Oh, look: one of the most ubiquitous peddlers of the Bush administration’s company line on cable and network channels has ties to a defense contractor. The NYT has the scoop on General Barry McCaffrey, who in his public apperances has always sounded like Mike Huckabee might after his bass guitar was locked in a cupboard overnight. But McCaffrey was doing his employers’ biding; NBC News has no excuse. As Glenn Greenwald reminds us, this is not the first time that this story has shamed the networks — and hardly the first that the corporate behemoth has pretended nothing happened.


The Visitor

The enthusiasm with which this movie was received shouldn’t have surprised me; what did though was how reliable skeptics like Stephanie Zacharek and A.O. Scott willfully chose to forget the candy apple liberal sentiments that it espouses. In the first third, writer-director Thomas McCarthy (who played the Jayson Blair wannabe in “The Wire”‘s last season) and lead Richard Jenkins (of “Six Feet Under”) remind us of their background in the Corduroy Elbow Pad School of Television Realism, whose values force you to project to thirty million people as if you were John Barrymore at the Old Vic: every miserable thing about depressive Jenkins’ life is pinned down with plastic scissors. When he learns to play African drum in time, or gratefully receives his first Fela Kuti album from illegal alien Haaz Sleiman, it could be Jack Nicholson’s Midwestern loser Schmidt writing letters to his East African pet pal. But the warmth of Sleiman’s performance – his smile defines “infectious” – and some understated writing in the last two-thirds redeem the picture, with big help from Hiam Abbass as Sleiman’s mother. A superb camera subject, Abbass pulls the impossible trick of being at once stoic and sexy. I’m once again frustrated by the writer-director’s decision to concentrate on the wrong character. How much more vivid The Visitor might have been with Abbass at its center – the tragedy of an educated, mildly Westernized Syrian woman who has to live with the fact that she played a role in fucking her son up for life.

Tropic Thunder

Zoolander, fifteen minutes longer. Down-low jokes (including Lance Bass cameo), expected riffs on “the industry,” Tom Cruise “expanding his range,” Ben Stiller constricting his, Robert Downey, Jr. deepening his.

There are worse things than spending a Saturday afternoon watching My Man Godfrey. Terrence Rafferty gives Carole Lombard her due. If I had my druthers, though, I’d ask him to spend more time on Hands Across the Table and To Be Or Not To Be. It occurred to me yesterday: Judd Apatow might be the only director who could do something with Lombard (and she’d certainly curse, which she did, uninhibitedly and gleefully), but I’m not sure her male costars would be up to the task.

Well, here’s something from it’s-news-to-me file: Jackson Browne and John McCain wrangling over the fair use of “Running On Empty” during the campaign:

The first is a standard motion to dismiss, claiming that McCain’s use of the song was fair use. The campaign’s fair use reading is based on the application of the standard four-factor test that includes the purpose and character of the use of the song (McCain argues it was non-commercial and transformative); the nature of the work (McCain derides the song as old, old, old, with a title that’s an acknowledged cliche); the amount and substantiality of the use of the song (McCain only used the title phrase, and cites a recent judgment against Yoko Ono, who had sought to prevent the unauthorized use of John Lennon’s “Imagine” in a film); and the effect of the use of the song (McCain says that rather than damage the song’s commercial potential, his use “will likely increase the popularity of this thirty year-old song”

I can’t argue with the last point; I think I saw “Running on Empty” in the iTunes top 20 a few months ago. As for Browne, he’s an example of the kind of Angry Liberal that my, shall we say, intemperate colleagues over here claim they work with and make their lives miserable.

On his first (released) solo album since 1999, Q-Tip’s burr, halfway between a mumble and a giggle, is as compelling and fluent as ever. “Gettin‘ Up” is his sexiest love man jive since the underrated “Find A Way” and maybe “Electric Relaxation”; the Raphael Saadiq duet and “Dance On Glass” are the kind of hip-hop elder statesman equivalents of those late eighties/early nineties records by Richard Thompson and Lou Reed that scored well on Pazz & Jopp…and yet, and yet…I have unreal expectations of Q-Tip. I expect more from a self-produced, self-written album like The Renaissance. Now that he’s demonstrated he can step back in the game, he should try a little harder to step on Mos Def’s thoughtful-polymath toes.

I watched Only Angels Have Wings last night — on videocassette. I still own a VCR. Beyond the fact that I don’t want to subject myself to the time and expense of replacing some favorites I’ve owned since the early nineties (Blockbuster’s used movie bin was a godsend), the medium’s unwieldiness has its own attraction. When I’m at the market and want to listen to King Sunny Ade’s Aura, I can’t upload it onto my iPod or play it on my car’s CD deck — I have to get home and dig out my vinyl copy; the same goes for His Girl Friday, Tootsie, and a couple of others on VHS (Earrings of Madame De… is no longer an option, alas, thanks to this). Thus, as long as we’re not subjected to things like Be Kind, Rewind, the sad death of the VCR is (slightly) exaggerated.

Anyone else still own one?

I’ve written nasty things about Carrie Brownstein’s NPR blog, but the former Sleater Kinney guitarist pens an affectionate tribute to the Go-Betweens. She admits that her writing on The Hot Rock “was inspired completely by their music.” Incisive bits of criticism on Robert Forster and the late Grant McLennan (he “sounded like the search party and the lost soul at the same time”).

If you haven’t heard it yet, Forster’s The Evangelist is one of my favorite albums of the year.

(H/t to Simon)

Enough mothers behave like Debra Winger in Rachel Getting Married to remind me of how Virginia Woolf might have rewritten the Shakespeare’s-sister bit in A Room of One’s Own: since mothers have to perform constantly, it’s really no stretch for a fiftysomething actress to accrue Oscar buzz for the effort. But Jonathan Demme and screenwriter Jenny Lumet show no interest in turning Winger’s Abby into a plasticine doll like Mary Tyler Moore in Ordinary People. Although we’re never told why she and Bill Irwin divorced, Demme and Lumet are subtle enough to hint at a basic incompatibility, hardened by the consequences of the unexpected horror for which daughter Anne Hathaway is responsible (no spoiler here). But they have enough in common: Irwin’s Paul is one of those bumblers with a pathological interest in smoothing over conflict; Abby has remarried a smiling, rather dim George Hamilton type who “goes down to Washington” weekly — a diplomat or civil servant? Cathy, a Washington hostess? As played by Winger, she’s a reformed hippie type who keeps her hair frowzy, drinks tea by the gallons, and might read a Eckhart Tolle tome at the recommendation of a friend. Her smile dazzles; she’s still unassumingly, powerfully sexual. A Washington hostess. Cross her, though, and she’ll explode…and you’ll receive a genuinely apologetic note in the morning.

There’s a lot to recommend in Rachel Getting Married: the return of Jonathan Demme from necrophiliac remakes of genre pictures for which he has no affinity; the return too of Winger, who briefly in the early eighties had it in her to be a star and talent to which screenwriters could dedicate careers; the ease with which different races and characters of indeterminate sexuality mingle on screen, sharing wine and jokes; Demme’s use of music, which, he seems to say, is the force that binds us even when it’s background noise (an appearance by a healthy, warm Robyn Hitchcock strikes one of the movie’s few gimmicky notes, though); Tunde Adebimpe serenading bride Rosemarie DeWitt with a non-embarrassing a cappella version of Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend” at the altar. But I want to praise Demme for capturing the simmer of blood relations. The sense in which, for example, we rarely know whether our parents’ kindness conceals hurts and unspoken compromises between how we are and what they expected us to be, unfolds in the way Hathaway, Irwin, Winger, and Dewitt look and talk to each other. Dishwashing contests and nervous toasts to sons-in-law serve as palliatives — and they’re also fun in themselves. The worst part about being thirty-three is forgetting that I can’t talk to my parents as adults: they simply don’t want to know about certain parts of our lives. Hence the recourse to office gossip, football games, and Christmas presents. Watching Rachel Getting Married, I made fists during a couple of the more episodic sequences; there always lingered the suspicion that anything can happen.

I almost congratulate Demme’s daring: the movie should be this self-congratulatory ode to liberal Connecticut inclusiveness, and it is, in places, and more. To say it’s better than last year’s Margot at the Wedding is like arguing that Charade is superior to The Truth About Charlie.

Oxford University compiles a list of the ten most irritating phrases in public discourse.

I’d add “The fact that,” “fairly or unfairly,” and “going forward.”

The top ten:

1 – At the end of the day

2 – Fairly unique

3 – I personally

4 – At this moment in time

5 – With all due respect

6 – Absolutely

7 – It’s a nightmare

8 – Shouldn’t of

9 – 24/7

10 – It’s not rocket science