The Knicks honor their 15-year man in the pivot as Patrick Ewing’s 33 is retired tonight at the Garden. Despite the diatribes by Jordan-jocking naysayers like David Halberstam, Ewing was truly one of the greats, along with Hakeem the best center of his generation. If Johnny Starks hadn’t stunk up Game 7 in ’94 or if David Stern hadn’t gotten suspension-happy in ’97 after PJ Brown (of the Heat) attacked Charlie Ward, we wouldn’t even be hearing all this no-title nonsense every time Pat’s name comes up. Ah well…I just wish Ewing could’ve finished his career in NY. However bad he looked in those last two seasons in Seattle and Orlando, he could’ve brought more to the Garden every night than Glen Rice and Luc Longley ever did…and we wouldn’t be saddled now with overpaid, underachieving players like Shandon Anderson and Howard Eisley. At any rate, so long, big fella. It’s your night. Update: Thanks to some triple-double heroics by Spree, the Knicks won in double OT on Ewing’s night. Other than the somewhat tacky gift of a 2003 Humvee, a nice night all around.
Slate examines the psychology of racist dogs. Fortunately, Berkeley doesn’t have this problem – he barks madly at anybody with the temerity to knock on my door, regardless of race (along with any random forces of evil passing through.)
As more and more Americans feel the bite of the Dubya dip, Bush’s polling numbers finally start falling back to Earth after their unnatural 9/11 levels. Betcha Karl Rove is on the phone with the Pentagon at this very moment.
Harry finds out directly from PJ what’s been holding up the rumored Return of the King trailer. Says M. Jackson, We’re not doing a ROTK trailer for the end of Two Towers like we did last year. The reason is that the TT extended DVD has been so complex this year, it would have taken too many resources away from trying to get that finished. The FOTR extended cut had 35 extra CG shots – the TT extended cut has over 150.” Ah well. The waiting is the hardest part, but at least it sounds like more Ents and more Gollum are in our future.
A very happy birthday to Berkeley, who turns three today. Since that’s 21 in dog years, I expect all kinds of shenanigans in the apartment this evening while I’m out tutoring.
Looks like they’re getting on even better than hoped. Making a sizable $14 million per pic (plus a cut of receipts), Vin Diesel plans to use his movie star muscle to secure co-star Judi Dench a much larger paycheck for her forthcoming work in the Pitch Black sequels.
Having appeased the DNC over the weekend, the Democratic field now set their sights on John Kerry, the current frontrunner. Intriguing to note that the former Gore cronies, like Edwards communications director David Ginsberg, have access to all the potential oppo research done for the 2000 veep decision…looks like the real nasty mud’ll be flying sooner rather than later.
Much to their chagrin, political party ops and fundraisers go to “school” to try and figure out how to navigate (around) McCain-Feingold. It’s kinda sad how many reps are quoted as saying variations of “Wow, if I had known this bill was really going to stop us from getting all that money, I never would have voted for it.”
Paul Berman of TNR writes on what Dubya could learn from Lincoln, explicitly refuting the Kagan “Power and Weakness” piece linked the other day. (For their part, National Review is offering up Madison instead.)
Follow the money…as it turns out, a six-figure GOP donor stood quite a bit to gain from Tom Ridge’s recent hawking of duct tape. (Via Medley.) Of course, if this type of thing had happened during Clinton’s watch, Dan Burton would have already opened a House investigation by now.
Historical Context, Part I: Or lack thereof. Gods and Generals has a lot of faults but this has to be the most grievous. I can’t believe it’s the twenty-first century and they’re still making major studio movies about the Civil War like this. You have to get three hours or so into this film (and trust me – a lot of the people in the theater never made it) before you hear anything suggesting that slavery might have something to do with this irreconcilable conflict. Until then, it’s basically all told from the Confederate point of view, with several variations of “No, sirrah, we will not let these vahl, dastahdly Yankees take from us our country” offered up every ten minutes.
Now a film from Johnny Reb’s POV might not necessarily have been the atrocity this film turned out to be if some outside context was added to offset the Confederate perspective. But you don’t get it here. Not only is Stonewall Jackson (the main character) portrayed as a godfearing man who tells his trusty, faithful black cook (more on this soon) that he hopes slavery will end someday, but you have various other Southerners proclaiming that slavery will soon die a natural death, as if the country had split in two only because a bullying North wanted to hasten the end of a dying institution. Obviously, this is not so. Eleven states did not secede from the Union because they thought slavery should die of its own accord. They seceded because slavery was thriving in the Cotton Kingdom as both an economic system and a means of racial control. As Alexander Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederacy, noted in March of 1861 (before the war broke out), “Our new government [the C.S.A.] is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”
Which brings us to race in Gods and Generals. Simply put, this film is shocking in its unnuanced depiction of African-Americans in the South – it’s amazing to me that this film ever got made in its present form. For one, the South seems almost universally white in almost all of the long-angle crowd shots (To be fair, this is Virginia, not South Carolina, and the ratio of blacks to whites would be considerably less than in the Lower South. But not this low.) Then you have the two African-American speaking parts – one a cook, the other a maid, both presumably slaves although I don’t remember it being mentioned. Both characters stick by their Southern masters through-and-through, congratulating them for their military successes and, in the latter case, defending her masters’ house from the rampaging Yankee hordes. You never get the sense that these or any other “loyal servants” might be hoping that the North wins the war, or that it was slave defection en masse that helped to bring an end to the Confederate war effort. As one reviewer noted, the portrayal of black Americans in this film makes Gone with the Wind seem like Do the Right Thing. To sum up, this version of events is SHAMEFUL.
Historical Context, Part II: Even putting these issues of ideological and racial context aside (and let me be clear – I for one don’t think you really can), Gods and Generals is a failure even on its own historical terms. What with the attention devoted in this film to three major battles – First Manassas, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville, it’s clear the movie is attempting to be a military-history-specific entrant in the standard, Ken Burns interpretation of the Civil War: Brother against Brother, Honor and Loyalty on both sides, blah blah blah. As a big fan of Bruce Catton’s military histories, this might have been enough for me if done well. But, for all the attention paid to brigade movements at certain engagements, or the smashing of Hooker’s flank at Chancellorsville, the macro-military history in this film is completely off. The movie jumps from the Union rout at the first Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) to Ambrose Burnside’s grievous screw-up at Fredericksburg. Which means that, even leaving aside the Western theater, the entire Peninsula campaign, the Battle of Seven Days, and most notably Antietam are NOT EVEN MENTIONED. It’s as if General George McClellan had never led the Union Army. I understand that you can only fit in so much in a four hour film (more on this soon), but at least make mention of the fact that a year and much war has taken place between two of the major setpieces. Why even bother with all the often seemingly-random descriptive subtitles of various brigades (more on these soon too) if you’re not going to bother mentioning the big picture? Even with regard to military history, this film takes place in a vacuum. In one of the few scenes on the Union side, the brothers Chamberlain mull over Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Fair enough, but never once does anybody say something along the lines of, “My goodness, we are kicking serious ass in the Western theater.” One would get the sense that Lee vs. the Army of the Potomac is the only game going, when it is in fact only the major piece in a much larger military story.
Gods and Generals as a Film: Even and despite all these glaring historical inaccuracies, the film still could have succeeded as a film. Take Gangs of New York, for example, which has all kinds of historical problems but still ended up being a reasonably entertaining film. But this film is just tedious and boring. I don’t really have any problems with the length in the abstract. A movie that will do justice to the first two years of the Civil War would need to be something like four hours long. It’s the choices made. On one hand, Abraham Lincoln is not in this picture(!) On the other, we get ten minutes of Confederate soldiers singing Christmas carols, twenty minutes of Stonewall Jackson conducting a near-inappropriate relationship with a five-year-old girl, TWENTY-FIVE minutes of Stonewall Jackson on his death bed (I can’t have been the only person thinking it might be nigh time to bring out a pillow and facilitate Stonewall’s passage to the Lord.) Even the battlefield scenes, which you could argue is the one thing that this film is decently good at, are too long. At Fredericksburg, the Union and Confederate Irish brigades go at it tearfully for so long that even I – an Irish-American interested in the Civil War – thought it was ponderous and overwrought. Deadly dull stuff here.
And then there’s the acting. First off, Robert Duvall as General Lee, while barely in the film, is quite good. Stephen Lang as Stonewall Jackson, given what he had to work with, is also decent. Jeff Daniels, C. Thomas Howell, and Matt Letscher – as Joshua Chamberlain, Tom Chamberlain, and Adelbert Ames respectively – all give convincing performances as fighting Maine men. Mira Sorvino was beautiful and erudite in her one ten minute appearance as Mrs. Chamberlain, even if she was inexplicably using a British accent straight out of a Merchant-Ivory film. And that’s about it. Otherwise, there are some seriously bad performances in this film, the worst possibly being Jeremy London of Mallrats as one of Stonewall’s staff. Some scenes, like the Virginia House of Burgesses moment at the start of the film, come off like third-rate Williamsburg. At other times, I felt like I was watching “The History of the Merton-Flemmer Building” in Being John Malkovich. Flat-out egregious, although to be fair this film relies on so many ridiculous stock-character tropes that some of the bad performances couldn’t be helped. I’ve already mentioned Stonewall’s loyal cook and the sickly five-year-old girl. Mention should also be made of the grizzled Irish veteran, who strangely decides to pal around with the officers all the time. Bad writing, bad acting, the whole nine – this film fails on every level, up to and including…
The Special Effects: Ok, I know one doesn’t go to a Civil War film for the FX. That being said, this film has absolutely, positively the worst special effects I’ve ever seen in a film costing more than $2 million. I don’t know who they paid to make them and for how much, but I could have done it for half and delivered a better product using Adobe Photoshop. Even at the very beginning of the film, before I realized what a stinker I was in for, I was wondering, “Hmm, that’s funny. Why do Washington and Harper’s Ferry look like Naboo?” Every establishing matte shot in the movie looks like it was colored in by a over-caffeinated eight-year-old. One scene early on has a computerized rippling flag which may be the single worst special effect in CGI history. And then there’s the far-angle battlefield scenes, which are honestly so bad I can’t believe they used them so much. Not only did the Union lines always look drawn in, but I swear the same three wounded soldiers keep straggling back. In every shot. Just laughable. Finally, the movie relies quite often on subtitles to explain who and what we’re looking at (and at least three times they described individuals or brigades that had no bearing on the rest of the story – probably a mistake on the editing floor, I guess.) Whomever made these ubiquitous subtitles, I don’t think they realized that their computer has more than one font. What they ended up using was this ugly typewriter font that looked not only awfully cheap and tagged-on but anachronistic. I’m telling you, pay me half of whatever you paid for this garbage and I could have given you some nice subtitles in Bookman Old Style or something. As it is, the fx and subtitles only further detract from a terrible film.
Wasn’t there anything good? Well, not really, no. I did appreciate WETA and MASSIVE’s fx work and PJ’s battlefield directing on LOTR: The Two Towers so much more after seeing Gods and Generals. And I guess there might be a few scenes throughout where you get the sense that this could just maybe have been a better movie. Jeff Daniels’ “Hail Caesar” pre-fight speech was well-delivered, and the standard behind-the-lines North-South goods exchange, when a Union soldier offers to trade General Burnside for a lame horse, was probably the only moment when I was laughing with the movie and not at it. But that’s about it.No, this movie is terrible. I gave it 1 star for some of the (non-fx) battlefield work, and half a star so nobody would misread (1/10) as (10/10). To sum up, Gods and Generals is awful. You have been warned.
The 2004 hopefuls prepare to kowtow before the DNC in what’s being billed as the “first big test” for the Democratic field (minus Kerry, who’s still recovering from prostate surgery.) Anyone else want to jump in before we get this party started? Feingold? Bradley?
Trouble at the Commish – Much to the chagrin of FCC Chairman Michael Powell, former Bush official and relatively new Commissioner Kevin Martin plays dealmaker in what amounts to a chaotic compromise on deregulation of the Baby Bells.
The casting powers-that-be over at Sony officially announce Alfred Molina as Dr. Octopus in The Amazing Spiderman. This isn’t bad casting at all, although I still think Stellan Skarsgaard or Phillip Seymour Hoffman (if he could be induced not to go too far over the top) would have been great fun. Also, the new, Michael Chabon-penned script is rumored to only feature Doc Ock here as the main villain – they have wisely decided to forego the Batman route and instead will use one Spidey arch-nemesis at a time. Update: In a similar long-rumored casting call, WB announces that Michael Gambon will play Dumbledore in the next Harry Potter film. With Gary Oldman, Timothy Spall, and most importantly Alfonso Cuaron, this one could be a definite improvement over the first two.
Used in section this week: J. Edgar Hoover hones his later anti-civil-rights strategy as the FBI goes after Marcus Garvey. (In fact, the first black FBI agent was hired by Hoover to infiltrate Garvey‘s UNIA…what a victory for progress.) Speaking of which, if you haven’t been reading Caught in Between lately, CiB’s been collecting superlative black history links all month long, including items on Reconstruction, the Middle Passage, Juneteenth, Lynching, Harlem, and the Dred Scott Decision, among others. All worth a look, in February as in any other month.
So the NBA trade deadline passed with only one mega-trade: Gary Payton for Ray Allen. I know the Glove is in his waning years, but I still think this is a great trade for Milwaukee, despite the point guard glut. GP is a out-and-out baller, and he single-handedly makes the Bucks serious contenders in the East. As for Seattle, they’re clearly calling this year off. The Knicks made no moves again, but I’m glad we didn’t pull the trigger on the rumored Spree-for-Cassell trade.
As you can see, I tweaked the look of GitM last night after updating to Movable Type 2.62. (Most people have the Tempus Sans ITC font, right?) I tried to go for a lighter look, but then had trouble finding a color scheme where the links didn’t glow unnaturally. At any rate, let me know if you find this harder to read. Also, does anyone out there have any favorable recommendations and/or horror stories regarding Trackback?
Hmmm…let’s see how Zen this dog is once we get some bacon in the room, or for that matter, when Berkeley starts yelping at him for absolutely no reason in particular. Then I’ll be impressed. (Sent via High Industrial.)
In the wake of STS-107, the NY Times examines the deteriorating institutional culture of NASA. As I said earlier, it’s this type of post-Columbia muckraking that might best help America get the space program back in order (although it’d be nice if the piece was less descriptive and more prescriptive, but oh well.)
Come on aboard, I promise you, you won’t hurt the horse… The Democratic field in 2004 continues to grow, with Senator Carol Moseley-Braun and Rep. Dennis Kucinich joining the ranks of the contenders. At this point, the more the merrier, I say – it’s just too bad a that frontloaded primary season is going to make it all about money in the end.
Kestrel’s Nest points out this extraordinary video for Johnny Cash’s version of NIN’s “Hurt”, which plays like an early eulogy for and from the Man in Black. (And sit down, Duvall. Cash is definitely more grizzled.) A powerful tribute to a lion in winter.
In the midst of finding the appropriate Knicks beat Lakers at home link, I discovered that ESPN.com’s gone hi-tech. I’m really not too big on registering for anything, of course, but since I’m there pretty much every day I’ll give the Motion bit its chance. Hopefully it’s more useful than the annoying Bottomline they were offering a few months ago.
“As Mankind becomes more liberal, they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protections of civil government. I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations of justice and liberality.” – George Washington
“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” – George Washington
“As the sword was the last resort for the preservation of our liberties, so it ought to be the first to be laid aside when those liberties are firmly established.” – George Washington
“Whenever I hear any one arguing for slavery I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.” – Abraham Lincoln
“People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.” – Abraham Lincoln
“It is not merely for to-day, but for all time to come that we should perpetuate for our children’s children this great and free government, which we have enjoyed all our lives.” – Abraham Lincoln
It is very, very cold.
Probably the biggest thrill of the Daredevil experience, the X2 trailer is now online. I’m not sure how they’re going to introduce all these characters enough for a layperson’s liking, but it looks like great fun for fans of the comic. Update: Faster than a Wolverine-Colossus fastball special and brighter than a Dazzler stage show, it’s now officially online in Quicktime.
A Texas Tech biology professor gets in hot war for refusing to recommend creationists for medical school. And as you might expect, the Ashcroft Justice Department stepped in. Pretty pathetic, really…I can’t believe this case will go anywhere. However you feel about creationism, we’re not talking about grades here – we’re talking about recs. A professor is well within his or her rights to refuse a recommendation to anyone he or she so desires. If Prof. Dini here thinks creationism and faith healing make lousy prerequisites for med school, then so be it…get a rec from the bible-thumping biology professor down the hall. And, as for the Justice Dept…well, if another student was denied a rec because she believed in the efficacy of bloodletting, would the Justice Department be getting involved? I doubt it. But somehow Ashcroft still finds time enough outside of spreading panic and buying duct tape futures to prosecute his theocratic agenda. Sad, sad, sad.
Former Authority scribe Mark Millar offers his vision for revamping Detective Comics. (Via Neilalien.) What with Marvel finally feeling the movie mojo (Daredevil notwithstanding), it’s kinda sad to see DC languish these days. I remember the days when DC/Vertigo were pretty much firing on every cylinder while the X-Men were dinking around the Australian outback and Marvel was trying to garner new readers by having the Secret Wars Beyonder traipsing around dressed like Phillip Michael Thomas. How the mighty have fallen.
I am very late to the table with this link, but oh well. A friend of mine in the department passed along this recent controversial essay, Robert Kagan’s “Power and Weakness”, on the philosophical underpinnings of foreign policy differences between Europe and the US today. I don’t agree with everything he has to say (the Morrison and Worley responses here point out some key flaws, for example – is all of transatlantic difference really reducible to a question of disparate power?), but it is food for thought nonetheless.
I can already see the sparks fly. Garth of Dark Horizons reports on the movie pairing you’ve all been waiting for: Vin Diesel and Dame Judi Dench. I know the Pitch Black sequels are set in space, but hopefully they can squeeze in a scene of the two of them simultaneously screaming from out the front windsheld of a car. In other Dark Horizons news, along the lines of K-19, director Kathryn Bigelow is now working on a historical film about the Scottsboro case, which could be quite interesting.
Since we’re discussing philosophy, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention those paragons of postmodernism, The Simpsons. On the eve of Springfield’s 300th episode, EW picks the top twenty-five episodes of all time (Via Listen Missy and this archetypal contrarian-for-the-sake-of-it Slate story.) In the spirit of Comic Book Guy, the fanboy sensei, I have actually amassed a sizable World of Springfield collection. I would put up a picture for you, but that would invite social humiliation [as with Foopster's now-lost reaction to this old desk pic posted years ago (6/19/00)], and my life already has too many Ralph Wiggum moments as it is, thank you very much. So I’ll leave it at this: Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie – here’s to another 300.
Ok, that’s enough love…now it’s time for hate. Celebrities ponder, Who could you take in a fight? (Seen all over the place, but I caught it first at Webgoddess, Lots of Co., and All About George, none of whom I feel like tussling with.) Whether it be due to Gaelic disposition, number of siblings, or a decade on the school bus, I’ll generally take all comers, be they right-wingers, warbloggers, or whomever made the terrible decision that [Daredevil SPOILERS] a wounded Ben Affleck could beat up Michael Clarke Duncan in three minutes of screen time. (He’s the Kingpin, for Pete’s sake. Fisk should’ve thrown him out the window immediately. Yet another problem in a disappointing film.) At any rate, if you want to throw down, leave a message here and we can meet behind the Piggly-Wiggly after school.
Happy Valentine’s Day to you and yours. I passed out all my LOTR Valentines this morning (although I kinda wish I’d gone Cthulhu) and am now off to see Daredevil. In the meantime, enjoy these unfortunate Valentines cards and have a great day!
Big news and bold statements are issuing forth from Greenbelt, MD. “We’ve now laid the cornerstone of a unified cosmic theory…We have not answered all the questions. But we’ve certainly turned a corner.” Thanks to NASA and the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), scientists now have visual evidence of the universe’s origins with which to test out all the prevailing cosmological theories. Great news! Not only is any new empirical data in this field a boon to science, but, if ridiculous amounts of new information are gleaned from just this one little probe…well, it won’t help NASA in the manned space department, but the agency could still use a few unmitigated victories these days. On another note, looking at this map brings back some old memories. For my high school science thesis (required at SCGSSM), I used similar COBE DMR data to figure out that early galaxies displayed a fractal distribution. (Hey, it was the early ’90′s – fractals were the rage.) I wonder if this new data bears out that old rinky-dink thesis.
As most everyone knows by now, the Oscars were announced yesterday, with Miramax the big winner. Like Missy, I’m tempted to just ignore the Academy, since very rarely have the movies I would’ve chosen been recognized. Titanic is the only Oscar winner in years that I think legitimately deserved best picture, and I know I’m in the minority on that count (particularly as it’s become fashionable nowadays for everyone to say they hated it. Well, somebody else out there helped it make a billion dollars.) It’s hard to respect an awards ceremony that continually honors schmaltzy dreck like The English Patient, American Beauty, Gladiator, and A Beautiful Mind over films like Fight Club, Fargo, Being John Malkovich, Three Kings, Traffic, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, LOTR: Fellowship of the Ring, and In the Bedroom. But, I suspect I’ll eventually make my picks here and then be disappointed as usual. All I know is, Return of the King better get a lot of love next year.