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Sunday, February 29, 2004

The Problem With Mystic River

After some contemplation, and some discussions with my friend Charles in which we tried to put our finger on what went wrong with the film, I have finally figured out what went wrong in Mystic River. WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! (Well, they're spoilers in the sense that I have to talk about the ending of the movie, but it's not like you couldn't see it coming a mile away.)

So, here come the spoilers.

Here they come.

Any second now.

3.

2.

1.

Are you really sure you want to read this?

Because it's okay if you want to wait until after you see the movie.

Okay... you asked for it. Spoilers ahead!

"Rosebud" is his sled. Actually, "Rosebud" was William Randolph Hearst's nickname for Marion Davies's coochie, making Mankiewicz's use of the word a particularly harsh dig at old Hearst, but in the movie itself it was just a sled.

Darth Vader is Luke's father. Moreover, it turns out that Darth Vader is a stiff, unlikeable little twerp of a kid.

And in any film where a drug dealer is the bad guy, the good guy will win.

So. There we are.

Oh -- wait. I was going to talk about Mystic River.

The movie is a classic "idiot plot," which is Roger Ebert's term for a movie that would be over in ten minutes if everyone involved weren't an idiot. And the weirdest thing about Mystic River is that the characters even come right out and say the problem, right at the climax of the movie.

Jimmy (Sean Penn): So if you killed a child molester, why didn't you tell someone? People don't generally care about killing child molesters.

Stop film. The whole movie depends on the fact that Danny (Tim Robbins) has been acting suspicious since the night that Jimmy's daughter was murdered, and Danny has been lying to everyone about what he did. The only reason that the plot moves forward is that Danny continues to lie -- he tells his wife he was mugged, he denies that he did anything to others, and when he begins to realize that he is suspected of killing Jimmy's daughter, he doesn't say A WORD TO ANYONE. The problem is bad enough; it's worse that the author brought it to the audience's attention.

Roll film.

Danny (Tim Robbins): I don't know... I thought maybe I was becoming one of them. Vampires.

Stop film.

The only correct part of this answer is the first three words. It's clear that the author had to work backwards to think of a valid reason why Danny would not have told people what he did, so he concocted the part of the film that undeniably works the least -- the rambling nonsense about vampires and how Danny thinks he's becoming one of the bad guys because the molestation changed him. Vampires? Vampires?!?

There are so very many ways this could have been handled more interestingly. But they chose none of them. Instead, they took the plot of Clockers and remade it in Boston, to give all the performers a chance to do an accent.

So. Screenwriting 101. Don't make your characters do anything that is transparently stupid.

 1:50 PM

Saturday, February 28, 2004

In-Depth Reviews, Part 37

Mystic River: ehh. (shrugs)


 12:41 AM

Friday, February 27, 2004

Oh, and I'd like to introduce a new blogger, who is profoundly ambivalent about whether she wants anyone reading her blog. It's more of a publicly accessible journal. So, don't give her any sh*t or I'll give your e-mail address to a bunch of Nigerian scam artists.

 1:35 PM
The Passion Of The Christ

You may remember my last opinion on this subject, which was rendered after reading a Salon.com article in which a liberal Episcopal bishop lamented the cultural insensitivity of the film -- which was so harsh it made him "want to vomit." My response at that time was, as I recall, STFU. People were debating a film they hadn't seen.

I've seen it now.

I can report that my strongest reaction to the whole film was a powerful, visceral disgust, but that disgust was entirely directed toward the nimrods that complain this movie is anti-Semitic in any way, shape or form. The reactionary Zionists and reactionary liberals who have been running around wringing their hands have set the B'nai Brith back a hundred years, because any reasonable person who sees this film concludes that the protests are completely unfounded.

Did I make that emphatic enough?

THE GODDAMN FILM IS NOT ANTI-SEMITIC IN ANY WAY, SHAPE OR FORM.



AND IF YOU THINK IT IS, I HAVE CONTEMPT FOR YOU. I DON'T MERELY DISAGREE WITH YOUR OPINION, I REJECT YOU AND ALL YOU STAND FOR, BECAUSE YOU ARE A BASTARD PERSON WITH NO PERSPECTIVE AND A TINY, TINY PENIS. OR A TINY UTERUS, AS THE CASE MAY BE.



Schmucks.



The most galling thing is the condescending attitude of the intelligentsia who have opposed it -- "you know," they say, "I understand that the film isn't saying we should blame the Jews, but I have a college degree in Communication Theory, and The Great Unwashed Rabble will get confused by all this." It's a great illustration of what so many people find ridiculous about the Ivory Tower.

Screw them. Screw all of them.

If anything, Gibson went out of his way to portray the plot against Jesus as the work of a small group of Jews, who worked at night, in defiance of the rest of the Jewish Council. Rabbis shouted in protest at the unfairness of the procedure: the timing, the attempt to hide from the rest of the council, the reliance on inconsistent witness testimony. For Pete's sake, he even added a scene that had no Biblical basis, in which this splinter group bribed a group of Jews to agitate for Christ's execution. And there was plenty of "context" for the theological issue, which is that Christ died for everyone and that everyone is to blame, not merely the Jews. The beginning scene in Gethsemane features Christ being tempted by Satan with the declaration that "No one man can bear the sins of the whole world..."

Now, on to an area where there is some room for disagreement.

1. I did not find the film to be "lacking context." It is true that the "problem" of the Passion story is that the main character does not have a character arc. Dude gets tortured, dude dies. But Gibson understands that the drama comes from the character arcs of the characters around Christ, and works well with that material. Gibson also added many flashbacks to give context and reasons for why Christ remained silent, why he had to be scourged as well as crucified, why the punishment was so over-the-top and public, and why the various groups did what they did.

2. The film is indeed very violent, but I thought the violence served a purpose. In that sense, it was far less offensive than "Bad Boys II." I did not find the violence to be gratuitous in any way, but there are some that would be turned off by this much violence even if it is historically justifiable.

3. I thought the choice to use Aramaic and Latin was powerful. We've come a long way from the days when we think Christ was a blonde dude who spoke English, and that worked well for me. It was a good reminder that this was another time and place. It did not seem xenophobic to me in any way, especially because Christ himself speaks Aramaic.

And, more generic comments:

1. I was startled by how completely Catholic the film is. That is, there were some very interesting things added to the screenplay that come from Catholic tradition, not the Gospels themselves. There was also a great amount of focus on Mary, but I found that to be logical in the context of the story. Indeed, the most powerful and moving aspect of the Passion -- one that I had never really considered much as a Protestant -- is that Mary watched her son go through all that. Perhaps it was the fact that I now have a son of my own, but there was one moment when I almost ran out of the theater to go hold Jonah for a while.

2. The movie seemed to be quite accurate, with only minor alterations or omissions to serve the screenplay. The only one that bothered me was that Peter was depicted as fleeing the trial after Christ's conviction by the Sanhedrin, and he rejected Christ while pushing his way through the mob. The gospels all agree that Peter followed Jesus to the Sanhedrin, but then sat down outside in the courtyard. He denied Christ while he was outside, sitting by a fire. If Peter denies Christ while fleeing a raging mob, that is somehow less egregious than his denial while among a group of people sitting by a fire.

If that's the only theological complaint you have, that's a good sign.

3. The movie is very pretty in parts. They didn't give an Oscar to Caleb Deschanel out of pity, after all. The performances are quite good, though it was a little distracting to have Monica Belluci as Mary Magdalen because she is so stunningly beautiful that she has to either star in a film or stay out of it entirely. The screenplay is very good, but not great, and the directing is competent but uninspired. And if there is any justice in the world, the movie should win for Best Makeup next year at the Oscars. I mean, holy crap! They managed to flay Jim Caviezel and make it look realistic. Very realistic. Disturbingly, chunks-of-skin-hanging-off-his-body realistic.

It's a very good movie, though not a great one. A solid 8.

Indeed, it's easily the fourth-best life-of-Christ movie ever made. "Jesus of Montreal" is still way, way, way out in front, and I can't recommend it highly enough to anyone that hasn't seen it. It is a modern-day retelling of the Christ story that manages to get at the heart of what Christ was all about far better than the Southern Baptist Church ever has. "The Last Temptation of Christ" has more serious gospel-inaccuracies, but it never purported to follow the gospels, which may be why (ironically) it works so well. It's a great, gorgeous, deeply flawed film. (Harvey Keitel as Judas? Oh, come on.) In third place is "The Matrix," which is the Gospel of John told in a cyberpunk atmosphere. That is, "Neo" is "The One" of the prophecies who was foretold, sought by a voice in the wilderness (Morpheus), betrayed by one of his number, is killed, resurrected, and who gives a final message to the world before flying off into the sky. There are many more comparisons, if you want to sit and think of them, including multiple lines of dialogue. (Program buyer: "Hallelujah, man. You're my own personal Jesus Christ.")

So, "The Passion of Jesus Christ" is in fourth place, but it is way, way ahead of any other movie that tried to carefully adhere to the gospels.

 12:38 PM

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Civil Disobedience For A New Generation

I only found out about it through the New York Times, and once you read an article about a cultural phenomenon in the Times, it's over.

The Times today had an article about a new album called The Grey Album, which is achieving acclaim, notoriety and all that. It's by DJ Dangermouse, who I had actually heard of as an up-and-coming mash-up artist -- that is, a musician that takes fragments of other songs and makes new songs out of them. So here's what happened. Jay-Z has a hit album called "The Black Album," which he has touted as his swansong. It's a great disc, if you're into the more mainstream hip-hop. I can't claim to be an expert in that area, or even intermediately experienced, but the man has an absolutely stunning ability to "flow" -- that is, to continuously talk on the mic nonstop while keeping rhythm, keeping rhyme, and actually saying something worth hearing. (Admittedly, he's a lot heavier on the pimps and hos and crack than I would like, but there are some deeper things going on there as well, like when he includes fragments of an interview with his mother about how she tried to raise him right in a bad environment.)

Jay-Z then chose to release a version of the album (he has his own record label) that was nothing more than his own acapella flow on 12" vinyl -- that is, just his own words, with no beats, no breaks, no loops, no nothing. He hoped that people would finally be able to understand his words for the first time, but also wanted to encourage people to "remix the hell out of it." He got his wish. People have been trying to do their own beats and loops to match the lyrics.

The most successful thus far has been Dangermouse, who got the cheeky idea to use the Beatles' "The White Album." Thus, the Black Album + the White Album equals Dangermouse's new disc, The Grey Album.

Here's a chart for those of you keeping track at home (courtesy of Hua Hsu):

Public Service Announcement <-- Long, Long, Long
What More Can I Say <-- As My Guitar Gently Weeps
Encore <-- Glass Onion + Savoy Truffle
December 4th <-- Mother Nature's Son
99 Problems <-- Helter Skelter
Dirt Off Your Shoulders <-- Julia
Moment of Clarity <-- Happiness is Warm Gun
Change Clothes <-- Piggies
Allure <-- Dear Prudence
Justify My Thug <-- Rocky Raccoon + Revolution 1
Lucifer 9 <-- Revolution 9 + I'm So Tired
My First Song <-- Cry Baby Cry

The disc quickly got acclaim from Rolling Stone ("an ingenious hip-hop record that sounds oddly ahead of its time") and the Boston Globe ("the most intriguing hip-hop album in recent memory").

Oh, yeah. And it's flagrantly illegal and EMI is sending cease and desist letters to everyone it can find. EMI has no sense of humor -- none -- about The Beatles (always capitalized), which they want to enshrine in the "classical music" pantheon as soon as possible. The idea that a LA DJ would slice and dice the Beatles into snippets of rhythm and beats was utter sacrilege.

People's irritation with the suppression of the album mounted, made worse by the fact that the only way to get a copy of the album was to flagrantly violate the Digital Millenium Copyright Act and steal one from some website or filesharing service. The result was "Grey Tuesday," an online protest in which 170 websites all agreed to start hosting MP3s of the album on February 24th. And even though EMI and the RIAA worked throughout the day to shut them all down -- and to even shut down sites that supported the effort without actually hosting the songs -- and to shut down the people selling copies on eBay -- the cat got out of the bag.

No, I won't link to it for you, because even though EMI/RIAA/MOFO is only going after the people hosting the files, they might get jumpy. Unfortunately, it's hard to find a site that still has it, but this kind of illegal-art org won't go away.

All of the above is already old news (yesterday), and it's been blogged endlessly. So why do I add more?

Because for the first time in a long, long time, the cause celebre is worth celebrating. This album is absolutely mind-blowing. It's not really hip-hop so much as it is something new, something more, something that makes you understand what hip-hop fans have been hoping for all this time. Beatles fans find it to be a refreshing introduction to how hip-hop can be fabulously complex, while Jay-Z fans are discovering the depth and richness of their parents' music. That doesn't mean it's easy listening -- it's easy to ignore it at first (especially if you're not hip-hop inclined), and when you start to hear how complicated the beats are, it's easy to reject it. But then it clicks. You realize that Dangermouse spent a lot of time making sure that the tone of the tunes didn't only match the lyrics but commented on them. It's a tango between an MC and a DJ that have never met.

Let me give you a point of reference. Until this afternoon, I had been listening to the Outkast album Speakerboxx/The Love Below, and I admire those albums very much as a startlingly creative and involving work of art. They are a great example of why hip-hop is a true revolution; a new post-modern way of thinking about music. (Don't get me wrong. It's hard to find the brilliance among the wannabes and hasbeens and ginandjuicers, but easier than finding brilliance on any given Clear Channel station.) It's not all "Hey Ya," either -- though "Hey Ya" is a lot richer than some give it credit for being. I was ready to blog about how great it is.

But The Grey Album makes Outkast sound like Hillary Duff. It's mental gymnastics that you can shake your ass to.

I'm genuinely excited about this album. I want to share it with people (on surreptitious CD-R), and I don't know the last time that happened. It makes me understand why people would go out of their way to hold the Grey Tuesday protest.

Here's hoping it's the first of many.

 9:19 PM
I feel that I should add that things seemed far more chipper at the old homestead this morning. Shannon knew that I was running on fumes and did a great job of helping me out.

Ah, mawige. A dweam wifin a dream.

Don't worry -- I'll be back to posting snarky comments about W's latest bullsh*t soon.

 9:07 AM

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Stolen from Jay McInerney's "Bright Lights, Big City."

You're not the kind of guy who's still at work at this hour. But it's ten-thirty, and here you are, typing away, exhausted from lack of sleep but sizzling from the stress. You wonder if there is a better form of anxiety relief than eBay shopping. Exercise would be nice, you think, but exercise takes time. And you have spare time like you have diamonds coming out of your ass. eBay only takes a minute. Well, it takes more and more minutes as you become more and more addicted, but it's the sort of "bump" that you can do without leaving your office. And the only thing that suffers is your concentration.

You look over at the desk, where there are ten thousand photos of your kid on the wall. Lovely little monster that he is. Your cherubic son pitched a howling fit at 5:00 this morning because he wanted water and he didn't get any because he needs to get over his habit of demanding water at inopportune times. Of course, that meant that everyone in the house woke up at 5:00, because it was close enough to morning that nobody could drift back to sleep. And so there you were, standing there, trying to help your exhausted kid and your exhausted wife and you're having a hard time following what's going on because you were working until after midnight and things are kind of foggy. And what did you do in that moment? You wondered whether you had won that auction for the new "Mates of State" CD.

You did. You can always be a winner, if you're just willing to pay enough.

Now it's ten-thirty and you're still foggy; it never cleared up. It's now the time of night when you begin to wonder just how "complete" this draft needs to be before you turn it in tomorrow morning. Then you chuckle bitterly, because the real question is how "complete" this draft is going to be, regardless of what anyone wants. And the thing that really starts your stomach churning is your knowledge that the motion you're writing isn't actually due until May, so your stress and anger and sadness is completely artificial.

And yet. And yet. After that kind of a morning, even a terrible day at the office doesn't sound so bad. You're typing away resentfully, with excruciating knots in your shoulders and stale coffee on your shirt, but you're listening to music and checking your auctions every time you finish a couple of paragraphs. Even though it's like drinking low-level nauseating panic mixed with a certain dull recreation, it's still better than the worst times. Better than what you left this morning. Not nearly as good as the good days, when you feel that everything you yearn for is just barely within reach if you could just work hard enough. But better than the worst.

You'll spend a fifty-minute hour on Thursday talking about that last paragraph.

You try not to think about your wife, chained to the same kid that was screaming his lungs out this morning, because you have your own problems right now. She sounded okay on the phone an hour ago. Or, when was that? Six hours ago now?

You sit for a moment, you stare out the window at the other office buildings, lights slowly winking out one by one, and then you get back to work.

But first, you have to check to see if you won that album you bid on.

 10:54 PM

Monday, February 23, 2004

Heard today on the shrink's couch:

Me: "I just keep bouncing from metaphor to metaphor like a pinball."

 3:57 PM

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Update: About half an hour ago, Jonah strolled by with my keys in his hand. You see! They weren't lost, Dad -- I knew where they were all along.

Sigh.

 10:03 AM

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Update: Here's the original Christina Aguilera thong-and-water sale. To recap: 810 pounds ($1,500) buys you a copy of Maxim magazine with a picture of Christina Aguilera wearing a thong in a pool, the thong she wore, and a cup of the water she was in. Conan O'Brien's joke: "The Center for Disease Control is thought to be the highest bidder."

What's even more disturbing about this auction (rather than the copy I linked to earlier) is that you can read the note that purports to "authenticate" the items. It reads:

Daniel -- enjoy drinking from the cup as much as I did. Scott Mills. [BBC Radio One DJ]

All together now: ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.

 5:29 PM
I am alone, and yet I must speak. So I will sound my barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the Net.

Jonah has hidden my keys, and I need them to get my work out of my car so that I can finish the things I need to get done. I can't find those rascals anywhere. I'm tearing my hair out. It's my own damn fault for not taking them away from him when I saw him pick them up.

Sigh.

Good trip to the zoo today. Here's the scoreboard:

Boring Animals (from least interesting to slightly more interesting)

1. Turtles
2. Goats (shocker here, because you could touch them and everything)
3. Lions
4. Porcupines
5. Antelopes

Interesting Animals (in descending order of interest)

1. Other kids
2. Fish
3. Bats
4. A big-ass pig (is that its scientific name? Gluteus maximus porkchopus?)
5. Spectacled bears

And, the grand prize goes to the otters, which weren't all that interesting until I picked up Jonah and ran alongside the tank as the otters swam by, so that he could "swim" with them. That was a big, big hit, but some of the other fathers looked at me as if to say, "Hey, man -- don't work so hard. You're blowing the curve."

 5:22 PM

Friday, February 20, 2004

About My Kid, Who Is Way Cuter Than Your Kid

I recognize that a quick poll of my readership -- currently consisting of Mom and two guys that wandered over using the link on Adam's blog -- would show that only 33% of my readers want to hear about every little cute thing that Jonah does. But there are two stories from today that bear posting, if only because Shannon is out of town and I don't have anyone to tell them to.

1. You will recall that Jonah uses the word "daddy" to refer to anything beautiful, interesting, or desirable. This evening he gestured toward the ceiling fan and said "daddy" -- which is nothing new, except that this time he turned his hand over as he gestured and did a perfect impression of a bad actor doing Hamlet. You know the classic "dead spider" pose? "Alas, poor light bulb. I knew it, Horatio..." I laughed my butt off, so much so that Jonah kept doing the pose to see how often he could get a laugh with it. It is interesting, as I look back on it, to realize that Jonah was testing me. He's learning the stand-up comedy skills he will need to survive in this family.

2. Today, I was at the post office with Jonah to mail more CDs to their buyers. (See previous posts about my new obsession with finding things to sell on eBay.) Jonah was getting squirmy and started whining, and I noted that the people in the post office very politely weren't staring at us and glaring. Once I finally was able to put the packages down and devote both hands to the little guy, I could start throwing him in the air. His face turned from frown to delight, and his voice did the same thing in midair: "aaaaaaannnnnnnnnhhhhhhhuhuhuhwheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee." The whole post office erupted in laughter. It was nice to go from being the Annoying Guy At The Post Office to the "I Saw The Cutest Thing Today" guy.

 9:51 PM
eBay

I've been selling a lot of items on eBay, with good success. It has given me a real appreciation for the virtues of salesmanship -- you can get a lot more for an item if you spend time describing its virtues carefully (such as "I bothered to test this item and guarantee it's not a useless hunk of metal") and compare it to other similar items that are up for auction ("unlike those other sellers, I am willing to guarantee that this item will not kill you the moment you open it").

But the most useful tool is to add extras that "add value" to the "main" item. Hell, Ron Popeil understands that better than anybody -- "But wait! There's more!" It is in that vein that I offer this auction as an exemplar of the perfect eBay seller. It's not so much the item, as the extras.

Edit (1:00 pm): CURSE YOU, EBAY! As soon as someone gets a good, funny auction going, you kill it! The auction was for three items: (1) A "Maxim" magazine with Christina Aguilera on the cover, wearing thong panties in a pool; (2) the panties from that cover, which the seller swears are the genuine panties unlike other fraudulent sales on eBay; and (3) a sealed container of the actual pool water that Aguilera wore the panties in. Poor grammar, resentful tone, and a high bid of over $150 before it was taken down.


 8:33 AM

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Meme

A slightly humorous turn of phrase just popped into my head, and I would like to throw it out into the void in the hopes that it becomes a killer meme that enters the discourse.

"You can't spell AWOL without W."


 7:46 PM

Friday, February 13, 2004

Jonah Status Report
Age: 14 mos.
Teeth: Two up, two down, two on deck
Walking: Confident and rapid, with belly thrust out. Stairs still a problem, though.
Drool: an ever-flowing river
Cough: getting better, but still persistent
Words: three
(1) nummynummynummy (or any number of rapid repetitions of "nummy") -- emphatic desire for food
(2) dada -- pretty, pleasing (e.g. a chandelier, a flower)
(3) ba -- generic term for all toys, not just round ones
Cat: still faster than Jonah, but warier than ever because Jonah has decided the cat is "dada"
Energy Levels: two
(1) frantic Tasmanian Devil energy
(2) utter, whining exhaustion or actual sleep
Favorite possessions:
(1) the bottoms to a pair of pajamas, which he carries like a blanket
(2) Daddy's fancy remote control
Least favorite possessions:
(1) Shoes
Embarrassing adoration of women of color: still as strong as ever

 5:42 PM
More on Kerry...

The Kerry rumor is really starting to look like a non-issue. The only major outlet that has run with this story in print is Britain's tabloid The Sun, which lays out more of the details here. Far from legitimizing Drudge's nonsense, the Sun story offers more details that deflate the whole thing. An intern, aged 24, thought Kerry was "creepy" in the way he pursued her -- entirely professionally -- to work on his presidential campaign. The intern's parents thought Kerry's persistence was off-putting.

Glad we've been burning up the airwaves over that one. Kerry issued a complete denial on Imus this morning, and there's no reason to think that the story will go further because no media source has picked up on it. Even Drudge's allegations against Chris Lahayne have been mysteriously "vanished" once it became clear that Lahayne himself didn't stand by the story. Joe Conason has a good op-ed piece about the non-issue here.

Of course, you should read Krugman today as well:
To understand why questions about George Bush's time in the National Guard are legitimate, all you have to do is look at the federal budget published last week. No, not the lies, damned lies and statistics — the pictures.

By my count, this year's budget contains 27 glossy photos of Mr. Bush. We see the president in front of a giant American flag, in front of the Washington Monument, comforting an elderly woman in a wheelchair, helping a small child with his reading assignment, building a trail through the wilderness and, of course, eating turkey with the troops in Iraq. Somehow the art director neglected to include a photo of the president swimming across the Yangtze River.

It was not ever thus. Bill Clinton's budgets were illustrated with tables and charts, not with worshipful photos of the president being presidential.

The issue here goes beyond using the Government Printing Office to publish campaign brochures. In this budget, as in almost everything it does, the Bush administration tries to blur the line between reverence for the office of president and reverence for the person who currently holds that office.


But the best story of all is this one, from Memphis. Two guys in the Alabama Guard were told that Bush was coming, and they were on the lookout for him because they figured he would be a good drinking buddy. But he never showed: “There’s no way we wouldn’t have noticed a strange rooster in the henhouse, especially since we were looking for him,” insists Mintz.

 9:46 AM

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Nothing...

...and I mean nothing...

...in Sofia Coppola's performance in Godfather III suggested subtlety. Or talent. Or entitlement to any accolade greater than "has opposable thumbs and uses them competently" or "as with other mammals, Sofia has hair."

And worse, she only got the role because of the famous nepotism of the Coppolas, and there is very little in this world that I hate more than nepotism and mortmain. I despise the "entitlements" of birth. So I took a fanged pleasure in her failure.

So how did she make one of the most subtle movies I've seen in a long time? How did she write such a wonderfully gentle and insightful screenplay? How did she shepherd what could have been a wacky fish-out-of-water comedy or a dime-store romance into such a carefully crafted, thoughtful comment on humanity? How did she manage such an unerring sense of rhythm and yet include the slow moments where she invites you to drink in the entire screen?

I don't know, but as someone who has ruthlessly mocked her valley-girl Godfather III performance -- "Dad? Dad?" -- I hereby give Sofia her due as a brilliant artist worthy of respect in her own right. Far more so than anything her acclaimed father has done in the last 30 years (since 1974, the year of The Conversation and Godfather II).

The key to what made the movie so excellent can be seen in the "conversation with Sofia Coppola and Bill Murray" on the DVD, which should only be seen after the film. Bill Murray identifies the key to the whole movie (which makes sense, because his performance clearly demonstrates that he understood what made the film work so well). He describes a certain critical scene as "the scene where the audience finally likes the film" because Coppola refuses to follow the usual formula. He's right. It takes a while to warm up to the picture -- to get into its rhythm, to trust that it really is going in the direction that it seems to be going -- but once you give in, it rewards you fully.

The film will not win Best Picture -- "Return of the King" will. Nor will it win Best Director -- they've already engraved Peter Jackson's name on it. But it should win Best Original Screenplay, because if the Academy is going to reward a deserving movie, it does it through the screenplay awards.

And Bill Murray, who gave a performance that is absolutely stunning in its delicacy and subtlety, who will be remembered for this performance when he dies, will have absolutely no chance of beating Sean Penn. Though he communicates the full depth of human emotions through his basset-hound eyes, he never raises his voice, and you have to raise your voice to "act" in the Academy's view.

In short: an emphatic, urgent, yearning recommendation for Lost in Translation, the best movie of 2003 (as announced by a guy who saw few films this year because he has a one-year old).

 4:53 PM
...but let's not anoint Kerry yet. He may have "an intern problem." I trust Matt Drudge about as far as I can throw him, but I'm also filled with a certain sense of dread.

Update: the rumor hit the internet a week ago. This version of the rumor states that the affair ended just before Kerry announced his candidacy.

 10:52 AM
Exquisite News

From the AP's most recent article about Bush going AWOL:

Meanwhile, a retired Texas National Guard officer said Wednesday he overheard a conversation in 1997 between then-Gov. Bush's chief of staff, Joe Allbaugh, and then-Adjutant Gen. Daniel James of the Texas Air National Guard in which he contends those two men spoke about getting rid of any military records that would "embarrass the governor."

Former Lt. Col. Bill Burkett told the AP that he saw documents from Bush's file discarded in a trash can a few days later at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas. Burkett described them as performance and pay documents. He said the documents bore the header: "Bush, George W. 1lt." - meaning first lieutenant.

James and Allbaugh denied the allegations, which Burkett said he had previously discussed on Web sites and in letters to Texas legislators in 1998.

"The alleged discussion never happened," said James, who appointed by the president in 2002 to lead the Air National Guard. "I have never been involved in, nor would I condone any discussion or any action to falsify any record in any circumstance for anyone."

Allbaugh, now a Washington lobbyist, told The Dallas Morning News that Burkett's assertions were "hogwash."


This story -- if true -- would certainly explain why certain common documents are missing from Bush's service records, such as the record of the Flight Inquiry Board that would have necessarily been convened when grounding Bush from flying. The White House continues to trickle out documents one at a time (a trip to the dentist?) to try to put the story to rest, but all they have done so far is to successfully prove that Bush was indeed in the state of Alabama during that time. Burkett's claims are not new, and he seems to have a certain strain of paranoia about him -- but as they say, just because you're paranoid don't mean they ain't after you. Regardless of whether you believe Burkett's explanation for why they're missing, there's no doubt that Bush's National Guard record is missing many important documents.

This is a very interesting article to help you get up to speed on the various Bush administration claims over time (including "his" book, A Charge To Keep), how they have changed when they have been disproven, and why the current arguments are completely false: he stopped flying because they discontinued his plane, failure to take a physical was just "red tape," and so on.

As Richard Cohen pointed out in a wonderful WaPo op-ed (reg. required), the question is not whether Dubya ducked service in 1972, it's whether he's lying about it now. Didn't the R's learn about this from Watergate? Isn't this a bit Nixonian? Or, as Cohen put it:

During the Vietnam War, I was what filmmaker Michael Moore would call a "deserter." Along with President Bush and countless other young men, I joined the National Guard, did my six months of active duty (basic training, etc.) and then returned to my home unit, where I eventually dropped from sight. In the end, just like President Bush, I got an honorable discharge. But unlike President Bush, I have just told the truth about my service. He hasn't.
...
It hardly matters what Bush did or did not do back in 1972. He is not the man now he was then -- that by his own admission. In the same way, it did not matter that Clinton ducked the draft, because, really, just about everyone I knew at the time was doing something similar. All that really matters is how one accounts for what one did. Do you tell the truth (which Clinton did not)? Or do you do what I think Bush has been doing, which is making his National Guard service into something it was not? In his case, it was a rich kid's way around the draft.


My own understanding of that time grew in three stages. When I was a young boy, I was very impressed that my father had been in the military. That meant he was strong and manly, at least as I understood the concept. I then came to realize that there was a very real difference between what my father had done and what other fathers had done. Mine had been in the U.S. Coast Guard, where he served in an administrative position helping the Gulf Coast rebuild after hurricanes. Other fathers had served in the "real" armed forces, in a very "real" war that my own father had "ducked." Then I became friends with a kid whose father had four Purple Hearts and a constellation of Silver Stars framed in his house, all earned with sweat and blood in Vietnam. Far from making me wish that my own father had been a "hero," it made me realize why my father had done what he did, and why it was a complicated time with a lot of hard questions and no good answers, and why it was sheer luxury to ask "what if" my father had been in harm's way. As the most direct beneficiary of my father's choices, I am proud of him and his answer to those hard questions. But at the same time, he isn't out there prancing around the deck of an aircraft carrier.

Another critical point explains a whole lot about Bush. When Tim Russert pressed Bush on his service, Bush readily volunteered that he would release his entire military record. But now the White House is reneging on the deal. I think that Bush is genuinely separated from reality in the same way that Reagan was. In Bush's mind, he is a just and righteous "War President" who has nothing to hide because Iraq was dangerous and who knows that the way to get America moving again is to give rich people money and accelerate the exporting of lower- and middle-class jobs. No one ever forces him to confront the facts. He does not read the news, he does not answer reporters' questions (witness the extraordinary instance of Bush's willingness to talk to lap-dog Russert), he does not ever confront protesters because they are shipped off to "free speech zones" a mile away. It reminds me of Lenny Bruce's routine about what went wrong with Hitler, in which Hitler becomes like a pampered movie star: "They like me, right?" "SURE, Adolf. They all LOVE you." (Note: Before I get any complaints, I am not saying Dubya is Hitler. Though Hitler was far more intelligent than Dubya, Hitler was also personally responsible for the systematic murder of over six million Jews, the deaths of untold soldiers, the destruction of Europe and the European economy, and the rise of a pervasive, bitter racism that still infects the world. Dubya is just an oblivious weasel; Hitler was pure evil that had been processed into a convenient smokeable form -- like crack.)

In other news of the oblivious weasel -- or is it really "other" news? It's all one story any more, about the Boy Prince Who Pretends To Be A Warrior -- cracks are starting to form in the administration's infamous veneer:

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, a retired four-star general known for his even temperament, paused yesterday during a congressional hearing to berate a Hill staffer for shaking his head as Powell offered a defense of his prewar statements on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

The public scolding came after Powell had already endured a number of attacks by Democrats on the administration's Iraq policy during an appearance before the House International Relations Committee. He had just snapped at a member of Congress who had casually declared President Bush "AWOL" from the Vietnam War.

Powell was recalling for the panel his review of the prewar intelligence. "I went and lived at the CIA for about four days to make sure that nothing was," he began, when he paused and glared at a staffer seated behind the members of Congress.

"Are you shaking your head for something, young man, back there?" Powell asked. "Are you part of these proceedings?"

Powell's unusual remarks threatened to derail the hearing. Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), a 12-year veteran of the House, objected, "Mr. Chairman, I've never heard a witness reprimand a staff person in the middle of a question."

Powell shot back, "I seldom come to a meeting where I am talking to a congressman and I have people aligned behind you giving editorial comment by head shakes."

"Well, I think people have opinions," Brown responded.


Read the rest of the article. It's classic. And remember, this is from the man who during his preparations for his big UN show-and-tell reportedly threw the Administration's WMD allegations in the air and exclaimed, "I can't say this! It's bullsh*t!"

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'.


 10:04 AM

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Every Now And Then, Leno Gets It Right

'The big fight right now between John Kerry and George W. Bush is over their military service,' NBC's Jay Leno said in his opening monologue last week. 'And Bush is on the attack -- he's accusing John Kerry of ducking time in the Texas Air National Guard once a month by hiding in the jungles of Vietnam.'"

As John Wildermuth aptly points out in the SF Chronicle, a political story only takes root when the late night comedians use it as material.

Bush's latest rejoiner -- which was seen in earnest in his "Meet the Press" interview -- was to suggest that people who criticize his National Guard service are criticizing the modern-day Guard. This is outrageously fallacious, for two reasons:

1. No one has ever leveled that accusation; the notorious "straw man" rhetorical error. That should be enough.
2. Service in the "Champagne Unit" of the Texas Air National Guard in 1972 is emphatically not the same as serving in the modern post-Gulf-War Guard. I tend to agree with Kerry's line about the matter: I have no intention of criticizing anyone for their choices during the Vietnam War. The only problem is when those people later misrepresent what they did during those troubled years. Such as -- to steal Gen. Clark's line -- when they "put on a costume and prance around the deck of an aircraft carrier."

Nothing irks me more than bad rhetoric, and this administration is absolutely full of it.

Pun intended.

 9:12 AM

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

While I'm thinking of it, I would like to report a personal victory. Mom was in town over the weekend and I made a point of playing "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots" for her after she had expressed her doubt that we had any area of overlapping musical preference remaining. Her reaction was a stunned look and the statement: "It's not weird." No, it isn't, and I don't know where she got the idea that it was.

 10:56 PM
The Laserdisc Player's Looking Pretty Good

George Lucas has finally deigned to release the original trilogy on DVD, even though Lucasfilm has been saying that the original trilogy was not going to be released until after Episode III stinks up the theaters. Of course, Lucas (whose true brilliance is as a marketer a la P.T. Barnum) realizes that in another year or two, HD-DVD will become a practical reality, and people won't shell out the money for a regular DVD version. So he strikes while the iron is hot, and America will pony up its cash now and then again for the HD version.

I'm reminded of my days working at the video store, when a customer wanted to buy the original trilogy when it was released on THX-approved VHS tapes a few years ago. He asked if there was any way to ensure that the tape would stay pristine forever. I told him that the most optimistic reports are that VHS tapes keep a signal for 20 years -- and most home-recorded tapes are dead or seriously deteriorated in 10.

He was stunned -- "What if I put them in a lead-lined safety-deposit box?"

I stared at him for a moment. "Lucas is going to release these on DVD someday, and your VHS tapes will be instantly worthless. And then he'll release them on the next new format, and the DVDs will become worthless."

The customer thought about this for a moment, then bought his tapes and left.

So, be forewarned. You're putting cash in Lucas's pocket just at the end of the DVD revolution. Lucas is betting that you'll pay it, even though you know HD-DVD is coming, even though you know you're being rooked, because you're a sucker. Flip him the bird and watch "Dark City" instead.

And here's the real clincher: just as promised, Lucas will only release the "Special Edition" of the trilogy. You know -- the one where Greedo shoots first? That's the one. The original movies have just been flushed down the memory hole. That means that the best version of the original trilogy will continue to be on laserdisc, and the better LD players will continue to sell for a premium on eBay. For LD afficionados like myself who invested in the Pioneer "Elite" players, it's a sweet moment. Sadly, it also means that my customer was right, in a way. Those tapes (and the laserdiscs) are the last chance to see the films as we all remember them.

So to review: (1) flip Lucas the bird, and (2) watch "Dark City" instead.

 12:49 PM
The Nature of God and Man, As Taught By Jonah

I had an interesting insight into the nature of God.

I was holding Jonah a couple of days ago. He was upset for no apparent reason (big surprise), and I was trying to comfort him by holding him and caressing his hair. I asked him, "What's the problem, little one? Why are you so upset? Don't you see that it's all okay?" And then I realized that is what God is like. When we come to him with our problems, he holds us and calms us down and smiles at the fact that we don't see the bigger picture.

That's not the insight.

As I was holding him and considering this rather Hallmark-y thought, Jonah passed some really putrid gas. I gagged a little. And then I realized, "Ah! I see! That's what sin is like to God." God may be holding us and comforting us, but we nevertheless unload a really smelly one. He still loves us, and still takes care of us, but there's no denying that things would be a lot better if we didn't fart during His tender moments.

Remember that the next time you're tempted.

 11:53 AM

Monday, February 09, 2004

10. Upon reflection, I feel that I should add that there was one more redeeming moment in the Grammys after I gave up blogging about them. The Outkast performance of "Hey Ya" was nothing special -- marred by terrible audio -- until the USC marching band came onstage and joined in. That was classic.

 11:16 AM

Sunday, February 08, 2004

9. It's been an hour and a half since I blogged anything, because it's all just starting to suck. The new "public information" ad about downloading -- serious suck. The reverence given to Warren Zevon -- suck. The fact that Carole King now looks like a man, baby -- also full of suck.

The fun is over. Not that it ever really started.

 10:19 PM
8. Okay. The Black-Eyed Peas continued two more themes. First, the female lead singer -- whose abs made you want to stand and applaud -- looked exactly like Charo. And she was wearing leg warmers, which is a trend I want to squelch as soon as possible. Really. The 80s hurt a lot of people with leg warmers, and we must never forget. I will bear witness.

The second theme was men wearing skirts. Sting performed earlier in a black shirt and knee socks, which has to be one of the all-time bad fashion choices, even if you are famous for twelve-hour tantric sex sessions. And one of the Black Eyed Peas was wearing flowing culottes as he patiently explained to the audience that the problem with al Qaeda and the CIA was that they needed love. Fortunately, he finally had a platform from which he could explain this critical insight.

And I forgot to mention the low point of the evening: Justin Timberlake earnestly doing his best Stevie Wonder impression, in a way that thoroughly highlighted every single pathetic-little-white-boy characteristic he had.

 8:48 PM
7. Madonna looked exactly like Hillary Duff, which isn't a great compliment to either of them. But Hillary looked fantastic (and positively virginal) next to Paulina Rubio, who continued the theme of the evening by looking exactly like Charo. And then all thoughts of either of them vanished as Christina Aguilera won for "Beautiful" and showed up in a dress cut down to her navel, sporting a serious case of walleye. And then -- hilariously -- Christina echoed what was in everyone's mind when she said "I'm trying not to do a Janet Jackson here."

 8:19 PM
6. Alicia Keys tore the roof off the place, and then Celine Dion turned around sprayed the room with a thick layer of crap. To no one's surprise. I mean, it was like a Gallagher concert -- the people down front had plastic to protect them from the thick, treacly dung spewing from the stage. Two or three people were overcome from the fumes and had to be carried out by Dave Matthews.

The only remarkable thing about Celine's performance was the serious audio errors from the tech guys, which meant that there were several seconds when the audience was spared the onslaught.

 8:09 PM
5. Justin Timberlake's apology for the Super Bowl crapfest:

"It was accidental, completely regrettable, and I apologize if you were offended."

I have written legal documents that are more contrite and apologetic. The boobie stunt was not accidental, was completely stupid, and he should apologize for ripping the breast shield off a woman who was singing "Miss Jackson if you're nasty" when he was a fetus.

 7:55 PM
3. The Grammys have a special section of fans -- set apart from the rest of the crowd -- that are close enough to be seen by the crowd. Of couse, in contrast to the tepid crowd, they are going wild, wild, wild. As if they had been paid to like this crap. The contrast between raving love and tepid tolerance is hysterical.

4. Andre 3000 took three or four minutes to get to the stage, during which time the cameramen couldn't even find him, and then accepted his Grammy with the following acceptance speech:

"Thanks."

I love it.

 7:40 PM
I just started watching the Grammys -- to mock them, not because I care about them, no really -- and it has already been worth it:

1. Quentin Tarantino trying his damndest to sound like a 70s soul brother as he discussed the 20th anniversary of "Purple Rain." Really. Straight-up "Huggy Bear." There's just no way to put it in print, except to say that if he tried that sh*t in Harlem he'd get killed. Of course, Beyonce was coming at the racial middle from the other side, because she had Charo's hairdo.

2. Dave Matthews sounding like a scalded cat while trying to sing "When I Saw Her Standing There." I mean, having just watched "American Idol" recently -- to mock it, not because I care about it, no really -- Simon Cowell would have rung the gong on that guy. And I like Dave Matthews.

 7:24 PM

Thursday, February 05, 2004

In the past, I've written about how fond I am of XM Radio, the no-commercials satellite radio service. They've just done a channel shake-up. On the whole, it's a good thing -- though they got rid of "Special X," my favorite channel, the one where they would play the weirdest things you've ever heard, like Walter Brennan records. No great loss, because it was better in theory than in practice. I mean, when I'm at work, I don't ever just tune in the "Walter Brennan" channel for a laugh.

But XM has added a new channel called "Lucy" that profoundly disturbs me. Here's the summary:

"Alternative music is nearing its 25th year and where XM's Fred mines the library for the deep stuff, Lucy will focus solely on the biggest, most important songs in Alternative's history. 100% hits from the late 70's Bowie through the New Wave and Grunge eras to the defining songs of the late 90's. One after another... nothing but the monsters of Alternative."

Let me rewrite that for you, without the marketing hype:

"Generation X gets an 'Oldies' station all its own."

Let me explain this to you. Gen X does not need an "oldies" station yet. "Oldies" is for Boomers, who just can't let go of the sixties and seventies. Gen X is cutting-edge. Hardcore. We may wear suits and go to bed at 9:30 these days, and we may have one-year-olds, but we haven't sold out to The Man or anything.

You don't need to cater to us, as if our tastes are out of date. It's not that we're not cool anymore, it's that the music these days sucks. I mean, who wants to listen to that crap? It's all a bunch of noise. No, wait, don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking all of it -- I'm still cool, I like "Hey Ya" and that new song by those guys -- but I mean, the good music is all... it's all...

Hrm.

Come to think of it, the best song I've heard in a while is "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything."

 8:52 AM

Monday, February 02, 2004

Oh, by the way. Bad year for commercials, as you can see for yourself. The "shards of glass icepop" commercial was cute, as was the "Fed Ex" alien shipping spot. But the best of all didn't even air during the Super Bowl. Hie thee to reebok.com, where you can see the most recent entry in the "Terry Tate: Office Linebacker" series: "Sensitivity Training." The 30 sec. "Terry Tate" commercial from last year has morphed into a 3 1/2 minute "film" that's well worth watching.

And, for those of you who are keeping score at home: MTV says it was an accident, CBS says it was an accident and was MTV's fault, Justin Timberlake says it was a "wardrobe failure" (though he deliberately tore off the panel), Janet Jackson says they came up with it at final rehearsal and didn't tell anyone at MTV, America says "what the hell is MTV doing hiring Janet Jackson to sing 'Rhythm Nation'?" Look for this dispute to affect the primaries tomorrow, because I suspect Lieberman is going to take a strong anti-titty stance.

And has anyone else noticed that the right-wing spin machine is frantically trying to turn the Kay report into an "intelligence community" failure? As if Dubya was just as fooled as everyone else? Don't buy it -- there are good reasons to flip off the right wing spin machine here and here and here and here.

 8:18 PM
On behalf of my city, Houston, The Big Sticky, I would like to thank all of you who attended this year's Super Bowl. We aspired to be good hosts, and we did exactly that: we showed you a close game, indoor fireworks, and Janet Jackson's titty.

Now, don't let I-10 hit you in the ass on the way out.

 8:45 AM

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