In its second installment, Slate’s new must-read series If It Happened There — which covers US events like our media covers other countries — chronicles the end of Michael Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor. “Bloomberg has made no secret of his ambitions for higher office, though experts believe he has limited appeal in America’s less-developed but politically influential agricultural regions, where powerful armed groups have bristled at his suggestions for limiting their access to advanced weaponry and munitions.”
After crafting a similar look for London, cognitive psychologist and map enthusiast reimagines the New York City subway system in circles. “Rather than emphasize straight lines, clean angles, and geographical accuracy, Roberts’ maps embody a more nuanced approach to mapping, one that combines aesthetics with usability.” Well, it looks nice…but I’m quite fond of “geographical accuracy” in maps as well.
It may not have the detail of Lego Hogwarts, but pretty cool nonetheless: A life-size Lego X-Wing is unveiled in Times Square. “The model…has a wingspan of 44 feet and comes complete with R2-D2 and a full range of sound effects…[It] was made with 5,335,200 Lego bricks. That, according to Lego, makes it the largest model ever built, eclipsing the Lego robot at the Mall of America by some 2 million bricks.”
It was a terrible day ten years ago, to be sure. But, I’m with Paul Krugman and The Onion. The horrors of that day can’t justifiy away torture, wars-of-choice, or any of the other ugly facets of the the low, dishonest decade that has followed.
As breaking over the weekend, the Coens’ next project may well be a look at the sixties folk scene in Greenwich Village, based on the life of Dave Von Ronk — above, with Dylan and Suze Rotolo — and his memoirs, The Mayor of McDougal Street. He shouldn’t overpower the story, but I do hope Jack Rollins get his due.
“At any rate, this was a terrible accident; 147 young people, they were all young men and women, were killed, lost their lives and a number of others were badly injured…This made a terrible impression on the people of the State of New York. I can’t begin to tell you how disturbed the people were everywhere. It was as though we had all done something wrong. It shouldn’t have been. We were sorry. Mea culpa! Mea culpa! We didn’t want it that way. We hadn’t intended to have 147 girls and boys killed in a factory. It was a terrible thing for the people of the City of New York and the State of New York to face.” — Frances Perkins
I meant to post on this a few weeks ago, but busy-ness conspired against it: 100 years ago last month, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory burned to the ground. And ultimately, from its ashes, a New Deal — something the Scott Walkers and Paul Ryans of the world might should consider.
To make this dynamic duo happen, we had to give up Felton, streaky scorers Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, 7-foot prospect Timofey Mozgov, X-factor-gone-bust Anthony Randolph, the ghost of Eddy Curry, some future draft picks and some cash…For the record, I am totally ok with all of this.
As ESPN’s Ian O’Connor writes, “This is a great deal for the Knicks, a greater moment for their fan base…[I]t’s one of the best trades this team has made since Eddie Donovan acquired Dave DeBusschere in 1968.” Let’s hope events bear out this sportswriterly exaggeration — The Carmelo Era at MSG begins tonight at 7:30.
True, that. Still, even after the Amar’e signing, the Knicks are looking like a seventh or eighth seed at best at the moment. And with potential X-factor Anthony Randolph starting the season hobbled, Gallinari and Felton playing inconsistently in the pre-season, and Stanford second-rounder Landry Fields starting at SG, I fear it’s not going to take too many games before we’re all just waiting for Melo all season.
(But, hey, at least right now we have a better record than the hated 0-1 Heat, who looked terrible last night against the Celtics. Booyah.)
“I can’t think of a surer way to lose both our national soul and the struggle against terrorism. Yes, Mr. Gingrich and Ms. Palin, there’s a cultural-political offensive afoot to undermine our civilization. And you’re leading it.” Slate‘s William Saletan reviews the current GOP jihad against a potential mosque near Ground Zero (not to be confused with the mosque that’s already been there for 40 years.) But, on the bright side, at least now we know not to take the ADL seriously anymore. (See, by way of contrast, J-Street’s statement.)
Well, the King’s season isn’t over yet. (Although it may be soon, if there’s another game like tonight’s 120-88 Game 5 fiasco.) Nonetheless, New York Magazine offers LeBron James a multi-part hard sell of NYC on behalf of the Knickerbockers. To my mind, their logic is irrefutable.
In surveying the recent foiled Times Square car-bomb attempt, Slate‘s Fred Kaplan makes the case for the prescience of Jane Jacobs, and explains why Dick Cheney is, yet again, wrong. (Kaplan also makes a case for security cameras which I’m less sanguine about — but, hey, two out of three ain’t bad.)
Speaking of the Times Square situation, Twitter wag pourmecoffee had some arch responses to the near-disaster: “Somebody saw something in Times Square. If Cheney were still around, he’d torture entire Lion King cast for answers,” and “When we catch this Times Square guy, I assume he will be too scary to try in New York.” Ah, Twitter.
Still, despite some quality performances throughout, Brooklyn’s Finest is not a movie I can really recommend. In its gritty street rhythms, shades-of-gray plotting, and all-star cast of dirty cops with streaks of nobility, the film clearly aspires to the greatness of The Wire. (In fact, Michael K. Williams (Omar), Hassan Johnson (Weebay), and Isiah Whitlock, Jr. (Clay Davis) are all in this movie, the latter prompting an hilarious chorus of “shheeeeeeeeeits” at my late-night showing.)
But, for all its admirable ambition, this movie ends up feeling a lot closer to Crash. Like that film (and like another considerably over-praised film of the same type, Babel), Brooklyn’s Finest tells three disconnected stories, seemingly in the hope that they might add up to more than the sum of their parts. But, other than the fact that some of these cops work in the same precinct, and all of them rather implausibly end up in the same apartment block in the climax, they don’ t really have anything to do with each other. Unlike The Wire, where actions on the street (say by Bubbles, or Herc) will reverberate through the system and have unintended consequences that affect the highest levels of the Game (say, the Mayor’s office), nothing that happens in any of these stories has any effect on the other tales being told. In other words, these dirty cop vignettes are basically stovepiped, and, as such, they’re somewhat redundant.
So, instead of one story, you get three. And, also like Crash, the writing’s pretty ham-handed in all of them. For an excellent example of this tendency, look no further than the opening minutes, as — message alert! — Vincent D’Onofrio gives an on-the-nose speel about there being no right or wrong, just “righter and wronger.” Alrighty then. (Speaking of D’Onofrio, between he, Will Patton, and the Wire guys, Brooklyn’s Finest sometimes feels like a Recovery Act-funded jobs program for cop and robber actors. I spent much of the movie half-expecting Michael Rooker to show up.)
So, with the writing dropping the ball rather egregiously, the actors involved have to carry Brooklyn’s Finest on their own for its two and a half hours. And, as it turns out, they’re mostly up to the task. As the working-class Catholic cop in desperate need of some drug money to fix his mold problem (yes, you read that right), Ethan Hawke gives a variation on his twitchy loser from Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, and is better than the material warrants. (Strangely enough, he’s also once again paired up with Brian O’Byrne.) Meanwhile, Richard Gere is miscast as the lousy, alcoholic peace officer a week out from his pension — I would’ve gone Fred Ward — but he struggles through, despite some excruciatingly embarrassing scenes involving his hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold girlfriend. (One involving fellatio, the other the Honeydrippers.)
And the best third of Brooklyn’s Finest involves Don Cheadle as the Departed-style cop “lost in the Game,” i.e. so deep-undercover he’s forgotten which way is up. This is not only because Cheadle is great, as per the norm, but also because he’s got the ablest supporting cast to work with — the aforementioned Will Patton as his handler, Wesley Snipes in a nod to his New Jack City days, Michael K. Williams as the anti-Omar, and a couple of scene-stealers in Hassan Johnson (who, outside of a well-placed Busta Rhymes track, has the funniest line in the movie) and Ellen Barkin (who aims to prove she has the biggest cajones in the film, by a country mile.)
Still, even tho’ I recently made the case for “actors workshop”-type movies with 44 Inch Chest, actors can only do so much. And, despite the occasional well-performed scene, Brooklyn’s Finest is just too fumbling and Haggis-y in the writing department to really warrant the time investment. Put briefly, Brooklyn’s Finest is to cop movies what Milwaukee’s Best is to beer — only a worthwhile option if you’re intentionally slumming it.
By way of the NY Times, here’s a map of what Americans are renting from Netflix. Apparently, the Fort Myers military base at zip code 22211 has radically different viewing tastes than the rest of DC, and Manhattan and Brooklyn (but not New Jersey) love them some Mad Men.
“‘You get so hard living here,” he said in a gravelly, mournful voice. ‘But pets open up that heart center. There is something about the unconditional love; they clean the blues off of you. ‘That’s their mission. That’s why a lot of New Yorkers have pets.’” The NYT reports in on the passing of Pretty Boy, stray cat and late prince of the East Village.
New York, New York, the center of the world, the city that never sleeps. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. And if you can’t…well, then, I guess you pack up a U-Haul and move on down the road. (Or is it “Then we take Berlin“?) At any rate, after a seven-year stint here in the Harlem-Morningside environs, Berk and I are leaving Manhattan on Wednesday for (hopefully) greener pastures. My next real destination is still undetermined, pending the vagaries of the job search, but for now I’ll be returning to the nest to continue writing the dissertation and otherwise scrounge for remunerative employ. We’ll see how it goes from there.
As for NYC, on one hand, I’m really going to miss this town. The sheer energy of Gotham always puts a spring in my step, and I really enjoy that distinct New York sensation of living in the center of the hive, ever-so-slightly in the future. On the other hand, I’d be lying if I didn’t concede that this city tends to aggravate my natural Irish melancholy, particularly once you factor in the usual grad school isolation, the happenstance that many of my better friends left some time ago, and the sad fact that, romantically speaking, I got crushed here…twice. But, no hard feelings, New York. Sure, there are lingering ghosts in this city, and if I never live as alone again as I have the past two years, it’ll be soon enough. But, I still love Manhattan, and I always will, and I would definitely look forward to doing another stint here at some point, if it turns out to be in the cards.
In any case, the future — however hazy at the moment — beckons. So, I’d expect it to be quiet here over the next few days as my brother and I lug my accumulated belongings down the Eastern Seaboard. Until then, hope everyone had a relaxing and appropriately reflective Memorial Day, and I’ll be in touch on the other end. And, if you’re an NYC reader and I didn’t see ya before I left, I expect I’ll be back for visits, more often than not. (I mean, this is New York.) Until then, be safe, y’all.
“I am deeply sorry that I did not live up to what was expected of me. To every New Yorker, and to all those who believed in what I tried to stand for, I sincerely apologize. Over the course of my public life, I have insisted — I believe correctly — that people regardless of their position or power take responsibility for their conduct. I can and will ask no less of myself. For this reason, I am resigning from the office of governor.” Spitzergate comes to its inevitable close as the Governor resigned this morning, paving the way for Lt. Governor David Paterson to take office in Albany. (Yes that means Clinton -1.)
I know that some Dems have argued that Spitzer shouldn’t resign, citing David Vitter in particular, and that something is fishy about the Dubya Justice Department’s handling of this case. To be sure, I haven’t been relishing the unsightly upsurge in schadenfreude among the GOP, Wall Street, and exactly the type of corporate ne’er-do-wells Spitzer spent a lifetime fighting.
But, let’s get real here: Spitzer’s actions weren’t only brazenly and colossally dumb, they were patently illegal. Now, one can question the purported immorality of the world’s oldest profession, and I would be among those who think it’s a relatively victimless crime, situations like human trafficking excepted. But given that Spitzer is a guy who’s personally put people in jail for prostitution and then condemned them in the press, this would seem to be a no-brainer. He had to go down for this, or he would have put himself above the law. So whether or not Spitzer had well-connected political enemies — and, of course, he does — is somewhat beside the point here. The real problem here is that Gov. Spitzer was so unfathomably stupid as to engage in illegal acts that he — better than virtually anyone else alive — knew would result in his downfall. And the tragedy is that, given what Spitzer might’ve accomplished in office otherwise, everyone now pays the price for his apparent inability to restrain his appetites.
The setup’s all in that teaser, of course, but that doesn’t stop Cloverfield, an 85-minute movie, from starting off wicked slow. After a few moments with two young lovers in a Deluxe Apartment in the Sky (Time Warner Center, to be exact), the film begins with a surprise going-away party downtown for Rob (Michael Stahl-David), a young financial type heading for Japan. (Not to obsess over real estate, but this apartment too is as impressive as the monster.) We then spend about 20 minutes wandering around said party, meeting all the young beautiful people who may or may not become Cthulhu food. (Rob, it seems, has many friends, but none of them are plain-looking.) So, let’s see, there’s Rob’s brother Jason (Mike Vogel), his best friend (and our cameraman) Hud (T.J. Miller), Jason’s girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas), Hud’s current crush Marlena (Lizzy Caplan)…but conspicuously absent amid them all (at first) is the fetching young lass we saw in the opening moments with Rob, Beth (Odette Yustman). She shows up late, with — ZOMG SC4ND4L! — another man in tow (I think his name was Travis, but it doesn’t matter — he’s a plot point that’s forgotten anyway), and, soon thereafter, leaves in a huff. (By now you may be thinking, uh, where’s the monster in all of this 90210 dreck? Yes, my thoughts exactly.) Anyway, so after enough time has elapsed that Beth could’ve gotten back home, there’s a shaking and a rumbling and…finally…well, you know what happens next.
Now, I could’ve forgiven Cloverfield its interminably long set-up if we then got a New York City disaster movie for the ages. But, after letting some obvious 9/11-ish images and moments — the collapsing buildings, clouds of billowing smoke, panicked cell phone calls — do the heavy lifting, the film mostly just stalls out. As far as the story goes, Rob decides he must go save Beth from the TWC, and, for reasons that don’t make much sense, everyone else just decides to tag along. Ok, that’s fine — you gotta get the protagonists moving around New York for one reason or another. Except, once the monster attacks, the city is almost completely empty, aside from U.S. infantrymen (who, as my friend pointed out, somehow got there before the Air Force.) I mean, it’s Manhattan. You’d think there’d be people wandering around everywhere in various states of terror and confusion, but, nope, all two million people either hunkered down or got out right away. In fact, other than the Statue of Liberty and the 9/11 nods, there’s not much point for the film to have taken place in New York at all. I mean, sure, there’s a sequence in the subway tunnels in which our heroes magically leap from Spring St. to 59th St. (and one which will seem rather derivative if you saw 28 Weeks Later or The Descent.) But, otherwise, this could have taken place pretty much anywhere.
If this review all sounds a bit nit-picky, well, perhaps. But, when the film never really engages at an emotional or visceral level, you gotta do something to pass the time. (The midnight crowd at my local Magic Johnson sat there more dutiful than dumbstruck.) Except for the occasional rare moment, as when the gang get caught in a full-out alley melee between the creature and the US Army, or witness a horse pulling an empty cart around Central Park, Cloverfield never establishes a groove. And everytime you think it might start to get interesting, it falls back into Archie and Veronica grandstanding. Throw in a few wildly implausible escapes and people rallying from seriously painful injuries, and there’s not much here to recommend. To be honest, I’d wait for the video. And, if no one ever finds said video under all the debris in Central Park, well, trust me, you didn’t miss much.
Seriously, though, when I first heard word they were doing another take on Richard Matheson’s eerie 1954 novella, and that word was penned by hackmeister Akiva Goldsman and read “We’re blowing up the Brooklyn Bridge!“, I figured this would be a big budget stinker, along the lines of Alex Proyas’ version of I, Robot. And yet, while a action blockbuster has been grafted onto the basic story (and it’s moved from suburban California to the heart of Metropolis), Francis Lawrence’s I am Legend is surprisingly true to the grim feel of the novella. In short, Legend is a much quieter and more melancholy film than I ever expected. And, while it definitely has some problems, it’s probably my favorite big budget blockbuster of the year, with the possible exception of The Bourne Ultimatum. True, Lawrence’s take on Constantine in 2005 turned out better than I figured as well. Still, I’m actually quite surprised by how moody and haunting this film turned out to be. (And, give credit where it’s due. Like Paul Haggis and In the Valley of Elah, I’m forced to concede that Goldsman might not always be the kiss of death.)
I am Legend begins innocuously enough with a sports report — It looks like the Yankees and Cubs in the World Series, although LA has an outside shot at a pennant too. But, in the near future, it ain’t just the ball players injecting experimental serums anymore. As a doctor (Emma Thompson) on the news informs us, scientists have altered the measles to work as the ultimate body-cleansing virus, in effect working as a cure for cancer. (A Cure for Cancer! This follows the baseball scores?) Cut to New York City, three years later. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, nothing beside remains…except one man (Will Smith) and his dog (Abbey), chasing down a herd of deer through the empty steel corridors of a desiccated Manhattan. (Sorta like Llewellyn Moss in No Country for Old Men, except now that country is everywhere, and the deermeat is worth more than the bag of money.) Clearly, something has gone Horribly Wrong. As we come to discover, that heralded cure backfired in dismal fashion, killing 90% of the Earth’s population immediately and turning the rest, a la the rage virus in 28 Days and 28 Weeks Later, into violent, depraved monsters with a taste for blood and a susceptibility to sunlight. This Last Man on Earth is one Robert Neville, an army scientist (blessedly immune to the disease) who spends his days in a Jamesian manse on Washington Square, working on a cure to beat back the infection, and his nights just trying to stay alive. (Put simply, “scientific atrocity, he’s the survivor.”) But, even with Samantha, his German shepherd, by his side, the loneliness and omnipresent danger are taking their toll. And as he succumbs deeper into hopelessness — and the creatures show signs of learning — his coping strategies begin to shift. Forget the cure…Maybe it’s time just to chase these Crazy Baldheads out of town…
Now, as I said, I am Legend does have it share of problems. The movie becomes more of a conventional actioner as it moves along, and the last act in particular feels weaker than the rest of the film. Looking exactly like the cave-dwellers in Neil Marshall’s The Descent, the CGI creatures have an ill-favored and badly-rendered look, and the more you see of them the less scary they become. Also, in complete counterpoint to what Dr. Neville tells us about the infecteds’ “social deevolution,” they eventually seem to get behind a Lurtz/Solomon Grundy of sorts. But his presence or authority is never really explained — he’s just a tacked-on Big Bad. I had trouble believing that somebody could’ve heard of Damien Marley but not his father Bob. (And, since you’re seemingly geared to the teeth, Dr. Neville, may I make some suggestions? 1) Infrared scope. 2) Night-Vision goggles.)
All that being said, for most of I am Legend‘s run it’s a surprisingly rich and nuanced film. Will Smith is invariably an appealing presence, but he doesn’t rely on his easy charisma or “Aw, hell no!” bluster much here. His performance is tinged with melancholy, and he does some great work in some really awful moments. Also, I feared going in that the canine companion bit would come across as a gimmick, just a cute creature for Smith to bounce off expository monologues. But Sam isn’t just Wilson the Volleyball — she’s a living, breathing character of her own. (Nor is she Lassie — she doesn’t seem preternaturally smart, and occasionally does dumb dog things, which seemed all too realistic.) And then there’s New York after the Fall, which in itself is a sort of character in the film. In shot after shot (somewhat akin to, but less showy than, the opening Times Square sequence of Vanilla Sky), Lawrence captures the eeriness of this great city laid low. Other than the aforementioned Brooklyn Bridge, “Ground Zero,” as Neville now calls it, hasn’t been destroyed or ravaged. It’s just empty, an overgrown, city-sized echo chamber for his pangs of isolation. (And as the Marley song goes, “It hurts to be alone.”) But, hey, even in a desolate New York City, with vampires lurking in the dark places, there are still plenty of fun ways to pass the time, and particularly if you have a good dog by your side.
“Today, due to the dearth of competitive city council elections and lack of a mayor’s race, it is likely that few New Yorkers will go to the polls. A good number of residents, tied up in the hectic pace of their daily lives, will probably not even realize today is an election day.” But, Election Day it is. As such, the New York Sun‘s Seth Gitell laments the lack of interest in voting, and asks blogs to help publicize the day. (Y’know, making today a national holiday might help too.) And, while it may not be the Big Show this year, there are some important races happening around the country right now: “Kentucky and Mississippi both have gubernatorial battles. There are state legislative contests in Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia. And a host of cities across the nation — including Baltimore, Maryland; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and San Francisco, California — will see mayoral elections.” (Today’s local NYC races are covered here.) Update: Dems gain Kentucky and the Virginia Senate.
The confusion in her eyes says it all: Gill suits up as Lizzie Borden in this promo pic for Fall River Legend, part of ABT’s upcoming fall run at City Center, Oct. 23-Nov 4. Borden “was a New England spinster who was the central figure in the axe murders of her father and stepmother on August 4, 1892 in Fall River, Massachusetts.” (As you can see, the “Axe Effect” had a different meaning back then.) “The slayings, trial, and the following trial by media became a cause celebre, and the fame of the incident has endured in American pop culture and criminology.” (Indeed, Borden even has her own blog over at the Lizzie Borden Virtual Museum.) Tickets for ABT’s fall season are on sale now.
“I think were seeing the life of hip-hop coming back with songs like ‘Aunt Jackie.’ It’s the kids acting like kids used to act when I was growing up, and I love it because, to me, hip-hop has been too cool for school lately.” While I’m linking to music on YouTube, I meant to post this while in Seattle and forgot: Slate‘s Jody Rosen examines the Aunt Jackie phenomenon. Who’s Aunt Jackie? She’s “new rap music with an old-school flow,” i.e. a goofy, ridiculously infectious throwback jam that’s been blowing up on the Tube over the past six months. No gangstas, no bling — just old-school beats, rhymes, and b-boyin’ invoking the early days of NYC hip-hop. (NSFW, due to language and the fact that you’ll likely try to imitate the Aunt Jackie after awhile.)
Joel Lobenthal of the NY Sun: “As Gamzatti, Gillian Murphy imprinted infallibly etched images of pride, love, and ruthless will. She has studied the role so thoroughly and respectfully that even when she brings her own time and culture to Gamzatti’s rarified reactions and body language, they don’t coarsen her performance, but rather add to its vitality. Ms. Murphy has refined her natural facility for turning, so that her multiple fouettes in the Pas d’Action coda were smooth as silk, and her pirouettes in her last act solo, followed by an echoing spiral into the upper body, were mesmerizing.” Or, says Jennifer Dunning of the NYT: “Once again Ms. Murphy made Gamzatti as pitiable a creature as she is evil, but this is a ballerina who needs a substantial work created for her.” Yes, it’s ABT’s summer season time at the Met, and once again Gill is rocking the house. I’ve caught her in Othello and The Dream (that’s her as Titania at right) thus far, and both times she was grand. If you’re in the NYC area and looking for an evening out, check the listings — you won’t be disappointed.
Hey all…I’m now back in New York City, tan, rested, and ready for whatever 2007 may bring. (I hope.)
As longtime readers might know (or might’ve adduced from some of the site banners above), I’ve always been a big Terry Gilliam fan, and will pony up for films considerably worse than The Brothers Grimm to repay the man for making Time Bandits, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and one my all-time favorite movies, Brazil. (In fact, “Ghost in the Machine” is the name of this site partly for the Brazil reference.) So it was a real treat yesterday when I and a friend from high school got to see Terry Gilliam live in the flesh last night at the IFC Center on 4th St. After making the rounds in front of The Daily Show yesterday afternoon, Gilliam showed up as part of IFC’s Movie Night series, in which a director of some repute screens one of his favorite films. (In fact, he showed up with the sign he’d been lugging around outside all day: “STUDIOLESS DIRECTOR — FAMILY TO SUPPORT — WILL DIRECT FOR FOOD”) Apparently, Gilliam had wanted to show One-Eyed Jacks, the 1961 western directed by Marlon Brando, but the Brando estate wouldn’t deliver a print or somesuch.
So, the film we got instead was Jaco von Dormael’s Toto le Heros (Toto the Hero), a bizarre Belgian concoction of 1991 that’s part Prince and the Pauper, part Singing Detective, part Citizen Kane and very Gilliamesque. A movie that’s hard-to-explain but that’s definitely worth renting, Toto follows the story of one Thomas van Haserbroeck (Don’t call him van Chickensoup), an imaginative young boy unsettlingly in love with his sister, a lonely man contemplating an affair with a mystery woman, and a deeply depressed senior citizen looking to exact revenge for a life-long grievance. Y’see, Thomas (or Toto, as he’s called in his dream life, where he’s a film noir gumshoe) insists he remembers being switched with another baby — his wealthy next-door neighbor, Albert Kant — during a fire at the hospital, and therein, in his mind, lies the source of most of his troubles. As the story switches back and forth in time, Toto and Albert’s lives keep butting against each other in strange doppelganger fashion, while old-Thomas enacts a plan to reclaim his stolen life…
After the movie, Gilliam returned to the front for a wide-ranging Q&A session, which involved questions both probing (“Did you borrow from Toto in 12 Monkeys?” [No, don't think so.]) and peculiar (“Where’d you buy your shoes? Where’s the worst place you ever spent the night?” [Birkenstocks, some backwater hut in India]) Along the way, Gilliam told tales of first meeting the Python guys, photographing Frank Zappa in 1967, choosing his various directors of photography, and, the battle of Brazil notwithstanding, generally enjoying the constraints of studio heads and limited budgets. (They focus him.) Speaking of which, he also said Good Omens still seems to be moving forward, and Quixote may still happen someday. (He also mentioned The Defective Detective briefly, but it seemed in the past tense.) And these days he’s digging the new Dylan album, as well The Arcade Fire’s Funeral and The Flaming Lips’ At War with the Mystics.
At one point, he also said he was considering suing Bush, Cheney, et al for making an unauthorized remake of Brazil. With that in mind, I asked him whether his views on Brazil had changed at all now that we’re kinda living it. (I mean, what with Cheney playing Mr. Helpmann, Canadian citizens getting Buttled, and the Dubya team now fully sanctioning Jack Lints, what’s a good Sam Lowry to do, other than await his turn in the chair or on the waterboard?) He noted that, obviously, Brazil-type stuff was going on around the world at the time (in the Soviet bloc, Argentina, etc.) but that he watched the film the other day (to check out the new Criterion HD-DVD version) and was amazed at both how prescient and topical it was.
Throughout, Gilliam was amazingly friendly and personable, and came across a remarkably humble and down-to-earth guy. He kept taking questions well after the IFC-suit tried to close down the affair, and hung around the nearby cafe afterwards to sign various items. I ended up being the second guy in line, and got him to sign the Brazil still above (one of five I have framed in my hallway.) When he asked me my name for the signature, he lit up, “Kevin! Time Bandits Kevin!” I told him I was right around that age when I first saw Time Bandits, and he’s definitely got a lot to answer for.
“When you look at this tower, it will immediately tell you where the memorial park is. It’s always pointing.” Architects and developers reveal the rest of the proposed Lower Manhattan skyline at Ground Zero, to accompany the Freedom Tower.
If you’re going to see only one movie about 9/11, see Paul Greengrass’ United 93, far and away the best movie of the year. If you’re going to see two movies about 9/11, see United 93 and Spike Lee’s The 25th Hour, still the best film I’ve seen about the day’s aftermath here in Gotham. And, if you’re going to see three movies about 9/11…hmm, now that’s a tough one. Maybe add the first hour of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds and the first half-hour of Oliver Stone’s surprisingly rote World Trade Center? While much better than the godawful Alexander or the misfiring Any Given Sunday, World Trade Center nevertheless suggests that Stone is still somewhat off his game. The movie has some moments of genuine power, particularly in its first act (as it would have to given the potency of its source material), but it’s hard to believe the director of JFK, Platoon, Natural Born Killers, and Nixon would make such a staid and conventional Lifetime movie-of-the-week from the defining tragedy of our decade. (Even more unStonelike, aside from an indirect dig at the blathering television newsmedia, who continuously recycle the morning’s events well past everyone’s endurance, WTC is also resolutely apolitical and uncontroversial.) In sum, World Trade Center is crisply-made and at times affecting, but nowhere near as interesting or eventful a movie as you might expect. As EW’s Owen Gleiberman aptly summed it up, “World Trade Center isn’t a great Stone film; it’s more like a decent Ron Howard film.“
Much like United 93, World Trade Center begins in the wee morning hours of Tuesday, September 11, 2001 (3:29 am, to be exact), as some of New York City’s earliest risers — and, indeed, the City itself — wake up to face another day. Among the bleary-eyed morning commuters are two of the Port Authority’s finest, family men Sgt. John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) and rookie officer Will Jimeno (Michael Pena). We follow McLoughlin and Jimeno through the beginnings of their usual routine — walking the beat at the Port Authority bus terminal — until the shadow of a jet zooms overhead, and the horrors of the day start to unfold. An expert on the World Trade Center since before the 1993 bombing, McLoughlin quickly leads a busload of anxious Port Authority cops down to what will soon become known as Ground Zero, where he and a small team (including Jimeno), after choking back their awe and fear, enter the mall concourse between the towers. As metal coughs, creaks, and grinds onimously in the background, these first responders gather up their gear and prepare for their trek up Tower 1. But, just when McLoughlin gets wind that there may be something wrong in Tower 2 (news which Jimeno heard on the way down), a terrible Wrath-of-God rumbling begins, and the World caves in. Having barely made a desperate sprint to the elevator shaft, which McLoughlin — thankfully — had known was the strongest part of the building, the surviving members of his team find themselves entombed (and partially crushed) amid a hellish morass of concrete and twisted steel. Then — although they have no clue what’s going on — the other Tower falls, and McLoughlin and Jimeno are left alone in the dark, hopelessly pinned underneath the smoldering wreckage of the two towers.
Up to this point, Stone’s movie is almost completely riveting, and the scenes in the doomed (and painstakingly recreated) WTC concourse in particular have a horrifying “I can’t believe I’m seeing this” feel to them…Unfortunately, we’re only about thirty minutes into the film. For the next ninety minutes, WTC switches back and forth between these two dying peace officers and the anxious pacing of their confused and griefsick wives, Donna McLoughlin (Maria Bello, wearing really distracting blue contacts that make her look Fremen) and a pregnant Allison Jimeno (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Alas, horror yields to hokum, and the film pretty much wallows in melodramatic platitudes for the remainder of its run. This is not to say that the rest of World Trade Center is terrible — It’s competently made and, given the human drama at stake here, even moving at times. But it’s also breathtakingly conventional, with Stone (and WTC‘s writer Andrea Berloff) pulling every single disaster-movie-tearjerker cliche out of the book by the end: flashbacks to happier times, ghostly visions of loved ones (as well as a faceless Jesus, which is the closest Stone gets to his usual obligatory shaman cameo), the kid who won’t accept the situation at face value, the musing over last words spoken, etc. (The bromides also extend to the brief and not very realistic characterizations of some of the post-collapse rescuers, which include Stephen Dorff, Frank Whaley, and Michael Shannon.)
Along those lines, I don’t want to make it sound like I’m criticizing the true story of McLoughlin and Jimeno — their story is a miracle, and one of the few small beacons of cheer from that terrible morning. But, when a movie called World Trade Center ends up focusing so narrowly on these two survivors and — big spoiler, but it’s in the poster — ends with happy reunions and two families getting unexpectedly wonderful news, something seems off. Unlike United 93 which managed to recapture both the primal nightmare and unexpected heroism of that day and did so unblinkingly, without sugar-coating the fate of the fallen, WTC instead transmutes the stark emotions of 9/11 into saccharine, easy-to-swallow caplets of Hollywood sentiment. Some people may like this alchemy better, I suppose, but, in all honesty, to me it felt like an overly-sanitized cop-out (or two cops-out, in this case.) World Trade Center means well and is a decent film in every sense of the word. But the first half-hour notwithstanding, it also feels superfluous — which, given the confluence of director and material here, is somewhat surprising.