Monthly Archives: September 2012

Gay couples granted protection from deportation

Good news from the Obama administration:

In letters sent late Wednesday to several Democratic lawmakers, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said she was clarifying guidelines that enforcement officers had used when applying a policy of prosecutorial discretion in cases of illegal immigrants with no criminal convictions.

Under the guidelines, which were first issued in June 2011, officers can consider “ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships” when deciding whether to halt a deportation.

Ms. Napolitano wrote that she had ordered her department to issue written instructions specifying that those “family relationships” include “long-term same-sex partners.”

The Cause and its effects: The Master

What a judicious decision of Paul Thomas Anderson’s to give the audience so many closeups of Joaquin Phoenix’s face, especially when The Master goes to pieces in the last forty-five minutes. What contrasts: the dark thick eyebrows against the drawn, sallow skin, cheek muscles receded into crags, cartoonishly large eyeballs. Most impressive is a mouth that squeezes words out of its left side. When Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Stepford Wife Peggy (Amy Adams) take turns hectoring him in speeches we heard in the first half, Phoenix is the only thing to look at. He rewards the attention. Béla Tarr should shoot a nine-hour physiognomy as if Phoenix were Dreyer’s Falconetti: a more rewarding project than yet another PTA joint in which the director humiliates Hoffman for being fat or gay or something.

Because a filmmaker as rigorous as Anderson believes, like Clint Eastwood’s William Munny, that deserve’s got nuthin’ to do with it, The Master must transform into a monodrama as surely as There Will Be Blood and Punch Drunk Love did with Daniel Day-Lewis and Adam Sandler respectively. It’s also possible that Anderson has lost the ability to write other characters off whom the leads can set off sparks. We should probably be grateful — for about forty-five minutes The Master promises to be not just a study of a character in crisis as ruthless as Bergman and as conversant in the language of film as anything we’ve seen, but career-highs for Phoenix, Hoffman, and production designer Jack Fisk. With the possible exception of Soderbergh, no one in the generation of American directors born after 1970 gives a damn about history — specifically, man’s place in the times in which he lives — so the recreation of a New York brownstone party in 1950 gibes with one of Mary McCarthy’s memoirs. Beginning with partying sailors on an island who are about to hear the end of the war against Japan, The Master follows Freddy Quell (Phoenix) as he fails to adjust to normality: jobs as a photographer in a department store and picking cabbage alongside Japanese migrants don’t keep his alcoholism and self-contempt at bay. He does, however, excel at concocting moonshine out of photographic chemicals, four kinds of whiskey, and — my favorite — paint thinner, the excellence of which attracts Lancaster Dodd, referred to most often as The Master, who is officiating the wedding of his daughter on the ship bound for New York on which Freddy is a stowaway.

Whether the audience finds Dodd sinister depends on its taste for “self-empowerment” and other New Age bromides. Hoffman plays him as an ascetic who relishes let’s call it the bounties of earth: booze, smokes, and women (the age difference between Hoffman and Adams is most pronounced). In two long scenes — in Dodd’s bunker and in jail (Dodd is arrested on a civil offense for failing to register his consortium as a medical school) — Dodd interrogates Freddy, and it’s to Anderson’s credit that Dodd’s mesmeric power and Freddy’s willingness to confess to hating himself, fucking his aunt, and abandoning the only girl who loved him become confused; Dodd is a charlatan, and Freddy, to use the psychobabble of our age, “confronts his demons.” But to what end? Anderson hedges, at which point this fascinating movie sputters to its unsatisfying conclusion. In one of those Hoffman humiliation scenes (this one sexually), Anderson hints that Mrs. Dodd is really The Master, and he sets Adams up to play her as such (she’s shot and told to act as if she were a 19th century daguerreotype), but nothing happens. Long ago, when Anderson didn’t dream of sixty millimeter, the story of an aging lonely man played by Philip Baker Hall saving John C. Reilly’s life one cigarette and coffee cup at a time had the outlines to support a number of compelling ambiguities. Hard Eight remains Anderson’s most realized film.The Master is a hundred thirty-five minutes of a huckster losing interest in a promising protégé, as we should with Anderson.

Singles 9/28

Missy Elliott leaks two tracks and Singlesjukeboxland shrugs. I mean, listen to the boy band track: that’s some crazy shit.

Click on links for full reviews.

Nicki Minaj ft. Rick Ross & Cam’ron – I Am Your Leader (7)
Death Grips – I’ve Seen Footage (7)
Orange Caramel – Lipstick (6)
The Wanted – I Found You (6)
Missy Elliott ft. Timbaland – 9th Inning (6)
Robbie Williams – Candy (5)
Wanting – You Exist in My Song (5)
One Direction – Live While We’re Young (4)
Busy Signal – Reggae Music Again (4)
Alt-J – Something Good (4)
Trouble – Molly World (4)
Missy Elliott ft. Timbaland – Triple Threat (3)
L.O.C. ft. Barbara Moleko – Helt Min Egen (3)
Christina Aguilera – Your Body (2)

“Off-puttingly bitter” about elder statesmenship

The final word on the new Pet Shop Boys. Douglas Wolk:

As always, the Pet Shop Boys’ latest studio LP has a resonant single-word title. “Elysium” is a reference to Elysian Park, near where they recorded the album in Los Angeles, but it’s also a high-class sort of word for paradise, in the specific sense of the afterworld of the blessed. The implication is that, somewhere in there, Pet Shop Boys slipped into the great beyond, and Neil Tennant is now singing to us from the other side. But Tennant and Chris Lowe’s relationship to pop and its audience has changed over time, and not in a loss-and-beatification way. For Pet Shop Boys’ first decade or so, they were impostors so studious and inspired that they were better than the real thing. Now they’ve settled into being elder statesmen of pop at a time when pop has little use for elder statesmen, and they’re off-puttingly bitter about it.

My review here.

Droning on…and on…

Children must keep a watchful eye on their parents. We simply don’t know what mad behavior they’ll indulge in, despite years of advice, if left alone. I may have to vote for Barack Hussein Obama because if Mitt Romney is elected their beloved granddaughter will have no Medicare. Not that it matters in reliably blue Miami-Dade County. But I understand Conor Friedersdorf’s anger:

I am not a purist. There is no such thing as a perfect political party, or a president who governs in accordance with one’s every ethical judgment. But some actions are so ruinous to human rights, so destructive of the Constitution, and so contrary to basic morals that they are disqualifying. Most of you will go that far with me. If two candidates favored a return to slavery, or wanted to stone adulterers, you wouldn’t cast your ballot for the one with the better position on health care. I am not equating President Obama with a slavery apologist or an Islamic fundamentalist. On one issue, torture, he issued an executive order against an immoral policy undertaken by his predecessor, and while torture opponents hoped for more, that is no small thing.

What are those facts? Foreign policy ones:

1. Obama terrorizes innocent Pakistanis on an almost daily basis. The drone war he is waging in North Waziristan isn’t “precise” or “surgical” as he would have Americans believe. It kills hundreds of innocents, including children. And for thousands of more innocents who live in the targeted communities, the drone war makes their lives into a nightmare worthy of dystopian novels. People are always afraid. Women cower in their homes. Children are kept out of school. The stress they endure gives them psychiatric disorders. Men are driven crazy by an inability to sleep as drones buzz overhead 24 hours a day, a deadly strike possible at any moment. At worst, this policy creates more terrorists than it kills; at best, America is ruining the lives of thousands of innocent people and killing hundreds of innocents for a small increase in safety from terrorists. It is a cowardly, immoral, and illegal policy, deliberately cloaked in opportunistic secrecy. And Democrats who believe that it is the most moral of all responsible policy alternatives are as misinformed and blinded by partisanship as any conservative ideologue.

2. Obama established one of the most reckless precedents imaginable: that any president can secretly order and oversee the extrajudicial killing of American citizens. Obama’s kill list transgresses against the Constitution as egregiously as anything George W. Bush ever did. It is as radical an invocation of executive power as anything Dick Cheney championed. The fact that the Democrats rebelled against those men before enthusiastically supporting Obama is hackery every bit as blatant and shameful as anything any talk radio host has done.

Now, plenty of liberals — I’ve mentioned their names repeatedly over the years — oppose the president’s drone policy and disregard for the habeas corpus rights of American citizens accused of terrorism, but they don’t have much cop in the Democratic Party, which has come full circle to 1948 as the party of robust enforcement of American principles abroad, for better or worse. The new Democratic Party, for war before it was for it, is represented by Vice President Joe Biden, whose deep organ notes extolling the death of Osama bin Laden at the convention a few weeks ago were so bellicose that I expected him to whip out and chew on Osama’s severed hand. A report commissioned by New York University finds that the effects of drone warfare are brutal: carnage, yes, but also a stoking of paranoia. Friedersdorf cites devastating moments:

Faheem Qureshi is still just a teenager.

Back in 2009, he was the sole survivor of the first drone strike that President Obama ordered. He was “one of the top four students in his class before the drone strike fractured his skull and nearly blinded him,” the report states. He’s struggled ever since. “Our minds have been diverted from studying. We cannot learn things because we are always in fear of the drones hovering over us, and it really scares the small kids who go to school,” he told his interviewer. “At the time the drone struck, I had to take exams, but I couldn’t take exams after that because it weakened my brain. I couldn’t learn things, and it affected me emotionally. My mind was so badly affected.”

A new generation of evildoers gets radicalized.

Meanwhile in Mittensland our sovereign would declare war on everyone: Iran, Russia, Syria, Canada, Uruguay, Sierra Leone, Luxembourg, and Papua New Guinea. A bad state of affairs, friends.

Sense and sensibility: Damsels in Distress

Damsels in Distress is the sort of movie for which adverbs look silly. You know: “charmingly,” “perplexedly,” “oddly.” Since Last Days of Disco, Bill Clinton got impeached and writer-director Whit Stillman is five years shy of collecting a Social Security check, but his attention to hyperarticulate characters testing their moral codes against a perplexed universe has produced his most beguiling movie to date. Violet (Greta Gerwig), Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke) and Heather (Carrie MacLemore), moving through Seven Oaks college like versions of Mary McCarthy’s Vassar girls in The Group, recruit Lily (Analeigh Tipton) for their suicide prevention peer counseling team and for berating the fraternity system (a “Roman” system, as goonish Ryan Metcalf explains) with which the men have dominated social life for generations. Although some jokes don’t pop like you’d expect and the last twenty minutes are a haze of dance routines and poorly conceived resolutions (how can anyone find resolution here?), pace and blocking are less of a problem in Stillman’s fourth feature; he’s mastered the craft of depicting a milieu. Stillman doesn’t abandon the other women for the fascinating camera subject that’s Gerwig. Echikunwoke steals the movie with dry-as-gin line readings, while Tipton makes her miscasting work in her favor; she’s too infatuated with what Thomas Hardy would call the earthly pleasures, one of which involves a roll on the couch with a serious-as-a-deacon graduate student named Xavier (shouldn’t it be with a “J,” the characters wonder?). The seduction almost works: he plies her with wine and Truffaut’s Stolen Kisses (“It’s in color,” he reassures Lily) when his confession of Catharist tendencies doesn’t work.

If Xavier’s obsessions remind you of Jean-Louis Trintignant’s Jansenism in My Night at Maud‘s, it’s not the only frisson. With its pastel hues and ascetic air, it evokes Moonrise Kingdom without the fear and trembling, its dessication of feeling. In Stillman’s view, brittleness is a tease, a way to hint at hidden depths. It’s why he includes a scene in which an English professor praises the novels of Ronald Firbank. A glancing away from the articulation of sentiment defined Jean-Pierre Léaud’s work in Stolen Kisses too, and there’s something of this lightness in Adam Brody’s work as Charles, a po-faced con artist who claims to work for Strategic Development under the name of Fred. Thanks to crackerjack TV timing, the elfin Brody’s a snug fit in Stillman’s world, a worthy foil for Tipton and Gerwig. I’ve met a few guys like Charles around campus: well-connected young Republicans already doing “consulting” work or “networking” for international clientele.

But Damsels in Distress is Gerwig’s movie, and what a star turn: a conceit made sensual, thinking flesh; as improbable as the lady in Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock.” Ridiculous mini speeches like “During these formative college years, we should try to learn as many cliched and hackneyed expressions as possible. Furthermore, I think we will” she turns into manifestos without a hint of a wink. Gerwig is what a few of us thought Stillman would do with Metropolitan‘s Carolyn Farina: write a whole movie for Audrey Rouget, finding Lionel Trilling’s take on Mansfield Park wanting.