Thursday, November 06, 2003

Quick hits on recent flicks

Elephant (Van Sant): C+

Gawk! at the beautiful Calvin Klein model high school kids doing mundane things.
Revel! in the exquisitely choreographed tracking shots that contain, in the shot, a kid's entire universe.
Behold! the gay outsiders who love guns and watch shows about Nazis.
Grimace! as this lovingly crafted "tone poem" clunkily shifts into exploitative crap.

To Be and to Have (Philibert): B+/B

It takes a village, or maybe it takes the dedication of an attentive soul with the right touch just to keep these adorable French urchins on track. Shapeless yet so in rich in carefully observed cuteness that you gotta be a Grade-A tin man to resist.

The School of Rock (Linklater): B+

Probably the best Kindergarden Cop-type movie ever made. Jack Black is so awesome, but I bet he'd be pretty obnoxious to have around all the time.

Intolerable Cruelty (Coen): B/B-

An homage to the greatest genre of classic Hollywood, the screwball comedy. The problem with the Coens' scenario is that the spy v. spy set up makes the boy gets girl an anticlimax. (In the best screwball comedies, usually one of the two would-be lovers has a heart.) That CZJ is completely overmatched by a pitch-perfect Clooney doesn't help. Many fine scenes, especially those involving Billy Bob Thorton, make it worthwhile.

Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (Tarantino): B+/B

So fucking cool, except when it's trying too hard to be so fucking cool. Superb use of music, virtuoso filmmaking, and dope references (Lone Wolf and Cub, Tokyo Drifter, Killer Clans, Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan, Zatoichi, Female Scorpion 41, etc. -- basically, ego-tripping for hardcore movie nerds), all adding up to what, exactly? And, yo, QT: Yuen Wo-ping does not do samurai swordplay. Stick with one-on-one stuff like the schoolgirl/Uma showdown. Now that was awesome.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Reagan/Dean 2003

1. CBS pulls its planned "The Reagans" mini-series after right-wingers whine and moan.

Reaction: Liberals are pissing all over CBS right now, and perhaps not without reason. But you know, what the wingnuts did isn't substantially different from minority groups protesting "insensitive" representations. One spat I got into online a while back involved the controversy surrounding F/X's planned scheduling of a Charlie Chan marathon, a plan which got shelved after vehement protests by some Asian groups, which enraged certain wingers. At the time, I argued that while the protests are largely misguided, the outraged responses ("PC police is running wild again!) are just as troubling.

Here's the deal: Ideally, programs should never be pulled. There's no captive audience for TV programming, so if you don't want to watch Charlie Chan or "The Reagans", then don't. These protests are energy ill-spent. Moreover, hypersensitive identity politics on the left and the Cult of Reagan on the right rank among two of the most annoying contemporary political phenomena, which makes it hard to take their side.

Without taking their sides, I can at least see where both groups are coming from. Just as it's crystal clear why Asian groups would find ol' Charlie offensive[1], it's also understandable why conservatives would be upset with this mini-series. You don't have to be a Reagan groupie to see how a seemingly extremely biased biopic of a man a chunk of the population considers a hero should probably not be airing while the guy's nearly on his deathbed. These political wars tend to focus on absolutes, but what's lost are good judgment and taste.

Essentially, what we have here is a kind of market correction by way of political activism. The passions of a well-organized minority can trump the extremely marginal interests of the majority in having those programming choices available. While that's not necessarily an awful thing, the way to check these kinds of controversies is by having different voices heard in programming. I suspect that there were no Asians (and likely no minorities) with input on the Charlie Chan programming decision. Likewise, it's likely that there were no conservatives among the decisionmakers that approved "The Reagans." Nobody talks about this angle, but a diversity of viewpoints and good judgment by programmers -- not whining -- is the best preventive measure.

So yeah, it's always regrettable when distributors cave to political hysteria. But when (1) the work is largely of dubious artistic merit; and more importantly, that (2) there are alternative avenues for consumers to see the product (Showtime will be showing "The Reagans" now), it's hard to cry wolf. What's best is if everybody shut the fuck up.

Bonus: Let's pay close attention to the hypocrisy meter when some liberal interest group applies the pressure. I bet both sides will hit ten on the dial again.[2]

[1] The most hilarious part of the online debate involved a bunch of utterly clueless white dudes trying to convince me why those dumbass, oversensitive Asians are wrong to be offended by Charlie Chan. Check out this idiotic page as well. To this day, it never ceases to amaze me how in the world a certain (laughably arrogant) segment of the White population can come to believe they *know* or understand what constitutes racially offensive depictions better than the group being depicted. "Well, hey, Charlie Chan's a good guy, and a conniving sleuth. Why's that bad?" Um, how 'bout the bucktooth, the exaggerated Asiatic features, the inscrutability, the accent, the sexlessness -- all contributing mightily to the image of the sexless, humorless, inscrutable Oriental male that continues to persist to this day, an image that's probably far more pernicious than any other Asian stereotype out there. And also consider that perhaps Asian males might experience certain situations that shed light how negative stereotypes plays out in real life -- y'know, experience which may elude the grasp of some white guy in Alabama? Just a thought.

[2] Sure, there are differences between Charlie Chan and "The Reagans", but they cut both ways. The former's a historical document and so the stereotyping is easier to contextualize, but "The Reagans" is clearly a work of fiction that need not strictly adhere to known facts. Wingers are trying to make content-changes to a show that hasn't been seen; Asian groups want to suppress a show that's already been widely disseminated. In short, these distinctions don't matter that much, and both sides should stop their fucking whining the next time something like this goes down.

2. Howard Dean gets slammed by other Dems for expressing his desire to appeal to the voter "who flies a confederate flag on his truck".

Reaction: Wake me up when this shit is over. This is exactly the kind of nonsensical controversy that makes presidential politics so frustrating to follow sometimes. Dean's basically suggesting that it's a good idea to broaden their appeal to recapture culturally conservative working class whites. He does it in provocative, colorful and half-serious language, exactly the kind of talk that can be easily distorted by political opponents. Too bad, because this kind of thing is really robbing us of any interesting or provocative political rhetoric.

Anyway, are any of these candidates really arguing that trying to expand your appeal isn't a laudable goal? Are any of these guys gonna pledge to reject votes for them by anybody who flies the Confederate flag? C'mon.

Dean wasn't saying that he's specifically trying to tailor his message to appeal to these guys. That would be extremely problematic, especially for a guy who's supposed to represent the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party". All he's saying, really, is that the Dems should appeal to folks who have fled the party. Doesn't seem all that objectionable to me, though I suppose I'd paint a different stereotype myself. But the more Dean gets beat up about this, the greater the urge I feel to support him.

(How realistic Dean's goal is is another matter entirely. Due to the intractable Red/Blue split, I'd write off most of the South and hone my electoral appeal to Midwestern battleground states, Florida and Dem-trending states like Arizona, Nevada, New Hampshire and Virginia myself, as Dean no doubt will if he wins the nod.)

But it's funny again to see wingers like the WSJ editorial page defend Dean. I wonder how the purists on both sides would react had Steve Forbes mentioned something about appealing to Castro Street drag queens in 1996.

3. Which of the following choices best describes the Bush Administration state of mind in prosecuting the Invasion of Iraq and its aftermath?

(A) Psychopathic.
(B) A vile mendacity that surpasses the worst dissembling of Nixon and Clinton.
(C) Dumb, but probably well-intentioned.
(D) Dangerously delusional.
(E) All of the above.

(E) is probably one right answer, but the more correct answer is (D). And that meme is finally getting the play it deserves. Best line from Kristof: "I wish administration officials were lying, because I would prefer hypocrisy to delusion — at least hypocritical officials make decisions with accurate information."


Oh, lastly, the Brzezinski speech -- probably the most persuasive indictment of Bush's foreign policy that I've seen -- has gotten a lot of play in the blogosphere already, but it deserves all the attention it gets.