Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Crazies

I saw the original The Crazies last night on Watch Instantly. It's harder to ignore the things that fans of Romero (to be clear I count myself as one) brush aside, when you can't tell the difference between characters infected with a homicidal virus, and those who are just over-acting. One of the most interesting elements of the film, how some of the people infected with Trixie become non-violent flower children who are promptly mowed down by the army, gets no play in the dialogue at all. It's spawned a million critical essays, I'm sure, about how the film was a microcosm for the curdling of the 60's non-violent protest movement, but it never really gets explored.

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Guiliani and 9/11

I disagree with a few points on Phil Nugent's otherwise excellent post about Guiliani's popularity waning. Rudy's popularity didn't come to a "crashing halt" when he suggested that we could push those petty mayoral elections back a bit. He was ignored, and there were procedural reasons why he couldn't have done it, but the press still lionized him, and he still was the Churchill of 9/11 to everyone, myself included. I'll continue to credit him with keeping the city and possibly the country from descending into chaos that day. My guess he would have won that initiative if it was up to a popular vote.

And even though Bloomberg opposed delaying the elections, he still plastered the airways with ad after ad toting a suddenly very valuable endorsement from the mayor. since everyone was glued to their set watching either 9/11 coverage or the World Series, Bloomberg had a great captive audience and basically a monopoly on the airwaves. And Green, after screwing up everything else, decided to go nasty against Bloomberg about the allegations of harassing staff members to get abortions, and it backfired massively.

Still with all that (and I'm not even going into Ferrer), Bloomberg won a squeaker of 2% and was treated as an accidental mayor. That's certainly how I viewed him until the power outage, when his calm, dull, bureaucratic voice was just what the city needed.

It's easy to lump Guiliani in with Bush in retrospect, but the bloom really didn't come off the rose until the Kerik nomination and he continued to poll very highly until he actually started running. And even before 9/11, he was the guy who brought the crime rate down lower than the national average. A lot of people were wondering if it would shoot back up once he went away. There was a feeling that the city needed to be ruled by a belligerent semi-tyrant, having memories of nice-guy David Dinkins not keeping the peace. Liberals who were not at the wrong end of police brutality comforted themselves with the fact that he was socially liberal on issues from abortion to welfare reform, in some cases to the left of the Clinton administration.

I may have forgotten some things or gotten them wrong. I moved to New York only a year before Phil, so I wasn't actually in town for most of the Guiliani years. This spawned out of an email I wrote Phil last night, which he asked if he could post, but I decided to use this to see if I'd restart blogging. I'll probably move to Tumblr or something, since most of my insights aren't really worth a full post.

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Watch this space.

No, really.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important peepers

I rarely get a smile from the ads on the subway. In fact, I'm most disturbed by how out of date they are, promoting shows and museum events that have long closed, and bragging "Did you ever think you would be able to use your credit card to buy a Metrocard?" But yesterday on the way to PS 1's penultimate warm-up I saw a public service announcement for organ donation telling me that upon his death Jerry Orbach had donated his eyes to medicine.

I'm not creeped out by the fact that two people now have his eyeballs. For some reason, it's oddly comforting, like Lennie Briscoe is still looking out over the city.

Edit: It seems someone has beat me to the punch on this one by many months, and she's funnier too. On the plus side, I've found a new blog to read.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Dear fellow straphangers,

You can't actually read Harry Potter on the subway. I don't care how anxious you are to see how it ends, or how little other time you have to read, but it doesn't fit on the L train during rush hour, and you certainly can't open it up standing in the middle of the passage without the cover hitting some one's nose. Do it again and I'll spoil the ending for you.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Pretend this was written on Wednesday

So Gili guilted me into starting to write to this again.

Chicago Vacation: The litany of what what went wrong that trip has become a comic routine:
  1. I got my flight delayed for a day and half
  2. I accidentally insulted a deaf lesbian's shoes and spent the next hour apologizing
  3. I got a hang over.
  4. I got a cold, and had to go through endless humiliation and bureaucratese to get at the good stuff so I could lay in bed for the day (the pharmacy had to take my name and adress, but only half the keys on the keyboard worked, so if they want to track down my meth lab, they're stuck trying to write a warrant for Ivi Ohchi (which I think will be my samurai name.)
  5. I threw up in a taxi cab.
  6. Some guy threatened to kill me at the wolf house in the Chicago Zoo.
  7. The apostrophe key broke on my keyboard, and even Carlos couldn't fix it.
  8. Ellen was unironically obsessed with Dippin' Dots, the ice cream of the future.
And yet, it ended up with a great trick, and I feel like a shadows lifted after.

Reading: Ulysses, of all things. Gili said to me last night that it's a guy thing to be obsessed with it, and for me it was a teenage boy thing, just like waiting for facial hair to grow. It's the big monument of 20th Century, the book so difficult that its guide is longer than the text itself, a back breaker that sums up every bit of Western Civilization. And it's dirty. It's banned. Somehow I had missed the fact that it was banned in the past, not now, and made a determined , Pierre Menardian attempt to get it instated at my high school library. Also I tried to read it, with that guide longer than the book, looking up every reference in advance of reading it so I would obtain some sort of perfect knowledge. I got somewhere through Chapter 3 and then would start over a few months later.

Anyway, I'm reading it now, and I'm realizing back then I should have been reading the same way I could laugh at Annie Hall and without knowing what a Mah Jongg tile was, or on Mystery Science theater, where I found the juxtaposition of Spalding Gray and Gamera hilarious without having heard of the former. And if anything gets real tough, I can google it- every word in Ulysses seems to be explained on Google somewhere- but I don't even think I'm supposed to know a third of what Dedalus is muttering to himself on Sandymount Beach. The struggle with it is part of the fun.

Gili and I finally met up and saw the amazing and peculiar St. Vincent, but the real thrill of the night was looking at couples across the bar and trying to guess their relationships or what they were fighting about through body language. I think I bored her too much asking "And what about this author? Do you like him? How about her?" And I launched into my dreaded Singing Detective monologue.

Listening to today: I'm took advantage of having an office to myself and played all of the Drive By Trucker's "Southern Rock Opera" while coding. Now it's Lucinda Williams on shuffle. I want something mournful about the past, with a little anger (or really anything that distracts me from work problems and my drenching clothes.)

Over the past few weeks, I saw Ratatouille and Once. I don't really want to talk about either in detail, I got an eye on the clock right now for dinner with Lendri, and need to copy edit this later, but they both are incredible and unexpected explorations of artistic creation and the role of the artist in society.

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Saturday, March 31, 2007


Breach is so good that it's intensely frustrating when it goes dumb and predictable and becomes a standard spy move. Billy Ray, the director, is carving out a nice little niche for himself on true-life institutional thrillers, where half the crime is the bureaucracy that allows the central psychopath to flourish. To some extent, Breach is stronger than Shattered Glass, his previous film about the New Republic, because it isn't restrained by a need to embellish the goodness of real life figures for greater access. At the same time there's something missing from the movie's core.

The story of Robert Hanssen(Chris Cooper) is partly a psychological portrait of how a devoutly religiously and incredibly intelligent FBI agent ended up selling incredible secrets to the Soviets. For the first half hour or so the movie bristles with life as it watches him push against the FBI bureaucracy to reform the antiquated networking system, simply steal unallocated new computers off palettes rather than fill out requisition forms, and sneer at the gun culture that's keeping the FBI in the 19th Century. The movie is set in February of 2001, and though 9/11 is never directly alluded to, the FBI's failures hangs in the background. The other protagonist, Ed O'Neill(Ryan Phillipe), begins the film eavesdropping on an un-named middle eastern couple having a public fight. He's pulled off within the first few minutes to work with Hansenn and we never learn if they were connected to terrorism or just an angry couple on the streets, but the point is quickly made that he's a frustrated reformer as well. It's also glancing alluded to that he doesn't know a word of Arabic.

O'Neill is assigned as Hanssen's assistant, with vague instructions to watch him because he's accused of sexual deviancy. And for a while it's a thrill just to see Cooper treat Phillipe, whose grown into his looks but still has a little bit of an unearned pretty boy expression, as a nuisance and a rube, and without special pleading or begging, get him to understand the source of his frustrations. When Cooper contemptuously stomps through a server room and explains precisely to Gary Cole (in full on Lumbergh mode) what Linux servers are needed, what the bandwidth requirements are, and what other organizations they should be looking to model, it's a thrill. Partly because the movie doesn't throw 24 techno goobledy gook at the viewer- Ray puts as much care into making the computers accurately early 2001 as a Merchant Ivory film puts into its cuff links and parasols. And you want to see Hansenn succeed, because he does convince you, even knowing the facts of the case going in, that he cares about making the FBI into a proper investigatory unit, and somehow that's tied into his brand of Opus Dei Catholicism- which he describes as never taking the easy route to salvation.

It's when the thriller elements slip into high gear that the movie becomes a lesser thing. Eventually it's revealed that the FBI knows about the extent of Hanssen's betrayal and that the entire operation is a set-up for O'Neill to gain his trust. This leads to 2 or 3 scenes of the clock ticking while O'Neill tries to copy files before Hansenn returns to his palm pilot, or keep him distracted while agents can tear apart his car. These are scenes out of a million other thrillers, and not only does Ray not stage them with any particularly snap, but they all end the same way, with O'Neill convincing Hansenn by a show of his growing religious faith under his mentor's tutelage. (Hansenn tells O'Neill to pray more, and so O'Neill covers for being in the wrong office by getting down on his knees and reciting the rosary.) Every one of those scenes, and the arguments they have over faith in religion and trust in each other are crackerjack and Cooper and Phillipe put the perfect amount of desperation and guile into them, but they're all basically identical, and one of them would suffice.

The problem is the actual story is a character study, and not a cat and mouse thriller, but the movie keeps trying to contort itself into the latter, and its got just enough integrity to make you realize how false that is. Hanssen was found out not because of anyone's great investigative skills, but because some ex-soviet officers sold the knowledge to the American government. He didn't get away with it because he was a master of deception, but because the FBI's culture was that incompetent and trusting of its own agents (if the Good Shepherd wasn't so stulifyingly boring, it would make a good double bill). And by the time O'Neill comes on board, all the information about Hanssen's betrayal is known- it's just a matter of catching him in the act so they can get a death penalty case. That results in a silly scene towards the end where Cooper waves a gun wildly at Phillipe, and the falseness of it retrospectively infects the rest of the movie.

To his credit, Ray puts enough trust in Cooper not to write an explanation of why he spied. He presents behavior- praying, hidden camera sex tapes, standing on a desk to fix a network cable, dead drops, touch football with grandkids. Cooper makes these all blend together, and ultimately you get a sense that they're all sincere- that Hansenn doesn't see the difference between showing the flaws in the FBI's structure and selling those flaws at $50,000 a pop to Soviet agents. And although he obviously doesn't live up to his religious standards, the movie doesn't take the easy route of painting him as a shallow hypocrite. The final five word conversation of Cooper and Phillipe, shot by Tak Fujimoto to explicitly recall his work on Silence of the Lambs, is oddly touching as you seen in Cooper's eyes just how much he's failed himself.

I, uh, wrote this post months ago, but left in editing mode, dissatisfied that I hadn't captured the full feeling of the movie- of course now a lot of it has simply vanished from my mind

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Clinton's Wordplay

Watching the DVD Wordplay last night, I remembered why I still love Bill Clinton, no matter what I may think of triangulation or the end results of NAFTA. About a third of the way through the film, the movie covers the 1996 pre-election crossword puzzle, where the correct answer for 39 Across- "The Next President" could either be "Clinton" or "Bob Dole." Dole appears briefly, comfortable in his curmudgeonly elder statesman role, smiling that that when he solved it in the morning, he thought he would win, only to be crushed at night. Of course, we're not supposed to believe for a moment that this is true. Dole is playing the graceful loser role that he's found comfortable after his humiliating defeat. I have no idea if he does crosswords in his spare time, though my guess based on his absence from the rest of the documentary is that he doesn't. Clinton, on the other hand enthuses endlessly about the brilliance of fitting the vertical clues with either answer, and would probably go on for hours about every square on the grid. As is, he ties the crossword beautifully to a perpetual theme of his, that human potential is greater than we think. Crossword puzzles, as he expresses them, aren't a matter of elite one-upmanship, but a way that anyone can better themselves, learn to think more flexibly about the word.

The movie itself draws you into by generally presenting clues that don't rely on specialized knowledge, or vocabularly. They're answers you could get, they just give the solution so fast that only an expert could beat the movie. Or at least that's what I tell myself to keep from crying myself to sleep. It was persuasive enough as to the open spirit of crosswords that I'm going to go look up pricing plans the New York Times Crossword after I finish blogging.

If the movie has a flaw, it's that the final competition never feels terribly involving. Unlike films like Spellbound, or Hands on a Hard Body, Wordplay has no sense of desperation of driving passion to compete. With a few exceptions, all the crossword enthusiasts all seem like normal people who are just a little smarter and faster than the rest of us. Someone describes a 20 year old prodigy's competitive spirit with "Tyler is like a tiger for this" and the shot the filmmakers find to illustrate her statement seems to more prove that he's got a crick in his back.

None of that is to say that it's not still as compelling a film as could possibly be made about guys filling letters into tiny boxes.

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