One Reason The Last Decade Has Been So Uniquely Stupid

Signe cartoon TOON23

Jonathan Haidt had a piece on the Alantic on social media’s effects on culture called “Why the Past Ten Years of American Life Have Been So Uniquely Stupid.” It got a lot of attention, although one portion of it is underappreciated, as he gets to a major reason for the subtext of so many culture war fights.

Childhood has become more tightly circumscribed in recent generations––with less opportunity for free, unstructured play; less unsupervised time outside; more time online. Whatever else the effects of these shifts, they have likely impeded the development of abilities needed for effective self-governance for many young adults. Unsupervised free play is nature’s way of teaching young mammals the skills they’ll need as adults, which for humans include the ability to cooperate, make and enforce rules, compromise, adjudicate conflicts, and accept defeat. A brilliant 2015 essay by the economist Steven Horwitz argued that free play prepares children for the “art of association” that Alexis de Tocqueville said was the key to the vibrancy of American democracy; he also argued that its loss posed “a serious threat to liberal societies.” A generation prevented from learning these social skills, Horwitz warned, would habitually appeal to authorities to resolve disputes and would suffer from a “coarsening of social interaction” that would “create a world of more conflict and violence.”

And while social media has eroded the art of association throughout society, it may be leaving its deepest and most enduring marks on adolescents. A surge in rates of anxiety, depression, and self-harm among American teens began suddenly in the early 2010s. (The same thing happened to Canadian and British teens, at the same time.) The cause is not known, but the timing points to social media as a substantial contributor—the surge began just as the large majority of American teens became daily users of the major platforms. Correlational and experimental studies back up the connection to depression and anxiety, as do reports from young people themselves, and from Facebook’s own research, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Depression makes people less likely to want to engage with new people, ideas, and experiences. Anxiety makes new things seem more threatening. As these conditions have risen and as the lessons on nuanced social behavior learned through free play have been delayed, tolerance for diverse viewpoints and the ability to work out disputes have diminished among many young people.

You can write another cover story article on just this one question. Someone will likely do that soon enough.

In general, parents are controlling children too much.

Children are growing up into young adults who don’t know how to manage basic conflict.

Haidt considers potential solutions to this question, and to the harm social media causes children, although there will likely be pushback.

The most important change we can make to reduce the damaging effects of social media on children is to delay entry until they have passed through puberty. Congress should update the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which unwisely set the age of so-called internet adulthood (the age at which companies can collect personal information from children without parental consent) at 13 back in 1998, while making little provision for effective enforcement. The age should be raised to at least 16, and companies should be held responsible for enforcing it.

This may get to why some parents freak out so much about pop culture. Obviously kids always had pop culture, but they would also have structured play (IE- sports leagues) and unstructured play. Now we’ve got more structure play than ever, but the main alternative is pop culture, which means that parents who are used to keeping an eye on their kids may be worried about propaganda from adult entertainers. With so many forms of pop culture, it’s also impossible for parents to keep track of everything their kids watch and listen to, which further increases the suspicions. With more material for children, it’s also easier for adult media to do some nutpicking, and point out the craziest things some kids somewhere may be exposed to.

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Should Political Parties Support Independents?

On a discussion forum, there was an argument about British politics and the strength of the Scottish Nationalist Party, which led to questions of whether something like that could work in America. The United States sometimes has a history of regional parties, although most politicians would not want to openly copy their approach as these tended to be racist Southerners pissed off at Democratic support for Civil rights. These parties did sometimes win electoral votes for presidential races. Stromm Thurmond carried 4 states in the 1948 presidential election, and George Wallace carried 5 in 1968. Their basic strategy was to play kingmaker if neither major party gets a majority.

The political environment is different now, as politics is so nationalized. Although there is still a geographic shift with Democrats becoming the urban party, and I’ve seen an argument that they should support independent candidates in red states.

One solution, prompted by some of the data presented by Rodden in his book, is that would-be conservative and moderate Democrats in red states should shun the Democratic label and run instead as Independents. This both saves them from being automatically cast aside by rural Republican voters and allows them to adopt some more conservative social positions — say, on gun rights, abortion, immigration, or what-have-you — which Democratic Party activists and organizers would ordinarily fight them on. Dividing the party system anew along economic lines could also decrease the salience of social and moral issues which are currently the main wedge between Americans. That would increase the return Democrats would see on their popular economic policy proposals.

This new cohort of economically liberal, pro-working-class Independent candidates could be funded by outside donors, so there are no problems there. And if they restrict their efforts to very red states, and Democrats refuse to run candidates there, then they would avoid the spoiler effect which has doomed third-party candidates in single-winner plurality electoral systems. They could run as write-in candidates, or maybe even fight for ballot access with a unified name across states. Maybe call it the New America Party or something. Perhaps they could get Joe Manchin to sign on — which would have the added bonus of saving him from having to performatively kill major Democratic legislation in order to appear conservative and anti-Democratic enough for West Virginia’s massively pro-Trump voting population to re-elect him.

There’s been a bit of a trial run. Independent Bill Walker was elected Governor of Alaska in 2014 with Democratic support, while Democrats dropped out in favor of independent businessman Greg Orman in the Kansas senate election. He got 42% in a red state in a bad year for Democrats, which is likely an improvement over what a generic Democrat could have gotten.

There could be a similar approach for moderate candidates in blue states and cities, with Republicans not running candidates.

It might all be too clever by half as it’ll be obvious which “independent” candidates are backed by major parties, but it might still result in a difference of a few points, which may be enough to win a few races. They should just make sure not to emphasize that the most successful efforts at this in living memory came from racist Southerners.

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I Think I Need To Watch Letterkenny

The Youtube algorithm recommended this scene from the sitcom Letterkenny in which a Women’s Studies Professor has the attention of rural Canadian men.

The Youtube algorithm was certainly correct in the assumption that I would enjoy this.

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Nancy Pelosi Did A Bad Thing

There’s something Nancy Pelosi did recently that makes me wonder why no one is calling for her to be fired. It has also gotten very little attention.

This was in a San Francisco Chronicle piece about concerns of Dianne Feinstein’s capability to do her job.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a statement to The Chronicle, said she had not noticed a decline in Feinstein’s memory and noted her work on the recent reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and the Supreme Court confirmation.

“Senator Feinstein is a workhorse for the people of California and a respected leader among her colleagues in the Senate,” Pelosi said. “She is constantly traveling between California and the Capitol, working relentlessly to ensure Californians’ needs are met and voices are heard.”

Pelosi said it was “unconscionable that, just weeks after losing her beloved husband of more than four decades and after decades of outstanding leadership to our City and State, she is being subjected to these ridiculous attacks that are beneath the dignity in which she has led and the esteem in which she is held.”

Slandering people who are telling the truth should be considered beyond the pale in congressional le

One wrinkle is that there’s stuff behind the scenes we don’t know, as these are comments from staffers and elected officials speaking off the record. But it does really appear that Feinstein’s struggles are common knowledge in Washington, so Nancy Pelosi should know that she lied about people who were telling the truth. If she didn’t know when she made a statement to the press, I’m sure someone got in touch with her afterwards.

This is a sad situation. Feinstein and Pelosi have been friends for a long time, likely going back to even before the late 1970s when Pelosi was a member of the DNC from San Francisco and Feinstein was its first female mayor. I can appreciate the desire to protect a friend, but there are other ways to do it than shredding your credibility.

In her defense of Feinstein, she did insult the people coming forward with what appears to be accurate information. This is the specific thing that’s pissing me off. An important principle is that people should not be attacked for telling the truth, and anyone who does this should be called out. Here Pelosi seems to be the toxic combination of obnoxious and wrong. And if she’s calling people who are saying something true “unconscionable” and saying that their correct observations are “ridiculous attacks that are beneath the dignity in which (Feinstein) has led and the esteem in which she is held” it reflects very poorly on her. Either her judgment is bad (including the decision to make a statement blasting people concerned about Feinstein), or she knows that what she’s saying is untrue. In either case, it makes it easier to ignore her in the future, as well as the Democratic politicians who don’t call her out.

There’s an argument that some older people have good days and bad days, and this may be the case with Feinstein. However, someone who consistently has days of confusion and lethargy should not have a prominent time-sensitive job like being a Senator. It is the moral responsibility of everyone within that person’s sphere of influence to get them to resign as soon as possible.

An inevitable response will be that someone will point out something that Kevin McCarthy did that is as sketchy or worse, without the benefit of someone trying to help out a friend. And I’m totally fine with pushing him out of congressional leadership as well.

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Films Seen in 2022 Part 2

I’m still keeping track of movies I’ve seen. This year I’ve gotten involved into some annual film challenges. One is to watch 52 particular Criterion movies, and the other is to watch four movies each from multiple movements. For this entry, I went with New Hollywood, the French New Wave and the Czech New Wave. There were also quite a few films that were nominated for the recent Academy Awards.

Movie #21/ New Movie #13: Parallel Mothers (Movie Theater)
It’s a drama about two women who meet in a maternity ward and form a bond in the ensuing years, and it does take some really interesting turns. Penelope Cruz is excellent, selling some decisions that might seem a little weird in lesser hands. Milena Smit works in a different register, that makes for a worthy contrast. Aitana Sánchez-Gijón has some unexpected depth as her mother, a middle-aged actress with a very non-cliched arc of finding success late in life. There are some great themes in the film in the exploration of atrocities in living memory in Spain, and what that means going forward, which causes some conflicts for the two mothers, who have different feelings on the matter. There’s a relationship that develops that seems a bit out of place, and that seems to touch on some cultural landmines. I’m curious that no one appears to have called it out.

Movie #22: Spider-Man No Way Home (Movie Theater)
Still loved it.

Movie #23/ New Movie #14: Take the Money and Run (DVD)
This is an excellent comedy about an inept criminal. It is a big odd to see Woody Allen when he’s this young, even if at this point, he’s in his mid 30s. He has some fun with the mockumentary style, and there are some great gags. It shows that he could’ve gone in a different comedic direction quite successfully.

Movie #24/ New Movie #15: Belfast (Movie Theater)
It’s very obviously an Oscarbait film, as a director recalls his upbringing during a tumultuous time, where he found comfort in the movies. But is is very well told, getting across a child’s view of the world while still keeping everything interesting. I also really like that the film is under a hundred minutes, even if it has four supporting performances good enough to potentially get Oscar nominations (two did.)

Movie #25/ New Movie #16: Westworld (Blu-Ray)
The sci-fi western does a great job of worldbuilding, so I can understand how it’s the basis of a hit show. But it’s also able to tell a satisfying story of people trying to survive robots gone amuck.

Movie #26/ New Movie #17: Death Race 2000 (Blu-Ray)
The dystopian road movie about a race where the goal is to kill innocent bystanders is ridiculous but fun. It kinda sells the world where this is entertainment. I’d like to see a remake poking fun at the modern media environment with Stallone as President.

Movie #27/ New Movie #18: Belladonna of Sadness (Blu-Ray)
This is a very strange medieval fantasy anime. It’s often lovely if barely animated. It’s quite psychedelic and definitely not for everyone as the plot synopsis makes clear. It sells the harshness of the world and why someone would make the decision to become a witch.

Movie #28/ New Movie #19: La Liste- Everything or Nothing (Movie Theater)
It’s a beautifully shot documentary, which might be expected given the subject matter (skiers trying to find increasingly inaccessible heights.) It’s notable for how seriously the people take their pursuit and the acknowledgement of the risks, as well as the messy question of whether it is worthwhile. A rescue sequence is a highlight of the film, and we see the lengthy recovery afterwards.

Movie #29: Don’t Look Back (Criterion Blu-Ray)
It may be a bit odd to go into this cold, as the initial audience would understand in the context of the time in a way that’s easy for us to forget. This is Bob Dylan at his creative peak, pushing against expectations, a little bit prickly due to the pressure he’s under, fan backlash and that he’s surrounded by people who don’t care about the consequences of their actions as he does. But it’s a great example of what documentaries can do very well, showcasing an iconic figure (one of the most fascinating people on the planet) at an interesting time.

Movie #30: Enter the Dragon (Criterion Blu-Ray)
It’s fun. It’s probably the best fighting tournament film, as well as the best display of Bruce Lee’s talents. Much of what the film does had been surpassed, but there is no other Bruce Lee, and his partners in crime are pretty decent here.

Movie #31/ New Movie #20: The Batman (Movie Theater)
It’s a well done film, although it kinda feels like a comic book; the first arc of a new creative team shaking up a series that already has some history. It was probably a smart idea not to show the things we’ve seen before in every Batman adaptation, but there is a sense that some developments are unearned. We care about the legacy of Bruce’s parents because we’ve liked their depiction in other stories. It’s also a bit derivative, feeling like a superhero version of R-rated thrillers like Zodiac and Seven. There’s a decent conspiracy at the heart of it, and I like Pattinson and Kravitz’s chemistry, along with the arc for the Batman. The film just doesn’t wow me, but it’s perfectly okay.

Movie #32/ New Movie #21: Pierrou le Fou (Criterion Blu-Ray)
This is an excellent vehicle for Godard, his best male lead and his best female lead. It is the stereotypically avant-garde director at the height of his powers: weird, experimental and fun. Obviously the politics are radically left-wing, although he gets across the ridiculousness of some of the people on this earnest adventure. It could easily be in Godard’s top five, along with Breathless, Vivre Sa Vie, Band of Outsiders and Contempt, even if it is only my third favorite Godard/ Marina collaboration. It might still be the best example of 60s pop art in film.

Movie #33/ New Movie #22: The Haunted Strangler/ In the Grip of the Strangler (Criterion DVD)
It’s a clever concept dealing with the aftermath of the serial killer’s arrest, with Boris Karloff playing a novelist who thinks there’s something more to the story. It takes some turns, with a major twist when the film has half an hour to go, and it has some fun with that twist. It may be better to see it knowing as little as possible. It’s nice that Karloff had this showcase. It’s curious that there haven’t been recent horror movies about stranglers. I guess it’s all slashers now.

Movie #34: Persona (Criterion Blu-Ray)
It’s the master of psychological drama at his most ambitious and complex. It’s a showcase for what film is capable of, as well as the talents of Bibi Andersson (who has to do much of the heavy lifting) and Liv Ullman. It might just be the best two-hander in film.

Movie #35: American Hustle (DVD)
It feels like imitation Scorsese, but the cast is excellent. I’m not sure Jennifer Lawrence or Amy Adams have ever been better, and it’s a solid con artist film elevated by an understanding of the consequences of an effort to destroy seemingly corrupt politicians, as well as the interpersonal dynamics. It’s a fun film that manages to be meaningful.

Movie #36/ New Movie #23: The 49th Parallel (Criterion DVD)
It’s interesting how British propaganda efforts seem so much better than those of the Soviets. There’s something worth exploring in that. The story of Nazis stranded in Canada taking hostages takes some unusual but satisfying turns, and works as a showcase for Canada and the different ways people find meaning. The focus on the invaders is timely given the horrors going on right now in Ukraine.

Movie #37/ New Movie #24: Elevator to the Gallows (Criterion DVD)
This is an excellent unconventionally paced noir. The murder happens in the first 15 minutes. The antihero then makes a serious mistake, which accidentally leads to another crime spree. Jeanne Moreau is exceptional, compelling as the lovestruck mistress, but gaining more agency towards the end as she makes one last effort to save the day (a messy effort as the situation begins with her boyfriend murdering her wealthy husband.) The only better artist in the film (not a knock on the director or the male lead) is Miles Davis, who provides the incredible soundtrack.

Movie #38: Band of Outsiders (Criterion Blu-Ray)
This may remain my favorite Godard film. Watching it this time, I had a real appreciation for its influence on Quentin Tarantino. It is a fun hang-out movie, with a complex take on the dynamics of the two guys and a girl who get involved in a major crime, but who are so much fun to spend time with before that happens, even as we recognize they’re willingness to betray one another.

Movie #39/ New Movie #25: Active Measures (Youtube)
It does sometimes feel like a really long, although well-done campaign ad. It’s an overview of Putin’s involvement in politics in multiple countries, as well as potential connections to Trump. Some parts of it have not aged well (theories about Jeff Sessions) and some parts of it are more relevant than ever, especially the sections on Ukraine. They are generally careful to make the distinction between smoke and fire, and there is a lot of smoke. It’s also notable how quickly some stuff is glossed over that could easily be its own film (IE- Brexit) because it’s a look at a grand conspiracy. It’s not quite accurate to say it’s a conspiracy theory, because while there are some unresolved questions, it covers a lot of sketchy stuff that is confirmed.

Movie #40/ New Movie #26: The Young Girls of Rochefort (Criterion DVD)
This musical is just so much fun. It plays around with expectations in interesting ways, sometimes seeming like things are going one way time while instead going in an unexpected (in a pleasant way) direction. An hour into it, there are three couples deeply in love but unaware of just how close they are to their soulmates. It’s a great companion to Umbrellas from Chersbourg, not quite on that level but simply joyous.

Movie #41/ New Movie #27: Touki Bouki (Criterion DVD)
This takes the formula from films like Breathless or Mean Streets (Scorsese has played a big role in the restoration efforts for Touki Bouki) of applying post-French New Wave energy to a story about young protagonists, but setting it all in Senegal makes something new.

Movie #42/ New Movie #28: The Phantom of Morrisville (DVD)
This is just fun, a parody of chamber mysteries which plays around with set design and has some great sequences (the early hints of the titular phantom, a gag involving a baron’s dog.)

Movie #43/ New Movie #29: Drive My Car (Movie Theater)
This is a strange but satisfying very arthouse take on communication and the making of art. The avant-garde approach to performances (an Asian adaptation of a Russian play in which each actor uses their natural language) is a dynamic that is used well.

Movie #44/ New Movie #30: Power of the Dog (Movie Theater)
This one is dark but I loved it. The score and cinematography are beautiful, but it’s otherwise a clash within a family where everyone is more complex than is apparent. The performances deserved the Oscar nominations, and it’s certainly worth discussing. There is a criticism than Benedict Cumberbatch is basically playing at being a great cowboy, rather than the real thing, but that approach works quite well here.

Movie #45: The Loves of a Blonde (Criterion DVD)
This Forman piece shows what the Czech New Wave does best, capturing the awkwardness of young people in romantic entanglements, parents dealing with the fallout and administrators trying to make the best of a bad situation.

Movie #46: Dune: Part One (Movie Theater)
It definitely deserved the craft awards at the Oscars. I’ve been seeing it in theaters a lot. The worldbuilding is astonishing. The effects and soundtrack are amazing. The cast is quite decent. It’s the most exciting Triple-A Sci-Fi/ fantasy adaptation in film since Lord of the Rings.

Movie #47/ New Movie #31: Coda (Movie Theater)
Sometimes this feels like a two part special episode of Glee. It would be a decent special episode, but there are some false notes here which make me suspect it’s the weakest Best Picture winner in about a decade. There’s still some good stuff. The family dynamics are excellent, and Troy Kotsur gave one of the most valuable supporting performances ever.

Movie #48/ New Movie #32: Black Peter (DVD)
Milos Forman’s directorial debut feels raw and unpolished, which is a decent fit for the topic; a somewhat aimless teenager starts a job and tries to figure out what he’s supposed to do in work and love.

Movie #49/ New Movie #33: Encanto (Disney Plus)
It has some similar themes to recent Disney work, so it might seem a bit derivative. But it may also be the best realization of those themes, with some great songs, and a decent conflict with a gifted family potentially losing everything.

Movie #50/ New Movie #34: The Cremator (Criterion DVD)
Mr. Kopfrking may just be the nastiest villain in the films of the Czech new wave. Early on, there’s a good sense of unease with the family man cremator hinting at flaws that go beyond his enthusiasm for his job. There is a decent sense of unreality to all of it. Worthwhile for fans of black humor and horror.

With the Oscars coming out, it was an opportunity to catch up on major contenders. I did prefer Power of the Dog to CODA, and still think Spider-Man: No Way Home got robbed.

Morbius was the 51st film I saw this year, and weaker than anything I’ve seen in this batch of movies

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God, I love Spider-Man No Way Home

This is going to have spoilers on a very successful movie that got a love of coverage.

I watched it again in Imax, and it remains really good.

If Into the Spider-Verse was a big statement on Spider-Man, this is a statement on Peter Parker, which is one reason it works so well when the other Peters show up. It is very clearly about several things, like the desire to have it all, and the realization that you can’t.

There’s an argument that we have a dearth of films set in the present because of the ubiquity of smartphones, which filmmakers haven’t figured out how to incorporate into stories. But this may just have the best use of smartphones in film in a lot of clever ways.

It is a big film, and relatively long for superhero movies, but there’s no fat.

Obviously, the classic villains work. But I do like the conflict with Doctor Strange, where we see the differences between the two heroes. Peter Parker is a middle-class kid, so he wouldn’t consider asking a college to reconsider a decision. Dr. Strange is an Ivy League educated world-class surgeon, so he won’t take no for an answer. Strange would consider the larger stakes, and be willing to sacrifice lives, and Spider-Man will never make that call.

One note is that my favorite Spider-Man villain is the Lizard, and there’s an argument that he’s the least important of the bad guys in the movie. But this takes the whole theme of the cost of trying to save the bad guys to an entire movie, plus I love seeing him fight the Maguire and Holland Spideys.

It retroactively made some of the earlier films better. Amazing Spider-Man 2 got a satisfying payoff. One of the issues with Spider-Man 2 was that it had some of the plot beats from the first one, but when you had Molina’s Doctor Octopus and Defoe’s Green Goblin in the same room, you could see that these are different villains.

It is ironic that the villains who had satisfying deaths steal the show. One of the biggest problems of the Raimi films (the way the bad guys weren’t able to return) becomes an advantage here, as it becomes part of the story. Doctor Octopus is great, although Willem Defoe’s Norman Osborn steals the show, going from a decent antagonist in the first Spider-Man film to one of the best movie supervillains ever. Two things from the comics this movie does very well is show Norman Osborn as a sudden source of chaos, who keeps messing things up for the heroes, and a side of Spider-Man that’s in some of his best comics, but that we really haven’t seen in film, an angry young man with great power, where the danger isn’t that he may die but that he’ll do things that are so nasty he may lose his soul in the process.

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We came really close to an electoral college tie

It seems underappreciated how close we came to a 269-269 electoral tie.

Biden’s margin in Georgia was 0.23% (11,779 votes) His margin in Arizona was 0.31% (10,457 votes) and his margin in Wisconsin was 0.63% (20,682 votes.) A national swing of less than a percent would’ve resulted in a Trump win. That wouldn’t have taken much. A better first debate performance when he was probably sick with Covid could’ve been enough.

A national swing of one percent would have resulted in a 269-269 tie, which would have sent the election to the House of Representatives, where each house delegation would get one vote, a scenario under which Republicans would have the edge.

How come this isn’t discussed more?

Is it that it took a few days to determine the exact electoral count? Is it that people are unfamiliar with how it works when the election goes to the House (Bill Maher suggested in a recent episode that Republicans need to win the House in order for the House of Representatives to decide the election, which suggests his fact-checkers hadn’t made that point)?

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Films Seen In 2022 Part 1

As I’ve done for the last few years, I’m keeping track of movies I’ve seen. A slight change is that I’m also trying to include some shorter films.

Movie #1/ New Movie #1: The Spiderwick Chronicles (Netflix)
It’s a family fantasy movie that does a decent job of worldbuilding, as well as capturing family dynamics, when a kid doesn’t quite understand what’s going on, in his family during a tough time (a move following a divorce) and when he realizes fairies and goblins are real, and willing to kill him for some secret knowledge.

Movie #2/ New Movie #2: Amarcord (DVD)
These vignettes in an Italian town during the fascist era capture the silliness and desires of the people who live there, balancing it with the dangers of Mussolini’s goons. The angry father has to worry about a disabled brother, and being questioned in the middle of the night for an offhand comment. The context of it may be less obvious now, given the lack of coverage of Fascist Italy in contemporary media compared to when it came out when this was much more in living memory. It is a bit weird to see Fellini in color since so many of his major works are black and white. It’s a bit like Kurosawa and Bergman in that way.

Movie #3/ New Movie #3: Howards End (Netflix)
This is the first Merchant/ Ivory film I’ve seen. It’s an odd hole in my filmwatching, although it is pretty good. It’s a story about the connections between three families elevated by an excellent cast and production values, with all sorts of character details allowing for new insights even if some turns may be a bit implausible. One thing I really appreciate is the depiction of the friendship between Emma Thompson’s Margaret Schlegel and Vanessa Redgrave’s Ruth Wilcox, both of whom have very different styles, although they can appreciate the same things. It makes it funny that Redgrave thought she was being hired to play Schlegel. It’s obviously largely about privileged people in the early 20th Century, but it acknowledges this in the way a casual comment by the rich can change a poor man’s life for the worse. It really shows how the rich people get to be flawed, but the middle class have no room for error.

Movie #4/ New Movie #4: The Matrix Resurrections (Movie Theater)
It’s a sequel that squares the circle and pulls off a few difficult tricks. It resurrects characters whose stories had ended, builds on a weak conclusion to the original trilogy , says something about reboots and modern culture, and introduces a twist that allows for the story to continue without making the original victory retroactively meaningless. It drags a bit at the end, with the bad guys not matching Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith, but it is satisfactory.

Movie #5: Godzilla
The original Godzilla is a decent film. I like the build-up to the monster, and the exploration of the moral questions in fighting it.

Movie #6/ New Movie #5: West Side Story (Movie Theater)
The one time I saw the original, I didn’t care for it all that much. Part of it is just the ridiculousness of people in a gang dancing around. It works this time to highlight their immaturity. Spielberg’s direction is incredible. There are quite a few strong performances, especially Rachel Siegler’s lead, Rita Morena’s reimagined mentor, Mike Faist’s nihilistic Riff, and Ariana Debose’s Anita who has to sell character decisions that could easily seem ridiculous if she screws up at all. I wouldn’t mind any of them getting Oscar nominations. There’s some talk about the message of the script, but it is smarter than simplistic understandings, making the case for and against reckless young love. It’s certainly worth seeing in a theater.

Movie #7/ New Movie #6: tick…tick…BOOM (Netflix)
I like Rent okay, but this is a film I’m really primed to enjoy. Two of my favorite works from the 2010s are the Social Network and Hamilton, so a Lin Manuel Miranda/ Andrew Garfield collaboration automatically piques my interest. Plus, the subject of a writer on the verge of thirty pondering his remaining time just speaks to me. It’s pretty well done, with decent songs and a narrative about making art that is a bit complicated, celebrating his ambition at a doomed project while showing hints about the work that will be his legacy.10/10

Movie #8: Charade (Criterion DVD)
A fun Hitchcock pastiche with Audrey Hepburn as a widow learning her husband’s secrets and Cary Grant as a stranger who gets involved. There are some solid twists, although it’s mainly a vehicle for two of the most charming people who have ever lived to have some fun, even if Grant is pretty obviously pushing sixty.

Movie #9: A Night to Remember (Criterion Blu-Ray)
I watched the Criterion blu-ray and it was excellent. It seems a bit too understated in the beginning, as it’s obvious that much of it is filmed on land sets that just as easily be in any hotel. But that does make for a nice contrast when everything goes to hell. Summed up my brother as part of the British mythmaking at a time when they lost India and were trying to preserve their sense of decency.

Movie #10/ New Movie #7: Beetlejuice (Blu-Ray)
It’s a bit odd that Beetlejuice is mainly a side character here, called to help one side in a comedic clash between ghosts and the new owners of their old house. The sets and make-up are great. There are some smart decisions with the family. It’s okay but it feels like its missing something.

Movie #11/ New Movie #8: Super-Size Me (Amazon Prime)
Whatever else you say about it, this is an accessible and entertaining documentary that makes its argument very well. Morgan Spurlock has a great presence, and has some fun with a catchy concept that he’s able to connect to bigger problems with American obesity.

Movie #12/ New Movie #9: Scream (2022) (Movie Theater)
As far as I’m concerned, there hasn’t been a bad Scream movie, so the series has an outstanding batting average. The self-conscious requel seems to be a love letter to the original. I like the new leads and how the original trio get involved. There are some clever meta bits as it plays with expectations, although sometimes that can make it hard to care about the characters when a bad guy is ranting about the meta reasons for their actions.

Movie #13/ New Movie #10: The Warped Ones (Criterion DVD)
It’s similar to a few other films about young criminals, but unique for its intensity (in 75 minutes) and just how depraved this particular angry young man is. He may be one of the most self-centered characters in film. Great jazz score and energetic cinematography.

Movie #14/ New Movie #11: Belle (Movie Theater/ Subtitled)
A beautiful reimagining of Beauty and the Beast, as well as an exploration of the good and ill of social media. It takes some interesting turns, and remains visually stunning throughout.

Movie #15: The Apartment (Criterion DVD)
One of the best dramadies ever made. It’s a great take on alienation in the big city with strong performances by Lemmon, Maclaine, Macmurray and the more obscure Jack Kruschen, who got a well-deserved Oscar nomination. It balances serious subject matter and humor astoundingly well with leads who are likable but not innocent.

Short Movie #1: Future Shock (Youtube)
This documentary from fifty years ago about the rapid change of technology and culture really speaks to modern problems, as we’re going through similar problems today. It’s quite ahead of its time, a film from 1972 addressing gay marriage and the implications of artificial organs. It seems a bit pessimistic as some of the stuff is obviously worthwhile, although it is also a good time capsule about the expectations at the time.

Movie #16: Through a Glass Darkly (Criterion Blu-Ray)
Ingmar Bergman at his most intense. A young woman finds out that her father expects her schizophrenia to be incurable as she also anticipates an encounter with God. Things get very messed up. It’s one of the most messed up Bergman films, which may make it one of the most messed up films ever. Obviously fascinating, and deep, but it’s quite disturbing in terms of the taboos that are shattered. The cinematography and score are excellent.

Movie #17: Blow-Up (Criterion DVD)
This is an interesting film that plays with expectations in a weird way. I saw it in college and I thought it was slow, but that’s not quite accurate. It goes into minute detail about some intense stuff. It’s exceptional in two different ways. First, it’s likely the best film exploration of the mod scene in London. Second, it takes the trappings of a thriller but shows a very different reaction for a guy who finds himself at the corners of a murder mystery.

Movie #18: In the Name of the Father (DVD)
Obviously Daniel-Day-Lewis is very good in this, depicting Gerry Conlon at different stages, from a young loser to a new prisoner to a cause célèbre. The film itself covers a lot of ground pretty well, distinguished from most prison films by a twist that allows it to really explore the father-son relationship. Even without that, it’s a solid entry to the innocent prisoner canon.

Short Movie #2: Game of Death Redux (Blu-Ray)
I got the Bruce Lee Criterion box set as a birthday gift and am quite happy with it. I don’t know if I’m ever going to watch the full Game of Death, but this is the good stuff: the parts Bruce Lee filmed before his death, which are ultimately the climax of the movie. It’s a half hour of awesome fight scenes in different styles, with a hell of an introduction to Kamal Abdul Jabbar as the intimidating final bad guy and an excellent showcase for Bruce Lee, initially cocky and overpowering, until that last fight.

Movie #19/ New Movie #12: The Music Room (Criterion DVD)
It’s a well made film about a topic that I don’t necessarily enjoy, a tragic figure who allows his life to collapse because of his pride. There are lovely details, and while the protagonist is flawed, he does have his good qualities which adds nuance to the classical tragedy. There is also a great sense of the passing of an era.

Short Movie #3: Meeting the Man: James Baldwin in Paris (Mubi)
This is an interesting short documentary on several levels, for what Baldwin has to say, and his clash with the filmmakers who expect him to make a different movie.

Short Movie #4: Godard- Love and Poetry (Criterion Blu-Ray)
It’s a solid overview of Godard’s collaboration with Anna Karina, with decent commentary on the films, slightly hampered by the lack of behind the scenes material about their relationship. It’s a fine extra on the Criterion Pierrou Le Fou Blu-Ray, and provides excellent commentary on some of his films, though my favorite (Bande à part) gets short shrift.

Movie #20: Nightmare Alley: Vision in Darkness and Light (Movie Theater)
This time I watched the “Vision in Darkness and Light” black and white variant, which happened to be playing at my local theater, an odd decision since Nightmare Alley didn’t play in my local theater in December. I wouldn’t say the film is better in black and white, but it was a lovely experience. It worked rather well. One minor controversy about the film is the casting of Bradley Cooper, and whether he’s too old to play a guy who starts out as a carnie. He’s more of a contemporary of Toni Collette and Cate Blanchett, which gives some encounters a different energy. Most importantly, I don’t think a random younger actor would’ve played it better, but it sells the idea that he’s been looking for his shot for a while, and justifies his arrogance.

The film has a fantastic cast. Much of the promotion focuses on the latter half, when Cate Blanchett and higher society get involved, but it’s interesting in the first half to see the lives of the carnies. It’s not a perfect movie. The carnival scenes kept reminding me of an okay episode of the Simpsons, and some of the messages are simplistic, especially when it comes to spookshows and drinking. But it’s pretty good and builds to an excellent climax.

Short Movie #5: I am Sergei Parajanov! (Youtube)
It’s an okay primer on an eccentric and interesting filmmaker, largely in his own words, showing his other artistic pursuits (he was big on collages) and the deep injustice of his imprisonment.

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Modern Film Movements

I’ve been reading about film movements recently (IE- Golden Age of Hollywood, German Expressionism, French New Wave) and that got me thinking about modern movies, which would have to be part of at least one film movement, even if we don’t recognize it that way. Although it seems to me that there are at least four.

An idea I’d like to stress-test is that there are right now several distinct film movements in (but not exclusively in) English language film, starting with a split between what makes money and what is made to win Oscars.

This divide may be exemplified by two movies that came out in 1993 made by the same director. Jurassic Park was a summer blockbuster with groundbreaking computer-generated imagery. Schindler’s List swept more industry and critical awards than any film to date.

The first film movement dominates the box office.

21st Century Blockbusters: CGI allows for 3D-animated films, as well as a greater emphasis on fantasy and superhero films. With the advent of DVD and then Blu-Ray and streaming, it’s possible for filmgoers to see any major film they want, which allows for much more complex narratives in film series with crossovers and callbacks years later. Think about Avengers: Endgame ending with a reunion between characters from a movie that came out eight years earlier, Alfred revealing Rachel’s letter in The Dark Knight Rises, or the reveal that Spectre was connected to previous James Bond villains. We also have sequels to films from generations earlier (the new Halloween, Star Wars: A Force Awakens introducing a new generation.) There’s also a greater effort to appeal to the international film market, which may result in some artistic compromises as blockbuster films are made less specific and more universal.

This movement has a counterpart. It used to be that the films that won Oscars were often big blockbusters, but now they come from a different source.

21st Century Prestige Cinema: The big independent directors of the 1990s (Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Steven Soderbergh, Paul Thomas Anderson) became part of the system at an unusual time. With genre stuff making money, and the golden age of television dominating cultural discussions, the Oscarbait films have gone more niche. There’s a greater focus on films about Hollywood/ actors/ film history (One Weekend With MarilynThe AviatorArgoHugo, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), or influenced by earlier styles (NomadlandThe Good GermanDjango Unchained) or both (The ArtistLa La Land.) There are still the traditional period pieces (LincolnThe King’s Speech) and films about serious contemporary issues (CrashGreen BookSilver Linings PlaybookThe Big Short) although these are made in order to get awards.

In an Indiewire piece about the significance of the Oscars, an enterainment lawyer credited Harvey Weinstein for essentially turning “awardsbait” into a genre.

According to one New York entertainment lawyer, the Oscars have spawned an entire subset of movies: “Harvey Weinstein’s sole lasting legacy in this business, apart from his disgustingly piggish and criminal behavior, is that he is primarily responsible for creating the ‘Awards Film’ as a genre, not unlike horror and the rom-com,” the lawyer wrote. “Even though this genre of film doesn’t necessarily make sense from a financial standpoint, the prestige and bragging rights they bring to their studios/platforms, somehow justifies its existence and the insane marketing money spent to win. This phenomenon helps to protect an entire form of literary storytelling whose existence might otherwise be endangered. And we would all be worse off for that.”

In recent years, there had been a backlash against the largely white male voices telling these stories. “New Queer Cinema” had previously been recognized as its own movement, but I think this has approach and understanding has also spread among racial and gender lines. This leads to a parallel movement.

New Representative Cinema: There’s an emphasis on underrepresented voices telling their own stories when it comes to stories of people of color. In 1990, August Wilson summed this up expressing his preference that his work be adapted by African-American directors.

What to do? Let’s make a rule. Blacks don’t direct Italian films. Italians don’t direct Jewish films. Jews don’t direct black American films. That might account for about 3 percent of the films that are made in this country. The other 97 percent – the action-adventure, horror, comedy, romance, suspense, western or any combination thereof, that the Hollywood and independent mills grind out – let it be every man for himself.

The essay was in 1990, but it’s only been in the last few years that we’ve had major adaptations of his work with African-American directors. Obviously, we’ve seen well-regarded movies by African-American directors dealing with racial issues and black culture for decades (Spike Lee’s Malcolm X and Do The Right Thing, John Singleton’s Boyz in the Hood) but this has become more pronounced lately, with Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk, Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years a Slave and Widows, Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah, Ava Duvernay’s Selma, Regina King’s One Night in Miami, as well as more attention than ever for Spike Lee (Blackkklansman, Da 5 Bloods.)

This approach is largely African-American, but not exclusively so. Curiously, there seems to be a high number of films by Asian-American directors about Asian-American themes (Minari, Crazy Rich AsiansThe Farewell) compared to the work of Hispanic-American directors (Babel, Beatriz at Dinner.) dealing with those cultures. There has also been increased focus on the work of indigenous filmmakers, most prominently Taika Waititi. One development which blurs the lines in media is the willingness of top directors within this group to make TV mini-series (Ava Duvernay’s When They See Us, Barry Jenkins’ The Underground Railroad, Steve McQueen’s Small Axe.)

One question may be why we’re seeing these films now, and there are a few considerations. It’s cheaper than ever to make movies. There are more places to show movies. Identity politics has become more vogue on the cultural left.

And another underrepresented group has been making more films.

New Women’s Cinema: There is also the idea that female directors should tell the stories of women. Recent acclaimed examples in a variety of genres include Little WomenLady BirdPromising Young WomanWonder WomanZero Dark ThirtyMeek’s Crossing, The BabadookWinter’s BoneThe Edge of Seventeen, Nomadland, and The Lost Daughter.

There is a question of whether some female directors would qualify as being part of the movement. Kathryn Bigelow won an Oscar for directing The Hurt Locker about a male bomb disposal operative in the Iraq War, and made a film about male police officers in Detroit. In a New York Times spotlight interview about a movie with a female lead, she described her ambivalence on the focus on gender.

But it is hard to watch “Zero Dark Thirty” and not see a reflection of the filmmaker, perhaps not exactly as she is but as she would like to be.

Does Ms. Bigelow agree? She was reluctant to contradict Mr. Roy but noted that there have been plenty of strong female characters in her films (like Angela Bassett in the 1995 drama “Strange Days”), and that she wasn’t drawn to “Zero Dark Thirty” because of Maya.

“I just followed Mark’s brilliant screenplay,” she said, referring to Mark Boal.

As a female director who specializes in male-focused action movies — and who, with “The Hurt Locker,” became the first woman to win an Oscar for directing — Ms. Bigelow, 61, is often defined first by her gender and second by what she puts on screen. It drives her crazy, she said, but she knows that there isn’t much she can do about it except steer attention back to her movies.

There can be some ambiguities about what qualifies. Is Power of the Dog an example of the movement because one of the major characters is a widow, and it deals with difficulties she has as a woman in the early 20th century? This was certainly part of the marketing campaign.

Some movies will fall in multiple categories. 21st Century Blockbusters have adopted the idea that women should direct stories of female superheroes, and that white people shouldn’t direct stories of protagonists of color. Joker was a comic book movie that also heavily referenced 1970s/ 1980s Scorsese (and then went on to get 10 Oscar nominations.) Movies by female directors of color may be part of the new representative cinema, and new women’s cinema. So there will be some intersections. But these do seem to be the movies that dominate box office dollars, awards bodies and cultural conversations.

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Running Against Kamala Harris

There have been quite a few stories about Kamala Harris’ low approval ratings. This is relevant with someone obviously set up as the future of the party.

Don Winslow, and aothers, have called the criticism racist and misogynistic, without clarifying why. We treat people who say racist and misogynistic things with opprobrium. Given that this is a charge with significant moral weight, we should believe opprobrium is merited for anyone who make the accusation incorrectly.

Vice Presidents are often unpopular, so criticism of Kamala Harris is normal, just as it was against Dan Quayle, Dick Cheney or Mike Pence. She has less Washington experience than any Vice President in generations (probably since Spiro Agnew.)

If Joe Biden does not run for reelection, Kamala Harris is obviously very well favored to win the presidential primary due to the advantages of being Vice President as what it means for diversity, which will affect how primary voters act.

If Biden decides not to run for another term, there will certainly be an open primary. But it would be tough for any Democrat to beat Harris, considering the institutional advantages of sitting Vice Presidents, the optics of running against the first woman of color elected to national office, and the punishing delegate math given the strength of African-American Democratic primary voters.

There are multiple constituencies within the Democratic party, so you could very well have someone running to Harris’ left and another running to the center.

We could see from Sanders’ campaign that the left doesn’t care as much about historic firsts. Granted, the most prominent really left-wing Democrats are the squad, most of whom would represent a first, so they do have that advantage. Though that group has yet to win competitive statewide races, let alone a national primary.

Buttigieg is probably seen as one of the greatest political talents in the party, so he might be able to run on the idea of executive competence. The Iowa Caucuses are sticking around, which does allow him to get early primary wins. It would make sense for him to run. He did pretty well in 2020, and this time he’ll have overcome some of his disadvantages. As a consequential cabinet secretary, he now has decent qualifications for national office. And he has kids, which is an advantage for candidates. Even if he enters 2024 as an underdog, one consideration for him would be that he doesn’t want someone else raising their profile. So he may want to run just for that. His main problem last time around was a lack of appeal to minority voters, which can likely remain a problem if he’s running against the first African-American Vice President.

It would still be hard for him to win the nomination. There are plenty of Democrats who would love to see a historic gay President, but it seems that more want to see a woman finally take the office, especially with Buttigieg positioned for a later run. Younger voters might like a historic candidate in his early 40s, but may also see him as too centrist. Kamala Harris would presumably do well among the African-American primary voters who decided the last few primaries. And she has fans among the media (a major example is how Biden wasn’t the Time Magazine person of the year in 2020; it was the Biden/ Harris ticket.)

Eric Adams could be a powerhouse in a primary as someone with appeal to African-American and moderate voters. However, I think his best cycle would be 2028 after a candidate associated with the left like Kamala Harris loses a general election. 2024 may be too soon for him, unless there’s some way for him to become a national figure. Obama had the 2004 keynote and the book tour to raise his profile. It will be tough for a second-year mayor.

The midterms may be relevant. If Stacey Abrams wins the race for Governor, that can change the presidential race. But she may very well lose, or decide not to run for President as a second-year Governor. Beto O’Rourke would also go from a has-been to a major contender with a presidential win.

Warren would have slightly better optics as an accomplished Senator in her 70s than other challengers. It would be hard to suggest that she should wait her turn. The big question is whether she would have enough of a constituency. There was an interesting trend over the primary that she had outsized support among some corners of the media. She also has a lot to lose in a failed bid. It would come at the same time as a decision to run for a third term in the Senate, which is a delicate dance for presidential contenders. She’ll also have to work with the White House to get stuff done, which can be complicated when she’s running against them. Finally, she didn’t do very well last time. She finished third in her home state, before she dropped out.

It’s certainly possible Biden runs in which case Democrats will have very different considerations. His numbers could go up. It’s possible that he hits electoral college sweet spots in a way no other Democrat can (He’s seen as moderate so he doesn’t need to attack/ turn off progressives to appeal to centrist voters, He was born in a key swing state, He has high approval ratings among African-American voters thanks to his work as Obama’s VP.) But it’s also a possible an 80 year old will decide he’s not sure he’s up to being President five years later.

I don’t see Harris as an impressive general election candidate, but I see less of a strategy in defeating her in the primaries. The main hope may be in some executive doing something impressive, or someone using a major success in the midterms to launch a presidential bid.

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