“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.)
“She knew that her husband was gun-running, she knew that he was accompanied by rebels and at one point she used her yacht to decoy government boats and aircraft away from the direction which her husband was taking.” The Dancer Upstairs? Newly-released documents suggest ballerina legend Margot Fonteyn was more active in a failed Panamanian coup than anyone knew at the time. Said Foreign Office Minister John Profumo (later of the Profumo scandal): “I had to pinch myself several times during her visit to be sure I wasn’t dreaming the comic opera story which she unfolded.”
This weekend seems to be the last lull before the summer-movie storm begins in earnest with Iron Man 2 next Friday. (I almost talked myself into Samuel Bayer’s Nightmare on Elm Street remake, out of a fondness for the original, before looking at the reviews and deciding that maintaining my perfect record of never throwing money at Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes was a better way to go.) Nonetheless, if you’re in the mood for some quality cinema, I highly recommend a film I saw last weekend, and the 2010 Best Picture winner, Juan Jose Campanella’s The Secret In Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos.)
At once a police procedural, political thriller, chaste love story, and remembrance of days past, Secret is a hard movie to categorize, but Dana Stevens’ concise summary at Slate — “Imagine a really long, really awesome episode of Law & Order set in Buenos Aires” — is a pretty good start. The thing is, Law & Order in Argentina, particularly ’round the time of the Dirty War, isn’t as black and white as it usually is in our 42-minute visits to the island realm of Jack McCoy and Adam Schiff. In Buenos Aires, as in life, everything gets complicated.
So, how to explain Secret? Well, I was reminded occasionally here of David Fincher’s Zodiac, in that the lingering case at the heart of the story drives some of our characters slightly mad. (The difference being, here an eventual resolution brings little comfort — There are still guilt, complicity, and consequences to contend with.) There’s a bravura sequence in a futbol stadium in the middle going which recalls some of the extended-shot marvels of Alfonse Cuaron’s Children of Men. There’s definitely some of The Wire‘s workingman’s blues and gallows humor here, and and as one of my friends noted, there’s also a good bit of The Remains of the Day in this story too. Taken as a whole, Secret moves to its own unique rhythm, and it is a film that’s definitely worth catching.
The tonal ambiguity of Secret is reflected in the opening moments, as we first meet Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) — a recently retired ex-lawyer now settling into the writing life — going through the author’s quandary of figuring how to start the book on his brain. First we see and hear that tired romantic cliche, a sad parting at a train station, and a lover chasing down the train. Wait, scratch that. Let’s start with a final breakfast together with the lost lover, and all the details — the honey, the fruit, her floral-print dress, her sun-dappled smile — that can now never be forgotten. No, that’s not it either. So Benjamin falls back to the case file and we witness some brief and dreadful moments in a brutal, bloody rape/homicide. Ugh. That’s no way to start this tale.
Still struggling with his opening chapter, Benjamin visits his old friend and colleague Irene (Soledad Villamil), now a judge in Buenos Aires, who is not particularly enthused to hear that he’s decided to reopen old wounds and write about the tumultuous Morales case. Nonetheless, she gives him an old typewriter (with a broken A) and some excellent advice — Start with what you remember best. And so he does. And soon we find ourselves thirty years in the past, in the small, paper-strewn offices of Ben, Irene, and their semi-functioning alcoholic co-worker Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), just before they pulled the case that transformed their lives.
Particularly by L&O standards, the whodunit aspect of the story is not all that baroque (although it does rely on some potentially clever, potentially dubious po-lice work that helps give the film its name. While I’m on the subject, there’s some implausibly successful good-cop, bad-cop interrogating later on that took me out of the film.) Instead, our investigative trio has much more trouble finding, catching, and holding on to their man after they’ve made him. After all, Argentina between 1976 and 1983 is a slippery place — down is up and up is down, and searching for criminals is no longer a very safe pastime once the criminals are in charge…
I said in my review of Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet that “if The Secret in Their Eyes is better, it must be really something.” And, while I think I ever-so-slightly preferred A Prophet in the end — due to the earlier noted implausibilities here, and because this film’s various acts sometimes feel disconnected from each other– my strong advice is: See them both! A Prophet is a young man’s movie, a coming-of-age, learning-the-ropes story of an ascent into power, while Secret is an older man’s tale, a wistful look back at earlier times and the mistakes, regrets, and chance circumstances that haunted a life. And along with Red Riding, Ellsberg, Terribly Happy, and Kick-Ass, they’re both at the top of my 2010 list so far.
“In the Sept. 16, 1976 cable, the topic of one paragraph is listed as “Operation Condor,” preceded by the words “(KISSINGER, HENRY A.) SUBJECT: ACTIONS TAKEN.” The cable states that ‘secretary declined to approve message to Montevideo’ Uruguay ‘and has instructed that no further action be taken on this matter’…The Sept. 16 cable is the missing piece of the historical puzzle on Kissinger’s role in the action, and inaction, of the U.S. government after learning of Condor assassination plots,’ Peter Kornbluh, the National Security Archive’s senior analyst on Chile, said Saturday.‘”
Another piece of evidence for the prosecution in the trial of Henry Kissinger: A recently declassified 1976 cable has Kissinger canceling a warning to Chile about political assassinations, one day before the Pinochet regime murdered another critic in downtown Washington DC. And let’s not even get started on Allende…
In today’s trailer bin, AD, Superbad, and Juno‘s Michael Cera hones his (very-quality) schtick in the John Hughes-ish preview for Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist. (Alas, despite Cera’s talent, this looks bad and/or I’m too old for it.) Meanwhile, Benicio del Toro tries to gets a revolution off the ground in the Spanish-language trailer for Steven Soderbergh’s Che: The Argentine (a.k.a. part 1 of his four-hour Che double feature, with Guerrilla.) I can’t understand a word of it, but it looks promising.
“The meeting was an error in judgment that will not be repeated, and I am sorry for it.” Clinton consigliere and inveterate torturer of reason Mark Penn gets into trouble for playing both sides of a Colombian trade deal, is forced to apologize, and subsequently gets sacked by the nation in question. If only Sen. Clinton had followed Colombia’s example months ago, she might still have a shot at the presidency right now.
In related news, Al Giordano of Rural Votes explains why Colombian president Alvaro Uribe is rooting against Obama, and why that speaks strongly in the Illinois Senator’s favor. “The Uribe regime, after all, continues a chummy friendship with Bill Clinton, granting him the government’s ‘Colombia Is Passion’ Award last June. That, during the same 2007 spring when former vice president Al Gore cancelled his appearance at a Miami environmental conference because he did not want to share a podium with Uribe, the hemisphere’s poster boy for state-sponsored terrorism, narco-trafficking, and assassinations of opposition political, labor and social movement leaders.“
It’s not just here at home. Sen. Obama takes the Americans Abroad primary 2-1 (65%-32%), winning most of the countries around the world (Ex-pats in Israel and the Philippines opted for Clinton.) Thanks, Kris, and all the other Obama voters out there across the seas. Update: Clinton did well in the DR as well.
“To my close compatriots…I say that I will not aspire to nor accept — I repeat, I will not aspire to nor accept — the office of President of the Council of State or Commander in Chief.” After nearly fifty years in power, Fidel Castro steps down in Cuba. Hopefully, this will encourage our leaders to begin advocating a more reasonable and sane policy towards our neighbor in the Caribbean.
Back as of Monday from the Dominican Republic, where I enjoyed a crew reunion weekend in lovely Cabarete, a friendly backpacker-going-on-tourist town rife with European ex-pats and kitesurfing experts. With the local reputation in mind, we spent much of the weekend taking kitesurf lessons at Extreme Cabarete (kitesurfing, skate park…that’s extreme in the Harold & Kumar sense), enjoying sun, surf, food, drink, and the rather underwhelming De La Hoya-Mayerweather fight at the many restaurants and nightclubs along the beach, taking in more of the local flavor in neighboring Sosua, and staying up into the wee hours at our hotel, the (highly-recommended) Cabarete East, indulging in marathon sessions of competitive backgammon. (Yep, that’s how we roll.) All in all, a very fun trip…although unfortunately a sore throat I brought with me to the island on Thursday had metamorphosed into a full-blown virulent cold by Sunday, and I’ve been waylaid in bed the past few days trying to recuperate. I must say, it’s more fun to feel sick under the Caribbean sun.
“Every time I think I’m going to wake up back in the jungle…” The strange teaser for Mel Gibson’s Mayan epic Apocalypto is now online. Looks intriguing, although to be honest — with the Will Durant quote, Chichen Itza, rainforest scouting, and the panther attack — I had a hard time watching this and not thinking of Civ 4. Update: Look for the subliminal Mel…bizarre.
Scarlett Johansson joins Chris Nolan’s version of The Prestige as Olivia, the lovely assistant to magicians Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman. And, also in film news, Stephen Soderbergh’s next project after The Good German will be Guerilla, a Che Guevara biopic starring Benjamin Bratt.
Shunned by Dubya and spurred on by Bill Clinton, the rest of the world comes together to limit greenhouse gases and extend the Kyoto treaty. “Brushing aside the Bush administration’s fierce protests, all the industrialized nations except the United States and Australia were near an agreement Friday night to embark on a new round of formal talks aimed at setting new mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions after 2012, when the existing pact known as the Kyoto Protocol expires.“
“After President Bush’s disastrous visit to Latin America, it’s unnerving to realize that his presidency still has more than three years to run. An administration with no agenda and no competence would be hard enough to live with on the domestic front. But the rest of the world simply can’t afford an American government this bad for that long.” The NY Times editorial staff come out swinging against Dubya.
“It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war … and I don’t think any oil shipments will stop.” 700 Club guru and former GOP presidential candidate Pat Robertson calls for the head of Venuezela’s Hugo Chavez. (Venezuela is obviously livid, and the Dubya administration, for their part, quickly disavowed the idea.)My, isn’t he just the model of Christian forbearance? Some words of wisdom, Pat: Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. (Matthew 26:52)
Despite harboring one of the more irritating crossword puzzles in recent months (it included characters like %,@,&, and *) and a breathless paean to the wildly overrated Julia Roberts, this week’s special NYT Magazine on film and globalization included a number of interesting reads, including an overview of foreign film trends by A.O. Scott, a disquisition on the problems facing the US industry by Lynn Hirschberg, and an extended interview with Maggie Cheung (late of Hero and In the Mood for Love.)
Aside from the Philippines, Nigeria, and Poland, the world wants John Kerry by a landslide. Undecided voters out there, you know how you can “Ask the Audience” on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire when you’re stumped? Consider it like that.
After two previous losses to Puerto Rico and Lithuania, the US Men’s Basketball team are knocked out of gold medal contention by Argentina (and Manu Ginobli.) I saw some of the earlier games, most notably the US-Germany scrimmage which A.I. won on a buzzer-beater 3, and the team definitely seemed confused. I don’t really see this as the death knell of American basketball it’s being made out to be, though. As many others (including Mark Cuban) have noted, the team was just poorly constructed…it needed less All-Stars and more NBA-level role players in the worst way.
*Snap. Crackle. Crunch.* No, that’s not the clattering of carabiners or the sound of snow underfoot you’re imagining in the background of Touching the Void, although there’s plenty of hiking gear and fresh powder to go around. It is, in fact, the bones of the protagonist’s shattered leg, grinding together with every excruciating step, drag, and fall. This central fact makes for a rather grisly viewing experience, but, if you can get past it, Touching the Void is an altogether decent night at the movies (or on the Discovery Channel.)
One part documentary, one part voice-over, Touching the Void tells the true story of two ambitious hikers who aimed to scale Peru’s Siula Grande alpine-style (i.e. connected by ropes and with minimal supplies) in the mid-1980′s. All in all, getting up the mountain wasn’t that bad, but getting down…that was another thing entirely. Soon our dynamic duo of Type-A climbers find themselves in dark and dire straits, where every step might lead to death and survival and betrayal seem to go hand-in-hand.
I knew basically all of this going in, but where Touching the Void surprised me is that it gradually becomes less a hiking disaster movie and more the harrowing travelogue of one man’s existential ordeal. Several critics seem to find the last third of the movie, with its increasingly un-documentary-like camera tricks, to be overdone. And, while it’s hard not to think of Trainspotting (or, as my sis noted, Requiem for a Dream) when the steadicam swooning and blurry dissolves break out in spades, I still thought the movie still worked as an intriguing blend of documentary and film, true recollection and fanciful recreation. Apparently, Tom Cruise’s production house had optioned this story at some point, and I got to think this was a more interesting way of capturing the psychological dynamics of this amazing story than anything that project might’ve come up with.
All in all, Touching the Void has a few problems (perhaps most notably that the fact that the survivors are telling you the tale reduces any real question of how it’s all going to end), but it still made for one of the better survival stories I’ve seen on film recently…in fact, in a strange way, it reminded me of The Pianist. And it makes clear beyond any reason of a doubt that all the Worst-Case Scenario Handbooks in the world aren’t going to prepare you for the moment when shards of your femur begin to grind against your patella in the middle of an icestorm. After seeing this film, I think I’m going to do all my ice-climbing on the XBox, thank you very much.
From its very first scenes, in which our young photographer-protagonist finds himself trapped in the midst of a Mexican (ok, Brazilian) standoff between a street gang and the corrupt cops, City of God makes no bones about its debts to Scorsese and Tarantino. In fact, for much of the film, I was reminded of Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, which brought to London much of the same snappy, experimental camerawork, “funny” gunplay, and street gangster-chic that’s on display here in Rio. But that metaphor only goes so far — this increasingly dark film ultimately feels very different than the breezy Lock Stock. In fact, while Scorsese, Tarantino, and Ritchie gangsters all generally find themselves on the wrong side of the law as a calling, the Brazilian youths here are born into it — crime, violence, and murder are an inescapable part of the Cidade de Deus.
Or is it? I know this movie is based on a novel based on real events, but at a certain point, right after the strobelight-marked murder of one of the film’s most likable characters, City of God just gets lost in its own cycle of violence. When L’il Ze, the cruelest hoodlum we meet on our travels, brutally rapes the girlfriend of Knockout Ned (we never see her again — she’s a plot point, not a character), a gang war ensues that drastically escalates the already considerable levels of death and carnage the audience has to deal with. In this final third, the film derails…it’s just too much.(Ken Turan aptly summed it up as “overkill.”) One goes from avidly following the travails of individual characters to watching most or all of them go down in a hail of gunfire.
Like I said, I know that much of this tale is based on a real gang war, and that the ridiculously high body count at the end of the film may have a solid grounding in fact. But at times City of God wants to have it both ways. When innocent bystanders are mowed down or child gangsters are forced to make extremely grisly life-and-death choices, we’re shocked sullen by the events depicted here. But when L’il Ze blows away his stooge Tuba in a fit of frustration, it’s a sight gag.
In sum, with swooping camerawork, great performances across the board, and a well-crafted narrative, City of God bridges the gap between Tarantino-cool gangsterism and shocking acts of violence reasonably well for its first two-thirds. Alas, it falters in the final act, and I found myself spending the last thirty-five minutes of a movie I’d quite enjoyed up til then keeping my head down and waiting for the last reports of gunfire to die away. Well worth seeing if you’re a fan of the hyperkinetic gangster genre, but ultimately City of God just can’t quite close the deal.
As I’m writing this, the US basketball team is down 9 to Argentina with 10 seconds to go, meaning they’re about to lose their first international game since the 1992 Dream Team…Yep, 87-80, it’s over. Wow. Guess we shoulda seen this coming when they made George “the choke artist” Karl head coach.
What the World Thinks of America, from Gary Kamiya of Salon (premium). A fascinating read.
Germany defeats South Korea 1-0, and will face either Brazil or Turkey (Brazil) in the Final. Ah well, it was a great run for the Koreans.
As everyone knows, England and the US went down together in World Cup action Friday. A very disappointing evening, although at least we Yanks can hold our heads high (unlike the ’98 fiasco.) I’d say it’s Brazil’s to lose at this point, although South Korea is clearly exhibiting great mojo this Cup. In other sporting news, the NBA draft is on Wednesday, which along with the final four Cup games should proved oases of sporting excitement amid another long baseball summer. Ah well, at least there’s always the MLS.