Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"Cloverfield" Is the Best Film Released So Far This Year!

Before I went to see "There Will Be Blood", the wife and I took in a showing of "Cloverfield," Matt Reeves and JJ Abrams' New York monster movie. It was much better than I was expecting. This was what I liked about it:


1.) Massive Wish Fulfillment. The first 20 minutes were deeply annoying to me on account of being forced to "meet" all of these pretty, winsome, upwardly mobile white New Yorkers and subjected to their "lives"and "personalities." But just when my seething resentment was reaching critical mass, a giant monster able to read my mind and feel my feelings, blew his top, (doubtless over the same things that pissed me off), and began to systematically destroy not only these yuppie bastard's lives, but their entire ecosystem: the island of Manhattan. Because I'm a dork, I thought of "weird fiction" writer HP Lovecraft throughout this movie. He despised New York City and I enjoyed imagining his reaction to seeing a movie in which a monster, not entirely unlike those of his own creation, leveling its skyscrapers to rubble and reducing its inhabitants to, first, tears, and then, monster-tooth plaque.

2.) No Explanation. No one ever finds out where the monster came from. Which is great, because within the conceit of the film -- that the mid-catastrophe exploits of a bunch of the aforementioned young and pretty are all being filmed by one of their friends who happens to have a videocamera -- it's unlikely that a viewing of this sort of video document would afford an explanation of the monster's origins. There are no answers to the mystery of "Where did It come from?!" in this movie because there were no scenes that took place in the Pentagon, or the White House, or wherever else you might think Michael Bay would set a scene if he had done this movie. I really liked that about it. And they never explained the title either. How cool is that?

3.) No Happy Ending. Abrams and Co. didn't kowtow to execs (or their own demons) who probably thought the movie might do better if Jeff Goldblum could find a way to upload a virus into the monster at the end. This movie is a document of the demise of Manhattan, and that's what it's going to show. Hell, a title at the beginning of the "video" states the ending clearly before we see even a single frame of the actual movie, and they stay true to the premise. I think "The Mist" could have learned something from the ending of this movie.

4.) An Honest Attempt at a Romantic Storyline. The tape that comprises the bulk of what becomes "Cloverfield" is taped over a day at Coney Island that the one white guy, Rob I think was his name, spends with some pretty girl who he spends the entire movie trying to rescue. I don't remember her name. I didn't buy them as characters or as a couple for a second, but technically, the way Reeves and Abrams manage to weave their story into the larger story was cleverly done. After they're both dead and they cut to the final Coney Island clip, their happy smiling at the camera and earnest remarks about this being a "really good day" manages to be almost touching.

5.) Massive Carnage. When the mohnshtuh demolishes the building way down the street, and the smoke comes billowing toward the camera at lightning speed, whew. Gripping, scary stuff. I thought the way these guys pulled off the effects in this movie was brilliant. I was on the lookout throughout the movie for false notes and fake-looking CGI, but I wasn't pulled out for a second. They did a really good job.

6.) An Apocalyptic Nightmare That Never Lets Up. Aside from Hud making some goofy jokes throughout the movie, Reeves and Abrams don't let up on the tension for a minute. This movie goes fast and doesn't stop. And this movie gets the proper tone just right. Throughout "Cloverfield" the feeling that we're really watching something cataclysmic and earth-shaking while it's happening, is palpable. And as implausible as it all is, they make it seem real. Quite an accomplishment.

7.) It's a Damn Monster Movie. "Cloverfield" isn't high art. It isn't a movie about something that's really about something else. (Well, that's mostly true.) This is a monster movie, and Reeves and Abrams made a great one unapologetically.

And if you'll indulge me, I have a little pet theory about the origin of the monster. As some of you may know, Stephen King (of COURSE his name was bound to turn up!) and JJ Abrams have gotten to be kind of buds. King loves Abrams' show "Lost", and Abrams loves all things Stephen King. At some "Lost" symposium which King attended, Abrams and King go to talking about how it would be if King adapted "The Dark Tower", King's epic Western/Fantasy, for the movies. King thought that'd be fine. Which brings us to "Cloverfield."

When the little beasties that come off the monster's back end up in the subway tunnel with our little gang, we get a brief close up of their heads and "faces." To me they look like slightly smaller versions of the monsters that populate the broad swaths of Mid-World that Blaine the Monorail travels over, as depicted in Ned Dameron's illustrations from King's "The Waste Lands." I know, I know, kinda obscure. The creatures sparked the memory while I was watching the movie, but just now, to confirm for this blog post, I checked the illustration on the book and the resemblance is real, if not uncanny. I'm just saying, it's not a stretch to think that Abrams has tied, even if only in secret, "Cloverfield" into King's "Dark Tower" universe. A distant prequel, if you will. (And some of the weird meta-marketing Abrams and Co. did, like the weird Japanese soda which may be the Japanese version of Nozz-a-La, the soft drink referred to often in the "Dark Tower" universe, may support that idea.) Anyway. Just a theory.

So anywho! If you haven't seen it, check it out before it slithers out of theaters. I think it's worth your time. At least for a matinée.

Monday, January 28, 2008

My Ramblings on "There Will Be Blood"

I saw "There Will Be Blood" over the weekend, and I had a reaction to it I did not expect: incomprehension.

In this post I'm going to float some ideas I had about the movie and maybe get a conversation going with some of you who saw the movie. I think there's a lot of stuff going on in this film, a lot of themes and a lot of layers even, and I think there is more than one way to interpret the film. Of course, for those who have not yet seen the movie and still wish to, probably best not to read this post because I'll be dealing in spoilers indiscriminately. To you people I say go see the movie or just check back for the next post. So let's get into it.


Okay. Just us now.

First, let me say I really liked the movie. I haven't been able to get it out of my head since I saw it Friday night. Daniel Day Lewis is fantastic as the megalomaniacal Daniel Plainview. I liked in particular the first dialogue-free sequence leading up to the first oil strike. We know everything we need to know about Daniel Plainview in that sequence. The cinematography (which was also nominated for an Academy Award) is striking. The shot of Plainview hunkered down and munching on some bit of food while a twilight thunderstorm flashes in the distance behind him was probably the best shot I saw all year. And the music by Radiohead guitarist Brian Greenwood got me right where I lived by sounding exactly like a lost track from the "Shining" soundtrack. I could go on about what's great about this movie, but I'm more interested right now in what the hell it all meant.

I've been very careful not read anything about this movie -- no reviews, no actor interviews, none of the source material, etc. -- so I came to this movie absolutely fresh. When the end came, I was caught short. My reaction to the film's final line, "I'm done!" and the immediate cut to black following was a lot like my initial reaction to seeing "The Big Lebowski" back in Winston. I didn't quite know what to make of it. I suppose that puts "Blood" in good company. But I felt pretty dumb as the credits rolled. "There Will Be Blood" tied "No Country for Old Men" (another movie with an ambiguous ending) for the most nominations, so in addition to all the critics who loved this thing, there are a whole lot of Academy members who loved it and seemed to get it right away. I felt left out. So what was P.T. Anderson saying in this film?

Is it that capitalism is, at its core, a dehumanizing entity? After a few days thought, this is the best I've got for this. But there are some moments and throughlines in the film that muddy the waters a little. I think this movie defies any short and sweet interpretation.

The film starts with Daniel Plainview on his own. He lives by himself and works by himself. He is a man with a pick-axe working at a hole in the ground. Making it bigger. And though he seems so much a part of the earth as to be elemental in these first scenes, he doesn't seem unhappy. Or even exhausted. He seems deeply absorbed and even contented in his self-sufficiency. You can see a smile of pride when he manages to drag himself, broken-leg and all, over miles of rocky terrain to sell the bit silver (or was it gold?) he'd just mined. This sequence also establishes nicely Plainview's later hostility to God and religion. Clearly Plainview's never asked anyone, including a deity, for help with anything, and so distrusts those who would depend on anyone or anything besides themselves and their own hard work to get them through.

Some years later we see Plainview doing well enough to hire others. But even though Daniel now has others to interact with, hardly any words are spoken. One gets the impression that, perhaps, Plainview views his employees as units of work rather than people. Has the dehumanizing effect of Capitalism already begun to show in Plainview? Or is that Plainview is already an avowed Capitalist and we just see it more clearly the richer he gets?

An accident gives him a son and an heir. There are a few storylines and overarching conflicts in the film, but the primary one is between Daniel Plainview and his son. In these first scenes of Plainview with the infant and then the toddler (in that great scene in the train), we watch Plainview begin to question the wisdom of his solitary existence. When we see Plainview and his son twelve years on trying to buy more land to drill, we see a couple of things at once: 1.) Plainview's grown prosperous and is more articulate and savvy than we might have first suspected watching him whacking rocks in his makeshift mine, and 2.) his son has deepened his passion for work and making money because now he has someone he loves to pass it down to.

Plainview takes great pains to mentor the boy and include him in his work, even when he's making his son a party to the impending swindle of the Sunday family. After the accident at the derrick that results in the son going deaf, Plainview's attitude towards the boy changes. His feelings of powerlessness are alien to him and he begins to take the resentment he feels out on the boy by widening the gulf his son's deafness and Plainview's inability to fix that deafness has opened between them. Is this distance between them meant as a comment on how Capitalism has shaped Plainview's worldview so deeply that when his son ceases to be viable as an asset, Plainview ceases to love him?

When the long-lost half-brother arrives, Plainview's hopes for a viable familial partner are renewed. The son sees how his father has taken a shine to this interloper and sets their shack/house on fire in wordless protest. Speaking directly to the main theme of the film, does Anderson intend the son to represent the worker lashing out at the injustices inherent in the system?

And when the half-brother is proven false, Plainview brings the son back. Does he do this because he is as repentant as he proclaims in church, or is it because, in the absence of a trustworthy family member, a broken one will do? Do Plainview's nebulous relationships with his son and false half-brother speak to his interest in an heir and a buying into the traditional Capitalist ideas of creating wealth and finding ways to perpetuate it, or is it more simply a quest for some idealized vision of family? And if that's the case, how does this central character arc tie neatly into some expression of the director's meaning?

In the penultimate scene, the son, now grown, visits his father, now slightly bonkers, in his father's mansion, to announce his intention to break off from his father's company. Plainview's reaction is cruel and pitiless. He disowns his son, tells him he's adopted (which was news to him), and says "now you're a competitor," as if to say, "You're no longer my son."

Which brings us to the long final scene, which takes place in Daniel Plainview's two-lane private bowling alley. Eli, the faith-healing Reverend that Plainview disliked so, returns. He's gotten into radio and has become one of the first televangelists (a radiovangelist?). But he's also lost everything in the Crash, and wants to sell Plainview a plot of land with oil beneath it. Plainview agrees but only if Eli renounces God and himself as a vessel for His message. In a reversal of an earlier scene where Eli forces Daniel to admit he "abandoned [his] boy" in front of his congregation in exchange for the pipeline rights to the same plot of land, Eli does as instructed. In a cruel twist, Daniel then informs Eli that he already got all the oil out from beneath the plot of land in question, and then proceeds to twist the knife in all the deeper. The scene culminates in Daniel bludgeoning Eli to death with a bowling pin. His servant comes on the scene and, apparently undisturbed by the carnage, asks after his employer. To which Plainview says, "I'm done!" And that's the end of the film.

Of course this has to do with Daniel's son, but how? Yes Daniel hated Eli for what Eli made him do, admitting to the sin of abandoning his son, but what does it mean that Daniel killed Eli for it? That Daniel never brooked any disrespect? This seems to bear out. Take, for instance, the scene where the Standard Oil man tells Daniel how sorry he is for what happened to his son. Daniel takes this as a commentary on his parenting skills and threatens to cut his throat over it. The false half-brother disrespected Daniel by lying his way into Daniel's confidence -- Daniel kills him for it. Eli humiliates him at the Baptism and, years later, Daniel kills him for that.

Or are we supposed to take Daniel's murder of Eli more symbolically? Perhaps Daniel, the Capitalist, made insane by his devotion to greed, kills Eli because he discovers that, in his heart, Eli, the embodiment of Religion, is just another capitalist. And does Daniel kill the Capitalist in God-fearing clothes because Daniel has a "competition in [him]" that incites his primal urge to do literally what Capitalists do metaphorically, or does he kill Eli because he suddenly sees in Eli what he hates most in himself, and lashes out? By portraying two of Capitalism and Religion's most skillful practitioners as corrupt beyond all reckoning, is Anderson implicitly equating the two as irredeemably evil institutions? But if so, doesn't this idea fail to account for Anderson's emphasis on the relationship between Plainview and his son, a relationship that seems to exist outside of the larger concepts of Religion and Capitalism? For one, religion doesn't really play a role in that relationship, and two, the idea that Capitalism alone (i.e. Plainview's driving ambition) was the primary force behind the poisoned relationship between Plainview and his son doesn't quite encompass what was portrayed on-screen.

Does Plainview's quest for his elusive idea of "family" indicate a larger quest for meaning? Does his failure to find that meaning sour him on life? Does he distrust Eli and ultimately murder Eli because he sees how Eli cynically uses man's search for meaning for monetary reward?

Anyway, enough of all that.

I think I absorbed the film, and felt what I was meant to feel, but to comprehend it, something's missing for me. Some way of reading it that will make form, content and meaning all gel in my mind. I guess I'm just excited to hear what you all thought of it, and what you thought the movie meant. Like what did the line, "I'm done!" really mean, for example. I think "There Will Be Blood" is dense and its rewards not altogether apparent on a single viewing, but I think it's definitely worth thinking and writing about to get at the film's meaning. Which feels pretty rare for an American film. I'm not sure I liked "Blood" more than "No Country", but I felt like "Blood" drew from a much deeper well than did "No Country," and that's in its favor.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sad News

Word is coming down the wire right now that actor Heath Ledger has died.

These are very preliminary reports that don't speak to the circumstances surrounding his death, so there's a chance they're not true, but if they are, this is a real tragedy. The guy's a great actor and the early footage of his work in the upcoming "Dark Knight" looked good enough to put him even more securely onto the A-list of Hollywood talent.

Ledger was 28 years old.

[Late Update: The New York Times has more information, including how Ledger was found, and a clue as to the sad cause of death. How depressing.]

Friday, January 18, 2008

Obama Needs to Get Smart

If Obama wants people to stop calling him a closet conservative, he's got to stop saying stuff like this:
"The Republican approach I think has played itself out. I think it's fair to say the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time over the last 10 or 15 years, in the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom. Now, you've heard it all before. You look at the economic policies, when they're being debated among the presidential candidates, it's all tax cuts. Well, we've done that, we've tried it."
(sigh) And this the day after I defend his seemingly neutral Reagan comments.

Taken altogether, it's clear he's saying in the above statement that the Republicans had their shot to try out their crazy ideas for 10-15 years, and their ideas all failed, so now let's give the Democrats a turn. Which is hard to argue with. And he's careful not to characterize the ideas because he doesn't want to offend anyone old enough to vote. But to say that Republicans have been the "party of ideas" is to imply that the Democrats haven't had ideas during that same time, which is patently false. I think Obama's looking ahead to the general election, knowing he's going to have to defend a pretty liberal voting record and trying to soften it with some non-offensive statements about Republicans and Republican icons (i.e. Reagan), but this doesn't make good political sense. He's got to win the nomination first, and anything that even smacks of admiration for Republicans is death in a close primary fight. Hillary and Edwards have been beating him over the head with his recent spate of lofty, almost disinterested-sounding statements and, leaving aside for a moment whether the statements are true or not, it's just not good politics. It's dumb politics and he's got to be smarter to win this thing.

Of course, Hillary mischaracterizes what he said, saying, incorrectly, that Obama said Republicans had "better" ideas, which he did not say, but one can hardly blame her for taking the club Obama gives her and beating him over the head with it. She's trying to win too.

The Obama campaign responds to Hillary's response, some might say lamely, here.

Also: further developments on the Ron Paul newsletter story. Apparently, Ron Paul was close to naming who he believed was responsible for writing some of the more unsavory items in those newsletters, but opted not to. Even if it becomes clear that Paul was responsible for writing exactly none of those racist articles, I think he needs to come out and explain why he let those newsletters go out under his name for decades and decades without a lawsuit, or even a word of protest.

And fellow blogger Peter Fedak has seen "Cloverfield." His teaser review is quite brief.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Obama Gets More Endorsements!

His case to be President of the United States just keeps getting stronger.

Today, Senator Pat Leahy from Vermont, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and all-around awesome guy, endorsed Barack Obama for President.

If they made Senate baseball cards, Leahy's would be the one I'd never trade. This is the guy who did his best to make Alberto Gonzales cry when he testified last year. (In the end, he only humiliated him. I'll take it.) This is the guy who worked hardest to get to the bottom of not only the US Attorney firing scandal, but also the illegal wiretapping program, and the more recent torture tape destruction scandal. This is the guy who made Dick Cheney so mad that the face-shooting VP from Texas was helpless against the urge to instruct Leahy to "Go fuck [him]self". Put another way, Leahy's smart, dedicated, and he's on our side.

Obama's got a lot of endorsements, but Leahy's, along with Bill Bradley's endorsement (my pick in 2000), and John Kerry's endorsement, mean a lot to me. After all it was John Kerry who, when advised by Bill Clinton in the waning days of the 2004 campaign to support some of the anti-gay marriage amendments on the ballot in various states, said flatly "no." Did he want to win the White House? Yes. But did he want to become a calculating, hypocritical prick to get there? No, and how admirable it was that he didn't. Kerry was the only guy I heard of before or since who believes, and has said out loud, that our "war" on terrorism isn't a war in the conventional sense, as Bush and Co. seem to believe, but a battle against a vast criminal enterprise. When someone who's that forthright and honest tells me how to cast my vote, I listen up. When Kerry AND Leahy want the same guy to be in the White House, that's hard to vote against.

I also believe that Al Gore, if he were free to endorse any of the Democratic candidates without fear of widening a rift between himself and the Clintons, would endorse Obama for President. And I know that endorsement means a lot to a lot of Democrats who don't know who's who in the Senate.

As we move through the primary season I feel like in order to be a good citizen I have to continue to weigh the evidence for and against the three candidates to make sure I'm not being too naive in my support of Obama. Even though every time I see Obama, whether it's in a debate, or in an interview, or in a speech, I like what I see. But these contrary voices keep sounding on the periphery, trying to change my thinking. For instance, liberal NYTimes columnist Paul Krugman has made a habit of penning very cogent anti-Obama columns, accusing him of being either too nice to fight the battles to be fought, or that he's to the right of the other candidates, which is every liberal's worst fear: electing a closet conservative. When writing about the candidates' plans to deal with the coming recession, Krugman had this to say about Obama:

"The Obama campaign’s initial response to the latest wave of bad economic news was, I’m sorry to say, disreputable: Mr. Obama’s top economic adviser claimed that the long-term tax-cut plan the candidate announced months ago is just what we need to keep the slump from “morphing into a drastic decline in consumer spending.” Hmm: claiming that the candidate is all-seeing, and that a tax cut originally proposed for other reasons is also a recession-fighting measure — doesn’t that sound familiar?"

Gets any red-blooded Obama supporter right where they live: suggesting Obama's like Bush. There has to be some reason the conservatives are holding their fire against him, right? There has to be something else there they like other than the smile, right? Maybe some policy, too? It's enough to make you paranoid. About the other two Dem candidates, Krugman says Hillary "knows what she's talking about" and Edwards:

"...has been driving his party’s policy agenda. He’s done it again on economic stimulus: last month, before the economic consensus turned as negative as it now has, he proposed a stimulus package including aid to unemployed workers, aid to cash-strapped state and local governments, public investment in alternative energy, and other measures."

Does Krugman have a pro-Clinton bias? Maybe, but I think he prides himself on his realpolitik outlook on the political landscape and thinks Clinton has the street-fighting chops to take on the Republicans, an Obama doesn't. And he probably has a point. But then I look at some of Obama's past votes and I swing back into his camp. Almost alone among Senate Democrats, Obama voted against the confirmation of Chief Justice John Roberts. Clinton voted for him. Obama also voted against confirmation of Samuel Alito, Attorney General Mike Mukasey, and against the current head of the CIA, Michael Hayden, because of his role in designing and implementing the illegal wiretapping program. What's not to like?

Voting came up in the recent Democratic debate in Las Vegas, and Obama came out quite well. Yes, he was opposed to the Iraq war while Clinton and Edwards voted for it, and yes that's evidence of his superior judgment, but Obama wasn't in the Senate then, so he didn't actually have a vote to defend. But on the big bankruptcy bill that went through Congress -- the sweetheart deal for credit card companies that made it that much harder for people to declare bankruptcy -- Edwards and Clinton both voted for it and had to defend their votes. Obama, by contrast, didn't have to apologize for yet another bad vote. He saw that bill for what it was back when it counted and voted no. I do think Clinton got some good, substantive licks in on Obama for a vote he cast for a big energy bill, "Cheney's energy bill" I think she called it, but I think Clinton's vote for the bankruptcy bill was the bigger mistake.

Now, I know this may only help to solidify Papadeas's opposition to Obama, but NY Times conservative columnist David Brooks made a good point about the difference between the top three Dem candidates in a column he wrote after the Democratic debate:

"The third thing that happened tonight is that Hillary Clinton and John Edwards disgraced themselves in the minds of debate-watchers everywhere. At some point in each campaign, candidates are asked to name their greatest weakness. Only the lamest political hacks answer that question this way: Goshdarn it, I just care too much. I am too impatient for good things to happen.

Giving that answer is an insult to the art of politics. And yet Edwards and Clinton both gave that answer. They didn’t even give artfully disguised versions of that answer. They gave the straight, unsubtle kindergarten version of that answer. Obama, honestly, admitted that he’s bad at organizing his paperwork. Truly, here is a man willing to stand for change."

Watching that moment in the debate, I remember thinking how Edwards and Clinton had squandered a golden opportunity to be honest, or at least appear so. Instead, Edwards lamely chided himself for getting too emotional about some things, even though a week earlier he'd admonished Hillary Clinton for getting too emotional at the diner in New Hampshire. Not a good moment. And then Clinton missed out on a chance to further "humanize" herself by giving a transparently calculated answer that, even worse, had a subtle shot at Obama in it. And people wonder how she got a reputation as "calculating."

I think that her politically sharp but generally tone-deaf answer to that question actually goes against the meme that Hillary is the most politically savvy of the three candidates. After seven years of a President who couldn't a.) give a straight answer to a question to save his life, or b.) think of a single mistake from his first term in office, I think the smart and politically savvy play in 2008 is for a candidate to be candid and open about past mistakes. Sen. Clinton doesn't want to be that candidate, and that's one of the main reason I'm not excited about her candidacy.

Obama's the guy.

And Obama wins a court battle in Nevada.

And Kucinich is a putz. And so are some of his supporters.

Anyway, that's long enough.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"The Road" and "Blood Meridian" Coming to Movie Theaters

First, some interesting movie news. Variety is reporting that Charlize Theron is joining the cast of "The Road," an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's 2006 novel. Those who've read the novel may be surprised by this news, as I was, because McCarthy's novel follows a father and his young son as they trek across a post-apocalyptic landscape. There are hardly any other characters, and most of these are male. So where does Charlize fit in? In the book, there's one scene of flashback between the father and the mother that's very powerful. Charlize will play the absent mother. Though I haven't yet read the adaptation, the screenwriter has apparently expanded her role by creating multiple scenes of flashback. As of now, Viggo Mortensen will play the father, which sounds like very good casting to me. Looking behind the camera, the guy who directed the almost unbearably heavy "The Proposition" will direct. Hmm. I wonder if the people at Dimension (who's producing "The Road") happened to read this bit from a certain blog:

"The director [of "The Proposition"], John Hillcoat, allowed time for scenes of bad men contemplating sunsets and saying ponderous things about them. I saw shades of Terrence Malick (and by extension DDG) in this, but I also saw quite a bit of Cormac McCarthy, specifically his novel, "Blood Meridian, Or the Evening Redness in the West". In that novel, McCarthy describes a band of killers engaging in a kind of genocide as they murder whole settlements of native peoples. These scenes of horror are punctuated with scenes around the campfire depicting the uniquely psychotic leader of the crew, Judge Holden, having Socratic dialogues with his awed and blood-stained compatriots. There is a bit of "the Judge" in Charlie Burns's older brother, Arthur, who quotes high-falutin' poetry and seems possessed of a sensitive soul even though he's buried it long since under the weight of his crimes, and I liked that Cave and Hillcoat made the effort here."
So then they up and give the dude "The Road" to direct. The influence of the Inanities is not to be underestimated.

Which actually brings me quite succinctly to this: i09, the new science-fiction blog from the people that brought us Gawker and Kotaku, reports (in this blog post) that Ridley Scott is all set to make Cormac McCarthy's aforementioned classic Western/horror novel "Blood Meridian." So Judge Holden himself will be coming to a theater near you. Who will they cast? Where will Ridley find a muscular seven-foot tall actor willing to shave or pluck every last bit of body hair? Barring the discovery of some beautiful freak wowing audiences at a dinner theater somewhere in the midwest, I guess they'll just have to cast someone we've all heard of and cheat him the way Darabont did with Michael Clark Duncan in "Green Mile." Should be interesting, and the fact that Ridley Scott will direct the film certainly ups its chances of being excellent by factors of ten.

Friday, January 11, 2008


This. Is. Hilarious.

Check out this video from featuring Michael Cera and a fake interviewer dude named Zach Galifianakas. Cera may only be capable of putting on his halting and awkward adolescent persona, but he's damn good at it.

I almost guarantee laughter. If you're around my age and male, that is.

A Fun Political Quiz!

This is pretty cool. Want to know where you stand on the political spectrum? (As if you didn't already know.) Click here to go to a handy-dandy Electoral Compass to discover where your views place you on economic and social issues. And, as an added bonus, Electoral Compass will tell you which candidate most closely aligns with your views. I'm just as left as you want on both social and economic issues (no surprise there), and Obama turns out to be the candidate closest to my placing on the chart.

Anyway, give it a try and post up who you're closest to, and who you're farthest from (Fred Thompson in my case).

By the way, I got this off of Andrew Sullivan's blog. Check out his entry here. He was closest to Ron Paul.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Responding to Obama's Critics

This post started out as a comment on Paul Papadeas’s comment on my previous blog post, but then it got long and I thought I ought to just throw it up on the main page. Why throw out all of this amazing writing, right? Right?

I’ve actually been wanting to write about Obama for some time now, particularly why I support him, but haven’t done so yet. Laziness, maybe. But Paul’s comment got me thinking of all the reasons I do like Obama, and why I think he’d be a fine choice for President. Also: there’s not a lot of anti-Obama stuff out in the MSM, and, helpfully, Paul’s gathered a bunch of it all in one place, so I have something to argue against, which is a pretty easy way to lay out one’s support of something. So here is a link to Paul’s comment. Scroll down; it’s the fourth one. And below is my response. So anyway, thanks Paul for starting up an Obama discussion.

So! About halfway through your comment, Paul, you provide a list of links to web pages with anti-Obama sentiments contained therein. I think the only person on your list who can reasonably be said to have laid a glove on Obama is Paul Krugman. I’ve read a few of Krugman’s columns on Obama and his main problem with Barack is that Krugman thinks Obama’s emphasis on unity between red and blue states is exactly the wrong tack to take after eight years of this awful administration. In that, I think he may have a point. There's a debate to be had there.

But as for ZNet writer and “black militant” Paul Street to accuse Obama of truth-twisting simply because Obama said, "Don't tell me I'm not coming home to Selma, Alabama. I'm here because somebody marched. I'm here because you all sacrificed for me,” even though he was born four years before the Selma marches and six before the Montgomery Bus Boycott, is ridiculous. If Paul Street wants to deride Obama because of his too-safe "present" votes in the Illinois state legislature for example, fine, but it’s difficult to go after Obama as just another lying politician. Yes, Obama was born in Hawaii in 1961, hardly a hotbed of racial unrest, and yes it was years after the Selma marches, but for Street to ignore the metaphorical point Obama was actually making about how far he’s come and why, reveals Street to be a partisan with his own agenda, and appallingly dismissive of the civil rights movement.

Looking through Paul Street's indictment of Obama I'm struck by how lazy and un-indicting it actually is. Take this:

"Around the same time that [Obama] was making historically idiotic claims about owing his existence to the Civil Rights Movement..."

If Street really means to suggest that had Martin Luther King, Abernathy, Bayard Rustin and thousands of others involved in the Civil Rights Movement NOT put pressure on the federal government to enact the Civil Rights Act, we would still be seriously considering a black man as a presidential candidate in 2008, then he just threw a sandwich board over his head that read, in big red letters, "NOT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY." Actually, in the 21st century, “black militant” does that pretty well all by itself.

I don't believe Street's lazy denunciation of Obama is in any way illuminating to those on the fence about Obama's candidacy.

I think you ought to give Obama a second look, Paul. I don’t think you’re being altogether fair. I have more and I’ll post it up later; I don’t want these posts to be so long that no one reads them.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Hillary Takes New Hampshire

And Hillary wins. Congratulations to her on a great comeback win. Despite the punditocracy's unanimous opinion that Hillary's candidacy was all but over, the race for the nomination is a real race now which makes things exciting from a political standpoint.

The second biggest story of the night was the massive discrepancy between the polling going into today and the actual result. I think a lot of factors went into Clinton winning -- her show of emotion yesterday, her husband's fiery answer to the Obama Iraq war question, New Hampshirians' contrarian streak -- but I think the "Bradley effect" did a bit to give Obama supporters false hope and to lower expectations for Hillary so tonight's win seems all the more miraculous. She's in a good position to go forward.

Just goes to show that no one knows anything about this race.

Primary Update

With 15% of the votes counted, Hillary's winning New Hampshire at the moment. She's at 40% to Obama's 36%. t's not a big percentage of precincts reporting, but Obama hasn't been ahead once as the votes are slowly being tallied. As a guy who enjoys me some politics, I'm happy because a Hillary win means the race goes on. As an Obama supporter, this isn't good news for my candidate. Was it the show of emotion yesterday to remind voters how they felt about her during the first weeks of the Lewinsky scandal? Or are the New Hampshire oldsters telling the Iowa youngsters to go to hell?

And McCain wins, as expected. The Republican race is more competitive and interesting that the Democratic race, that's for certain. No one knows how that's going to go, but I think McCain's got the best shot. South Carolina will give us the best indication yet as to how the GOP's going to go.

More when the final projection comes in.

Damning New Information About Ron Paul

A pretty damning story today about Ron Paul in The New Republic. James Kirchik, the writer of the story, has discovered a trove of newsletters put out by Ron Paul-led or Ron Paul-affiliated groups, with titles like "Ron Paul's Freedom Report, Ron Paul Political Report, [and] The Ron Paul Survival Report" from 1978 on. Inside these newsletters Kirchik discovers years of racist, homophobic, and anti-gay comments, as well as a host of statements regarding even sillier conspiracies than the ones he cops to in public. Like the '93 WTC attack may have been planned by agents of Mossad. For instance.

The only reason these comments are difficult to pin directly on Paul is that almost all of the newsletters' poisonous essays were written without a by-line. But many were written in the first-person which implies that either Ron Paul was writing a lot of these himself, (which is nightmare scenario #1 for the Paul campaign), or the people who ran the newsletters intended for the reader to make that inference. This from Kirchik's article:

"When [Kerchik] asked Jesse Benton, Paul's campaign spokesman, about the newsletters, he said that, over the years, Paul had granted "various levels of approval" to what appeared in his publications--ranging from "no approval" to instances where he "actually wrote it himself." After I read Benton some of the more offensive passages, he said, "A lot of [the newsletters] he did not see. Most of the incendiary stuff, no.""

If we take Benton and Paul at their word here, which is not easy to do after reading this article, then we must ask why Paul never asked that his name be taken off of the newsletters, or why he did not distance himself from those who ran and operated the newsletters. He's had since 1976 to disavow any association with the content of those newsletters and, as far as I know, he hasn't yet done this.

The reason I take this seriously is not just because "The New Republic" is a nationally-recognized and serious-minded publication, but because the worldview espoused in these newsletters (and click here to see a quick and dirty run-down of the worst of the written statements) seems like a more extreme version of the worldview he's espoused during this campaign. For example, he said a couple Sundays ago on "Meet the Press" that the Civil War should never have been fought. His justification seemed to be disgust, 150-years after the fact, over the number of lives lost. He asserted that the federal government could have purchased all those slaves and freed them rather than go to war over them. But this heretofore undiscovered association with the vitriol in these Ron Paul-titled newsletters puts Paul's thinking on the Civil War into a different and far less appealing light.

Yes, the article is damning, but I'm still open to an equally illuminating story detailing how Ron Paul's racist and homophobic (among other things) associates used and abused Ron Paul's name for their own agenda without the knowledge or approval of Ron Paul. I've always kind of liked Ron Paul, just as a guy if not so much as a candidate, and I would much prefer him to be slightly doddering enough to let people take advantage of him like this than the kind of guy who'd put out this sort of thing and actually believe it.

UPDATE: Ron Paul responds to the charges.
"The quotations in The New Republic article are not mine and do not represent what I believe or have ever believed. I have never uttered such words and denounce such small-minded thoughts.

In fact, I have always agreed with Martin Luther King, Jr. that we should only be concerned with the content of a person's character, not the color of their skin. As I stated on the floor of the U.S. House on April 20, 1999: ‘I rise in great respect for the courage and high ideals of Rosa Parks who stood steadfastly for the rights of individuals against unjust laws and oppressive governmental policies.'

This story is old news and has been rehashed for over a decade. It's once again being resurrected for obvious political reasons on the day of the New Hampshire primary.

When I was out of Congress and practicing medicine full-time, a newsletter was published under my name that I did not edit. Several writers contributed to the product. For over a decade, I have publicly taken moral responsibility for not paying closer attention to what went out under my name.”

So the slightly doddering Ron Paul is the truth, or at least what Paul's copping to. I do appreciate the sentiment with which he writes the second paragraph, but I have to say that this response is not terribly reassuring to me. Though Ron Paul-backer Andrew Sullivan (who reacts negatively to the New Republic story here) says that some of the quotes don't sound anything like Paul (the homophobic comments he cites as examples), and it's true they don't match up at all with the Ron Paul we've been hearing during this campaign. But at some point, to clear the air, I'd like to know which articles Ron Paul did write over the 30 years his newsletters have been going.

I hope to hear a more thorough answer to the charges from the Ron Paul campaign.

A Bunch of Political Stuff

The New Hampshire primary is today. Voters in the small New Hampshire town of Dixville Notch cast their votes just after midnight this morning and it's looking like so goes Dixville Notch so goes New Hampshire. McCain won for the Republicans (he got 4 votes) and Obama for the Democrats (he got 7). The story's here. ("West Wing" viewers may remember an episode in which Dixville Notch featured prominently -- in that episode, Pres. Bartlet's campaign lobbies vigorously to get one person in Dixville Notch to cast a second vote for the President.) Not to imbue this tiny election with too much significance, but the polling in the entire state is reflected by the Dixville result. I'm not expecting any surprises tonight and neither, it seems, are the candidates. Romney and Clinton are both playing up coming in second tonight.

Also related to New Hampshire and the Presidential campaign are these videos that are directed to certain readers of the blog.

1.) This one's for Heath. These are Ron Paul supporters heckling Sean Hannity in New Hampshire. There's plenty to despise about Sean Hannity, but it isn't Hannity's fascist heart or his off-putting cube-like head that's putting these folks into a rage. It's the fact that Fox News excluded Ron Paul from the New Hampshire debate despite the fact Ron Paul outraised most of them, and beat Giuliani outright in Iowa. Incidentally, Giuliani was not excluded. The funny part of this clip is how the atmosphere is decidedly Pakistan until Hannity escapes into his hotel lobby. The shouting dies down immediately and a silence grows and then the supporters applaud for themselves. It made me laugh.

2.) This one's for Mom. This is Bill Clinton railing persuasively against Obama. He mentions a couple of mailers he alleges Obama's team put out that were intentionally ignored by the press. The first of the mailers sounded crazy and bad, and the second seemed to allege that Clinton was a crook. I hadn't heard anything about these things, but if true, I would have liked to have heard about it. My guess is that the press ignored them because they couldn't tie the senders of the mailers directly to the Obama campaign. I don't know. Clinton also goes after the foundation of Obama's argument regarding his judgment: his opposition to the Iraq War from the very beginning. Bill's argument isn't a bad one, but he blames the media for not asking Obama questions about other statement he made, like "I don't know how I would have voted," when speaking about the vote on the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq that's got Hillary in so much trouble over the months.

One other thing about this video: I was a little put off by how Clinton treats the questioner. The guy is asking a polite question in a civil tone about Clinton's thoughts regarding Obama's claims about "judgment" as well as a misstep by Mark Penn, Hillary's lead campaign strategist. Though Bill is equally civil, he also makes it apparent that he views the questioner as an opponent who's taking "shot[s]" at the Clinton campaign. I felt like the audience member was asking, in part, to show he was keeping up with the inside story, not because he was a partisan for one candidate or another. Clinton, however, seemed to view him as a covert agent for Obama. See what you think.

3.) This one's for curmudegeonly Speck as he's unimpressed by any of the current candidates. Independent New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and some independent pals like Chuck Hagel are leaving the door open for an independent run. This does seem weird to me that they're still talking about this. Obama and McCain are surging and they're both well-liked by independents. I don't see how Bloomberg or Hagel can change the dynamic in their favor.

In non-campaign news, the New York Times recently hired possibly my least-favorite conservative pundit, Bill Kristol, to be a regular columnist. The guy from the Project for the New American Century who helped stamp on the gas pedal to get us into Iraq? Yeah, that guy. Well Talking Points Memo discovered a big error. Kristol attributed a quote to extra-nutty wingnut Michelle Malkin regarding Mike Huckabee. Turns out the actual writer of the quote was none other than second-class intellect and wingnut morality policeman Michael Medved. Leaving aside the mistake for a moment, these are the people Kristol's quoting for his column in the paper of record? In the big picture, this screw-up isn't a huge deal, but anything that diminishes Bill Kristol is worth noting. Why all these warm-mongering neocons weren't run out of town on a rail, I'll never know.

Anyway, I'll be watching the returns tonight and I'll post up a lil' something after the results.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


The networks are all calling it: Obama wins Iowa. Clinton and Edwards are fighting it out for second place. Obviously, I'm really happy about this, but I know it's not over by any stretch. Clinton's chances in New Hampshire are still pretty good, but Obama will likely benefit from a serious slingshot effect from Iowa and come in and do similar numbers in New Hampshire. If Hillary had won tonight, the nomination would have been hers, period. Obama wasn't able to come back from an Iowa loss. But tonight's Obama win doesn't necessarily signal an Obama nomination. Hillary's got a great organization and the establishment's behind her, so it's too early to count her out, but this is a very big deal for Obama.

And on the Republican side, Mike Huckabee won for the Republicans. The big message Iowa sends by choosing these two candidates is that the country wants change. Two terms of Bush has disgusted just about everyone in the country by now, and the "experience" candidate or the "establishment" candidate isn't going to cut it this cycle. But even though Huckabee skews slightly left on some issues, it's a little frightening to me that the Iowa evangelicals thought the answer to our current fundamentalist president is an even more fundamentalist president. Born Again Bush thinks public schools ought to "teach the controversy" when it comes to "intelligent design" versus evolution. Huckabee just straight up doesn't believe in evolution. It's a little frightening to me that Iowa Republicans think the answer to a president who couldn't point out Iraq on a map before he invaded it is to nominate someone who responds to questions about the assassination of Bhutto in Pakistan with assurances that he'll crack down on Pakistanis coming into the US. What?

Anyway, a good night for Obama and real change in the country.

Also: my predictions were right on. Word.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Author of "Black Hawk Down" Gives "The Wire" a Piece of His Mind, and Thoughts on Iowa Caucus Eve

1.) I've written about David Simon's HBO show "The Wire" here on this blog before. The show's critical reception has been, as far as I know, universally positive. Today, however, Mark Bowden, writer of the excellent "Black Hawk Down", published a somewhat contrary take on the show on His essay's pretty interesting, but I'm not sure how persuasive his points are. His primary complaint with the show seems to be that Simon omits the good things that are happening in Baltimore's crime-ridden neighborhoods -- like good citizen residents standing up to the dealers for example -- and that Simon is too determined to paint Baltimore in the colors of bleakness to be truly committed to verisimilitude. I think the relative amount of bleak in "The Wire" is too fine a point to get Bowden so worked up. It could be argued that "The Wire" inspires indifference to the plight of the inner city because it skews more hopeless than hopeful, but when a show is making the effort to ask why inner cities have been so hopeless for so many decades, I think Simon can be forgiven for not focusing too long on the so-called bright spots. That idea smacks too much of what the right-wing was always (and stupidly) asking the press to do in the worst years of our Iraq debacle: go out and find the "good stories".

Bowden also thinks Simon is a petty kind of guy complete with a Nixon-style enemies list, grudges galore, and a driving urge to settle scores. I don't think Bowden's essay even chips the monument the television critics have built in honor of "The Wire", but it's interesting to get a contrarian take on something so lauded. The final season of the show begins this month. If you get HBO, check it out. This season the show focuses on (and takes to task) the media, specifically big-city newspapers.

2.) So, finally, after what feels like an eternity of campaigning, the 2008 primaries begin tomorrow in Iowa. Even now, no one, and I mean no one, knows what's going to happen there. On the Democratic side, Obama, Hillary or Edwards could all have a game-changing night. On the Republican side, if Romney takes it, he's going to be all but impossible to knock out and I just can't see my way towards a Romney Presidency, so that's good news for us. If Huckabee wins, then Romney may be so weakened as to allow McCain to come in and claim the nomination for himself, which could be bad news for us. And Ron Paul could surprise the punditocracy by taking more caucus-goers than he's currently expected to; though it wouldn't have any real impact on the race, it would be kinda fun to watch. A good showing in Iowa might make it harder for Fox Noise to keep Paul out of the debate.

As for me, I still like Obama, and expect to vote for him when the primaries come to politically-meaningless Georgia. He seems forthright and honest and electing him might take some of the wind from the Republican attack machine's sails. I admit I have all the same worries other Obama supporters have, like will the Republicans be able to successfully run a racist strategy against Obama, as they've done in prior elections? And even if the Repubs run a clean campaign (fat chance), would America really elect a guy named Barack Hussein Obama to be President? Seems crazy on the face of it, but that's part of the allure of an Obama Presidency: true change. And I think that after Bush what we most need is change, and I think Obama best represents that goal. And he was just as right as rain on the central foreign policy question of the moment, Iraq. No other Democrat can say that.

I have to say, though, that John Edwards has been growing on me lately. I like the idea behind his promise to fight for change against intractable corporate interests; in this corporate era, I think we may need someone with a Rooseveltian (the first one) distrust of corporations. I think he may be a little too unashamedly populist to be my first choice (I don't view the world in quite so stark a way as Edwards), but if he did well tomorrow night, I wouldn't be sad about it. And the fact that Nader supports him makes him all the more attractive as a candidate.

I have mixed feelings about Hillary Clinton, and if she has a good night tomorrow, I worry about our chances of retaking the White House. Conservatives seem to have a thing for Clinton, and not in a good way, and where they might be persuaded to stay at home on election day in the general if Obama or Edwards is the nominee, Clinton might motivate them to come out to the polls in big numbers, just like they did in '04. If she ends up being the nominee, I'll support her, but I do worry that she might be the least inclined of the top-tier Dem candidates to roll back the clock on eight years of Cheney's beefed-up Executive.

Anyway, should be the start of an exciting political year. Anyone have any predictions? I'll put in mine just so I can be proven wrong in less than 24 hours.

Repub: Huckabee takes first, Romney second, McCain third.
Dem: Obama takes first, Edwards second, Clinton third.

[Editor's note: in the original version of this post, I wrongly referred to David Simon, the creator of "The Wire", as David Chase, the creator of "The Sopranos." I have corrected the error.]