insinuations below the radar that the Clintons were race-baiters" unless by "below the radar" he means from people unconnected with the campaign, like James Clyburn. "The Wright connection" didn't need "investigating": it was public knowledge. The media didn't ignore thestoryuntil videotape made it inescapable: the videotape was the story. Nor did they refuse to explore Obama's dealings with Rezko: it is thanks to their efforts that Obama was cleared of any wrong-doing. As for the public-financing issue, my memory of it is that the media called him on it, but the general consensus was that since small-donor contributions to his campaign didn't offend the larger principle at stake (independence from big donors), it would have been suicidal of him not to opt out.

The Khalidi story is different, since the full details are not yet known. What it looks like is an to smear Obama by his association with a respected Palistinian scholar: race-baiting in other words. The LA Times appears to have decided that, with just one week to go, allowing the McCain campaign to drag this man's reputation through the mud, if only to end up 'clearing' him, long after the damage to the presidential race has been done, is not justification enough to run the story. The Washington Post:

Our sense is that Mr. Obama is a man of considerable intellectual curiosity who can hear out a smart, if militant, advocate for the Palestinians without compromising his own position. To suggest, as Mr. McCain has, that there is something reprehensible about associating with Mr. Khalidi is itself condemnable — especially during a campaign in which Arab ancestry has been the subject of insults. To further argue that the Times, which obtained the tape from a source in exchange for a promise not to publicly release it, is trying to hide something is simply ludicrous, as Mr. McCain surely knows.

One of the dumb things about the allegation of "media bias" is that since all our impressions of the campaign come through the media, the charge requires commentators to do nothing more substantial than sift through their generalised impressions of the race so far. It's atmospherics posing as argumentation. A subjective complaint about something subjective. That is not to say that the media don'tlike Obama more than they do McCain. He is the more likable candidate. If he wins the election, the media will have played their role as public weathervane with 100% accuracy. If you are not an Obama supporter, that must make you a little uncomfortable, but that discomfort you feel right now is the result of the press doing their jon, not reneging on it.