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Archive for August, 2007

And, Whoa, My Nights are so long.

In the big news this past week, the wheels continue to come off over at Team Dubya. First Karl Rove jumped ship. Then Tony Snow told us he’ll be off soon to make some money. And now, at long last, Alberto Gonzales has announced his resignation as Attorney General. “[W]ithin the past week, Justice aides and other officials said, Gonzales concluded that his credibility with Congress, his employees and the public was so shattered that he could not promise to remain through the end of Bush’s term, as the White House chief of staff had demanded of Cabinet officers.” Well, that, and there’s the matter of continuing investigations into Gonzales, which the Dems say will continue (and should, since there’s solid evidence he’s perjured himself.) At any rate, good riddance, Gonzales. Like too many Dubya appointments, you’ve embarrassed the nation, with your justifications for torture and illegal wiretapping as much as with your tortured evasions and denials. Frankly, this should’ve happened months ago.

Two Years After Katrina.

A lot of people down here probably wondered whether or not those of us in the federal government not from Louisiana would pay attention to Louisiana or Mississippi…And I hope people understand we do. We’re still paying attention. We understand.” Dubya marks the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina by mouthing platitudes in New Orleans, claiming “this town is better today than it was yesterday. And it’s going to be better tomorrow than it was today” (He might have more credibility on this if he hadn’t said the same thing about Iraq for four years and running.) Says TIME’s Michael Grunwald of Dubya’s claim: “Many of the same coastal scientists and engineers who sounded alarms about the vulnerability of New Orleans long before Katrina are warning that the Army Corps is poised to repeat its mistakes — and extend them along the entire Louisiana coast. If you liked Katrina, they say, you’ll love what’s coming next.” And see also Looka’s evaluation of how far we — haven’t — come in the two years since this man-made disaster. It’s shameful.

Straight Outta Wellington.

Bret? Present. Jemaine? Present. Murray? Present. Good…Everyone’s present and accounted for as HBO renews Flight of the Conchords for a second season (along with more Entourage.) Due to Deadwood, I tried valiantly, but I could never grok David Milch’s puzzling and pretentious John from Cincinnati all that much. And, so far, the much-praised Mad Men and Damages are just filling up DVR space — I haven’t broken into them yet. But, I do love me some Flight of the Conchords these days, and am glad to see Bret and Jemaine getting more run. It’s Business Time.

Spaced Invaders.

So, in the midst of last week’s somber news, I followed my usual routine when needing to unwind and caught a double feature with a friend. The second film we saw was Superbad. The first was…well, super-bad. Oliver Hirschbiegel’s The Invasion, the fourth movie version of Jack Finney’s science fiction novel The Body Snatchers, is, alas, a trainwreck. Apparently, somewhere along the line, the studio got the sense they had a stinker on their hands, and brought on the venerable brothers Wachowski to try to salvage the patient. Well, whoever’s to blame — and it’s probably all involved, since it feels so much like a movie-by-committee — the result is an ill-thought-out mishmash of stock tropes, bad ideas, and warmed-over elements from The Matrix. As filmed, The Invasion barely makes any sense, and it brims over with unnecessary car crashes, obligatory cute-kid scenes, and some of the clunkiest sci-fi exposition I’ve ever heard in a big-budget film. That being said, I have to admit I did sorta enjoy myself through the film in a so-bad-it’s-good kinda way, even if I felt sorry for otherwise-quality stars Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, and Jeffrey Wright for having to churn their way through this morass.

To be honest (and perhaps like other recent invasions that come to mind), The Invasion actually peaks at the very beginning. Trying to fend off a sleep-dep delirium amid a sea of fluorescent flat caffeine lights, a scared, haggard Nicole Kidman (inasmuch as she can seem haggard — she looks great in this movie, even for her) furiously scans the back room of a ransacked pharmacy for the remaining uppers, amphetamines, and assorted other go-pills. Before we know what’s going on, we then cut to convincing CNN coverage of a space shuttle tragedy, which occurred during an unplanned re-entry and which has strewn wreckage across the continental United States. Enter government fixer Jeremy Northam to inspect the scene, and the trouble begins. After cutting his hand on a piece of the aforementioned wreckage, Northam returns home to his live-in girlfriend (Malin Ackerman, soon of The Watchmen), establishes he has an ex-wife and child somewhere, and promptly falls asleep…and you can probably guess what that means. (Ack! Merchant-Ivory Pod Person!)

We then cut over to Kidman, who it seems, is a Washington D.C. psychologist with a relentlessly adorable kid, a hunky doctor boyfriend (Craig — sadly for The Golden Compass, the two don’t show much chemistry here), and an accent borrowed from Kyra Sedgwick on The Closer. Over the next few days, Kidman slowly discerns that her ex-husband, her patients (and their spouses), her neighbor’s kid, and varied other D.C. denizens are starting to act curiouser and curiouser — They’re calm, flat, level-headed, magnanimous…assuredly not the usual Inside-the-Beltway mentality. And, as this virus of clear thinking spreads (in a rather unseemly fashion — don’t drink the water), Kidman, Craig, cute-kid, Craig’s colleague Basil Exposition (Jeffrey Wright, slumming it), and the dwindling host of honest-to-goodness humanity must negotiate their way though a tightening noose of epidemic protocols and cordons sanitaire, all designed to catch those among us who would continue to display their emotional baggage in public. We’re coming to get you, Oprah…

More than even most sci-fi parables, Invasion of the Body Snatchers has always been grist for keen cultural commentary, from the sinister spectre of Communist infiltration and/or McCarthyist paranoia haunting the 1956 version to the rising tide of Reaganism evident in the 1978 Donald Sutherland remake. (I never actually saw the 1993 Abel Ferrara one with Gabrielle Anwar, but I’m going to presume it’s there too.) And this version is no exception, although what it’s actually trying to get at is more confused. There’s a running gag throughout the movie — funny at first, overdone by the end — that the world as run by Pod People is a kindler, gentler one, where Iran and North Korea voluntarily disarm, Bush passes universal health care, and the Mideast Conflict just sorta settles itself. Or, put another way, the Others Nicole Kidman is facing this time around are exactly the sort of people she’s been trying to fashion as a psychiatrist — bland, innocuous entities that have been over-prescribed into a flat, emotionless stupor, with all their edges taken off. (I’d also like to think that Kidman fighting aliens from outer space who threaten to take over our brains and make psychiatry redundant is a wry parting shot at her ex-husband’s Scientology, but I’m probably reading into it.)

But that subtext, which could’ve made for a wry, subversive little flick, gets confused by all the other elements brought in (to say nothing of the interminable car crashes, “save the child!” pandering, and out-of-nowhere chase scenes thrown about.) Instead, The Invasion spends a lot of time dabbling in epidemic hysteria, an immune-carrier subplot done better in the far superior 28 Weeks Later, and what feels like leftover material from The Matrix. (Kidman finds that, while most authority figures seems to have lapsed into Pod Peopledom quite early, a few other citizens, usually African-American, are also managing to live “under the radar.” This would be quite a clever conceit, if we hadn’t so recently seen the exact same point made as the heart of The Matrix.)

But, most importantly, The Invasion is just terribly written. Different strokes for different folks, of course, but I’d beware anyone who doesn’t cringe at the Czech dinner party scene or the horrible telegraphing involved in the adrenaline needle sequence. And watch out for those who don’t restrain guffaws during Kidman and Craig’s discussion of a possible antidote, or, for that matter, anytime poor Jeffrey Wright has to open his mouth and spew forth another dubious “tachyon field”-type explanation for recent events. They may just be Pod People.

Stay Frosty.

Another recent trailer: 20th Century Fox tries to reestablish two botched franchises with a not-inconsiderable smattering of gore in the new red-band preview for Alien vs. Predator: Requiem. After embarrassing themselves with the last one, which I could only sit through about twenty minutes of on HBO, I highly doubt I’ll be paying money for this, even despite my fondness for the original Alien films. (Which reminds me, that Ellen Ripley DirecTV ad kinda makes me feel sad inside.)

Craig’s Lust.

As you’ve probably heard, Idaho Senator and GOP “family values” conservative Larry Craig was recently arrested for disorderly conduct, i.e. attempting to solicit an undercover cop for sex in a bathroom, at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. I don’t usually cover sex scandals here — for example, I didn’t post on Sen. David Vitter’s recent foibles when they emerged, even despite the patent hypocrisy of his case. That being said, the Craig case is starting to look like Mark Foley territory, in that his bad behavior may help the Dems pick up a seat in the formidably Republican bastion of Idaho. At the very least, let’s remember all this the next time the GOP tries to foment a constitutional crisis over illicit, consensual sex. Update: Sensing the blood in the water, the GOP pile on. If Craig does resign, Idaho’s GOP governor will pick a replacement (and, presumably, save the seat.)


A tour to look out for: The freewheeling Bob Dylan is, as ever, on the road, but this September and October he’s bringing along Elvis Costello to boot. I’ve seen Bob a lot, and I’ve seen Elvis, but seeing ’em back-to-back should be more fun than you can shake a stick at. (I’m definitely going to the Bridgeport, CT show…undecided about Albany.)

Old Man, Look at Your Life.

Sorry, Harvey: Javier Bardem’s sinister Anton Chigurh has stolen your signature move… Two new trailers for the Coens’ much-anticipated No Country for Old Men, based on the (solid) Cormac McCarthy novel and starring Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Kelly MacDonald, Garret Dillahunt, and Stephen Root, are now online at the official site.

My Father’s Father.

Charles Francis Murphy, 1923-2007. Yesterday (which was also my mom and dad‘s 40th wedding anniversary, and the eighth anniversary of my own, briefer nuptials), my grandfather passed away at the age of 84. A former miner and longtime veteran of the US Geological Survey, for whom he worked as a cartographer for the bulk of his career, Grandpa spent his life making maps and friends all over this great big nation, before settling down in Lovettsville, VA, and later, New Bern, NC. Father of six children and grandfather to eighteen, he and my grandmother enjoyed their 63rd wedding anniversary this past February. He will be missed.

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