John Edwards is withdrawing his candidacy today after a string of third place finishes in early primaries. Things were looking pretty good after he beat Hillary in Iowa, but since then he's been at around 15% in other early voting states.
The bad news: those of us in later voting states can't support the candidate who more than any other talked about the reality of poverty in America, who kept public attention on the ongoing public service disaster in New Orleans and other Katrina-affected areas, and who spoke most forcefully about how corporate interests hurt regular Americans, especially in terms of health care.
The good news: we won't have to hear Elizabeth Edwards say shit like "I'm disappointed in Michelle Obama" and "I think I'm more joyful than Hillary is" and "Remember everyone: I have breast cancer!" anymore.
Edwards is expected to announce his withdrawal today in New Orleans, and will probably make the case for better government intervention in rebuilding the city and helping people still suffering from tremendous losses two and a half years after the storm.
Having your kids around while you drink at home is your business, but a Brooklyn bar respectfully asks its patrons to restrict their drinking buddies to people 21 or older.
Union Hall, a bar and rock club, now has a No Strollers policy, which sort of surprisingly has a lot of Park Slope moms upset. Hmm... the kind of Park Slope mom that likes to bring her infant child to bars. I can't tell if that's sort of cool, flagrantly irresponsible, or, like most things related to Park Slope, just irritating.
Let's see: Strollers clogging up a bar, babies screaming, stay-at-home Park Slope moms taking up all the couches. OK, that's settled, it's irritating.
If it were just one mom stopping off for a beer toward the end of the day, baby in backpack, I doubt there would be a problem. But as Daily News reader toastedmuffin reports, "One day I went there for Happy Hour and the place was jammed solid with strollers, we could not even get around them to sit at an empty table. Furthermore, the amount of children in there polluted the normally relaxing atmosphere with crying and clutter."
These moms don't like the restriction. Union Hall motherpatron Renee Bar-or said, "Most people were pretty upset. I understand it, but it's pretty upsetting. It's pretty empty in here," while cradling her 5-month-old son, Jonah.
"Most people"? Is this woman saying that the majority of people who go to Union Hall bar are upset about the No Strollers policy because they can't bring their children into the bar? Lady: IT'S A BAR. What world are you living in? What does she expect to see when she walks into a bar? Changing tables and sippy cups?
I should also point out that Union Hall is not actually barring children, but rather asking that patrons not take up valuable drinking space with baby strollers. You want to bring your kid to the bar, carry them in your arms, park them on a bar stool and order them a milk. Or just bring them someplace more appropriate for your moms' afternoon book club, such as anywhere in Park Slope that is not a bar.
Oh the joys of Metropolitan Diary. In today's installment....well, I think I have to quote the whole thing:
At a recent personnel committee meeting of our West Side co-op, the building’s super and the committee members were discussing whether an employee should be suspended for an apparent lie he had told about a misplaced package.
Knowing this employee quite well, I mentioned to the super that I did not think a suspension was necessary, since this employee had a very harsh superego and he had suffered enough with his own guilt over the weekend.
A few days later the super phoned and asked me if I, as a practicing psychoanalyst, could recommend something that he could read about the superego. I suggested Freud’s “Ego and the Id.”
“Oh no,” he said, “I need something simpler.” My response was: “You are one of the smartest supers in New York. I know you’ll understand it.”
So for Christmas I handed him an envelope with his usual cash bonus, accompanied by a gift-wrapped copy of Freud’s “Ego and the Id.”
A day later, I ran into the super in the lobby and he greeted me with a hug and a huge smile. He told me he was eager to begin reading Freud and discussing the id, ego and superego with me.
We don't find it all that surprising that the super is intelligent, and has interests outside of his job. To counteract Ms. Fay-Bergman's condescending attitude, please enjoy this picture of SEIU 32 BJ's Superintendent of the Year Charles Brown.
Superintendent of the year Charles Brown and Paul Gottsegen, Director of Management at Halstead Management, 2007 Building Service Workers of the Year Awards, 32 BJ.
Life's been tough in Gaza lately. The people are ruled by a militant regime, there's at least 50% unemployment, and even if you have some money it's hard to buy food, medicine, gas, appliances, and pretty much everything else you would want.
Which is why it's been nice to see the tens of thousands of Palestinians flooding across the breached border into Egypt yesterday and today in an unbridled frenzy of consumerism. An economic analyst quoted by AP estimates that Gazans have spent $130 million in Egypt since Wednesday.
Egypt is moving toward controlling the shoppers eager to buy anything local vendors have to offer, but news reports suggest that until tonight, no one was doing much to stop them from coming in, and Hamas isn't taxing any goods they bring back. One Egyptian official estimates that 120,000 Palestinians are in Egypt, buying all the TVs, cigarettes, goats, generators, and potato chips (with special inflated prices) they can carry from the Egyptian border town they're temporarily being allowed into.
But of course, some resourceful Palestinians are taking this opportunity to experience other aspects of urban life they don't usually have access to. The Times interviewed Muhammad al-Hirakly, 22, while he was in line to ride the bumper cars at an amusement park. He and his friends were going to try to get all the way to Cairo, "to see the big city and our family there, and also the girls," he said. "It's the most fun we've had in years."
An older visitor took a more philosophical view of his moment of freedom:
Olmert and Abbas are meeting this weekend, and there are rumors that Israel might let the Palestinians take control of the Gaza borders, which have been pretty much totally closed since June. After seeing how happy a brief, overpriced shopping spree can make residents of Gaza, I hope the Israelis can recognize that despite our differences, we're all consumers at heart.
Today the Times covered Eliot Spitzer's proposal for increasing NY state revenues for the coming year, which is a strange blend of encouraging some problem behaviors for residents (thousands of video gambling machines installed at the racetracks) while trying to discourage other problems (raising taxes on malt liquor and, weirdly enough, illegal drugs.)
But the political is personal, and the Times is at its best when it captures the reactions of regular New Yorkers to otherwise dull legislative proposals.
So they went into businesses along 10th Avenue in Hell's Kitchen, a neighborhood where people love their 40s, which nobody knows better than bodega workers.
The Times asked some local residents what they thought about Spitzer's plan--specifically, his proposal to raise the tax on malt liquor from 11 cents to $2.54 per gallon. The responses they got perfectly illustrate a number of key economic concepts:
Inelastic Demand: Roman Isre, 28, a barber at Erik’s Barber Shop on 10th Avenue, said he bought malt liquor once or twice a week. "That's bad!" Mr. Isre said when told about Mr. Spitzer’s proposals. Would he buy less malt liquor? Mr. Isre smiled. "Nah. You got to do what you got to do," he said. "It’s like gas. You drive the same mileage for $2 a gallon or $3.50 a gallon."
Cost-Benefit Analysis: A and A Market and Deli, at 45th Street and 10th Avenue, used to sell as many as 40 cases of malt liquor a week, but it became too bothersome to stock. "We have arguments here, very loud arguments," said Mustafa Saleh, 27, the deli’s manager. "They don't want to pay." When customers did pay, it was annoying, he said. "They paid in change," he said, "$2.50 in nickels, dimes and pennies; that’s the kind of money they have."
You can argue that raising the price of a 40 through taxes will encourage people to stop drinking so many of them, but my guess is that this population isn't likely to respond to higher prices by quitting drinking. If anything, they'll just switch to beer, which will continue to be taxed at a lower rate due to its lower alcohol content.
But they won't be happy about it! Darryl, the bundled-up 50 year-old, was asked why he bought malt liquor rather than beer: "Darryl looked quizzically at a reporter and replied, 'You get twice as much, and it’s got a bigger kick to it.'" Smart shopper.
WARNING: Some spoilers.
Imagine you're watching TV and a rerun of "Felicity" comes on. It's an episode you haven't seen before, but it seems to be about the usual pretty but sort of bland characters going on about their realistic but sort of bland problems and interpersonal relationship dramas, and they're all hanging out and talking a lot in the nicest dorm room/loft in New York.
Then a monster attacks the city and shit starts blowing up and all the characters start running around screaming and getting eaten and otherwise horribly killed.
You'd watch that, right? You'd say, "Fuckin' yeah! This is the best damn "Felicity" episode I've ever seen!" Of course you would.
The first big movie controversy of 2008 seems to be over the J.J. Abrams-produced, cleverly marketed, and overly scrutinized Cloverfield. Specifically, is it a cool action movie in which Manhattan gets spectacularly destroyed, or is it worthless garbage with nothing intelligent to say about our contemporary consumerist culture and the effects of a 24-hour news media on how we experience real life?
This is a dumb controversy.
Manohla Dargis wrote a surprisingly out-of-touch review in which she mostly complains that Cloverfield lacks "Freudian complexity or political critique" (a phrase the Times readers are having a lot of fun tearing to shreds over at the readers' reviews.) She makes reference to September 11 (twice!) in order to demonstrate that the horrors of Cloverfield pale in comparison to the actual terrorist attacks that happened in real life. No kidding!
She usually knows how to review a movie on its own terms, and since she went into raptures of praise for the remarkably similar The Host last year, I was really surprised at her negative review. The characters in The Host were similarly broad, often caricatures, and the dialogue was no more inventive or witty. Maybe the not-so-subtle anti-pollution, anti-military message of The Host bumped it up in her estimation? Personally, I was relieved not to have any valuable city-obliteration time wasted on meaningless pseudo-science about where the monster came from, why it wants to kill us, what form of ionic gas cloud might neutralize it, blah dee blah.
In Cloverfield, all we know is there's a gigantic really scary monster out there that will totally kill you in a number of terrible and surprising ways. And sure, there were some contrived plot devices and relationship melodramas, but they're all in service of the action. Whatever it takes to get characters into interesting and scary situations in which they will almost definitely get killed, I'm all for it.
There were a few kinder reviews that judge Cloverfield on its own terms. Roger Ebert (3 stars!) notes that it sticks to its structural premise perfectly through the whole movie, and "never breaks the illusion that it is all happening as we see it."
The Boston Globe review says the movie lives up to the hype (which I don't totally agree with--the only problem I have with the movie is how out of control the endless, boring blog speculation got, but that's not really the movie's fault.) The reviewer also points out how suspenseful and agonizingly drawn out a lot of scariest parts were--there's some top-notch audience manipulation in there. David Edelstein in New York Magazine says it's shallow, sure, but still admits he was "blown sideways by it."
Meanwhile, Manohla Dargis goes on about the characters' and the movies' "incomprehensible stupidity", a claim which even for a movie like this doesn't hold much water. Just look at that shot above. It's funny and smart and somebody who knows what they're doing put it together. If you go see this movie, what you're going to get is a relatively unsentimental action movie about a big monster pounding the crap out of New York. It's a tidy 80 minutes, and for what it is, it's good.
Speaking of all the endless internet speculation about different aspects of the movie that mostly just made people sick of it before it even opened, IMDb lists all the fake working titles the movie went through: 1-18-08 (of course), Cheese, Clover, the Spanish Monstruoso, and my favorite, Slusho.
Apparently Spanish athletes are getting sick of having a national anthem with no words. They are stuck singing "dum dee dum dee dum" when the cameras pan over them before sporting events. So the Spanish Olympic committee has sponsored a contest to make up some lyrics. They've picked a winner (watch and listen) and everyone hates it. One of the criticisms is that the lyrics are reminiscent of Franco's lyrics, another is that they are totally bland and could apply to any country:
“Long live Spain!” the four-verse anthem begins. “Let us all sing together with different voices and a single heart! Long live Spain! From the green valleys to the vast sea.”
“It’s absolute drivel,” said Josep Ramoneda, director of the Center for Contemporary Culture in Barcelona. “It could be about any country: Belarus, Lithuania, Spain.”
“It would make a good theme tune for the Eurovision Song Contest,” he added, referring to Europe’s annual pop music gala.
It reminds me of the Welsh anthem, sample quote:
O land of the mountains, the bard's paradise,
Whose precipice, valleys lone as the skies,
Green murmuring forest, far echoing flood
Fire the fancy and quicken the blood
Or rather, we'll be listening provided we paid the phone bill this month. My favorite headline of 2008 so far:
Pretty ballsy for a telephone company to actually cut off the FBI's service. Whatever phone company this is, the only chance they have of not getting prosecuted for conducting illegal surveillance is that the administration keeps swearing that it wasn't the company's fault--the government made them do it.
Be sure to send in that cable bill, FBI! I hear "The Wire" is really good this year.
Someone over at the A.V. Club had the brilliant idea of getting Patton Oswalt to actually eat a KFC Famous Bowl™, the fast food metaphor for a world that has totally given up: "America has spoken - pile my food in a fucking bowl."
This is akin to getting TLC to go on a date with a scrub, or having Amy Winehouse spend a week in rehab.
So he wrote about it, and it's funny.
First, some photographic documentation. KFC's assertion as to what its Famous Bowl™ looks like:
Patton Oswalt's actual Famous Bowl™:
And a few descriptions of his experience eating it:
If you haven't ever seen his KFC Famous Bowl™ bit, you can watch it here:
We had a few big stand-outs this year, and a whole bunch of memorable movies that I loved despite their flaws. This list could be about 20 movies long, but I've gotten it down to a rough approximation of a Top 10 list.
There are a couple of movies that came out in the last few days of 2007 that I haven't seen yet and aren't included, but that's what happens when you're not a real movie critic and don't get advance screenings to help you get your list out in December. I learned recently that real movie critics in other cities solve the problem of movies that open in NY and LA in December, but don't get to their city until January by just including those movies in their list for the following year (example: Memphis' alternative weekly paper--they liked Children of Men and Pan's Labyrinth this year.) I just do what I can with what I got.
These aren't strictly ranked. A few of the best movies of the year were:
No Country For Old Men
Just about a perfect movie, completely engrossing and tense. The Coen Brothers and the cast somehow made Cormac McCarthy and his squinting, tough-guy characters funny at times. Javier Bardem and his pneumatic piston gun thing was the coolest movie weapon since Uma's Hanzo sword in Kill Bill. Some of Tommy Lee Jones' voiceover musings about the nature of evil toward the end could have been cut, but that's my only complaint. Also: the main character dies offscreen and the movie doesn't pause even for a second. You sure don't see that everyday.
There Will Be Blood
Emily predicted that this movie would be Boogie Nights, but with oil instead of porn, and she was pretty much right. If you take the Boogie Nights scene where Mark Wahlberg is out of his mind on cocaine and storms out to the pool angrily demanding to start shooting a scene right now, and the scene where Mark Wahlberg and his posse try to buy/steal drugs from the Rick Springfield-loving Alfred Molina while that weird guy walks around the living room lighting firecrackers and throwing them in the air, then make those scenes way more violent, blood-thirsty, and totally fucking nuts, that's what There Will Be Blood is like. Completely disturbing and really great. I am just going to assume that Daniel Day-Lewis knows how funny he is while he lurches around the screen as a megalomaniacal sociopath, getting crazier by the second. Because the audience was howling.
I'm Not There
By far the most creative of the musical biopics of the past few years. My favorite segments were the wonderboy blues guitarist riding the rails and pretending to be someone he's not, big-time rockstar Cate Blanchett having a meltdown, and especially Christian Bale's frizzy-headed pentecostal performance of "Pressing On". I'm not any kind of Bob Dylan fan, but this movie goes beyond fandom, and way beyond the hammy celebrity impersonation that has been so popular with the Academy in recent years. But OK: what the hell was up with the Richard Gere section? If anyone can explain to me why his old west town was populated by circus performers, I will give you one US dollar.
It's too bad that so few people took advantage of what Grindhouse had to offer: a big, noisy, messy double-feature of fun, goofball action movies, with what is clearly the most iconic image of 2007 (see photo above.) Now that the two movies were ripped apart for DVD, just like Kill Bill was for the theater (goddammit), you have to rent them separately to watch what was intended to be seen in one straight shot. I was a little disappointed in Quentin Tarantino's betrayal of the cheap-o sleazy aesthetic of real grindhouse movies--using all that clever dialogue and thoughtful character development made the critics like his movie better than Rodriguez's, who stuck to the original formula better. Even if QT did cheat a little, I could have sat there and watched Rosario and her friends chat in the diner all day long. Plus: the trailer reels, the car chase at the end, and Kurt Russell's beguiling evil sneer. Awesome.
Black Snake Moan
The weirdest movie about compassion, kindness, and redemption I've ever seen. It will be remembered forever as the movie where Samuel L. Jackson chained Christina Ricci to his radiator, but the truth is, sometimes what a character needs most in the world is for someone to chain them to a radiator. The three main characters (chainer, chainee, and Justin Timberlake) are seriously flawed and have all kinds of messed-up diagnosable psychoses, but by the end have started to figure out how to live their lives and be happy anyway. The acting is unreal. I can hardly believe that this movie is so good at addressing such wholesome, feel-good themes, but man, it really is.
And some others:
There were other very funny movies that came out this year, but Superbad is one of the funniest movies that has ever come out, ever. I find that it holds up to multiple viewings, especially if you take the number of times you have already seen it, and have that number of drinks (or, if you're me, twice that number of drinks) before you watch it again. The most impressive thing about this movie might be that the whole world already knew the "McLovin" joke from seeing the trailer a bunch of times, and they somehow still managed to make it funny for the entire duration of the movie.
The Lives of Others
This movie is really good when it focuses on the unintentional complications of secret surveillance. Watching the Stasi agent grow interested in his subjects, and become aware of the corruption at the heart of the state he works for, were the best parts. Some of the plot points were clumsy and contrived, but the agent's quiet, unrewarded insertion into his subjects' lives was smart and believable.
Into the Wild
The great friendships that the self-styled grizzly boy makes along the way to getting annihilated by nature make it hard to believe that he really thought he could find The Truth out in the woods by himself. Catherine Keener and Hal Holbrook are both so fantastic and appealing in this movie, I wish we didn't have to spend so much time with the misguided teenage main character, who keeps missing what's really important until it's too late.
And a bunch of other ones I liked:
I love how, even when he makes a fairly straightforward crime-thriller about the Russian mob, when you get to the scene where a guy gets his throat cut and the camera lingers for a solid 6 or 7 seconds on a close, steady shot of blood gushing out of the wound while the victim gurgles and sputters helplessly, you remember you're watching a David Cronenberg movie.
An unapologetic chick-flick, but a sincere, unpretentious, and sweet chick-flick that made me want to eat pie. RIP Adrienne Shelly.
Probably as good a legal thriller as you're gonna get. George Clooney is driven and intense like he's always good at playing, but Tilda Swinton sitting in the bathroom stall with huge armpit stains, hyperventilating, is the image that stays with me.
Freakiest movie yet about where the world is headed post-Iraq. Buffy singing "Teen Horniness Is Not A Crime" and Justin Timberlake pouring beer over his head while dancing with a line of Busby Berkeley skee-ball lovelies were some of my favorite moments all year.
The Bourne Ultimatum
Nothing clever to say about it. The latest Bourne was awesome.
Some movies that I haven't gotten around to seeing yet but if I had, might be on this list:
Not on the list:
I didn't include Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, because with that cast, there is just no excuse for this movie not to be incredibly great. Somehow it all added up to less than the sum of its parts. I loved the scenes in the cleanest shooting gallery in New York, and the scene of Philip Seymour Hoffman trashing his apartment in slow-motion. Other than that, eh.
Juno had some wonderful moments, but was a little too precious for me, I hated the soundtrack, and the dialogue drove me up the wall for the first 15 minutes. The movie got better, but I think Juno is ultimately this year's Little Miss Sunshine/Sideways.
Atonement, aka this year's The English Patient, aka this year's Titanic. Just read the book.
For next year, I'm looking forward to Steven Soderbergh getting back in shape. After his latest unnecessary Ocean sequel and 2006, the year of Bubble and The Good German, we really need him to pull it together and start making some great movies again. In 2008 we'll see his Che Guevara movie, which is either going to be called Guerrilla or The Argentine. It stars Benicio Del Toro, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Franka Potente, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Ramon Salazar from the third season of "24". I have high hopes.
Here's the 2006 list.
Tomorrow are the Iowa caucuses, in which a tiny percentage of people who live in a tiny state get together to have more influence on who our next president is than anyone else in the country.
Do you know how ridiculous the Iowa caucuses are? You can read all about the crazy process of participating in a caucus on Wikipedia, but one thing you should know is that ties between two candidates at a particular caucus can be settled by literally pulling a name out of a hat.
In the Times today, Joe Trippi disputes today's poll results that predict an Obama win, because he says "You’d have to have 220,000 people voting for that poll to be right. If that’s what’s going on, there’s no historic model for it."
What he's saying is that it's unrealistic to expect that 220,000 people in the whole state of Iowa are going to vote in a caucus, out of a population of 3 million. That's less than 10%! This absurdly small group of caucus participants, which realistically might be 150,000, or 1/20 of 1% of the US population, influence the outcome of every other state's primary. And as of today, one day before the caucuses, a quarter of likely caucus participants still hadn't figured out who they were going to vote for.
The Times also points out today that a whole lot of people who are legal Iowa residents won't be able to caucus, because instead of letting people actually vote on their own at any time the polls are open on primary day, they have to attend a local caucus at a set time:
As loathsome as Giuliani is, I kind of hope his strategy of ignoring goddamn Iowa so he can pay attention to states with bigger populations, more democratic one-person one-vote primaries, and a higher percentage of people who actually vote in them, works out for him.
Next week: Fuck New Hampshire. Which at least offers actual individual voting in its primary, but like Iowa has ridiculously disproportionate political power. Let's all just vote for the candidate we like the best, and ignore what happens over the next week in these little states.