Charlie Don't Surf

Monday, February 28, 2005

Oscar night 2005

To Mark Dansereau, Feb. 28, 2005

I had called Cate Blanchett, Morgan Freeman, Hilary Swank and Jamie Foxx, but I was a bit surprised that they didn't give Best Picture/Director to The Aviator. It just seemed like the sort of big-movie epic they like to honor, and an overdue prize for Marty. I was frankly amazed that they did not give Best Director to Scorsese. I mean, for christ's sake, how many times will they snub him? Is it because he lives in New York and not LA? Eastwood's already got one anyway... I just don't get it. I had thought Marty was an absolute lock. I would probably place the Aviator above Million Dollar Baby; I did like all of the artistry of The Aviator and especially its incredibly designed test-flight crash scenes, even though I thought Leonardo was hardly convincing as a 50-year-old. And the Senate hearings scenes toward the end sort of drop into the movie abruptly, after the story's made you believe that Hughes had already turned into a total basket case unable to tie his shoes, let alone get the best of a panel of hostile senators on national television.

We just saw Baby, and I do appreciate the power of it. Great performances all around. I don't want to spoil it , but you walk out feeling like you've been punched hard in the stomach by the turns the story takes vs. your expectations, and as the credits rolled I couldn't help but feel that the story's whole intention had been to crack me on the jaw in the last half-hour and yell "Ha! Got you!" as I fell to the floor, and that just seemed like really manipulative moviemaking to me. I just felt sort of... used. So I guess I don't know how to feel about Million Dollar Baby, but I think it is probably not the very best film of the year, anyway. Lots of people will disagree, obviously, including about 900 critics.

I felt bad that the very talented and graceful Annette Bening had to lose to Hilary Swank a second time; I felt very, very bad for Scorsese. And the fact that Paul Giammati was not nominated at all -- when everybody else associated with Sideways was, including notably inferior performances -- was just an obscenity, frankly.

Johnny Depp? He had no shot at all this year, and personally I thought he sort of sleepwalked through Finding Neverland, though it was nice, in a sense, to see an underplayed performance recognized over the usual overplayed ones (i.e. his gay-parody pirate in 2003). I think Depp was better in Blow and Ed Wood than in either of those movies, but anyway.

I liked Chris Rock's anti-Bush jokes, or at least the fact that he made them, though the long series of overtly political gags seemed uncomfortable in the audience -- Hollywood lefties like to keep their lefty sympathies a little more in the family on Oscar night. (Extending the Gap joke to the 1,400 deaths in Iraq -- "they're bleeding all over the khakis!" -- made me feel a little nauseous. He should've skipped that.) I did think he could've made more of an effort to make his opening monologue look and sound a bit less like his stand-up act, which is familiar to me from HBO. I still think Steve Martin does the best job; just perfect in deadpan tone, funny, and classy enough for the show, but then I'm in the tank for Steve Martin. Apparently the show's ratings last night were better than they've been for a while, so I imagine C. Rock will be back at some point.

Friday, February 18, 2005

On 'The Life Aquatic'

to Frank Ahrens, 2/7/05:

Well, I like Wes Anderson's stuff. Though it's definitely sort of rarefied and precious and full of self-conscious geegaws that only a few people will enjoy. Nobody who saw "Rushmore" or "Tenenbaums" should be surprised that it had almost all the same high-artifice faults and pleasures. If the next one by Wes is different in style and tone, then I think those 3 will be thought of as a sort of trilogy. I can enjoy the obviously-fake submarine sets that seemed designed so that he could move the camera from room to room in an unbroken tilt shot, but I'm not sure who else does. To say his films "exist in snow-globes" is right on. The weakness of his style is that there's so much self-conscious artifice that the story becomes less immediate and immersive because you're constantly being taken out of it by his goofy style fluorishes, so I guess you have to enjoy them for what they are. The whole raid-on-the-kidnappers scene, with the guns that sounded like toy cap-guns going off... Wes Anderson just doesn't care about what looks "real," he wants it to look like some imagined world he has in his head -- an archaelogocal dig in Manhattan in "Tenenbaums"?! -- and that to me can be pretty entertaining, but some people might think it's just too much "Hey-look-at-my-model-train-set." I laughed many times. and I really loved the early Bowie tunes, which again are not really what you'd expect to hear in a movie, but they're in there because Anderson thought those early songs were cool. That ending scene when they're all walking along the dock fast and the different characters keep joining in the line while "Queen Bitch" is playing loud -- I just thought it was excellent. I was watching the credits roll, listening to the music, playing air guitar like a junior high schooler.

On 'House of Flying Daggers'

to Brandon Griggs, 2/3/05:

I saw "House of Flying Daggers" last weekend, went out by myself friday night as C. was feeling too sleepy. I thought the scenes were masterful, though there was something about the mood of the whole thing -- so desperately self-serious and sentimental after the wide-open exhilaration of "Kung Fu Hustle" at Sundance. Zhang Yimou seems to bring that romanticism; the movie seemed of a piece with "Hero" with its colors and billowing silks and slow motion and soaring period themes. In "Flying Daggers" I remember all these shots of people on horseback racing through one forest or another. But you almost want Zhang to lighten up a bit on his way to the epic showdown and the star-crossed love triangle. Of course the action was incredible, the bamboo forest scene in particular with all those soldiers sliding down the stalks like ninjas. In the credits it said those actors were actually members of a Chinese circus team -- makes sense!

Thursday, February 03, 2005

On Darfur and elsewhere

[ More email archaeology: sent to John Scheinman in September 2004 ]

Sudan/Darfur has been a shithole for some time now. The Janjaweed militias have been rampaging for more than a year, butchering civilians in bunches, burning wholev illages, raping non-arab black women so they'll have arab children -- it's unthinkable. We, and the world, are coming late -- too late maybe -- to this understanding. Of course the UN should have troops there.

I think you have to be careful just saying it's some sort of rampant arabism. I don't know if the Janjaweed represent a tide of arab ethnic cleansing that's going to overwhelm Africa. They filled a void presented by an outlaw regime in Sudan that welcomes radicals. If there's a building cross-border tsunami, it is Wahhabism, Islamic fundamentalism in several countries, and we already knew that. Our strategic relationships with places like Egypt and Saudi have basically defanged our ability to insist on much there. The power of the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Iran spreads Shia fundamentalism all over the place-- even Zanzibar, the island Christina and I visited a few weeks ago. Fundamentalists have won the past 2 elections there, but the government declined to step down.

I was in Africa for three weeks last month and asked around frequently about the violent tribalism in places like Rwanda and Darfur. It doesn't exist in mainland Tanzania because of the common Swahili culture, where christian Chagas can marry Muslim coastal people with no problem -- just put a few cows in the deal. Where a country has no tradition of commonality despite ethnic/tribal differences, you'll have problems if the central government is weak or unstable. Tribalism generally has been a huge global problem for years now and no solution. Look at Yugoslavia, Chechnya, now the Kurds. It may be that countries that were phony agglomerations of unmixable tribes, like Iraq, will just have to break apart the way Yugoslavia did. But the Turks aren't going to sit back and watch a new Kurdistan rise up on their southern border, I can tell you that.

I agree that the world, and especially the Middle East and south Asia, is looking at some serious trouble. Obviously I believe you cannot tuck the Palestinian situation into its own box away from the broader problem of Islamic fundamentalism, and worry about it every other Tuesday. The occupation is a cancer that makes everything else worse, it's like a daily recruitment party. Muslims all over the world, even college-educated moderates, talk constantly about it. In the Muslim world, the occupation and our complete identification with it (along with the Iraq invasion) has utterly neutralized any U.S. ability to pose as a bringer of democracy or even an honest broker of global problems. Our policy in the past four years has attempted to ignore the deep, festering fractures worldwide that are caused by the Israeli occupation, and there is just so little political courage here to move aggressively to fix it.

To believe these two problems can somehow be resolved separately is fantasy. Last week Sharon said Israel had basically abandoned the road map and that they could be in the West Bank for years and years to come, and the U.S. had no response to this. Then Shaul Mofaz said they would go after Arafat again -- in response to something Hamas did. AIPAC, the neocons in the Bush administration and the Likudniks who prevail in Congress have put us into a box in the Middle East that we cannot get out of. No one will defy them -- no one has the balls. So we will be eating shit from Islamic fundamentalists for years. Bon appetit.

Social Security accounts: So that's how they'd work..

percentage of Amercians (usually younger) who think maybe they could see their way to supporting Bush-style private Social Security accounts: 43.7%

percentage of Americans who understand that the White House proposal, as finally outlined in background briefings yesterday, would actually require them to return to the government most of the money in these accounts when they retire -- instead of keeping it: 0.00 %

I sure as hell didn't know that. If the Dems can't beat this one, they should hang it up.

from The Note:
More from Jonathan Weisman's absolute must-read on the specifics of the White House Social Security plan, including exactly how those personal accounts and the money would work — that workers would receive dividends exceeding the inflation-adjusted 3 percent interest rate, and not the whole balance. The nest-egg-vs.-loan difference is absolutely crucial.

from Weisman's story:

"Under the White House Social Security plan, workers who opt to divert some of their payroll taxes into individual accounts would ultimately get to keep only the investment returns that exceed the rate of return that the money would have accrued in the traditional system . . . "

"If a worker sets aside $1,000 a year for 40 years, and earns 4 percent annually on investments, the account would grow to $99,800 in today's dollars, but the government would keep $78,700 — or about 80 percent of the account. The remainder, $21,100, would be the worker's."

... Jesus!

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

the evil-doers, perhaps, are not actually that smart

this story cries out for the photo. why couldn't they include it??

GI taken hostage may be action figure Cody

February 2, 2005BY ROBERT H. REID Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A Web site posted a photograph of what it claimed was a kidnapped U.S. soldier, but doubts were quickly raised about its authenticity, and the U.S. military said no soldiers were missing.

An American toy manufacturer said the figure in the photo resembled one of its military action figures, originally produced for sale at U.S. bases in Kuwait.

The statement appeared on a Web site where militants' statements are often posted and was in the name of a group that has claimed previous kidnappings, the Mujahedeen Brigades.

The Arabic text, however, contained several misspellings and repetitions.

Staff Sgt. Nick Minecci, a U.S. military spokesman, said ''no units have reported anyone missing.''

No expression

The photo in the posting showed a figure dressed in desert fatigues, wearing a vest and knee pads and with a gun pointed to its head. All the items are similar to ones that come in a box with the action figure, named ''Cody.''

Hanging behind him is a black piece of cloth with the Islamic profession of faith written on it in white letters.

But the figure appeared stiff and expressionless. The statement said he was named ''John Adam.''

Liam Cusack, of the toy manufacturer Dragon Models USA, said the image bore a striking resemblance to its ''Cody'' action figure.

''To me, it looks definitely like it is,'' Cusack said. ''Everything the guy is wearing is exactly what comes with our figure. If you look at the two pictures side by side, it'd be a huge coincidence.''