Time Bandits Vs. 12 Monkeys

12 MonkeysI don’t know what to say. Should I attack or praise? On the one hand, Terry Gilliam created a really mediocre film in Time Bandits. (Just calm down: I’ll explain in a minute.) On the other, Terry Gilliam created one of my very favorite films in 12 Monkeys. And you know what the difference is? Madeleine Stowe. No. Just kidding, even though you can definitely throw Stowe on my ever increasing list of woman I have a crush on. No. The difference is the script.

There is much to like about Time Bandits. It has some wonderful comic bits. It has what I have come to think of as “Terry Gilliam art direction.” And the mostly optical special effects are surprisingly good. (Compare them to the original Star Wars effects and you’ll see the difference.) And I’ll admit, when I saw this film as a kid, I liked it. At least, that’s how I remember it.

But it’s a mess. It is nothing more than an excuse to do a bunch of scenes with different costumes. And despite its flashes of brilliance, it just isn’t engaging. Whenever you get involved with a part of the film, you are ripped to another time. In a very real sense, it is an episode of Monty Python without being truly funny. With a really pretentious third act.

Compare it to Gilliam’s later film, 12 Monkeys. This is a film that could easily have been just as disconnected and meaningless as Time Bandits. But it is grounded in as good a screenplay as I have ever seen by the incredibly talented David Peoples (along with his wife, Janet). In a sense, it was the perfect combination: the right script for Gilliam, who I otherwise find wanting.

Time Bandits starts and never really ends. It just meanders on and stops. I learned from an interview on the DVD that the ending with Sean Connery wasn’t even planned. Gilliam and co-writer Michael Palin just planned to leave the little boy parentless at the end of the film with no thought of where he might go from there.

12 Monkeys has one of the most satisfying endings of any movie I can think of. James Cole learns that the memory that has been haunting him since childhood is the witnessing of his own death. What’s more, even though the film moves through various times, we are never confused. There is dramatic momentum throughout, and the fact that we do not end where we think we are heading makes it all the better.

I don’t mean to rag on Time Bandits as much as gush about 12 Monkeys. I understand that Time Bandits is a children’s film. Just the same, Frankenweenie, ParaNorman, and the extremely great Babe: Pig in the City are all far better. I do not see what the big deal is about Time Bandits. I do not think it is even effective as pure entertainment. On the other hand, if you have not seen 12 Monkeys, you should. It is one of the very best big budget Hollywood films ever.

Update (18 February 2013 10:34 pm)

On my most recent viewing of Babe: Pig in the City, I was not as impressed. But it is still a fine film.

Debt Ceiling “Negotiations”

Debt Ceiling NegotiationsGreg Sargent at The Plum Line reports this morning that media are already covering the upcoming raise in the Debt Ceiling in Republican terms, Media Shouldn’t Get Rolled by GOP Debt Ceiling Spin.[1] He refers to Politico reporting on Mitch McConnell’s new demands, “Democrats now have the opportunity—and the responsibility—to join Republicans in a serious effort to reduce Washington’s out-of-control spending.” Two quick things to notice here. First: there is no “out of control spending”; this is the same old conservative canard that is illustrated by my second point. It is the Democrats’ responsibility because… Republicans don’t know what to cut; they just know the government is too damned big!

Sargent argues that we shouldn’t see the raising the Debt Ceiling as a negotiation. This is because a negotiation involves two or more parties deciding what they will give for what they will get in return. The common media framing for the Debt Ceiling is that the Democrats will give spending cuts for the Republicans raising the Debt Ceiling. But the Republicans already want to and will eventually raise the Debt Ceiling. Both Boehner and McConnell have admitted that not doing so would be terrible for America. So this is not a negotiation, unless you use the Obama definition where you give up something you want in return for the other side taking something they want.

Of course, the media has a very big interest in making the Debt Ceiling into a big negotiation: it is good for ratings. People will get worried. There will be lots of coverage. But cable channels could take a different approach. They could cover the process of raising the Debt Ceiling as a hostage negotiation. The Republicans hold a gun to the head of the United States economy. And McConnell shouts, “Gut Social Security, or America gets it!”

Because this is what is really happening.

[1] For the record: I really hate media outlets that don’t properly capitalize their headlines. I understand: it is up to them. But it is a pain. Also, I don’t like the use typeset quotation marks. This all means more work for me.

The Right to Dweezil Your Kid

Dweezil ZappaThe Associated Press is reporting with some relish that Iceland limits the names that people can have. If you have a baby, you are limited to 1,712 boy names and 1,853 girl names. So if you want to name your baby son “Snorri,” you can just forget it! Actually, I’m kidding: “Snorri” is on the list. The article claims, “In a country comfortable with a firm state role, most people don’t question the Personal Names Register.” I see this as a little bit snarky.

This is very American. In America, we are all free to name our children whatever we want! Yes, that’s good government policy: let the proles have some meaningless right; it will distract them from all the important rights they don’t have. In America, you can name your child anything but you can’t marry whoever you want. In Iceland, it is the opposite. Who is more free?

I am reminded of Anatole France who said, “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich and the poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” The Associated Press might put it differently: “The law, in its majestic equality, allows the cold, poor, and sick to name their children anything they want!”

Just count your blessings that you don’t live in a fascist country like Iceland. Long live Dweezil!

Boehner’s Mature Negotiating

John BoehnerThe Hill reported yesterday that Boehner is angry at that weasel President Obama. The article says that Boehner “spent weeks shuttling between the Capitol and the White House for meetings with the president in hope of striking a grand bargain on the deficit.” Horrors! He must be exhausted! All that shuttling… The solution: all negotiations will be held at a Starbucks equidistant from the White House and the Capitol.

I’m just kidding! Boehner isn’t being that reasonable. Instead, he is all butt-hurt that the president was mean to him. Boehner claims, “Those efforts [for a Grand Bargain] ended in failure, leaving Boehner feeling burned by Obama and, at times, isolated within his conference.” The solution: Boehner’s taking his toys and going home.

Now I’m not kidding! Boehner is not going to negotiate with the president anymore. He’s just going to pass his bills in the house and hope to put pressure on the Senate. Or something. The Hill says that this is going to be hard for Boehner because he is a weak speaker. Also: blah, blah, blah.

What is really going on is this: Boehner is talking tough to save face. If he went back and tried to negotiate with Obama about something else, people would be doing in public what they are largely doing in private: laughing at him. Everyone (other than perhaps president Obama) knows that the negotiations failed primarily because Boehner couldn’t provide the votes. In other words: he was like a union negotiator who represented no workers.

There is another side of this new stance by the speaker. He knows that the Debt Ceiling is coming up. And he knows that Obama has claimed he won’t negotiate. So Boehner is giving Obama the old “I’m rubber and you’re glue” business. “You won’t negotiate with me? Well how do like this: I’m not negotiating with you!”

It’s all so very mature!

Fiscal Cliff Deal Inequity

Over the cliff and onto catastropheYesterday, Matt Yglesias posted the very ugly graph below from the Tax Policy Center. What it shows is the increase in taxes at different income levels. The main point is that taxes have gone up on everyone because payroll taxes have gone back up to their regular levels. I’m fine with that. However, this certainly goes against all the reporting on this issue by major media, even though many of us have been talking about it.

What’s even more notable here is that the group that got the best deal were those poor people making between $200,000 and $500,000. You know: the people that all the wrangling was over. We couldn’t raise taxes on these “middle class” people. The only group who will see their taxes go up less than this group is people making between $10,000 and $20,000. Without this “compromise” that was so important to the Republicans, this tax increase might have been marginally progressive.

Of course, what this chart really shows is the gross inequity of payroll taxes: this is why this lucky group sees its taxes go up so little. They are being taxed on at most 50% of their income for the payroll tax. It seems to me that if Democrats feel they can only officially raise taxes on the wealthy, then perhaps in the coming years, we could raise the payroll tax cap up a few hundred thousand dollars. Until then, the United States will continue with its long running policies to make sure the rich get even richer.

After Tax Income Change from Fiscal Cliff Deal