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Here I was, hoping to read an article about Democrats’ message on the economy, which has essentially been nonexistent for years. Instead, this is almost entirely about congresspeople griping about their committee assignments. Who. Fucking. Cares. Though this is priceless:
“For me, my evangelical mission is to try to persuade Democrats that we have to pay more attention to the suburbs,” the Democrat said. “And the economic message for the suburbs has to be broader than unemployment insurance and minimum wage, although both are important. They don’t resonate in the suburbs.”
My decoder ring has this as “we need to cut taxes for the affluent,” though to be fair, it did come out of a Cracker Jack box.
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Like you, I never thought much about the James Bond gunbarrel sequence. They’re all basically the same, right? But if you watch them all back to back, there’s surprising variety, in the color schemes and the music:

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  • Birdman is a great Michael Keaton performance in search of a movie. Keaton makes the case for himself as a movie star again, playing a not terribly sympathetic, washed up movie star trying to get back to basics with a Raymond Carver adaptation. There’s not a false note to be found in his performance, and it’s also good to see Edward Norton again, as he gets to torment Keaton by showing him a vision of the purist, modestly successful but more fulfilled actor he could have been. And then there’s the actual Birdman, who speaks to Keaton almost as an id, defending the success and fame that he’d achieved. It’s a bit screenwriting 101-ish to have the angel and devil setup like this–if you have ever seen an Oliver Stone movie you know this setup–but Keaton makes it work. The real problem can be summed up as “everything else”:there’s a subplot about a lesbian realization that goes nowhere, an Emma Stone performance that transcends what’s written but not by that much (the speech she gives to Keaton early in the movie outlining her grievances is much too long and far too coherent to be the product of a random explosion of anger), and her relationship with Norton lacks chemistry and I guess writing. Lotta nonsense too: many more slaps than would occur in real life, multiple characters remarking that a character has a “great ass” within earshot to indicate hidden romantic affection, and then there’s that ending that nails it by showing that Keaton’s real wish isn’t to return to his days of purer, naturalistic acting but rather to being the man he used to be, and then spoils it with meta bullshit. It’s well-shot and well-acted, though. It’s not a great movie, though neither do I fully agree with this, so what the heck, I’ll give it a modest recommendation. See it in a matinee.
  • Selma reminded me of 2012’s Lincoln. They’re similar movies that try to humanize monumental icons, and each takes one specific part of its subject’s life and shows him in action. Both boast incredible lead performances, fantastic cinematography and deal predominantly with one specific angle of the person, instead of trying to explain the entirety of a person. This is all very good stuff. And yet, neither is a completely satisfying movie. Both films unfortunately dumb down the politics for the masses: Lincoln had its characters talk about politics like panelists on Meet The Press, throwing around terms like “bipartisan,” and “from the right,” as if people 150 years ago talked about politics like we do now. (They didn’t.) Selma does this by its decision to make Lyndon Johnson the antagonist of the film. Watching the film, I felt like I understood why the director did this: this movie’s version of Johnson is a stand-in for white conscience, pricked by King’s actions, which moves from indifferent to moved to action. This makes some sense dramatically but it inevitably means distorting history and making the battle for the VRA seem like it was all about changing a president’s mind, just another invocation of the great man fallacy. (It doesn’t help that LBJ is very poorly played by Tom Wilkinson as a brooding, reactive president, which is not really all that accurate. Also, Wilkinson would easily win my “most overrated actor” award, for basically any role he’s ever been in, though this might be the worst performance from him I’ve ever seen. Pay attention to the accent work.) I found myself much more interested in Tim Roth’s take on George Wallace, which is villainous without being cartoonish, and manages some actual subtext. Speaking of which, Selma actually manages to make some quirky casting choices work–Cuba Gooding has a small role, Oprah Winfrey is frequently visible on screen but has perhaps two lines of dialogue, Stephen Root shows up as Wallace’s state police chief. All do just fine. Ultimately, Selma tells an interesting story well enough, though if you’re telling a story about politics, please get them right. Also, those damn melodramatic slow-motion shots really take a person out of the movie, don’t they?
  • I’ve not actually seen American Sniper and do not plan to. However, there isn’t a whole lot of mystery as to why it’s doing so well. Americans like to feel good about the wars we fight, and this gives them a chance to, at least a little bit. I doubt there will be a full on counternarrative over Iraq/Afghanistan/GWOT based on the movie a la Rambo, but it’s probably in the same ballpark. Or you could compare it to, say, Nixon’s cynical attempt with the returning POWs to try to redeem Vietnam. But nothing could redeem Vietnam, ultimately, and I strongly doubt anything will redeem Iraq or Afghanistan, in part because the outlook for both countries and the overall area is so bleak, no redemption narrative will be able to survive contact with reality. We’re not going to see those two turning into the next Germany and Japan anytime soon, and 9/11 was as we now know no Pearl Harbor. So I’m a bit more sanguine about its effects than some. Still, I tend to think that feeling good about these conflicts is fundamentally wrong, we should feel badly about them because we caused them, and if we continue to feel badly about them we may stop starting them so often. The U.S. waited for fifteen years after Saigon fell to try out the old hegemony game again on any sort of grand scale. Meanwhile, politicos and pundits are already crying out for new bombings and invasions every day. Obviously there are differences between the two, like the draft. But people don’t pay to feel bad about themselves and their country.
Even putting aside the question of ideology, the reason to vote for Syriza in Greece is clear enough. After years of devastating, externally-imposed austerity, the only real power Greece has to set its own course is to threaten (credibly) to exit the Euro. Regardless of whether this actually occurs or not, the Merkels of the world have to believe they just might be crazy enough to do it. Mission accomplished!
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One just needs to look at this tweet by Sec. Kerry praising the late King Abdullah, and then by the tons of incredulous responses, to tell the entire story of how little our meritocratic institutions and elites think like actual people in the country do. I have this (unprovable, but fact-fitting) theory that the reason why all institutions are mistrusted and despised has to do with the fact that the people running them are the products of the same meritocratic machine, which has as its mission to make the ruling elite more diverse in background–which to some degree it has–but it has not made them diverse in outlook. They simply do not understand normal people at all, though some may want to. Think of the song “Common People” on this one. And D.C. is merely the next level of this. FWIW, I think the air bases are more important than the oil, but it’s inexplicable that our three decades of direct ME involvement constantly shifts justification from stability to democracy to economics to terrorism until you realize that it’s a self-perpetuating enterprise that has no ultimate point, just a web of baggage and implications that touch practically everyone in politics. It’s our generation’s Philippines, and it took until the old political order entirely died off and was replaced by the New Deal coalition to get that off our plates. Wonder what it’ll take for current elites to do the same with the Middle East.
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It basically destroyed Libya, so that a large number of people in the 212 area code could feel good about themselves four years ago. If Clinton, Rice, Power, Obama, et al., not to mention the war hungry press actually cared about the Libyan people, then maybe we’d be talking about this stuff. They don’t, however, so we’re not.
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Not sure exactly how else to describe this. It’s the sort of thing that ends a person’s stardom.
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