Saturday, September 15, 2007

Hollywood Attacks

Until we are able to love ourselves, how can the world love us?

The new fall movies have been announced. Following in the steps of "Valley of the Wolves"

In the noble tradition of mainstream genre cinema, the script takes a real-life event as a starting point and then spins off into Loony-Tunes land. On July 4, 2003, U.S. forces surrounded the HQ of an undercover Turkish unit in Sulaymaniyah, northern Iraq, led its 11 members out with hoods on their heads, and had them deported, even though Turkey was officially an ally in the war. The so-called "Hood Event" was seen by Turks as a national humiliation.

On the one hand, the basic format is peppered with some pure trash-exploitation elements, such as a strung-out U.S.-Jewish doctor (Busey) at Abu Ghraib who's trafficking inmates' organs to London, New York and Tel Aviv. Busey's few scenes -- and the whole tiny, undeveloped subplot -- are disposable.
and the not yet released "Redacted" the private vanity flick funded entirely by billionaire internet dilettante Mark Cuban and directed by Brian de Palma

From its title and intriguing opening (which shows words blacked out on a document by a censor's pen), the film seems determined to explore the repackaging of actual events by official and corporate media. In fact, it does nothing of the kind. From the first sequence, of Latino grunt Angel Salazar (Izzy Diaz) recording his buddies on video camera for a docu ("Tell Me No Lies") he hopes will get him into film school, "Redacted" is much more about the process and techniques of filmmaking than media distortion or coverups.

The breezy Salazar's fellow soldiers in Alfa Company, Camp Carolina, Samarra, fall into the usual stereotypes: bookish Gabe Blix (Kel O'Neill), who spends his time reading John O'Hara's "Appointment in Samarra"; soldier-with-a-conscience McCoy, a lawyer (Rob Devaney); and racist tree-swingers B.B. Rush (Daniel Stewart Sherman) and Reno Flake (Patrick Carroll). Their leader, Master Sgt. James Sweet (Ty Jones), is a motormouth hardass on his third tour of duty

It's soon clear De Palma intends to construct the whole movie from "found footage" -- Salazar's vid diary, security camera tapes, an Arab TV channel, websites (both U.S. and Islamic fundamentalist) or other docus and testimonials.

Drama finally clicks into gear when a car driven by Iraqis doesn't stop at the checkpoint, and Flake and Rush open fire. Even when it turns out the car contains a pregnant woman rushing to get to a hospital (where she subsequently dies), the two soldiers remain unrepentant. In dialogue that sounds too theatrically scripted, Rush contends, "You can't afford remorse. You get remorse, you get weak; you get weak, you die."Violence escalates when the locals take revenge on one of the group, in a well-staged shock sequence. After a night raid on a private house, seen from the p.o.v. of an embedded journalist, and the subsequent media hoo-ha, Flake and Rush pressure the rest of their group to return on a private mission. Secretly helmet-cammed by Salazar, this ends in the horrific rape of a 15-year-girl and the shooting of her and her family.

Ironically, pic's most powerful section is its final 10 minutes, as McCoy's traumatic experience is reduced, back home, to a bar yarn that ends with friends cheering him as a hero. De Palma follows that with a photo montage of real-life Iraqi victims of violence, dubbed "Collateral Damage" -- a harrowing couple of minutes that seems, alas, to be a coda to a better picture than "Redacted."

We have coming first to our TV sets, some of our favorite stars on late night talk shows peddling the flicks, then the various entertainment/celebrity news magazines and cable channels, then the week before they are released we'll get the reviewers comments.

Eventually we'll be allowed to see, "The Kingdom" staring Jamie Foxx as leader of an FBI antiterrorist team;"Lions for Lambs" with Tom Cruise playing a Senator making foreign policy; "Charlie Wilson's War" with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts; "The Valley of Elah" starring Tommy Lee Jones; ." Battle for Haditha" by Nick Bloomfield and Grace is Gone" by James C. Strouse.

Hollywood is taking advantage of the lame-duck Presidency, the 2008 election cycle and the background noise about the war in Iraq to fill it's wallet. The movies will be released in the fall with all the noise and attention that a Hollywood movie generates. Then in the Spring we will get the Academy Awards, presented again by Jon Stewart. and in the fall, just in time for the actual voting we'll get the DVD releases.

Todd McCarthy observes in Variety:

Just as, during World War II, Hollywood pictures had a unified aim, to rally viewers around the war effort and present an image of the Allies prevailing, today they are also identical in nature, except in the opposite direction.

The first problem is that fictional films take at least a year, sometimes two, to create and disseminate, and thus the attitudes they reflect can be a bit stale at a time when events move so quickly (even if, alas, the war is still very much with us).

When someone like Richard Gere spouts off about Bush at the Venice Film Festival, as he just did, how much more tired can you get? Being anti-Bush simply isn't enough, as this point; there's an election coming up, a future to decide, complex issues to sort out, and Bush won't be part of the equation.

Where current events are concerned, documentaries are far better equipped to tackle them than are fictional features. The film of the year for me in many ways is "No End in Sight," a profoundly analytical, meticulously methodical and rewardingly specific study of where the U.S. went wrong once it achieved military victory in Iraq; it was the film I'd long been waiting for after the emotional hysteria of "Fahrenheit 9/11" and its ilk.

Now that the vast majority of Americans have misgivings, at the very least, about the Iraq adventure, producers are betting that mainstream audiences may be ready, up to a point, for the homefront stories of mangled, maimed and disturbed vets and their families. But the overt polemics of most of the Iraq films thus far, such as those expressed so predictably at the end of "In the Valley of Elah," seem calculated to once again stir up the Cindy Sheehan crowd, to preach to the converted of four years ago. Move on, indeed. (Emphasis added)

Following the pattern of "Constant Campaigning" set by the Clinton White House, Hollywood has found that they can play politics and increase box office to everyone's benefit. Politicians need the attention and money that celebrities can bring. Hollywood needs the political stew to bring the stories that will guarantee box office success.

"Wag the Dog" was not about a President hiding a scandal behind an international incident. It was about Hollywood (the tail) wagging the dog (the President). George Bush has not been as good for Hollywood. He has committed no scandals. He has not tolerated any lapses among the administration. He has not given any basis for believing that he would go nuts and blow things up, get bogged down in minor indiscretions that would lead to an escalating series of violent acts to cover up, or leave his wife for another woman or intern. He is not a drunk, an addict, a predator. His wife is none of those things either. The Bushes is boring in the best possible way.

Hollywood cannot wait for him to leave. They want another Clinton White House. Scandals, screw-ups, firings, tax increases, inflation all mean better financial times for Hollywood. (Inflation will drive up the value of the assets collateralizing their loans and make it easier for people to pay more than $7-$9 dollars for a seat.) Threats of war with Russia or China will make good movie backdrops. Terrorist attacks will drive people to escapist fare. Steady headlines will mean steady box office. Hillary or Obama either one fits a preset Hollywood stereo type and will be just bad enough to generate 1,000 story and plot lines. They'll back both. But eventually Hillary will get their support because the Clinton's are a known factor. They are safe box office. Obama may not be the kind of greedy grasping weasel that Hollywood can trust to keep the spin machinery going.

What the world thinks of America will be driven by these movies. People will sit in darkened theaters watching our movies and believing they are reflection of real life and real Americans. They have been doing this for over 90 years. Michael Moore's "Fareheit 9/11" grossed over $222 million. Since then, the current administration has been -THE- target for profits.

Of course, another terrorist attack and the mood of the nation may swing back in support of the one who has kept us safe for over six years. There is also the possibility that the nation will become tired of being force fed all the anti-war propaganda.

That would fly in the face of the famous Mencken quote "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the American boobsousie". Our appetite for celebrity seemingly knows no limit. Our ability to concentrate and think about an issue can not gain attention for any period of time. Maybe we are as naive and foolish as H.L. Mencken and Mark Twain described us.

Hollywood wants a "sure thing" and is not beyond cooking the books, manipulating the politicians and public opinion to get ever more profits. I doubt we'll ever see a movie with that plot line... Even Joel Surnow, the director of "24", would not bite the hands that feed him so very well.

As Brett Harte wrote about the man who when asked why he had gone to gamble knowing the cardroom cheated. The man replied "It's the only game in town."

If the public decides that Hollywood is at war with them and begins to reject the movies it will mean bad things for Democrats. If the public decides that the Democrats are too shrill, too childish and incapable of being trusted with power, Hollywood could suffer. Large bets by both Hollywood and the Democrats. could tempt some weaker souls. Is it really the "Only Game in Town" ?

Political Bits

"The mind thinks, not with data, but with ideas whose creation and elaboration cannot be reduced to a set of predictable values."

Theodore Roszak

White House Press Corpse?

Jay Rosen of Press Think having fired off his annoyances about the coverage of the Bush visit to Anbar and the rest of the world hears back from someone inside the WH Briefing room who wishes to remain anonymous.

Person who wrote to me is for real. Has one of the seats. Does not want to be named. I don't generally run things like that. But this is straight from the briefing room to correct PressThink on a few items. So I found a way.

I’m writing in response to your post about the president’s trip to Iraq, and some additional thoughts that you shared about covering this White House. After reading your column, I sent a somewhat heated email to a friend who’s a press critic — and a long-time reader of your columns on HuffPost and Press Think — and he suggested I reach out to you directly.


First, I have to tell you that your suggestion that the White House press corps - or its “pool” representatives - not cover the president when he goes into a war zone struck me as curious.


Well, there are two phrases that I’d like to pass along to your readers. They mean more or less the same thing. “Body watch” means covering an event that will produce zero news on its own because you need to make sure the president doesn’t collapse. The other is SSRO — “suddenly shots rang out” — which is basically equivalent, just a bit more dramatic.

I think melodramatic would be right.

They continue in that vein... What is overlooked from both professional journalists is that the WH Press Corp and the institutional machinery made a lot of money for the media during the Clintonian years. Clinton had a scandal, charges, photo op, or defense going anew every week for almost 8 years. The Nightly Leno?Letterman/Stewart combo got laughs with easy tawdry jokes. The WH Press Corp and the broadcast media were well fed They wealthy and several news journalists got promoted during those years. Any reporter that failed to toe the Clinton-Line was not-so-carefully removed from the list of invitees. Being on the out means no stories, no questions asked or answered, no promotions and no more paycheck. Like well fed dogs, the WH Press Corp grew fat and lazy on the constant diet of high calorie campaign-style propaganda. This came in very handy when the Clinton Presidency was threatened. Suddenly, the Press realized that the train might stop. By ignoring, spinning, slanting and defending the Clintons they could milk it for a few more years. They did and they did. They lost their hunger, their fangs and their claws. Like cut-cats they could only sit and stare.

Now Rosen finds it boring that so many resources are wasted on the Bush WH travels. They could simply see him off and then have the local reporter or stringer at the destination pick-up and watch for the bullets to fly or body to fall... Bush is boring. He keeps his promises. He loves his wife. He keeps normal hours. He does his job and goes home. Therefore, the Press could do the same. That is at-odds with the post-Watergate, every moment a leak, a cover-up, a scandal brewing, a Pulitzer, a book, a movie deal, mentality... Now they have to settle down and do a regular work week and grub for promotions and pay raises just like regular folks. Its been a long seven years.

Would the Press pump it up for another Clinton WH-? 1992-2016 would make a long and satisfying career as a journo. A book or movie would surely be possible from all those scandals. A satisfying pension would be assured. And it would all arrive spoon fed, pre-chewed and ready for typing, or re-write as they used to call it. No thinking, no analysis, no digging for facts or even fact checking, just re-type what the WH Press Secretary presents and head off for few drinks. "Nice work if you can get it and you can get it if you try" says the old song.

The Washington Way
Washington hates revolution and fears revolutionaries more than it hates "leaders". They prefer "evolution". Never Say "No". Never say "yes". Never block anything. Slow progress at all times. (aka "Slow Rolling") Don't rock the boat, don't upset anyone. Never challenge a decision until the decision maker has retired. Check all the facts. Get all the answers. Look at it from all angles. Consider all the options and consequences (especially whose ox might get gored). Then pass it along to the next level for a repeat of the cycle and updating of the information. It's called "I 'm having a career". Never get fired. Slowly get promoted. Get nice health and pension. The rest of the world calls it "Retired In Place (R.I.P.)" Would the WH Press Corp be immune to seeking evolution over revolution for themselves?

I find it easier to see them as humans seeking a life and trying for a career than as noble enlightened beings who take small wages to be disrespected by those they cover as they pursue truth, only truth.

NYTimes Discovers Ad Marketing Strategy At Long Last.

The WSJ today asks

Tailgunner Joan Flies Standby
Yesterday we wondered if the New York Times had made an illegal campaign contribution to the political action committee. The Times, you'll recall, published a full-page ad Monday in which it attacked Gen. David Petraeus in McCarthyite terms. The New York Post reported that the Times had given a $102,000 discount from its usual $167,000 rate--which, if true, would be an illegal in-kind contribution under campaign finance laws.

The Times offers this explanation in a news story today:

Catherine J. Mathis, a spokeswoman for The New York Times Company, said the advertising department does not base its rates on political content. She also said the department does not disclose the rates it charges for individual advertisements. But she did say that "similar types of ads are priced in the same way." She said the department charges advocacy groups $64,575 for full-page, black-and-white advertisements that run on a "standby" basis, meaning an advertiser can request a specific day and placement but is not guaranteed them.

In other words, the Times prices ads similarly to the way airlines price seats: Not everyone pays full fare, and you can get a deep discount if you are flexible. That allows the paper to sell space that might otherwise go unsold. Assuming that this is all on the up-and-up, there's no legal problem, any more than there is if a campaign pays less than full fare for a plane ticket.

But wait. This was a very time-sensitive ad. For it to have the desired effect (or, as actually happened, to backfire spectacularly), it pretty much had to run Monday. Under such circumstances, why would MoveOn buy an ad without guaranteed placement? That would be like flying standby to your own wedding

They ask many intelligent questions about pricing, space availability on a date propitious to the ad, etc. But acknowledge that the NYTimes has the right to sell their ad space for whatever rate they choose.

It is the view of this column that the Times should be able to sell ads to whomever it wishes under whatever terms it wishes. But we live in an era of heavy regulation of campaign speech, thanks in part to the persuasive efforts of the New York Times. It does not seem too much to ask that the New York Times Co. adhere, with transparency and integrity, to the high standards its editorialists seek to impose by law on everyone else.

Rudy Guilani quickly took advantage of the special rate and placed an ad challenging Hillary for not rebuking for the ad. "If you can't stand up to your own party, how can you stand up to foreign terrorists?" or words to that effect. At least her husband had the cojones to have his "Sister Souljah" moment. Hillary still hides behind the "Swiftboat defense"... Of course, she promised that she would not be "Swiftboated" by the opposition. It probably never seemed likely that she would be among the first voices in defending the right of a PAC to say anything no matter how outrageous, vile, or truthful. I wonder how she will respond to revelations next year?

In all things Presidential; Character Matters. Hillary has shown none.

Presidential Character

Captain Ed over at Captains Quarters has a report and some comments on Hillary's campaign hiring Sandy Berger

You can tell a man who boozes,
by the company he chooses ...
and the pig got up and slowly walked away.

The poem by Clarke Van Ness warns people that they will be judged by the actions of those with whom they choose to associate -- and even a pig has enough sense to walk away from disaster. Hillary Clinton has a big problem with her associates, and it's self-inflicted. Lost in the Norman Hsu shuffle, the news that Hillary has asked former Clinton national-security adviser Sandy Berger to join her campaign should cause even more questions about her judgment and her ethics:

The more experienced Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, has relied largely on her husband and a triumvirate of senior officials from his presidency—former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, former U.N. ambassador Richard Holbrooke and former national-security adviser Sandy Berger (who tries to keep a low profile after pleading guilty in 2005 to misdemeanor charges of taking classified material without authorization).

Berger didn't just commit some technical violation, either. He went to the National Archives on behalf of Bill Clinton as part of the investigation of the 9/11 attacks. While there, he deliberately hid highly classified material in his socks to avoid detection and dropped them under a trailer on a break. Later, he retrieved the material and took it home, and wound up destroying the evidence while his nation tried to find as much material on Clinton-era counterterrorism efforts in order to better protect ourselves in the future.

We now have two examples of Hillary Clinton associating herself with people of low character and criminal behavior. Unlike the pig in the song, Hillary not only has not removed herself from the gutter, she seems to be encouraging the ethically challenged to join her there.

Richard Miniter has more personal recollections of Berger's efforts to keep the Clinton errors quiet. He also ends with a very pertinent question:

My informed sources suggest that what Berger destroyed were copies of the Millennium After-Action Review, a binder-sized report prepared by Richard Clarke in 2000—a year and half before the 9-11 attacks. The review made a series of recommendations for a tougher stance against bin Laden and terrorism. There are 13 or more copies of this report. But only one contains hand-written notes by President Bill Clinton. Apparently, in the margin beside the recommendations, Bill Clinton wrote NO, NO, NO next to many of the tougher policy proposals. ...

Did she bring him aboard to reward him for his criminal destruction of classified material? Or did she sign him up because of his stellar record in fighting bin Laden in the late 1990s?

Captain Ed also has lots of coverage on Norman Hsu. Scroll down his link for details

Hillary's Presidency is not assured. It certainly looks that way from time to time. She has all the money in the world. She has all the Media and Media Stars supporting her. She would be guaranteed an Emmy, an Oscar, a Tony or even an MTV award if she was only a candidate.

There is still time for her to screw things up. Her inner shrew is barely below the surface. Her brittle, controlling, demanding persona is evident. Her choices in the people who surround her leaves much to be disrespect. She does not come across as a trustworthy person.

I believe that ultimately the American people want someone they can trust to do the right thing when nobody is looking. They do not want a President whose character came directly from the screenplay of "24".

I also do not dismiss her husband's ability to screw it up for her. He shows up at her speeches and sucks the attention away from her. Who remembers her when he is on stage. When they are together, she is the "Little Woman" and he is "The Lovable Rascal". I am not convinced that he would allow her to succeed where he failed. Altho his fingerprints would never appear on anything.


Brenden Miniter has some thoughts on why Hillary may have problems with women voters over her abortion positions (video link)... There will be more spculation and reading of tea leaves regarding Hillary's appeal to women voters to come in weeks and months ahead. It's still 14 months until the election.