Friday, May 04, 2007


Open Thread

Thread on, you crazy diamonds.

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Oh What A Tangled Web

Spider-Man 3: Fanboy dream -- or nightmare?

On the surface, it should be the former as its packed with far more action than the first film. Given all the soldout midnight performance around New York Thursday night/Friday morning, the flick should easily hit the $120 mil Spidey 1 took in in its first weekend.

On the other hand, a young man exiting the theatre where I saw it may have delivered what could be an early epitaph. Responding to his buddy's, "So whadidya think?" the guy said, "I saw
Love, Actually over the weekend. I didn't need to see it again." Ouch!

Another viewer was overheard saying, "I really wanted to like it. I guess I still do, but I'm afraid I'm gonna wake up tomorrow ticked off that I didn't get to bed until 4:30. " Ouch again.

I sympathize with these reactions: Three was the both the magic number and the unlucky number for this movie: Three super-villains (including an alien symbiote), three overlapping romantic triangles, major psycho-drama including fatherhood and parenting issues (one of the supervillians turns out to be a bad father -- don't you just hate that?) plus enough plot to fill three comic-book movies may just simply be too much. At 140 mins., it becomes something of an endurance test (consider yourself lucky -- the third Pirates of the Caribbean is supposedly nearly three hours).

Creatively, I have the same criticism here that I've had in other Marvel-related films: There's this annoying trend of grafting the origin of the villain onto that of the hero. That was the biggest flaw in the first Fantastic Four movie -- putting Doctor Doom on the rocketship w/the would-be FF.

That happens here with the revised origin of The Sandman -- he's now the actual triggerman who killed Peter's Uncle Ben. The resolution to his story is beyond unsatisfying; it is infuriating and borderline offensive in its moral equivalence. I'll discuss more of that after the weekend when more people have had a chance to see the film. I don't want to give too many spoilers here.

James Franco as Harry (Goblin II) Osborne is the real standout in this edition. There's a real arc to his character and you're truly made to care about him -- even when he's at his most evil -- which interestingly, occurs in a scene when he's not in his Goblin outfit. Franco also manages to carry himself in such a way that he physically looks like he is related to William Hurt DaFoe (who played Norman "Green Goblin" Osborne).

The movie could have been tighter and better without pushing Venom (played here by Topher Grace) into it. It was just too much. Indeed, without Venom, the writers might have come up with a more plausible conclusion to The Sandman arc. And, yes, it would have been possible to have introduced the black suit/symbiote without going all-Venom. Heck, they've managed to mention/use Doctor Connors in all three movies without turning him into what he becomes in the comics, The Lizard, right? Sometimes less actually is more.

Tobey Maguire looks like he's having fun when he gets to show off his dark, symbiote-influenced side. The extended scene where he is under the symbiote suit's influence is quite disturbing even as it is initially played for laughs. Kirsten Dunst is good as usual as Mary Jane Watson though she gets to offer only two emotional extremes: depressed/angry (at Peter) and threatened/endangered by the villain of the moment. The tender and sweet Mary Jane we saw in the first two films is hardly seen here. And that may reflect the main problem of the movie. The first two parts of the Spider franchise (especially the very first) had a good balance between action/adventure and emotional content that avoided being maudlin. This time around, the emotional content became unconvincing soap opera (thus the Love, Actually comment).

Bryce Dallas Howard is completely unbelievable and irrelevant as Gwen Stacy, a likely rival for Peter's attentions. The Gwen of the comics was vivacious in a completely different way from Mary Jane -- and one could see how Peter could be attracted to both. Not with this Gwen. She could just as easily been Miss Blonde X.

On the other hand, James Cromwell was born to play Stacy police chief dad (but, then again, is there a cop who James Cromwell was not born to play -- when he's not playing creepy turncoats on 24 and L.A. Confidential?).

Anyway, that's it. Alas, Spider-Man 3 comes to me as a disappointment -- too long and too convoluted, though with a couple of good performances and plentiful special effects. It should make well over $200 milliion in the first 10 days or so. Will it make back its reported $350 million? Now, that's an interesting question.

On Monday, I'll address the Sandman arc conclusion that I found so appalling.

UPDATE: Corrected to reflect the proper name of the actor William who played the Green Goblin. This will teach me not to write reviews at 4 a.m.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007


The Other "G"-Man

Even though he's considered a "second-tier" candidate, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore impressed me the most at the first Republican presidential debate. He came across as informed and polished, but not slick (as Mitt Romney did). His mantra that he was a "consistent conservative" might actually gain traction, if he manages to raise some money. He brought in the different parts of his resume when appropriate and didn't make it sound random. His explanation of his views on abortion -- pro-choice, but with a history of signing reasonable restrictions as governor -- was far more coherent than Rudy Giuliani's (who now says that he does support the Hyde Amendment prohibiting federal funding after saying last month that he advocated federal funding). Giuliani still can't say that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided -- but that Justices should consider it as "precedent." This sort of reasoning would have never gotten, say, Plessy v. Ferguson overturned.

Giuliani gets credit for showing that he understood the basics of the Sunni-Shiite divide -- though it was clear that he was praying that there wasn't a follow-up! Some New Yorkers might have rolled their eyes in noting his response to the question about if he had any "regrets" with regard to his relations with blacks: He pointed in a rather halting manner to his reduction of crime and welfare. One can argue that crime and welfare culture have a proportionally greater affect on the black community. But, he seemed to shy away from saying that. The question goes directly to the perception of his creating a climate that led to police shootings of unarmed black men. It's not an easy question to answer, but it's something he should have figured out how to answer by now.

Gilmore also gets kudos for standing up for the right of federal prosecutors to indict someone on perjury if that person lies to a grand jury in the middle of an investigation. That was the correct response to the question about whether Scooter Libby should be pardoned. Half the respondents fell over themselves (Romney in the lead) to denounce the idea that Patrick Fitzgerald shouldn't have continued his investigation once he found out who the "leaker" was in the Valerie Plame saga. As if that gave Libby license to lie when Fitzgerald did ask him questions.

Of all the former governors there (including Romney, Huckabee and Thompson), Gilmore came across as the most "real." And I say that as someone who was more favorably disposed toward Huckabee coming in. Huckabee did manage to steal some of Brownback's territory on the "life" issue. However, he seemed to want to be the most-left candidate economically by coming out against excessive CEO pay and raiding of pensions. Huckabee's line about "not giving a letter grade in the middle of a test" with respect to the Iraq War was corny -- but, given the question, was a really on-point improvised answer.

Brownback, the avowed pro-lifer, also got some good "moderate" credits by saying that he could support a pro-choice GOP presidential candidate -- and for mentioning his support for issues in Africa.

Romney is a very good-looking guy and he "looks" presidential. But he didn't blow me away with anything tonight. His assertion that he became pro-life after he "studied" the issue (which just happened to be the time when he was "studying" the idea of running for president) still sounds as plastic to me as it did when I first heard it. Others can disagree, but that's how I feel. Romney, however, did make the clearest -- and, for me -- most correct answer on the Terri Schiavo question. On the other hand, he gets major demerits for making the already-difficult-to-understand stem-cell issue even more incomprehensible (something about "nuking" something).

John McCain often seemed hesitant and off his step. In 2000, his laugh lines sounded vibrant and off-the-cuff (even after he had said them countless times). Tonight, they sounded very canned. Yes, he made it clear that he was the "warrior candidate." However, it was ironic: While bashing Bush's handling of the war, the maverick has adopted the establishment White House's talking points: "We have a new general; we have a plan." McCain gets kudos for managing to shoe-horn the issue of judges in at the end of the debate. However, his "The first pork-barrel earmark spending bill that crosses my desk I'll veto." Right, as any Congress will introduce a bill called the Pork-Barrel Earmark Act of 2009.

Ron Paul's best line was that he was in the line of Eisenhower and Nixon trying to get America out of difficult, poorly-run wars. Unfortunately, that was probably his high point. I cheered him occasionally for his purist libertarian comments ("We don't need a national ID card."), but he said nothing that actually made one say, "Hmmm...maybe this guy isn't a fringe candidate.

Three out of ten Republican presidential candidates don't believe in evolution (Brownback, Tancredo and one other I couldn't identify on the full-panel shot when Matthews asked the question Huckabee). Hmmm....

Matthews' Bill Clinton question at the end was an embarassment ("Do you want Bill Clinton back in the White House?"). The obvious answer was the one everybody gave -- "No, because it would mean that Hillary Clinton was president." What else would a GOP presidential candidate say? But that wasn't what Matthews was getting at. He was making a Monica reference without actually saying it. So, he comes across as the giggly Catholic schoolboy who feels the need to make a smarmy reference -- but just wants to hint at it and let other people make the smarm explicit. Pathetic.

UPDATE: Peggy Noonan's take: "
Mitt Romney won, Rudy Giuliani lost, and John McCain is still in."

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Ragged Record Moment

In honor of the Republican "Debate" tonight, we present this Ragged Thots Top-40 dedication to the GOP candidate to beat, from other nine.

And for the other Nine Reagan Wannabes, the first video I ever fell in love with. A special dedication for all the dime-store imitations of a certain deceased president that we will witness on MSNBC tonight.

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Pre-GOP Debate Open Thread

What do you want to hear? What questions asked?

Thread on.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007


New Media Giveth... media taketh away?

So, a few weeks back, Barack Obama got a big online boost from the anti-Hillary "1984"
parody ad.

Well, one wonders whether the Obama team's behavior with this fan-created MySpace site will blow up in their candidate's face. Yes, we only have creator Joe Anthony's
version of events to go on, but it has the ring of truth to me. Essentially, this guy worked for years on an Obama MySpace profile (he first put it up in November 2004) and the Obama campaign basically yanked it from him this week without compensation.

I believe Anthony when he says he wasn't holding out on the Obama people just for the money. Seriously. Given that the guy had brought in 160,000 MySpace friends, his price of $50,000 for creating and working on the site for two-and-a-half years was a remarkably fair offer. It comes to a bit more than $1600 a month.

Even if it wasn't, why couldn't the Obama people have come back with a counter-offer?

If Hillary Clinton or John Edwards are smart, they will hire Anthony very quickly. This seems like a very creative guy who has suddenly been victimized by the candidate who wants to "change the style" of politics. Not smart. Not smart at all.

(By the way, I'm aware that Obama and Co. might be legally in the right, given various laws covering cyber-squatting and the like. But politics is about more than just "legal" issues -- there are moral and "public relations" aspects in play as well. And on the latter, Barack Obama comes up short.)

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Thank Goodness

After years of Iraq, Abramoff earmarks, CIA leaks, U.S. attorneys being fired, Dubai Ports deals, etc. finally -- finally -- we have an old-fashioned DC hookers scandal! No difficult explanations or weird Ven diagrams. It's an easy story to get one's, uh, "hands" around!

Thank you, Deborah Jeane Palfrey, thank you!!

A grateful nation salutes you!

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Which George Is Worse?

George Tenet -- for not being more aggressive in spelling out the dangers of going into Iraq or resigning out of principle when the entire project fell apart or declining the Presidential Medal of Freedom when it was offered and now offering a ridiculously belated mea culpa?

Or George W. Bush -- for not replacing Tenet (a Clinton appointee) when Bush took office in '01, or after 9/11, or after the "slam-dunk" fiasco -- or for giving him the frickin' medal in the first place!!!

Discuss -- and flip a coin.

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A GOP Prescription?

Ross Douthat uses David Brooks' Sunday NYT column (behind the Times Select wall) to suggest some Republican policy options.

He then responds to Jonah Goldberg's assessment of Brooks:
I think this is largely right as analysis, and it's precisely why the Right is in such difficulties. Reaganism ran out of steam in the late 1990s: It had succeeded on many fronts, been co-opted by the Democrats on others, and run up against a wall of pro-welfare state public opinion on still others. "Compassionate conservatism" was an attempt to address the new political landscape by promising to reform government in a conservative direction, rather than simply slashing it to the bone; it was a terrible slogan, to my mind, but the underlying idea was basically a good one. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration was a disaster on a variety of fronts, and even though the substance of compassionate conservatism was arguably the least of the Administration's problems, Bush's deviations from small-government principle have provided a convenient scapegoat for conservatives looking to explain what's gone wrong in the last six years without addressing, say, why the public rejected Social Security reform or why Iraq has been such a disaster.

As a result, conservatives who think the movement needs to adapt to a post-Reaganite landscape, rather than hunkering down and getting back to basics, are deemed to have been discredited by George W. Bush, and the prevailing attitude on the right is that the way out of the current mess is to commit the GOP to a platform of cutting government waste, extending Bush's tax cuts, and talking really, really tough about the war on terror and Iran. The result is that the Right is back where it was in the late 1990s, headed toward what Chris Caldwell has termed "Southern captivity", and convinced that going in this direction constitutes a change for the better.
There's a sense is that this is the spark for a lengthy discussion of what conservatism/ Republicanism will be/should be in the post-Bush era.

However, as The Washington Post notes today, on the contentious issue of the day -- Iraq -- it may surprise many, but Bush's base remains with him. Any GOP candidate running (or planning to do so) in 2008 must deal with the fact that the Iraq War remains popular among Republicans -- even as it has fallen out of favor with Democrats and, especially, independents.

That dichotomy is going to make for an interesting -- though frustrating -- debate in the coming months and years.

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Monday, April 30, 2007


"Truest Things Said In Jest" Dept.

America's finest news source weighs in on the troubles in the Middle East.

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