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Gone Daddy Gone.

Well, admittedly, I’m probably much more of a City Mouse these days than I was back during my Carolina youth, so take that for what it’s worth. And I will fess up to having grim flashbacks to the stultifying experience of Sweetgrass in the “realistically”-portrayed opening moments of this film, so that didn’t help either. Still, I have to say, I just did not cotton to Debra Granik’s gritty Ozark noir Winter’s Bone like it seems a majority of critics did. (Some have even called it the “best American film of the year.” I reckon I’d seen a better American film not 24 hours beforehand.)

This “dark as a dungeon” Missouri folk tale is well-made, to be sure, and it includes both impressive, nuanced performances — most notably from the Zellweger-esque lead, Jennifer Lawrence — and some very likable actors (John Hawkes and Garret Dillahunt of Deadwood; Sheryl Lee, nee Laura Palmer, of Twin Peaks) shading in the margins. But, for a couple of reasons, which I’ll get into a moment, I didn’t find the main through-line of the story particularly engaging. And, in its depiction of mountain folk living on the economic razor’s edge, I can’t help feeling that the movie veered dangerously close to stereotype, if not outright Precious or Slumdog Millionaire-style poverty pr0n at times.

First, the story. After a few minutes of soaking in the three R’s of life-as-it-really-happens in an economically marginal Missouri town — ROTC training, ramshackle cabins, and (jus’) regular folk — the young woman we’ve been following around, Ree Dolly (Lawrence), is approached by the local sheriff (Dillahunt) with some very problematic news. Apparently, her daddy — who, like all-too-many men in this poverty-stricken region, is a meth cook of some renown — has skipped bail. (Paging Heisenberg!) And if Pa Dolly doesn’t show up for his scheduled hearing a fortnight or so hence, the bond he posted will be taken by the county — in the form of Ree’s house. There isn’t enough money to go around on a good day, and since Ree is already neck-deep in raising her two little siblings and caring for her ailing mother, who’s not quite right in the head, getting turned out of the only home the Dollys have would basically be tantamount to a death sentence.

And so, with only a quick mind and sheer doggedness at her disposal, Ree starts trying to ascertain the whereabouts of the prodigal father, before this deadly eviction hammer falls. Trouble is, the extended community — who are more often than not related by blood ’round these parts — take none too kindly to Ree’s asking tough questions about a central participant in the local, lucrative criminal enterprise. Even Ree’s uncle Teardrop (Hawkes), her father’s brother, tends towards the unhelpful or abusive whenever she comes by for another round for questioning. But what can she do? Ree’s back is to the wall, and the only thing she can do to save her family from certain starvation is to push forward and find her dad, with all the ugly consequences that’ll entail…

Part of the reason Winter’s Bone didn’t work for me, I think, is I felt like I’d just seen a more engaging version of this movie — a regional neo-noir with a bleached-out aesthetic, involving working-class folks in a tight-knit community dabbling in crime to get by — in Nash Edgerton’s The Square. But even that film aside, and with all due respects to the wanderings of M. Lebowski, I get a bit irritated with noir-offerings that put a puzzle before you (in this case, where is Ree’s Pop?), but then don’t really give you the tools to play along.

Put another way: For all Ree’s gumption, only in the occasional scene here — like, when she’s shown a burned-out meth lab where her dad supposedly died — does she get to put two-and-two together in a way that moves the story forward. Instead, she’s more often relegated to being a passive figure in her own tale, at which point some other character will swing by her endangered home and dole out whatever info is needed to get the plot moving again. Perhaps this is by design — one of the best scenes in the movie is when Ree tries to sign up for the Army for an infusion of much-needed cash, and is very kindly told that her options right now are even more limited than they already seemed. Still, this passive tendency makes Winter’s Bone feel like a movie where this happens, and then that happens, and this happens, rather than an engaging mystery. There’s a sense of urgency, sure — the ticking clock of impending eviction — but there’s still no narrative drive to this story.

At which point a fan of this film might say: You’re missing the point. Winter’s Bone is less about typical noir plotting than it is about character, social realism, and establishing a strong sense of place. Well, convenient straw-man fan, I’m glad you got brought this up, because this actually gets to my bigger problem with the movie. From its Welcome-to-the-Real-America opening moments, Granik’s film goes out of its way to establish its versimilitude — but that’s exactly where the movie increasingly felt off to me. And while I think it’s uncharitable to say of Winter’s Bone that it’s the tale of Cletus (or Brandine) the Slack-Jawed Yokel told as tragedy — at times it really does feel like we’re hunting possum in that same hillbilly-stereotype trailer park.

Now, I won’t profess to be any kind of expert on what a life of grinding poverty in the Ozarks looks and feels like — I’ve never been to that part of the country, although I have spent time in some very broke regions of the Carolinas, West Virginia, and the Deep South. So, maybe I’m wrong, and Winter’s Bone is actually witheringly acute in its depiction of the ways of dirt-poor rural folk here. But when there are more scenes of hootenannies and squirrel-hunting in your movie than there are of people doing “normal” things like, say, watching TV or driving to Wal-Mart, I really start to wonder. And that goes double when your characters tend to speak in a near-Milchian poetic argot about their kin and the ways of menfolk and the like.

To be clear: I wasn’t offended by this Othering of them there Mountain folk, but I didn’t really buy into it either. And so the more the film strived toward versimilitude — look at how poor (and yet noble!) poor can be! — the more Winter’s Bone just felt like a hyper-stylized, and even downright artificial, Ozark requiem by way of Cormac McCarthy to me, and the more I disengaged from it. Call me uncouth (I blame mah upbringin’), but, without feeling much of either the story or the milieu, I basically spent the majority of Winter’s Bone — even its ostensibly shocking culmination — just dutifully waiting for it to end.

The Last Dog Diatribes.

“During the discussion, Clinton told his vice president that he was disappointed that Gore had not used him in the last ten days of the 2000 campaign in strategically significant states — Arkansas, Tennessee, New Hampshire, and Missouri…Clinton insisted to Gore that he hadn’t cared about how Gore had referred to Clinton — and his personal scandal — during the campaign. Paraphasing this portion of the conversation, Branch writes that Clinton told Gore, ‘To gain votes, he would let Gore cut off his ear and mail it to reporter Michael Isikoff of Newsweek, the Monica Lewinsky expert.’

In Mother Jones, David Corn previews some of the interesting tales disclosed in historian Taylor Branch’s forthcoming The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President. “In 1997, after New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote an acerbic column about Clinton and golfer Tiger Woods — maintaining that the the two green-eyed hucksters deserved each other — Clinton told Branch, ‘She must live in mortal fear that there’s somebody in the world living a healthy and productive life.’

It don’t mean a thing, if you ain’t got those swings.

As posted here awhile ago, national polls have consistently shown Sen. Barack Obama performing better against John McCain than Sen. Hillary Clinton. Well, the polling firm Rasmussen has taken the question a step further, and begun asking swing states what they think of the three remaining candidates. Check these out.

  • Colorado: Obama beats McCain by 7 (46%-39%), McCain beats Clinton by 14 (49%-35%).
  • Minnesota: Obama beats McCain by 15 (53%-38%), McCain beats Clinton by 5 (47%-42%).
  • New Hampshire: Obama beats McCain by 13 (49%-36%), McCain beats Clinton by 2 (43%-41%).
  • Nevada: Obama beats McCain by 12 (50%-38%), McCain beats Clinton by 9 (49%-40%).
  • Oregon: Obama beats McCain by 9 (49%-40%), McCain beats Clinton by 3 (45%-42%).
  • Pennsylvania: Obama beats McCain by 10 (49%-39%), McCain beats Clinton by 2 (44%-42%).

    The only swing state studied thus far that can give the Clinton campaign any comfort is Missouri, which shows a statistical tie: McCain beats Clinton by 1 (43%-42%), McCain beats Obama by 2 (42%-40%).

    On the issue of electability, the choice seems clear. Update: SurveyUSA has more, and they follow the same pattern.

  • Iowa: Obama beats McCain by 10 (51%-41%), McCain beats Clinton by 11 (52%-41%).
  • Virginia: Obama beats McCain by 6 (51%-45%), McCain beats Clinton by 3 (48%-45%).
  • Wisconsin: Obama beats McCain by 10 (52%-42%), McCain beats Clinton by 7 (49%-42%).

  • We’re going the distance.

    There is one thing on this February night that we do not need the final results to know: our time has come. Our time has come, our movement is real, and change is coming to America.Obama takes the Super Tuesday hit, and not only stands his ground but deals some damage of his own. The result? We need more rounds.

    It’s Wednesday morning, 3am, so I’ll keep it short for now. But, all in all, I’m pretty pleased with how Super Tuesday shook out tonight. Sure, I’d have liked to see Massachusetts, New Jersey, and California in our column, and was rather dismayed when those pesky exit polls — which had us winning in MA and NJ — turned out to be bunk. But, around 10pm or so, the tide turned, with Obama racking up a slew of states and drawing particularly notable wins in Connecticut, Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, and Missouri. California didn’t fall, of course, but I’d written it off hours earlier thanks to that early exit poll data.

    The thing is, Super Tuesday was meant to be Clinton’s knockout punch — as little as two weeks ago, she was up 20 in the national polls. And, now, Obama is not only still standing, it looks like he may be (ever-so-slightly, of course) in the lead. At the end of the night, we ended up with more states (13 to 8, with NM outstanding) and — more importantly — basically split the delegates (we should know the exact figures in the next few days, but the late tally is 841-837 for Obama, and, regardless, all we had to do is stay close.) And, while Senator Clinton’s support has held steady, Senator Obama has jumped 15 points nationally in just the past two weeks. Now, the Obama campaign has money to burn and time to spend on a smaller — and more favorable — playing field. We have a ways to go yet, but now that we’ve made it over the Super Tuesday hurdle, time is on our side.

    Update: It’s still not absolutely official, but Sen. Obama seems to have won more delegates last night. And, as that was kinda the point of the evening, this is very good news.

    Take Back the House!

    Shady, harrassing “robocalls”, voter intimidation in Virginia, sketchy-acting electronic voting machines: yes, folks, it’s Election Day in America, and the frantic GOP are up to their usual bag of tricks. In the inimitable words of Baltimore Deputy Commissioner for Ops Bill Rawls: “American Democracy. Let’s show those Third World %@#$ how it’s done.

    Regardless, each side has had their November Surprise (for the Left, Haggard’s hypocrisy; for the Right, Hussein’s hanging), and now — at long last — it’s showtime: Time to show “the decider” what we really think of him.

    For what it’s worth, I can now personally guarantee at least one vote for the not-particularly-embattled Spitzer/Clinton/Rangel/Cuomo ticket. I even used an old-school levered voting machine, so mine should more likely than not get counted.

    Predictions? Of course, I’d like to venture a 1994-like tidal wave, but I’ve been burned by too many election nights in the past. So I’ll play it relatively safe…the Dems win the House, picking up 18-22 seats, and gain four seats in the Senate: Missouri, Montana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. (So long, Santorum!) It looked like control of the Senate might’ve hinged on the Allen-Webb race in Virginia, but now that Harold Ford seems to have faded in Tennessee (one has to wonder how much Corker’s gutterball ad helped him), a Dem Senate looks really unlikely. Still, I’d love to be surprised in both states.

    Obviously not winning the House at this point would be a grievous blow for the party. But, whatever happens tonight, it has to be better than the last midterms.

    The last two times I posted exit polls here (in 2000 and 2004), I’ve been led astray, but if I see anything good from the Senate races, I’ll post it below. In the meantime, the NYT has a quality election guide here, and there are a couple of good explanations of what to look for tonight here and here. On this end, I and several of my friends who’ve been burned over the last few election nights together will be huddled around the TV, yearning to breathe free. Hopefully, at long last, it’ll be our night.

    Take your seats.

    “‘The Democrats are going to gain somewhere between four and seven seats,’ said Stuart Rothenberg, author of an independent newsletter that tracks campaigns nationwide.” The WaPo surveys recent trends in the battle for the Senate, concluding that a Dem takeover is still eminently possible, if not yet probable. “Of the battlegrounds of Tennessee, Virginia and Missouri, [Rothenberg] said, ‘They need two of the three, and they have a pretty good chance’ of winning them.”

    Full Triage Mode.

    “Before I liberate the speaker so he doesn’t have to stand up here for that long, Speaker, I want to say this to you…I am proud to be standing with the current speaker of the House who is going to be the future speaker of the House.” Hmm…I wouldn’t be so sure. As Dubya bequeaths a “heck of a job, Denny” upon an increasingly embattled Hastert, the GOP moneymen are nevertheless hedging their bets, and are pulling cash out of several races around the country to try to hold the (Maginot?) line in Ohio, Missouri, and Tennessee. The financial “jousting will continue into the final days, but what is clear at this point is that Democrats are playing very little defense in the House and the Senate.

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