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Archive for November, 2010

Cackling into the Night.

“‘The idea is to use these fragments of cut scenes and use CGI to have The Joker appear one last time,’ a source explained. ‘Chris wants some continuity between movies and for the franchise to pay tribute to Heath and his portrayal of the Joker.‘”

Take for what it worth, but a New Zealand paper is reporting that Chris Nolan will give Heath Ledger’s Joker one final bow at some point in The Dark Knight Rises. “‘It would only be a fleeting moment in the movie and would only be included with the full consent of Heath’s family,’ the source added.” Perhaps an after-the-final-credits flourish? Update: Or not. “‘That’s all wrong,’ said the writer-director.

TDW: Some Witches Found at Last.


These are also times where all of us are called on to make some sacrifices. And I’m asking civil servants to do what they always do and play their part.” Ah, now we shall touch the bottom of this swamp!

So it seems the deficit witchhunt has found some folks who float like a duck in the form of civilian federal (i.e., non-military and non-congressional) workers. (Burn, witches!) And so, in the name of austerity and the New Bipartisanship, the President has announced a federal pay freeze for the next two years, and implored the tattered remnants of OFA to play along. (Sadly, this isn’t even the most ridiculous message OFA has sent out this month.)

Now, according to the normal, Keynesian (i.e., reality-based) understanding of economics, cutting pay for workers — yes, Virginia, even those lazy, self-entitled public-sector workers — is a regressive move during a bad economy: It further hurts purchasing power. This is one of the reasons why Dems opposed the idea a few months ago.

But, of course, sacrifices must be made to appease the Deficit Gods, and this move will save about $60 billion over ten years. So if the economy takes a minor hit, and if it pushes some of the more talented help out of the government and into, say, government-contracting (where Uncle Sam will then pay out considerably more for the same work), well, that’s just the cost of finally getting Serious about the deficit.

Besides, one might argue, this pay freeze is just basic fairness. As the president himself said, “Lower-skilled workers are slightly overpaid relative to the private sector. And that’s not surprising, because it’s a unionized workforce.” Those dastardly unions!

Oh, wait, did I mention — also as part of the New Bipartisanship — the president laid the groundwork for capitulating on the Dubya tax breaks for the wealthiest 2%? This executive folding — and, really, who could’ve seen this coming? — will cost us $700 billion over the next ten years — That’s over 11 times more than the money ostensibly saved.

So, if you’re doing the math at home, folks, that means, taken together: We’ve cut millions of workers’ pay in the midst of a fragile economy. We’ve once again reified dumb GOP talking points about Big Guvmint jobs. And we’ve added $640 billion to the deficit, theoretically the reason for doing all of this in the first place. But, hey, the president looks bipartisan, and at least we drowned us a few witches. So, there’s that.

Update: See also Krugman: “Yep, that’s exactly what we needed: a transparently cynical policy gesture, trivial in scale but misguided in direction, and in effect conceding that your bitter political opponents have the right idea.

Update 2: And what are the fruits of the New Bipartisanship? Well, really, what did you expect? The fetal position fallacy strikes again.

Enemy of the State.


“‘To the extent there are gaps in our laws,’ Holder continued, ‘we will move to close those gaps, which is not to say…that anybody at this point, because of their citizenship or their residence, is not a target or a subject of an investigation that’s ongoing.

After another embarrassing document dump by Wikileaksthis time diplomatic cables, next time Bank of America? — Attorney General Holder threatens the prosecution of Julian Assange, an Australian citizen — most likely under the Espionage Act, the same catch-all 1917 law used to lock up Eugene Debs back in the day.

First of all, Gawker‘s John Cook has already explained why this attempted line of prosecution doesn’t work. However docile the “nation’s watchdogs” remain on any other given day, the newspapers that published these leaks would have to be considered co-conspirators in any Espionage Act-related indictment. “We think its fairly obvious that the Department of Justice won’t go after the Times or any of the other papers involved in the story. But if it doesn’t, that’s just evidence that its attempt to use the Espionage Act to go after Assange isn’t about enforcing laws: It’s about retribution, harassment, and rattling sabers.

Secondly, if Assange wants to avoid federal prosecution, perhaps he should just…I dunno…torture somebody? Or maybe rip off the American people for trillions of dollars? Or how ’bout just spying on Americans via warrantless wiretap? Apparently, disclosing those kinds of secrets is one of those look-forward-not-backward kinda things.

Let’s get real here. There’s no threat to our troops in these leaks — Even the Pentagon admits that. (A more overlooked problem, as a friend pointed out, is what this leak might mean for human rights workers.) Wikleaks’ methods are of the blunderbuss variety, yes. (That probably speaks in their favor: They don’t seem to tailor their leaks to suit a predetermined spin. They just dump data. And, hey, somebody should be doing the media’s job.) And, sure, Assange comes off as more than a bit pretentious, but what of it? If being a jackass were a crime, our prison system in this country would be completely broken…oh wait, it already is.

In the end, as Glenn Greenwald well put it, “our government and political culture is so far toward the extreme pole of excessive, improper secrecy that that is clearly the far more significant threat.” You’d think an administration that ran on unparalleled transparency in government might feel the same way. But, sadly, like its predecessor, the only crime this administration really seems to hate is whistleblowing.

The Clown and the Ringmaster.


‘I am serious,’ Nielsen replies. ‘And don’t call me Shirley.’ The line was probably his most famous — and a perfect distillation of his career.” First dramatic, then comic actor Leslie Nielsen, 1926-2010. (See also Matt Zoller Seitz’s appreciation.)

I’d say he was probably the most successful versatile director in Hollywood. He could do just about anything really well, from science fiction to cult thrillers to domestic dramas to westerns to romantic comedies.” To, of course, Star Wars films. Director Irvin Kershner, 1923-2010. (The great Kershner pic above via Quint at AICN.)

The World they Made.

When historians look back to the moment when the post-Cold War reign of American power ended, they may well settle on 2010 as a crucial year. Everywhere, it seemed, there were signs that the long-predicted “rise of the rest” had finally occurred, whether in the newfound assertiveness of fast-growing China or the impatient diplomacy of new powers like Brazil and Turkey. Foreign Policy’s second annual list of the Top 100 Global Thinkers fully reflects that new world.

As above, Foreign Policy has picked its Top 100 Global Thinkers of the year. And, while there are some really atrocious choices on here (for example, the man at #33, who much more deservingly made the list in the next entry too), the article is worth a perusing regardless. (FWIW, #65, #68, and #80 seem really iffy to me as well.)

Pundits, Heal Thyselves.

The War Room Hack Thirty is a list of our least favorite political commentators, newspaper columnists and constant cable news presences, ranked roughly (but only roughly) in order of awfulness and then described rudely. Criteria for inclusion included writing the same column every week for 30 years, war-mongering, joyless repetition of conventional wisdom, and making bad puns.

Another enjoyable and illuminating recent list: Salon‘s Alex Pareene chooses America’s thirty most hackadocious pundits. The sad thing is, not only is every entrant on this list more than deserving of the scorn they receive here, but Pareene could easily have knocked the list up to fifty pundits with absolutely no diminution in lack-of-quality.

For Once, Accountability.

“‘This case is a message from the people of the state of Texas that they want – and expect – honesty and ethics in their public officials,’ said Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. ‘All people have to abide by the law.‘”

Some heartening news that dropped over Thanksgiving vacation: A jury of his peers found Boss DeLay guilty of money-laundering. “Punishment for the first ranges from five years to life in prison, but the former congressman from the Houston suburb of Sugar Land could receive probation…Reporters in the courtroom described DeLay as stunned by the verdict, which came after 19 hours of deliberation.

At this point, I’m cynical enough to think that DeLay will eventually find a way to get this conviction overturned on appeal — particularly given the fact that his defense began with a huge blunder. Still, at least for one day, it was great to hear that Boss DeLay was finally called out for his crimes.

Nowhere is Safe.


When reading the seventh and final Harry Potter tome in 2007, my sense was it felt more like a scriptment than a novel, and, tho’ often clunky as a book, it would probably work better as a movie a few years down the road. And, hey, I was right! (At least so far.) Even though it’s only half the story, and the leisurely camping half at that, David Yates’ Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Part I is easily one of the best films in the series — perhaps the best, if you prefer your Potter relentlessly dark. (I know Cuaron’s Azkhaban has a following, but for me the real competition is Mike Newell’s Goblet of Fire.)

A hardy veteran of Dumbledore’s army at this point — this is his third Potter film in a row after Order of the Phoenix and the Half-Blood Prince — Yates has taken the often-unwieldy wanderings of the first half of Hallows and fashioned a lean, tense, and gripping fugitive story out of them. Better yet, he’s brought a much more palpable sense of danger and darkness to the proceedings. When I read the book, I missed Hogwarts most of the time and wondered why our heroes had to spend so much time camping. Here, the lack of Hogwarts goes unnoticed, and it’s abundantly clear why Harry, Ron, and Hermione spend so much time on the lam — They’re totally under the gun…er, wand.

That may be the part that rankles some of the youngest viewers out there, or their parents — From the creepier-than-usual Warner Brothers card on, the gloom here is unrelenting, and almost sadistic. Hallows begins with a Great Eye — that of the Minster of Magic (Bill Nighy), who’s making a Churchillian attempt to rally the wizarding world against the encroaching forces of Voldemort. (Good luck with that.) The Dark Lord (Ralph Fiennes), meanwhile, is entertaining his Death Eater shock-troops with a banquet at the Malfoys — one punctuated by the torture and eventual murder of Hogwarts’ Professor of Muggle Studies. She dies pleading for clemency from her former colleague, Severus Snape. (Clearly, she was new to academe.)

The Big Three are no happier. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is packing up and hiding the Dursleys somewhere safe from harm — It’s gotten so bad that he’s even nostalgic about his old room under the stairs. Hermione (Emma Watson) has resorted to wiping her Muggle parents’ minds of her existence. And Ron (Rupert Grint)…well, ok, like his older brothers, Ron is still a bit of a goof (at least until his arm almost gets ripped off in a freak disapparating accident later on.) And this, Ron’s injury notwithstanding, is all before Mad-Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson) shows up at 4 Privet Drive with an army of returning cast members — or, as anyone who’s read the book knows, cannon fodder.

Granted, these supporting characters aren’t exactly Redshirts — we know most of them from the first six movies. Still, here is one of the situations where, to my mind, the movie rubs up against the limitations of the source material. There’s a line in Red Letter Media’s worthy evisceration of The Phantom Menace where the narrator makes the very valid point: “Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi should have been combined into one character named…Obi-Wan Kenobi.” The same goes for the Potterverse.

By here in Book 7, several thousand pages into the tale of young Mr. Potter, the story is now totally crufted over with narrative stuff. Dozens of characters are running around already, and yet Hallows seems to pile on more every time our heroes get in a jam. (For example, Harry gets a tip from an old journalist friend of Dumbledores, whom we’ve never met, to go visit an old historian friend of Dumbledore’s, whom we’ve never met. Couldn’t one of these just have been Jim Broadbent’s Slughorn, from Book Six?)

We’re equally overstuffed here with magical Maguffins — Seven horcruxes and three hallows, not to mention three gifts from Dumbledore and various other wonderful toys, like Harry’s watchful mirror, Hermione’s infinite knapsack, and a steady supply of Polyjuice Potion. With so many magical items in play, the ground rules get fuzzy, and the sense of danger takes a hit. (Then again, they’re fuzzy anyway — Where can and can’t House elfs go again? And why aren’t our team using that highly convenient Room of Requirement from Book 5 to solve all of their problems?)

Still, one definite bright side of having so many populating the Potterverse is that the series continues to be a welcome full-employment program for British thespians. Bill Nighy and Rhys Ifans (as Xenophilius Lovegood, Luna’s dad) are the most prominent additions to the cast, but there are other fun faces joining the party this time, including David O’Hara (Braveheart) as Harry’s face in the Ministry, Guy Henry (Extras, Rome‘s Cassius) as Voldemort’s puppet minister, and Peter Mullan (Children of Men, Red Riding) as the Death Eater head of security.

On this front, the series is now an embarrassment of riches. When the likes of John Hurt and Miranda Richardson have all of fifteen seconds of screen time, and even the House elves are voiced by names like Simon McBurney (The Last King of Scotland, The Ghost Writer,) and Toby Jones (as Kreacher and Dobby respectively), you know you’ve got a heck of a cast on your ends. And the three kids have grown up to be no slouches in this department either. I can’t tell if they’re great actors, but they’re definitely very good at being Harry, Ron, and Hermione at this point.

So, in the end and despite its narrative over-packing, Deathly Hallows is an entertaining and scary ride with some very memorable setpieces. There’s an animated sequence late in the film that’s as beautiful and entrancing as anything we’ve seen in all seven movies thus far. And I was also fond of Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s assault on the Ministry, packed as it was sly allusions to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. (Note the big statue, the gaggle of hangers-on breezing by, and Mullan being a man consumed with paperwork.) There’s still a lot of camping here, sure, but at least this time it feels less like aimless meandering and more like an urgent necessity. Let’s hope Yates and co. can land this magical bird in as fun a fashion next July.

Story Matters on A(TV)C.


All in all, these AMC series remind me of American movies made in the early-to-mid-’60s, when Puritanical content restrictions were starting to break down and commercial films were embracing a new frankness, but filmmakers hadn’t yet gone into the ‘anything goes’ mode that dominated the final quarter of the 20th century…[A]s mid-’60s American film demonstrated, there’s more than one way to be ‘adult.’ AMC seems to have realized this and embraced it, and it’s one of the reasons the channel is flourishing.”

Salon‘s Matt Zoller Seitz (formerly of The House Next Door), sings the praises of AMC, home to Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and Rubicon. I watch all of those except Rubicon, which is still languishing on the DVR for the time being. (Now that it’s canceled, unfortunately, I may never get around to uncorking it. This was also the fate of Carnivale.) As for The Walking Dead, it’s seriously overwritten at times — the sisterly pow-wow about fishing at the top of Episode 4 was just embarrassing — but I’ll stick around through the first season at least.

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