Thursday, September 16, 2004

Mess O Potamia

Iraq has degenerated to a point where it's become nearly hopeless. American intelligence has issued a starkly pessimistic assessment of the country's prospects. And insurgents are gaining strength by the day. Civil war is now a high probability, while hopes for a functioning democracy have been completely snuffed out.

There's a fascinating interview on Fresh Air yesterday with Christopher Dickey, the Middle East bureau chief for Newsweek, who's been on the ground in Iraq. Dickey appeared eminently fair and deeply knowledgeable, and his assessment of Iraq's future is just as dire. Iraq is the most dangerous place he's has ever worked from, and other war correspondents he has spoken to agree. And the depressing thing is the increasing lack of interest in Iraq from the American public, who understandably want to turn away from the daily carnage unfolding in our occupied territory to more diverting news.

But one can't. It's the biggest operation the U.S. has engaged in since Vietnam -- easily the single most important decision made by an administration in my lifetime -- and as citizens, we have a duty to keep informed and hold politicians accountable for their actions. Imagine all the folks in the world who want to vote Bush and his cronies out of office but can't. This election, more than any other, the vote is power that other people only dream of.

Besides the usual sources, there are two blogs that really give you a sense of what's happening in Iraq. Juan Cole, professor at U of Michigan (one of my old stomping grounds), blogs about the Middle East almost exclusively. It's the single best source of Iraq information I know. Nearly as valuable is Iraq'd, a TNR blog written by Spencer Ackerman, covering the politics and policies shaping the place. He's got new info that over 3,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since April of this year. And he's got the best line I've seen recently in describing the Bushies (in comparing Bush to Wolfowitz): "In fact, three years after September 11, they are exactly alike in both program and intellectual style: dogmatic yet adrift, and relentlessly deceitful."

If you want to check out a blog kept by an Iraqi in Baghdad, there's (the now infrequently updated) Baghdad is Burning.


Two posts down, in remarks about the new movie Sin City, I see that I passed up a golden opportunity to use the word "jejune." This was a gross oversight, and I'm sorry for being so neglectful to my dear readers.

Can't TIFF enough?

I hadn't realized that J. Robert Parks, whom I met last year, is writing an extensive TIFF journal for online film mag Flickerings.

Also, check out the Daily Greencine blog, which is like the Slashdot or Agonist for movie news.

And at roughly the halfway point of Tiffing, the view from the outside:

The Still Promising

Desplechin's Kings and Queen still sounds totally awesome. Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle (link is to a video teaser) reportedly kicks mucho ass. Rosetta-wanna-be Keane has received strong notices. Even the anti-Godard Skander liked the new Jean-Luc tract. And I really want to see lesbian buzz item /fest breakout hit My Summer of Love.

The Less Promising

Mixed word on Zhang's crowdpleasing House of Flying Daggers and Kore-eda's Nobody Knows (Victor and Scott Tobias dug it). Denis' Level IV "tone poem" elicited a collective "what the fuck?" And worst of all, reports on the new Lucas Moodyson death spiral makes me yearn for the comparatively bubbly Mike Leigh flick. Yuck.

Among the Young Indie turks...

David O. Russell's I Heart Huckabees looks terrific; Sideways, from Election helmer Alexander Payne, is being touted by many as the Movie of the Year (I didn't think the trailer was all that hot); word is that Todd Solondz is up to his old tricks again in Palindromes, if with a cool That Obscure Object of Desire conceit; and David Gordon Green's Undertow sounds like the work of a man who desperately needs to get past the Terrence Malick fixation.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Sneak peek at Sin City

Tipped by the estimable Bryant Frazer, here's a must-see trailer for a movie that looks like nothing you've ever seen before: Robert Rodriguez's adaptation of Frank Miller's adolescent pulp-graphic novel Sin City (5 minute video -- be warned), starring Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson (both looking super-hot), Josh Hartnett, Benicio Del Toro, and a host of other luminaries. The trailer has the feel of perfume-porn, but it sports an astonishing high contrast look and spare sets that are a perfect match for Miller's blocky, abstract style (simple thick lines, heavy-inks, and a geometric approach to figure rendering). What you find is a half-dazzling, half-overcooked display of retro-noir expresionism, two parts Jacques Tourneur to one part Luc Besson. The look promises to be one-of-a-kind, but the movie might very well be a turkey for the ages. Why? You can already get a taste of the embarrassingly purple pulp dialogue. Then, there's the creative force behind this thing. Miller's unshakeable alpha-teen-boy sensibility[1] (his stories are filled with brooding, boozing anti-heroes, ninjas, and scantily-clad, utterly shallow femmes fatales) coupled with the often peurile more-chic-than-thou stylistics of Robert Rodriguez promise a synergy that make send shivers down the spines of ComiCon nerds. For those with less caffeinated inclinations, this is recipe for bad, over-stylized nonsense.

But I'm so there. And my cousin Doug is gonna spurt in his pants when he sees this.

[1] Miller's done some good stuff, foremost among them his Daredevil run and The Dark Knight Returns. But he's strictly a poet for 16 year-old fanboys, a guy who reinvents hoary superheroes for a darker, "edgier" era, not a genius like Alan Moore. Sin City is a pretty poor piece of pulp storywise -- it's an exercise in dark graphic style with nary a compelling theme or character to hook on to. As such, it doesn't approach the level of a dense good yarn like pulp comic series Stray Bullets, not to mention a master novelist like, say, Donald Westlake.