Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Movie - Batman Begins and the Dukes

First some perspective, courtesy of Mandy, upon the entrance of one of
the movie's key characters:

Her: Oh no, not him.
Me: What?
Her: Is that Jerry Springer?
Me: Uh... that's Rutger Hauer.

But ya know what? The similarities are striking. Long way from Blade
Runner, indeed.

So despite what you heard elsewhere, Batman Begins is a hell of an effort, if you keep in mind the limitations built into the movie. No, not any prequels-are-hard-to-do nonsense. No, the director,
Christopher Nolan (who did Decade Top 10-shoe-in "Momento"), was
saddled with Liam Neeson and Katie Holmes.
As far as Neeson, the likable Scot goes - well, to quote Sherry and
Terry, the Simpson's purple twins, "You ruin everything, you ruiner."
Between his franchise-sinking effort in Phantom Menace and this, Neesan
is arguably right there with Michael Bay as the worst thing in the
history of action movies. He can do no right. I keep thinking its the
script, because he unfailingly has horrific material to work with (and
his lines in this movie are hilariously bad), but he also is utterly
unbelievable as a tough guy. Or even an in-shape guy. He makes Pierce
Brosnan's anemic James Bond look like The Rock.
Neeson bookends this movie with wildly dull catfights and mindless
gibberish about 'confronting your fears by becoming your fears' and
it's best to ignore both episodes completely.
Everything in between is really good.
Well, except for Holmes, who is terrible, but you knew that going
in, right? Fortunately, Nolan spots the danger early and solves it
with an ingenious sidestep. He does this to her: A) she plays an
assistant DA with B) straight black hair and skin tight cashmere
numbers who c) spends every second onscreen striding purposefully down
hallways holding a legal briefcase or D) in edgy conflict with her
boss, the DA, a nameless actor who is E) cast, clothed and made-up to
look as much like Sam Waterston as possible.
In other words, the director clearly knew from the second he was told
he had Holmes what just about everyone else knows, too: in a fair
world, she MIGHT be a good enough actress to play the Angie Harmon-et
al role of the Law and Order pin-up girl.

(any question of how interchangable the hot-bimbo-DA role is on that show should be put to rest with that link - notice that the bio is for the NEW hot-bimbo-DA, while the previous-generation hot-bimbo hasn't even been stripped from the show's banner at the top of the page)

So, like renting a blow-up castle to let the kids bounce around in
at a grown-up party, what Nolan does, brilliantly, is build Holmes her
own little L&O episode - replete with the Waterston look alike to talk
down to her - to play in while he and the rest of the cast shoot a
Batman movie. By her fifth time on screen - demanding to see
evidence, earnestly arguing for an indictment, telling the cops to
watch their step - I was greeting her appearance with my own little

So Neeson is relegated to play against the credits and Katie is sent
out to find Lenny. That leaves the rest of the movie, which finishes
miles ahead of the previous contenders as the best Batman movie to

And it's mostly because of Christian Bale.

Being handed Batman was clearly a make-or-break opportunity for Bale
who, ever since American Psycho, I've had listed right there with Jason
Stetham (Turkish from Snatch) as a guy who needs to be handed a 5-movie
franchise. He crushes this one. He's smart, tough, mean and dark, and
roles through the movie like he was born to it. The entire point of
the movie is to put a story to Batman's dark impulses, and, once spun,
Bale wears the weight of that backstory as easily as he wears a tux. In
key moments, he doesn't preen or overreach. When the moment is funny,
he flows with it and lets the joke breathe - and then has the grace to
walk away. When the moment is dark or tense (which is pretty much all
the time), he lets loose a little bit of the fury he brought to Jason
Batemen in "Psycho" and attacks.
When not having to carry Holmes of Neeson on his back, he's a wonder.
Comparing him to the other Batmans....
He's relaxed and engaged as both Bruce Wayne and Batman, versus the
perpetually lost Michael Keaton.
He has no false swagger or smarm - which is pretty much the
definition of George Clooney in every movie.
And he's not an introverted geek like Val Kilmer.
OK, so lapping that field is no big deal. But Bale is better than
just 'better than those guys.' He's smart, grounded, stubborn and -
when the light goes on - a born man of action.
Been a while since I found myself thinking, "here's a guy who could
play Indiana Jones" but, well, here's a guy.

The toys of the movie are terrific especially the Batmobile, a
dead-even mix of M1A1 tank and Lamborghini Countach. Morgan Freeman
and Michael Caine, both heavyweights in flyweight roles, handle their
business with expert timing (it's still another reflection on Bale that
he never cedes the screen to these two high-end actors when they are
together). Unlike the other movies, the villian is kept very
deliberately in the background, so there's no vamping comic or
brand-name action star to steal screen time. The villan is Batman's
past (and, i guess Neeson and Holmes), no problem for Bale.

Terrific movie.

Also, saw the trailer for Dukes of Hazzard. unwatchable. Since you
know the best 3 jokes of the movie are in the trailer, this mght be the
least funny movie of the year. I saw three quick sequences that
sounded like jokes, but as far as actually laughing? Forget it.
And, Jessica Simpson, tits and ass predictably ablaze, is making a
major push for Worst Fake Southern Accent Ever.
Which would be quite an accomplishment, since she's from Texas.
Who has ever been more successful on less talent? She's like a
porno-barbie version of Tom Arnold.

Monday, June 27, 2005

something else the right is getting good at

pre-rant: read this week's New Yorker piece on Patrick Henry College.
They're Coming.

on with the rant -

example 1: two years ago, two NY Times reporters were handed by a
senior admin official the name of valerie plame, as a CIA operative, in
order to smear her husband, a former diplomat who was accurately
calling George Bush a liar about plutonium in Nigeria. maybe not a big
deal, either the leak (who cares?) or the plutonium (no one believed
him anyway) but revealing the information - the CIA part - was a crime,
not to mention a clear act of betrayal of national security (the
maginitude is not at issue).
if you squint, it almost looks like treason (it certainly DOESN'T
look like Supporting Our Troops). and somebody in the White House
committed it, on purpose, for patently, obvious and cynical, pro-Bush
a special prosecutor, reasonably (though surprisingly) was appointed
to find out who.
And the NY Times reporters, who were clearly used by the source for
partisan smearing, are nonetheless standing firm, not revealing who it
was. A promise, even one to a professional smear-artists, is still a
They are a High 9 eye-roll away from jail.
To sum up: A member of the white house staff places Bush-Cheney '04
ahead of national security, and two NY Times reporters may end up in
jail for it.

(tangentially, Robert Novak, who famously printed the same
leak/smear, is not on the hook for the pokey - and he won't say why.
And yet, he still draws a paycheck from a host of companies that trade
in 'news' - discuss)

example 2: The High 9 last week decided that the government can take
your house.
No, they didn't really. Well, yeah, they sorta did - but that's not
all they said. In fact, it's not even the main thing they said.
What they actually said was that it is not the role of the federal
government to dictate to states or localities what they may or may not
throw into their own local Eminent Domain grinder, as long as that
state or locality appears to have the 'public good' in mind. clearly,
a decision frought with dangers, and the case presented to the High 9
was a particularly offensive one: throwing ancient retired people out
of thier lifelong homes to make way for a mall. yuck. however, the
elected officials - and, therefore, ostensibly - the electorate of some
snobby NE hamlet thought it sounded good and the High 9 said little
more than, "my name's Paul and that's between Y'all."
So what do we, as students of American Info-tainment, know about
Eminent Domain and what happens when private interests hijack it? Any
takers? If not, allow me my favorite example: if there is a single
Eminent Domain case pertinent here - one where a government clearly got
in bed with rich boys and shit all over everybody else - it must be the
backstory to the Ballpark at Arlington, the stadium that now prints
money for the owners of the Texas Rangers where once nice houses of
nice families stood. As trampled-freedom stories go, its no more
horrible than many runaway stadium deals except for one postscript: it
launched George Bush to the Texas Governorship.
So, big picture, kind of an important case.
And its about as one-sided as ugly Eminent Doman cases get - rather
than try to buy expensive land, some rich boys bought themselves a
cheap local government, which promptly handed over to them all the land
they wanted, current owners be damned (Dubya was the grinning frontman)
(yes - they did it as an 'authority' - like that matters).
Just the kind of case you'd like to think a body like the High 9
would pounce on - and just the kind of case they opted to let slide
last week, in the name of state and local sovernienty.
Now, is ANYONE please with that decision? Who would we EXPECT to be
pleased? Any takers?
Well, if history and ideology matter a lick, you might expect that
those who back Dubya on matter of Federalism (less of it) or Greed
(more of it) or Dubya himself ("8 years of Jed, then P will be 40")
would welcome the decision.
Afterall, its got all the ingredients: Greed, Dubya's own personal
history and - best of all - limits on government power. Call it
State's Rights, for lack of a better term.
Because that's what this decision was: the High 9 deciding to NOT be
the one branch of government responsible for ruining somebody's greedy
fun - which is to say, they actively chose to NOT make an 'activist
judicial' decision.
This was clearly not the work of a Big Government Court.
Only, the voting among the Justices was inconvienant to Dubya's
current political needs.
See, roughly speaking, the Court's rightwingers voted against this
decision, the others for it.
In other words, the rightwingers voted FOR a Big Government/activist
decision, the others against.
Again, Rightwingers, pro-activism; leftwingers, strict construction.
And yet, in the right's ever-expanding Every-Day-Is-Opposite-Day
circles, the cry is growing rapidly that this was a 'vote to take your
property.' I know that, because I heard two nutjob right wing radio
hosts say just that on their shows this weekend - and then attack the
decision as 'just another example' of the court's 'liberals' being

So, to sum up: The court - supposedly stacked 5-4 with Dubya
enemies - felt compelled to vote in FAVOR of abusive eminent domain
(which Dubya not only favors but owes his career to) to AVOID being an
'activist' or 'Big Government' court - precisely the label Dubya has
and will continue to attack them with.

So What Did We Learn Today? Well, it's 2 instinces where Dubya is
greatly benefitting from. or being shielded by, the very people who
could - and perhaps should - do him harm. And he's able to do so only
because - ONLY because - these 'opponents' have some regard for thier
own professional conduct in fields where Dubya has demonstrrated that
he does not.
In short: His opponents are more honest, more moral and flat better
people than him - so he wins.