But, oh well. It’ll be grand once it’s all completed. And to be fair, I’ve also fixed the less post-intensive 2010-2013 period since the last update, so perhaps the next few sections will go faster. (Only five more years to go…) In any case, things I’ve recently (re-)learned:
Personal plug: If your interest was piqued by what I wrote about the 1924 Democratic Convention here, I was interviewed last week by Backstory on the MSG disaster for their episode on gridlock. (The segment I’m featured in starts at 33:30 — I’m the guy who sounds like Mike Mills from R.E.M. I should probably work on my radio skills.)
Also, FWIW, my dissertation is now downloadable as a PDF from Academic Commons. At some point, I’ll probably convert it here for easier web reading, like I have previous history writings — on Herbert Croly, Al Smith, Harvey Wiley, colonial taverns, William Borah, etc. But that’s a project that’s down the queue at the moment.
This came out while I was in Seattle and I’ve been meaning to catch up: By measuring the cosmic background radiation still extant from the Big Bang, the ESA’s Planck satellite gives us our most detailed map of the universe yet.
“[T]he new satellite data underscored the existence of puzzling anomalies that may yet lead theorists back to the drawing board. The universe appears to be slightly lumpier, with bigger and more hot and cold spots in the northern half of the sky as seen from Earth than toward the south, for example. And there is a large, unexplained cool spot in the northern hemisphere.”
I find these maps particularly fascinating because, as I said when NASA’s WMAP returned its data in 2003 (and here in 2002), I spent the summer of 1992 poring over the original COBE DMR version of this map for my high school senior thesis, in order to determine whether the radiation exhibited a fractal distribution. (And, honestly, how early 90′s is that?)
“‘A.M.S. has confirmed with exquisite precision and to high energy one of the most exciting mysteries in astrophysics and particle physics,’ said Justin Vandenbroucke, of the University of Wisconsin and Stanford’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.” In related news, NASA’s recently-installed Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer on the ISS is helping physicists and cosmologists get to the bottom of the dark matter mystery.
The A.M.S. has “confirmed previous reports that local interstellar space is crackling with an unexplained abundance of high energy particles, especially positrons, the antimatter version of the familiar electrons that constitute electricity and chemistry…’Over the coming months, A.M.S. will be able to tell us conclusively whether these positrons are a signal for dark matter, or whether they have some other origin.’“
FWIW, this particular piece of awesome was drawn on commission by former Simpsons illustrator Gary Yap, who can be found on Etsy for custom works. He also apparently perused my Flickr feed and/or GitM for our look and general inspiration (Note the back of the book and Berk eyeing the Roomba.) I wonder if he made it as far as the shelves of old Simpsons toys, currently collecting dust and resale value in a Chesapeake, VA attic. In any case, very cool.
Part of the reason for the shift is the good versus bad spending dichotomy I talked about in 2010. But, more to the point, I’ve since read up on Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). (See also: Warren Mosler’s Seven Deadly Innocent Frauds of Economic Policy.)
Basically, I was parroting the conventional wisdom on “fiscal responsibility” back then, and didn’t know what I was talking about.
I’m only 200 posts or so in — Hello, summer of 2002. Gee, I wonder if these Harken revelations will bring down Dubya — and it’s already clear this is going to be a slow process. So apologies if you see an interesting topic listed that links to little-to-no content. Hopefully, eventually, it’ll all be up to snuff.
The Atlantic‘s Jordan Weissman takes another gander at the sorry state of the PhD life in America, with an emphasis on the sciences. “The pattern reaching back to 2001 is clear — fewer jobs, more unemployment, and more post-doc work — especially in the sciences. A post doc essentially translates into toiling as a low-paid lab hand.”
Note also the dismal situation of the humanities in the graph below. The average salary for a humanities PhD is not only less than I’m making in speechwriting these days — it’s less than what I was making in 2001, before I went off for grad school. It’s also less, or at the very least comparable, to the average salary of a public school teacher in America — a job where you’re probably much more likely to make a difference in the lives of your students. But hey, check out the big brain on me.
The upshot here, at least for the humanities? It’s generally a bad idea to spend a decade apprenticing yourself to a job that barely even exists anymore.
Update: “Let me start with the bad news. It is not even news anymore; it is simply bad. Graduate education in the humanities is in crisis. Every aspect, from the most specific details of the curriculum to the broadest questions about its purpose, is in crisis. It is a seamless garment of crisis: If you pull on any one thread, the entire thing unravels.” Literature professor Michael Bérubé surveys the sad state of affairs in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Whatever its other faults, 2012 was actually a pretty solid year at the cineplex. In terms of great movies, the crop wasn’t as rich as, say, 1999. (To name just a few from that year: Being John Malkovich, Fight Club, The Matrix, Three Kings, The Iron Giant, Election) But, in general terms, I thought most of the movies that came out this past year avoided obvious pitfalls and delivered at or better than the level they promised.
For example, almost all of the year’s superhero movies were surprisingly good — no real Green Lantern-y whiffs this year. Most of 2012′s unnecessary sequels and even-more-unnecessary remakes — MIB III and Amazing Spiderman, say — turned out better than expected. Horror moved out of the serial killer/torture pr0n ghetto in both conventional (The Women in Black) and unconventional (Cabin in the Woods) ways. Lowbrow, could-be-terrible comedies like 21 Jump Street and Ted actually had some solid laughs to them. And even the intentional B-movies — like Dredd, Lockout, or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter — all had their moments, even if I can’t recommend some of those in their entirety.
In any case, now that the last few 2012 films have hit DC theaters, and my dissertoral defense obligations are now behind me, it’s at last time for the usual end-of-year list ’round here. Since I didn’t do any individual reviews this past year — I still haven’t decided if those will return for 2013 — I’ve upped the 2012 list to 25 movies, and, at the end, added a few thoughts on some of the others that crossed my field of vision over the past twelve months. Without further ado…
1. The Dark Knight Rises: “Theatricality and deception, powerful agents for the uninitiated. But we are initiated, aren’t we, Bruce?” I know Christopher Nolan’s TDKR wasn’t as well-received in many circles as The Dark Knight, and for understandable reasons — the Joker will always be Bat’s #1 nemesis. Still, I loved this closing chapter of Nolan’s trilogy — its audacious scope, its Occupy Gotham meets the French Revolution ambience, its tight connections back to Batman Begins, its menacing yet loopy villain, its repudiation of the ends-justify-the-means arguments of TDK. (So much for the contention in that earlier film that “sometimes the truth isn’t good enough…Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.” That dubious line of thinking backfires for Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, Wayne, and everyone else who partook of it in the last film.)
I don’t know how The Dark Knight Rises plays to the uninitiated, since, like most fans, I went in presuming that (a) Bane would break the Bat and (b) Talia al Ghul was involved in some capacity. And admittedly there are some problems here, as in all of Nolan’s Batman movies. As soon as Alfred starts going on about French cafes in the first reel, it’s pretty clear where the film will end up eventually. (And that closing doesn’t make sense anyway, since billionaire Bruce Wayne is likely recognizable all around the world, certain Chinese prisons notwithstanding.) And speaking of prisons, how, exactly, did barefooted Bruce get back from somewhere in the Middle East into a Gotham City on lockdown?
All that being said, there was a lot to like here. I enjoyed the intricate plotting of TDKR, and how some of its central points hearkened back to lessons learned in the previous films. (For example, Bruce’s concern, in light of Joker-style escalation, about the fusion reactor becoming a weapon.) I liked how Anne Hathaway was introduced as a prototypical Anne Hathaway character — the Nervous-Nellie maid — before revealing her decidedly-unHathawayesque Selina Kyle. I was consistently entertained by Tom Hardy’s sing-songy Bane voice, including goofy flourishes like his admiring the pre-game rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. (“He has a beautiful voice!” If only Bane had subsequently gotten a chance to freestyle.) And I thought there were moments of real poetry, such as when, to suggest the passage of time while Bruce’s back healed, a Bane-commandeered Batmobile prototype rolls along a snowy Gotham side street.
One common complaint I heard about TDKR is that it’s a Batman movie without Batman — that the Caped Crusader completely disappears in the second act of the film. I don’t get it, and my theory is people who hold this view have never, personally, been broken. Granted, we all expect that Bruce Wayne will get his back fixed and get back in the game. Still, even if it’s weirdly the most mutually supportive prison on Earth (which makes more sense once you realize Bruce throws down a rope once he got to the top), I like the Lazarus Pit detour, and the ultimate payoff of seeing Bruce/Bats back in action in Act III. Fall down, get back up. Get your back broken, have Tom Conti punch that vertebrae back in. Get the s**t kicked out of you, get rid of that rope and rise.
2. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: “Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay…small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it’s because I am afraid and he gives me courage.”
I can see why some folks didn’t cotton to TDKR, but I really can’t get my head around all the Haterade that’s surrounded Peter Jackson’s excellent and entertaining first installment of The Hobbit. This was a great movie! And it was easily as faithful to Tolkien’s book in both tone and story as the latter two Rings films. (For people complaining about the inclusions of Radaghast the Brown, Dol Guldur, and the White Council, I submit to you Osgiliath and Far-from-the-Bookamir. Pale Orc, meet Lurtz.)
Particularly bewildering to me is all the whining about 48 FPS. I thought An Unexpected Journey looked amazing. Granted, I spent a childhood watching Doctor Who, Blake’s 7, and the like, and so I’m used to suspending my disbelief while watching images that seem video-immediate. But still. All the kvetching about the new standard was, in my opinion, totally over the top. (In terms of snapping my abilty to engage with a universe on screen, I had more issues with the operetta-ness of Les Mis. Er…are they really going to sing every single line of this movie? Russell Crowe too?)
As for all the complaints about the pacing, admittedly this first chapter was languidly told — Three and a half hours and we only got to Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire. But, y’know, I like spending time in Middle Earth — If the dwarves want to sing again, have at it, good fellows. (Just don’t go all operetta on us.) And given that, for example, GRRM’s Song of Ice and Fire books are getting ten hour adaptations each, or Treme or Boardwalk Empire are enjoyable 35-hour stories where, often, not much happens plotwise, I had no problem at all with the expanded length — particularly as the additions were straight from Tolkien’s notes and not, say, 40 minutes of dwarf-tossing jokes. Let’s hope that holds through the third film, which is the one I’m really worried about.
In any event, I thought An Unexpected Journey was a great adaptation of the first third of The Hobbit, and that it threaded the needle quite well between feeling like it took place in the same world as the LotR trilogy and bringing a more lighthearted and jovial tone to Middle Earth, in keeping with the children’s book nature of The Hobbit. Bring on the incident with the Dragon.
3. Beasts of the Southern Wild: “I hope you die and when you die, I’ll go to your grave and eat birthday cake all by myself!” I tend to consider myself a cynical and curmudgeonly fellow, so I was quite surprised that Beasts of the Southern Wild — a film I expected to find aggravatingly twee — kinda knocked me sideways. I’m not even sure if the movie would hold up to a second viewing — When I reflect on it now, those scenes in Beast that don’t feel like scraps of dream seem like they probably shouldn’t have worked.
But, at least that first time around on the big screen, this fairy tale of a young girl living on the wrong side of the Louisiana levees (a.k.a. “the Bathtub”) had a strange sort of magic to it. I particularly liked the End Times conflation of Katrina and global warming, and vibed with the film completely around the time Hushpuppy feared that the melting ice sheet would inadvertently unleash the four boar-monsters of the apocalypse. Pretty soon, we’ll all live in the Bathtub.
4. The Avengers: “Shakespeare in The Park? Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?” In the 2011 list, I voiced my sneaking suspicion at #14 that Joss Whedon’s The Avengers wasn’t going to work. Consider that crow eaten. Even despite a bland opening sequence and a third act alien invasion that felt weightless, this was a surprisingly fun time at the movies, and perhaps the best popcorn film of the summer.
In particular, I liked that this was never a particularly “dark” movie. The Avengers aren’t tortured souls like Batman or even the X-Men, and Whedon, a former X-Men writer, didn’t portray them as such. Instead he was able to capture the voice of each of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes — Cap the boy scout, Thor the thunder god, etc. — throw them in a hovering aircraft carrier together, and let shenanigans and shawarma ensue.
True, Hawkeye in particular got short shrift, Scarlett Johansson was still woefully miscast as the Widow (Olga Kurylenko anyone?), and Cobie Smulders, a.k.a. your Aunt Robin, just isn’t much of a film actress. (Exhibit A: this alternate opening.) Still, I liked the balance Whedon came up with here, where Robert Downey’s Iron Man was given the dramatic arc befitting his star wattage, but Chris Evans’ Captain America still ended up leading the team. And, arguably for the first time on film, Whedon got the Hulk exactly right.
5. Looper: “I’m from The Future. You should go to China.” Speaking of Marvel comics, Looper [moderate spoilers] may just be the best Franklin Richards movie we see in awhile. In any case, I wasn’t much for either Brick or especially The Brothers Bloom, but I thought Rian Johnson’s third film was a smart, well-crafted science fiction story that was very worthwhile.
As in most time travel tales outside of 12 Monkeys, Looper‘s final few scenes don’t make any sense. (Spoiler: JGL’s decision at the end would seemingly have to result in everything Bruce Willis did being rolled back — Thus, none of that carnage at Jeff Daniels’ compound or along the road would ever have happened, and there would be no money lying around, etc. etc.)
But until then, Looper is a satisfying and stylish mishmash of time travel, telekinesis, and the Chandler and Hammett-isms (by way of Miller’s Crossing) that inspired Johnson’s Brick. It also included the creepiest time travel outcome I’ve seen since people were ‘porting into walls in The Philadelphia Experiment. (That would be the grim fate of Paul Dano’s future-self.)
6. Lincoln: “I wish He had chosen an instrument more wieldy than the House of Representatives.” I’ve already noted my problems with the history here: It’s rather ridiculous to argue that the lesson of the Civil War is that compromise is awesome, or that the constitutional amendments that emerged from it are a product of such. Quite the contrary, really. Spielberg and Kushner also vastly overstate the danger that the Thirteenth Amendment would not pass here, and Kushner, given the comments cited in that earlier post, unfortunately doesn’t seem to understand Reconstruction at all.
That being said, Daniel Day-Lewis’s eerie evocation of our sixteenth president is the performance of the year, and I remain impressed that this film, while a touch too Spielberg-y in its opening and closing moments, nonetheless forewent the traditional biopic route and embraced a narrowcast, nineteenth-century CSPAN aesthetic instead.
7. Oslo, August 31st: “Look at my life. I’m 34 years old. I’ve got nothing. I don’t want to start from scratch.” A movie that made it here via Netflix, Oslo, August 31st is a well-observed day in the life of a recovering heroin addict (Anders Danielsen Lie), as he returns to his old haunts and tries to make peace with the shambles he feels he’s made of his existence.
Looking desperately for a way to reconnect to the world at large, or at least to transcend his current despair, Anders has a series of conversations with former friends and enemies, during which he discovers that even those who didn’t miss the train of life going by are, by and large, just going through the motions. Everything here feels uncomfortably true, from Anders’ visit to see a former partner in crime, now a married academic, to his self-defeating job interview, to his plaintive calls to the woman who disappeared, to his falling back into old habits. A quietly devastating film.
8. Moonrise Kingdom: “I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.” True, this Wes Anderson film could not be any more Wes Anderson-y — I’m looking at you, Bob Balaban the omniscient narrator — so if that’s a problem for you, I wouldn’t expect Moonrise to change your opinion of the man’s work.
As with the less-successful Life Aquatic and Darjeeling Limited, Anderson is ensconced in his usual sandbox. Nonetheless, this story of two tweenagers enjoying a summer love, and the problems this causes for all the conflicted and compromised adults around them, ranks up there with Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums (#46), and The Fantastic Mr. Fox among Anderson’s best. It’s also a beautifully shot film, redolent of the sun-drenched afternoons of years gone by.
9. Cabin in the Woods: “Cleanse them. Cleanse the world of their ignorance and sin. Bathe them in the crimson of – Am I on speakerphone?” When it comes to Joss Whedon, I’m not at all what you’d call a browncoat. I liked Firefly and Serenity alright, but much prefer Farscape when it comes to Blake’s 7 knockoffs, and neither Buffy nor Angel spoke to me like it speaks to many. (The West Wing is another show I never understood all the love for, but I digress.)
At any rate, consider me as surprised as anyone that both of Whedon’s 2012 films ended up in this year’s top ten. Sure, this outside-the-box take on teen slasher tropes is a gimmick movie, and one that’s more wry than it ever is frightening. Still, at least the first time around, what a ride Cabin turned out to be — It’s rare to watch a third act of a film feeling like just about anything could happen. I just wish we’d seen more of “Kevin.” (see pic above)
10. Killing Them Softly: “This guy wants to tell me we’re living in a community? Don’t make me laugh. I’m living in America, and in America you’re on your own. America’s not a country. It’s just a business. Now f**kin’ pay me.” This is another movie that racked up a lot of negativity for some reason, presumably due to it being mis-marketed as an action/gangster film.
Since I knew going in that this was Andrew Dominik’s follow-up to the strange and languid Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, I got about what I expected – a dark character piece that almost-but-not-quite-successfully tries to fuse Cogan’s Trade with a commentary on the Iraq War, the financial crisis, and general disillusionment in the Age of Obama. Personally, I liked spending time with these guys — Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn’s twin screw-ups, Richard Jenkins’ officious middleman, Gandolfini’s broken assassin. And, while the political angle didn’t quite gel, I still admired what Dominik tried to do here.
11. Amour: “Things will go on, and then one day it will all be over.” Not exactly the best time you’ll have in a theater this year — Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks, & 2 Days comes to mind as a similarly unrelenting two hours at the movies. Still, Michael Haneke’s unflinching study of an elderly couple staring dementia and death in the face has a grim power to it, as well as two mesmerizing performances by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva.
I can assure you, I don’t plan to sit through this film again any time soon. Still, Amour puts the lie to so many other depictions of love you see at the movies, and I left E Street afterwards both somewhat shaken by it and thinking it was time to carpe some diem (or as the kids say, YOLO) right now, before it’s too late.
12. The Grey: “Once more into the fray. Into the last good fight I’ll ever know. Live and die on this day. Live and die on this day.” And if old age doesn’t get ya, there’s always wolves, y’know? First, let me be clear: This movie is as wrong about wolves as another film I’ll get to in a bit is wrong about torture. All the Canis lupus stuff in here is abject nonsense.
But, to me, the wolves were really just the dispatching agents in this often-gripping existential drama. The real story of The Grey isn’t about wolves at all. It’s about Liam Neeson and his pack of tough-guy survivors coming to grips not just with their looming mortality, but with the reasons they wanted to live in the first place. In the Alaska wilderness, as in Paris or anywhere else, nobody gets out alive.
13. The Deep Blue Sea: “Beware of passion, Hester. It always leads to something ugly.” Just as past years have seen dueling underwater monster movies (Leviathan/Deepstar Six), asteroid disaster flicks (Armageddon/Deep Impact), and Truman Capote bios (Capote/Infamous) and 2013 will have two separate attacks on 1600 Penn (Olympus Has Fallen/White House Down), 2012 featured three quite good movies about women forsaking their kind, boring husbands for passionate, simpleton lovers, and subsequently running into a social buzzsaw as a result.
All of ‘em made this list, but in the end The Deep Blue Sea, Terence Davies’ lush evocation of postwar England, garners the top spot among them. Along with memorable turns by Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston, occasionally dream-like scenes like Londoners awaiting the Blitz in the subway tunnels or singing along to “You Belong to Me” have stuck in my memory this year.
14. Argo: “Brace yourself; it’s like talking to those two old f**ks from The Muppets.” Ben Affleck’s well-made chronicle of a successful CIA operation along the fringes of the Iran hostage crisis often felt like transparent Oscar bait to me. The Hollywood stuff felt it like needed to be more fleshed out and, since the history is well-known, the many attempts to ratchet up the suspense in the third act just didn’t work for me personally. (YMMV.)
Still, I was impressed by how well-balanced Argo came out — From its opening storyboard sequence, the movie doesn’t mince words about our many misadventures in Iran, making what could have been simply a depressing jingoistic exercise into a more thoughtful story of diplomatic blowback. Overall, I prefer Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone and The Town — Still, as a director, he’s now 3-for-3.
15. Celeste and Jesse Forever: “You know what your problem is? Contempt before investigation. You think you’re smarter than everybody else.” Full disclosure: Writer-star Rashida Jones was an acquaintance of mine in college, so I went in to Celeste and Jesse hoping more than usual that I would like it. Nonetheless, after a rough 10-15 minutes at the outset, this well-observed and wistful after-the-rom-com, about the break-up of a longtime couple, gradually gets to work on you.
It seemed like bit players like Elijah Wood (as Rashida’s gay boss/BFF) needed more to do, and Chris Messina has played the surprisingly wise frat-bro so many times by now that I can’t really take him seriously anymore. But otherwise, Celeste and Jesse earns it emotional beats and, by the time the final reel rolled, I felt quite invested in it.
16. Cloud Atlas: “Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”
Here’s yet another 2012 film where it feels like critics just began to pile on mercilessly at a certain point. The Wachowskis and Tom Twyker’s adaptation of David Mitchell’s high-brow sci-fi novel doesn’t quite gel, and some of the plotlines — Ben Whishaw’s amanuensis, Tom Hanks after the Fall — were more interesting than others, most notably Jim Sturgess in the South Pacific and Jim Broadbent’s nursing home jailbreak. (Also, no nice way to put this, but much like Keira Knightley, Halle Berry is an A-list actress who’s never all that good.)
But even if it doesn’t live up to its ambition, Atlas is still an impressive and intellectually (if not emotionally) engaging feat. Granted, it wasn’t subtle about its message, but the degree of difficulty here should count for something. At least Atlas was reaching for something totally new — and every so often, especially during the occasional montage bringing together the six tales, you can catch a glimpse of it.
17. Take This Waltz: “Life has a gap in it… It just does. You don’t go crazy trying to fill it.” The second of this year’s adulterous love triangles — this one set to one of Leonard Cohen’s many classics and The Buggles — Sarah Polley’s follow-up to Away From Her has a low-key, natural, and lived-in feel that’s hard to fake.
True, Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen felt a little too baby-talk-schmoopy in their scenes together, and Luke Kirby’s handsome pedicabbie always just seemed like a self-absorbed creepshow to me. But one of the strengths of this film is how all the characters here seem like three-dimensional human beings, with all the needs, vulnerabilities, and suspect decision-making attending.
18. Rust and Bone: “We’ll continue…but not like animals.” Speaking of follow-ups, Jacques Audiard’s second film after A Prophet felt like the movie the much-hyped Silver Linings Playbook wanted to be. This rough-and-tumble romance between a street fighter (Matthias Schoenaerts) and a damaged whale instructor (Marion Cotillard) after a terrible accident is never as good as A Prophet, and it goes seriously off-the-rails in its third act, around the time Cotillard tattoos her leg-stumps “gauche” and “droit.” But up until then, Rust and Bone manages to sidestep a surprising number of movie-of-the-week pitfalls and keep its gutter-punch rawness intact.
19. Seven Psychopaths: “No, it doesn’t! There’ll be one guy left with one eye. How’s the last blind guy gonna take out the eye of the last guy left?” I didn’t like In Bruges as much as a lot of people, and occasionally this new film by playwright Martin McDonagh suffers from the same outrageousness-for-its-own-sake. (Case in point: the scene where Woody Harrelson interrogates Gabourey Sidibe.)
Still, I kinda liked how this increasingly loopy and laconic film seemed to realize it would be more fun just to hang around with its gaggle of likable actors (Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Colin Ferrell, Tom Waits, Zeljko Ivanek, Harrelson) for awhile and just dropped the plot. I only wish McDonagh had found more to do with Olga Kurylenko and especially Abbie Cornish, who are (literally and figuratively) wasted here.
20. Anna Karenina: “Is this about my wife? My wife is beyond reproach. She is, after all, my wife.” Like Killing Them Softly and Cloud Atlas, Joe Wright and Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of Anna Karenina is a film I admired for its ambition, even if the conceit — here, that all of the Russian society scenes take place on a nineteenth century stage — doesn’t end up quite working. And even if there’s some of the same unnecessary grandstanding that marred Atonement‘s Dunkirk scene (intricate shots are fun and all, but they should serve the story), this is quite a beautiful picture.
While Keira Knightley unfortunately doesn’t make much of an impression in the title role, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson of Kick-Ass and Savages just seems out of his element as Vronsky, Jude Law brings pathos to a character that could’ve just seemed like the villain, and there are a number of enjoyable turns in the margins of this story, from Domhnall Gleeson (son of Brendan) covering the sociopolitical elements of the book to Matthew MacFadyen — who seemingly jumped right into late-Alec Baldwin mode right after his stint as Mr. Darcy in 2005 — as the oafish Oblonsky.
21. Skyfall: “Do you see what comes of all this running around, Mr. Bond? All this jumping and fighting, it’s exhausting!” Speaking of beautiful films, Daniel Craig’s third outing (and Sam Mendes’ first) as 007 doesn’t match the heights of Casino Royale, but it’s looks like the billion dollars it made, and it’s a far sight better than the sophomore misstep of Quantum of Solace. (It also features an instant classic Bond song in Adele’s title track.)
My biggest problem with Skyfall, and it’s a hard one to overlook, is that, in a transparent effort to capture some of that Dark Knight cachet, they effectively turned James Bond into Batman here. So Bond is now a rich orphan who grew up in Scotland’s version of Wayne Manor? Erm, ok. It doesn’t help matters that Javier Bardem’s ridiculous villain — The Joker + gay panic, basically — has exactly the same goofy plan as the Clown Prince of Crime did. (The next Big Bad to get captured on purpose, apparently? Gary Mitchell Garth Khan Gruber.)
But this is a Bond movie, so set your low expectations accordingly. Even if it feels like we’re already approaching Moonraker or Octopussy territory only three movies into the Craig era, this is still among the better outings in this long and storied franchise.
22. Django Unchained: “Gentlemen, you had my curiosity. But now you have my attention.” From the opening moments of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, it’s clear this film is going to be a bit of a mess. (Our title card reads: “1858. Two Years Before the Civil War.” Uh…that’s three years before the war, Quentin.) And, to be honest, I liked this movie better when it was called Inglourious Basterds — Here, we have basically the same experience, with QT once again righting history’s wrongs with a blood-spattered vengeance.
I actually liked that Tarantino decided to put the evils of American slavery front and center in this film, since it’s an ugly underside of our history that, cinematically, has been pretty much buried. (One admirable exception to prove the rule: CSA.) The funniest scene in the movie is probably QT riffing off both Blazing Saddles and Birth of a Nation with his Klansmen complaining about their eyeholes.
Nonetheless, I’m not sure why, given all the very real horrors of slavery QT often draws from, we ended up with the exceedingly fake Mandingo Fighting as a centerpiece of this story, other than it was in some blaxsploitation films QT used to enjoy. With that in mind, and more egregiously, a good hour of this movie makes absolutely no sense: Why wouldn’t Schultz and Django just be like, “I’m a lonely German guy who will pay top-dollar for a slave that speaks German?” (Tarantino tries to address that particular question here. I don’t think it works.)
Still, however sloppy and self-indulgent, Django was a decently enjoyable movie for most of its run. It would be nice, tho’, to see Tarantino take a stab at another Jackie Brown-style project at some point. As it is, it feels like he’s continuing to disappear up his own ass.
23. Holy Motors: “Weird! Weird! Weird!” I’m usually not one to end a movie once I’ve started it, but I turned off David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, via OnDemand, well before the end. (I hear Paul Giamatti shows up at some point.) Far more entertaining — and much, much stranger — was Leo Carax’s bizarro stab at the wandering limousine genre this year.
As with Django, it seemed like there was a lot of name-dropping and inside baseball, of the cinema history variety, going on in Holy Motors, which is behavior I find irritating a lot of the time. But I found Denis Lavant’s mad misadventures here compulsively watchable, even if we passed basic coherence two or three lefts ago.
24. The Woman in Black: “I believe even the most rational of minds can play tricks in the dark.” This wasn’t a Cabin in the Woods-style reinvention of horror tropes by any means. That being said, I quite enjoyed this played-straight Hammer films throwback, with Daniel Radcliffe unwisely investigating ghostly happenings at a mansion along the moors.
Rather than relying solely on blood, guts, and jump cuts, The Woman In Black resurrects classic cinema techniques and all the old standbys of this particular genre — rocking chairs, Victorian dolls, creepy children and whatnot — to put the audience ill at ease for ninety minutes. In sum, a slight but effective scare machine.
25. Dredd: “In case you have forgotten, this block operates under the same rules as the rest of the city. Ma-Ma is not the law… I am the law.” As with every year, a lot of films could have gone in this final spot on the list — Bernie, Life of Pi, Savages, Marley, ParaNorman. But I’m giving it to Pete Travis and Alex Garland’s Dredd, because it’s a good example of what went right at the movies in 2012.
There are better movies than Dredd this and every year, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better Dredd movie. Travis and Garland took what was distinctive about this character – give or take his Watchmen-like satire of American superheroes — and transported an issue of the comic to the screen, no more, no less. Extra points for a likable cast (Olivia Thirlby, Wood Harris, Lena Headey) and for Karl Urban — unlike Stallone back in the day — never taking off the helmet.
Prometheus: Pretty much everything that needs to be said about the dumb-as-dirt disaster this turned out to be has been encapsulated by the Red Letter Media guys. Whhhhyyyyyy? Why does a movie with such a terrible script ever get greenlit? Why does Damon Lindelof, after putting out an idiotic film like this, continue to get work in Hollywood?
It’s sad, since even notwithstanding the greatness of Alien and Aliens (and I’d submit that Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection are more admirable failures than this film), there are elements of a much better movie here — most notably Michael Fassbender’s T.E. Lawrence-loving android and the sheer look of the picture. Otherwise, however, this was just a terrible, nonsensical movie, and I ended up just feeling embarrassed for Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, and everyone else involved. For shame.
Silver Linings Playbook: I like David O’Russell. I like Jennifer Lawrence. I have no issues with Bradley Cooper. But, Lordy, I hated this film, and I just can’t figure out where all the hype is coming from. Granted, SLP falls into a very specific genre of movie I despise, whereby some severely damaged dude is suddenly saved from loneliness, madness, and/or general despair by a perfectly unique and perfect girl for him. (See also: Sideways, Punch-Drunk-Love, and all the other many iterations of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.) Honestly, all of you who keep making this same movie, go see Amour or something.
But even notwithstanding that sort of ubiquitous rom-comminess, SLP just seemed really by-the-numbers to me. The only variation on the same-old stale tale, as far as I could tell, is that this time there’s a really important game AND a really important dance competition at the end. And while Jacki Weaver does some memorable things as Bradley Cooper’s long-suffering mom, I didn’t take DeNiro seriously here at all. Just a bad movie.
Zero Dark Thirty: As it happened, I kinda hated Zero Dark Thirty too, but at least here I get where the positive reaction is coming from. To be honest, I expected going in that I’d leave ZD30 conflicted — that it would be a good movie undone by its egregious lies about torture. As it turned out, this is not even a good movie — it’s strongest pleasure consists of watching quality character actors — Mark Strong, James Gandolfini, Stephen Dillane – in brief turns as suits. (Tom Donilon is English?)
For one, ZD30 is far too blatant in its CIA embeddedness. Every CIA character here is a well-meaning tortured soul, heavy-hearted with the burden of saving the world. There’s no mention of, say, Tora Bora. The CIA’s egregious, world-historical fuck-ups, like arguing there were WMD in Iraq, are brought up only in passing. The agency’s outright crimes, like, say, waterboarding a guy 180 times to obtain a false positive, aren’t even mentioned. Watching Type-A go-getter Jessica Chastain and her ponytail flounce around for America for two and a half hours, you’d have no idea that her real-life counterpart and her ilk have been found guilty of, among other things, torturing and sodomizing an innocent man.
Admittedly, it could be because this pro-torture distortion of the history put me in an increasingly foul mood. Still, even as a movie Zero Dark Thirty has serious problems. As one of Chastain’s co-workers, poor Jennifer Ehle has to offer up some of the most ridiculous telegraphs of her impending death since Lt. Deadduck in Hot Shots. And I found the last forty minutes or so of the film, which depicts the actual raid on bin Laden’s compound in excruciating detail, to be a total snooze.
We know what’s going to happen here. And since we’re already in Fantasyland as far as the efficacy of torture goes, why not add sharks or tigers or man-eating bears to this war pr0n raid on OBL’s Afghan fortress? Or how about a badass female #2 (Maggie Q? Olga Kurylenko?) to fight Chastain, martial-arts style, over a deep chasm or conveyor belt or something? Might as well, since we’re already far afield from anything approaching the Real World. In sum, this film is sheer propaganda, and ham-handed agitprop at that.
The Master: Going into this film, I was rooting for Paul Thomas Anderson to build on the promise of the first hour of There Will Be Blood. Unfortunately, The Master is a pretentious bore, and not nearly as deep as it thinks it is. Get past all the Kubrickian grand-standing — Kubrick has clearly replaced Scorsese and Altman as PTA’s object of homage these days — and Anderson has made another variation of the same movie he’s always made, from Hard Eight to Boogie Nights to Magnolia to TWBB: People create fake families for themselves, look for validation in those families, and are ultimately let down by those families. It wasn’t a very interesting point three movies ago.
Poor Joaquin Phoenix sweats Method blood to give his character some resonance, and Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams have their (brief) moments of note — To his credit, PTA always does seem generous with his actors. But none of them can do anything with what they’ve been given. The Master, unfortunately, is yet another solid case of the Emperor’s New Clothes.
MOST UNFAIRLY MALIGNED:
John Carter: Peter Jackson’s first installment of The Hobbit could go here, as could Cloud Atlas. But, in the end, it seems like no movie got a tougher racket this year than Andrew Stanton’s estimable adaptation of John Carter. True, I watched this on Netflix rather than in the theater, which tends to be a more forgiving experience. But still, this film was a well-made, decently intelligent, and reasonably faithful and engaging adaptation of its source.
It wasn’t my favorite movie of the year or anything — it wasn’t even in my top 25, as we just saw — but it was totally fine for what it was. I have no clue why everyone pounced on this movie like they did. But, as with all the detest in some circles for An Unexpected Journey, it speaks poorly of what the Internet has done to movies in some ways. There’s a rush-to-judgment and piling-on effect that, at least in this case, wasn’t merited at all.
Coriolanus: Not sure if this would have broken the 2011 list last year or not. Still, Ralph Fiennes’ bloody cover-version of a relatively unknown Shakespearean history, modernized by way of CNN and Afghanistan, has a lot to recommend for it. Along with Fiennes himself, Coriolanus features fine performances from James Nesbitt, Jessica Chastain, Gerard Butler and especially Vanessa Redgrave (as the general’s scheming mother) and Brian Cox (as the most hail-fellow-well-met of Senators). Definitely worth a Netflix.
Margaret: Whether you want to call it a holdover from 2011 (when it came out) or from the 2005 list (when it was filmed), Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret is also worth catching up with sometime. Here, Anna Paquin — better than I’ve ever seen her — is a self-absorbed NYC teenager forced to come to terms with the ramifications of a terrible bus accident she helped to precipitate. Along for the three-hour ride through this distinctively New York tale are Mark Ruffalo, Matt Damon, Matthew Broderick, J. Smith-Cameron, Jean Reno, Allison Janney, Olivia Thirlby, Kieran Culkin, and Rosemarie DeWitt. (FWIW, the provenance of the film’s name is also the best tell for what it’s ultimately about.) Well worth seeing.
Worth Netflixing: 21 Jump Street, Ai Weiwei Never Sorry, The Amazing Spiderman, Bernie, The Bourne Legacy, Detachment, Haywire, The Hunger Games, The Life of Pi, Les Miserables, Magic Mike, Marley, Men in Black III, ParaNorman, The Raid: Redemption, Savages, The Sessions, Snabba Cash, Ted, To Rome With Love
Don’t Bother: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Casa de mi Padre, Chronicle, Compliance, Cosmopolis, Dark Shadows, Flight, The Hunter, Hyde Park on Hudson, Jeff Who Lives at Home, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Killer Joe, Lawless, The Loneliest Planet, Lockout, Rampart, Red Hook Summer, Safe House,Snow White and the Huntsman, Total Recall
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln; Liam Neeson, The Grey; Dennis Lavant, Holy Motors; Anders Danielsen Lie, Oslo, August 31st; Jean-Louis Trintignant, Amour
Best Actress: Rachel Weisz, The Deep Blue Sea; Emmanuelle Riva, Amour; Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone; Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Best Supporting Actor: Ben Whishaw, Cloud Atlas; Ben Mendelsohn, Killing Them Softly; Jude Law, Anna Karenina; Clarke Peters, Red Hook Summer
Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables; Samantha Barks, Les Miserables; Frances McDormand, Moonrise Kingdom
Unseen: 2 Days in New York, Act of Valor, Alex Cross, American Reunion, Arbitrage, Battleship, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Brave, Butter, The Campaign, The Cold Light of Day, Contraband, Deadfall, The Devil Inside, The Dictator, Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, End of Watch, The Five Year Engagement, For a Good Time Call…, Friends with Kids, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, The Guilt Trip, Hitchcock, Hope Springs, How to Survive a Plague, The Impossible, The Intouchables, Jack Reacher, Joyful Noise, Not Fade Away, One for the Money, Man on a Ledge, The Man With the Iron Fists, Mirror Mirror, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, On the Road, Parental Guidance, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Pirates: Band of Misfits, Premium Rush, Project X, The Raven, Red Dawn, Red Tails, Robot and Frank, Rock of Ages, Safe, Safety Not Guaranteed, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, The Secret World of Arietty, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Step Up: Revolution, Taken 2, This is 40, The Three Stooges, Tim & Eric Billion Dollar Movie, This Means War, Trouble With The Curve, Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part II, The Watch, W/E, The Words, Wrath of the Titans
2013: 2 Guns, 42, 47 Ronin, 300: Rise of an Empire, About Time, After Earth, All is Lost, Anchorman: The Legend Continues, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn, As I Lay Dying, August: Osage County, Before Midnight, Better Living Through Chemistry, The Black Marks, The Bling Ring, Broken City, Bullet to the Head, The Butler, Byzantium, Captain Phillips, Carrie, Chavez, Closed Circuit, Closer to the Moon, The Colony, The Company You Keep, The Congress, The Counselor, The Dallas Buyers Club, Dead Man Down, Devil’s Knot, Diana, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: His & Hers, Dom Hemingway, Don Jon’s Addiction, The Double, Elysium, Ender’s Game, The Europa Report, Evil Dead, Fading Gigolo, Fast Six, Filth, Foxcatcher, The Frozen Ground, Gambit, Gangster Squad, Girl Most Likely, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, Gods Behaving Badly, A Good Day to Die Hard, The Grandmaster, Grand Piano, Gravity, Great Expectations, The Great Gatsby, The Hangover Part III, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, The Heat, Her, Homefront, Horns, How I Live Now, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Hummingbird, I, Frankenstein, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Inside Llewellyn Davis, Iron Man 3, Jack the Giant Slayer, Jack Ryan, Kick-Ass 2, The Last Stand, The Lone Ranger, Lovelace, Mama, Man of Steel, Monster’s University, Monuments Men, Movie 43, Oblivion, Oldboy, Olympus Has Fallen, Only God Forgives, Oz the Great and Powerful, Pacific Rim, Pain and Gain, Parker, The Place Beyond the Pines, Red 2, Riddick, R.I.P.D., Side Effects, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Star Trek: Into Darkness, Stoker, This is the End, Thor: The Dark World, The Tomb, To the Wonder, Trance, Twelve Years a Slave, Upstream Color, Warm Bodies, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Wolverine, The World’s End, World War Z, and
You have nice manners for a thief and a liar…
The dissertation manuscript — deemed well-written but far too long by every reader — now goes to Top Men (as per below). After at least a few weeks of rest, I’ll start working to cut it down for possible publication. (If that never pans out, I could see myself posting it here on the site, as per my other writings from back in the day.)
At any rate, this milestone doesn’t change anything, really, about my current professional situation. Nor am I entirely clear yet on how it will end up being useful in the future. But, at the very least, this long, occasionally ignominious chapter of my life is done, and for once I didn’t end up going the Jack Burden route. And there was much rejoicing.
Also, just to let you know, I’m working on the traditional annual movie review post, but it probably won’t go live until mid-month, since two of the better-reviewed films of 2012, Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty and Michael Haneke’s Amour, don’t arrive here in the Beltway Styx until 1/11. That also gives me another week to plug a few other holes via Netflix, like last night’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (dopey, but not nearly as terribad as I feared) and The Deep Blue Sea (a definite list contender).
In any event, happy 2013 everyone. Since we’ve made it through the Mayan gauntlet and are already living in The Future, it’s all extra time from here on out. Let’s make the most of it! Onward and upward.
As those few of you who still drop by here now and again know — and thanks much for that — it’s been a pretty grim year ’round these parts, and no mistake. We’re coming up on nine months since, after a year and a half (and on Valentine’s Day to boot), I suddenly got deemed “boring” by the ex I was quite fond of — the same insidious adjective applied to me back in 2006 — and then swiftly unpersoned by both her and a sizable majority of my then-current social scene. (They “went with Cheryl.”) Fortunately, I had a big project to absorb myself in with the old dissertation, but that’s come at the expense of the Ghost. Unlucky Number 13, I guess.
I am fully aware that, in the great scheme of life’s problems, of course, this one is ridiculous. I mean, there are homeless guys living on the street right outside my apartment who are scraping for food in trash cans. All around the world, lousy and/or terrible things happen to decent, undeserving people every single minute of the day, from car crashes and diseases to IEDs, errant drone strikes, and Republican legislatures. But, what can I say? It hit me where I lived. If you’ve had your heart broken — and this isn’t even my first rodeo in this regard, which probably didn’t help — you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, then nothing I write here can explain how lousy much of this year has been, or make whining about it seem any less self-absorbed.
But ANYWAYS, we’ve reached the half-the-relationship mark in terms of time passed, and while my interior landscape can still be pretty Gaelic and/or even Russian at times, we’ve hopefully reached the point in the movie where I’ve fixed my own back, done lots and lots and lots of push-ups, climbed out of the pit, and inexplicably shown up in a locked-down Gotham City again in my best suit. (This also means, presumably, that I’m about to run into Alicia Keys. Oh word.) So, notwithstanding the fact that, even on a good day, Bruce Wayne is a pretty damaged dude, here’s hoping for a better Year 14 for the old blog, and for life in general.
In any case, with the dissertation finally done, I’m still figuring out what sort of big writing project and/or life project I want to take on next, and how GitM fits or doesn’t fit in to that. (This won’t be an immediate pivot. For now, I’m spending my new free time just catching up on great shows I’ve kept for this moment, like Treme, and decent shows I can now watch without creeping dissertoral guilt, like Boardwalk Empire.) I may start doing the movie reviews again, which I’ve always enjoyed writing — but they also take a lot of time without much in the way of reward. So we’ll see.
Regardless, whatever comes next in life, I expect the Ghost will move along with me in some fashion — maybe in fits and starts, but forward nonetheless. So thanks for indulging me and, if you’ve been swinging by here since the 20th century or just got lost on the Google today, thanks, as always, for stopping by.
“‘The whole era,’ concluded Bourne in disgust, ‘has been spiritually wasted.’” Let’s hope, down the road a-ways from 2012, the last few years won’t feel the same. Anyway, that line’s from the first paragraph of the now completed(!) dissertation, which I sent off to my advisor and the committee this afternoon. It’s been a very long road, and I’m sure the euphoria will take hold in a bit. As for now, I just feel as per the clip above — plus exhausted with a twinge of Comic Guy.
FWIW, the final draft, with footnotes and bibliography and all that, clocked in at 1269 pages. If anyone’s interested on what’s covered and the general layout, I posted the table of contents below. That is obviously far too long for public — or anyone’s — consumption. I mean, I wrote the damned thing and I only read, like, the conclusion and stuff…It’s about the 20′s, right?
Seriously though, I’m sure I could have condensed it more than I did. For example, here’s the part on p. 527 where I talk about how the Harding administration used the Herrin Massacre as a public relations coup against the labor movement in 1922:
“All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy.“
That goes on for about 70 pages. And I think, if I’d just worked at it a little harder, I could’ve really gotten that down to 40. Ohhhhh well.
At any rate, I’m way too tired to be blogging at the moment, so I’ll leave it at that for now. Thanks to everyone for putting up with all the navel-gazing posts about this over the past few weeks, months, and years. FWIW, the general GitM readership got a shout-out on the acknowledgments page. With that in mind, work is crazy through election day, but this site should hopefully resume to normal status updates soon thereafter. First I need to sleep for awhile, clean up my paper-, book-, and dog-hair-strewn apartment, do some more sleeping, see all the movies I’ve missed — the only one I’ve seen in months was Looper (I liked it) — take my man Berk to the park, sleep some more, get a life, stuff like that.
Also, there is still the actual defense to consider, which will happen sometime in the next two months. But I am assuming that today was the day I destroyed the Ring, and that will be more of an “I’m a scarred, melancholy badass now, so let’s kick Saruman out of the Shire” Scouring-level event. Also, I’m not counting any chickens, trust me, but I did go ahead and put the batteries in my brand-new sonic screwdriver.
Uphill All The Way: The Fortunes of Progressivism 1919-1929
CHAPTER ONE: THE “TRAGEDY OF THE PEACE MESSIAH” 31
CHAPTER FIVE: THE POLITICS OF NORMALCY 357
CHAPTER NINE: THE BUSINESS OF AMERICA 824
“At latest count, we have 1.5 million university professors in this country, 1 million of whom are adjuncts. One million professors in America are hired on short-term contracts, most often for one semester at a time, with no job security whatsoever – which means that they have no idea how much work they will have in any given semester, and that they are often completely unemployed over summer months when work is nearly impossible to find (and many of the unemployed adjuncts do not qualify for unemployment payments). So, one million American university professors are earning, on average, $20K a year gross, with no benefits or healthcare, no unemployment insurance when they are out of work. Keep in mind, too, that many of the more recent Ph.Ds have entered this field often with the burden of six figure student loan debt on their backs.“
By way a history friend, How the American University was Killed in Five Easy Steps. (Hint: It has to do with the Powell Memo.) I’m finishing up my PhD because I’m pot-committed at this point but, when anyone asks, I never recommend that they follow suit. It is UGLY out there. When the chips were down, I was fortunate enough to have a prior career in speechwriting to fall back on. Most people don’t have that luxury.
In the meantime, I still have a few more chapters to go on this end, but hopefully things will liven up around here pretty soon thereafter. Until then, thanks, as always for stopping by.
On account of recent events, I’m initiating a change of host from (the seemingly dead) Cornerhost to Bluehost, a change of platforms from (the seemingly dead) Movable Type to WordPress, and, a change of domain hosts from (the definitely expensive) NetSol to Namecheap. In other words, there’s a high potentiality for a lot of funky turbulence around here for the next two to three weeks. Hopefully, I’ll see y’all on the other side.
Until then, I’ve put this off for far too long. This is the end, I’m going. I’m leaving now, Goodbye!
(It’s the only way to be sure.) Hello again — So the problem around here has been some kind of malware injecting tiny iframes that link to suspect sites when people visited through Google. This is a relatively common hack, but I’ve been having serious trouble figuring out the vector. (It didn’t help that my soon-to-be-ex-host is AWOL, the Movable Type forums are a dead zone, and that I’m very much of the n00b persuasion when it comes to coding and server-side issues, although I’m considerably savvier now than I was this time last week.)
Anyway, after rolling back everything and reinstalling MT (twice), a lucky scan using this White Fir tool uncovered this nasty bit of work lurking in my mt.js file:
(I say lucky, but I have a suspicion this code is only visible on the first scan from a given source. The reason I started suspecting mt.js is because it was considered an additional link on the first Sucuri Sitecheck scan I did…but only that first scan, not on subsequent ones.)
Anyway, even with my changing that first “write” above, this code still looks scrambled to all hell. But, whatever it does, unlike Mr. Pibb and Red Vines, it’s also clearly crazy malicious, and thus has been swiftly airlocked.
To be honest, I’m not still not sure what the original vector of infection was — I’m hoping it was some sort of cross-scripting vulnerability of an earlier version of MT. But I also feel like I deleted this mt.js file and rebuilt it from scratch using an all-new MT 5.14 default template a few days ago, and the problem was still extant. (I’ve also scoured my MySQL database for tricksy scripts like “eval,” “unescape,” “basecode64″ etc. Nothing there.)
So, at the moment, Google’s given GitM a clean bill of health again. Let’s hope it holds. In the meantime, everything I said in the last post stands — I’ll need to find a new host for GitM at some point. But, for now, I’m trying to knock out these last few chapters, so I’d best get back to it. Hope everyone out there is well.
P.S. I’m aware comments have been acting funky as well and that the comment box comes and goes. Apologies if you are a real human being who has tried to leave one in recent days. I think it’s fixed now — the comment spam seems to be getting through, in any event.
Actually, no, not yet. But I wanted to quickly explain the reason for the retro-look around here, and since tonight is also the movie event of the summer, it seemed like a good time for a brief update regardless. (All apologies to The Avengers, of course. If it’s any consolation to Whedon’s fine film, the “movie event of the year” will be The Hobbit in December. And at least you were great fun and not a half-assed disappointment like Prometheus.)
Anyway, life continues much as it has this past age. I work, Berk — fully recovered, minus one toe — barks at things. We’re leading a pretty solitary existence these days — hello, 2007 again — and it has its depressing moments, to be sure. But we’re getting by.
The good news is, and the reason why I won’t be returning to GitM for now, is that I’ve spent pretty much all my free time these past few months cracking out my long-neglected dissertation. At this point, I’ve got ten chapters and 800 pages written, which, I’ve been informed, is more than enough to defend for the degree. (I defend this fall.) But since I’ve finally come this far, I want to push through until I complete the project in its intended scope — which means four more chapters and, assuming a productive August recess, probably at least two-to-three more months of working evenings and weekends to go. When that’s finally done, I’ll be more inclined to reconnect with the world at large and take up the Ghost once more.
(And, yes, I know that nobody wants to read 800+ pages on progressives in the Twenties, or for that matter, 800+ pages on anything. I also know that all the time I’ve spent on this would probably have been better served just writing bondage-y Twilight fan fiction. Oh well.)
The bad news is, along with a gunfight breaking out above my head last weekend, the forces of entropy have conspired to infect the old blog here with some sort of google-hit-stealing malware. This has made the Google wrathful, and it has banished this poor, lowly Ghost to the unclicked shadowlands with the other leprous websites. It’s my fault — MT was way out-of-date. I was going to have it updated this past winter, along with a general overhaul of the look of the site. But the old blog-”friend” I hired to do the job took my money and then disappeared with it. (That turned out to be the opening salvo of the frozen-run-of-luck that precipitated this whole “interregnum of despair” around here.)
Anyway, in order to root out the infection, I’ve upgraded to MT 5, rolled back to the default templates, and rebuilt the site — Hopefully this finally does the trick and Google takes us back. If it does, and when I have the time, I’ll work on gradually fixing up the look of the Ghost again. (That is, presuming I learn to master all the intricacies of the non-coder-unfriendly new Movable Type. (Zemanta? What the?)) Until then, thanks for the patience and understanding, have fun in Gotham this weekend, and thanks, as always, for stopping by.
Update: Still on the wrong side of Google, and running out of ideas at this point. And my host — the once reliable Cornerhost — appears to have fallen off the Earth. So I guess, first things first, I’ll have to move everything to a more reliable host. If anyone has any keen infection-fighting ideas, please do pass them along. Otherwise, I’ll see ya when I have time to sort all this out.
Anyway, the upshot is there’s not much joy in Mudville these days, and I’m just not feeling very inclined to post here. I can’t really talk about politics because (1) it interferes with my current employ and (2) when you get right down to it, I find it hard to take presidential politics seriously as a vehicle for (hope-and-)change these days (although I’m sure it’s a great way to get your name on a NASCAR car.) I can’t really talk about personal matters because that’s just plain unsightly, and the Internet really doesn’t need any more TMI kvetching about first world problems. Nor, quite frankly, does it need to know what I thought of 21 Jump Street and Mass Effect 3 and the new Prometheus viral campaign and the like.
I’m not saying the Ghost is dead and buried, but I don’t see it coming back online regularly anytime soon: With the exception of the occasional comment-spam clear, the old hound and I are on walkabout for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, the archives are here and here, and all the old movie reviews are here. If you’ve been swinging by the site at any time for the past 12+ years, apologies for the service outage and thanks, as always, for stopping by.
Update: Thanks for all the well-wishes in the comments. As a follow-up, Berk has lost the toe, but the offending infection has, per the lab report, been “completely excised.” Meanwhile, after several weeks in the cone, the old hound is back to moving around normally and otherwise seems in good health. Squirrels and skateboarders, beware.
Ten days into the new year, it’s past time to knock out GitM’s best-of-2011 list. To be honest, last year’s movie crop was somewhat underwhelming, and as always, there are a few more gaps I’d love to have plugged first — Cedar Rapids, Margin Call, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Take Shelter, Warrior — but, for what I saw last year, here’s the best of ‘em…
Most Disappointing: Had I more faith in Zack Snyder beforehand, this would go to his thoroughly terrible Sucker Punch, and, alas, the unfortunately botched Green Lantern came close to taking this spot as well. In the end, though, this goes to Jon Favreau’s misfire Cowboys and Aliens. Cowboys! Aliens! Daniel Craig! Harrison Ford! And yet, this one came out duller than dirt.
Worth Netflixing: The Adjustment Bureau, Beginners, The Conspirator, A Dangerous Method, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2, Hugo, The Ides of March, J. Edgar, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Tree of Life, The Trip, Win Win
Best Actor: Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; George Clooney, The Descendants; Michael Fassbender, Shame
Best Actress: Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Charlize Theron, Young Adult; Mia Wasikowska, Jane Eyre
Best Supporting Actor: Uggie, The Artist; Christopher Plummer, Beginners, Eric Bana, Hanna; Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Best Supporting Actress: Shailene Woodley, The Descendants; Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life, Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids, Cate Blanchett, Hanna
Unseen: 30 Minutes or Less, Albert Nobbs, Anonymous, Another Earth, Apollo 18, Arthur, Arthur Christmas, Atlas Shrugged, A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas, Bad Teacher, Barney’s Version, Beastly, The Beaver, Bellflower, Biutiful, Carnage, Cars 2, Cedar Rapids, The Change-Up, Colombiana, Conan the Barbarian, Coriolanus, The Darkest Hour, The Debt, The Devil’s Double, The Dilemma, Dolphin Tale, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Dream House, Drive Angry, Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, Everything Must Go, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Fast Five, Footloose, Fright Night, The Guard, The Hangover Pt 2, Happy Feet 2,The Help, Hesher, Horrible Bosses, I Am Number Four, Immortals, Incendies, In the Land of Blood and Honey, In Time, The Iron Lady, I Saw the Devil, Jack and Jill, Killer Elite, Kung Fu Panda 2, Larry Crowne, The Last Circus, Like Crazy, The Lincoln Lawyer, Margaret, Margin Call, Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Mechanic, Melancholia, Moneyball, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, My Week with Marilyn, New Year’s Eve, Our Idiot Brother, Paranormal Activity 3, Pariah, Paul, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Priest, Puss in Boots, Rango, Real Steel, Red State, Rio, The Rum Diary, Sanctum, Scream 4, Sleeping Beauty, The Smurfs, Something Borrowed, Straw Dogs, Take Me Home Tonight, Take Shelter, The Thing, The Three Musketeers, Tower Heist, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Twilight: Breaking Dawn, The Way Back, Warrior, We Bought a Zoo, We Need to Talk about Kevin, Winnie the Pooh, Your Highness, Zookeeper
From recently in the NYT, Christopher McDougall makes the case for barefoot and minimalist running. YMMV of course, but at least for me, I’ve felt less injury prone since making the switch a few months ago. “‘Barefoot-style’ shoes are now a $1.7 billion industry. But simply putting something different on your feet doesn’t make you a gliding Tarahumara. The ‘one best way’ isn’t about footwear. It’s about form. Learn to run gently, and you can wear anything. Fail to do so, and no shoe — or lack of shoe — will make a difference.”
As of today, Ghost in the Machine is 12 years old. [0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. 11] Like its venerable ombudsdog, this site is mostly characterized these days by short bursts of frenetic activity followed by long periods of slumber. But, in its own way, the ghost is still keep-on-keepin’-on. If you’ve been here for awhile or just got lost on Google today, thanks, as always, for stopping by.
And quiet ’round here once again. Several reasons this time, including an end-of-recess vacation to lovely Kauai, and a hugely busy work push upon my return. Also, I’ve been spending my off-hours reading the Game of Thrones books (yes, I succumbed — I’m currently 700 pages into Feast of Crows) and training for the upcoming Baltimore half-marathon (a.k.a. getting back into even a modicum of running shape.)
So, plenty busy. Plus, coming up on twelve years of doing this, I do find myself questioning the point of it all. I can’t really comment at length on the (dismal) political scene at the moment, due to the overlap with my day job. And, at the end of the day, does the world really need yet another web outlet for long-winded movie reviews and the other random items that get posted here? Judging from the years of dwindling hits and lack of comments: No, no it doesn’t.
Of course, if trying to “make it” as a blogger was my main motivation for GitM, I probably would’ve quit 8-9 years ago. Still, spending hours posting copy here that just molders away unread seems like less a good use of my free time than it used to. Sorry, bitching is unsightly, I know. But, you might as well know why this site has been back-burnered for the past month. I’m not planning to officially quit or anything — this too will pass, I’m sure — and I expect my collector’s OCD will compel me to keep up with the movie reviews, if nothing else. But, in all honesty, I just haven’t been feeling the spark of late.
Hello all. So, yes, it’s been quiet again, and the movie reviews I’m behind on are piling up (I’m three back now, going on five.) In the excuse department, work has been even busier than usual, of late, and, obviously, the political scene has been depressing. So there’s that.
Anyway, in partial recompense, here’s my first entry of a fun meme I saw at Cryptonaut-in-Exile a few weeks ago: “100 Things I Love About My Favorite Movies. The rest will follow in a leisurely fashion at some future point.
Here’s the rules: “Rather than posting your 100 favorite films (which has been done and overdone), you simply post your favorite things about movies…[I]nstead of obsessing over whether the films you put on a list are ‘objectively good enough’ to put on said list, you simply jot down 100 moments/lines/visuals that have made a lasting impression on you or sneak their way into running gags between you and your friends.“
And, so, without further ado and in no particular order:
Notify your next-of-kin: This wheel will explode! Elvis Costello and the Imposter’s Spinning Wheel Tour was in the area this week, and I got the chance to catch my third Elvis show. Here’s the setlist, as half-determined by random spins of Elvis’s big carnival wheel:
I Hope You’re Happy Now | Heart Of The City | Mystery Dance | Uncomplicated | Radio Radio | Spin 1: Pump It Up/Busted | Spin 2: Alison | Spin 3: This Year’s Girl/Party Girl/Girl | Spin 5: Everyday I Write The Book | Spin 4: The Spell That You Cast/Indoor Fireworks/Brilliant Mistake/National Ransom | Spin 6: Roxanne/I Want You | Spin 7: And Your Bird Can Sing | (I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea | Beyond Belief | Waiting for the End of the World | Spin 8: So Like Candy | Don’t Let Me be Misunderstood
Encore 1 (acoustic): A Slow Drag With Josephine | Jimmie Standing in the Rain | Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?
Encore 2: Spin 9: Greenshirt/(Angels Want to Wear My) Red Shoes/Purple Rain | Honey Are You Straight Or Are You Blind? | What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?
So, as you can see, over thirty songs in there, and Elvis was in his usual top form. I could see “the wheel of songs” being more fun in theory than in practice, if luck hadn’t been such a lady to those of us at Wolf Trap — Granted no “Almost Blue,” “Man Out of Time,” or “Shipbuilding,” but any night you hear Elvis sing “Beyond Belief, “Indoor Fireworks,” “Alison,” “So Like Candy,” and especially “I Want You” (chosen by a contestant on a pick-any-song-you-want joker spin, and bless her for it) is a good night. If the wheel rolls ’round your way, definitely think about going. (Pic via here.)
“The popularity of the program is due to the attractiveness of the sturdy red bikes–every distinctive Capital Bikeshare vehicle on the street is a rolling advertisement for the program–and its incredible convenience. The system is very easy to use, and riders may pick up a bike at any station and drop it off at any station, perfect for short, one-way trips. The first 30 minutes of each trip are free, making a year’s membership a bargain for $75 if one uses the bikes for in-city commuting and errands.“
Bicycle sharing is coming your way, so forget all your duties, oh yeah… From Kevin Spacey to Fratty McFrattersons, Kaid Benfield briefly surveys the rise of DC’s Capital Bikeshare in The Atlantic. “‘Capital Bikeshare’s success right out of the gate has far exceeded our expectations,’ said program director Terry Bellamy.” (LivingSocial helped.)
I joined in March after my crappy Target bike was stolen, and, while it definitely has logjams at the morning and afternoon rush hours (hopefully soon alleviated by 25 more stations), it mostly works out for my daily commute. Now if only they could get users to wear helmets.
To rectify the V-day oversight in part, below are a few peppier-than-usual ditties to help winter ease into spring. If, like me and the ladyfriend — yes, I’m very happily un-single these days! — you’re a fellow Dance Central enthusiast, or for that matter just a proponent of #gettngslizzard, you’ll recognize several of these.
“Push me, and then just touch me, tll I can get my satisfaction…“
“Fear and panic in the air, I want to be free from desolation and despair…“
“I get my kicks on channel Six. I get my kicks on channel Six…“
And, until next year…
Happy belated V-day, y’all.
Sigh…anyway, I hope to rectify in the days and weeks ahead. (Besides, after the under-reported fiasco that happened here last week, I may well find myself with more time than usual on my hands come March.) In any case, thanks, as always for coming by. (Disapproving rabbit via Cute Overload and, um, Disapproving Rabbits.)
(This posed a poignant question for long-time players last night — Where do you go when the world ends? I myself parked my undead rogue on the grave where he was “born” four years ago, atop a hill in Tirisfal Glades, so he could watch the decline from a hazy distance.)
As usual, I’ve got a lot of games on my plate at the moment — CoD: Black Ops, Fallout: New Vegas, Civ 5, Starcraft 2, and DJ Hero 2. I’m still only halfway through Red Dead Redemption, and everything I’ve seen from the Kinect (and particularly Dance Central) suggests it’s a game-changing device in its own right. Still, for what hours I consign to gaming, I usually just keep coming back to WoW. It’s a quality production, through and through.