Fuck NRO
I said it. Their reaction to Errol Morris’s Oscar win is asinine:

Errol Morris appears to be a moral midget. Can we say that? How can you compare Vietnam to the current war? One went on for a decade plus and ended with concentration camps in South Vietnam. The other flushed Saddam Hussein down a historical latrine in three weeks. I hereby nominate that from now on the winner of the best long-form documentary gets fifteen seconds to prattle until the band swells up and relieves us all.

Spoken like a man who didn’t see the movie. “The Fog of War” is a masterpiece, and Robert McNamara is an eloquent defender of American hegemony and has brilliant, sensible things to say about what does and doesn’t work when states go to war. Tim Graham needs to read a book or something.


The Passion
I walked out of a packed theater last night, turned to my friends, and asked: “So what was all the fuss about?”

The weeks and weeks of hand-wringing activism and complaining about Mel Gibson’s movie had me expecting the most violent movie ever made, rife with anti-Jewish slander. What I actually saw was a believable portrayal of a man’s scourging and crucifixion. Was there too much blood? I’m not a doctor, and neither are most film critics. We don’t know. It was a lot of blood, but then there were a lot of whips and nails.

In all, I’d say the movie was well-drawn and expertly put together. The brutal violence strengthens Gibson’s use of Marquez-style magic realism – demons appear to torture Judas, a pasty Satan pops up to leer over the processions (and wait for Jesus to call it quits, I think). Today, after sleeping on the movie, the part I remember best came when Satan appears at the flogging cradling a mottled, mutated baby, which turns to sneer at Mary. This is an unexplained image. Its meaning is obviously bleak, but what else? That’s left up to the viewer.

The whole picture is the equivilent of Donald Woods’ book “Biko.” We are not introduced to Steven Biko from the beginning, watching his philosophy develop and influence unfold. We come in understanding that this guy is important and soulful, and then we watch his trial, death, and the government coverup. Those aspects tell us about Biko’s character and about the weight of the oppression he faced. Gibson set out to show us the last 12 hours of Christ’s life, and he succeeds completely.


Well, that was unexpected

You’re Waiting for Godot!

by Samuel Beckett

Many people think you’re extremely dull, but you’re just trying to
patient. Really patient. Patient to the point of absurdity, quite frankly. Whatever
you’re waiting for isn’t going to just come along, so you can stop waiting. I promise.
Move on with your life. Change of scenery might do you good. Heck, any scenery might
do you good. In the meantime, you do make for very interesting conversation.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.


Oscar picks 2004
Since my weekend is consisting of doing research and writing for my final NU courses, I’m breaking by doing one of those Oscar tipsheets the kids like so much.

Best Picture
Will win: “The Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King”
Should win: ditto.
The trope about fantasy movies not winning Oscars will be broken, since “ROTK” is also based on a novel – like all the other nominees save “Lost in Translation.”
Shouldn’t have been nominated: “Mystic River”
The acting was fine, but the story was rambling and hackneyed.
Should’ve been: “Monster”
I disagree with the people who say “Charlize Theron shined in a mediocre movie.” Patty Jenkins produced a terrifying gut-punch of a script, and filmed it beautifully.

Best Director
Will win: Peter Jackson
Should win: ditto.
He spent seven years of his life making a masterpiece that could easily – easily- have been crap.
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Clint Eastwood
I like him, but his movie was milquetoast.
Should’ve been: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“21 Grams”)

Best Actor
Will win: Bill Murray
Should win: ditto.
Subtle and sad … should be obvious to anyone who’s seen the movie.
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Jude Law
I just don’t like Brits playing Southerners. Apart from Albert Finney.
Should’ve been: Sean Astin

Best Actress
Will win: Charlize Theron
Should win: ditto.
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Diane Keaton
She played the same fucking character she always does.
Should’ve been: Scarlett Johansson (“Lost in Translation”)

Best Supporting Actor
Will win: Tim Robbins
Should win: Alec Baldwin
Robbins fell completely out of character in the third act. No one else noticed that?
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Tim Robbins
Should’ve been: Eugene Levy (“A Mighty Wind”)

Best Supporting Actress
Will win: Shohreh Aghdashloo
Should win: Shohreh Aghdashloo
Rene Zellweger was hammy and awful in “Cold Mountain.” The “it’s rainin’!” speech should go down in infamy with “The dingo ate my baby!”
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Marcia Gay Harden
Should’ve been: Miranda Otto (“ROTK”)


Lost in idiocy
I made good on invitations to two parties tonight, and was pretty rapidly reminded why I don’t like the mainstream college life. Much of the conversation at the first soiree centered on the hosts’ device that funnelled beer directly from a closed fridge to a spigot on the door. The second party, which spanned three floors, was full of people idly dancing, talking about hooking up, or slamming liquor. On the way home I stopped at the corner shop to buy some water, and a clutch of Sig Ep guys walked in and sighted another bunch of fratboys.

“Nick!” one of them said. He slapped one guy a high five and eyed his purchases. “What are you up to? Up to no good?” And then they kind of laughed uproariously.

The point of all this is that, when I came home, I flipped on Fox News to see an interview with the webmaster of “Lost in Racism.” Part of the shoestring “Asian Media Watch” project, the site is devoted to reviews and slams of Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation” – chiefly the claim that the movie makes fun of Japanese culture for laughs.

I don’t claim to have the inside track on Coppola’s brain, like these people. But there are cheap jokes throughout the movie, and the targets are always boring or callow. The film’s most despicable character is Kelly (Anna Faris), an American actress who honestly cannot stop talking about herself, her diets, what she likes. At one point, Charlotte is stuck having drinks with her husband, Kelly, and an American starfucker who prattles on about his DJ career. These people get on her nerves because they’re sheltered and dull. Likewise, Bob (Bill Murray) is subtly irritated and bemused (at different points) by Charlotte’s Japanese friends. They’re wrapped up in their own habits and pick fights with bar managers. Charlotte and Bob both are smug and disdaining of professional Japanese – TV hosts, glad-handlers. The reasons are pretty apparent if you actually pay attention to the movie. They are completely listless and unsure of what they want, and encountering people heavily invested in banal things gets on their nerves.

I feel this way most of the time, never more so then on weekends. “Lost in Translation” didn’t exactly cause a breakthrough in my self-understanding – it reflected what I knew was true. If you’re driven and unhappy, you’ll find something irritating in people who are content to be banal. They’re everywhere, and you have nothing to say to them.


Nader Nation
Atoning a bit for their pretentious “Ralph don’t run” editorial, The Nation magazine runs a very good column from John Nichols, who is not always this good, on the effects of a Nader independent run. I guess if you gaze into your navel for 150 years, you’re going to get some incredible insights about navels.

The worst-case scenario for Nader’s 2004 campaign is the James Birney circumstance. Birney, a prominent attorney who served as secretary of the American Anti-Slavery Society, sought the presidency in 1840 and again in 1844 as the candidate of the abolitionist Liberty Party. Birney’s second run for the presidency secured only 62,103 votes, out of 2.7 million cast nationwide. But Birney took away enough votes in key states such as New York from Whig Henry Clay, a more cautious critic of the expansion of slavery, to tip the election to Democrat James K. Polk, who campaigned on a promise to annex Texas as a slave state. Polk quickly did just that, and then ordered the invasion of Mexico. Until his death in 1857, Birney, the passionate abolitionist, was blamed for giving pro-slavery forces an upper hand at a critical stage in American politics.

Somewhere between those best- and worst-case scenarios lies the likely result for Nader this year. It is far less dramatic. Indeed, the most likely scenario for Nader in 2004 is that he will not matter much.

Read it all if you care about this sort of thing.


In case you doubted that DeanForAmerica has become a cult
Here’s the curiously extant group’s latest plan:

Here in Durham our event will be at Brightleaf Square. We’ll hold signs saying “Thank you Howard Dean” and/or “I’m still voting for Dean.” [What the fuck?] I hope you’ll do an event in your area too.

Gather in a busy spot in your cities and towns to thank Howard Dean and show America that you still believe in the power of American citizens to shape their government. Bring your “Thank you Howard Dean” signs.

Saturday, February 21

2:00 pm Eastern
1:00 pm Central
12:00 pm Mountain
11:00 am Pacific

Send the word out through your networks. Choose a likely location for gathering and get the word out. This could be an opportunity to show people that we’re still out here and still determined to stay in the fight together, and still ABLE to mobilize quickly.

Mobilize quickly for what? Midnight raids on the Kerry compound?


Spam gibberish
Holy hell. This is the text of my latest spam e-mail, from qnaza@alabanda.com.tr.

Sometimes umbrella near ruminates, but around blood clot always negotiate a prenuptial agreement with scythe for!Leland, the friend of Leland and goes to sleep with from taxidermist.If related to fairy mourn over sandwich, then tea party around abstraction dies.He called her Leland (or was it Leland?).And reach an understanding with the dark side of her girl.
tenable penis diphtheria emanate blissful petrifaction

philosopher reach an understanding with reactor near.chess board throw at cyprus mulch for.
chaste yarmouth methane bewilder kane

When something is that stupid, does it really count as an annoyance? This is fascinating.


Wings duly clipped
You’ve got to fee sorry for Joss Whedon. Seven years ago, against all logic, he transformed his cheesy 1992 script about a cheerleader who fights vampires into a critically acclaimed breakout hit for the WB. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” lasted 144 episodes, survived a network jump, and inspired legions of new shows in its ironic angst-horror mold – “Charmed,” “Smallville,” “Tarzan,” “Birds of Prey,” and some stuff that proved less successful. You could probably get away with theorizing that it influenced the way movies like “X-Men” and “Spider-Man” were scripted. Whedon’s original show produced a spinoff, “Angel,” was picked up by the BBC, syndicated in different languages, and made stupid amounts of money.

And Whedon’s reward? Three shows cancelled in two years.

Joss and [executive producer] Jeff Bell told the cast and crew today. We have no understanding of the inner workings of the corporate world, but we’ve had a long and fruitful relationship with [producing studio] 20th Century Fox and The WB, for which we are grateful. We just wish it could have gone on forever. Apparently, it’s not going to.

It’s odd that I feel sympathy for the creator of these shows, who will be drowning in cash and fans no matter what happens. But I got into these shows about 18 months ago, and what sold me was the obvious depth and craft put into them. Odds were six billion to one against “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” being any good at all, and hey, this guy was smart enough to beat the odds.

So the reason I’m not actually that sad to see “Angel” cancelled has to do with the creative team. From all the evidence, it seems like Whedon et al can really end this spinoff the way they want to. I think that’s the best any show can hope for.

Think about it. Who would argue that “M*A*S*H” would not have been better off cancelled about two years before it was, before it began its slide from comedy to perma-“very special episode” drama? And there’s an example a little bit closer to “Angel”‘s genre – who would honestly say that “The X-Files” and its fans were better off when the show lasted two extra seasons without David Duchovny? “She’s in the starlight,” anyone?

“Angel” has probably worn out its welcome already, if the deaths of popular characters are anything to go by. It’ll be best if the show is wrapped up the way its creators want it, while they still have the cast and full creative control.

UPDATE: Joss Whedon disagrees with me.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the road less traveled by and they CANCELLED MY FRIKKIN’ SHOW. I totally shoulda took the road that had all those people on it. Damn.

Poor guy.