Monday, July 28, 2003

Charlotte Sometimes (Byler) B

Passed on many chances to see this flick, mistakenly dismissing it as yet another stale Sundance-slash-Gen-X relationship comedy. It wasn't until my bud Mike started hassling me to see this thing, going so far as to call it the most "visually assured debut [he's] seen in a while" and placing it on his vaunted top ten list before I summoned up the requisite interest to haul ass to the second-run arthouse.

Charlotte Sometimes has been described by another buddy as an "Asian American Hal Hartley movie." Though I can see where he was going with this (it's a chamber drama about alienated loners where essential information about the characters is withheld), Byler veers from Hartley's mannerist stylings for a kind of poetic naturalism that evokes the lyrical passages in Andre Techine's Alice et Martin. The movie's at its best in passages where Byler beautifully evokes that blue mood of ennui. A blanket of shadow intruded by a ray of morose greens or lonely reds. A spare guiltar strums gently. A man glances up at the apartment where the object of his yearning is moaning in ecstasy, then walks into the darkness. There's a languid, understated loveliness to these sequences -- Byler creates such a palpable sense of languor I almost felt like skipping the rest of movie and hopping over to Spaceland myself to sulk in my drink and chain smoke my Spirits.

But that welcoming French sensibility goes beyond atmospherics. Byler, like Techine or my idol Rohmer, isn't afraid of contradictory impulses and ambiguous motives in his characters, which first appear (to my Asian eyes) as extremely familiar types: you've got the introverted Asian dude, the cutesy Asian girl, the acerbic, sexually aggressive dragon lady, and the corporate tool. Michael, played by Michael Idemoto, turns out to be the first Asian-American male character I've seen that rings true; he's a dutiful loner, a sensitive mechanic who is chivalric and sexually frustrated. He's not easily pigeonholed, and Idemoto's sensitive, Tony Leung-like performance gives the character a soulful dignity. But the sparkplug is Jacquline Kim's "Darcy" -- sharp, sexually confident, sassy and just a little vulnerable, Kim's a knockout, wiping the floor with the other actors on screen (the other two players are wholly unremarkable), Idemoto occasionally excepted.

I wish Byler's writing was as assured as his cinematic sense. Much of the deliberately naturalistic dialogue had no improvisational spark -- it felt unwritten without any sense of spontaneity. And the scenario, slight as it is, is realistic without believable -- the escalating "revelations" felt like bricks lugged in by Byler to give his work some heft. The film, sadly, just fizzes out.

Still, there's much to be admired here. Plus there's a startling recognition that if I ever get my act together I'd probably try to make a mood piece full of romantic yearning, though I'd probably revolve the film around more verbally oriented characters. On second thought, somebody please shoot me before I make an Asian Metropolitan. (Not that I don't adore Metropolitan. We just don't need another one.)

Sunday, July 27, 2003

Embryonic Morons

A wise friend who holds very independent political views told me recently that he's looking for Bush supporters who can articulate a rationale for supporting him. He honestly wants understand this viewpoint. I'm far less inquisitive, and as an Angeleno, I can really go by months without so much as breathe the same air as a Bushite. But there's another reason I'm not inquisitive: I've come to terms with the fact that those on the Right are, well, different: they hold a different worldview that's shaped by a different kind of personality and temperament. Do you like dim good ol' boys like Dubya? Uptight bow-tied weasels like George F. Will? Can you imagine hanging out with these guys? Or do you think it'd be more fun to shoot the shit and chase skirts with Bill? What we have deep down is a yawning (and unbridgeable) cultural chasm pitting compolitan, relativistic cultural elitists against square moral absolutists, between the middle-left and the moderates who see the world in varying shades of gray, and the right who fits all problems into black or white boxes. (The Far Left actually shares a lot of similarities with the Right, especially in their moral absolutism, but we'll save that topic for another day.)

Salon's Michelle Goldberg is seemingly on a personal mission to validate my thesis. She gives us yet another disturbing glimpse into the heart of darkness. Romping with a congregration of College Republicans, Goldberg discovers that these guys are nasty Manicheans who think liberals are American-hating whiny fops. Shocking, isn't it?

This is the latest in a recent spate of reports on the Republican Youth movement, many of which have taken on the tone of Margaret Mead's field reports on New Guinea tribesman. Gawk! at a Young Republican 'fessing up to his racism. Smirk! as these Aryan Youth line up to buy Dubya iconography without even the least bit of irony. Furrow your brow! as liberals get tarred as communists and traitors by zealous young (and not-so-young) morons.

A funny cultural reversal is at work here. When the Dems were entrenched in power, publications like the National Review would file reports that lampoon the outrageous excesses of the student activist Left. Young Right-wingers were seen by liberals as harmless Alex P. Keatons -- they're just anal guys with an unfortunate quirk, not unlike the fat kid wearing a perpetual ice cream smudge. As Bush has maintained his poll numbers to the bafflement of many, liberal (and moderate) publications have began taking on the President and his fans with increasing hysteria. Salon, most notably, has waged a relentless two-pronged attack against Dubya on two fronts: (1) virulent anti-Bushism, spearheaded by Conason, Scheer, and reporters on Yellowcake-gate; and (2) easy-swallowing pieces on anti-Bush Republicans that create the sense of fissure in the Republican ranks -- a Goldberg specialty. The first acts as an idea bank for the mainstream media. You hammer at a Bush "misrepresentation" long and hard enough, and maybe somebody will eventually take the baton. So the shrill, monotonous tone can be somewhat forgiven. The second set of reports, which I usually down faster than a kamikaze shot on my 30th birthday (ahem), are really what heartens the soul of all Dubya Hatas, and that's precisely why I'm increasingly skeptical of them. Nothing perpetuates intellectual complacency like having your biases repeatedly affirmed. And Salon keeps telling us that Bush supporters are either (1) Coulter-worshipping rabid ideologues; (2) greedy fat cat bastards; (3) religious freaks; (4) assholes; or (5) sheep. No doubt much of this is true, but there has to be some Bushies who are intellectual respectable and not rabid ideologues. What Salon (and others) have done, though, is assuage our skepticism by telling us that "reasonable Republican" (no, that's not an oxymoron), such as those that supported the Eastern Establishment Republicanism of Poppy, are "harboring doubts" about Junior, if not outright plotting mutiny. "See, the only likeable Republicans are really disgusted by Bush, they're just hiding it" these stories tell us.

Is there a rift between the realpolitik foreign policy establishment and the neocons? Between small government conservatives and the Detax-and-Spend Bushies? Between libertarians and John Ashcroft? Surely some conservatives are distressed about the direction of the country, but a few disagreements, even public ones, does not a fraying presidency make. The pervasiveness of these stories in the last couple of months, with the clear implication that this President is in political trouble, suggest that Dubya Hatas have resorted to wish fulfillment to get through the day. There hasn't been even a whisper about a bomb-throwing primary challenge from either the Buchananite Right or the McCain center. And besides some conservative columnists, no highly visible Republican has been critical of this adminstration on either Iraq or the economy. This is still a highly disciplined, unified front. From the top down, conservatives know the appearance of unity is crucial in seizing and maintaining power. For the Democrats to regain control of at least one branch, they need to not worry about the impossible task of peeling off Republicans and take a page from the opposition's playbook: suck it up and work with the team if you want to regain power. That's a lesson the Hard Left will no doubt dismiss as "selling out."

Jesus, I'm sounding exactly like The New Republic. That's my cue to stop.

Pirates of the Caribbean (Verbinski) B

This is a pretty good pirate movie.