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Month: January 2005

They want you dead

The biggest reason I value David Neiwert’s reporting is the simple, matter-of-fact way he reminds us that yes — the rhetoric of the right is extreme and unacceptable. His latest post on the subject is a great example. It’s so obvious: “I say start executing the leftists in our country, soon.” That’s flat out ugly and it’s not an exceptional case.

Two colors of Play-doh

The hot rumor is that Six Apart is about to buy Live Journal. That strikes me as a fairly bad idea for a number of reasons, mostly technological — if you’re not going to get economies of scale from merging code bases, then you’re setting up Six Apart as a conglomerate, and frankly Six Apart just isn’t big enough to support two completely divergent code bases and/or development teams. But if you do intend to merge the code bases, wow, that’s a can of worms which (IMHO) would bring new feature development to a halt for six months to a year, minimum, on both sides of the fence.

Now would not be a good time to slow down new feature development, what with MSN getting into the blogging mix, WordPress picking up steam, and so on.

There are also cultural/marketing issues, in that Live Journal is a community rather than a service or a product. That can be overcome with good PR and communications. Assuming Six Apart learned from the uproar surrounding their pricing announcements earlier this year, they’ll be OK in that regard.

Ooops slipped

I liked Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events more than I thought I would, for several reasons. First, Jim Carrey played a role which a) allowed him to stretch out and use his immense gift for physical comedy in a way which served the movie, rather than detracting from it. By my count he hasn’t been able to do that since 1997, in Liar Liar, which is a borderline success; really the only time before this that we’ve seen a perfect match of gift and role is The Mask. But in Unfortunate Events, Carrey’s playing an actor and it’s a surrealist world anyhow, which means that his mugging is in perfect tune with what you’d want him to be doing.

Second, the kids are charming.

Third, it is a quirky kid movie without Danny Elfman music. I like Danny Elfman but it is time we branched out in our choices for soundtracks for quirky kid movies. Thomas Newman, the composer, has a nice career that is not restricted to the quirk and I loved his score for this one.

Fourth, Luis Guzman cameos. So does Dustin Hoffman.

Fifth, there are aspects of genuine tragedy to the movie which are not quickly papered over. People die. It’s grim!

I think that about covers it.

Not drowning

Ocean’s 12 isn’t really a heist movie, unlike Ocean’s 11. Rather, like the original Rat Pack film, it’s an excuse for a bunch of highly charismatic stars to pal around and crack wise. But hey, they do it really well, so I’ve got no problem with that. Bonus points for the beautiful scenery, Vincent Cassel’s virtuoso martial arts dance, Robbie Coltrane’s gangster, and Catherine Zeta Jones.

Then while that’s going on, Soderbergh is making one of his indie films. Ocean’s 12 has all his trademarks: the over-exposed cinematography, jerky time sequences, offbeat camera angles, and so on. He caps it all off with an extended homage to Full Frontal that almost justifies Julia Roberts’ presence in the movie. I got the distinct impression that Soderbergh decided to sneak in his subversive frame-breaking cinematic ideology under the cover of a frothy star vehicle. (See also Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.) Kinda cool.

For the record

I am firmly dedicated to seeing as many 2004 movies as possible before I crank out a best of list, which means that I won’t be doing mine until mid-January. Maybe late January, since the Brattle has that Zhang Ziyi flick I wanna see. However: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Closer, Life Aquatic, Kinsey, The Incredibles, Gozu, Last Life in the Universe, Zatoichi, Eternal Sunshine, Spider-Man 2, aw crap that’s ten already? This is gonna be tough.


Via Patrick: the Pentagon has asked the White House to figure out a way to keep detainees in custody indefinitely without a trial. Note the chain of requests carefully — if the article’s accurate, the Pentagon instigated this. I see three possibilities, only one of which has any silver lining.

It could be exactly what it looks like: the Pentagon chipping away at civil liberties. It could be the White House asking the Pentagon to ask them for ideas, so that the White House can claim it was the Pentagon’s idea and they’re horrified — plausible deniability. Or, and I’m not saying this is what’s going on but I think it’s possible, the Pentagon could be sick and tired of holding these guys without trial and they could have done this as a way of forcing the White House’s hand.

“Hey! Hey, Mr. President! What do you want us to do with these prisoners you’re holding illegally? HEY, OVER HERE!”

The bit where the Pentagon was going to ask Congress for $25 million to build a prison kind of tips me in that direction, since I have trouble believing that the career guys in the Pentagon would ever think that would go through. Then again, it might have been a Rumsfeld special.

The leak is effectively spotlighting the situation, whether or not that was the intention. Senator Lugar has called it a “bad idea,” and you can expect more of that this week.


Cate Blanchett as Katherine Hepburn: great, unrelentingly great, ought to be an easy choice for Best Supporting Actress. Great directing, unsurprisingly. The rest of The Aviator: merely pretty good.

The thing is, Leonardo DiCaprio wasn’t up to the role. I still think he’s a decent actor, but he doesn’t have the gravitas necessary to play this part and — like Tom Cruise and his smile — he’s allowed one physical tic to overtake and overshadow his acting. By the end of The Aviator, I badly wanted Scorsese to sneak into DiCaprio’s trailer and inject him with Botox. Anything to get rid of that little crease between his eyes; anything to keep him from substituting a furrowed brow for action. Whether he was portraying concentration, unhappiness, madness, anger, concern, confusion.. it’s all the squint and frown. This was particularly painful when contrasted with Cate Blanchett’s ability to convey a novel by blinking just so.

I’m being a little unfair, because DiCaprio brought great energy to the young Hughes. The movie opens with the three year Hell’s Angels shoot and there’s nothing lacking in DiCaprio’s portrayal of Hughes’ boundless optimism and his love of cinema. Still and all, he’s not the guy to show us a descent into madness. Matt Damon, say, could have been pitch perfect in this part, and he’s just the first actor who comes to mind.

That early section of the movie, and the romance with Katherine Hepburn which follows, is clearly where Scorsese’s passion lies; it’s the story of early Hollywood from black and whites through two-strip Technicolor into the epic. And man, does Scorsese ever indulge himself, blending the looks of the various film processes seamlessly into his own movie. Perhaps my favorite sequence, technically speaking, is the Hell’s Angels opening night sequence: we go from early newsreel footage into black and white into full color as the scope pulls in from an overview of the street scene to Hughes and Hepburn. It’s just a virtuoso piece of directing and camerawork, and there’s plenty of it in the rest of the movie as well.

For better or worse, though, the movie segues into the equally relevant story of Hughes’s aviation endeavors. You can’t tell the whole Howard Hughes story without talking about TWA and the Spruce Goose and yeah, the insanity. Scorsese just doesn’t make it as compelling as the Hollywood story. Also, this is where DiCaprio’s lightness gets in the way; he can’t show us the bridge between the playboy pilot and the madman. There’s not enough context for Hughes as a whole, and when Ava Gardner lifts Hughes out of depression so that he can battle Senator Brewster in Washington, there are no clues as to how she (or he) manages it.

The problem is that Hughes’ life is too big. The Aviator doesn’t reach much beyond 1950, and even so it’s stuffed too full. Katherine Hepburn gets a lot of time; Ava Gardner gets very little. Howard Hawks doesn’t appear at all. Perhaps if Scorsese had picked either Hollywood or aviation — but then you don’t get the complete picture of the complex man. It’s a conundrum; maybe in the end The Aviator made the best possible choices. It’s definitely an ambitiously skilled movie, and it’s nothing short of a spectacle, albeit one with flaws.

Open your eyes

Beyond the cut, the curious will discover a map for the interactive fiction game The Awakening. The map contains spoilers for the puzzles, but not for the story.

I found the game to be a moderately effective (if short) piece of horror. There’s essentially one big reveal, and during the course of the game you get closer and closer to it. The scale of the horror remains constant. You’re not constantly discovering that things are worse than you’d imagined; rather, you’re discovering the ways in which they are bad. Which is OK, but it’s no Anchorhead.

While it’s based on a Lovecraft story, it’s not really all that Lovecraftian. But it is creepy.