Friday, January 30, 2004

Super Bowl Ads...

Is CBS in the Bush Administrations pocket or what? Just a while back they were pressured out of not showing the (much beleaguered) Reagan mini-series and now they have rejected Moveon.org's anti-Bush ad. [Ad here.]

CBS says that they don't take advocacy ads. That would be fine if they had a consistent policy because they have actually accepted an anti-drug commercial from the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Anti-drug ads are okay - even though 75% of the Super Bowl audience will be well-lit on alcohol throughout the game - but this seems like a form of censorship in my book.

CBS is owned by Viacom = Viacom wants to do what's right so that the FCC will lighten their standards toward media ownership and monopolies?

You be the judge.

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On an unrelated but similar note Super Bowl prediction: Carolina 27 29 New England 19 32.

What a prediction!

Whale Gale...

Lesson #6275: Never move a dead whale.

Residents of Tainan learned a lesson in whale biology after the decomposing remains of a 60-ton sperm whale exploded on a busy street, showering nearby cars and shops with blood and organs and stopping traffic for hours.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Hog of war...

The first time I saw Errol Morris' new film The Fog of War I found the main subject of the film - Robert McNamara - a very engaging man. So much so that I felt the film was eulogizing him even though he was very much alive.

I walked out of the theater feeling I had just had a good hour and half talk with one of America's brighter lights. Then I had to slap myself because it occurred to me that this man was the one of the prime architects of the Vietnam war. A war that killed over 58,000 American soldiers and upwards of 3 million Vietnamese - most of whom were civilians.

I thought McNamara is a man that possibly could be tried for war crimes and now Errol Morris has made me feel as though I had just had an innocuous conversation and a cup of tea with him.

That evening I ran into a friend [I was at the Telluride Film Festival] and when he asked how I liked The Fog of War I said, they ought to rename it 'McNamara directs Morris'.

This friend (who's web site is here) saw the film later and was much more critical of the film. He said that Morris had basically let McNamara control the interview. And more significantly he felt that McNamara was basically getting the last word [for posterity sake] on that horrific war.

On a second viewing I realized that The Fog of War is really damn well made but rather infuriating because the subject matter of war and the main character are somehow not directly linked. I other words the film is intellectually and aesthetically engaging more than it is an examination of a complex and possibly unscrupulous man. Morris doesn't put us in a position to pin any blame (or even think about) a man who was completely complicit in one of the most unjust wars in the history of mankind. What's worse Morris doesn't ask him any tough questions. When he asks [in the end] if he feels guilty McNamara essentially says, 'let's not go there.' And they don't.

Instead the documentary concentrates on eleven lessons from the life of McNamara:
1) Empathize with your enemy
2) Rationalty will not save us
3) There’s something beyond oneself
4) Maximize effort
5) Proportionality should be a guideline in war
6) Get the Data
7) Belief and seeing are both often wrong
8) Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning
9) In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil
10) Never say never
11) You can't change human nature

I love that last one; It's a great way to justify anything.

What's more frustrating is that The Fog of War - ironically - is the kind of film that a good number of Liberals and Leftists have applauded even though McNamara is a man that many of them once hated. A good example is when McNamara says that if a nation doesn't have the ability to convince other nations of its moral right to go to war then it should question its own positions. When McNamara says this - in light of the wars of today - the audience applauds. But who is he kidding? Is it any more justified when you have a few allies agreeing with your position especially when a war is as heedless as Vietnam?

There is one section too where McNamara tears up when he recalls the assassination of JFK. It is as that point that you realize how much one death can affect someone even forty years later. But with regards to McNamara it also illustrates Mao's quip that one death is a tragedy while a million deaths is a statistic.

I'm not sure it was Morris's intention but after the film you may feel the need to forgive McNamara - or at least shake his hand for being so smart and fascinating. But the question I really wanted to ask was, 'for all the articulate and sensitive things that you say about the horrors of war I just don't understand how or why you stayed in the Johnson Administration as long as you did. Especially when you knew the war was a disaster.'

There is certainly no simple black and white or good or evil when dealing with the US government (or any government for that matter). And granted hindsight is 20/20. But when McNamara came to loggerheads with Johnson it seems the best thing to do would have been to bow out with a clean conscience.

He didn't and now we have this well made film that breaks war down into eleven easy to grasp concepts. If you feel good or even invigorated after watching the film then Morris will most likely feel he had done his job. But there is no way you will feel depressed about our involvement in wars worldwide (especially Vietnam) or angry with the US Government (Or McNamara) after watching it - and to me that's why the film is an expertly crafted failure.

To be fair McNamara has written a couple books on the subject and he does dig deeper into his psyche and his involvement and duplicity in the Vietnam war.

Alexander Cockburn has written a blistering article here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Addicted to war...

U.S. plans Al Qaeda offensive:

Sources say military is mapping operation to strike inside Pakistan.

---------

Do we expect anything less in an election year?
That darn WMD mystery...

Former top U.S. weapons inspector David Kay is playing it both ways. He says that his claims that Weapons of Mass Destruction most likely do not exist in large quantities in Iraq are not political.

At his congressional hearing this morning he was questioned by many members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Senator Carl Levin (D) asked Kay to clarify his claims versus those made by Cheney last week that Iraq had biological weapons vans and that that was justification enough for war. Kay didn't take the bait or deny anything Cheney said. Instead he said that it is the opinion of some [meaning Cheney] that these vans proved there was an active weapons program.

On the surface this makes sense. Everyone has opinions. But what Levin failed to conclude in his follow-up questions - and maybe he will later - is that this proves, in part, that the Bush Administrations decisions to go to war were based on opinions as opposed to hard facts.

Yes we know that Saddam was accussed of disobeyng Resolution 1441 but was this enough reason to go to war? Especially when no proof of weapons has been verified?

Time will tell but the consensus seems to be that the Bush Administration was ready for war the day they walked into the White House. They had to find some justification and the failure of the intellegence community to report what was correctly in Iraq gave the Adminstration a window of opportunity to set up and go to war.

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By the way I've found myself in numerous discussion on right and left blogs and it seems to me that the difference between Liberals and Conservatives in this case comes down to the emphasis placed on the words in this one sentence:

No WMD's have been found yet.

Anti-war Liberals mean = No WMD's have been found yet.

For-the-War Conservatives mean = No WMD's have been found yet.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Movies to come...

Most of the blog world wonders when we will find WMD in Iraq (or Syria) or which Democrat will face Bush in November but right now I'm much more interested in some of the forthcoming movies.

Greencine Daily has a good list.

Wong Kar-wai's 2046.
Martin Scorsese's The Aviator.
Richard Linklater's Before Sunset.
Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm.
Takashi Miike's Chakushin ari.
David Gordon Green's A Confederacy of Dunces.
Lars von Trier's Dogville.
Barry Levinson's Envy.
Alfonso Cuarón's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
David O. Russell's I Heart Huckabees.
QT's Kill Bill Vol. 2.
The Ladykillers. From the Coens, with Tom Hanks.
Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Un long dimanche de fiançailles, with Audrey Tautou.
Walter Salles's The Motorcycle Diaries with Gael Garcia Bernal.
David Mamet's Spartan.

Let me add that the award winning films from Sundance, Rotterdam, Berlin and Cannes should be exciting too.

No doubt it will be another good year in cinema even if the mainstream media chooses to concentrate on Hollywood.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Kerry dream...

If anyone wonders where I've been I'm currently in Durango, Colorado visiting my parents, seeing friends, enjoying the snow, skiing and doing other fun winter events.

I glance out the window now and can see snow lightly falling in the backyard. Tomorrow I am hoping to get up on one of the high mountain passes and do some snowshoeing.

It's significantly different here than in Los Angeles.

I pretty much stay away from politics when I'm on vacation but last night I flipped on CNN and was absolutely amazed to see that John Kerry had won the Iowa caucus followed closely by John Edwards. What the heck happened to Dean?

Soon after the news I went to bed and had a dream in which I was giving advice to Kerry about an ad campaign he was running. The ad he was using showed him looking like a monster. He walks into a room full of people sitting around a table. He stands at the head of the table and everyone suddenly shape-shifts and turns into him. Then he changes his look again and so does everyone at the table. He changes one last time as does everyone else and then the ad ends.

I go over to Kerry and we take a walk. I say to him, 'while I understand your message about wanting everyone to look and act like you as a way of uniting everybody I just don't think that you should portray yourself as a monster". He takes my advise and then walks off toward some building.

I actually like Kerry so I'm not sure why he would be a monster in my dream. Maybe it's just a free floating common sense thought; as long as people like him - or at least better than the other candidates (and Bush in November) - then he has a good chance to be the next president.

But this thing is just beginning. Dean could still take it all although his time may have passed - like a fad.

Onward to the other caucuses.

Onward into the snow.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Open Secrets...

Opensecrets.org is a great site to find out about political campaign contributions. You can find out which people and what organizations are giving money and which party or candidate gets what. It's all there; hard money, soft money, PAC's and the rest.

You can also go a bit deeper and you can visit such pages as the Industry Profile page and get a breakdown of money and the percentage of overall donations given by different industries to each respective party each year.

It's interesting to see how it has changed from 1990 to 2002. Below I've broken down a few interesting ones. Some of obvious but some are interesting.

For instance Abortion Policy/Pro-Life gave:
1990 79% to Reps & 21% to Dems
1996 94 to Reps & 6% to Dems
2002 99% to Reps & 0% to Dems [I’m not sure who got 1%]

While Abortion Policy/Pro-Choice :
1990 88% to Dems & 12% to Reps
1996 62% to Dems 37% to Reps
2002 80% to Dems & 20% to Reps

Note this big change:
Casinos and Gambling Industries:
1990 71% to Dems & 29% to Reps
1996 53% to Dems & 47% to Reps
2002 50% to Dems & 50% to Reps

Gun Rights advocates:
1990 65% to Reps & 35% to Dems
1996 86% to Reps & 14% to Dems
2002 94% to Reps & 6% to Dems

While Gun Control:
1990 86% to Dems & 14% to Reps
1996 94% to Dems & 6% to Reps
2002 100% to Dems & 0% to Reps

Lawyers and Lawfirms:
1990 69% to Dems & 31% to Reps
1996 70% to Dems & 30% to Reps
2002 74% to Dems & 26% to Reps

Education Industries:
1990 58% to Dems & 41% to Reps
1996 59% to Dems & 38% to Reps
2002 64% to Dems & 35% to Reps

Oil and Gas Industries:
1990 61% to Reps & 39% to Dems
1996 76% to Reps & 23% to Dems
2002 80% to Reps & 20% to Dems

Look how this has changed.
Tobacco Industry:
1990 51% to Reps & 49% to Dems
1996 81% to Reps & 19% to Dems
2002 79% to Reps & 21% to Dems

This makes sense.
TV Movie Music Industries:
1990 74% to Dems & 26% to Reps
1996 62% to Dems & 37% to Reps
2002 78% to Dems & 22% to Reps
Googlefight...

I guess I'm a bit off the back on this one but I just discovered that over at googlefight.com you can compare and contrast two seperate entries and see which comes up the most often on google.

Example include:

"Marylin Manson" Vs "Marylin Monroe" [Manson wins]
Budweiser Vs Coors [Bud wins]
Love Vs Sex [Sex wins]
Movie Vs Film [Movie wins]
"Yo Mama" Vs "Your Mother Too" [Yo Mama wins]

And look Rashomon is beating the pants off of MrJeff3000! [I guess I have Akira Kurosawa to thank for that].

I would recommend - if you want to be accurate - using "quotation marks" at both ends of the names or two or more word combinations you enter if you want to be more accurate.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Movie Critic's e-mail club...

Over at Slate they are in the final day of their week long Movie Club, which uses an informal email-like format between a few critics to write about last years films.

The critics taking part this year are David Edelstein (Slate), J Hoberman (Village Voice), Manohla Dargis (LA Times), AO Scott (NY Times) and Sarah Kerr (Vogue).

There is some good stuff.

[The link I provided it today's posts only. When you get there I would recommend hitting the 'print' option toward the top of the page so that you can read all of the posts in order. There is about 20 pages worth.]

Here are a few choice excerpts.

J Hoberman:
- I'm told that Ian McKellan [in The Lord of the Rings], a most uncloseted performer, was calling himself Gandalf the Gay on the set and trying to get the hobbits, Pippin and Mary—sorry, I mean Merry—to kiss goodbye. The queer stuff is actually more resonant in X2 (an underrated if overlong movie) in which McKellan is far campier.

- The highest-ranking commercial movie is probably The Fog of War which, to my mind, is a more historical version of the Lord of the Rings starring Robert McNamara as Gollum.

- [Lost in Translation] For me, the most poignantly self-reflexive, emotionally complicated moment in any Hollywood movie this year was Bill Murray's (or rather, "Bill Murray's") decade-collapsing, sincerely off-key karaoke version of "More Than This."

Sarah Kerr:
- ...[W]hat is with the shocking number of films this year in which the plot or the character's sole motivation—indeed, the reason said character is even a person of interest—involved either fearing or grieving the loss of a child, or (more rare) a parent?

- Sean Penn [in Mystic River] is near-great, fierce and mesmerizing—as he sucks the air out of the room. He compels our attention with a diva's self-consciousness that is impossible not to be impressed by—but as with a diva, this drags you out of the story into awe for the performer. Watching him, I got distracted and started thinking about the history of various schools of acting, and what's it like for the naturalistic guys in this scene with him, and how did he prepare?

David Edelstein
- As for Whale Rider: Yes, I cried, the filmmaking was elegant, and the girl extraordinary. But I'm increasingly impatient with a certain kind of cheap movie mysticism—the kind that goes into overdrive whenever Maori show up.

- I know there are those who think Jackson has tried and failed to measure up to Griffith, Eisenstein, Kurosawa, Welles, Olivier, and, for that matter, Spielberg (whom he clearly reveres). And they'd get no argument from me: With a couple of exceptions the violence in Return of the King doesn't have the moral weight of the battles in Intolerance or Chimes at Midnight or Kagemusha or Ran. But, my God, what a curve we're grading on. As for it being too long, well: I saw it after the extended cuts of the first two parts and thought it was too short. Fellowship and especially Two Towers feel shorter to me in their longer versions because they breathe a little more and give the characters a little more complexity (which, yes, they need).

Manohla Dargis
- Believe it or not, a reader accused me of being politically correct because I mentioned that in Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain Ada (the character played by Nicole Kidman) exploits slave labor. The idea that mentioning slavery—in regard to a Civil War movie, no less—makes me politically correct (and therefore a liberal scold) is, I think, pitiful.

- I don't usually like the way children, dead or alive, are treated in movies, and even good directors are susceptible to exploiting death. I didn't like how Kieslowski used the death of a child (and a husband) in Blue for that very reason, and I loathed how John Woo exploited the murder of a child in Face/Off. I wonder if the recent rage for dead children (sorry, I realize how awful that sounds) doesn't have some sort of metaphoric resonance, wherein the dead children, the ultimate innocents, stand in for the grown-ups both making and watching these movies? It is, after all, a comforting illusion that in the great drama of life we (Americans) are innocent.

AO Scott
- [ Cold Mountain] One of the interesting things about the story is that it's set in North Carolina, the last state to join the Confederacy and one—especially in the western mountains—where there was great ambivalence about the Confederate cause (and even substantial support for the Union). (You hear this expressed from time to time in the movie when people complain about fighting for "the rich men's niggers.") These mountain folk are, in some ways, the mirror image of the Irish immigrants in Gangs of New York, whose alienation from rich Northerners found expression in a torrent of racist violence during the draft riots. What's curious about these two movies, taken together, is that they suggest that the Civil War, which we are used to seeing as a matter of race and section, was also about class. Remove some letters from "Miramax," rearrange a couple more, and what do you get? "Marx." Interesting, no?

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Around the Liberal sites...

- Vincent Jones over at About US Liberal Politics asks: Why do I find myself agreeing with Pat Buchanan?

Pat Buchanan is not one of my favorite people by far. But I just saw him on MSNBC and I must say that I agree with something he said in response to Bush's immigration reform proposal.
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- Ellen Goodman at Working for Change tells us that Brittany Spear's weekend fling illuminates a flaw in the 'sanctity' defense.

Who would have believed that Britney Spears would end up striking a blow for gay marriage?
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- Arianna Huffington at Alternet has a huff over Democrats who say Dean cannot be elected.

I swear, if I hear one more Democratic honcho say that Howard Dean is not electable, I'm going to do something crazy.... The contention is nothing short of idiotic. Consider the source. The folks besmirching the good doctor's Election Day viability are the very people who have driven the Democratic Party into irrelevance.
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- John Nichols on his Online Beat lets it be known that RNC chairman Ed Gillespie is spending too much time comparing Bush with Hitler.

What is surprising is that Gillespie, who is supposedly trying to reelect President Bush, has been working overtime to publicize comparisons of the Republican chief executive to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

Among the hundreds of creative commercials submitted by people [to MoveOn.org's Bush in 30 seconds spots] from across the US were two that compared Bush to the Nazi dictator. MoveOn.org did not choose those advertisements for airing on television; indeed, the group went so far as to strike the videos of the offending commercials from its website. But the controversial commercials still went into wide circulation nationally. Why? Because Gillespie and his minions chose to highlight them on the Republican National Committee website.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Errol Flynn and Cuba...

Last night I watched a long unavailable seldom seen documentary (now available on DVD) titled Cuban Story. It's a documentary made - believe it or not - in 1959 by Errol Flynn and producer Victor Pahlen about the Cuban revolution.

Flynn and Pahlen - along with some fine cameramen - shot newsreel footage of the final days of Batista and the rise of the Revolutionary movement led by Fidel Casto and Che Guevara.

Other than a humorous off-the-cuff introduction by Flynn [where he picks up a globe points out Cuba and then tosses the globe off camera] the film is much like the old newsreel shorts that were done by Hearst news in the 1930's.

The documentary is actually just a big fat piece of propaganda. As Bright Lights Journal points out, "...Flynn’s propaganda reeks as much as his liquor-ridden breath." Flynn - perhaps reflecting on his movie career - presents Castro as a modern day Robin Hood. [Although it should be noted that in 1959 Castro was at first actually liked by the United States until he let it be known that he was a Communist].

As it was being made Fidel and his rebel fighters were considered heroic liberators of Cuba from the terrible Batista regime, which had turned the country into a Vegas-like destination but given nothing to the people of the country who had become impoverished by his policies.

What's interesting about this documentary - in light of the liberation of Iraq - are the huge crowds who come out to greet the liberators. This proves that revolutions are usually greeted with great fanfare when they are done by locals within the country as opposed to outside soldiers from another country whose motives may be considered suspect by the locals. There is no doubt that a greater number of Cuban citizens were glad to see Batista ousted. They just didn't know what they were in for with Fidel. And neither did Flynn - who died in 1959 not long after the film was made.

Errol Flynn's connection is a different story all together. He was down in Cuba making a film titled Cuban Rebel Girls, which would prove to be a terrible film and his last one. Flynn had actually been a Batista supporter (and even a Fascist sympathizer for a while before WWII) but found that supporting Castro would be advantageous to him and his documentary. So he supported Fidel just long enough to get the documentary made. But then as Fidel's fighters began to pillage and plunder Havana Flynn escaped. Leaving behind - I might add - his 16 year-old girlfriend Beverly Aadland who had to find another way out of the country.

Cuban Story was only shown once in Moscow but then it disappeared. Seen now it is clearly a heavy piece of propaganda but fascinating as a cinematic/political time capsule of sorts.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Online Police Auctions...

The Police now have an Auction site that offers stolen property which has not been claimed.

Most of the stuff they offer you can find on Ebay but you can also find neat things you never thought you could find like:
12 assorted black handcuff pouches.

But what's cool too is that they tend to sell stuff just as it was stolen so you can find odd combinations like:

CD Player, CD Case, And Two Pocket Knives!

Three golf clubs, a cane a tire iron and an ax!

An ice cooler with Kodak carousel trays!

And if you're lucky a Light and Easy iron, a framed picture of Jesus with sheep, a duffel bag, and NBA Travel Tags of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Sex education...

Atrios has a post about how abstinence only programs don't work.

But what's fun to read are the Atrios reader comments.

"Actually, a great method of contraception is to just have lots of hot gay sex.
Why don't we teach that in schools? Guaranteed to cut down on unwanted pregnancies and abortions."
Iranian Quake...

A collegue sent me before and after photos of the ancient city of Bam.

This was a city of made of clay and it is very easy to see that a 6.5 magnitude quake would make it rubble.

Of course, even with over 30,000 deaths politics gets in the way of relief.

Unbelievable.

Here's a relief fund site .
Critics Film Awards...

The National Society of Film Critics - an esteemed group I would like to one day be apart of - have named their awards for the best of 2003.

BEST PICTURE
1. American Splendor (Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini) - 29 (Fine Line)
2. Mystic River (Clint Eastwood) - 27
3. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola) - 19

BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE PICTURE
1. The Man Without a Past (Aki Kaurismaki) - 38 (Sony Pictures Classics)
2. TheTriplets of Belleville (Sylvain Chomet) - 15
3. Unknown Pleasures (Jia Zhangke) - 13

BEST DIRECTOR
1. Clint Eastwood (Mystic River) - 35 (Warner Bros.)
2. Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) - 24
3. Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation) - 19

BEST SCREENPLAY
1. Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (American Splendor) - 43 (Fine Line)
2. Brian Helgeland (Mystic River) - 22
3. Craig Lucas (The Secret Lives of Dentists) - 14

BEST NONFICTION FILM
1. To Be and to Have (Nicolas Philibert) - 34 (New Yorker)
2. The Fog of War (Errol Morris) - 33
3. Spellbound (Jeffrey Blitz) - 18

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
1. Russell Boyd (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World) - 37 [Fox]
2. Lance Acord (Lost in Translation) - 22
3. Harris Savides (Elephant) - 21

BEST ACTOR
1. Bill Murray (Lost in Translation) - 71 (Focus)
2. Sean Penn (Mystic River) - 49
3. Paul Giamatti (American Splendor) - 24

BEST ACTRESS
1. Charlize Theron (Monster) - 36 (Newmarket)
2. Hope Davis (American Splendor and The Secret Lives of Dentists) - 24
3. Naomi Watts (21 Grams) - 17

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
1. Peter Sarsgaard (Shattered Glass) - 40 (Lions Gate)
2. Tim Robbins (Mystic River) - 18
3. Alec Baldwin (The Cooler) - 17

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
1. Patricia Clarkson (The Station Agent [Miramax] and Pieces of April [UA]) - 37
2. Maria Bello (The Cooler) - 18
3. Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog) - 16