Friday, February 29, 2008

I'm sitting in Psychobabble Coffee Shop in Los Feliz. It's a pretty popular little joint, lots of space for the writers and students who populate it's tables. That's something that I find particularly admirable about Los Angeles. Being a writer s not a questionable profession. As evidenced by the WGA strike, it's a economically impactful position, not just for people who can't bring themselves to do something else. As such, it carries at least an aknowledged level of respect. You can be a writer in Los Angeles and people don't automatically roll their eyes and say, "What else?"

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I actually left this whole post until today, not intentionally but when I eventually made it home I found myself more distracted by beer, steak and Jack Daniels on ice with a couple dashes of bitters. Distracting stuff, that.

This morning I woke up fairly early and got to work. Last October I went down to San Diego to visit my dad and a good friend. During the visit the handle to open my tailgate was broken. I haven't really needed it very often of late but recently I've been needing to drop the tail a bit more so this morning I took my little tool set and I got about disassembling the backside of the gate so I could see what I'd need to fix it.

There's something mildly romantic to the act of fixing your own truck on a cold, misty morning. I remember my dad doing the same so many times. Still, there's a less cheery side to the whole deal: the only reason I'm fixing my own vehicle is because I can't afford to pay someone else to do it. It was the same with Dad.

But I like it. And this is one of the easier jobs you can do, I'm happy not to be laying underneath anything this time.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ah yes, this.

Today for lunch I went to the pub. I had two Bass and a pulled pork po' boy sandwich, which was basically the best thing I could have possibly tasted today. I'm actually quite tempted to head out to the store and pick up a few more beers for home, and still might though I really don't need them. I ate pizza for dinner. I can feel my love handles revving up like sprinters after popping that infamous air bubble into the artery.

Actually, all I want to do right now is watch Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles but Direct TV keeps fucking out on us.

Like a good political junkie, I watched the debates between Clinton and Obama in Ohio yesterday. I thought Clinton did well early on, she was especially strong during the portion on health care which is her baby and therefor undoubtedly her strongest subject. Obama on the other hand didn't do much damage but he gave no ground. What was best done on Obama's part was his ability to deflect criticism and attacks in an almost Aikido like manner diffusing their force and redirecting it every so pleasantly back at their originator. Unless something particulary suprising or nefarious happens, I think this campaign is pretty much over for Clinton. The question will be how much longer she refuses to accept it, and that will likely be right up until the DNC. McCain will be using all of this time to land as many punches on Obama as he can while his defenses are concentrated on his party-rival. The O is a resilient guy but he'll be taking it from both ends for a couple weeks and that's bound to leave him bruised come the general election.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Television: The Company

The Company
Executive Producers - Ridley and Tony Scott
Writer - Ken Nolan
Director - Mikael Salomon


On Sunday night, AMC wrapped up the third and final part of its CIA miniseries, The Company. It was a “television event” executive produced by the Scott brothers (Ridley and Tony) and headed up by heavy hitter thespians, Alfred Molina, Michael Keaton and a guy who’s been under the radar for a while, Chris O’Donnell. Also starring, and they are truly stars in this piece are Allessandro Nivola, who you will recognize but may have trouble placing, Rory Chochrane, who you will recognize but may have trouble placing because last time you probably saw him he was rotoscoped in “A Scanner Darkly” and Tom Hollander, a Brit whom you will definitely recognize if you’ve been paying attention to any pirate themed blockbusters in the last while. I normally would not take so much time just to tell you who is in the six hour miniseries but all five of these actors, along with the rest of the huge cast are the ones that make sitting down to watch worth it.

The story is that of three friends (O’Connell, Nivola and Chochrane) and their role as it related what many probably think of as its most interesting but are probably only the most declassified years of the CIA: The Cold War. Starting in post WWII Germany and spanning all the way to 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Company has a stunning amount of ground to cover but cover it, it does.

It centers around Chris O’Donnell as Jack McCauliffe, an idealist who suffers greatly at the hands of either his idealism or the cold bureaucratic indifference of the espionage game. The fact that Salomon, the Scott Brothers and writer Ken Nolan never tell us which is to blame, the CIA itself or Jack’s refusal to leave it is part of what makes The Company such a good watch. Even when the whole thing is over the smoke never clears. It is not moral ambiguity that is currency here but the question of what morality really is.

The rest of the cast take on the roles of real characters or characters that are based on real people (even Nivola and Chochrane’s having basis in history). Michael Keaton takes on the role of James Jesus Angleton, one of the most renowned master spies of all time, who even after being destroyed body and soul by his own many delicate webs of intrigue remains a very well respected figure, having pretty much written the manual for counter-intelligence. Keaton brings the man to life in an intensely chilling and nuanced way, always taking his time to speak, always carrying something up his sleeve and never too proud to let you know it though what it was he would never tell. Angleton, while respected, was not well liked in his later years and from Keaton’s portrayal, it’s easy to see why.

On a visual level the series takes you from one incredible set to another. From tensions in Berlin to Russian tanks rolling through Hungary to the disaster of the Bay of Pigs, the audience is kept in the action, drawn along to see both the puppet masters and the consequences of their games, all the while keeping it humanized by bringing you back to the three friends and the lives they affect and effect. There is a little of both.

After summers full of Bourne or Bond or winters with ‘real spy’ doses like The Good Shepherd (incidentally, a movie entirely about Keaton's character going by a different name), The Company finds a good compromise between the very slow waiting game that is clearly hardest part of espionage and the brutal violence and war-torn countries that come as the result of a few men’s scheming. A few men on both sides, trying to do what they believe is correct.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

"Kidulthood" - A Review

Film - Kidulthood
Director - Menhaj Huda
Writer - Noel Clarke

I do not enjoy "Youth Reality" movies.

Before I cite it as a contributer to my anger, allow me to give KIDS a reluctant pass on the following rant. As much as I dislike the message (The kids are fucked.), it has genuine merit as a film.

Now: The Rant.

I just watched "Kidulthood", a British film about kids and the darker side of life. It's well shot and... Well, it's well shot. Sadly, it is also edited to an inconsistent pace, directed to a shaky visual mix of KIDS and Requiem for a Dream and sprinkled with a few flashback montages reminiscent of 80's action movies. It also has slow motion bad-guy-stands-up shot near the end that’s just too Die Hard to not mention. This is to say nothing of the script which is... aheh, well the script is so junked on clich├ęs you'd think it mainlined them. I found it a struggle to watch the whole thing.

But there's a deeper reason.

Kidulthood falls into the same category as Larry Clark's KIDS, joining it in a genre that in the same breath managed to glamorize and demonize the hard inner city life as a youth. But Kidulthood lacks the focus of KIDS, taking on the philosophy of 'High School is a war zone' but accelerating it to a ridiculous level; showing every child around trying to just get through with their head down or narcotize themselves through their adolescence like the Viet Cong had sprung an ambush and killed their third best friend this month.

I'm not calling hyperbole on the situation the movie addresses, just on the movie. I am aware that in some places going to school is the most dangerous part of a young person's day; old enough to be exposed to dangers but still too young to mount a strong defense. Sadly Kidulthood, so full of stereotypical parental disengagement that every generation seems to think is a new epidemic serves not to act as a wake up call to the world, as movies like Boyz In The Hood did for black on black youth violence but is simply a dour, nihilistic gloom-fest promoted as the dark, hard reality that everybody has blinded themselves to. All the kids have AIDS, they peddle firearms as favors and terrify their teachers with a look so hard it could freeze water. The world is their playground, as painted by Hieronymus Bosch.

But concepts of solution? Redemption? Improvement in their lives? The good things that every kid wants even if they've convinced themselves they'll never have? Nada. At the end of this movie as with just about every one like it I inevitably felt like I'd just swilled down some junkie bohemians' coffee after the physical embodiment of self-pity had taken a piss in it. Films like this don't leave me horrified, concerned for the future of my unborn children or saddened by the state of the world as according to the director. They leave me angry.

Billed with adjectives such as gritty and realistic, I find them to be, in reality, failed attempts at tragedy born out of someone forgetting that a tragedy requires a hero trying to do the right thing and failing because they are flawed. Instead we get children with a sociopath's sense of morality ending up victims of a conglomeration of sad events that might happen to a small town's worth of people over the course of a month but instead happen to a van's worth of people in the course of a day. When taken from a distance I can imagine these being the people you would laugh shamefully at as you read about them in the news, the ones you get drunk and tell your friends about with the preface, "You think you're unlucky? Jesus, lemme tell you about this kid I read about." And everyone listens with a sense of car-crash horror, laughing and moaning in turn every time the story comes to its next part, "But wait, there's more!"