Looking at America

Great editorial in today's New York Times:

Out of panic and ideology, President Bush squandered America’s position of moral and political leadership, swept aside international institutions and treaties, sullied America’s global image, and trampled on the constitutional pillars that have supported our democracy through the most terrifying and challenging times. These policies have fed the world’s anger and alienation and have not made any of us safer.

In the years since 9/11, we have seen American soldiers abuse, sexually humiliate, torment and murder prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. A few have been punished, but their leaders have never been called to account. We have seen mercenaries gun down Iraqi civilians with no fear of prosecution. We have seen the president, sworn to defend the Constitution, turn his powers on his own citizens, authorizing the intelligence agencies to spy on Americans, wiretapping phones and intercepting international e-mail messages without a warrant.

Bloomberg for President?

According to this article in The New York Times, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City is starting to seriously think about throwing his hat into the ring as an independent candidate for president.

I would vote for him in a heartbeat.

1) He's a billionaire. Special interest groups couldn't touch him. He doesn't need their money.

2) He's an independent. None of this stupid partisan bickering for him. Fuck the Democrats and fuck the Republicans. He would be above all their petty shit.

3) He's a progressive. He's all about making a better future. Not just for rich people or for white people, but for all people. He realizes that we, humanity, we're all in this boat together and we need to start acting like it.

4) C'mon, how could I not vote for him? He's Jewish.

This could turn into an interesting election season after all.


Charlie Wilson's War

Boy, do I miss Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, The American President). I'll freely admit that Studio 60 could have been better, but man, when he was running The West Wing its first four years, there was nothin' better on TV, and watching Charlie Wilson's War brought back a little bit of the magic.

Directed by the inestimable Mike Nichols from a script by the aforementioned Sorkin, adapted from the novel by George Crile, Charlie Wilson's War is the story of a seemingly small-time Democratic congressman from Texas, the hard-drinking, cocaine using Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks), and his pivotal role in aiding the Mujahideen after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in the early 1980s. Working with a CIA agent named Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman is hysterical; he steals every scene he's in), Wilson, who was on the Congressional Defense Appropriations subcommittee, used his political connections to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars in weapons, most notably shoulder-mounted rocket launchers, to the Afghani freedom fighters. Wilson was instrumental in the Afghani defeat of the Soviet Union in 1988 and its eventual collapse in 1991.

Watching these master craftsmen ply their trades is truly something to behold and enjoy. Everyone, from Sorkin and Nichols to Hanks and Hoffman are at the tops of their games. The movie is both humerous and deadly sober. It's as much a chastisement of American foreign policy over the past 30 years as it is a celebration of American ingenuity. We sure as hell beat down the Soviet Union, but in the process, did we sell our collective soul to a greater threat? Our actions in Afghanistan, training, funding and arming what would become the Taliban was a victory in the short term only. America, Charlie Wilson tells us, is wonderful at securing short-term gains, but it's the lack of long-term foresight that could bring the empire crumbling down around us.

This is most notably evident in a telling scene toward the end of the film, when, after the Mujahideen have defeated the great Soviet army, America, after having spent hundreds of millions of dollars to fund the war, refuses to pony up even a million dollars to help rebuild Afghanistan's infrastructure. We gave them weapons of various degrees of destruction, but we wouldn't help them rebuild their schools. And that is American foreign policy in a nutshell.

Charlie Wilson's War is a very good film, maybe even a great one. It's entertaining, no question, but the deeper, more pertinent cautionary tale is what I would hope most people walk away from the theatre thinking about.


If you were to quickly take a peek at my "Favorite Films of 2007" post, you'll notice that I added Juno to the list. Go ahead, peek. I can wait ...


Directed by Jason Reitman (his follow-up to the hilarious Thank You for Smoking), Juno is the story of a 16-year-old named Juno (Ellen Page is absolutely amazing) who becomes pregnant after having sex (duh!) with her best friend, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera, who is rapidly becoming the new poster boy for geek chic). After getting freaked out at the abortion clinic, she decides to go through with the pregnancy and give the baby up for adoption. Juno and her friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby) find who they think are suitable parents in the want ads, Vanessa and Mark Loring (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman, both of whom are wonderful), who may not be the picture-perfect prospective parents we initially see them as.

Page is beyond superb as the cynical, sarcastic titular character. She can go from making hilariously wry wisecracks one minute to nearly breaking your heart the next. The movie is much more than the comedy most of the trailers paint it as. Sure, it's really funny, but its ability to turn on a dime and become something heartachingly poignant is what really makes it stand out. Phrases like "instant classic" are bandied about too frequently these days, but not by me, so when I put that stamp on something, you better believe it's something special.

I last saw Page in the independent film, Hard Candy (okay, I might have last seen her as Kitty Pryde in the accursed third X-Men film, but I try not to think about that one), in which she played a young girl who meets an older guy online, invites him over, accuses him of being a pedophile and proceeds to psychologically torture him for the next hour or so. And she was brilliant. She's got an incredibly bright future, this one.

The script by first-time screenwriter (and one-time stripper) Diablo Cody is filled with side-splitting pop culture references and some of the best, most realistic dialogue I've heard in a long time, from both the adults and the teenagers. Most kids Juno's age probably aren't quite so hip as to dig the Stooges and Italian director Dario Argento's horror flicks (or are they?), but hey, it's a movie, right? I particularly enjoyed the shout out to the enigmatic Tino, from TV's tragically short-lived My So-Called Life.

Rounding out the cast, as Juno's parents, are J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jamison in the Spider-Man films - I try not to think about that third one either) and Allison Janney (probably best known as C.J. Cregg on The West Wing), who are both such masters of their craft, every time they're on screen is a breath of fresh air. They both have these incredible deadpan deliveries and marvelous comedic timing.

The soundtrack for this movie was especially enjoyable. Lots of fun, quirky, sad, happy, indie kinds of songs. I need to get the soundtrack. And the screenplay. And Diablo Cody's book about her time as a stripper.

If you can't tell, I really loved this movie. It's just the right kind of quirky and cynical to complement its heartwarming core. Everyone should go see it. You can thank me later.

Final grades of '07

Incidentally, my final grades for the semester were two A's (Critical Writing and History of Mass Communication) and two B+'s (News Editing and Fiction Studio). My GPA now stands at a robust 3.306, which is quite a far cry from the 1.9-something it was when I first came back to school in the winter of 2005.


Favorite Films of 2007

Everyone loves lists, right? Of course they do. Why else would so many publications print year-end best-of lists in the first place? And why should I be any different?

Movies first, then I'll toss up a post about books next week.

And so, in no particular order, except for, perhaps, chronological:

Children of Men (my review)
Pan's Labyrinth (my review)
The Lives of Others (my review)
The Lookout (my review)
The Bourne Ultimatum
Eastern Promises (my review)
Gone Baby Gone (my review)
Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men (my review)
American Gangster
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (my review)
Juno (my review)
Charlie Wilson's War (my review)

Odds are I missed something, forgot something. I didn't count movies I watched on DVD, just those seen in the theatre throughout the year. I still need to see Charlie Wilson's War, Atonement, I Am Legend and Juno this year, hopefully during the coming week, so the list might have to be amended before New Year's.

::Edited to add Juno and Charlie Wilson's War to the list - 12/25/07::


Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

This latest collaboration between goth-auteur Tim Burton and his longtime muse Johnny Depp is a magnificent, malicious, morbid, and sometimes mirthful, meditation on that all-consuming, unquenchable flame called vengeance. With a little bit of singing and cannibalism thrown in for good measure.

Originally performed on Broadway 28 years ago, Stephen Sondheim's deliciously wicked Grand Guignol has been masterfully moved from the bright lights to the big screen. Burton, who obviously has a thing for musicals (see The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride), definitely knows how to put on a show.

Sweeney Todd is the story of a happily married English barber whose wife, in fact his entire life, is stolen out from underneath by a loathsome, lecherous judge who takes a liking to the barber's wife. After being wrongfully arrested and sentenced with imprisonment in Australia, the barber returns home 15 years later a changed man. He discovers his wife poisoned, his daughter now the ward of the vile Judge Turpin (a sinister - as if he does any other role - Alan Rickman), and, razor sharp blades in hand, he vows his revenge.

Aiding and abetting Sweeney Todd (the delightfully murderous Mr. Depp) in his quest for vengeance is the proprietress of a filthy bakery, Mrs. Lovett (the lovely, wicked, albeit quite dirty, Helena Bonham Carter), whose meat pies are, without a doubt, the absolute worst in all of London. Together, they hatch a plot to do away with those who have wronged Mr. Todd, and turn a tidy profit on the side.

Burton is an absolute maestro of the macabre. From the grimly-lit grime of London's streets to the wild, demonic, blood-spattered visage of Sweeney Todd after he's seen to one of his "customers," Burton's aesthetic is impossible to miss. Indeed, I cannot fathom another film director bringing this musical to all its glorious, gory life the way Tim Burton has.

The film's supporting cast is highlighted by a hilarious Sacha Baron Cohen as rival barber Signor Adolfo Pirelli, who has much too little screen time, and Timothy Spall as Judge Turpin's weaselly errand boy, Beadle Bamford. Also, blink and you might miss a welcome, though incredibly brief, appearance by Giles himself. (They really need to make that "Ripper" spin-off show.)

Not for the faint of heart, Sweeney Todd surely ranks amongst Burton's finest films. Murder and mayhem has rarely been this much fun.


One and done

I finished my final assignment of 2007 a few hours ago, a short story that I'm not especially pleased with, but it gets the job done. It took a couple twists and turns that I wasn't expecting while I was writing it and it really does deserve to be longer than what I'm turning in. I might go back to it next semester (my last semester!) if my writing instructor doesn't mind us working on previously-written stories.

In the grades department, only two of my four teachers have posted final grades so far: I got a B+ in News Editing (which wasn't so much a class about editing as it was an examination of the editorial practices of American media, newspapers in particular) and an A in History of Mass Communication. I'm fairly certain I'll be getting an A in my Critical Writing class, whenever my teacher decides to post grades. So that leaves my fiction studio, in which I'm expecting to receive at least a B. I probably won't know about that class until sometime next week.

It's a little scary, the thought that I only have one semester (five classes) left before I graduate. There's a deadline for applying for one's degree, the middle of March, I think. After that, it's the home stretch for the final month and a half.

I'm gonna need to get a fuckin' job, aren't I? Start one of them, what do you call 'em? Oh yeah, careers. Anyone know any comic book or production companies that will be hiring in the next six months? (The West Coast is the preferred destination.)

One more semester ... boggles the mind, doesn't it? I know it does mine.


Return of the Ring

I trust everyone has heard the wonderful news:

Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh will serve as Executive Producers of two films based on "The Hobbit."


The two "Hobbit" films - "The Hobbit" and its sequel – are scheduled to be shot simultaneously, with pre-production beginning as soon as possible. Principal photography is tentatively set for a 2009 start, with the intention of "The Hobbit" release slated for 2010 and its sequel the following year, in 2011.


Blade Runner @ Film Streams

Who wants to come with me to Film Streams this weekend to see Blade Runner: The Final Cut, Ridley Scott's end-all, be-all final version of his seminal sci-fi noir?


I'm looking at going Sunday night, to the 7 o'clock showing. Who's in?


Christmas = Yay! Children's health care = Boo!

Last night the House of Representatives voted 372-9 in favor of a resolution affirming the importance of Christmas and Christianity.

Because, you know, they have nothing better to do.

Meanwhile, our asshole president vetoed (for the second time) an insurance bill that would provide health care coverage for millions of children from low-income families. (Because that's the Christian thing to do, right?)

But hey, as long as our priorities are in order.



Responsibility. It's something we try to ingrain into our children. Taking responsibility for one's actions. Little kids (and sometimes big ones), when confronted with something they did, oftentimes they'll say, "I didn't do it" or "I don't know who did it." It's a difficult thing to do, to own up to doing something, either good or bad. I know I used to have a problem with taking responsibility for shit I did when I was younger. I like to think I've grown out of that by this point in my life, though I still have a problem with taking responsibility for something positive I may have done. (I don't like being fussed over, but that's a post for another time.)

The point I'm trying to make is this: people, children, adults, everyone tries to duck taking responsibility for their actions. Bill Clinton didn't inhale. He didn't have sexual relations with "that woman." George W. Bush didn't lie to the American people about invading Iraq. O.J. didn't kill his ex-wife and her friend. We don't believe any of that bullshit, yet people still try to spin it so that they don't have to accept responsibility or blame. And if you're not responsible for something, then you don't have any reason to feel guilty because of it either.

On Sunday, some schmuck who apparently had a hard-on hatred of Christians shot up a missionary school and a megachurch in Colorado, killing four people before being shot himself by a security guard at the church. Here's what the security guard, Jeanne Assam, said about having killed the gunman at a news conference Monday:

"I knew I was given the assignment to end this. I give the credit to God."

See what she did there? She took the responsibility off her own shoulders and placed it squarely in the lap of God, thus absolving her of the nasty things that I imagine come from taking a life, even a jackass like this Matthew Murray. Specifically, guilt.

By giving the credit to God, by saying she was given an "assignment," Ms. Assam is saying that she didn't kill Mr. Murray. God killed him. She just pulled the trigger. You know how people say, Guns don't kill people, people kill people? Or, Guns don't kill people, bullets do? Well, in this case, what Ms. Assam is saying is that she was the bullet and God pulled the trigger. That's like saying, "The Devil made me do it."

I'm absolutely certain that killing someone isn't fun, that it's an awful thing to go through, even if it's something you simply have to do. Jeanne Assam probably had no choice but to kill Mr. Murray (I suppose she could have aimed for a leg, a less lethal wound of some kind, but that's really neither here nor there at this point). The fact of the matter is, she shot him and she killed him. And she needs to come to terms with that. This isn't something you can pawn off on God, as if He made you do it. You can't pass the buck, no matter how painful or uncomfortable it may be.

Ms. Assam is responsible for ending the life of Matthew Murray (whether he deserved his fate is a judgment no one has the right to make), not God. She pulled the trigger, not God. God wasn't working His magic through her, or whatever.

Take responsibility for your actions, people. That's all I ask.


CNN.com is reporting that, according to the coroner's office, Matthew Murray died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Ms. Assam apparently shot Mr. Murray multiple times, putting him down, as the coroner's statement puts it, but he then fired the fatal shot.

None of this changes what I said in the above post. When Ms. Assam said Monday that she "was given the assignment to end this," she didn't know Mr. Murray had killed himself. She thought she had killed him when she "[gave] the credit to God," thus abdicating her responsibility.


Busy, busy, busy

Busy doing what, you might ask. Busy procrastinating, I would answer. It is, after all, one of my oh-so-many infinite talents.

There are three weeks left in the semester. One week of classes, dead week and finals week. I only have one actual final exam, however. Aside from that, I have four papers to write and two presentations to prepare, one each of which is a group project, and we all know how much I just love group projects. Less work for me, I suppose, but still.

Anyway, this is why the blog has been quiet since Thanksgiving. Lots to do. I'll have more to write in a couple weeks, once the semester winds down.