02 March 2008

@%&! Smilers

Aimee Mann's new album.

Reason #3453467 why June needs to hurry itself up. What a great end-of-the-school-year present this will be!

$7.50 Tickets, 15-Minute Movies

Exactly two scenes in Vantage Point, the new movie directed by Pete Travis, whose previous filmography includes nothing of note, are worthwhile. One involves President Kennedy Ashton, played by William Hurt, who receives the disappointing news that a "security threat" has been received and that, as a result, his stunt double would take his place at the anti-terrorism summit he had presumably looked forward to for months. That the president could in fact have on staff at least one "double" to stand in his place in the face danger is an intriguing concept -- one not altogether unlikely, come to think of it, given the alarmingly blurred distinction between 21st Century politics and Hollywood special effects.

In the second, Dennis Quaid, the president's hardiest Secret Service-man, bursts into a news trailer parked outside the plaza in which the president (actually, the president's double) has just been shot. He demands the station's manager, Sigourney Weaver, play for him the footage her cameramen had taken of the scene. In an implausibly brief number of seconds, Quaid discerns a clue in the footage that will lead him to the masterminds behind the attempted assassination. In the foreground, Quaid radios in his orders to the Secret Service control desk. In the background, more interestingly, Weaver and her correspondents repeat Quaid's orders, in whispers, into their own radios, guaranteeing their station will be the first to break the news. A dog-eat-dog world, this is.

Aside from these two moments, the feature is repellant.

In fact, I am not sure the word "feature" should be applied to Vantage Point at all, as it implies a piece of work that lasts for an hour or more. Sure, my friend Carly and I sat in the movie theater for well over an hour, but the movie itself is really no more than a 15-minute narrative that is rewound and replayed, each replay centering around a different character's slightly different perspective on that fatal afternoon of the president's apparent assassination. The play-rewind-replay gimmick may be effective, I suppose, in some films (none come to mind, however), but here its only purpose is to lengthen a too-short movie. There is some attempt to round-out the characters, but the subplots (Quaid's flashbacks to another mission in which he took a bullet for the prez, Weaver's irritation with her novice anchor's "punditry", Forrest Whittaker's longing for his estranged wife and children, etc.) go largely unresolved and are, like the fractured timeline, merely flourishes to stretch the 15-minute narrative into a film long enough to allow its audiences to consume its super-sized buckets of buttered popcorn.

There is material here for a movie, I think. The world could use a film about a harried Secret Service agent who finds himself on his first day back on the job faced with the opportunity to redeem himself in his peers' eyes. This, however, is not that film. 

24 February 2008

Oscar Went To...

Committed as I've been in years prior to the Oscar telecast, I decided I would check in here with a couple thoughts about tonight's ceremony. These'll be quick, though. Bed awaits.

1. No Country For Old Men is probably the best movie to win the big prize since -- I don't know -- maybe since Amadeus in 1984. I'm not saying it's my favorite movie since 1984. It may not even be my favorite movie of 2007. But it undeniably a "GREAT" movie, one that Oscar will be glad he recognized when, twenty years from now, it's an official Hollywood classic. Too often the Academy passes over to-be classics in favor of short-lived infatuations (The English Patient over FargoCrash over Brokeback Mountain, A Beautiful Mind over any of the other four pictures nominated in 2001, etc.). But this year the little gold man went home with the right filmmakers. Kudos. 

2. Thank God for Tilda Swinton and Daniel Day-Lewis. Their triumphant speeches, surely the evening's least painful, convinced me that both are a league above everyone else in Hollywood. They're also zany, even by Hollywood standards. Really, with top awards going to these two plus the offbeat Coens, stripper-turned-writer Diablo Cody, French import Marion Cotillard and the statuesque Spaniard Javier Bardem, it could be said that the Oscars this year did all but turn its back on the traditional American work that usually dominates these awards show. Again: Kudos.

3. Unfortunately, however, I cannot offer any compliment whatsoever to Oscar's ear for music. This year the Academy nominated not just one, not just two, but three absolutely wretched and derivative Disney tunes, all from the movie Enchanted, and to be honest that is just embarrassing. Few movies in history have received three song nominations (Disney's Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King among them), and the fact that Enchanted now joins company with those films is, well, it's ... Anyway. Fortunately, the win went to the song from Once, which wasn't great but certainly won't be as great a blemish in Oscar history.

4. Yawn. Jon Stewart's TV show is hilarious. Why were so many of his jokes tonight so terrible? With the writers back at work, you'd think he could've found something better to do with his time onstage than bully Jack Nicholson and expectant mothers. Yeah, he made an okay joke or two about the length of the telecast, but that's already a perennial favorite. I want Ellen back.

5. Usually, Oscar Sunday is for me a celebration, a good excuse for staying up later than I should and for nerdily blathering about awards, stars, and sometimes red-carpet fashion. Tonight I feel like I would've been better served by a book, perhaps by an early jump into bed. Am I in a movie funk? Or have I just outgrown the Academy Awards?

My Apologies, Hillary

Today for the first time I voted in a presidential primary election. In Texas, unlike in Illinois, participation in primaries is "open" to whomever cares to vote, so long as s/he votes in only one party's primary. Officially, Texans hit the polls on March 4. But the roommate and I headed to "early vote" at the UT Pan-American library. And for whom did I cast my ballot? It sure wasn't Dodd or Biden or even Edwards, though these three were, surprisingly, amongst my options.

My friend Carly and my roommate, Amanda, notoriously refuse to make decisions. But in this pre-election season it is I who have labored over the choices and who have flip-flopped so many times that even Mitt Romney's head would spin. Carly and Amanda, like much of our recently-graduated-from-college demographic, have supported Barack Obama throughout. I have been resistant.

Here's my dilemma: I like both of the Democratic potentials. Neither seems as bullheaded or anti-intellectual as does Republican frontrunner John McCain. Neither could embarrass our country more than does our present, lame-duck president (who even in "humanitarian" vacations to disease-ravaged Africa manages to bully people around). Six months ago, about the time I visited Washington, D.C., I preferred John Edwards, whose commitment to America's impoverished and contempt for America's corporates he established firmly and early, but in January he threw in the towel, refused to endorse either of the remaining players, and disappeared from public view.

This unusually-tight Democratic race has dominated the media for months. The CNN/UniVision debate in Austin last Thursday was, according to an article I read somewhere, the second most-watched debate in television history. From my living room I tuned in, and what struck me was not Hillary's emotional eleventh-hour plea so much as the reality that both Democrats left in the race are, more or less, identical. In opinion, that is, if not in appearance. They do split hairs over universal health-care mandates and whether or not a President (rather than a diplomat of lesser standing) should initiate reconciliatory communication with post-Fidel Cuba, but even these differences are at best only skin deep.

Because I live in McAllen, a largeish town that straddles the U.S.-Mexico border and is a latino epicenter, I have luckily been able to catch both Clinton and Obama in person at rallies. Clinton I have seen twice, oncein the new McAllen Convention Center (where I snapped the photo above), a second time in her "early-vote rally" at the Dodge Arena in Hidalgo, where I helped chaperone a school group of about 500. Both times I was within twelve or so feet of the platform, the second time because I accompanied a wheelchair-bound student to the handicapped-accessible section on the floor. This student, Peter, wanted so much to meet Clinton that he zipped past other onlookers in his motorized chair and, believe it or not, sweet-talked a Secret Service agent into coordinating a meeting. The picture I have of the two of them, Peter and Hillary, is glorious, and I would post it here if I weren't a teacher and it wasn't illegal to post photos of students online without parental authorization. Both Clinton events were well-attended, especially by retirement-aged women, but neither was so crowded as the Obama rally I attended Friday morning at the university campus (also with students, and where I took the other photo on this page).

Until Friday, I would have voted for Hillary Clinton. Had I not chanced upon the Obama rally, I would have voted for Hillary Clinton. Although I have liked Obama since I voted for him in the 2004 Illinois senatorial race, I have been troubled by his relative lack of political experience and by what Clinton has characterized as his naïvely hopeful tone. The Presidency of the United States certainly is not a position that should be filled by a gumshoe, and Clinton is absolutely impressive in her authoritative presence and her ability to, on a moment's notice, regurgitate facts and statistics. If she wins the Democratic nomination, I will absolutely champion her until November.

But today I cast my vote for Barack Obama. And I have not quite found the words to explain that decision. Already I have had second thoughts. If anything, what ultimately won my vote was the crowd's ebullience when Obama stepped onto the stage, forty-five minutes later than scheduled. Clinton's supporters were, well, supportive, but Obama's were rabid. His every word they lapped up like strawberry milk. His oration was, as rumored, assured and persuasive, but his promises and his priorities remained -- as expected -- virtually identical to Clinton's. The one difference I detected was that, when I watched Clinton, I felt like I was observing an already-great lady in the middle of an historic presidential campaign, but when I watched Obama, I felt something different. I felt something in my head and heart click. I felt like I was watching a man already elected president. 

Yesterday Amanda and I mounted Obama's campaign sign in our kitchen window, which overlooks our small apartment complex's parking lot. "Change We Can Believe In."