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Archive for May, 2006

Volz comes clean.

“David was kind of the brains of the operation.” In the continuing trial of David Safavian, flipped Casino Jack flunky Neil Volz testifies to explain how the Abramoff operation courted — and was courted by — its “champions.”‘When I was on Capitol Hill, I was given tickets to sporting events, concerts, free food, free meals,’ he testified. ‘In return, I gave preferential treatment to my lobbying buddies.’

Twisted Reed.

In related news, another member of Team Abramoff, former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed, runs into more campaign trouble, this time involving his 1999 attack on proposed federal wage and worker laws in the Marianas Islands. “‘The radical left, the Big Labor Union Bosses, and Bill Clinton want to pass a law preventing Chinese from coming to work on the Marianas Islands,’ the mailer from Reed’s firm said. The Chinese workers, it added, ‘are exposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ’ while on the islands, and many ‘are converted to the Christian faith and return to China with Bibles in hand.’ A year earlier, the Department of the Interior — which oversees federal policy toward the U.S. territory — presented a very different picture of life for Chinese workers on the islands. An Interior report found that Chinese women were subject to forced abortions and that women and children were subject to forced prostitution in the local sex-tourism industry.

Pocket full of Kryptonite.

The third trailer for Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, which you may have seen before X3 over the weekend, is now online.

The Flowering of Magnolia Conservatism.

“Lyndon Johnson was probably right to fret about the political consequences of civil rights. And even he, who knew more about the intricacies of Southern politics than any 20th-century president, could not have known how complicated the future would be.” By way of Cliopatria, Jefferson Decker, a former managing editor of Boston Review and one of my friends and colleagues here at Columbia, takes a look at two new books on the rise of the Republican Party in the South: Kevin Kruse’s White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism and Matthew Lassiter’s The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South.

Judge Dread.

“‘There’s been a quiet, silent revolution going on,’ Carp said in an interview. ‘If you’re a conservative, you’re going to say, “Thank God.” If you’re a liberal, you’re going to put your hands over your head and say it’s a nightmare.’” By way of my friend Mark, CQ’s Kenneth Jost laments the Dubya judiciary.

Eccch, Man.

Mutie alert: Despite a few all-too-brief glimpses of a better (or at least more enjoyable) movie scattered therein, Brett Ratner’s X3: The Last Stand is, as the fanboy nation suspected, a truly terrible film. In fact, with the possible exception of Ian McKellen hamming his way through Magneto, it’s hard to think of anyone who brought above their C-game to this woeful project — the directing is workmanlike, the effects look cheap, the shots have that Canadian backlot look to them, the score is hamhanded and distracting, the actors seem bored, and, worst of all, the script is flat-out embarrassing. What’s more, if you harbor any affection for the comic (and particularly the Dark Phoenix arc ostensibly in play here, although it’s been cross-wired with Joss Whedon’s early run), you’ll probably just leave irritated. In short, X3 is just the type of lowest-common-denominator, dumbed-down rush job that gives both summer movies and comic movies a bad name: Think Fantastic Four.

Compounding the aggravation, X3 seems like it might turn out reasonably decent for the first ten minutes or so. The film begins with two flashbacks: The more interesting one, although it steals much of its subtext from Raimi’s Spiderman, involves a teenage Angel trying to clip his wings (the other features not-quite-ready-for-primetime de-aging CGI.) But then we’re thrust into a really clunky Danger Room sequence, involving Sentinels that have all the terrible grandeur of an industrial-strength flashlight and a Corman-esque Colossus that screams straight-to-video. (Apparently, the Danger Room was built in Professor Xavier’s Bargain Basement.) And, from there, it’s just down, down down. As it turns out, Worthington industries (run by Michael Murphy of Tanner), with the acquiescence of the President (a man who’s prone to looking into the camera and exclaiming “God…help…us.” whenever needed) has, as per Whedon, created a “cure” for mutants, prompting outrage (Storm, Halle Berry), confusion (Beast, Kelsey Grammer), relief (Rogue, Anna Paquin), and righteous megalomania (Magneto, McKellen) among the varied facets of mutantkind. Meanwhile, as tensions mount and the timely metaphors fly thick, a bedraggled Cyclops (James Marsden) ventures out to Alkali Lake — site of the climax of X2 — where he, surprisingly, encounters Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) alive and well. Ok, maybe not well…

As you can see, X3 is playing with at least two quality story arcs out of the X-Men canon here, so you’d think it’d just have to ride them through. But, alas, screenwriters Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn — who, make no bones about it, deserve the lion’s share of blame for this drek — go crazier than Chris Claremont in his post-Mutant Massacre burnout phase. (Speaking of mutant massacres, no less than [Major Movie-Ruining Spoiler] SIX major characters — Cyclops, Xavier, Mystique, Magneto, Jean Grey, Rogue — are eliminated by the end of this flick, which, even given the lax standards one must accord this universe, seems both ridiculously brutal and exceedingly lazy writing.) Virtually everybody here — and particularly Xavier and Magneto — has at least one speech, quip, or action that seems totally out-of-character. (For her part, Halle Berry plays Storm as if she were Halle Berry.) Neither the good guys nor bad guys’ plans make one lick of sense. And, even despite all the X-Men on hand here, the film is overflowing with undifferentiated throwaway characters who all look and act like tattoo-riddled redshirts.

By the way, did I mention this film looks cheap? Oh, hell yes. Beast looks like a cross between a Metallica roadie and an alien on a Sci-Fi channel miniseries. Dark Phoenix — who, by the way, not once exhibits a phoenix flame — instead occasionally unleashes the terrifying cosmic force of scrubbly bubbles (a la the distintegrating vampires in Blade.) And the wire-fu…oof, it’s just plain sad. So, is there anything good here? Well, very briefly, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones), Madrox (Eric Dane), Moira (Olivia Williams)…that’s about it, and it all totals about ten minutes of screen time. In short, after the surprisingly delectable heights of Bryan Singer’s X2 (Nightcrawler in the White House, Magneto’s escape), this film is at best a tremendous disappointment, and at worst an insult to the fan base. If this and FF is how Avi Arad and Marvel have decided to treat their best (non-Spiderman) properties from now herein, make mine DC.

Undiscovered Country.

“Right here is the essence of Malick’s existential outlook: the utter inconsequence of our short lives compared to the ancient landscape we inhabit and aim to conquer…The achievement of The New World is not to evoke a paradise lost, but to conjure the terrible beauty of the one we remain intent on destroying.” In another rave for an overlooked gem of 2005, Slate‘s Benjamin Strong ruminates on the “subtle greatness” of Malick’s New World.

Regrets, We’ve Had a Few.

Saying, ‘Bring it on’; kind of tough talk, you know, that sent the wrong signal to people. I learned some lessons about expressing myself maybe in a little more sophisticated manner, you know. ‘Wanted, dead or alive’; that kind of talk. I think in certain parts of the world it was misinterpreted. And so I learned from that.” In a joint press conference, Dubya and Tony Blair own up to some mistakes in Iraq, including Abu Ghraib — “the biggest mistake“, according to Dubya — and de-Baathification, according to Blair. “The prime minister’s examples appeared to be a direct rebuke of both the Pentagon’s insistence that a detailed “nation-building” plan was unnecessary before the invasion and the push by key members of Bush’s administration for broad de-Baathification.

The Tragical History of Doctor Fristus.

“One Saturday night, Karyn recalled, ‘we were supposed to go to a movie. He walked out in his scrubs.’ Instead of taking Karyn to the theater, Frist brought her to the operating room. ‘To see the human body alive — without a heart in it.'” I’ll admit to getting a ridiculous amount of run out of the Catkiller Frist meme over the past few years., and sometimes I’ve even wondered if it’s a cheap shot. But then my sister Tessa e-mailed me this “heartwarming” puff piece about Senator Frist, and good God, the man is a certifiable freak show. “‘In medical school, Frist cut out a dog’s heart and held it in his palm. It continued to beat for a slippery minute. ‘Watching it beat, the beauty of it,’ Frist recalled. ‘I decided I would spend my life centered around the heart.’” Um….what? This guy is our Senate Majority Leader? “During congressional breaks, Frist, 54, has been known to fly to Africa to operate.” I shudder to think.

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