Friday, November 06, 2009

Camera Obscura: 'War, Inc." Rips Outsourced Warfare; Sundance Festival In Tennessee

Creating a satire on your own culture is a doubled-bladed dagger. Satirists seldom become lionized or praised for their efforts as pointing out failures and dangers and the ridiculous presence of deluded emperors wearing invisible clothes tends to invoke more embarrassment than wisdom or appreciation.

Sometimes greatness is achieved - most readers and critics still applaud Joseph Heller's "Catch-22" or "MASH" - the one made by Richard Hooker/Robert Altman and not by Alan Alda. Ripping into warfare means taking a huge risk and in cinema the best effort in the last 50 years remains Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove", though perhaps because the fear of nuclear warfare far is a wise human response. Plus, Doctor S. was made with truly talented folks.

This week I finally got to see the movie "War, Inc." which was produced, co-written and starring John Cusack, and released (briefly) in 2008. The movie that daringly tackles the current war being waged in Iraq and Afghanistan, though audiences and studios approach such fare with enormous reluctance.

No doubt, the comedy of errors and horrors by which we were led into these wars is ripe for ridicule. Still, lives are lost in those campaigns daily and is likely to continue for a long time to come. Give Cusack points for trying and carefully negotiating a path through the mess.

Cusack plays an despondent assassin named Brand Hauser who is forced into a bizarre power play in the mythical Middle Eastern nation of "Turaqistan" by his bosses at a Halliburtonesque company called Tamerlane, a corporation which has taken over the war and is headed by American ex-vice-president and sneeringly played with much skill by Dan Aykroyd. (Tamerlane was a 14th century conqueror of the Persian empire.)

Cusack's cover identity is to be the organizer of a massive trade show in Turaqistan by the nefarious Tamerlane, which sells advertising space on the sides of tanks and humvees, and the show includes amputee victims from the war making a turn as kick-dancing Rockettes with prosthetic legs (" ... just another breathtaking example of how American know-how alleviates the suffering it creates.")

Cusack's character often voices the goals of Tamerlane and that war means business - "
What are we supposed to do? Turn our backs on all the entrepreneur possibilities? Business is a uniquely human response to a moral or cosmic crisis. Whether it's a tsunami or a sustained aerial bombardment, there's the same urgent call for urban renewal."

Not the kind of movie line destined to win hearts and minds in the American Heartland, is it?

Another memorable character in the movie is played by Hilary Duff (!!!) as a Middle Eastern Britney Spears named Yonica Babyyeah. Her wedding is supposed to be the highlight of the trade show, but she too is as despondent as Brand Hauser which means nothing goes as planned. Her character's entrance provides a glimpse of her stage act, as she sings a tune called "I Want To Blow You (Up)":

You say you want to invade me baby
You say you want to enslave me baby
(I want to blow you)
I want to blow you up

You say you want to free me baby
But you can not even see me baby
(I want to blow you)
I want to blow you up

I want to blow you sky high
Hi, goodbye
I want to blow you, blow you, blow you
Blow you up

You want to occupy my heart and soul
A black widow in a spider hole
(I want to blow you)
I want to blow you up

Yeah, the movie is in deep and strange waters both familiar and truly uncomfortable. It has a weird blend of comedy and horror, taking cues from other wartime satires ranging from the Marx Brothers to 1960s era movies like "The President's Analyst" and the 1970s era conspiracy nightmare "Winter Kills". There's a dystopian quality akin to "Brazil" mixed in there too and it's no wonder the studios and the audiences in America just could not seem to hold onto.

Perhaps in some future when the current war has faded, or when the nation gets a gut full of the insanity of corporate-led combat and rejects the idea, this movie will gain attention. I'm not holding my breath though. For as looney as the movie might seem, it includes some ugly truths that make it hard to hold very close.


The short satiric rips seen daily via The Daily Show are always impressive. Last night, host Jon Stewart did a fantastic impression of Glenn Beck theorizing the healthcare conspiracy against Beck himself. It's a work of pure comedy gold:

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Announcement was made this week that the Sundance Film Festival is going to expand into 8 cities across the country, including an exhibition in Nashville at the Belcourt Theatre. No films have been announced as of yet, but we'll keep you posted. Christian Grantham at Nashville Is Talking has the details.


Word is the upcoming Oscar competition is having a tough time trying to fill out one category - Best Original Screenplay. The reasons are obvious to even the casual film fan - sequels and franchises make money but they ain't original:

Original screenplays used to comprise the bulk of what Hollywood did. But ever since the studios became obsessed with remakes and sequels, there’s been a depletion of the kind of new ideas that once populated the category.... But the current lack of original screenplays might reinforce the negative trend: Studios don’t produce many, the Academy doesn’t have many to choose from, and then the category loses stature, further deterring studios from greenlighting those types of movies."

More at The Hollywood Reporter.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Dick Armey Model - Corruption for Cash

Former congressional leaders who turn into lobbyists and organizers for "grassroots" organizations usually become lackluster seekers for untold riches and to hell with the policies being debated.

The model for this tacky and dubious enterprise is former House Leader Dick Armey of Texas and the Dallas News published just how much he earned while pretending to take stands on opposing issues for two groups at the same time -- until his actions were exposed in August.

Quitting DLA Piper in August caused him to give up his salary of $750,000 a year, which he earned on top of the $550,000 he was paid by FreedomWorks in 2008.

"I hated to walk away from that kind of money," said Armey, who now lives in Bartonville, near Flower Mound. "How many times in your life, or anybody's life, do they have an opportunity to earn that kind of money when they are 69 years old?"

But even fellow lobbyists say Armey's "curious model" was bound to cause problems for FreedomWorks and DLA Piper."

By no means is Armey the only former elected official who traffics in pushing policies for cold hard cash. Members of both parties follow this path and it's just one of many reasons why voters have such dim view of the way government has been working.

Currently, Congresswoman Michelle Bachman has hitched her wagon to the Celebrity Tea Party crowd, ignoring consequences in favor of a few moments of fame and hopes for future earnings.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Compassion for Celebrity Tea Party Loss

A quick politics check after yesterday's Mediocre Tuesday elections:

Republicans elected two governors, Democrats elected two Congressmen. Steve Benen breaks it down pretty well:

Going into yesterday, it'd been a good year for Democrats in special elections, winning three races -- New York's 20th, Illinois's 5th, and California's 32nd. Yesterday, Dems made it five for five.

In California's 10th, Lt. Gov. John Garamendi (D), running a progressive campaign, defeated Republican David Harmer by double digits, 53% to 42.7%.

And in New York's 23rd, in the race that captured extensive national attention, Democrat Bill Owens scored a surprising win, beating Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman, 49.3% to 45.2%, with nearly all of the votes counted.

While it's a mistake to characterize either of these House races as bellwethers, the New York defeat not only gave Democrats something to be happy about on an otherwise disappointing Election Day -- Owens will be the first Dem to represent this area since the 19th century -- it was also a setback for the right-wing activists and leaders who'd invested so heavily in this special election.

Indeed, the far right had a plan. Activists and their allies would drive the moderate Republican away and rally behind the right-wing candidate. They would then take this model on the road, making NY-23 a model for competitive contests elsewhere. Of course, the strategy looks less impressive when the Democrat wins."

Actor and conservative firebrand of Tennessee, Fred Thompson must feel pretty lousy after the things he said yesterday in a rally for the Conservative - I mean Celebrity Tea Party candidate - Doug Hoffman:

The eyes of the nation — the eyes of the world — are on New York 23 tonight," he said. "And tomorrow you're going to shake the foundations of Washington D.C."

And then there was this from singer John Rich, of the duo Big & Rich:

"Tomorrow, there's going to be a lot of conservative partying going on in this neck of the woods," the singer said.

Mr. Rich also took swipes at Dierdre K. Scozzafava and the Republican officials who picked her as a congressional candidate over Mr. Hoffman.

"I'm a little sideways with the Republican Party for putting up Dede Schizophrenic," he said."

Aw, poor Fred and John - they likely feel all bruised and battered by the election day outcome, so here's something to soothe your boo-boos and make you feel better.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Myth of The Celebrity Tea Party Race In New York's 23rd District

The Celebrity Tea Party wing of the GOP is trying hard to make one congressional race in New York mean something, anything and as always the CTP whirls a wildly distorted spin as they yearn for a single victory in the political landscape. They hope a single election victory will mean the CTP is a gigantic political force in America. (or should that be political farce?)

So let's do a wee reality check on that race.

The 23rd District in N.Y. has been firmly held by a Republican for decades. President Obama selected the current officeholder, John McHugh, as Army secretary and that left the seat open and for the first time in decades, the Republicans were poised to lose that seat to Democrats.

What to do?

Fortunately for the Republicans, a Wild Card Celebrity Tea Party candidate was ready and eager to join in the race, Doug Hoffman. True, he does not live in the district, and won't even be able to vote for himself in the election.

Since Hoffman had little support in the district, he turned to some national fundraisers to help him, bringing in millions and millions of dollars to pay for ads in which he talked not about issues affecting residents of the 23rd District, but instead he echoed the fearful moans and cries of the Celebrity Tea Party: America is being dismantled and turned into a Socialist state, gays are running the country, etc etc.

Once the money arrived, the other Celebs (none of them actually holding an elected office) like Sarah Palin and Fred Thompson and Glenn Beck appeared to anoint the Chosen One. The media frenzy then followed, Republicans abandoned their own candidate and now they warn voters that Hoffman is their only salvation from evil politicians who have all turned to the Dark Side:

Tell the politicians, no more, we won't let you bankrupt America. We need conservative leaders who stand up for our values."

Translation: Don't trust us, just trust the other us instead.

And if Hoffman does win, what will Republicans and the Celebrity Tea Party gain, other than a moment of glamour in their favorite arena, the Media Spotlight? It may be absolutely nothing.

As it stands now, the district is about to be eliminated completely, as the upcoming census shows population in New York is falling and must lose one congressional seat. It is more likely to disappear if Hoffman wins:

If Hoffman wins, boy, that district has a big, juicy target on it," said Bruce E. Altschuler, a political science professor at the State University of New York at Oswego.

"Added Sherwood L. Boehlert, a former Republican congressman from the Utica area who survived two redistrictings, "I would think a third party candidate would virtually guarantee the elimination of that district as we know it."

So what is it the CTP is after?

The CTP desperately need people to talk about them, to wonder at their mighty skills, to include them in political discussions. And so far, they have won just that. The Myth will be praised, the needs of the residents of the district ignored, and in a few months, the district may well be gone completely, vanished in the mists of fantasy which shroud all the inhabitants of the Celebrity Tea Party.