Oval Office Thunderdome: If the Dead Could Talk…

The best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call real America, being here with all of you hard working very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation. This is where we find the...courage of everyday Americans, those who are...fighting our wars for us, those who are protecting us in uniform...

— Republican Vice Presidential Nominee Sarah Palin, addressing a McCain rally in North Carolina

Since the war in Iraq began, 67 residents of the city of New York, where I live, have been killed in the conflict. This number does not include those that have died in Afghanistan, nor those from the wider New York metropolitan area. In fact, from areas of the country that Sarah Palin presumably regards as not pro-America, i.e., from states that voted for John Kerry in the 2004 election, 1,789 service members have been killed. Continue reading “Oval Office Thunderdome: If the Dead Could Talk...”

Film in the Tubes: The Herbivore

The contributors to Wikipedia define outsider art as art “created outside the boundaries of official culture.” They also define folk art as “generally produced by people who have little or no academic artistic training, nor a desire to emulate ‘fine art’.” Internet filmmaker James Rolfe has gained attention for his in-character video reviews of retro videogames, and also for his film reviews. Before he was a viral star, Rolfe made over a hundred short films, starting at an early age. These films are strictly low-rent, mostly made on his parents’ home video camera. As such, they mostly show the over-active imagination of a hyperactive child. Some of them are purely playtime — Rolfe hanging out with friends and convincing them to whirl around plastic swords while he tapes. But, in 1997, he hit gold. Continue reading “Film in the Tubes: The Herbivore”

Mike Likes His Job

Michael Bloomberg is a popular and successful mayor. The city has thrived with him in City Hall. Increases in crime that have bedeviled other large cities in the United States these past years have either been non-existent or far less severe, depending on the category, while police tactics have been less punitive than they were under Rudy Giuliani. A troubled budgetary state following Giuliani’s largess and misspending was stabilized. Public schools have a higher graduation rate since the city took control of their operations. New York has been a leader in an aggressive pursuit of illegal firearms sales. Bloomberg has also been a consummate advocate for the city, traveling to Washington to secure fair treatment from a government too willing to ignore the problems of big cities. Continue reading “Mike Likes His Job”

We Are Being Fucked

The White House has sent a $700 billion bailout package to Congress for approval. Add that to the approximately $815 billion of the current costs of the various bailouts and emergency loans, and the housing collapse is now costing the American taxpayers over one and a half trillion dollars. That’s trillion, with a “t”. Or, this: $1,500,000,000,000.00. That is a staggering amount of money. Combine that with what the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are costing, and the budget deficit, and the next president has just had all the discretionary spending of the next term wiped out. Continue reading “We Are Being Fucked”

The Empty Balcony: Big Trouble in Little China

As I was watching John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China recently, I was struck by the familiarity of the material. I felt I had seen it before, but in some other context. Confined, mazelike, and windowless environments; various tricks and traps the heroes must overcome; goons, monsters, and the bosses that control them, etc. And there it is. Big Trouble in Little China plays like a videogame. Considering it was released in 1986, before videogames became complex enough to compare, does that mean John Carpenter was breaking new ground, that Big Trouble in Little China is ahead of its time? No. It just reaffirms that the pacing and storytelling of today’s videogames are derivative of cinema. There are plenty of other films from around the same time that are akin to videogames (Aliens, Commando, and Total Recall all come immediately to mind, among many others). Continue reading “The Empty Balcony: Big Trouble in Little China”

Oval Office Thunderdome: Had Enough Yet?

Blame the undecideds. Blame the dunderheads who, after the longest presidential election in history is nearing its close, still can’t figure out who they want to vote for. They are the reason we continue to suffer through such a disheartening election. All the nastiness, spin, and lies polluting American politics before November 4th is directed towards these people, in an effort to sway their loyalties one way or the other. The closer we get to the election, the greater the distortions. In effect, those of us who decided who to vote for long ago are at the mercy of those who are basing their choice on the desperate words and deeds of frantic candidates. Unbelievable. Continue reading “Oval Office Thunderdome: Had Enough Yet?”

The Empty Balcony: Escape from New York

Escape from New YorkBack before the great wave of gentrification began to hit American cities in the mid-1990s, there was the 1980s, an era when the distressed environment of the cities bottomed out. Long decades of neglect, strained local budgets, and rising crime left our cities veritable war zones. The inner cities were voids of hopelessness, abject poverty, and filth. Even affluent neighborhoods were just dangerous enough to breed well-heeled residents with canny street smarts, always looking over their shoulders for the dark figure hiding behind a tree or in an alley. This kind of palpable fear of urban environments is contagious, and it entered into our lore. We could envision no bright future for the American city because we had seen decay extend its grip for so long. Today’s cities have not fully recovered, and they remain always on the brink, ready to slide back as soon as people’s cares turn elsewhere, but it’s hard to picture just how bad things got unless one were a witness.

There are a few films here and there where our urban legacy is on full display. Wolfen had major scenes, some visually stunning, filmed among the devastation of the South Bronx. The classic film The French Connection was a study in browns — rust and dirt every bit as important a character as Popeye Doyle. Fort Apache, The Bronx was a caricature of the inner city, sometimes offensive, but it came from somewhere real. The Warriors has attained mythical status as New York’s ultimate cult film of the night, playing on our fears of a city gone out of control, at the mercy of costumed thugs. At times laughable, the film still wallowed in very real grit, a symptom of the disease that had befallen the city. Continue reading “The Empty Balcony: Escape from New York”

October Horrorshow, Retroactive: The Thing

Last week saw a unique event in film. Four John Carpenter films landed in Brooklyn as part of a mini-retrospective at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). The featured films were Big Trouble in Little China, The Thing, They Live, and Escape from New York. All unique films from a unique filmmaker. B-movie schlock artist or perennially misunderstood genius, depending upon who’s doing the watching, Carpenter is a knowledgeable director who draws on his education, talents, and the best aspects of low-grade cinema to craft films that are unmistakably his. As soon as the opening credits roll, one enters Carpenter’s world. Viewer hears music (usually) from Carpenter’s own synthesizer, and the credits themselves are all the same white serif font on a black background, no matter which of his films is playing. Anamorphic lens effects and dark lighting cross among his works. Finally there is the thematic distrust of authority as a conceptual continuity throughout. All of this makes Carpenter’s films easily recognizable to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of his oeuvre. Continue reading “October Horrorshow, Retroactive: The Thing”

An Aggressive Russia

Much has been written and said the last few days regarding the Georgian crisis from an American perspective, including on this site. Political junkies are rapturous over this fresh event. Veterans of the Cold War have reached back into themselves beyond nostalgia, and have burst forth with condemnations, strangely reassured that world tensions have suddenly returned to a realm they know and understand, a place where America was unequivocal in its righteousness. The consensus from these groups, along with so many others, is that we are watching Russia once again act the part of shameless, ruthless aggressor, punishing Georgia beyond cause, possibly beyond any reasoning beyond that of bold, naked intimidation. From where we sit, here in the United States, the crisis in Georgia exists in black and white, with little nuance. Whereas so much damage has been wrought by such uncomplicated reasoning, here is a situation where the starkness of our perceptions and the starkness of reality are not that far apart. Continue reading “An Aggressive Russia”