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Month: February 2005

Blessed by suffering

It would be unkind to assume that the choice of water as a metaphor for magic in Constantine was made so as to enable multiple shots of Rachel Weisz preparing for a wet dress shirt contest. Unkind, but probably accurate. On the other hand, the cheesecake was balanced by the way the movie handled the sexual dynamic between her and Keanu. You win some and you lose some, which rather summarizes the entire experience.

The script was a lose: it took a little from Hellblazer and a little from Prophecy and whenever the screenwriter struck out on his own he fell flat on his face. The directing was a win — flashy and assured and with a good sense of visual style. I don’t know who to credit for the production design, but I note that David Lazan (the art director) and Naomi Shohan (production designer) worked together on Training Day and American Beauty, and Lazan in particular has a bunch more good-looking movies under his belt. You won’t find a better visualization of Hell anywhere.

I don’t have any complaints about any of the acting. Keanu goes deep and pulls up about as much affect as we can expect from him; I thought it worked very well for Constantine. The character is understated and unflappable by choice: Keanu is up to that, plus he puts a nice desperation in his eyes when necessary. Weisz is OK. The supporting characters are, for the most part, supportive — Shia LaBeouf wasn’t much to write home about, but his character (Chas) was brutally short-changed by the script, so it’s hard to blame him.

Tilda Swinton is superb, of course. Christopher Walken’s Gabriel could beat up her Gabriel in a fist-fight, but I wouldn’t want to bet against either of them in a battle of supercilious wit.

Man, though, the script. I mentioned poor Chas and how the script did him wrong. It was kind of as if the writer had heard of the subplot where the sidekick is eager but unready and wanted to put one of those in the movie, but wasn’t quite sure how to make the pacing work. Thus, Chas vanishes after a few minutes of showing no promise whatsoever, and doesn’t come back until the end of the movie. Plus his lines suck.

I had no objection to the Americanization of the movie. It’s not the comic book; while I’d like to see a movie of the comic book someday, this isn’t that movie. If it had sucked, I’d be more annoyed (which doesn’t entirely make sense, I know). Since it was a decent movie, I had no objection. Hey: sometimes inspiration is enough.

I did object to the random interjection of psychic powers into the movie. Possibly this is just me, but I think that it’s unwise to mess up the perfectly serviceable Catholic mythology with a whole bunch of ESP and clairvoyance and so on. What they’re trying to say is that some of the characters have the ability to see demons. Such powers arise from magick, often involving Thelemic sigils and the like. Insert a cursed bloodline or two and you’ve completely obviated the need for this talk of psychics.

There were a few nice tricks involving a flattened mise en scene. Once or twice, a conversation begins in one set and teleports without interruption to a set several miles across Los Angeles. It accentuated the general sense that Los Angeles — all of Earth, in fact — was just a backdrop as far as Heaven and Hell were concerned. One might also consider the journey of Jesse Ramirez’ scavenger from somewhere in Mexico to Los Angeles: he has no purpose other than to carry a certain item from there to here, his journey is told in snapshots, and he does not have a name.

I’m glad I saw it, because on the whole it was enjoyable and I’m glad it made enough money this weekend to make a sequel fairly likely. Possibly next time they’ll hire a real screenwriter as opposed to a fanboy.

Hunter S. Thompson: RIP

Truth be told (and that’s really kind of the point, isn’t it?), Hunter S. Thompson stopped writing well sometime in the 70s. It doesn’t matter. Even if you discount The Great Shark Hunt, which I personally wouldn’t, you’ve got a legacy the likes of which we don’t see often. Hell. It says enough about him to say that he was so dominant, so powerful, that (despite Tom Wolfe and George Plimpton) he birthed and killed gonzo. If you write like he wrote, you’re an imitator, and who thinks of gonzo journalism as anything else but writing in his style?

So there’s that. Still, I don’t feel deprived of great works yet to come. I read his last column, written for ESPN, just to be sentimental. It’s mostly crap. “The death of professional hockey in AMERICA is a nasty omen for people with heavy investments in NHL teams”? What the fuck is that supposed to be? “It’s a nasty omen when your business shuts down, did you know that?” Well, yes; we did. The line about the very excited message is good, though.

I’m depressed anyway. Of course I am. Like he didn’t influence me tremendously? So I wrote this and I put a black border around the page. Not terribly meaningful but what can you do?

Well. Let’s stop ripping him off, for a start. I think that’d be a good tribute: let’s stop using fuck as a prefix, and let’s stop with the strange and terrible (unless you’re really quoting Tolstoy, but no cheating, OK?), and let’s just find our own voices. I’m not looking forward to reading a bunch of puerile tributes written in faux-Thompson style. Which, I hasten to note, I’ve seen none of so far. But I’m a pessimist at heart.

“So much for Objective Journalism. Don’t bother to look for it here—not under any byline of mine; or anyone else I can think of. With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.”

If I finish up with half the integrity he had, I think I’ll have done a decent job of living.

Read the record

Final tally: around 58% of eligible Iraqi voters voted. My definition of success was 60%, so that’s a near miss. It’s close enough so that I don’t feel comfortable saying Bush missed that metric, but I wouldn’t say he succeeded either.

The ruling coalition needs 184 votes to reach a 2/3rds majority. The United Iraqi Alliance can reach that easily with the Kurdish parties, and fall just short if it teams up with Allawi’s Iraqi List. That means, in practice, that the UIA can form a weak ruling coalition with Allawi and a strong one with the Kurds. The price of doing business with the Kurds is a mostly independent Kurdish north, possibly including Kirkuk.

Turkey may or may not be willing to put up with that. Turkey also may or may not be able to practically do anything about it, but since the government of Turkey quite accurately sees an independent Kurdistan as a threat to the stability of Turkey, I wouldn’t rule out Turkish troops moving into Iraq. Somewhat alarmist, yes; still, it’s their country and they’ve had Kurdish rebels for decades. Under the imminent threat doctrine, Turkey has the right to take action.

That fact makes me suspect that the UIA is going to go for an all-Shiite coalition along with Allawi. Sistani isn’t dumb; he knows how Turkey would react. On the other hand, that risks pushing the Kurds into rebellion along with the Sunnis. And while the Sunnis have the advantage of access to Saddam’s old weaponry stockpiles, the Kurds have half of Iraq’s natural resources. Touchy situation.

Come on inside

OK, so Guckert got his press pass as a representative of GOPUSA. Apparently GOPUSA is not linked to the Republican Party and thus their reporters can get credentials. Fair enough; I’m inclined to think that we want fairly lax standards for who can get into the press room and ask questions. More people asking questions is good.

However, if The Raw Story and BuzzFlash and, hey, even Daily Kos aren’t currently applying for daily press passes under the excitingly loose guidelines for accreditation — well, I don’t know what they’re waiting for.

Various mutations

I’m currently in La Guardia Airport. In the ideal world, I’m in Boston, but that world was shattered sometime this afternoon. No biggie. Most of the annoyance I might otherwise feel is dispelled by the fact that the Fort Lauderdale airport has free wireless Internet. Cool beans for Fort Lauderdale, which has suddenly become my preferred transfer point for any air travel involving Florida but not involving Orlando. (Once in the past seventeen years, counting this trip, but still.)

I am also exceedingly happy to note that Mr. David Cronenberg has achieved funding for Painkillers, which is not his next movie or the movie after that, but rather the movie immediately following that one. The words “plastic surgery as performance art” make me quite cheerful. Remember “gynecological tools for mutant women”?

Oh, OK. A History of Violence (with Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello) is next, and London Fields is the one after that. While researching that, I discovered this interview with Maria Bello, which has my new favorite Cronenberg quote: “David Cronenberg was an incredible leader/father figure.” Right up there with “Cronenberg is to Toronto as John Hughes is to Chicago,” which I should really verify somehow someday. I remember getting it from a valid source but I’ll be damned if I can remember what it was.

Not just recommended

Hey! If you’re in Boston, I’m providing you with plenty of warning and I will brook no objections that do not involve the need to babysit. The Saturday after next, February 26th, Days of Being Wild is playing at the MFA. It’s at 4 PM. I cannot even begin to explain how great this movie is, although I took a crack at it once. When I listed the top twenty movies of all time? Most of them were hard to choose and maybe Last Life in the Universe could creep on there and so on. But the top three, those were easy, and Days of Being Wild was among them.

So it’s pretty strongly recommended. There are shows all week long if you can’t make Saturday at 4. It’s one of the best movies ever.

Mmm sun

For the record, this is the front door of my villa:

This is the view from the deck:

And this is the beach.

Follow the links for bigger pictures. Having a great time; wish you were here!

Touched with wings of fire

I say “Well, I think I’m going to see Constantine after all.” And you say, “What? That’s stupid. Keanu, and Los Angeles instead of London, and dude.” And I say, “Well.”

Then the New York Times says, “How difficult is it to play a mythic figure like Gabriel as opposed to, say, a soccer mom?” And Tilda Swinton says “They’re exactly the same, because no one you play is ‘real.’ Every character is a construct, even if you’re playing a suburban mother. You’re looking for a construct in the way you look and talk, and you have either the mythic information about Gabriel, or what we know about suburban mothers, and then you just try to make it real. It’s exactly the same. So, you start with what we know about Gabriel as God’s messenger.”

The picture looks something like this:

Tilda Swinton as Gabriel

It goes a long way to unconvince me from taking a pass.

(You could also read Kip on the matter, who says basically the same thing, which is not surprising since I stole it all from him anyhow.)