Friday, February 01, 2008

Thoughts on Tonight's Debate

As I did last night for the GOP debate, I liveblogged tonight's Obama-Clinton face-off at the Kodak Theater for Mahalo. It seemed, to me anyway, that Clinton walked away with the victory tonight.

Not that Obama did poorly. In fact, he made some excellent points I had never heard him make before, which is more than you can say for any of the Republicans. (Ron Paul made some excellent points last night, but they're the same excellent points he interjects whenever moderators give him a moment to actually speak).

I think Obama's answer tonight on immigration is my favorite statement on the topic from anyone in this presidential race thus far. (He actually implied that moderator Wolf Blitzer was "scapegoating" illegal immigrants for problems that aren't their fault. Face!) I don't like his health care plan all that much, but I agree with him that forcing everyone to buy insurance, even if you make it less expensive, isn't the way to go. And unlike Clinton, who hedges on the war and still can't help but talk about the Middle East like a Republican, I believe he's sincere when he says he will get us out of Iraq quickly and avoid "mission creep."

But still...just about every single major argument you could make against nominating Clinton was made tonight at the Kodak, and she came off really really well anyway. People get so caught up in what people say about Hillary Clinton, they forget about the fact that she'd have to be extremely good at what she does to inspire such animosity in the first place. There's a reason she and Bill have long been considered "unbeatable" in a major election. Cause they're almost unbeatable.

To me, the Big Question for which she's never had a good answer is the Clinton Dynasty one. "Why should we elect the former First Lady of a decent but not-terribly-distinguished administration when what the country so desperately wants is to change course and try a new strategy?" If ever there were an awkward time to try a husband-and-wife Presidential pair, it's right after we gave this miserable father-and-son duo a try.

Her answer tonight was...not much to speak of, really. She wants to be judged on her merits, not because of her husband. It's a non-answer. But she still sold it, and I came away from the debate tonight thinking that this was pretty much a non-issue, something that won't stick in a general. Because even though I find her answer unsatisfying, she's probably right - I doubt most people will make the decision to vote for or against Hillary Clinton based on this question, and this is ultimately a symbolic point that lacks pragmatic implications. Should she win the nomination, voters in November will decide whether or not they care for the woman and her policies and select a president accordingly. She's already received the benefit of being a former First Lady - massive fame and notoriety. That's it's up to whether or not she can out-argue Obama (and later, maybe Romney or McCain. Or, and I hope I'm wrong about this, Bloomberg.)

Otherwise, Obama barely made a dent. HilRod ably managed to shift most of the blame for Iraq on to Bush and paint herself as the dutiful public servant misled by an untrustworthy, unpredictable superior. Going so far as to call Bush "obsessed" with Iraq was a clever move. This isn't about her voting for war all the time, which she does. It's really about Bush's personal insanity. She has Obama speaking her language about the war, not the other way around.

This isn't entirely Clinton's doing. The way Wolf Blitzer phrased the questions started with some of her pre-assumptions, including that the Glorious Surge of Saint Petraeus was a grand idea that's working extremely well. But still, it helps her. Clinton's savvy enough in her evasiveness, Obama can't really find any daylight between their positions (even though I sense there would be a HUGE difference in the approach of an Obama or Clinton Administration). So he's reduced to making arguments that are essentially silly. "I'll be able to say to a Republican that I opposed the war all along, whereas she can only say that she opposes it now."

So maybe they won't call you a flip-flopper. But the Republicans will just come up with some other stupid chant for the yokels. That's what they always do, and it's how they win. And it's not like there'd be any lack of cheap ammunition against the first serious black presidential candidate among the mouth-breathers. The drawling simpletons in Dumbfuckistan already delight in calling him Barack HUSSEIN Obama and spreading gossip about him being a drug-dealing pimp. So what if he has a slightly better zinger than Hillary on one debate question? Is that really the best case he can make for himself?

Frozen Grand Central Station

This "mission" from Improv Everywhere is truly brilliant. Over 200 people freeze in place for five minutes in the middle of Grand Central Station. The crowd actually applauds when they unfreeze and go about their business:

Thursday, January 31, 2008


Today's Mahalo Daily is an excellent rundown of last night's Republican debate. How many times could they possibly work the name of Saint Ronnie into a 90 minute broadcast? Let's watch:

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Live From Mahalo HQ, it's GOP Liveblogging!

Brian and I will be liveblogging tonight's GOP debate in Simi Valley from Mahalo HQ in Santa Monica. Please join us for what's sure to be an invigorating discussion about how we need to kill a lot more foreigners while praying in school.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

John McCain? Really?

I know the Repubs didn't exactly have a ton of inviting options this time around, but I have to say that I'm surprised to see John McCain their likely nominee. He won Florida tonight, which killed Rudy's chances and made it very difficult for Romney to bounce back. And Huckabee hasn't won a thing since the Iowa Caucus, which is itself only slightly more meaningful than winning the raffle at the Iowa State Fair.

I will say this for John McCain: he was the only one of the major Republican candidates who stood a chance (sorry Paulistas) that has consistently opposed torturing people. To my mind, understanding that it's wrong to kidnap people and subject them to torture is mandatory to be considered a sane human being, let alone be eligible for the presidency. So that means Romney, Giuliani, Huckabee, Tancredo, Hunter...they were all out of the running before any campaign could begin.

But how can anyone actually get excited of electing this dotty old warmonger? I mean, yes, he's a war hero, but honestly, being brave under fire and fiercely loyal to one's brothers-in-arms, commendable though these traits may be, has very little to do with being president. A president's actual job involves a lot of politicking and crisis management. Vision, leadership, steadfastness, savvy...all important qualities frequently invoked by politicians to make a case for their candidacy. Willing to take an unbelievable amount of shit for an unbelievably long amount of time for your country? Honorable...but I still don't think we should bomb Iran or overturn Roe v. Wade, thanks all the same.

I don't always agree with Barack Obama's positions (in fact, to be honest, I rarely agree whole-heartedly with Barack Obama's positions), but his essential argument for himself makes some sense to me. "I'm good with people, I represent a new generation of politicians who's not tied down by old rivalries and ways of doing things, and I'm ready to upend the way we think about running our federal government." What's McCain's argument? "I've always loved America, so make me President"? "Come on, you guys, it's my turn"? Or there's always Joe Scarborough's suggestion:

"Less jobs, more war"

Monday, January 28, 2008

I Say, I Say, Now See Here, Boy...

I liveblogged Bush's State of the Union speech, so I could provide a response to what he said...but he didn't really say anything. At least, he didn't say anything he hasn't said pretty much every day since 2003. Watching it was like being transported through time...Freedom is on the march! No Child Left Behind is a rousing success! Upper-class tax cuts are necessary to give our economy a boost! I can't imagine even someone as deranged as George W. believes that this warmed-over dross would still be inspiring in 2008, so maybe he was going for some sentimental value? Hoping we'd remember the good times, even though there haven't been any since he wrestled control of the ship of state and sent it careening into a rapidly-dissolving iceberg? Some new kind of nostalgia, perhaps? Shitstalgia?

Anyway, to my mind, the biggest political story of the young year isn't Bush's latest speech or even Teddy K's endorsement of Barack Obama. It's the sad loss of Fred Thompson from our Presidential race.

Naturally, I do not want Fred Thompson to be President. At all. In fact, except for Huckabee or Giuliani or Dick Cheney or George Bush getting elected again, that's pretty much the worst thing that could happen. But he had no chance of winning in a general and he's by far the most entertainingly ridiculous presidential candidate of our times. (And I'm including John Kerry, Michael Dukakis, Lyndon LaRouche, Ross Perot, Pat Paulsen and Alan Keyes here.)

Here's a clip of Fred begging an audience to applaud for him:

Here's Fred's really embarrassing "smackdown" of Michael Moore, essentially performing a ridiculous unfunny skit as an excuse to avoid having an actual debate about issues:

Now, Star Parker from the always-reliable is going to tell us why Fred had to drop out of the race...turns out, he's too liberal.

On the social agenda, the difference between Thompson and Mike Huckabee was palpable and significant. Huckabee understands that abortion, like the slavery issue years ago, is not a matter of constitutional nuance. It defines our core moral structure as a people and cannot be legal in a nation that exists "under God."

Wow...that is some vintage crazy...I'm intrigued how anti-abortion zealots can compare the legality of the procedure to both slavery and the Holocaust. Those things are both evil, but they're otherwise not very much alike. Can abortion be like both these institutions at once?

And what's with the "under God" thing? Star's aware that the Pledge of Allegiance is not actually part of the Constitution, yes? The Constitution uses the phrase "In the Year of Our Lord" but never once the word "God." Face. So, because we're not "a nation that exists under God," we don't have to listen to his opinion on reproductive rights. Thank God.

Having grown weary of making up some silly, factless analysis for why Fred Thompson had to drop out of the race, Star now relates blatant falsehoods about public opinion polls:

Polls show that public opinion on abortion is moving in the direction of Huckabee. Americans sense the need for moral leadership and it just wasn't there in Thompson's tepid social conservatism.

Except that, you know, it isn't. Here's USA Today:

The most basic truth is that three decades of debate have done virtually nothing to change public opinion on the central issue. Abortion is legal, and most Americans want to keep it so. Much as in 1975, only 18% of Americans would make abortion illegal in all circumstances, according to a Gallup Poll conducted in May. No matter how sincere and heartfelt the beliefs of abortion opponents, banning it or curtailing access still imposes one group's religious beliefs on other individuals.

Yeah, that link in that excerpt is to an actual Gallup poll that actually says the opposite of what Star just said. She doesn't link to any polls. The page does, however, link to a site where I can buy a hilarious conservative T-shirt, perhaps advocating my love of firearms or Ronald Reagan's dessicated corpse.

Then Star rants about how Thompson didn't want to cheat Americans out of Social Security benefits and health care enough, even comparing him to (gasp!) Barack Obama, whose agenda presumably consists of drinking the blood of every last wealthy white American while showering newly-arrived illegal immigrants with jewel-encrusted scepters.

And then there is the moral issue that free people in a free country should not have their income confiscated because politicians have concluded that they can't take care of themselves. Shouldn't you at least have a choice?

So, she starts by talking about how we're a nation "under God," and finishing by calling Universal Health Care immoral? It's just...really unthinkable to me that anyone could hold these two thoughts in their head at the same time. "I'm a good God-fearing Christian. FUCK THOSE POOR PEOPLE!" It's like being a married bachelor. I'm pretty sure Jesus was in favor of universal health care.

Not long ago, when the Republican Party was an exciting place to be (remember the "ownership society"?), transforming Social Security to an ownership system was one of the important pillars of reforms being put forward to address causes rather than symptoms of our nation's growing problems.

There were people actually EXCITED about that ownership society bullshit? Man, nerding out about senseless GOP rhetoric is more lame than being heavily into fanfic. I'd rather obsess about "Battlestar" slash than some random, half-decade-old Cato Institute crap.

If Republicans are to again capture the high ground in the battle for leadership of this country, it must be understood that the failure of the Thompson candidacy was as much substance as style.

As in, he has no substance? I think I might actually agree with this sentence...Amazing.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Movie I Watched This Week

Bunch of stuff I didn't get around to reviewing. Here's a quick round-up.


Stallone's update/farewell of his most beloved, legendary franchise, Rocky Balboa tried to pretend all the silly, cartoonish sequels never happened and return to the plain-spoken sincerity of the original film. I figured he'd probably do the same thing with his John Rambo character - return to the melancholy grit of First Blood and banish all that nonsense about traipsing around Afghanistan out of the canon.

But the new Rambo feels just as cartoonish as Rambo III ("Rambo Goes Mujahideen!"). And because, like Rambo the Third, it's also about Rambo intervening in a real life war, so it's just as inappropriate.

Did I say the film was inappropriate? Well, I'm going to say it a few more times. Because Stallone's set the film in the genuinely war-torn nation of Burma and demonstrates a Gibsonian tendency to linger on and fetishize abhorrent, disgusting images of brutal violence. I may have seen a few more movies that contain more close-up shots of individual acts of violence than Rambo (Ichi the Killer?), but I can't easily recall the last film that had this amount of violence against children or this many bodies exploding.

Rambo, who now operates a boat-and-snake-hunting service in Thailand, is hired by some naive but well-meaning missionaries, including Rita from "Dexter" (Julie Benz), to take them into Burma to help some oppressed villagers. He doesn't want to, but Rita from "Dexter" is persuasive. These scenes feature intensely cornball dialogue. Rocky Balboa, by virtue of being something of a likable simpleton, can sometimes deliver a line that would sound ridiculous coming out of the mouth of any other sane human. But Stallone kind of writes every character like he or she is Rocky; everything's folksy, sentimental, mawkish and utterly sincere.

Once we arrive in Burma, the movie is essentially a carnage promo reel. Think "Satan's Screen Saver." The Burmese army enters villages, rapes women and children, and generally just turns every living thing into CG-enhanced red goo, much of which is splattered directly into the camera. Then we get some scenes of Rambo laying waste to the bad guys, and then the film's over.

Stallone's obviously been watching his directors for his entire career, and he definitely knows his way around an action scene. (He's a bit klutzy with CGI, particularly when using it to show us grenades exploding peaceful villagers in close-up). The final showdown in the film can't help but remind older viewers of the heydey of '80s action, when almost every film concluded with a massive, explosion-heavy, machine gun-enhanced faceoff between the forces of good and evil. Many of these films were even set in Asian jungles! It's exciting and even "fun" on that level; it's hard not to root for Rambo when he's doing that snarly yell thing while pumping lead into 50+ dudes at once.

But I can't really put any kind of stamp of approval on such a simple-minded and inappropriate (there's that word again) appropriation of a real-life conflict. People are actually being murdered every day by a repressive regime in Burma. Is a massacre across the world really an ideal subject for a silly, simple-minded action movie? When Paul Verhoeven makes a movie in which a guy explodes thousands of people for fun, he at least has the taste to set it in space or Nazi Germany.


Teeth has exactly one joke. One. If you think the very notion of a woman with teeth in her vagina, that she can use to defend herself from rapists and perverts, is funny, you will love this movie. I probably would have fallen into this category for the vast majority of my teen years, particularly those teen years before I had actually seen or interacted with vaginas. (Which was, let's be honest, most of them).

Because I wasn't laughing hysterically at all the talk of pee-pees and hoo-hoos, Mitchell Lichtenstein's debut feature grew old pretty quick. Unsure if it's supposed to be a send-up of teen abstinence education, a gross-out comedy/horror midnight movie or a cerebral Cronenberg-style mindfuck, it is none of these things. It's really not much of a feature at all; more like a series of sequences in which Dawn (Jess Weixler) encounters a man, slowly begins to trust him, and eventually cuts off his penis with her vagina.

Audiences likely to be pleased at the sight of a severed penis on screen, naturally, will find a lot to like about Teeth. It may have the highest severed-penis-count of any American film ever made. I'm not saying you couldn't make a good movie which featured numerous loving close-ups on severed penises, but I am saying that you've got to give me something else aside from the mutilated gonads. The movie's just not funny enough to be a comedy, not clever enough to be a satire, not scary enough to be a horror movie, and doesn't bring any kind of original insight into the already-warmed-over subject of the vagina dentata. So it's reduced to, essentially, the level of schtick. "How will this guy's penis get cut off?"

It's a shame, because Jess Weixler gives a way better performance than the movie deserves. She was so good in the opening sequences, in which Dawn's firmly-held (huh huh) belief in abstinence is challenged by the arrival of a cute young Christian named Tobey (Hale Appleman), I wish Lichtenstein had just made this movie (sort of like Election but with virgins) instead of all the adolescent vag humor.

Otto Preminger Films

Went last night to the Egyptian to see a double-feature of Otto Preminger films: Bunny Lake is Missing and The 13th Letter. In between the two features, Foster Hirsch interviewed Bunny Lake is Missing star Carol Lynley in a showing of pompous asskissery worthy of James Lipton himself. Hirsch is an esteemed author and film professor, but honestly, this was among the most vacuous "Q&A" sessions I have ever attended. He's written an entire book on Preminger, yet his insights made me want to smack my forehead in the exaggerated style of a Tex Avery wolf, each and every time.

In one scene of Bunny Lake, a TV in a pub is playing a performance from psychedelic '60s favorites The Zombies, and Hirsch pointed out that "all the customers in the pub...look like zombies." Um, no they don't, they look like customers in a pub. This is the exact kind of thing I used to hate in film classes. Stupid, "pithy" little observations that don't provide any kind of real insight into the film or filmmaker and serve only to call attention to the observer's cleverness.

He also referred to the second film, the well-shot and acted but ultimately forgettable The 13th Letter, as a film noir even though it demonstrates not one of the genre's defining characteristics. A melodrama set in a small village mainly shot amidst bright afternoons starring a wholesome and stalwart doctor defending his good name from letters that besmirch his reputation? How is that film noir?

But enough about this guy.

Bunny Lake is Missing is brilliantly shot and amazing for about 90 minutes. According to Hirsch, Preminger hated the original ending of the novel on which it's based, and it took him 10 years to get the new ending right. (Hirsch never told us how the book ends, however. He must be some great professor.) Anyway, Preminger never did get that ending right.

Ann (Lynley) and her daughter Bunny have just arrived in London and moved into their new flat. Ann drops Bunny of at school in the morning, begins unpacking and running some errands, but when she goes to pick the child up, no one has seen her. Ann's brother (Keir Dullea) and a police inspector (Laurence Olivier) are called in, but strangely, there seems to be no record whatsoever of the child's existence at all. Is Ann insane? Did she invent Bunny? Or is someone trying to make it look that way?

It seems like a few movies have used this same kind of set-up, and none of them ever figures out how to make it work. Flightplan recently used the gimmick and its ending was an epic disaster. Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes is similar as well, and though it fares better than Flightplan, I still wouldn't rank it with The Master's better work.

Still, it's intriguing for the vast majority of Bunny Lake, as the mysteries begin to pile up and The Inspector begins to scrutinize the odd behavior of Ann and her brother.

Preminger has set the film in a London that's spectacularly creepy and unsettling. Everyone has an unctuous manner, a bad attitude. The men are smarmy and the woman are cold. Preminger used actual locations, not sets, and he and cinematographer Denys Coop delight in lighting and exploring peculiar cavernous as Ann continues her relentless search for Bunny. Two sequences in particular stand out: Ann's fleet escape from a dank, factory-like hospital and her search through a doll "hospital" for tangible proof of Bunny's corporeal existence.

So the movie's not Laura or Angel Face, but it's still incredibly solid. Terrific, even, until that ending, which somewhat resembles classic '60s thrillers like Psycho or Peeping Tom but just lands with a thud. Probably because it doesn't fit with the rest of the film. Or maybe because it makes no sense and is stupid.