web analytics

This really sucks. I’ve really been going through the Faces stuff recently. They rocked as hard as the Stones at their best, but they just seemed much more likable. And this owns everything:

Lev filed this under: ,  

Watched some movies, and now I’m writing about them:

  • K-19: The Widowmaker: I very much enjoy a good submarine movie. The ’90s had a bunch of these kinds of movies that were critical and financial successes, as well as U-571, which was passable. But nobody much cared for this film, and having watched it I can see why. The premise of this fact-based movie has Harrison Ford (then just about to exit the “still giving a damn” phase of his career) playing an highly ambitious, highly fastidious, mission-oriented captain taking over an experimental new submarine from its original skipper, Liam Neeson (still in the “playing sensitive men” phase of his career, i.e. everything prior to Taken), who cares more about his men. The conflict between them is obvious but handled subtly, and as each man moves a little closer to the other’s perspective, it’s done in a way that’s organic and moving, not phony. There are some other recognizable actors in it, including Peter Sarsgard and The Hunt for Red October‘s Joss Ackland, once again playing Russian brass. What else can I say to put off the part where I bash the shit out of the movie? The production design and look of the film are top-notch, I suppose.So why was this a bomb? Probably because sitting through this movie is about as fun as getting keelhauled. I blame this on two factors, the first being the writing. Too few of the characters in the film even have basic personalities, and thus little reason to care when they are in peril or begin to suffer. The dinner scene from Red October was in retrospect one of the best and most important of that movie. You probably remember that for Connery theatrically ignoring the panic of some of his junior officers and eating his food (while remaining fully aware and in control at every moment), but nearly all the Russian sub characters we were meant to care about were able to reveal their personalities in that scene, and get us invested. K-19 has no equivalent scene, and the characters not played by famous actors are given few if any character traits at all. This is a disastrous choice considering the movie downplays the action/adventure elements of the story and plays up the human tragedy, with a main theme about the way in which people are used by distant bureaucracies. It’s a movie about the tragic loss of life that barely gives the characters any humanity at all, and then spends much of its time lingering over their suffering. Some really poor choices there, to say the least. Secondly, and I hate to say it, I think Bigelow’s direction leaves a bit to be desired here. For one thing, the film is very long and could easily have been edited down without losing much of any in the story. Then again, The Hunt for Red October has a near-identical runtime to this movie, 134 minutes, but the difference between the two in terms of direction truly is like night and day. The tone of this movie is grim and melancholy throughout, which is certainly defensible given the subject matter of a terrifying disaster at sea, but given that (SPOILER ALERT for a ten year old movie you didn’t see) almost everyone survives, it seems a bit excessive, as if she’s trying to tell a devastating story that actually has a reasonably happy ending. Bigelow’s approach just flat-out doesn’t work here. The movie is admittedly very different from the sorts of submarine movies that audiences made hits of in the ’90s, which is not its fault, but it also references those movies in various ways, including with the casting of Ackland, which most definitely is its fault if it wanted to avoid the comparisons. This movie ended Bigelow’s career for several years (though thankfully not for good), and it stands as a bizarre misfire that at times shows what a better film it could have been, mostly with the Ford/Neeson conflict and Sarsgard’s green, over his head nuclear engineer, as well. But it’s ultimately just boring.

  • Zero Dark Thirty: I finally got around to seeing this film, and despite harboring some doubts about the accuracy of it, I found myself greatly admiring it as a work of film. It’s less about the details, ultimately, and more about the meaning of the so-called War On Terror, a “crusade” launched by people who wanted a new World War II, but were too ignorant of history to realize that nobody actually feels good while actually fighting that kind of war. That kind of thing if it even happens takes a few decades, you know, for people to forget about all the awful shit that happened. In any event, the plot of the movie gets a little complicated but on a basic level, it’s a really simple story about Jessica Chastain trying to find Osama bin Laden. She uncovers clues, develops theories, gets more information, does some clever investigative work, comes up with a pretty good theory (which happens to be correct) and then tries to sell a skeptical bureaucracy on it. That’s the movie. Zero Dark Thirty marks the passage of time marvelously, progressing through different eras and political moments; leads that grow cold, breaks that come out of nowhere, ferocious pushing against the bureaucracy to get even the smallest things done, all of it takes a long time, and feels like it takes a long time, but without being a poorly-paced boring mess like K-19. Truthfully, it winds up feeling more like a modern noirish detective story than anything else, not all that far off from something like Zodiac in feel. Both are about an obsession to know that overrides all else, leading to all manner of strains for the protagonist. Chastain’s performance is truly magnificent here, the character’s underlying emptiness and sadness are hinted at without being stated outright, and her fanatical devotion to catching bin Laden becomes all that drives her forward. Her ultimate victory (as though that’s a spoiler) feels like a defeat in a way that feels true to life. After all, she’s hardly “won” the War On Terror by having him killed, and seeing that realization play out across her face at the end of the movie is pretty shattering. Not hugely different from how Smiley’s Heroes ended, but the movie almost treats it like a large part of her died along with bin Laden, which is interesting. Bigelow’s movie is ultimately a downer, but unlike in K-19, she manages to make the journey much more rich and textured, alternating stark brutality with excitement and even a bit of humor here and there. K-19 often felt like the work of a rookie director even though Bigelow was a veteran by then, forced and monotonous, while this movie is real masterpiece work, lively, shattering, oddly tender, and profound. The movie might ultimately be most remembered for having the most plausible depiction of the national security bureaucracy I’ve ever seen in a movie–the scene where Leon Panetta asks everyone in a meeting for their guess on how likely bin Laden is where Chastain says he is would be my bet for the movie’s best–basically, all these guys say something in the neighborhood of 60% and hedge, while Chastain offers a 100% probability. It’s just a tremendously well-written, well-observed scene, one that captures so completely the subtext of every comment, every nuance of body language. It could easily have come out of a John Le Carre story, and for a movie about intelligence work, there are few higher compliments.

And, of course, her finest work of direction:

Jon Bernstein argues that Mitch McConnell’s political genius is overrated, and that what happened would have happened whether or not he’d cooperated with Democrats. He brings facts, and is quite convincing. I think it’s a bit too early to judge this, however, and it might even be the case that his decisions might end up costing the Republican Party much more than it has in policy terms. McConnell helped build a party apparatus oriented solely around rejecting Barack Obama’s agenda, with the occasional corrupt tangent into backing fossil fuels, opposing campaign finance reform, helping out Wall Street, etc. This has wound up being just as successful as when Democrats did much the same after the 2004 election, which as you might recall, occasioned all sorts of triumphalist rhetoric about a permanent Republican majority that lasted two whole years. But Democrats going into 2008 were genuinely unified on the major issues of the day: healthcare, Iraq, stimulus. Republicans going into 2016 will not likely have that kind of unity, in fact, on many areas of policy it’s hard to pin down where Republicans stand at all, on others no stance is given due to divisions in the party, and given the utter lack of fresh ideas it’s easy to imagine the primaries being an endless ideological lucha libre, with folks like Jeb Bush and John Kasich on one hand promoting the sorts of classically Republican ideas that Barack Obama co-opted as a way of regaining some of their old voters, and people like Ted Cruz and Scott Walker on the other rejecting them as Obama ideas, full stop. Sure, ideologies have a way of turning around and it’s common to see ideologues fervently supporting what they once just as fervently opposed (see: Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact), but of course Mitch McConnell doesn’t have the kind of authority to reverse that, and outside of Roger Ailes and Rush Limbaugh, who would presumably not be inclined, it’s hard to see who does. It’s quite possible that a hypothetical GOP presidential candidate (or president) would be able to do it, but as I see it, the most likely circumstance is going to be similar to what occurred in 2012, in which a mainstream/establishment Republican gets the nomination by making so many ideological commitments to the wingers that there will simply not be any space for them to appeal to moderates.

Let’s put it this way: if the GOP candidate is so ideologically penned in that he is simply unable to make the appeals to swing voters he has to make as a direct result of the post-policy obstructionism that Mitch McConnell pioneered, and we get a third Democratic term in the White House, then Mitch is going to look like quite the fool.

{ 1 comment }

Oh, come on AP:

In his effort to diversify the judicial branch, Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday nominated a deputy assistant U.S. attorney general to fill a vacant seat on the California Supreme Court. […] Earlier this year, he nominated Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, 42, a Mexican-born Stanford law professor to be an associate justice on the seven-member court. In 2011, he appointed University of California, Berkeley law professor Goodwin Liu, 44, after Republicans in the U.S. Senate blocked his nomination to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. [emphasis mine]

Goddamn it, he was filibustered, he didn’t lose a floor vote. You’re print journalists, word choice is everything. Is Fournier still somehow exerting his influence over there?

Lev filed this under: , ,  

After the disastrous election results, I heard a sort of theory that, now bereft of conservative members, Democrats could now finally wage aggressive liberal campaigns without worrying about collateral damage. I think this is wrong, and a complete misunderstanding of the elite liberal mentality. The roots of Braleyism run deep in the Democratic Party. And what is Braleyism? Well, it’s the sort of behavior that typified the improbably failed campaign of Iowa Senate candidate Bruce Braley: an insatiable desire for respectability. Democrats want to look like the reasonable adults in the room. They don’t want to resort to “nasty” politics. They don’t want to seem overly obstructionist. They want to feel as though they’re reasonable, give all sides a fair hearing, etc. And they want to strike the contrast with those unreasonable, crazy extremist Republicans. That’s really the best explanation I can come up with for this atrocity. Can you imagine Republicans losing an election and then caving on major legislation that is of high ideological and substantive importance? The answer is of course no, and we have a factual example, 2012, where Republicans did not change one iota after a wider-than-expected loss. So why would Democrats work with Republicans on tax breaks for business? Unless Harry Reid is considering retiring and becoming a lobbyist (which I do not consider very likely), there’s no other real explanation.

Democrats continue not to get this (this being power). Republicans, on the other hand, understand it quite well. Holding power and wielding it effectively is what gains you respect. Running wimpy campaigns designed to avoid making yourself look bad, hoping that the media will back you up, and then governing in a way to make yourself look reasonable and accommodating are utterly irrelevant to the equation. This is what lost the Democrats at least one Senate seat this year, and certainly any chance of beating Bush in 2004, among others. Obama seems at last to get this, but too many liberals continue to choose feeling good about themselves over victory. I would have thought that Harry Reid–whose 2010 victory was an almost inspiring exercise in Democratic ruthlessness and lack of vanity–would have been the most immune to this syndrome. That he is apparently not just proves how deep Braleyism runs.

Lev filed this under: , ,  

Carly Fiorina will explore a presidential run. Most likely it’s more a “business plan” run for her to increase her profile and sell some books, rather than a bid with a serious chance of succeeding. Still, it’s worth remembering that her career has been an escalating series of disasters, first in business, and then in politics. She got fired from HP, got benched as a McCain surrogate, spent many millions to lose to Barbara Boxer in a race she gave herself no chance of winning, and then helped preside over an improbable loss of Senate seats for Republicans in 2012. This is a record that would convince any self-respecting political party to avoid her like the plague. But she can raise money, so the defeats piling up mean little, apparently.

Lev filed this under: ,  

I’m fully willing to believe that Chuck Hagel wasn’t a great Defense Secretary. It seemed an odd choice to start with, a guy with no executive experience sent to manage one of the most complicated bureaucracies in the world, not to mention that neither Republicans or Democrats have much use for him. Unsurprising that it didn’t work out so well. Still, to kick him out in the same exact way Van Halen fired Sammy Hagar* seems bizarre and out of character for Obama. And it is hardly surprising that the top-tier candidates for the job are demurring when getting the job means:

  1. A Senate confirmation hearing that is going to be about as pleasant as a simultaneous root canal/colonoscopy.
  2. Upon getting the job, having to go up against the Rice/Power axis who seemingly hold all the power, especially considering that the former apparently got the last guy who held the post fired.
  3. Doing the job for two years tops, and if the past couple of people who held the office are to be believed, very likely leaving it without much satisfaction.
  4. The possibility of getting scapegoated when decisions you have no part in go wrong.

I’m on record saying that Chuck Hagel’s bravery ended when he got back from Vietnam–I’m not impressed by someone whose long-gestating, well-publicized, “agonized” misgivings about the Iraq War only were given shape well after the public got there, how such CYA bullshit somehow got commended as courage I’ll never know–but he was treated disgracefully, and it looks like it’s going to cost this time. A frightening thought: what if Obama goes ahead and just names Samantha Power as Secretary of Defense? Might as well, considering she seems to be doing the job de facto.

Continue reading »