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I did something recently that I don’t normally do: I watched a new Marvel movie in the theater. Typically when one comes out that I have any interest in, I simply wait for it to eventually make its way to an inflight entertainment system near me. But this time, it was a family event, blah blah blah, and nothing else satisfied the requirements. So Captain America: Civil War it was.

In short, I found that it started promisingly but ultimately disappointed. I saw The Winter Soldier and generally liked it, couldn’t quite figure out why at the time. Now it’s apparent enough: it had a very un-Marvel movie sense of restraint. I disliked The Avengers for the same reason I suspect most people liked it, which is that I don’t like the kitchen sink being thrown at me. From a movie I want a strong story, a sense of mood, solid tension, intriguing themes, some sort of takeaway. I don’t want to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff going on. The Winter Soldier supplied all of what I wanted, and Civil War supplied pretty much none of it. It seemed initially as though it was going to go somewhere interesting by having the characters having to question the corruptive nature of power, and whether their attempts to do good might bring about evil. This sort of thinking, of course, underpins the progressive Christian ethos, many of our civic institutions, and pretty much none of our nation’s foreign policy at this point–difficult ideas, even contradictory ones, in other words–so the timing to explore the themes in a popular film could be interesting. But then all that stuff pretty much gets tossed aside for extended superhero-on-superhero fight scenes, which are quite entertaining at first but inevitably suffer from diminishing returns. The whole thing winds up being inconclusive, the plot mechanics take over, etc. Then at the end Captain America delivers a speech so close to Tom Joad’s from The Grapes Of Wrath that the Steinbeck estate may want to consider their legal options. For some reason. I never got as into them as some, but at least the X-Men movies turned around a palpable central dynamic between Xavier and Magneto that was open to multiple interpretations. The dynamic here is all on the surface. Only one interpretation is possible. There’s simply no depth to it, even by the standards of the genre. There’s no conflict of ideologies, no different philosophies on gaining or using power. Just punches and quips over an issue that could have been settled peaceably. That’s it.

I’ve come to a conclusion, which is this: I don’t hate superhero movies. I think I really just hate The Avengers and movies that try to copy its template, which Civil War assuredly does. The Winter Soldier, though, did not: in spite of the big action setpieces and CGI effects, it set about its goal with a relative lack of distraction and embellishment. That it was so successful apparently led the suits to decide that what was needed were a bunch more characters, the casual bickering, bloated runtime and nerdgasm cameos, you know, the stuff that the original movie avoided and that got it noticed. Marvel simply cannot resist the bug of excess, and it’s working for them now. But people tire of that sooner than later, and if every superhero movie going forward is going to be of that sort, well…

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Now that it’s going to trial, I have to say that I’m really gratified that Bill Cosby had his downfall while he was still living. It’s very easy to imagine a scenario where Cosby dies in, say, 2010, and none of this stuff ever becomes more than whispers. I remember well when Michael Jackson died and people decided (for a time, anyway) to engage in the uncomplicated hero worship people seem to want to engage in with beloved entertainers. While the Cosby stuff was “out there” it hadn’t been picked up by the media, and had he died before it happened, that silence would no doubt have continued. It’s easy to imagine that happening to Cosby. If they ever had come out–and it’s hard to imagine all those women going to the trouble of getting their stories out there about a dead man–they would have been vastly easier to ignore for all the people who grew up on his shows and loved him with the sort of precritical attachment that one finds among many fans of, say, Star Wars.

 

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As he is popping back into the limelight again:

Perhaps a bit on the nose but still.

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Aside from Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles (you remember the Simpson-Bowles committee, don’t you?) and the trying-too-hard-to-be-nice post-midterm choices of Bill Daley and David Plouffe* to run the White House, Debbie Wasserman Schultz is the worst personnel decision that Barack Obama ever made as president. Granted, in substantive terms she’s the least damaging. She didn’t talk Obama into some dumb obsession with a debt deal, or try to bond with Republicans about hating regulation (!), or to convince him to make a deal when Republicans threatened default. She didn’t come up with a deficit-reduction deal that included tax cuts for rich people and Social Security cuts, and then provided Republicans with years’ worth of talking points about how Obama was rejecting “his own plan” that they opposed too. Those were not good things. But while DWS is the least harmful she’s also the most useless: someone who for some reason was given a fairly important job and has made a hash of it from day one. I’ve criticized Bernie Sanders for some of the ridiculousness of his self-contradicting message of “fairness,” but he has a point in that it really is a problem when the head of the national party isn’t credible as an honest broker in a nomination fight. Presidential nominations are one of the few times the DNC is actually meaningful aside from fundraising. It’s extremely important in fact: it essentially sets up and runs the whole process, and is at the center of mediating disputes between the candidates. Or at least, it should be doing that. Instead it does stuff like this. Or this. Schultz fucking this up is like the Secretary of Commerce fucking up the Census. You have one thing to do. Just one. And if you screw that up, what good are you? So I heartily agree with Atrios here, long since time for her to go. I sort of wonder if this isn’t Clinton trying to sidestep a sticky situation in having to decide to keep her on or not. If so, clever thinking on her part: it looks bad dumping her or keeping her, after all.

*Interesting that all these people (including DWS) got their jobs in 2011, isn’t it? He really was messed up in light of that midterm loss, huh?

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Gillian Anderson would make a pretty awesome secret agent, but I’ll never understand the argument of why James Bond specifically should be played by a woman. One really has to wonder why people think that it would be some feat of social justice to have an antiheroic libertine violent sociopath played by a woman at last. So far as I can tell, the reason why you hear this about Bond and Doctor Who is basically because they’ve been around a long time and only men play the character, and women don’t really anchor equivalent tentpole franchises. Which is wrong–those should exist! But making the character of Bond female (or a gay male) is basically chucking out the source material altogether and starting from scratch with a brand new character with the same name, which is fine–you’re perfectly free to deprecate Fleming’s work–but it should be so identified, is all, and it’s not as though “I like it as it is” isn’t a sufficient counterargument to this. (On the other hand, I see no particular reason why we couldn’t have a black Bond. It could provide a different take on the character’s essential outsiderness.) And if we’re going to chuck Fleming’s character anyway, why not just create a new character altogether and start a different series of films?

As for the franchise’s depiction of female characters, it’s certainly spotty (though much improved over the years), but it has created more compelling women than conventional wisdom would have you believe. And, also, Christmas Jones and Jinx. Yeah.

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The neocon links are definitely a big part of it. Foreign policy in general is going to be a disaster: Clinton is often talked about as someone who can learn and change, but on foreign policy that is not at all the case: she’s an ideologue on military force, she’s going to get in over her head reapplying failed Cheneyite ideas, and Democrats aren’t going to back her when this happens. And aside from that, this is a person who routinely makes massively bad errors in judgment–the private email server, while certainly not criminal, was a major error in judgment. The banker speeches and various other forms of buckraking were major errors in judgment. And then you have something like this, which…what can you even say? This feels like Clinton going off the cuff, which reminds one of why she presents herself as she does. I find Abramson persuasive that much of these problems are due to Clinton trying to preserve some perimeter of privacy, not (as was so often the case with Bill) outright dishonesty, which is entirely fair, though her complete inability to make this case is problematic. And while that explains her unwillingness to release what was said in the speeches, it doesn’t explain why she gave them in the first place. Bad judgment piled upon bad judgment.

Clinton is supposed to be a good president because of her knowledge of policy and time spent in office. But there are such recurrent signs of poor judgment, faulty ideology, and ultimately a dearth of wisdom. Such things could have been discussed during this primary season. But by all means, let’s go another forty rounds over Obama not putting single payer on the table rather than discuss this.

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Don’t mean to be one of those people, but I was actually at this show–or, at least, one of the shows that they stitched together to make the special. What? You actually thought that live albums represented one single performance beginning to end? Sorry. Next you’ll tell me that movies are all shot in sequence, and that great musicians just have songs pop out of their brains fully formed, and maybe after that you’ll favor me with tales about your homeland, A World Without Artifice. Anyway, there’s some really good, perceptive stuff in here. The bit on language and politics is particularly insightful. I’ve long maintained that comedians are our public intellectuals now, and while some people find this absurd I don’t think it is. Many comedians are idiots and frauds, as are many intellectuals, but at root it’s all about developing a point of view and expressing one’s ideas. It’s an intellectual connection when it works, and when you consider the cases of, say, Oscar Wilde and Dorothy Parker, who seemed to want to be comedians of a sort, the lines become even blurrier. Do people object to this because comedians haven’t read enough great books? Is that it? Oswalt certainly has. And written some too.

It’s good stuff. I’ve followed Oswalt’s career for nearly two decades now, ever since I saw him on an episode of Conan ages ago. He’s living proof that getting married, having kids, and being a dad doesn’t necessarily have to destroy a comedian’s sense of humor–his style has changed in some ways, but you want that to some degree. (Does anyone really want Gallagher anymore?) I still believe that Werewolves and Lollipops is his true masterpiece, a staggering work that remains untopped and likely never will be. From the enduringly great “KFC Famous Bowls” bit, through the definitive Star Wars prequels critique, to a surprising story about a visit to Planned Parenthood, it simply delivers on topics both highbrow and low, even on repeated listening, which is uncommon for a stand-up album. Even the topical political material doesn’t hold up that poorly, certainly not as poorly as something like David Cross’s Shut Up You Fucking Baby, which I can’t listen to without riding that skip button to get to the nonpolitical stories. Nothing against Cross, who I saw last week at Oakland’s legendary Fox Theater and was absolutely great, but his stuff is just more of the moment by design. Anyway.

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