Nov 30, 2009

The Blind Side: 'Precious' for McCain voters

"The inspirational sports drama, made for just $29 million, earned a stalwart $41 million in three days, $57.5 million in five. Whereas New Moon's revenue fell 70% from last weekend's neck-swiveling $142.8 million take, The Blind Side's tally actually increased about 18% in its second weekend" — Time Magazine
Has Sandra Bullock just muscled her way to the front of the Best Actress race? According to my patented Academy Voting Pattern Progonosticator, she's about the only person who could bleed votes away from Gabby Sidibe. Precious is beginning to fade at the box office: not even a dozen Oscars will make that film a hit in the heartland. The Blind Side tackles the same themes, wrapping them in one a big shiny bow of inspiration-and-rhinestones. It's Precious for McCain voters. If ever there was a film to make peace between the urban black experience and the South it is this one, and if ever there was a time for a film like that to clean up it is now.

Oscar Precursors (@ Indiewire)
Nov 30th — Gotham Awards
Dec 1st — Spirit nominations
Dec 3rd — National Board Review
Dec 13th — LA Film Critics Awards
Dec 14th — NY Film Critics Awards
Dec 14th — Broadcast Film Critics Nominations
Dec 15th — Golden Globe Nominations

Nov 29, 2009

My Favorite Songs of 2009

My favorite album was probably Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, a joyful, crisp belter of a record, closely followed by Imogen Heap's Ellipse, which is full of the fiddly synth syncopation I love so much. My favorite new discovery was the Australian band Empire of the Sun: I've never come across a band named after a Spielberg movie and styled after Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome but somehow they pull it off — they sound like a clubbier, less jittery Talking Heads. My favorite new singer is La Roux's Elly Jackson, who sings like she doesn't know she's being listened to. My overall favorite track of the year is Temper Trap's Sweet Disposition, a song I first caught on the trailer for 500 Days of Summer and fell in love with instantly.

Empire State of Mind — Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys
My Love — The Bird and the Bee
Mr Fox in the Fields — Alexandre Desplat
Lisztomania — Phoenix

Surprise — Inara George

Walking on A Dream — Empire of the Sun
Easier — Grizzly Bear
Carl Goes Up — Michael Giachino
The Weary Kind — Ryan Bingham & T Bone Burnett

God Watch Over You — Prefab Sprout

Between The Sheets — Imogen Heap

You've Got Me Wrapped Around Your Little Finger — Beth Rowley

The Fear — Lily Allen

Running to Stand Still — Elbow

Amazing Grace — Cat Power & Dirty Delta Blues

I Remember — Deadmau5 & Kaskade
Blood Bank — Bon Iver

In For The Kill — La Roux

When the Night Comes — Dan Auerbach

Sweet Disposition — The Temper Trap
My Girls — Animal Collective

Meteor Shower — Owl City
Magnificent — U2

French Navy — Camera Obscura
I and Love and You — the Avett Brothers
Starlight — Gonzales & Feist
Bring it — Tonex

You Don't Know Me — Regina Spektor
Cello Song — Jose Gonzalez
Electric Twist — A Fine Frenzy
Off I Go — Greg Laswell
Falling Down (Chemical Brothers remix) — Oasis
The Last of the Melting Snow — The Leisure Society
Purdy — William Orbit
Sleep All Summer — The National / St Vincent

My final top ten here
My top ten albums here

Nov 28, 2009

Why didn't they just paint the actors blue?

I've just watched a Fox special about the making of Avatar that left me even more confused. What's the point of all that motion capture technology, all that facial mapping, all that laborious cgi recreation, all those hundreds of billions of dollars, if the aliens look just like people? I'd get it it if the avatars were non-humanoids, or even half-humanoids, like Gollum, but they're totally humanoid. Two arms, two legs, one head, dreadlocks, braiding, blue skin. What was so challenging about them? Give me five minutes with some finger paints and I could have saved 20th century Fox $500 million. Imagine if Cameron ever shot a Western; he take one look at the Indians, freak out, and then reinvent cinema just to get their skin color right.

With friends like these

"But the hermetic pleasantness of his existence is threatened when a young efficiency expert at the home office comes up with a plan to fire people remotely, using video chat." — David Carr, the NYT
Even fans of the movie, attempting to make sense of the set-up, tie themselves in knots: Clooney's hermeticism is threatened by someone who wants to interact using video. The film's problem in a nutshell.

Awards seasons always sharpens resentments, I find. Films which were merely disappointing, or just plain blah, take on a wholly more threatening aura once they've been nominated for something, or even — as is the case for Up in the Air — touted as a front-runner for victory. Suddenly they seem like pompadoured false emperors, hoodwinking everyone in sight, crying out for exposure by anyone still possessed of their sanity. In any normal year I would have been happy that a film like Slumdog Millionaire existed; but to see if festooned with Oscar like it was turned it into the most undeserving, toadying phony, right before my eyes. Yet one more way in which the Oscars corrupt the experience of moviegoing.

Nov 26, 2009

New Year's resolution: think like a Republican

Close Encounters of the Redneck Kind from Marc Bullard on Vimeo.

I think I need to make a more sustained effort to think like a Republican. Despite a good two years exposure to their arguments, most of it gets filed in my head somewhere between the prejudicial (no gay marriage) the crazy (no gun control) and the ethically abhorrent (yay torture!). It's difficult to convey just how thoroughly alien most of the Republican platform seems to someone from outside the continental united states. Someone like Sarah Palin strikes me as an ignorant wackjob who can't keep her own lies straight. When I catch Fox news, I feel like I've stumbled upon a scientific experiment designed to show how angry you can make someone by bombarding them with insane drivel 24 hours a day. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, I didn't do well when I took the Republican 'purity' test.

(1) We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama’s “stimulus” bill;

(2) We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare;

(3) We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation;

(4) We support workers’ right to secret ballot by opposing card check;

(5) We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants;

(6) We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges;

(7) We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat;

(8) We support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act;

(9) We support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion; and

(10) We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership.

I might agree with 4) but don't know enough. I agree with 7). I agree with bits of 1). That's 1 and a half out of ten. That means I am at least 15% Republican.

It's not bad, but it's not good, not if I really want to understand this country. It bothers me that the US right now feels more like two countries than, say, England and France. Seriously: there is more enmity between North and South than there is between the two countries that fought the Napoleonic wars. Also, as a European, I am a little perturbed by the cliche that all Europeans are Democrats. There are plenty of reasons why this might be so — Republicans have been behind the more belligerent foreign policy decisions of the last decade, America is a centre right country, Europe centre left etc etc — but it bothers me because if someone came to my country and said 'we only like half of you' that would annoy me.

Therefore, as one of my New Year's resolutions, and in keeping with the idea that bipartisanship begins at home, and in order to spend less time getting angry at my TV set, I am going to try to think more like a Republican. It's not a total non-starter. I already like country and western music. For a brief few seconds, I was excited about the Iraq war. I can do a very good Sam Eliott impression. I get Reagan. I think Keith Olbermann is a pompous gas bag. Hollywood liberals annoy me. In fact culturally, I'm pretty hawkish: I like guns and violence and helicopters and T S Eliot and John Milius and good guys beating the crap out of bad guys. It's not much — but it's a start.

Quote of the day: Barack Obama

"There are certain days that reminded me why I ran for this office. And then there are moments like this where I pardon a Turkey and send it to Disneyland."— President Obama, sparing the life of Courage
I know, I know. I'm a little heavy on Obama posts at the moment. I knew that admiring the man who happens to be president of the United States was and is a profoundly dorky move. I wish it were otherwise. But he's so good at this gentle self mockery, lightly sidestepping the pomp of office — the best at these kinds of jokes since Reagan. Watch it here.

Nov 25, 2009

Running on a different clock

"[Obama] reminds me of a chess grandmaster who has played his opening in six simultaneous games. But he hasn't completed a single game and I'd like to see him finish one," - Henry Kissinger.

That is exactly what his presidency feels like at the moment. He appears to be working on a different time scale to everyone else, batting away the 24-hour news cycle as a mere irritant. Every time he does it, I hold my breath, wondering if it's going to work this time, or whether everyone's impatience is going to make him cave, but then all the noise and clamor dies down, and by the time everyone else has moved on to something else, he makes his move. It's like he's playing chess and everyone else is playing musical chairs. Even Kissinger sounds impatient. Of the six simultaneous games Obama has started, I'm certain some he will lose, but by comparison with the previous president, who was barely ever one move ahead, if that, he is fascinating to watch.

Nov 24, 2009

Quote of the day: Harvey Weinstein

"Is it difficult to to market a movie about a gay romance?
No, Brokeback Mountain did pretty well. Midnight Cowboy did pretty well. If you know how to market, you can market. There's an audience for it.
The poster seemed to play down the gay part.

I'm good. You got enough. Thank you."
—Harvey Weinstein being interviewed about A Single Man
I didn't know Midnight Cowboy was a gay romance. You mean like Rain Man was a gay romance? And The Sting. Weinstein reminds me of Bart Simpson's friend, the one who thinks everything is gay, including kissing girls.

The bow was America's finest hour

"I think it's fundamentally harmful and it shows in my mind that this is a guy, a president, who would bow, for example, who doesn't fully understand or have the same perception of the U.S. role in the world that I think most Americans have" — Dick Cheney on Obama's bow to the Emperor of Japan
That seals it. I was wavering for a while back there — maybe the bow was too low, too deferential — but if Cheney thinks that, it can only mean one thing: the bow was Obama's finest foreign policy hour — maybe America's, too.

The politicisation of 'Precious'

"A reinforcement of noxious stereotypes or a realistic and therapeutic portrayal of a black family in America? “In some ways, it’s ‘The Color Purple’ all over again, with people writing and talking about what this film represents,” said Mark Anthony Neal, a professor who teaches black popular culture at Duke University. Perhaps the most provocative salvo against the movie was fired by Armond White, the chief film critic of The New York Press and the chairman of the New York Film Critics Circle.“Not since ‘The Birth of a Nation’ has a mainstream movie demeaned the idea of black American life as much as ‘Precious,’ ” Mr. White wrote in his review. “Full of brazenly racist clich├ęs (Precious steals and eats an entire bucket of fried chicken), it is a sociological horror show.” But Latoya Peterson, the editor of, a blog about the intersection of race and popular culture, said Mr. White was off base.“His review buys into the narrative that there can only be one acceptable presentation of black life,” Ms. Peterson said. “He’s flattening the black experience, and in that way, he denies our humanity.”' — New York Times
The headline says it all: "To Blacks Precious is "Demeaned' or 'Angelic'" Really? That's the only choice? Christ. This is exactly what I feared would happen. That poor sodding movie. What happens now is it wins Best Picture, nobody in the heartland goes to see it, lots of articles get written about Obama's Hollywood, and everyone goes back to their corners to sulk about there being two Americas and how the other side is to blame. Great debate.

Right to the top of my Christmas present list

"He hates the modern world, everywhere abroad except Austria, Rosie Boycott, Clive James, Francis Bacon, Simon Cowell, Harold Pinter, “sad mother Julie Myerson”, “blubbery” Mark Lawson, Alexander Walker (“I was thrilled when the old poof died”), Andrew Roberts and his “grimace of a baboon with diarrhoea trying to hold it in”, and, somewhat paradoxically, bad manners. He also hates Christmas letters, in which proud parents boast about how well little Ptolemy and Chlamydia are doing at school.... He has never been invited on Newsnight Review or to judge a literary award, and detests London parties, preferring to remain at home in splendid isolation in the “Herefordshire Balkans”, “like Ovid on the Black Sea”. There he lies in bed seething, watching TV soaps or musing obscenely about what precisely you could fit into Billie Piper’s mouth. “Laughed at by editors, derided by the critics, betrayed by friends, disrespected and overlooked and humiliated”, he finds that even “a photograph of me in the Malvern Gazette makes me look like a shoplifter in Budgen’s — doughy, yellowish, porcine and furtive”. He suffers incessant health problems, eye disease, obesity, a lung infection. “I’ve been coughing so much I sucked my trousers up my arse.” All the while he craves dignity, “decorum”, and just a little recognition." — review of Roger Lewis's Seasonal Suicide Notes
I cannot wait to read this book. Lewis's biography of Peter Sellers remains the best biography of a movie star I have ever read — a book run through with such liverish understanding of Seller's many, many flaws that you rather feared for its author. He was either exceptionally wise or just as fucked up as Sellers. Just as fucked up as Sellers, it turns out.

More funny business from Marc Maron

in his monthly podcast here.

A seal impression from Bill Murray

Being interviewed alongside Meryl Streep for Entertainment Weekly.

Nov 23, 2009

"Heads I win, tails you lose"

Through LBJ's taped phone conversations and his own remembrances, Bill Moyers looks at Johnson's deliberations as he stepped up America's role in Vietnam. It's fascinating reading, not least for the way the optics of the situation — the symbolism, the signals sent, the perceived loss of face — factored into his decision-making. He's at his most honest with his old friend and mentor Senate Armed Services Chairman, Richard Russell of Georgia.

LYNDON B. JOHNSON: What do you think about this Vietnam thing? What, what, I'd like to hear you talk a little bit.

Frankly, Mr. President, if you were to tell me that I was authorized to settle it as I saw fit, I would respectfully decline and not take it.

JOHNSON: [chuckles]

It's a, it's a, it's the damn worst mess I ever saw, and I don't like to brag. I never have been right many times in my life. But I knew we were going to get into this sort of mess when we went in there. And I don't see how we're going ever to get out without fighting a major war with the Chinese and all of them down there in those rice paddies and jungles [...] I just don't know what to do.

JOHNSON: Well, that's the way that I've been feeling for six months.

It appears our position is deteriorating. And it looks like the more we try to do for them, the less that they're willing to do for themselves [...] It's a hell, a hell of a situation. It's a mess. And it's going to get worse. And I don't know what to do. I don't think that the American people are quite ready for us to send our troops in there to do the fighting. And if it came down to an option of just sending the Americans in there to do the fighting, which will, of course, eventually lead into a ground war and a conventional war with China [...] If it got down to that or just pulling out, I'd get out. But then I don't know. There's undoubtedly some middle ground somewhere [...]

JOHNSON: How important is it to us?

It isn't important a damn bit, with all these new missile systems.

JOHNSON: Well, I guess it's important to us-

From a psychological standpoint.

JOHNSON: I mean, yes, and from the standpoint that we are party to a treaty. And if we don't pay any attention to this treaty, why, I don't guess they think we pay attention to any of them.

Yeah, but we're the only ones paying any attention to it.

JOHNSON: Yeah, I think that's right [...] I don't think the people of the country know much about Vietnam and I think they care a hell of a lot less.

I know, but you go send a whole lot of our boys out there-

JOHNSON: Yeah, that's right. That's exactly right. That's what I'm talking about. You get a few. We had 35 killed-and we got enough hell over 35-this year [...] The Republicans are going to make a political issue out of it, every one of them, even Dirksen.

It's the only issue they got [...] It's a tragic situation. It's just one of those places where you can't win. Anything you do is wrong [...]

JOHNSON: Now, the whole question, as I see it, do we, is it more dangerous for us to let things go as they're going now, deteriorating every day-

I don't think we can let it go, Mr. President, indefinitely.

JOHNSON: Then it would be for us to move in?

We either got to move in or move out. I -

JOHNSON: That's about what it is.

You can make a tremendous case for moving out [...]

JOHNSON: Well, they'd impeach a President though that would run out, wouldn't they? I just don't believe that-outside Morse, everybody I talk to says you got to go in, including Hickenlooper, including all the Republicans none of them disagreed with him yesterday when he made the statement "we have to stand." And I don't know how in the hell you're gonna get out unless they tell you to get out.

If we had a man running the government over there that told us to get out, we could sure-get out.

JOHNSON: That's right, but you can't do that

Of course you'd look pretty good, I guess, going in there with all the troops and sending them all in there, but I tell you it'll be the most expensive venture this country ever went into.

JOHNSON: I just haven't got the nerve to do it, and I don't see any other way out of it.

It's one of these things where "heads I win, tails you lose."


JOHNSON: I'm confronted with-I don't believe the American people ever want me to run. If I lose it, I think that they'll say I've lost, I've pulled in. At the same time, I don't want to commit us to a war. And I'm in a hell of a shape. I can't do-I just don't know.

We're just like the damn cow over a fence out there in Vietnam.

JOHNSON: That's right and Laos. And I've got a study being made now by the experts which I want you to come over some night and have a drink and see, of how important the two of them are, whether Malaysia will necessarily go and India will go and how much it'll hurt our prestige if we just got out and let some conference fail or something.

I know all those arguments.

JOHNSON: But they say that, well a fellow like A.W. Moursund said to me last night, -damn, there's not anything that'll destroy you as quick as pulling out, pulling up stakes and running, that America wants by God, prestige and power. And they don't want-I said, yeah, but I don't want to-I don't want to kill these folks. He said, I don't give a damn. He said, I didn't want to kill 'em in Korea, but said, if you don't stand up for America, there's nothing that a fellow in Johnson City-or Georgia or any other place-they'll forgive you for everything except being weak.

Well there's a lot in that. There's a whole lot in that.

JOHNSON: Goldwater and all of 'em raising hell about go on, let's hot pursuit. Let's go in and bomb them [...]

It'd take a half million men. They'd be bogged down in there for ten years. And oh hell no.

JOHNSON: We never did clean Korea up yet.

No it ain't clean yet. We're right where we started [...] I didn't ever want to get messed up down there. I do not agree with those brain trusters who say that this thing has got tremendous strategic and economic value and that we'll lose everything in Southeast, in Asia if we lose Vietnam. I don't think that's true. But I think as a practical matter, we're in there and I don't know how the hell you can tell the American people you're coming out. There's just no way to do it. They'll think that you've just been whipped, you've been ruined, you're scared. And, it'd be disastrous.

JOHNSON: I think that I've got to say that, we're-I didn't get you in here, but we're in here by treaty and our national honor's at stake. And if this treaty's no good, none of 'em are any good. Therefore we've-we're there. And being there, we've got to conduct ourselves like men. That's number one. Number two, in our own revolution, we wanted freedom and we naturally looked with other people, with sympathy with other people who want freedom and if you'll leave 'em alone and give 'em freedom, we'll get out tomorrow.

Nov 22, 2009

The long and winding road

"I think certain criticisms that I've heard about myself repeatedly start to linger. The things that I think about are whether or not I'm telling the same kind of family stories and whether these movies are so meticulously art-directed or organized that people can't get into the story... I feel like with Darjeeling Limited, I got a lot of people saying I was repeating certain things. But for me, I was doing a movie in India about these three brothers and those things are different. I mean, it's in India. It's a completely different movie." — Wes Anderson, L.A.Weekly
I was with him until the last point. I do feel a little sorry for the super stylists like Scorsese and Anderson who have the hopes of a waiting world pinned to their breast, when all they can really do is make more Martin Scorsese or Wes Anderson movies. Filmmakers make and remake the same movie, to our initial delight and, later on, annoyance. It must be very frustrating for them. One minute we love them, the next we've turned on them. Have they got worse? They've certainly got more familiar. Maybe The Darjeeling Limited would have charmed everyone if it was first off the boat. But simply setting a movie in India isn't enough I'm afraid. It's just a setting. That makes it "the Indian one." It's not disguise enough. Personally I think Anderson needs to quite the globe-trotting and come home. His mother agrees.

Why oh why oh why oh why oh Sandy

"This movie reminded me of all the things I like about Bullock as an actress; she's smart, gorgeous and just bitchy enough to be taken seriously without offending, even as she smacks a man on the ass as she walks by." — MCN

"The blind Side is a traditional star vehicle, allowing Ms Bullock to find new registers for the indomitable, sometimes grating energy that has long been the bedrock of her appeal"
This is Sandra Bullock we're talking about? The girl who hasn't passed her driving test? Who indicates a left turn even on a bomb-laden bus? The girl with three cats who can't land a man unless he is in a coma? Miss Congeniality? Many things come to mind when I think of Bullock's onscreen persona — lonelyheart, goofball, joker, self-depracator, klutz — but "indomitable" and "bitchy" are not two of them.

Nov 21, 2009

Quote of the day: Raymond Carver

“I don’t think either of us ever took the covers off our typewriters.”— Raymond Carver on his days at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1973 with drinking companion John Cheever.

So pleased I don't have to see: Broken Embraces

'Like “All About My Mother,” “Talk to Her,” “Bad Education” and “Volver” — not a bad decade’s work, by the way — “Broken Embraces” leaves the viewer in a contradictory state, a mixture of devastation and euphoria, amusement and dismay that deserves its own clinical designation.' — NYT
Pedro Almodovar. Now there's someone whose movies I don't have to watch any more. Don't have to watch them, don't have to write about them, don't have to wonder why anyone likes them, don't have to come up with a theory about why I don't. There's probably someone shivering through a Almodovar film right this second, a thin smile plastered to their face, grimly soldiering through to the end. It's really great not being a film critic sometimes. Maybe I'll turn this into a regular post: Film I'm Most Grateful Not To Be Watching This Week. In which case, this week's winner is: Broken Embraces.

Goodbye John Woo and thanks for nothing

"He was the director who was meant to reshape Hollywood. That time was the early 90s, the vehicle a body of work assembled in his native Hong Kong that had already half-revolutionised the action movie: bloody, exquisitely choreographed tableaux of gunplay contained within the dizzying likes of Hard Boiled and The Killer. Then, his profile raised by fond tributes from Scorsese and Tarantino, he was all but borne into Beverly Hills by sedan chair – such was the eagerness of the studios for him to fill the gulf left by the decrepitude of Schwarzenegger and Stallone. It was to be a new age: one in which Hollywood would be regenerated by the energy and imagination of another culture, another country, one that spoke a different language both literally and artistically." — The Guardian, 'John Woo's Departure is a Loss To Us All.'
I've never seen a John Woo movie — Hard Boiled, Face Off, Broken Arrow, Mission Impossible 2 — that didn't bore me to tears. Actual tears, squeezed from the corners of my eyes. He was praised for his "balletic" action sequences, meaning he often ran them in slo-mo so you could admire the beauty of each shot. Everyone thought this was a splendid idea. Why? What's the point? It's like stopping the car to admire the engine. Sure, it's well put together but it doesn't get you anywhere. The images are too gluey with self-admiration to actually get to work on your synapses. Woo was action-movie kryptonite.

Buzz I like the sound of

'A non-vested writer-director guy told me this afternoon that he can "absolutely confirm" that Baldwin is the shit in Meyers' film and a prime candidate for Best Supporting Actor. A vested party who nonetheless tends to be blunt said Baldwin is "a lay-down hand for a nom, Jeff. And he could win. Total breakout performance. Bet on it".' — Hollywood Elsewhere

Nov 20, 2009

Quote of the day

“I don’t really understand how you would compete to be the happiest, most balanced person.” — Julie Kleinman, the vice president of programming for YogaWorks, objecting to the idea of competitive yoga, NYT

Nov 19, 2009

It's such a delight to have her back

'Palin blamed a culture of political correctness and other decisions that "prevented -- I'm going to say it -- profiling" of someone with Hasan's extremist ideology. "I say, profile away," Palin said. “Because I use the word profile, I’m going to get clobbered tomorrow morning. The liberals, their heads are just going to be spinning.'" — Sarah Palin on The Sean Hannity Show
As a card-carrying Obama-supporting ACLU-joining liberal I would like nothing more than to oblige. It pains me greatly, therefore, to report that I am unable to disagree with her comment on the grounds that I cannot actually understand it. If someone says to me "the parrots are retrograde with conjunctivitis, do you agree?" I might reply that I find it hard to say whether I agree or not because I cannot call up a mental picture of what parrots retrograde with conjunctivitus might involve. The same goes for Palin's suggestion that we "profile" an individual. Profiling is the process by which you winnow a large number of suspects down to one. If you start out with one person, there's no need to profile anyone. You have your suspect. It's like a film director saying "I'd like to put out a casting call for Robert Pattinson." If Robert Pattinson is the actor you want, you don't need a casting call.

Like many of her pronouncements, this one has a Tourettic, Koan-like mystery that no amount of examination can dispel. It exists in a land beyond mere agreement or disagreement. Do I disagree with her? Its hard to say. It might turn out that I agree with her. Does she mean we should have picked up more on the warning signs? In which case: how sensible. But what has that got to do with profiling? Unless she's just shoving it in there, randomly, because she knows it gets some people riled, just as a liberal railing against civil rights infringements might shove in the word "abortion" just for the hell of it. No reason, just because it foxes people when he does. It's not an argument, its voodoo, magic dust, smoke and mirrors. Booyaakasha!

Nov 18, 2009

News story of the day: Mad Men go meta

'McCann Erickson bought ads that appear in the Nov. 16 issues of the trade publications Adweek, Brandweek and Mediaweek, which carry the headline “Welcome, Sterling Cooper.” The ads are signed, “Your friends at McCann Erickson".' — NYT

Why Afghanistan is folly

"History shows that occupation by foreign armies with the intent of changing occupied societies does not work and ends up costing considerable blood and treasure. The notion that if only an army gets a few more troops, with different and better generals, then within a few years it can defeat a multi-faceted insurgency set in the middle of civil war, is not supported by an honest reading of history. Algeria, Vietnam and Iraq show this to be the case. Regrettably we don’t seem to be learning anything from history with regard to Afghanistan. We are making the same blunders.

When I was a combat battalion commander in West Baghdad in 2006, I asked an Iraqi Army general how long it would be before the civil war ended in Iraq. “Four hundred years,” was his answer. It took the United States almost a hundred years to end its most divisive political and social issue, slavery, and it required a cataclysmic civil war. Could an outside force have come into the United States in the 1850s and resolved its internal conflicts at the barrel of a gun? So why do we think we have ended Iraq’s civil war at the barrel of a gun over the past two years — or that we can do it in Afghanistan" — Colonel Gian P. Gentile

Nov 15, 2009

If someone had described a Wes Anderson movie to you in 1995 you wouldn't have believed them

To Union Square, and a Saturday night showing of the Fantastic Mr Fox! No arguments with the ticket people over my coffee this time, straight in, great seats, loved the movie from beginning to end. I won't try and describe it, suffice to say that I left the theatre marvelling yet again over the intimate peculiarity of Wes Anderson's tone, which is quite unlike anything else on earth. If someone from the future had tracked us down in the mid-nineties, rolled down the window of their de Lorean and said, "Psst... Hey, kids... Okay so there's going to be this filmmaker, a few years from now. He's all about the Rolling Stones and The Kinks and Ziggie Stardust, but he's in his thirties. Kind of Salingeresque but he also does this really neat Roald Dahl adaptation. Loves corduroy. Martin Scorsese thinks he's wonderful. So will everyone you know under 40." Your response would probably have been, "Really? The Rolling Stones and... corduroy? Martin Scorsese and Roald Dahl? I'm not really seeing this guy for some reason. Run that past me again..." Here's something else I've noticed about the audience of Anderson's movies: everyone laughs at completely different things. Kate and I saw the film with my friend Scott and his two daughters Boat (13) and Cocoa (11). We sat in one long line, like the family in the movie. Scott would laugh at something and I'd go "Hey, Scott found that funny." Then Kate would chuckle and I'd go "there goes Kate." And then Cocoa or Boat or I would let loose a guffaw. But it was all at completely different stuff. When we came out of the movie afterwards none of our memories connected. We all had different favorite bits. It made for an odd conversation on the way home. But we still all liked the movie.

Oscar chances: I have this to score an upset over Up for Best Animated Feature, for two reasons: 1) the Academy is aching to give Anderson something, but so far hasn't been able to find a way to do so. 2) They don't want the Best Animated Feature Oscar to turn into the Annual Pixar Award. There's nothing wrong with Up, but someone has to go under the bus.

Sean Hannity totally busted

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I have been working in television for the past 15 years. I know in detail how these things work: 1) you are assigned a story, 2) you send out a crew to shoot the necessary footage, 3) the footage is brought back to the studio and loaded into the Avid, or whatever editing system you are using, 4) you cut together your piece based on THE FOOTAGE AT HAND.

For footage from a different event that took place months earlier to find its way into an entirely new piece, well, someone had to: 1) make the decision to lie in the first place 2) locate the old footage, 3) cut the footage into the new piece, 4) a producer or the like had to approve the clip for air.
You don't even have to be a TV producer to know that Hannity was lying. A "mistake" is when someone inserts something they think is crowd footage and it turns out to be footage of a shark attack. But for someone to insert footage of a rather sparsely attended political event, whose politics are identical to those of the channel they happen to work for, and the footage they accidentally choose makes those crowds look bigger — well what are the odds against that happening, do you think?

The spupidest thing I've heard all year

"The Obama Administration’s irresponsible decision to prosecute the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks in New York City puts the interests of liberal special interest groups before the safety and security of the American people." — GOP House Leader John Bohner
It's hard to know what I feel about that although disgust comes close. Also weariness and some embarrassment. Glenn Greenwald:—
Spain held an open trial in Madrid for the individuals accused of that country's 2004 train bombings. The British put those accused of perpetrating the London subway bombings on trial right in their normal courthouse in London. Indonesia gave public trials using standard court procedures to the individuals who bombed a nightclub in Bali. India used a Mumbai courtroom to try the sole surviving terrorist who participated in the 2008 massacre of hundreds of residents. In Argentina, the Israelis captured Adolf Eichmann, one of the most notorious Nazi war criminals, and brought him to Jerusalem to stand trial for his crimes.
That would make America the only country in the word too afraid to put its enemies on trial on its own soil. Look I know it's just Republicans scaring up votes but I am getting a little tired of politicians from areas of the country that didn't have so much as a single hair mussed by the 9/11 attacks lecturing New Yorkers on how afraid we should be of a trial taking place. A trial. Not a terrorist attack. But the trial of those selfsame terrorists. What does Boehner think is going to happen? They will melt their way through the courthouse walls using their Flamo-vision, duck into Office Depot, buy a blackboard, and start plotting their next attack? Gimme a break. They're terrorists, not X-Men.

Confronting the magic penis head on

"To The Editor
'The Discoverer,' by Jan Kjaerstad: The Longest Fjord
(October 25, 2009)

I must object to Tom Shone’s review of Jan Kjaerstad’s novel “The Discoverer” (Oct. 25). I am making my way through “The Conqueror,” the previous entry in Kjaerstad’s trilogy about the life of a TV broadcaster named Jonas Wergeland. The trilogy is a very interesting extended treatment of the dramatic changes in Norwegian culture in our lifetime, as the country has transformed from an insular, tightly knit society with a commitment to austerity into one of the richest nations on earth. The resulting complexities should be of great interest to American readers, particularly in light of Norway’s multifaceted response to our own consumerist indulgences and concern with the surface of things. It is too bad that Shone’s less than positive response will erode Kjaerstad’s reader base here.

The writer is an associate professor in the department of television and radio at Brooklyn College"

This was in response to my review of the trilogy about the guy with the magic penis. It is true: there was also a bunch of boring stuff in there about the dramatic changes in Norwegian culture in our lifetime, etc etc. You think I didn't notice? Getting through that stuff was probably my greatest achievement as a reader, or indeed as a human being. But the novel remains, at heart and in essence, a book about a man with a magic penis. That was the major objection I had with it. I felt like Kjaerstad had a lot of talking to do. I still do. No counter-argument can duck the issue. There is simply no getting around the whole magic penis angle without misrepresenting the experience of reading the book. You cannot say that its all about the multifaceted response to our own consumerist indulgences and concern with the surface of things. It also features this guy with a day-glo magic penis. You must not be shy. You must confront it head on. You must say: "I think magic penises are an excellent thing in a novel. There aren't nearly enough of them in my opinion, particularly when confronting the multifaceted response to our own consumerist indulgences. Three cheers for Jan Kjaerstaad!" or something along those lines. Until that point, the multifaceted responses, not to mention the dramatic changes in Norwegian society in our lifetime, no matter how compendiously enumerated, will have been for nought.

Nov 13, 2009

Demolished by softballs

"From the beginning, Nicolle [Wallace] pushed for Katie Couric and the CBS Evening News. The campaign’s general strategy involved coming out with a network anchor, someone they felt had treated John well on the trail thus far. My suggestion was that we be consistent with that strategy and start talking to outlets like FOX and the Wall Street Journal. I really didn’t have a say in which press I was going to talk to, but for some reason Nicolle seemed compelled to get me on the Katie bandwagon.

“Katie really likes you,” she said to me one day. “she’s a working mom and admires you as a working mom. She has teenage daughter like you. She just relates to you,” Nicolle said. “believe me, I know her very well. I’ve worked with her.” Nicolle had left her gig at CBS just a few months earlier to hook up with the McCain campaign. I had to trust her experience, as she had dealt with national politics more than I had. But something always struck me as peculiar about the way she recalled her days in the White House, when she was speaking on behalf of President George W. Bush. She didn't have much to say that was positive about her former boss or the job in general. Whenever I wanted to give a shout-out to the White House’s homeland security efforts after 9/11, we were told we couldn’t do it. I didn’t know if that was Nicolle’s call.

Nicolle went on to explain that Katie really needed a career boost. “She just has such low self-esteem,” Nicolle said. She added that Katie was going through a tough time. “She just feels she can’t trust anybody.”

I was thinking, And this has to do with John McCain’s campaign how?

Nicolle said. “She wants you to like her.”

Hearing all that, I almost started to feel sorry for her."

— Going Rogue: An American Life, Sarah Palin, Chapter Four, pages 255-257
Palin knows she got burned. Hence the need to demonise not just Katie Couric ("badgering", "biased") but also Nicole Wallace for pushing the interview on her. But she still doesn't understand why she came out of it badly. She still thinks Couric's questions were "gotchas." Asking someone what they read, when they've said they read a lot is not a gotcha question. It's a follow up. When someone says that living close to Russia qualifies as foreign poicy experience and you ask them why that's not a Gotcha question. It's a follow up. And yet these softballs ripped right through her. That's why the interviews were damaging.

Ann Althouse:
"It seems that Sarah Palin wasn't able or didn't want to bother to analyze whether she was ready to debut on the big media stage, and she wasn't large-minded enough to think beyond herself to what it would mean for the whole campaign. That is, she was dumb. She was too dumb to handle campaign responsibilities properly, so she was clearly too dumb to step into the role of President of the United States."

Good sense from down under

"A withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan would undoubtedly hand al-Qa'ida and the Taliban a propaganda victory. However, a victory would deny al-Qa'ida its most potent source of power, influence, funding and recruits -- the armed jihad. Without a jihad to fight, al-Qa'ida would be left with only its franchises -- all of which are involved in deeply unpopular confrontations with government regimes in the Islamic world. Their indiscriminate acts of violence as well as hostility towards other Muslims not sharing their views have badly damaged al-Qa'ida's brand. This has driven al-Qa'ida to refocus on Afghanistan because jihad against an occupying force attracts a level of support and legitimacy that attacking Muslim governments does not. It provides additional justification for al-Qa'ida and those supporting it to continue striking US targets. A reorientation of US strategy away from counterinsurgency or a full or partial withdrawal of US troops is therefore not in al-Qa'ida's strategic interest. To keep the US engaged in Afghanistan, it will use a strategy it knows will work: terrorist attacks against the homeland. The recently uncovered al-Qa'ida plot in New York City (where the city's subway system was reportedly the target) suggests it may have already adopted this strategy. More plots and attacks are likely to follow" — Leah Farrall, The Australian

United States teetering on the edge of socialism!

Nov 12, 2009

Possible Oscar upsets: Stanley Tucci

"It's weird, isn't it? Even I saw that. We're great friends and we're comfortable with each other. She makes you feel so comfortable, that's what's great about working with her. But we had become closer and closer friends since 'The Devil Wears Prada.' And then it was just fun. And those two people had an interesting relationship." — Stanley Tucci, LA Times
The Oscars threaten to be so boring this year, I'm hoping the Academy liven things up with a few curve balls. Fantastic Mr Fox could beat Up, for instance, and Stanley Tucci could, and should win, for his turn in Julie & Julia. It's rare that acting so crisp is also be so moving, but he's Tucci is the best thing in the film: a great mixture of technical precision and old-fashioned twinkle. His reading of the line "fuck them" will put a smile on the face of any aspirant writer. I know Christoph Waltz is the favorite for Inglorious Basterds but how difficult is it to play a Nazi, really? All you have to do is play things civilized and charming and everyone falls about gasping that you've captured the banality of evil or humanised a monster or somesuch. But to play a devoted husband, conveying decades of familiarity and fondness in a single gesture, that's got to be a hundred times harder.

Most promising films of 2010

—Anton Corbijn's The American, about an asssassin (George Clooney) in a Southern Italian village preparing for the proverbial final assignment. "Local Hero with high-powered rifles and silencers," according to Jeffrey Wells.

—Philip Noyce's Salt starring Angelina Jolie (in a role initially intended for Tom Cruise) as a CIA officer accused of being a Russian sleeper spy. Noyce is the guy behind the Jack Ryan thrillers.

—Paul Greengrass's Green Zone (March), starring Matt Damon as a soldier caught up in a CIA conspiracy during the search for WMDs — "Bourne in Baghdad," according to the Independent.

—Christopher Nolan's Inception (July) “a contemporary sci-fi actioner set within the architecture of the mind” the mind in question belonging to Leonardo Di Caprio.

—Doug Liman's Fair Game, with Sean Penn and Naomi Watts as Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame. Liman is due a return to form.

—Sofia Coppola's Somewhere, with Stephen Dorff as a bad boy actor holed up at the Chateau Marmont, and Elle Fanning as his 11-year-old daughter.

—Joe Johnston's The Wolfman (February) with Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt. Johnston directed The Rocketeer and Jumanji.

—Clint Eastwood's Hereafter (Dec) from a Peter Morgan script, starring Matt Damon and Cecile de France as characters "touched by death in different ways."

—Bill Monahan's London Boulevard: a reclusive actress (Kiera Knightley) plays host to a recently released convict Colin Farrell. Monahan wrote The Departed.

Is Major Hasan a terrorist?

I'm surprised at the enthusiasm with which some on the right are calling the Fort Hood shooter, Major Nidal Hasan, a "terrorist." Never mind that he didn't kill any civilians and made no attempt at subterfuge. If Hasan is a terrorist, and we grew him right here on a military base in Texas, then what are we doing in Afghanistan and Iraq? What happens to the whole fight-them-over-there-so-we-don't-have-to-fight-them-here argument? How would securing Afghanistan have stopped Hasan? What "safe haven" did he require to launch his attack? As is often the case with the far right, they are thinking in spin cycles. The argument that Hasan was a terrorist isn't even in their interest, because it puts them perilously close to validating the argument that terrorism cannot be combatted militarily.

Why we can't get out fast enough

"While Pakistani journalists, playwrights and even moderate Islamic clerics have boldly condemned the Taliban, the nation’s pop music stars have yet to sing out against the group, which continues to claim responsibility for daily bombings... a surge of bubble-gum stars who have become increasingly politicized. Some are churning out ambiguous, cheery lyrics urging their young fans to act against the nation’s woes. Others simply vilify the United States." — NYT

Nov 11, 2009

He's really not going away is he?

'Levi Johnston flew blindfolded into a perfect—and perfectly contemporary—storm. He found himself at the center of a swirling mess: an inexplicable Republican misstep, the Christian right, an unstoppable presidential campaign, Facebook, the bewildering pervasiveness of modern media. If there are any other Alaskan teenagers who have somehow managed to invoke that sorry lot after an evening (or two) of careless lovemaking, I can’t think of them. A nut ad and a song are the least he deserves for his troubles.'— Nick Hornby
It's hard not to love Levi Johnston. It's bad enough that's he's engaged in a battle over visitation rights with Bristol. It's incandescently embarassing that's he's leaking all this terrible info about Palin to the media. But on top of that, as Palin relaunches her political brand with her new book, Levi's being photographed scratching his balls for Playgirl magazine. The whole thing has a baboonish poetic justice to it. He really is not going away, is he?

Nov 9, 2009

"The best healthcare system in the world"

"You can’t go to France because you need to complete 17 forms in triplicate every time you want to build a greenhouse, and you can’t go to Switzerland because you will be reported to your neighbours by the police and subsequently shot in the head if you don’t sweep your lawn properly. You can’t go to Australia because it’s full of things that will eat you, you can’t go to New Zealand because they don’t accept anyone who is more than 40 and you can’t go to Monte Carlo because they don’t accept anyone who has less than 40 mill. And you can’t go to Germany, because you just can’t. And, as I keep explaining to my daughter, we can’t go to America because if you catch a cold over there, the health system is designed in such a way that you end up without a house. Or dead" — Jeremy Clarkson

Nov 8, 2009

Disillusion, disenchantment and disappointment for kids

"The furry, talking creatures who give the movie its name are strikingly grouchy, quarrelsome and passive-aggressive. They whine, they pout, they manipulate, they break things and hurt one another for no good reason. One of them makes a big deal about her cool new friends, who turn out to be a pair of terrified owls. Others use self-deprecation as a way to feel special, or deploy aggression to mask insecurity. They act, in short, just like people and turn to Max, a human child in a wolf suit who proclaims himself a king, to deliver them from their humanity. The love between ruler and subjects is mutual, but so is the disillusionment that rounds off Max’s sojourn on the island and sends him back across the sea to his mother. No place is free of conflict and bad feeling, and no person has the power to make problems disappear. Where there is happiness — friendship, adventure, affection, security — there is also, inevitably, disappointment. That’s life." — A O Scott NYT
I agree in principle. We do spent too much time worying about what kids will watch or enjoy. I watched Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf when I was 10: it remains one of the most vivid movie going experiences of my life. Kids can take a lot. But Scott's argument — that Jonze's film bravely refuses to mask the air of sulllen disappointment that marks adult human relationships — presupposes that Where The Wild Things Are is a good movie about sullen, disappointed human relationships. I don't think it is. I think it gets a huge kick out of letting those bruised emotions into a kids movie, but mistakes the frisson of that joke for a movie plot. Disillusion isn't just one of the accidents of the story: its the whole point of the story. That's not telling the truth; its just sourness.

God help me

"Precious is a film that makes you think, ''There but for the grace of God go I.'' Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
That is so true. The only difference between me and a heavyset sexually-abused African-American teenage girl living in Harlem is, well, that I don't happen to have been born African-American, or a girl, have never been sexually abused, am a little on the skinny side and don't live in Harlem. But apart from that the chances of my life turning taking any one of those turns are, of course, extremely high. What is Gleiberman talking about?

Quote of the day

Nov 7, 2009

Which movie do you most want to live in?

"I (who am normally a proud brunette) have only ever dreamed of going blond once and it was because of The Virgin Suicides, a movie I desperately dreamed of living in 10 years ago when I first saw it. Minus the whole, tormented and lonely misery part. The Lisbon sisters awoke a little part of me that dreamed of being mysterious, feminine and shy with a whole gaggle of cute boys following my every move... Directed by the champion of artsy girls, Sophia Coppola’s 1999 The Virgin Suicides is rife with dreamy, soft focus shots of doodles in notebooks, floral nighties, Heart albums, bike baskets, high waisted jeans and Trip Fontaine. Oh Trip Fontaine. I’ll forgive your bad 70s hair because you are a timeless dreamboat/jerk combination that girls throughout the ages will always fall for."—Design Sponge
The movie I most wanted to move into recently was The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. One part of it in particular: the hotel in Murmansk where Tilda Swinton seduces Benjamin. Vodka, caviar, snow, an empty hotel at night, bliss.

— The Gaurdian picks Otto Preminger's Laura

Not quite as funny as the real thing, but close

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