a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Department of followups

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 25th January 2007

An occasional review of further developments in stuff I’ve written about.

Babel, 12/4/06 — I really liked the movie, so I’m pleased the Academy Awards people nominated it for Best Picture, Best Director, and two Best Supporting Actresses including Rinko Kikuchi, who I misidentified as Yuko Marata though crediting her with a “really memorable performance.” It also got well deserved Oscar nominations for best original screenplay, film editing, and music score.

Appeal for Redress from the War in Iraq, 12/18/06 — The appeal reads: “As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq. Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home.” Last week that petition, signed by over a thousand military personnel, was delivered to Capitol Hill. From the LA Times account by Noam Levey:

When the campaign began three months ago, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow dismissed the first signatories as “65 people who are going to be able to get more press than the hundreds of thousands who have come back and said they’re proud of their service.” The 1,000 signatories still represent a tiny fraction of the military personnel who have served in and around Iraq since the 2003 invasion. But according to the group, those who have signed the appeal include about 100 officers. Approximately 70% of the signatories are active-duty military, while the rest are reservists or members of the National Guard, said Madden, who added that the group would not reveal the names of the signatories to protect them.

Employee Free Choice Act, 6/13/05 — This perennial progressive wish list item may have the best prospects in years. The measure allows for union locals to be formed once enough signatures are gathered — rather than via up or down votes notoriously susceptible to management pressure and bullying tactics. You can learn more about “card check” systems via American Rights at Work, and you can send your congressman a message you support this sensible measure via a AFL-CIO Working Families petition: “Some 58 million workers would join a union if they could. But, as Human Rights Watch has documented, employers routinely harass, coerce, intimidate and stall to block workers’ freedom to choose union representation. In fact, every 23 minutes a worker is fired or penalized for supporting a union.” The Senate bill is S. 842, and the House version is H.R. 1696; I’m happy to learn my congressman, Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-8), is a co-sponsor.

Security Council votes 12-0-3 for UN troops in Darfur, 8/31/06 — One of the three abstentions was China. Now that nation is signaling a slightly different stance — but still no real pressure. The New York Times is running the headline China’s Leader to Visit Sudan and Seek End to Darfur Conflict, with Howard French reporting that Chinese officials announced President Hu Jintao will visit Sudan in early February and “press for a diplomatic solution to the conflict in that country’s western Darfur region.” However, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said that, “while China intended to use its diplomatic influence to encourage a settlement of the Darfur crisis, it would not press Sudan publicly or threaten it with sanctions.”

Fair Share Health Care: canary in the ERISA coal mine, 12/15/06 — Last Thursday The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit upheld last year’s ruling overturning Maryland’s “Fair Share Health Care” law on the grounds that it conflicted with federal law, specifically the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The Baltimore Sun’s Matthew Dolan et al report:

…A divided three-judge panel ruled that the state’s Fair Share Health Care Act was incompatible with federal rules that promote uniform treatment of employees.

“In short, the Fair Share Act leaves employers no reasonable choices except to change how they structure their employee benefit plans,” Judge Paul V. Niemeyer wrote for the majority, adding that such a constricted choice also violates the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA.

One of the three judges disagreed; Judge M. Blane Michael held that the law was “‘a permissible response to the problem’ of escalating Medicaid costs.” While the article reports that most Maryland legislators don’t want to revisit the legislation, Senate Leader Mike Miller is an important exception:

“We’re going to try to work around what the [court’s] majority said and comply with the law,” Miller said. “But at the same time, we can’t allow 60 percent of Wal-Mart employees’ kids to go without health insurance and use the emergency rooms for care. There has got to be some relief for Maryland and the other states.

Emphasis added. And even though he counsels against appealing the verdict, I also agree with Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, a Charles County Democrat and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee: “First of all, Congress needs to loosen up the ERISA laws.” More on the 4th Circuit’s ruling another time, I hope. For now, I’ll just reprint dissenting Judge Michael’s final words:

Because a covered employer has the option to comply with the Act by paying an assessment — a means that is not connected to an ERISA plan — I would hold that the Act is not preempted.

Yes! Jiminy Christmas, that ought to be the ballgame — at least one judge gets it.

NOTES: Fair Share court ruling via Steve Fine (“fineline”)
EDIT, 1/25: Judge Michael’s final words and my comment added.

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Children of Men: Christmas in hell

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 8th January 2007

Children of Men” — directed by Alfonso Cuaron and based on a book by P.D. James — is that fine, fine thing, a British dystopia of the near future. Like “21 Days Later” and “Clockwork Orange,” (and “1984” for that matter) it features lots of deferred maintenance, shattered glass, and blighted cityscapes; unlike them, or at least not very like them, it cherishes a small, tiny, good thing at the heart of its story.

But dystopias are basically misanthropic — people are bad, that’s why things are bad, get used to it. They may not quite function as planned when you try to leave a little bit of hope wrapped inside.

I haven’t mastered reviewing movies — at least not this one, certainly — without giving away important bits, so be forewarned.

The chief premise of the story — based on a novel by P.D. James — is that by 2027 human fertility has dropped off the table so completely — and so inexplicably — that the youngest living human is 18 years old. A variety of prior catastrophes, chiefly a flu plague, are mentioned in passing which may or may not be supposed to account for the infertility plague; taken together, it’s plausible the psychological effects are devastating enough that there’s a market in tastefully packaged suicide kits (brand name: “Quietus”).

The other premise, also not entirely clearly explained, is that Great Britain is in the grip of a vicious anti-immigrant crackdown — one that results in Warsaw Ghetto-like internment camps around the country. I have to say it’s a problem for me that the reasons for this are not quite clear — although maybe they never are. Under these circumstances, there would seem to be a growing need for labor from wherever it might be found; the animosity may have to do with the hints of a global economic depression, and/or ongoing medical quarantine measures.

It’s to the credit of the movie’s production and its lead actor — Clive Owen — that these objections, such as they are, don’t weigh too heavily as the story proceeds. Thankfully, much of the background is conveyed indirectly, without narration or other omniscient characters: a Quietus ad on TV, newspaper clippings on a desk, prevalence of rickshaws in downtown London, a charred, smoldering heap of slaughtered cattle. And Owen is good as a guy who at the outset of the film is just putting one foot in front of the other any more; it turns out he lost his son in the flu pandemic.

Maybe because I’m a big, big sap, I welled up in the scene juxtaposing all of this. In the middle of the “Warsaw Ghetto” uprising of an internment camp, Owen and his wards — a young black woman and an everyday miracle made holy again, her newborn child — make their way out of a shattered building. Despite the battle raging outside, the inhabitants crowd to the hallway to reach out to touch and glimpse the child, hardened latter-day centurions in full battle gear stand transfixed as the latter-day Mary, Joseph, and their holy infant walk among them. It’s an unforgettable bit of storytelling, and it’s worth the price of admission and whatever sleight of hand the story engages in to get you there.

But the movie and the story don’t work as a coherent warning, at least not for me.  That may be because they too clearly long to make a statement about too many bad things: anti-immigrant fervor, ends justifying means, man the killer ape, and an environment badly enough off its hinges that it has apparently gone ahead and bit the hand that pollutes it.

All those bad things probably are all related, but it’s not clear enough to me why and how this movie’s authors think they are.  Maybe what we get instead is good enough: one crystalline, moving vision of a miracle.  But when that miracle is set in too vaguely defined a circle of hell, it’s hard to take the miracle or the hell as seriously as one knows one is supposed to.

EDIT, 9/1/10: final paragraph split and reworked.

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Posted by Thomas Nephew on 4th December 2006

And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.

Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.

So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.

Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

Genesis 11, King James version

I saw a singular and very affecting movie on Saturday: “Babel,” directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (“21 Grams”) and written by Iñárritu and fellow Mexican Guillermo Arreaga. It’s a hard movie to describe without telegraphing outcomes; the tag line “if you want to be understood, listen” is a good one, but doesn’t do it full justice.

“Babel” reminds me a lot of the 2000 Steven Soderbergh movie “Traffic,” about the interlocking fates of people affected by the drug trade and drug policy. In the case of “Babel,” the inanimate thing touching every family’s life in the story turns out to be a high-powered hunting rifle that comes into the possession of a Moroccan shepherd and his sons. Unlike “Traffic,” though, this .270 caliber thing serves as a catalyst and symbolic indicator of tragedy and emptiness — why was it there? why was its victim there? — rather than the ever-present, looming cause of temptation and despair that cocaine is in Soderbergh’s movie.

What remains the same is the sense that a global culture is failing everyone touched by it; what is different, on reflection, is that Iñárritu and Arreaga do, in the end, depict those failures falling unequally harder on the poor and relatively powerless. To this extent, it’s maybe even an answer to “Traffic”; the American husband and wife (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, in nicely done performances), for example, for all that they face a supreme test in Morocco, are also in some measure responsible for another one faced by their children and nanny a few days later on the U.S.-Mexican border, one that winds up having consequences at least as serious as their own.

The movie is driven by tragedy (a mother’s death, a child’s, a baby’s — two as backstory, one as wrenching climax), near-tragedy, and the threat of tragedy. But it redeems its draining — and I mean white-knuckle draining — moments with deeply moving grace notes: people transcending barriers of incomprehension by unforgettable, simple acts of humanity, mercy, and love. A hashish pipe is given like a blessing; a father squeezes his naked, deaf-mute daughter’s hand (played by Rinko Kikuchi in a really memorable performance); a marriage reconciles over a bedpan; a brother risks his life to surrender; a policeman hugs a desperately sad and lonely girl; two men share photos of their kids. And it also redeems those moments, in a way, with the “rage against the machine” and human folly it expresses without being strident about it. Internalized, institutionalized fear and exploitation; selfishness; the petty humiliations inflicted by authority: they grate all the more by contrast with their opposites. You can be like this, or you can be like that.

Aside from all this, it seems to me to be a visually exceptional movie; the director and his camera crews find beauty and recreate well-observed slices of life in the austere Moroccan desert, the neon Japanese cityscapes, the technicolor cities and countryside of Mexico. And the global electronic village, too: the serene beauty of a helicopter rescue flight is ended, jarringly, by the babble and crush of news teams signifying nothing.

You won’t find an easy truth to distill from “Babel”; it’s worth seeing because you’ll wonder what it was about and what it’s saying. After reading the Bible passage above, going back over the movie in my head, and at the risk of being trite, I’ll offer a different tagline: all you need is love. Maybe not a bad message to spend an evening on.

UPDATE, 12/13: David Denby (The New Yorker) is unimpressed: “My friend Herbert was rude to his mother last spring, and, some time later, Mt. St. Helens erupted. And three girls I met on the Central Park carrousel were kicked out of school for smoking, and the price of silver dropped by forty thousand rupiah in Indonesia. With these seemingly trivial events from my own life, I illustrate the dramatic principle by which the Mexican-born director Alejandro González Iñárritu makes his movies.” Cate Blanchett talking to Roger Ebert: “In every scene, there is somebody who doesn’t understand what somebody else is saying. That puts the audience in the position of knowing more than the characters, because we can read the subtitles and they can’t.” Almost every scene, but good point. Ebert describes the movie as a “powerful group of interconnected stories.”

EDIT, UPDATE, 1/24/07: Rinko Kikuchi, not Yuko Marata; she was rightly nominated for an Oscar, as was fellow supporting actress Adrriana Barraza (the nanny), director Inarritu, and the film itself .

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The Great Communication: Gore’s Inconvenient Truth and 2008

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 6th June 2006

As I’ve mentioned, I had a chance to see “An Inconvenient Truth” last weekend, and want to share a few thoughts about it.

First and foremost, it is a must-see movie; well done, persuasive, honest, and as many have mentioned, surprisingly watchable for being a slideshow, however whiz-bang that presentation may be. And that’s because it isn’t just a whiz-bang slideshow, but one designed to (paraphrasing Gore) “explode one barrier after the other in people’s minds” standing between them and taking global warming seriously enough to do something about it. Gore has researched, refined, rehearsed, and brought his facts and arguments to the public perhaps a thousand times, and the result is honed to razor sharpness.

But the slideshow is also spliced to a documentary about someone who is driven to show that slideshow over and over again. It’s that marriage of facts and someone who won’t quit working to teach those facts that is both persuasive and inspiring.

The struggle I’ve had in thinking about the movie is whether or not to view it in the context of Gore’s political past and future. In one sense, it’s a silly question. This is Gore’s political future, whether it leads him to a White House bid or not. There’s more than one way to have an impact on the national politics, and Gore has found a great way to maximize his own impact right now, regardless of what comes next.

The question is, what should come next? Would a return to politics distract from or sully the cause of educating the public about this issue? Maybe. But suppose Gore is right in predicting to David Corn, “Six months from now … you and I will agree that the period between the spring and the beginning of winter was a period when the country changed dramatically on global warming. Now, I have felt in times past that we were close to a tipping point, and I’ve been wrong. I don’t think I am wrong this time.”

Now, say he’s right — would that be enough? Might not settling for that be a premature declaration of victory — a “Mission Accomplished,” so to speak? It would be odd for Gore to work so hard to prepare the field of public opinion about global warming — and then leave the critical “harvest” of turning that opinion into concrete action to others.

So I think that, yes, this could be the opening salvo of Gore 2008 — and that there’s nothing wrong with that: the activist outlook of the movie itself demands it. And between Gore’s message, the efforts of others, and the steady accumulation of facts on the ground about global warming, there could be a voting public rightly ready and willing to entertain a “global warming” candidate.

“An Inconvenient Truth” could prove similar to the Douglas-Lincoln debates or Reagan’s nomination speech for Ford in 1976: a “Great Communication” planting the seeds for future victory in the ashes of defeat. If all goes well with the public opinion he wants to affect, Gore will have laid the foundation for a landmark, issues-driven presidential campaign that would be truly his own.*

* What’s more, it’s not as if Gore has nothing else worth saying; he’s been a steady opponent of the Iraq war, and made a memorable Martin Luther King Day speech about Bush administration lawlessness.

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An Inconvenient Truth

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 1st June 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

We’re in, tomorrow in Bethesda — thanks, Brett! More after I’ve seen it.

Here are some previous posts about global warming and climate change at this blog:

More valuably, here are some other good sites that are focused on the issue of climate change:

…it is an inspiring film, and is decidedly non-partisan in its outlook. […]

For the most part, I think Gore gets the science right, just as he did in Earth in the Balance. The small errors don’t detract from Gore’s main point, which is that we in the United States have the technological and institutional ability to have a significant impact on the future trajectory of climate change. […]

I’ll admit that I have been a bit of a skeptic about our ability to take any substantive action, especially here in the U.S. Gore’s aim is to change that viewpoint, and the colleagues I saw the movie with all seem to agree that he is successful.

In short this film is worth seeing.

Emphasis and knocks on wood added.

* This is about the RGGI, or Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Maryland joined in later.
UPDATE, 6/1: Good article about Gore and the movie, “Gore Warms Up,” by David Corn. See also Tom Toles’ cartoon, and Gore ex-roommate Bob Somerby‘s review and thoughts:

In parts of the film which we thought were too brief, we sit beside the Caney Fork River on the Gores’ Tennessee farm (You know? The farm that doesn’t exist? The farm which proved that Gore was “delusional?”) and Al Gore, speaking directly and quietly, tells us why he loves that river, the river he swam in as a child. For ourselves, we thought we finally understood something about Gore as we watched those fleeting passages: No one acquires that much erudition unless he deeply and massively cares. Al Gore cares about these topics–about the stewardship of that small river.


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Red Dawn, eh?

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 23rd March 2006

From the first post in Ben Domenech’s new “I’m a wingnut AND I’ve infiltrated the MSM” blog Red America, unaccountably hosted by the Washington Post:

…for the MSM, Dan Rather is just another TV anchor, France is just another country and Red Dawn is just another cheesy throwaway Sunday afternoon movie.

Red Dawn… Red Dawn… isn’t Red Dawn the one where an overseas superpower invades and occupies another country, and then faces endless resistance by locals armed with nothing but guns, bombs, and RPGs? Thought so.

And maybe I’m misunderstanding him, but I agree: France is a really great country, everyone should go visit sometime. Great food, great wine, great scenery, nice people, great health care — what more could you want? Dan Rather — now there’s another story. Sorry, Ben, gotta disagree — Rather may have had the stuff of greatness, but if he hadn’t muffed that Texas National Guard story we might be talking President Kerry now.

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Grizzly Man

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 18th June 2005

I saw a very interesting documentary tonight at the AFI Silverdocs Film Festival, Werner Herzog’s “Grizzly Man.” Werner Herzog (Aguirre, the Wrath of God; Fitzcarraldo) has in a way made another movie about a kindred spirit and adventurer.

“Grizzly Man” was one Timothy Treadwell, a self-taught film-maker, documentarian, and free spirit who turned himself from a Long Island schoolboy into a surfer dude into a wild man and naturalist of sorts. Treadwell devoted his life to camping in Alaskan grizzly bear territory and filming the bears; he would approach the grizzlies close enough to touch them. But after thirteen years of summer visits, he was finally killed by one (as was his girlfriend Amie Hugenard).

Treadwell initially makes a kind of shallow, self-absorbed impression in the film — and that impression resurfaces throughout the rest of the film as well. But eventually he grew on me, as Herzog’s humane script and narration turned what seemed like a slim topic into an encounter with an American original — far more interesting to Herzog than the bears Treadwell loved, in whose eyes Herzog saw only a “half bored desire for food.”

The bears’ native, loping grace and strength get their due in Treadwell’s often extraordinary footage — there’s a titanic fight between two males that was awesome to behold. But it’s Treadwell’s obsessions and self-delusions that both fascinate and repel. He styled himself as a “protector” of the bears, yet Treadwell’s encounters with the bears may well have done them more harm than good, as an Alaskan native pointed out: getting bears to trust humans is probably not really all that beneficial an experience for bears. He was often maudlin about the deaths of baby animals in an environment that should have eventually taught him not to be.

And yet there was also a serene self-confidence that you come to admire and even envy. Treadwell had found something he loved, and by God he was going to stick with it no matter what. And people no less interesting than he came to love him. When his ashes were scattered by those friends — a bush pilot, a girlfriend, an Alaskan “confidante” — on the beautiful land he had once inhabited, I was past skepticism, and admiring the life and world one man had made for himself.

There was a Q-and-A after the movie with Herzog himself, who made a good impression on me. Turns out he lives in L.A. these days; it seems he hopes to make more documentaries with the Discovery Channel (underwriters of the film festival and the movie), which would be great. Thanks to Brett Marston for the heads up about the movie, which we saw together with a friend of his, Margaret M.; I’ll be interested in any reactions he shares.

UPDATE, 6/19: Brett observes that Herzog was “interested in Treadwell precisely because he crossed the boundary” that sensible Alaskan native respect for the bear demanded. He concludes, “I’m not sure what to think of Treadwell, but the movie is brilliant.”

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Four movie questions

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 2nd June 2005

Hey, now I get to do one of these things, too — thanks, Stygius! It’s a kind of chain-mail-by-blog of four questions:

Total number of films I own: About (ahem) 80 or so. I was in one of those DVD clubs once, and couldn’t resist once in a while. Now I’m either tempted by the $10 bin at Borders, or, very occasionally, by one of the Criterion items I’ll see at Politics and Prose.

The last film I bought: The Big Chill.

The last film I watched: Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (movies; pleasantly surprised, two thumbs up), Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery (home, see earlier post)

Five favorite films I either watch frequently or that mean a lot to me (in no particular order): The Hunt for Red October, The Last of the Mohicans, The Bourne Identity, Mary Poppins, Chinatown (I share Stygius’ appreciation for this one).

These are mainly popcorn “watch a lot” movies, since in all honesty I tend to view movies for their escapist value, not their existential deep thoughts index. That said, I really think highly of all of them as extremely well executed movies. I’ve written about the Bourne series before. Hunt has a tremendous cast, and a number of sequences I think are very memorable — among them the initial shot of the Red October, Alec Baldwin’s helicopter heading out to a rendezvous at sea, an undersea cat-and-mouse game overlaid on Sean Connery’s captain delivering a fine epitaph to the submarine Cold War. If you believed, as I did (and still do), that we lived on or near a razor’s edge in the 1980s, to have this be a popcorn movie is a kind of sweet relief every time I watch it.

Mohicans is movie making the way J. F. Cooper may have meant his writing to be: epic, gorgeous, thrilling. The landscapes (many scenes were shot in the North Carolina Appalachians) are stupendous, I’m a sucker for that. There’s also a skirling, earworm of a melody that is used to good effect in the climactic scene, one of my favorite action sequences in any movie. I’m always a bit surprised this movie has fallen by the wayside. Chinatown aims for a different, noir target; I like that, its historicity (read Cadillac Desert sometime), and of course Nicholson’s work with a script he seemed born for.

It may mean something or other that the first three movies — make that the first four, actually — are also examples of movies that are distinctly better, in my opinion, than the books they’re based on. I don’t have a critic’s vocabulary (or eye, perhaps) but all of them have a “crispness” to them that I like as well. Obviously, one of these films is not like the others: the explanation is that we watched Mary Poppins a lot — I mean a whole lot — when Maddie was younger, and I appreciated how it pleasantly surprised me at first and remained enjoyable for all of us each time thereafter. The books, by contrast, reveal a surprisingly acidulous Poppins whom we never took to.

This is “cheating,” I suppose, but it’s my blog: five more movies that “mean a lot to me” are Traffic, Breaking the Waves, Cast Away, You Can Count On Me, and American Beauty.

Traffic and American Beauty are probably well known to most readers. Breaking the Waves may not be; it’s a kind of modern day Easter story that left me pretty shaken, but impressed. It’s also one of my personal examples of a phenomenon I think either Chad Orzel or Tim Burke has written about — experiencing extreme discomfort from watching a person behave reprehensibly.

Cast Away, for its part, didn’t seem to leave much of an impression even though it was briefly a big box office movie. It stuck with me, though, even (and in fact over time especially) the oft-panned “aftermath” part. You Can Count On Me is a nice “little” movie, but it resonated with me as well; sometimes I see myself in Terry (Mark Ruffalo). And don’t tell anyone, but I’ve got a bit of a crush on Laura Linney.

Since this is generally a news-related blog, I’ll highly recommend two other movies: The Battle of Algiers, and The Fog of War. Both will reward repeated viewings, I’m pretty sure.

As required under paragraph 29(c)5 of the movie meme rules, I hereby forward the questions to five more bloggers: Brett Marston, Paul (“digitalwarfighter”), Jens Scholz, Iris (“Interfaith Nunnery”), and eRobin (“fact-esque”). Others should please feel free to share your own lists in the comments!

Finally, it’s time for a contest — name someone appearing in two of the works listed above; I know of two people who fit the bill. The first and second people to answer correctly in the comments win a microbrewed draft beer (or other comparable beverage of their choice) when we’re both in the same town sometime.

UPDATE: Iris, Brett, Jens (in English, too), Paul, eRobin respond. Among the favorites: Notorious, Wings of Desire, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Fisher King, Star Wars (Original Trilogy).

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Better than Bond

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 9th August 2004

Drop what you’re doing, head over to the local Googleplex, buy yourself a bag of popcorn, and take in The Bourne Supremacy. I did this weekend, and enjoyed it immensely. Now I’m biased: the first Bourne movie, The Bourne Identity, is a favorite guilty pleasure of mine on DVD, to the point where I can quote lines — “I liked him better when he was dead,” or “Do you take care of this car?” for example. The latter one begins what I think is the best car chase, bar none, in movie history. Well, maybe bar one. Critics are hailing the Moscow chase in this Jason Bourne movie as the new gold standard, and it may simply be a matter of taste; this one is more of a shaking-off-tackles up-the-middle kind of run, compared to “Identity’s” Paris broken-field style classic.

The Bourne franchise was born to be in the movies. I once picked up the “Supremacy” in book form and found author Robert Ludlum’s writing almost unreadable; I couldn’t stick with it past page 15 or so (it appears to be completely different, but that may merely be a matter of location). What director Doug Liman did with the “Bourne Identity” was take a decent premise — a spy who finds himself out in the cold running his own show — and create a new spy thriller classic that rewrote the rules.

One new rule is that Jason’s struggle with his erstwhile keepers careens through foreign (so far) countrysides like a viral disease through a weak body: the chase is all, the hunt relentless. There’s an element of nearly a sneer about Europe: stolid, effective Matt Damon takes in whole city maps and subway schedules with a glance, uses demonstrations against something or other as cover, eludes German SWAT teams with ease (he does breathe a little harder when that chase is over). Meanwhile, the CIA blithely sets up something resembling Houston Mission Control in some Berlin office building, and monitors all of the city’s security cameras and apparently a couple or five dozen of its own without breaking much of a sweat either. And we are drawn in: we, too, are as gods bestriding a world.

But the main new rule is skill and audacity trump technology and organization — and skill and audacity want out. All Jason wants, it seems, is what I’ve got: a family, a grill (although I’d like a better one), a lawn to mow, a life to remember. Were it me being hunted by any of Jason’s foes, I’d have to give up halfway up a flight of stairs and say “just shoot me.” But because he rejects his past and his skills, I can forgive Jason for his supremacy, while I often can’t forgive Bond — James Bond — for his pride (–shallow pride) in his unearned, or at least not visibly earned, status and triumphs.

“Supremacy” sets the stage for an ongoing Bourne saga that may — thankfully — supplant the tired Bond franchise now creaking towards its 37th or whatever installment. The theme music is a kind of close cousin to that of “Identity,” the close-out theme is identical (a Moby song, it seems), suggesting that these will be part of the ongoing brand. The ending leaves the door ajar for Jason’s — and his would-be handlers’ — next move. And while it turns out that not everyone in Bourne’s CIA is cold-bloodedly villainous, most are, and not all of them have spun out yet. Finally, and least crucially, it appears there is a third Bourne book in Ludlum’s oeuvre. Look for “The Bourne Ultimatum” at a movie near you in a couple of years. I’ll be there; middle rows, near an aisle.

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Den of thieves

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 27th February 2004

  • Each 10 oz. mug comes in a matching gift box and makes a perfect gift to share your passion for Christ. Dishwasher safe. Microwavable.
  • leather/pewter
  • no scourges or whips currently in stock.

    (via Tyler Cowen)

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