Liberal Talks to Conservative

This is nice to see: a liberal talk show host—Sam Seder—talking to a conservative caller. A couple of things I noticed. First, Seder is much nicer to the caller than conservative hosts are to the few liberal callers who make it past their screeners. Second, I love this entitled caller. He makes a quarter million dollars a year, but the idea that he would be taxed is tyranny; tyranny I tell you! People like this never understand how lucky they are. Plus, the guy doesn’t sound that smart. Which is as typical of the rich as the poor. And that just proves the point.

Update (23 November 2012 11:34 am)

The caller claims that taxes going to the Iraq War are just paying for national security. This is typical of conservatives to see national security as solely a matter of wars. The truth is that income inequality is a major national security issue. If large parts of the society are not able to get by, they will revolt, which is a much more serious security threat than Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. The main thing is that the caller is just an asshole. His statement about how hard he’s worked is laughable. If you are making that kind of money, you probably spend your time behind a desk. Waiters and janitors work a whole lot harder for a fraction of the pay.

The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure

The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon AdventureHave you heard about The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure? It is a feature film produced for toddlers. But the reason people are talking about it is that after $20 million in production and $40 million in marketing, Oogieloves had the worst opening weekend in film history—making less than a half million dollars on over 2000 screens.

Grady Smith was on On the Media today. That’s how I learned about the film that opened at the end of August. He seems to be confused about the movie. On the one hand, as a writer for Entertainment Weekly, he’s only supposed to care about how much a film makes. On the other hand, a film with this kind of dismal performance has got to be “interesting.” We’re talking about Ed Wood territory here!

He even admits to this. In his second article about the film in Entertainment Weekly, he admitted that he hadn’t seen the film. “But I sort of want to. Somehow, the film earning that dubious distinction has unleashed an alarming obsession within me for all things Oogieloves in the last 24 hours.”

By the time he was interviewed by On the Media, he had seen the film:

It is so many levels higher on the demented scale than I could have imagined. There is this pillow that only speaks in his own pillow dialect, there are magical balloons, there is a vacuum cleaner named J. Edgar. It is so colorful and the songs are so weird and you are forced to say “Goofy Toofie, pick you your pants!” a myriad of times. I wasn’t ever expecting something that weird.

It is not clear whether he means this in a good or bad way. I suspect that he doesn’t even know. But this description made me think that I really wanted to see this film. It isn’t playing anywhere, but I did manage to find its trailer:

Typically, viewers of the trailer have overwhelmingly panning it. There are 10 likes and 98 dislikes. This doesn’t speak to the quality of the film or the trailer. Instead, it speaks to the fact that people know that this film is supposed to be bad. It’s the same with Ed Wood films.[1]

I would still like to see the film. What I see in the trailer is a very creative effort. I suspect that those toddlers who have been able to see it have enjoyed it. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it eventually did very well in the DVD market.

[1] I wrote about this in comments on The 3 (or 7) Houses of Parliament:

I don’t mean to be ragging on Ed Wood above. I think rather highly of him. His films were always interesting. Wood was the first reason (I’ve since developed more) that I hate Michael Medved. Certainly anyone can see that Plan 9 is a far better film than Robot Monster, which for all of its silliness is very hard to watch. Or “Manos”: The Hands of Fate.

Of course, my opinion is that anyone who can complete any film on a shoestring deserves respect. I see $100 million films all the time that show no more imagination or insight. Think: almost any Marvel movie.

The Magnificent Ambersons

The Magnificent AmbersonsThe last time I watched The Magnificent Ambersons was about 17 years ago. If you don’t know what to expect, it can be a very upsetting film. But when I watched it today, it was mostly a delight.

When I first watched it, the film was going along swimmingly. And then the last scene — The last shot! — slapped me in the face. There should have been a warning card, “This film finished by an entirely different crew with no budget.” It is a terrible thing.

On this viewing, I noticed much more that bothered me. Yet the experience was far better. The third act itself is somewhat jarring. Whereas the first two acts are tightly scripted and produced, the third is episodic. The grand thematic arc that guided the earlier parts of the film breaks down. It seems as though the rest of the film was edited so as to rush to the denouement.

But those first two acts are well worth the time. In fact, they are probably the best thing Welles ever did. What’s most striking — although we see this in most other Welles films — is the perfect combination of staging, choreography, and camera work to tell a complex story with ease.

One scene is especially thrilling. Eugene has come to see the dying Isabel. George says he can’t see her. He pushes past George on his way to the stairs. Just then Fanny comes down the stairs telling him that George isn’t just being a jerk, it would be a bad time. Eugene begins to think better of the visit. Then we see Uncle Jack upstairs tell him to come back later. This is all done in 40 seconds with a single shot.

One thing that is really interesting about The Magnificent Ambersons is how it shows what a varied set of tools that Welles used. I tend to think of him as an aggressive editor. But this isn’t really the case. I think he depended upon a lot more editing in his later films because of the way he had to make them. Here we have scenes that are highly cut and others with fluid camera work, and still others with a static shot. Whatever works.

Welles is also great at not boring the audience. For example, there is no deathbed scene. Instead, we get Fanny walking up to George and hugging him. “George!” she says. “She loved you. She loved you.” Nuff said? Absolutely.

The Magnificent Ambersons stands as the ultimate indictment of our culture where commerce always trumps art. Even worse, it speaks to our basest nature where group politics gleefully destroy creative work in the name of sticking it to “them.” Nonetheless, all the great artists who worked on this film cannot be denied. The Magnificent Ambersons is still a priceless gem — if badly damaged.

Conservative Desperation

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I feel old, but that isn’t always a bad thing. One of the benefits is that I have a long memory. And whether it is on the national level or the micro level, I know desperation when I see it.

Michelle Goldberg uncovers some startling goings on deep in Conservative World, With ‘Dreams From My Real Father,’ Have Obama Haters Hit Rock Bottom? It discusses a new documentary that has reportedly been sent to over a million voters in swing states, and may eventually be sent to 2 million more. The DVD, Dreams from My Real Father is a riff on Barack Obama’s memoir Dreams from My Father. But in the tradition of other conservative propaganda like The Real Anita Hill, this film pretends to provide you with the truth that the mainstream outlets won’t tell you.

In the case of Dreams from My Real Father, this truth includes the fact that Obama’s real father was journalist, poet, and political and labor movement activist Frank Marshall Davis. Apparently, because Davis was married to a white woman, he must have seduced all white women. Hence, Davis and Ann Dunham are the true parents of the 44th President of the United States. But there’s more.

Davis was known to be a avid photographer. Therefore, he took pornographic pictures of Dunham and sold them to girly magazines in the early 60s. I swear I’m not making this stuff up about them making this stuff up. This reminds me of this guy who hung around my college in the early years. He believed that Stephen King was a homicidal maniac who was used as a hit man by the CIA. This is kind of like Chuck Barris’ autobiography (!) Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, but a few years earlier. Coincidence? I think not!

In all seriousness, these claims are more nutty than offensive—and they are very offensive. But they are indicative of the current state of conservatism in America. Goldberg notes that this film is being “promoted by several Tea Party groups and by at least one high-level Republican.” What’s more, “Tea Party groups and conservative churches are screening it.” And perhaps most incredible, Dinesh D’Souza—a loon, but one who is taken very seriously by the mainstream—says in his book Obama’s America that his documentary 2016 is based on:

Ann’s sexual adventuring may seem a little surprising in view of the fact that she was a large woman who kept getting larger… Learning about Ann’s sexual adventures in Indonesia, I realized how wrong I had been to consider Barack Obama Sr. the playboy… Ann… was the real playgirl, and despite all her reservations about power, she was using her American background and economic and social power to purchase the romantic attention of third-world men. [Quote entirely from Michelle Goldberg’s article.]

This is what comes from calling centrists socialists. This is what comes from insisting that black presidents must be foreigners. This is what the conservative movement has reaped for what they have long sown.

But there is an upside to all this. It shows just how desperate and devoid of ideas the conservative movement is. For decades, I haven’t thought much of conservative thinking. But at least there was thinking going on. Now it is nothing but the dark id of fear and hatred.

According to Nate Silver, Romney now has a 16% chance of winning the election.

[From Karen Finney tweet to Hollywood Reporter article.]

Update (30 September 2012 1:42 pm)

I just realized. If Frank Marshall Davis is Obama’s father, then the President really is an American citizen. Yea!

Karateci Kiz as Art

Karateci KizYou’ve probably heard about Karateci Kiz (“Karate Girl”). Cyriaque Lamar at io9 claimed, this is the worst death scene ever committed to film. This claim is as silly as said death scene. But the internet loves this kind of thing; everything is the worst or best. But okay. It is certainly quite an interesting bit of film making.

Geek Tyrant notes that the video that has been making the rounds on the internet has been altered. During the death scene, a male scream is heard throughout. It takes what is already a silly scene and makes it ridiculous.

The story is that a bunch of bad guys killed the husband of our hero (Karate Girl), and she is going to take revenge. So it’s part of the great tradition of revenge theater—things like Titus Andronicus and The Duchess of Malfi. But while these plays are unbelievable in their details, Karateci Kiz is just unbelievable:

The death scene here is not bad. In fact, I would argue that it is brilliant. No compromise is made to continuity. I can’t imagine that this is an accident. What’s more, the bloody hand-prints on the wall is great.

I would think that people would understand the film makers’ intent. But I’ve seen this before. International Secret Police: Key of Keys—the film that Woody Allen’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily? is based on—is a comedy. Secret Agent Super Dragon is a comedy.[1] I don’t know if Karateci Kiz is a comedy, but it is something other than a typical action film. And from what I’ve seen, it is better than the mega-hit The Expendables 2 (AKA “The Old Action Heroes’ Retirement Fund”).


I’m sure to get ridiculed by Andrea about this, but doesn’t the guy who dies look a lot like Rowan Atkinson?

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[1] Secret Agent Super Dragon was notably spoofed by MST3K. Here is my favorite scene. “It ain’t supposed to be commercial, man; it’s jazz!”

A Double Mystery

Laura HelmuthFirst, there was the strange case of the Romney-Ryan direct mail campaign, Doing more to fight the spread of Lyme Disease. The pamphlet claims that Lyme Disease is a, “Massive epidemic threatening Virginia.” Massive? I don’t know. I guess that it sucks if you get it, but only about 900 people get it in the state each year. That’s 0.01% of the population. Count me as one who will never visit Virginia because of the enormous chance of getting Lyme Disease!

My working theory is that the Romney campaign really isn’t that bad. They must be a bunch of smart people. But campaigning is hard. This direct mail campaign has me a bit confused, however. Perhaps Lyme Disease is a great concern to people in Virginia. Maybe it is an especially compelling pro-Romney argument for women. But I don’t think so. It sounds too much like an act of desperation. “Did you know that a thousand people are hit by lightning every year? That’s why Mitt Romney is dedicated to putting a lightning rod on every house. Paul Ryan will install it himself!”

As much of a mystery as this campaign pamphlet is, I’m even more confused about Laura Helmuth’s article in Slate, Why Is Romney Campaigning on Medical Quackery? It would be one thing if the article were one thing. But it isn’t. It’s flying off in a couple of directions. It starts off sounding very serious with information that indicates that depression is often misdiagnosed as Lyme Disease. Strange, but I have no doubt that it is true. But then she starts ranting—taking a few jabs at Romney. Finally:

The task force’s report makes some reasonable suggestions. People should be warned about the dangers of ticks. They should shower and do a tick-check after walking in tick habitat. We should shoot more deer.

Okay, after reading it several times, I guess that’s a good idea: kill some deer, because God knows, that is what you should do to stop Lyme Disease, which is really no big deal, because what you really have is depression.

By the end of the article, I’m not sure what the hell she’s trying to say, nor have I figured out the tone. And she writes, “I don’t mean to make fun of people who are suffering from what they think is chronic Lyme disease.” So I go back. Was she, “making fun”? Not that I can tell. But she ties it all together with a light and inspiring story about a girlfriend whose depression was misdiagnosed as Lyme Disease. And killed herself. And that’s why Mitt Romney should not be making a big deal out of bad treatments for Lyme Disease especially when it is really depression that we should be worried about.

Don’t get me wrong, I agree. Lyme Disease almost never kills and depression kills commonly. But Laura Helmuth’s column makes me wonder why I’m not writing for Slate. After all, I can write weird articles that are vaguely about various things but don’t exactly connect. Also: my official crush has moved from Karen Finney to Laura Helmuth (even though she is probably too young for me).

So there you are: a double mystery for the 2012 campaign. I’m thinking it would make a great movie, “Mitt Romney, Deer Ticks, and the Sassy Reporter.” Hollywood, here I come!