Friday, August 29, 2008


We have endured eight long years of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and a right-wing stranglehold. Eight years of failed policies, failed posturing, and failed peace-keeping. Eight years of corrupt partisanship, enacted to serve only those in power. Tax cuts for the rich and zero relief for the poor. Tax breaks for companies that outsource American jobs and zero reward for companies that stay at home. A healthcare system that shuts people out, plays by a shifting set of rules, and discriminates against those who need good care the most. A self-serving foreign policy that has completely abandoned vital American diplomacy and strong strategic intelligence. A unilateral occupation entered under false pretenses that has alienated the United States from nearly all of its once-strong partners and allies. A stubborn, greed-fueled reliance on foreign oil that has ushered in the arrival of $4 gas prices...and even higher than that in certain areas. An environmental policy that has ignored the environment and thus worsened our global climate. Eight years of neo-conservative leadership...and we have indelibly worsened the state of our country and its citizens.

It's been a long way down during these eight long years. But finally we are transitioning into a new era of American history. We are nearing the time when the atrocities of Bush 43 will be considered past-tense. We are leaving "then" and entering "now." The primary season we all experienced--some would say endured--in the past months was pristinely indicative of the move toward "now." As grueling and difficult as the contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was, there we all stood, at the doorstep of the future, the gateway to progress, the precipice of history. After years of white male dominance, the two top contenders for a major presidential nomination were a woman and a black man.The uprising began, and after months of hard-fought struggle, a winner was finally declared. Three days ago, the woman who didn't quite make it stood up and spoke out to the masses, all of those whose passion was ignited by this exciting moment in American history. She stood up to say that we must not forget where we are and where we need to be. She told us to put any shred of enmity behind us and to unite behind the tidal wave of change. She exhorted us all to fight for this moment--our moment, our NOW--and never look back, not even when we think the job is "done," for it never truly is.

In this moment, as we stand on the brink of taking back our world, it is more important than ever to do every single thing we can to usher change into Washington, into the White House, into Congress, and into our lives. There is not a moment to spare. This is our Now.

Of course, if this was an easy task, there would be no reason to fight. But the resurgence of pride, the revolution of humanity, and yes, the audacity of hope, are movements that will chafe against the brick wall of apathy, the barricade of the status quo, the all-consuming evil of regression. There are enemies in this battle to take back our country, and they will not let up until their antiquated ideas for an evolving world become even more widespread than they already have.

John McCain is running on the image of a "straight-talker," a "Maverick" politician who understands the wisdom of bipartisanship. But McCain's image, much like his policies, are rooted firmly in the past. After falling victim to the upstart insurgency of Rovian political machinations in the 2000 Republican primary, McCain opted not to work at beating the sinister forces of neo-conservative fear and smears, but to join them. For the last eight years, the Senator from Arizona has made it his mission to pander so completely to the far reaches of the right-wing that his reliable "Maverick" moniker was no longer appropriate. Indeed, it was no longer recognizable. Stating broadly that McCain has voted with the Bush administration 90% of the time is damning, but it is vaguely damning. Stating more clearly that McCain not only voted for the Iraq war, but continues to support it to this day is more specifically what our people need to hear. Stating clearly that McCain does not support a woman's right to choose and does not believe that women should get equal pay for equal work is what our people need to hear. Stating clearly that McCain thinks the economy is moving in the right direction, that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans need to be made permanent, and that the working class poor are not suffering under the current system is what our people need to hear. Stating clearly that McCain's solution to solving the issue of sky-rocketing gas prices is to drill off-shore, kill the environment, and hope for the best is what our people need to hear. Stating clearly that McCain wants to privatize Social Security, thereby demolishing the longest-standing and most effective and celebrated social program in our nation's history, is what our people need to hear. Stating clearly that McCain does not wish to reform a health care system that has left the sick, injured, and dying without proper care and with no way out is what our people need to hear.

These are not the policies of an independent soul. These are not the plans of one who wants to work with the opposition. These are not the promises of a Straight-Talking Maverick. No--these are the wrong-headed and dangerous ideologies of a brainwashed, power-hungry politician. He is pandering to the innocent people who were duped by Karl Rove and George W. Bush, and now he wants to dupe us, too.

Now, after a four-day celebration at the Democratic National Convention where those with the passion to change this country united to nominate Barack Obama and Joe Biden as the candidates who will lead us into the future, the enemy has countered with their own news: John McCain has selected a running mate, and that running mate is Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska.

When word came that Palin was McCain's selection, I was wary of what it meant. It seemed like a savvy move, one that would work in McCain's favor moreso than in Obama's. For months now, there has been speculation--mild though it may have been--that Palin was a strong dark horse candidate, one who could sway some of Hillary Clinton's former supporters by virtue of the fact that, aside from seeing a woman on a major ticket, they would also respond to Palin's alleged independent record. I was worried.

But I am not worried anymore.

Now, instead of worried, I am engaged in this election in a way I hadn't been heretofore. My passion has been ignited in a way it hasn't been since the heart of the primary season.

We have a real opportunity here. The selection of Sarah Palin is very revealing, indeed: it was orchestrated to reinforce the Illusion of the Maverick, since in the lead-up to this announcement, everyone from Republican strategists to CNN anchors were touting her "dedication to fighting corruption" and "record of bucking the system."

But that just underscores simultaneously the sneaky tactics of the neo-cons and the fact that no one knows ANYTHING about who Sarah Palin really is. In point of fact, Palin is far from centrist--she embodies the heart of hardcore conservatism.

McCain and Co. want us to believe--and want independents to believe, and certainly want former Hillary Clinton supporters to believe--that Sarah Palin is the voice of common Americans, the voice of bipartisan judgment. But when your VP candidate is anti-choice, anti-women's rights, anti-environment and, alternatively, is pro-gun, pro-war, pro-tax cuts for the rich...she is following in lock-step with the far right base of religious conservatives. She is helping DEFINE the far right base of religious conservatives.

You can't be a system-bucking maverick and a staunch social conservative at the same time. This idea of Palin as Independent was completely and utterly manufactured out of thin air. The idea of McCain as Maverick may have turned into a fantasy the last eight years, but the idea of Palin as Maverick is worse than a fantasy--it's an outright fabrication.

This is the contradiction that Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and all loyal Democrats, liberals, and progressives should be pouncing on in the days, weeks, and months to come. Hell, they should be pouncing on it in the seconds, minutes, and hours to come. There is not a moment to spare. The time is NOW.

The time is NOW to put an end to the corruption in our government. The time is NOW to reverse these policies and programs that have set our country so far behind in every area, from the economy to foreign relations to health care to women's rights to gay rights to education. The time is NOW to speak out against those who want to continue derailing the potential of our government and the hard work of our citizens, and to speak out for those who want to help us set this nation right once again. The time is NOW to get out there and knock on every door, make every phone call, and donate any penny of spare change we may be lucky enough to have and afford--no matter how little that may be. The time is NOW to do what we can to help this country fulfill the greatness of its promise.

We cannot let our country down. This is our time. This is our Now.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Vicky Cristina Barcelona....and Javier, and Penelope, and That Damned Narrator...

Vicky Cristina Barcelona is certainly Woody Allen's weightiest film since Match Point, and may be his best since...well...

The film possesses many small virtues, but foremost among them is one undeniable fact: Allen delivers, unequivocally, his most complex and engaging screenplay in years--even better, really, than his work on the very powerful Match Point. His script ebbs and flows with the characters, lingering on lovely moments and carefully truncating others. It wanders with curiosity, yet embodies the very succinct nature of a Woody Allen screenplay: it simultaneously moves with a brisk efficiency and yet feels like we are soaking in its characters for hours.

The set-up is fairly simple. Vicky (Rebecca Hall), uptight, buttoned-down, and full aware of what she wants in life, and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), open, wandering, and completely unsure of her ultimate desires, are close friends who take a small vacation to Barcelona. Their divergent personalities come to a head when they meet Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), a very free-spirited painter whose passion for nearly all of life's pleasures leads Vicky and Cristina down a strange, halted, complex love triangle, one that goes off on so many interesting tangents that it barely registers as a love triangle at all. A more traditional triad develops when Juan Antonio's equally passionate (to the point of being mentally imbalanced) ex-wife, Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz), re-enters the picture, and ignites a journey of passion and self-discovery for Cristina, who begins to fall in love with both artists. Vicky, meanwhile, does all she can to force the passion and uncertainty out of her life, and does so by (ironically) marrying her boring fiancee (Chris Messina) in Spain, on a whim.

How these characters' lives casually flow in and out of each other's is one of the subtle charms of Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and the very talented cast allows the path of the characters to unfold with a quiet grace. These characters feel real, and they flirt with the challenge of drastically altering their emotions and ideologies in ways that feel completely unforced.  Rebecca Hall, new to American eyes, has been getting a lot of pub for this film, and rightfully so--her role as the wary and conservative Vicky is unexpectedly complex, and the fact that Hall plays the character with such outward calm and subtle inner turmoil makes her all the more intriguing. Conversely, the world is fully aware of the enormous talents of Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem, and Penelope Cruz, but they are all at the very top of their games here. For Johansson, this feels like an acting renewal after several lackluster projects; Bardem, coming off his No Country Oscar, is completely the opposite of Anton Chigurgh, charming and sexy and effortlessly charismatic, though perhaps dangerous for the same reasons; and Penelope Cruz is absolutely brilliant, crafting a character that is passionate and volatile and absolutely riveting at every turn. With Almodovar's Volver and now this film, the once undervalued Cruz has risen to the highest level of current acting talent, and in Maria Elena creates one of the most iconic characters in all of Woody Allen's films.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona does suffer from a couple of its director's more nagging vices, namely the use of an obligatory narration track that distracts from the on-screen drama more than enhances it. Allen doesn't always employ narration in his films, but when he does it becomes this glaring device that is literary for the sake of being literary. Such is the case here, and the problem is made all the more distracting by the narrator himself, character actor Christopher Evan Welch, whose voice has no gravitas and who sounds geeky and over-excited, like he's trying too hard to get all the words out. Perhaps that was the point; I hope it wasn't. And maybe with a stronger, more believable voice delivering the words, the narration wouldn't be such an issue. As it currently stands, though, it is the only sizable flaw in a very sumptuous film.

The film's ever-intriguing screenplay, too, eventually stumbles ever-so-slightly in the third act; Allen has a thing for characters who decide abruptly what they want/don't want, or how their lives should change, and in this movie it feels like that particular writing peccadillo is merely used to keep the film's brisk running time on track. Of course, the shift is signaled by the lame narrator and comes so far out of left field that it nearly interrupts the genuine, sensuous stimulant of watching these wonderful actors intertwine. But by the end, Allen's penchant for quick shifts almost works better here than in many of his past films, because Vicky Cristina Barcelona is essentially a walkabout of a film, a motion picture where the characters wander in and out of beautiful locales and in and out of each other's lives, beds, and hearts. It is about characters clearly defining what they don't want and shouldn't have, but hedging on the ever-important matters of what they do want...what they need.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hey...I updated the freakin' box office chart!

...that's about as much initiative as I've put forward in a while. I owe you loyal readers much more than that. Forgive my recent business-slash-laziness-slash-saddled with the flu-ness.

Will try to get back into the swing of things soon. For now, some brief nuggets...

There are oh-so-many films to discuss, both good and bad....I need to impart the joys of Pineapple Express and the horrors--oh the horrors!--of Mamma Mia! And there are, of course, many more, some more compelling than others...Tropic Thunder, Step Brothers, The Wackness, Hellboy II...the list goes on...

K and I are seeing Woody Allen's latest, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, tonight...I hope to report back great things.

We will most likely see The Rocker, for which I also have my fingers crossed, tomorrow.

Interesting side note: isn't it strange how the release and success of Superbad last August has then led this August to be the Month of Comedy? Nearly every major comedy release of the summer is landing this month...Pineapple Express, Tropic Thunder are the most obvious and high-profile of the bunch, but also... The Rocker, The House Bunny, Hamlet 2, and even the lamest of the lame, like College and Disaster Movie. It's nuts. The only major summer comedy to be released before August was Step Brothers, and even that one only missed it by one week. It will be interesting to see if the trend continues next summer...or if each film will so severely dip into the others' grosses that studios will have to go back to the drawing board.

Such a shame to lose Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes in no less than a two-day span. They will be missed.

I will also be missing--happily and deliberately missing--films like The Mummy 3 and Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The kids will have to drug me and drag me if I am ever to see one of those things...

We are now, finally, coming to the end of the summer season, which means two things. One is an end-of-summer retrospective of sorts, hopefully delivered by both K and myself. And more importantly, it means autumn--aka, the beginning of Good Movie Season--is nearly upon us. Plenty of wonderful stuff to look forward to...

...except not Harry Potter 6, which is now being moved to Summer 2009, even though Warner Bros. reports that all post production is completed and the film is completely ready...hmmm...

Tough times at Warner Bros. these days. First they announce the Potter move, which raised a lot of speculation, mostly negative...then Entertainment Weekly--which WB owns, no less--releases their annual Fall Preview edition with Harry Potter on the freakin' cover!...they had to apologize and clean up that mess...and now the trades are reporting that 20th Century Fox is suing Warner Bros. over the rights for WB's spring tentpole release, Watchmen. We'll have to see how that one unfolds.

Any thoughts on your end? What have you been watching while I've been gone...