That’s how I greet this news.
It’s time we focus on the real victims here.
Hollywood, after donating millions to get Bloomberg and Andrew Cuomo into office, is bitching about the scope of New York’s gun grab law:
The sweeping gun control measure signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and hailed by Democratic leaders has a surprising critic: Hollywood.
Officials in the movie and television industry say the new laws could prevent them from using the lifelike assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that they have employed in shows like “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and films like “The Dark Knight Rises.”
For some reason, Hollywood likes to use real firearms when they make their movies glorifying violence (or at least minimizing its consquences:
Industry workers say that they need to use real weapons for verisimilitude, that it would be impractical to try to manufacture fake weapons that could fire blanks, and that the entertainment industry should not be penalized accidentally by a law intended as a response to mass shootings.
Impractical to manufacture?
Tell it to those peddlers on 23rd Street with the “Rolexes”. I’ll bet they can hook you up with a fake SIG 551 right quick.
Andrew Cuomo, of course, is angering people who supported him very generously:
Mr. Cuomo has gone out of his way to promote the industry’s success; on Monday, he issued one news release to say the state was on track to break its record for the number of television pilots shot in a year, and another to say that “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” would begin production this week in Rochester. The governor has also enjoyed political support from Hollywood: his sole out-of-state fund-raiser as governor was held at the Los Angeles home of an HBO executive.
And here’s the beauty of it all; Cuomo may have cried wolf once too often:
But some lawmakers, feeling stung by conservative and upstate voters over the gun control law, do not wish to vote on it again, even to make what the industry describes as a technical correction. Gun rights activists, who are challenging the new firearm restrictions in court, have mocked the idea of a so-called Hollywood exception.
¶ “They’re saying, ‘Why are we being held to this standard when Hollywood is getting a pass, and they’re the ones who are promoting the violence?’ ” said Thomas H. King, the president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association.
¶ The new laws expand New York’s ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and beginning next January, they will prohibit the possession of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
And it’s gonna be hard to keep Mariska Hargitay looking all sleek and fashionable if they have to switch from a Glock to a Colt 1911 or a Ruger Redhawk.
Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:
Separated at birth?
I can totally see it.
…I wish I was in New York this week.
Danny Boyle is doing a sequel to Trainspotting, 20 years on.
I wonder what Renton’s opening monologue…
…will be like this time?
It was seventy years ago today that Casablanca made its New York debut.
The movie – which started as a script for a never-produced play, “Everybody Goes To Rick’s” – was by no means a sure thing. Its production, under director Michael Curtiz, was almost legendary for its difficulties; the script was being revised constantly during shooting, both for plot reasons and to satisfy objections from the “Production Code Administration”, the industry’s standards and practices board that enforced the “Hays Code” that governed the morals shown in American movies up through the sixties; the references to Major Renault trading sex for visas, and Rick and Ilse’s fling in Paris, were originally treated much less elliptically than in the final cut.
Indeed, much of the movie’s flow wasn’t nailed down until the final edit. The immortal closing scene was very nearly augmented by a “real” ending that showed Rick and Major Renault on a ship full of troops – US and Free French – bound for Africa. This was cut – thankfully – due to Claude Rains’ unavailability – not the only case where a schedule difficulty helped preserve the movie we finally got…
…which was, in its purest form, a parable for what America really stood for on the world stage. We, like Rick, preferred isolation – but could be swayed by an overwhelming moral argument.
And what an argument it was. The moment when you started to have the faintest hint that Humphrey Bogart’s cynical, hard-bitten, paleo-noir “Rick Blaine” might have a soft spot (carefully hidden under layers of callouses and scars) for the underdog maybe one of the most gloriously, over-the-top manipulative scenes in cinema:
At first viewing, it’s a “U – S – A! U – S – A!” style adrenaline rush with the French – who were sympathetic figures to Americans back then – filling the starring role. The more you watch it, the more layers it has. Listen to the way La Marseillaise joins in over the Germans’ Die Wacht Am Rhein, as seamlessly as a nightclub DJ would beat-and-key mix them together.
The scene would make a granite countertop emotional.
I had not watched a lot of old movies, beyond the annual ritual of “Wizard of Oz” when I was a kid. I had little concept of what the golden age of Hollywood had meant, or been. The movie absolutely gobsmacked me.
And it was thirty years ago last New Years Day that I first saw Casablanca. And I never really recovered. I’ve watched it dozens of times, maybe a hundred. Back during college, I saw it so many times that I could recite the dialog along with the movie.
For starters – and it should surprise nobody that a 19 year old would notice this – but you can count the stars in movie history more radiant than Ingrid Bergman on one hand, with a couple of fingers left over.
The boy meets girl (spoilers follow), boy loses girl during a Nazi invasion, boy finds girl in North Africa, boy loses girl to charismatic underground leader, boy has a shot at getting girl back but uses that to trick her and boyfriend into leaving to carry on the fight while he heads off to fight the Nazis is an oldie but goodie – and has never been done better.
It was thirty years ago this past New Years Day that I first saw Casablanca.
And it’d be hard to show us a role that is a greater American archetype than Bogart’s “Rick”.
God knows how many people died of lung cancer decades after seeing Casablanca as a kid – because yes, in the hands of Humphrey Bogart, smoking was cool. It did make you more suave, hard-bitten, dangerous-looking. I was tempted to take up the habit after seeing the movie my first couple dozen times.
And there has never been a cliffhanger ending like Casablanca’s. I won’t spoil it. But if you haven’t seen the movie, you are shirking your duty as a culturally-literate American. Please see to this immediately.
So my evening plans are set, anyway.
Case #1: Donatelle Versace…
…and Iggy Pop:
More below the jump. Continue reading
I’ve finally followed through on my dream of writing an episode for a major TV drama.
In this case, it’s “Criminal Minds”, the long-running CBS police procedural about a group of FBI criminal profilers who track mass-murderers.
I hope to hear back from CBS soon.
SCENE: A Gulfstream G4, silhouetted against a gorgeous sunset, winging its way southwest. The voice of Special Agent Aaron HOTCHNER narrates in voiceover:
HOTCHNER: “Kurt Cobain wrote “Load up on guns, bring your friends. It’s fun to lose and to pretend“.
(Dissolve to interior of aircraft. Agends HOTCHNER, REID, JAREAU, PRENTISS, MORGAN and ROSSI are sitting around a well-appointed table. ROSSI sips at a snifter of brandy.
MORGAN (The handsome and über-buff Afro-American agent who, notwithstanding the FBI’s dress code, is never not seen wearing form-fitting sports attire): Lincoln, Nebraska police report two waitresses sexually assaulted, stabbed and strangled.
REID (the nerdy brainiac prodigy): Sounds like a classic sexual sadist spree killer…
PRENTISS (the flinty raven-haired brunette with the enigmatic past): …with serious mommy issues.
HOTCHNER (The strung-too-tight leader who looks like “Greg” from “Dharma and Greg”): Police say he turned up in their apartments with no sign of forced entry.
JAREAU (the blond eye-candy): So the vics let the unsub in.
ROSSI (the erudite sixty-something pioneer of the trade and oenophile): The unsub is almost certainly a white male, twenties through forties, victim of sexual abuse as a child…
PRENTISS: Probably abandonment, too…
ROSSI: …right, and probably socially-accomplished, in great physical condition – most likely very vain, a bodybuilder type…
REID: …a real “lady-killer” if you pardon the term.
(MORGAN, JAREAU, ROSSI and PRENTISS grimace)
HOTCHNER: Probably a complete stranger to the vics,but charming enough that they didn’t care…
REID: The same basic MO that Ted Bundy used.
PRENTISS: Every woman in Lincoln is a target.
JAREAU: I’ll get a statement out to the media as soon as we land.
HOTCHNER: Do we have anything else? What are the Lincoln PD doing?
MORGAN: Tasing people who refuse to comply.
HOTCHNER: Well, it’s all we got.
PRENTISS: And today’s Friday.
REID: That means he could be striking again even as we speak.
(Agends furrow brows)
(Cell phone goes off in MORGAN’s pocket).
MORGAN (looks at phone). It’s Garcia. I’ll put you on speaker, Princess.
(MORGAN sets phone on table. Notwithstanding that the G4 is cruising at 40,000 at 500 knots, the phone has and maintains four bars of signal reception, enough to get clear, skitter-free video of FBI
macguffin technician technical analyst Chloe O’Brien Penelope GARCIA)
HOTCHNER: Go ahead, Garcia.
GARCIA: Yo, yo yo, ma izzagents. Here’s what we have so far. Victims are 22 year old Danielle Larson, worked at a Perkins in Lincoln, and 21 year old Cathy Profett (Photos pop up on screen, superimposed alongside Garcia), who worked at a truckstop off the interstate.
PRENTISS: Both blond, high school grads, working their way through community college – Larson for nursing, Profett for tool and die fabrication. You got the causes of death – both identical.
MORGAN: What are their financials?
GARCIA: Already on it! (Spreadsheets swirl across screen to superimpose over photos on phone screen). Both low-income, but solvent. Larson’s father is an insurance agent and alcoholic who had a fling in 1985 with a receptionist at their insurance office. Proffett’s mother played fiddle in a country-western band in her twenties and owns a secret copy of Fifty Shades of Gray.
JAREAU (whispering to REID): I always wondered – how does she get all that info instantly, without a search warrant?
REID (whispering back): My IQ is in four digits, and after seven years, I still haven’t figured it out.
ROSSI: So other than age, gender, blonde and working-class, no real link.
GARCIA: Wait, wait – this just coming in now. We have a third vic. 22 year old Amy Rademacher. Waitress at a Dennys on the west side. She’s alive…
MORGAN: So something interrupted the unsub.
GARCIA: Correctamundo. She also has a detailed physical description. White, Male, late thirties, dark brown hair…
GARCIA: …and gushing blood from his chest…
REID: Wait – that doesn’t fit the profile at all. Unsubs of this type are almost always uninjured, in peak physical condition…
GARCIA: …where the victim shot the unsub six times at point blank range with the .357 snubnose revolver she carried. And (checks scrolling panel on computer) yep, she has a valid Nebraska carry permit and… (pops up online data from a local Gander Mountain) shot better on her last day at the range than you did, oh tall, dark and handsome! (MORGAN blushes).
ROSSI (puzzled): The victimology is all wrong! Our vics are never able to fight back…
HOTCHNER: This is big. Very big.
GARCIA: Lincoln police is bagging what’s left of him up right now (photo of blood-smeared floor and full body bag pulsates on the screen. GARCIA waves at the screen). Toodles, unsub.
MORGAN: Well done, Princess.
GARCIA: Oh, you just made kitty purr! OK – adios, muchachos! (GARCIA bleems out).
PRENTISS: Well, that settled that, I guess.
MORGAN: Vics killing unsubs. What’ll they think of next?
ROSSI: Time to rewrite the book.
HOTCHNER (presses intercom button). Pilot – take us back to Quantico.
(JAREAU brings up “Shot In The Dark” on her Macbook. For next 56 minutes, camera focuses on her reading, cutting between her face and the rapidly-scrolling blog, as Jareau becomes more fascinated the longer she goes).
(Shot dissolves to exterior of Gulfstream flying against the dusk, Agent PRENTISS’ voice appears in narrative voice-over)
PRENTISS: P. J. O’Rourke once wrote “And so I said “let me tell you who those bad guys are. They’re us, Americans. WE BE BAD. We’re the baddest-assed sons of bitches that ever jogged in Reeboks. We’re three-quarters grizzly bear and two-thirds car wreck and descended from a stock market crash on our mother’s side. You take your Germany, France, and Spain, roll them all together and it wouldn’t give us room to park our cars. We’re the big boys, Jack, the original, giant, economy-sized, new and improved butt kickers of all time. When we snort coke in Houston, people lose their hats in Cap d’Antibes. And we’ve got an American Express card credit limit higher than your piss-ant metric numbers go. You say our country’s never been invaded? You’re right, little buddy. Because I’d like to see the needle-dicked foreigners who’d have the guts to try. We drink napalm to get our hearts started in the morning. A rape and a mugging is our way of saying ‘Cheerio.’ Hell can’t hold our sock-hops. We walk taller, talk louder, spit further, f**k longer and buy more things than you know the names of. I’d rather be a junkie in a New York City jail than king, queen, and jack of all Europeans. We eat little countries like this for breakfast and sh*t them out before lunch.”
(And fade to black as credits roll).
Waiting for a call from my agent even as we speak.
The media tells us it can’t be done. Obama is inevitable.
Where have we heard that before?
I’m on my way to the polls.
I saw “Argo” over the weekend, on Saturday night.
It was really, really, really, really good. That’s a rating of four “Reallys”. That ain’t chicken feed.
Why was it so good?
Time Machine: The movie gives you a good sense of what life was like in the US the last time one of our Presidents left our diplomats out to dry in an “unexpectedly” hostile country – the hopelessness, the impotence, the craven politicization of the White House’s response (Carter’s chief of staff Hamilton Jordan comes off especially weaselly), and the way this nation responded – good and bad – to the “students’” outrages against decency.
And the clothing and hair styles of the seventies, in all their claustrophobic porn-movie-o-liciousness. Yuck.
It’s an excellently-acted true story that plays like a great suspense thriller.
But perhaps most surprising of all…:
You forget it’s Ben Afflect in the leading role. He isn’t awful!
Totally worth seeing. Before the election, even.
I grew up in the 1970′s, so I got some of my learnin’ every Saturday morning from ABC’s Schoolhouse Rock…Last Friday, the government told us that the unemployment rate fell to 8.3%, even though they do not count millions of people who are too frustrated to even look for a job anymore. I think this country needs the folks at Schoolhouse Rock to explain the unemployment rate to the American people. Something catchy, similar to Conjunction Junction.
How about……..Frustration Nation? C’mon kids, sing along:
He’s got lyrics and everything.
…than European liberals writing about American culture. It’s always a smorgasbord of stereotypes – both the stereotypes they see and write about, and the ones they themselves exhibit.
And both are on ample display in this piece in Britain’s Guardian by Ed Vulliamy about B.B. King’s annual concert in his hometown.
And yet mixed in and among all of that is a great look not only at King’s life – he’s 87 – and the South he came from as it’s evolved over his lifetime, but there are even a few looks into how he became the guitar player he’s been for all these years.
It’s more or less in sync with the upcoming release of the documentary The Life of Riley, about King’s life and impact on music (King’s birth name was Riley B. King). And that, I need to see, wherever it shows in the Twin Cities.
Two things, really:
SNL is funny again?: I dunno. I haven’t watched it in years. SNL follows a pattern;
- They fire the old cast and start a new cast – usually 6-8 people. It’s funny – or at least funny-ish.
- The show adds more “featured players” to help with some of the sketches. The show remains more or less funny-ish.
- The “featured players” get added to the cast, to be replaced by more “featured players”. Gradually, the show gets less funny.
- After 3-5 seasons, the cast has grown into the mid-teens, with a big group of featured players in support. And by this point, the show us just desperately un-funny.
- As the show’s opening credits tip the five minute mark, and the show becomes painfully awful, the critics start to the ritual wondering if SNL isn’t almost done for. This started in 1981.
- They fire the old cast and start the cycle over.
We’re apparently in the #1 phase – or so I’m told. I’ve been burned too many times. I’m happy to be the last one on and the first one off that particular bandwagon.
Wait – they went after who? Lorne Michaels is among the most ossified paleo-libs in showbiz. The show will treat conservatives – any conservative – with sympathy right about the time Paul Krugman writes a NYTimes editorial admitting he’s a partisan hack who’s outside his depth writing about anything but currency policy. It’ll never happen.
But bagging on another media outlet? Well, OK – there, they can have some fun:
Not saying I’m going to watch SNL anytime soon. But that was fun.
As I started writing on Monday, I went to “Won’t Back Down” over the weekend. I was literally too tired to finish the post on Sunday – and Monday and yesterday, things got just a little bit crazy.
As I noted at the time, I generally hate teacher movies. I’m a teacher’s kid, grandkid, older brother and, for that matter, a former teacher, more or less, myself.
But more than either of those, school choice is a hot topic for me, since the Saint Paul Public Schools ranged between worthless and toxic to my children. So while I’m not big into “heroic teacher” fable films, I’m more than ready for a movie about school choice.
Anyway – I saw the trailer for Won’t Back Down a few weeks back, and I thought I more or less figured it out. The trailer featured…:
- The Magic Protected Classes: you know the drill. The wise old black matron is always the wisest person in the movie, except for Morgan Freeman. Every single mother oozes dignity. White middle-class people are impacted and defective.
- A Cartoonish Enemy: a facetless, single-dimension kick toy for all that is wrong in the school in quextion. Usually localized, usually beyond any of the locals’ control.
- A Sympathetic but challenging love interest: usually improbably virtuous.
- Some Cartoonish Side-Villains: The husband, or ex-husband, or (white male) boss of any of the protagonists is usually fair game. .
- A Heart-Warming Denouement: There is usually a triumphant final scene, usually in the school gym.
And all of these button-pushing cliches are present in heaping portion in Won’t Back Down. And it’d be easy to write the movie off there.
And it’d be a huge mistake – because woven in and among the “Teacher Movie” cliches is a really excellent movie and, perhaps more importantly, a movie that makes a fairly honest accounting of a very complex issue.
This movie is complicated. And that’s a good thing.
The Magic PC People
The movie’s marquee protagonist, an overextended but supernaturally cute single-mom bartender and car-saleswoman played by Maggie Gyllenhall, chews on the scenery like Phil Niekro attacking a can of Skoal. Rebuffed by a clock-punching principal when trying to get a better teacher for her dyslexic daughter at her run-down failing school, I half expected to see the Spice Girls jump out and start dancing as she hammered out her big applause line (“You know those women who lift cars off their children? They’ve got nothing on me!”) like a steam press stamping out door panels. Improbably, the only scene where Gyllenhall doesn’t feel like she’s trying to orate is the one where her character is, well, trying to orate – speaking at a rally of parents she and her plucky teaching compatriot managed to organize. Suddenly, she’s subdued. Go figure.
We’ve seen this character before – Julia Roberts played the same lady in “Erin Brockovich”, and did it a whole lot more believably. Gyllenhall’s most effectve scene – when she and her daughter learn they’ve been passed over for a seat at a charter school – is the only one where she says absolutely nothing. The camera lingers on the two as they stare, dazed, as the focus swirls about them in a brilliantly innovative bit of cinematography that, along with Gyllenhall’s silent face, says more than the script possibly could have.
Viola Davis, on the other hand, playing a teacher with a crumbling marriage and a creeping case of professional burnout, is brilliant. Her part is tailor-made to be turned into a tired cliche. Her marriage (to Lance Reddick) is failing fast, and in the movie’s first scenes, it’s hard to tell which of the burned-out teachers is going to be the movie’s real villain. Davis – with a couple of Tony awards and an Oscar nomination under her belt – plays a role that is historically liable to drift into melodrama – but plays it with nuance and style, and all of the subtlety that Gyllenhall lacks.
The bad guy in “teacher movies” is usually a cartoon. And that’s usually not the worst part.
“The Enemy” in teacher movies is generally one of two things; an administration motivated by some melodramatic, impersonal inertial brought about either by some personal perfidy (sort of the education versions of John Lithgow’s character in “Footloose”) or some generalized social ill that’s beyond anyone’s human control. The antagonist is, thus, either an easily-dismissed cartoon or some pathology so big that no real person – only “the system” is to blame.
The enemy in Won’t Back Down is a little bit of both. Gyllenhall’s daughter’s teacher is a bovine, burned-out waste, a woman punching the clock until her pension kicks in (who only seems like a caricature if you haven’t had kids in the public schools lately), who is protected by the teacher’s union.
Now, teachers’ unions have been up in arms over Won’t Back Down, which is just further evidence that many of ‘em shouldn’t be teaching your kids without supervision. The movie presented as balanced a picture of unions as I can recall in a recent move; no less than three major characters – the “Sympathetic But Challenging Love Interest”, the Greasy Unsympathetic White Guy who runs the union, and his organizer, filling the “Enemy With A Heart Of Gold” role (played by Holly Hunter) testify more or less eloquently on why we have unions and why they can be a very good thing. I doubt I’ve ever seen a movie ever spell out the positive case for teachers unions, at least on an idealistic level.
The movie is fair, but it doesn’t chicken out; ideals notwithstanding, the unions fight dirty to try to keep the parents from taking over and converting the school to a non-union charter school.
As to side-villains? That was a huge surprise; the dissolution of Viola Davis’ character’s marriage, in a lesser movie, would give it a cheesy side-villain. It seems the movie is setting Reddick’s character – a black yuppie who builds model World War 2 fighter planes for a hobby – up to be that venal little distraction. Again, it doesn’t take the easy way out.
The Big Finish
These movies always end with the big finish – the math meet, the writing context, the basketball game, the ultimate court hearing, whatever. In this case, it’s the big Pittsburgh School Board meeting where the board votes on the proposal to (near as I can tell) pull the school out of the public system and become a self-governed charter school.
I won’t spoil it – not that you can’t probably figure it out yourself – although I will point out (pursuant to the “Magic Protected Classes” part of the formula), that the wise black and elderly female Jewish vote does unite against the clenched WASP contingent in the final vote. Which is pretty much de rigeur these days.
At any rate – the movie is not immune from the ravages of the Hollywood formula. Somehow – more or less miraculously, I think – they managed include the better part of a pretty good, sometimes challenging movie in there. It’s the first significant move I’ve seen to address school choice – and in between the odd bits of Hollywood, it did a decent job, without oversimplifying (at least in Hollywood terms, and the inevitable shorthand that has to go into fitting a topic as old as the hills, and which has been in the headlines for a couple of decades now, into two hours.
I went to “Won’t Back Down” over the weekend.
I’ll come back to that.
A couple of bits of background before we get to the review:
I’m A Teacher’s Kid: My dad and my mother’s parents were all teachers. So’s my sister, more or less. I’m not ignorant of what a teacher’s life is like. Or was like, really, years ago and in a much smaller place beset by a level of common sense that’d be subject to Department of Justice litigation today.
I Hate “Teacher” Movies: Almost always, anyway. They always, always, inevitably seem to follow a template; plucky teacher dumped into failing school by uncaring system seems group of struggling, troubled or apathetic kids – usually minorities – and has an idea on how to each ‘em. Uncaring system tries to beat plucky teacher down. Plucky teacher tries, but soon teeters on the brink of losing the fight – until some event gives them a blinding flash of epiphany, leading them to the solution that leaves the uncaring system nodding its head in sage belief and the struggling, troubled or apathetic kids changed forever, and the plucky teacher filled with that saintly glow of superhuman accomplishment. The movies - whether Stand and Deliver, Freedom Writers, Dangerous Minds, Mr. Hoilland’s Opus or any of a slew of others (heck, even School of Rock) – are all different and yet, it seems, all the same; they pound the problems of not just teaching kids, but of teaching scads of different kids, into a too-cheap-and-easy Hollywood resolution.
They make my skin crawl. In part because – oh, one more thing…
I’ve Had My Own Battles With The School System: We’ll come back to that one.
I saw the trailer for Won’t Back Down, and I pretty much figured it out. I thought I spotted the usually 21st Century Hollywood film story crutches:
- The Magic Protected Classes: Whether the “Magic Negro” (coined by David Ehrenstein in the LATimes in 2007) – the preternaturally wise Afro-American plot premise perfected by Morgan Freeman – or the newer crutch, the Magic Single Mother, the trailers set off the warning sirens; this was going to be a PC sacred cattle crossing.
- A Cartoonish Enemy: Hollywood is left of center. And so they’ve had to engage in some political gymnastics to go after that leftest-of-center institution, public education, over the years. They way they’ve done this, traditionally, is to portray the parts of public education that are failing as isolated blocs of misery – usually as symptoms of urban decay. The failed system is local; the overall idea never gets touched.
- Some Cartoonish Side-Villains: One of the protagonists’ marriages fail. When marriages fail in Hollywood movies, the non-protagonist’s motivations and reactions usually come off a little like the title character in the Dixie Chicks’ classic sociological examination “Goodbye Earl”.
- A Heart-Warming Denouement: There is usually a triumphant final scene, usually in the school gym.
But this movie had one thing that no other movie in the genre had; it was the trailer for the first movie I’ve seen to try to tackle School Choice as anything but a cartoon.
So how did it do?
US no longer at war with Mideast film critics: Obama Spokesman Jake Carney “self-evident . . . terrorist attack.”
Wrongfully accused filmmaker last person on earth still awaiting Obama apology.
On the off chance you haven’t seen this: Sir Ian McKennen doing Sir Mix-A-Lot’s, er, classic “Baby Got Back”.
It made me laugh.
Er, wait, no. We didn’t.
No, yet again we merely pointed out our Administration’s incompetence, double standards and incompetence. I know, I wrote “incompetence” twice. I think it’s appropriate.
And I’m just a tad happy to say I have never watched it, and could not pick “Snooki” out of a lineup.
I write this not to indulge my cultural smugness, or even to Neely report the fact. I write it for the tie-in; it’s Labor Day, and “Snooki” was reportedly in labor to deliver some sort of toy baby. Apparently.
I’ve been a huge Dinesh D’Souza fan since I read his Reagan: How An Ordinary Man Became An Extraordinary President over a decade ago; it may have been the best Reagan bio ever.
And I got a chance to see 2016 over the weekend. It didn’t disappoint:
The movie’s thesis is…
(Spoiler Alert: I’m going to talk spoilers below the jump, although to be fair I think much of what’s in the movie has been in the public domain; this is just the first high-profile place I’ve seen it all collected into one coherent thesis)
I try not to watch a lot of TV. I’ve got other things to do.
But I’ll cop to it; I’ve whiled away the odd idle hour watching a few things on TV.
And while nobody asked me, I’ve got a few observations.
- Operation Repo: I’ve known for a while that the show was scripted, and not remotely “reality”. But the latest round of plot lines make me wonder if they’re not hoping to be picked up by Lifetime TV.
- Hard Core Pawn: I don’t think I saw more than an episode or two of “Pawn Stars”, the grandaddy of the “how much is all this crap worth?” genre. It never really grabbed me much. But I like the Detroit-based “HCP”, if only because, scripted or not (and it’s just gotta be scripted), I can so totally relate to Les Gold’s quiet slow burn with his endlessly-feuding children. It’s given me the
- Hotel Hell: If you were waiting for a kinder, gentler Gordon Ramsey, Hotel Hell is the show for you. I, however, was not waiting for that Chef Ramsey.
- Top Shots: Not even sure if the show is on the air anymore. But watching it, I noticed first that the plot, format and pacing were exactly the same as Project Runway, only with marksmanship instead of fashion. Then I noticed the used exactly the same incidental music - between segments, to foreshadow things, everything. It is, from a production standpoint, literally Project Runway with guns!
- Master Chef: Master Chef covers the waterfront, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Ridiculous: the spectacle of the two non-Ramsey judges (
Hector AlizondoJoe Bastianich and Flounder from Animal HouseGraham Elliot) audibly wincing as they sing the praises of Wal-Mart steak, apparently prodded by a rolled up and sharpened wad of product-placement checks. On the sublime upside, Becky Reams is the new Casey Thompson.
- LIzard Lick Towing: On the one hand, coming up with new “home-spun” lines for Ronnie Shirley (“that lady was greasier than an undercooked burger in a fat guy’s underwear on a hot day”) has got to be keeping some good writers in work. On the other hand, I give Amy Shirley another season of bodybuilding before she turns into Skeletor.
- Combat Pawn: They’ve done the impossible: taken one of my favorite subjects (firearms) and a reality-TV subject I”m slowly warming up to (pawn shop dramedy) and added excruciating tedium!
That shoudl do it for now.
The rumor’s been bouncing around for the better part of a decade; “someone’s doing a remake of Red Dawn“.
North Korean paratroopers descend on an American small town. U.S. military resistance collapses. Korean armored vehicles roll down the streets unopposed except for a band of heavily armed bros in hoodies.
No, these are not images from some teenage gamer’s fever dream. They’re scenes from the movie Red Dawn, a remake of the 1984 cult classic about a joint Cuban-Soviet invasion of the U.S. and the attractive young American insurgents — the Wolverines — who help defeat it. The revamped Red Dawn, starring Chris Hemsworth, a.k.a. Thor, blasts into theaters in November.
But don’t expect it to linger very long.
Well, no kidding. The world’s changed a bit since 1984; on the one hand, we simultaneously have little fear of nuclear armageddon, even as the idea of being attacked on our soil is no longer novel.
But the article, in Wired, does hit on one key point. We’ll come back to it.
Where the 1984 original successfully played upon widespread public fears over a supposedly rising and belligerent Soviet Union, the remake expects viewers to take North Korea seriously as an existential threat.
It’s a stretch. Although let’s be clear; the Soviet Union wasn’t “supposedly” belligerent in 1984. They made a pretty good show of it. In much the same way as Putin does today, only with thousands of missiles and tanks and hundreds of submarines and lots and lots of soldiers, and no, I’m not going to get into an argument about whether the Soviets were or were not a threat, since history and Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, JP Deuce and Lech Wałęsa already settled that for us.
We’re guessing the flick is going to get a lot of unintended laughs.
You see, the actual North Korea is a country of 24 million people with a GDP roughly equal to North Dakota’s. It’s an impoverished, even starving, prison state that lacks modern weaponry and any ability to deploy forces globally.
Which, if you think about it, is kinda like the USSR in a lot of ways. And yes, I know, the remake sounds dumb…
…which shouldn’t obscure the fact that the original was dumb too.
How dumb? I’m Norwegian and Scottish; I squeeze 15 cents out of a dime. And I never go to movies I think I’m going to walk out of. And I darn near walked out of Red Dawn the first time I saw it. It was the scene where the “student council president” tries to call for a vote over going back to town after the invasion; my “dumb” meter pegged so hard it bent the needle. I had my butt up out of the seat…
…but stayed. Partly because in those days, I didn’t waste $3 lightly.
Partly because while the story didn’t get a whole lot better, it got a whole lot more fun. Dumb, escapist, adrenaline-pumping fun.
And in an age where “video games” were geometric shapes that floated on black screens and beeped and borked and shot little pips of electrons at other geometric shapes, Red Dawn was an “immersive experience” that went ever-so-slightly beyond “escapist” to “fantastic”, with the emphasis on “fantas”. Once I turned my English major’s critique-o-matic off, and just started enjoying it for what it was – a movie about a bunch of guys in the woods with machine guns blasting bad guys and saving the free world and rescuing Jennifer Gray and knocking off a little Lea Thompson in the bargain – I settled down in my seat and took my jacket back off.
Now that kids can immerse themselves in games that serve as stories much more involving and immersive, I can’t imagine hordes of twentysomethings doing the same thing these days. Not without Robert Pattinson in it.
Indeed, a movie about the making of the remake sounds like it’d make a better movie:
The new Red Dawn has been sitting on the shelf for a couple years owing to financing troubles and at least one major revamp by screenwriters Carl Elsworth and Jeremy Passmore. As originally written, the relaunched Red Dawn was only slightly less silly. The bad guys were Chinese. And while China has no discernible intention of invading anyone [tell that to the Taiwanese - Ed.], much less the U.S., Beijing at least commands a $7.3-trillion economy and an increasingly modern, two-million-man army. But it’s bad business to portray one of the world’s fastest growing film markets as brutal world conquerors, so the producers swapped in North Korea, a country no one counts on for ticket sales.
And given how Hollywood supports Obama, it’d be bad politics to piss off the one country that can still pay for all his plans.
Joe Doakes from Como Park writes about DC Comics’ move to create a gay superhero:
I wonder if they’ll make his partner a side-kick named Lavender Lantern?
This is either a brilliant move- targeting comics for all the gay guys who collect baseball cards and action figurines and read comic books – and will earn them billions of dollars in new sales;
Or it’s the dumbest idea since New Coke.
I will wager a brand-new nickel that Gay Green Lantern is killed off by Evil Straight Religious Wacko White Guy before January 1, 2014. Takers?
Never, ever, EVER any action on a bet like that.
I went with the Morrisseys to see “Act Of Valor” last Saturday. You’ve probably heard about it; it’s the movie ostensibly about Navy SEALs starring, well, Navy SEALs.
The film’s gotten mixed reviews from the usual film-critic suspects. Some point to the quality of the acting (while there are a few C-list actors playing terrorists, CIA agents and government officials, everyone in a US uniform is a serviceperson, mostly active-duty SEALs); others say that the script swerves from simplistic to outright jingo; some call it a “recruiting film”.
But it’s gone over gangbusters with the critics that really matter, the audience; it crushed the (admittedly lackluster) competition to be the top-grossing movie in the country in its first weekend out, the weekend before last.
I don’t go to a lot of movies – the last two I saw in a theatre during their first runs were True Grit and, before that, Gran Torino. But I figured it was worth a quick review.
First, A Minor Quibble: There are few things I find as tedious as people who pick over otherwise-watchable movies looking for continuity errors. There are entire sites devoted to the practice – and beyond the few really obvious howlers, the practice bores me stiff.
That said, there was one error that stuck in my craw – and maybe mine alone, among people who were not in the Navy. After the initial raid into Costa Rica (I won’t give any spoilers), the “LT” – the commander of the SEAL platoon that stars in the movie – is standing on the deck of the USS Bonhomme Richard, an “Amphibious Assault Ship” built to carry Marines and their helicopters (and the odd Harrier jump jet) to wherever they need to attack. It looks like an aircraft carrier – and it literally is, in that it carries aircraft, in the form of helicopters and vertical take-off aircraft.
But in the scene after the raid, the “LT” is standing on the deck, talking with his wife on a satellite phone; he has to wait while an airplane (an S3 Viking antisubmarine patrol plane) gets shot off the deck by a steam catapult; think the opening sequences in Top Gun. The scene ends with a long-shot of the Richard, its deck covered in choppers, and not a fixed-wing plane in sight – because the ship has no catapult to launch big fixed-wing planes.
It’s a minor quibble – but we North Dakotans are a seafaring race, and we take our ships seriously.
Next, A Major And Overlooked Spiff: The cinematography is amazing. Many have written about the helmet-cam perspective shots during the firefights, so I expected heart-pounding, heavy-breathing first-person point of view shots.
But the rest of the movie is visually stunning on many levels. The direction of action shots above and beyond the firefights is amazing; a scene where someone is being rolled into a carpet is not only edited with a blurry crispness that conveys the blurry confusion of the moment, but includes a shot from a rolling camera to complete the disorientation
The just-plain-cinematography – from the visual feasts of the Costa Rican jungle or the streets in the Philippines to the claustrophobic-yet-panoramic night fight scenes – was excellent, and often stunning. If it weren’t for all the suicide bombs and exploding heads, parts of the movie could be shot for “Planet Earth”.
And visually speaking, it all comes together in one scene, where a bunch of drug-cartel sicarios who’ve been chasing the SEALS through the jungle wind up on the business end of a couple of boat-mounted miniguns during an incredibly adrenaline-blast exfiltration scene. Between the cinematography, the film and sound editing and the direction, it’s an incredible visual of the mayhem on the business end of all that firepower; it’s an amazing bit of visual art, and I don’t mean that from an “America F**k Yeah!” or a “firepower pr0n” perspective. Realistic? I don’t know, I’ve never seen three miniguns hit a pickup truck. Visually overpowering? You bet.
The Acting: I’d heard all the stories, pro and con, about the movie’s “stars”, the SEALs (all credited pseudonymously, none of whom appear on the movie’s IMDB page) and their acting chops.
I’ve got three answers.
First – the goal of great acting is to make you forget you’re watching a performance. Did the SEALs make me forget? Yes and no. There were scenes – mostly when the SEALs are off-duty and waxing colloquial – when you’re acutely aware that they’re saying lines from a script. A few scenes play like high school theatre. Not bad high school theatre, mind you – it takes a decent director to get things as close as they are. I drove home thinking “if the movie were an indy film at Sundance about barristas in Seattle confronting their sexual confusion at an “Occupy” protest, starring real barristas, it’d be hailed as fearless and daring cinema”.
But – secondly, and perhaps obviously? – it was the scenes involving the SEALs plying their craft, doing the sort of things that in real life would send the most grizzled Hollywood stunt veteran running to his union to file a work rules grievance, that most made you forget you were watching a performance because, really, you weren’t. The battle scenes, shot with a buzzy combination of traditional shots and rattly helmet-cam footage and edited to a modern sheen, tightly-edited enough to make Paris Hilton and Rosanne Barr look kinetic? Sure, of course.
But if you’ve spent your life watching Hollywood action-adventure and war movies, with their somersaults and John Woo gun grips and all the other cliches that have grown up around the genre, one thing that impresses about the SEALs in the battle scenes is the extreme economy of their action. There’s none of the dashing and Jackie-Chan-like somersaulting and pseudo-ninja buncombe of so many Hollywood movies on the subject; my impression wasn’t so much “this is accurate” as “this looks real”. There’s a difference.
The third bit about the acting is related. There’s an interrogation scene – I won’t spoil it – starring the “Senior Chief”, the intelligence analyst of the platoon, an older SEAL (late forties, I’d guess) who has settled into middle age in the same way a rattlesnake settles into a cave; of the entire SEAL platoon, he, whoever he is, radiates the most effortless menace, with his grandfatherly (or Taliban-impersonating-ly) beard and his arklahoma accent and sense that he’s not trying to radiate anything. He interrogates a suspect – again, no spoilers. I joked with Ed afterward that the scene played like a community theatre production of 24. I meant it as a compliment; as the Senior Chief drawls through his lines, there was also the acute sense that he wasn’t performing; that he knew the psychology behind what he was doing at a level that goes way deeper than Stanislavsky could ever teach. He said his lines plenty capably; but he lived the role. And while the scene took some dramatic license – it took about five minutes, rather than the days or months it would have taken in real life – it was very, very effective.
Jingo – There are those – mostly on the left in Hollywood – who deride the movie as a “Navy recruiting film”. There’s something to that; the closing credits are very, very long on people with ranks and billets in various Navy Public Affairs offices. And Tom Clancy gets a producer-level credit. Still, Obama-supporting Hollywood shouldn’t complain; since the President has both based his strategy on having lots of SEALs and other special operations forces while simultaneously cutting the regular militaries from whence those troops come, they’d best hope it works.
Beyond that, though? As imperfect and occasionally mawkish as the film may seem to the jaded film fan’s eyes, it’s not Top Gun, or Rambo, much less Charlie Sheen’s Navy Seals. There is a resemblance to Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan; all of them pay homage in their own way to a “greatest generation”. The closing crawl broadly refers to all manner of those who risk all for others, and for all the rest of us – everyone from firemen to fighter pilots to lifeguards.
But I thought – what’s the perfect film analog? And in thinking of the movie’s “narration” – by “The Chief”, a real-life chief petty officer who is the platoon’s second in command – it occurred to me. not since John Wayne’s The Green Berets has there been a movie that unequivocally held up the “Warrior Ethos” – duty, honor, sacrifice for a greater good – as unironically good things.
And even that wasn’t quite right.
The narration is the bookend for the movie – and to a life-long civilian, it almost sounds like something from a cartoon, at first. ”My father told me the worst part of getting old was that people stopped seeing you as dangerous”, it starts. But as it dissolves into the movie’s opening scenes, and then wraps back in at the end, as a paeon not to “appearing dangerous” – which is, itself, counterintuitive to most people today – but to the even more counterintuitive-to-our-culture notion of an almost-monastic dedication to something the rest of the culture considers distasteful, foreign, or just something for others to do, whether that something is going into burning buildings, repairing people in inner-city emergency rooms, or going where the bad guys are and killing them quickly and violently.
And then I figured out why it was so hard to find a movie since the mid-sixties that so unironically exalted that way of life; because there really hasn’t been one.