Signs and signals

I can’t quite accept Fred Kaplan’s otherwise well-calibrated writhing over President Obama’s decision to commit more ground troops to Afghanistan because he makes the following claim:

Another problem with withdrawing is that it would signal, correctly or not, a huge victory for anti-American forces generally. If we left Afghanistan to the Taliban (and, by extension, al-Qaida), especially after such a prolonged commitment (at least rhetorically), what other embattled people would trust the United States (or the other putative allies in this war) to come in and protect them from insurgents? None, and they could hardly be blamed.

Ah, “signal” — that favorite buzzword of Beltway media. But, no, Kaplan sounds like Pollyanna because he won’t admit that, whether we pull out now or ignominiously later (a la Nixon-Ford in Vietnam), you know damn well we’ll find another foreign adventure in which we’ll commit troops. After similar bleatings by Nixon and Kissinger in the early seventies, we proceeded to Lee Greenwood our way through Grenada, El Salvador, Panama, Kuwait, Somalia, the Balkans…need I go on? If we’re sending any “signals” here, it’s that we’ll return and fight another day.

Singles 11-29-09

The last new batch of the year before we roll out best-ofs. Most of these personally disappointed me. Swift was due for a fall, fine, but I shouldn’t have been so surprised that Adam Lambert would reveal so quickly his origins as a wish fulfillment of Rob Sheffield’s if he’d been asked to produce “American Idol.” Meanwhile Rihanna remains a dream The-Dream had.

Score out of ten in parentheses:

Taylor Swift – Jump and Fall (6)

Adam Lambert -Time For Miracles (3)

Mina Viva – I Wish (4)

Rihanna – Wait Your Turn (5)

Swagga like fox

 

I never understood why so many women thought  George Clooney was this awesome fuckpuppy. He coiffed and arranged himself so that you missed his inclination towards pudginess and the blandness of his face. As Mr. Fox in the Wes Anderson film, though, Clooney gets the makeover of his life. Wearing a double-breasted corduroy jacket, sporting legs as thin as stalks of celery, Clooney looks positively dapper, light on his feet, and ready for anything — a fuckfox.

A few critics have complimented The Fantastic Mr. Fox for proving how Anderson’s talent lies in making real cartoons instead Crayola 64-colored live-action ones, but I won’t go that far. With an unevenly paced story and arbitrary character appearances and disappearance, this won’t convince anyone he can compete with the best Pixar films. What TFMF does at its best is merge the strain of cruelty in the Roald Dahl book with the collective inoffensiveness of Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, et al’s vocal contributions; the result is an animated version of Ghostbusters, Ocean’s Eleven, or a Hope-Crosby picture, a bunch of fun actors using the nonsensical plot to tell a bunch of jokes and enjoy each other’s company. My favorite actor: Eric Anderson, the director’s brother, as Mr. Fox’s nephew Kristofferson, who plays a gay Owen Wilson with the voice of Topher Grace.

Punch-drunk fun

I liked Leslie Mann the instant I heard her gingery voice snap at Paul Rudd in Knocked Up. Her chin and eyes are proof positive that some blessed people come equipped with bullshit detectors. Those eyes and that chin are not made to giggle adoringly in medium shots or close-up, yet that’s exactly what Judd Apatow does in Funny People. She’s his wife, she’s attractive, their kids are cute, and he and his cohorts have made Hollywood an awful lot of money, so he’s earned the right, I guess; but it signals what’s wrong with Funny People. It isn’t that Apatow, as lots of critics have suggested, regards women as civilizing influences on chunky comic blowhards; it’s that Apatow has an unexpected, tacit, and utterly weird contempt for the lifestyle these critics say he “glorifies.” Based on The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and now Funny People, Apatow is saying, “Life sucks if you don’t have a good woman beside you, and, by the way, she better laugh at your bad, awkward one-liners, and let you eat her out too.” If he really thought comedy a vocation in which a genuine talent could thrive for a lifetime, then he would have allowed Aubrey Plaza more space to roam; every time she throws one of her death-adder glares at Jason Schwartzman or Seth Rogen I wished that Apatow would have had the sense to pair her with Sandler.

Funny People is far from a disaster, but a lot of is attenuated; the bit players like Jonah Hill and Schwartzman (who, apart from his bit in The Fantastic Mr. Fox, continues to flex his talent for inoffensiveness) don’t have anything to do; the timing of the jokes is just slightly off; Seth Rogen, as he showed in Pineapple Express, is lumpen, embarrassed, and embarrassing when he accepts purely reactive supporting parts. A shame that the last hour turns into a Mandy Moore-Ryan Reynolds dramedy: Janusz Kaminsnki’s sunlit compositions serve as the perfect foil for Adam Sandler’s corrosive performance, a better team than Ed Lachman and Kevin Spacey in American Beauty. The move will cost him at the box office, though (and, considering Funny People‘s grosses, it already has), and won’t get the likes of Paul Reiser, Jon Brion, Ray Romano to line up for cameos (Eminem, whose self-parody is hilarious, is a different story) again. And Sandler really is fantastic, showing The Hidden Depths I was too myopic to see in Punch-Drunk Love (maybe my contact lens prescription wasn’t strong enough). He’s triumphant in a way that Jerry Lewis Going Serious in King of Comedy wasn’t. From Kaminski’s lighting his palatial mansion to look like Charles Foster Kane’s Xanadu to the shrewdness with which Sandler modulates his patented old-Jewess routine so that it skewers him as much as everyone around him, Apatow could have made a nasty little Sunset Boulevard, which isn’t a great film either but at least had the courage to reveal how Hollywood regarded itself (i.e. self-regard with Oscars attached to it).

Anthony’s review is one of the best takes on the movie I’ve read.

PS: James Taylor’s dick joke must have made’em howl in the editing room.

PSS: Will Eric Bana, speaking in his natural Australian accent for the first time in ages, replace Paul Rudd as straight boy man-crush?

“The landscape for the consumer in America has fundamentally changed”

For a detailed, depressing examination of how credit card companies get away with what Martin Luther would have called usury, watch this Frontline episode, which aired last night. Listening to Timothy Geithner and Christopher Dodd – the latter of whom talks and looks so much like a stereotypical senator that Claude Rains would have played him – did not inspire confidence. And don’t look for the Obama administration and Congress to cap interest rates either.

(That’s Lowell Bergman, by the way, who was played by Al Pacino in The Insider)

Stop the presses: old geezer shouts at cloud

 

The Tom Petty I like recorded his best music between 1988 and 1992 in the so-called Wilburys Period, during which he released signature song “Free Fallin'” ( incredibly, his second American top ten if you discount the Stevie Nicks collaboration “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”) and recorded an album with the Traveling Wilburys that never stops giving up the yuks. Jeff Lynne produced all of them, and despite the lacquer Full Moon Fever actually sounds like beefed-up demos, i.e. a real solo album. Throw in trifles like “Zombie Zoo,” “The Apartment Song,” and twelve-string melancholia like “A Face in the Crowd,” and you’ve got the Petty album that even a skeptic like me can stand. Lynne’s trademarked use of six hundred multi-tracked acoustic guitars and descending keyboard lines squeeze the whine out of Petty’s larynx; with the tempos decreased, it sounds like he’s inhabiting the same song as the rest of the band, instead of gargling shit that throws you out of the thing altogether (“Don’t Come Around Here No More” is a sound in search of a singer). Into the Great Wide Open and Wildflowers all boast excellent songs. The former attempts to merge, with mixed success, the full Heartbreakers band with Lynne’s meticulous ethic; but the Heartbreakers and Petty, relaxed and confident in their songcraft, stretch power-pop and post-Wilburys strum into something approaching grace. I hope it’s not too pretentious to argue that out-of-nowhere gems like “You and I Will Meet Again,” “Two Gunslingers,” and “Too Good To Be True” show the kind of pliability (within the harmonics of conventional guitar music) that I expect from Luna: songs that could go anywhere, startle with unexpected imagery, and whose hooks insinuate.

This Wall Street Journal profile, released to tie in with promotion for his multi-disc live box set, shows the cranky Tom Petty of The Last DJ that’s earned him lots of disrespect lately. I don’t why the fuck he boasts about lack of airplay — when was the last time airplay made a Petty record into a hit? As I remarked on this thread, in the eighties Petty seemed more popular because MTV put his videos in constant rotation; most of his signature hits like “The Waiting,” “You Got Lucky,” and “Don’t Come Around Here No More” actually peaked somewhere in the top twenty. His actual album sales are no pox on John Coog’s. I wish I could say that Hard Promises and Long After Dark reward second listening like Scarecrow and The Lonesome Jubilee do — and Coog at his peak never recorded an album as confused, sodden, and embarrassing as Southern Accents. Still, you need the second disk comp released in 2000 instead of the 1993 one that will remain his testament; the hits sound more interesting and variable surrounded by second and third minor singles.

Nota bene

The anecdotal love song — aphoristic and mushy in equal measures — as recorded by the likes of Luna needs an overhaul. Someone show me the new Romantica and Penthouse.

“It’s not a lifestyle choice, Bella”

Roger Ebert on The Twilight Saga: New Moon:

In his absence she’s befriended by Jake (Taylor Lautner), that nice American Indian boy. “You’ve gotten all buff!” she tells him. Yeah, real buff, and soon he’s never wearing a shirt and standing outside in the winter rain as if he were–why, nothing more than a wild animal. They don’t need coats like ours, remember, because God gave them theirs.Those not among that five percent of the movie’s target audience that doesn’t already know this will (spoiler) be surprised that Jake is a werewolf.

Bella: So…you’re a werewolf?
Jake: Last time I checked.
Bella: “Can’t you find a way to…just stop?
Jake (patiently): “It’s not a lifestyle choice, Bella.”

Natalie Imbruglia: Still Torn

I still stand by what I wrote a couple of months ago about Natalie Imbruglia’s “Want,” except now I love it love it love it. It really does remind me a lot of a track like “The Beginning,” a dance club hit in late ’91 for Seal: disco-inflected house, creamy, with a chalky aftertaste. I still love “Torn,” but “Want” is even more affecting: cooler, because the situation it limns hurts that much more.

Although embedding is disabled for the video, check it out anyway.

Sarah Palin: Anything for cheap applause

In the most recent Newsweek, Christopher Hitchens returns to what he does: penning lucid, vicious denunciations. If you think Sarah Palin inspires too many easy titters, please remember that “her” memoir Going Rogue currently sits atop Amazon’s bestseller list and for whose sake she’s submitting to abject promotional interviews. I do feel sorry for Oprah and Meredith Viera: they have to pretend to take this woman seriously.

Anyway, Hitchens:

The Palin problem, then, might be that she cynically incites a crowd that she has no real intention of pleasing. If she were ever to get herself to the nation’s capital, the teabaggers would be just as much on the outside as they are now, and would simply have been the instruments that helped get her elected. In my own not-all-that-humble opinion, duping the hicks is a degree or two worse than condescending to them. It’s also much more dangerous, because it meanwhile involves giving a sort of respectability to ideas that were discredited when William Jennings Bryan was last on the stump. The Weekly Standard (itself not exactly a prairie-based publication) might want to think twice before flirting with popular delusions and resentments that are as impossible to satisfy as the demand for a silver standard or a ban on the teaching of Darwin, and are for that very reason hard to tamp down.

 

On the other hand, he shows less appreciation for Levi Johnston’s endowments (a “scapegrace and nudity artist”) than either Andrew Sullivan or yours truly.