The House


The Broad Strokes of Peggy Noonan

Conservative columnist Peggy Noonan has a way with words. She was a Reagan speechwriter, after all. Words slip off her tongue with a thoughtful panache not unlike Barack Obama's and, to paraphrase Salon's always astute Gary Kamiya, a Whitmanesque lyricism. In her latest Wall Street Journal column, Noonan sketches a reasonable portrait of Obama as president. I urge you to read it in full, but in short, she praises Obama's gustiness, steadiness and judgment. She writes: "When the press was hitting hard on the pregnancy of Sarah Palin's 17-year-old daughter, he did not respond with a politically shrewd 'I have no comment,' or 'We shouldn't judge.' Instead he said, 'My mother had me when she was 18,' which shamed the press and others into silence. He showed grace when he didn't have to."

On John McCain, she offered a reluctant, perhaps too optimistic, assessment of the Republican nominee's failed campaign. Two former U.S. senators (and McCain adversaries) with which Noonan shared a drink in a hotel last month told the journalist of their admiration for McCain's patriotism. They said he's running for president not because of personal ambition but because he wants to help the country. It's something I, too, believe and have said as much on this very blog. But there are things more important than simply being a patriot. A leader must have the judgment to know who to surround himself with, the temperament to know when to exercise his authority, the organization to win. McCain, it's become apparent, lacks all three. It's unfortunate, really, but more tragic is the lack of control he seems to have over his campaign, as well as his own faculties. The McCain of 2000 seems to have been hijacked by the neoconservative movement, which is now running both his party and his campaign.

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TAGS: abortion, barack obama, gop, peggy noonan, republican party


Iron Man

"This is what you get when you emotionally invest yourself in a company-owned product that has to keep on coming out regardless of who's writing and drawing it. This is what you get when your lizard compulsion to jerk off over superheroes overrides your forebrain. This is what happens when saying 'I just want X-Men to be good again' is mistaken for some kind of intelligent comment on the state of the medium. Fuck all of you."—Warren Ellis

XII. "I want the whole picture!"

It's almost funny now, to think: it wasn't that long ago that movie aficionados had to explain to people the difference between full-screen and widescreen. When DVDs first started shipping to stores and people had to make a conscious choice, many did not know which option offered a more complete visual experience and the director's original vision. To this day, full-screen versions of many films are offered separately because some people are more comfortable with an image that fills their television.

For a period in the late 90's, comics had what they called a "widescreen" movement. If film uses the term "comic book movie" to refer to overblown superhero blockbusters that rely upon recognition more than they do consistent narrative or emotional depth, there's some small level of irony to the idea that comics use the term "widescreen" to refer to books that are all bombastic, over-the-top action to the detriment of everything else; cool explosion visuals in place of the moralism of Golden Age DC Comics or the tortured family stories of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. If all comic books are going to be Chris Claremont's "X-Men" books, then all films will be Michael Bay's action movies.

This is probably not the basis for a very mature dialog.

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TAGS: achewood, all-star superman, american born chinese, bioshock, braid, crooked little vein, david hajdu, david hellman, dc comics, gene yang, marvel comics, shadow of the colossus, stan lee, takashi miike, the dark knight, the ten-cent plague, the venture bros., todd alcott, transmetropolitan, warren ellis


Andrew JohnstonSo many truths only become clear with hindsight. Here's one of them: Unbeknownst to nearly everybody, even those closest to him, Andrew Johnston was a superhero. His influence was as profound as it was largely unseen. Like the hero of Miller's Crossing, Tom Regan, Andrew managed to re-order large parts of his universe without anyone being the wiser.

Andrew—the Time Out New York film and TV critic and House Next Door contributor who died Oct. 26 at age 40—was, to put it mildly, not a glamorous person. Compared to Andrew, Peter Parker was James Dean. He was vaguely birdlike—darting eyes; bobbing head; question mark posture with arms akimbo, as if his body was remembering wings. It was possible to speak to him for minutes at a time without making eye contact, and when his eyes did meet yours, the connection was often brief, even furtive.

And his way of speaking—well, House contributor Sarah Bunting, who interviewed him for the web site she cofounded, Television Without Pity, told me that transcribing an interview with Andrew for her "Ask a TV critic" feature was one of the more difficult assignments she could recall. Andrew didn't talk in a straight line. On a good day, he was serpentine. He interrupted himself, qualified himself, questioned himself, reversed course, even argued with himself. He was his own interrogator. There were moments when it seemed as though you were talking to two people—Andrew Johnston and his questioning subconscious. His sentences had clauses and sub-clauses and sub-sub-clauses. In retrospect it seems not at all surprising that one of his favorite shows was Deadwood, a series built around monologues that could go on for a minute or longer, and only when you looked at them on the page did you realize that the whole monologue was one long sentence.

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TAGS: andrew johnston, bilge ebiri, mad men, mike d'angelo


Spilt MilkNYFF kept me away from "Indie 500" again; sad. Sadder still to report that—although suddenly there's a plethora of great albums being released (or, more accurately, that I'm finally catching up with)—what's rocked my world most of late is Jellyfish's 1993 album Spilt Milk, which sounds like the punchline to some kind of prototypical record-snob joke about obscure bands with horrible names. I've been looking out for this for a while; Jellyfish's rotating cast included Jon Brion on this album when Jason Falkner stepped out. Brion's since become one of the only film-score names anyone knows, but Falkner is almost as talented, one of those behind-the-scenes movers and shakers whose multi-instrumental talents means he's one of the rare guys who can play every part on his albums. In his spare time, he's a session/touring musician for people like Beck, Aimee Mann and Glen Campbell (!). All involved were part of the Pop Underground scene, a term which still makes me gag a little when typing, but basically involves a more melodically complex approach to '70s power-pop à la Big Star. Unfortunately, college radio preferred the Elephant 6 collective for their pop needs, which means I'll have to keep insisting In The Aeroplane Over The Sea isn't nearly as good as everyone thinks until my dying day.

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TAGS: crystal castles, jellyfish, spilt milk, the walkmen, you & me


Proud to Be (Un)American

We've entered the final stretch of the presidential election and the drowning McCain campaign has resorted to the oldest playground tactic in the book: name-calling. Last week it was "anti-American," a tack recommended to Hillary Clinton by a top advisor last year but which the senator wisely declined to exercise. This is nothing new, of course: False accusations that Barack Obama doesn't wear a flag pin, that he refuses to pledge allegiance to the American flag, and that he's a Muslim have circulated throughout the Internet and by the mainstream media for over a year. But the candidate managed to escape those scurrilous claims—at least enough to win his party's nomination and take a lead in the latest polls. And so, desperately, deliberately and recklessly, surrogates for John McCain have decided to go whole-hog, with Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann summoning the worst in our country's political history by suggesting Obama is anti-American and calling for a McCarthyite witch hunt in Congress.

At a rally in Waukesha, Wisconsin earlier this month, a McCain supporter took the microphone and declared his uncontainable anger: "I'm mad. I'm really mad, and what may surprise you is it's not the economy," he spat to a roar of cheers. "We've got to have our heads examined," he continued, referring to the prospect of electing Obama as our next president. "It's time to have you two [McCain and Vice Presidential lightning rod Sarah Palin] represent us. So go get 'em." It was a call for the McCain campaign to get tougher—and presumably dirtier—on Obama, and when I first saw a clip of the man's rant on television, I wondered what could possibly have filled him with such anger, hatred and resentment. After all, his party has held the presidency for 20 out of the last 28 years and has had control of Congress for 12 out of the last 14. I thought, "He's angry?"

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TAGS: 2008 election, barack obama, hillary clinton, joe biden, john mccain, sarah palin


Coming Up In This Column: Rachel Getting Married; Body of Lies; Beverly Hills Chihuahua; How I Met Your Mother; Boston Legal; ER; Crash; Mad Men; First Middle Passage of TV Season, but first...

Fan Mail: Just a brief word on Randy's comment about Mad Men's "recontextualizing" of the Carousel projector. Most good shows and films do that all the time. It becomes apparent when you watch something a second time and see how well the filmmakers (yes, I would include directors here) have set elements up that pay off in later ways, such as adding to the meaning of a later scene. See below for some examples in this column's items.

Rachel Getting Married

Rachel Getting Married (2008. Written by Jenny Lumet. 113 minutes): An unpleasant woman shows up for her sister's wedding and causes all kinds of—wait a minute, didn't we see this picture last year and wasn't it called Margot at the Wedding? Well, this one has more music in it. Which is not necessarily a good thing.

The good news is that Lumet has created a terrific main character, Kym, who has been let out of rehab to go to the wedding. She is played by Anne Hathaway. Yes, the cute sweety of The Princess Diaries. But there is nothing sweet about her Kym, and Hathaway tears into the part the way Halle Berry and Charlize Theron tore into their de-glamorized roles in Monster's Ball and Monster, respectively. Maybe they should have titled this one Monster at the Wedding. What is it anyway about ugly that brings out the most ferocious sides of beautiful actresses?

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TAGS: beverly hills chihuahua, body of lies, boston legal, crash, er, how i met your mother, mad men, rachel getting married, understanding screenwriting


Birth

[Publication Note: This article is being cross-published with Parallax View.]

[Editor's Note: The House Next Door is proud to reissue a series of articles developed at 24LiesASecond, a now-defunct platform for provocative criticism with an underdog bite. The essay below was first published on 01/23/2006, under the editorial guidance of James M. Moran (editor-in-chief) and Peet Gelderblom (founding editor).]

"We aimed to make something robust in which every question leads to another. I'm not a Buddhist and I don't believe in reincarnation; I don't think I could do a film about it if I did. I was more interested in the idea of eternal love. I wanted to make a mystery, the mystery of the heart."—Jonathan Glazer

You know you're seeing something special from the very beginning.

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TAGS: birth, jonathan glazer


Mad Men

[Editor's note: This column is dedicated to the memory of House contributor, Time Out New York editor and regular Mad Men recapper Andrew Johnston, who passed away Sunday, Oct. 26 at age 40, following a long battle with cancer. Andrew's burial will take place Saturday, Nov. 1 at 2 p.m. at the Monticello Memory Gardens in Charlottesville, Virginia. There will also be a memorial Wednesday, October 29 at 5:30 p.m.; if you were a friend of Andrew's and would like to attend, email Matt at reeling@aol.com for details.]

During the first season of Mad Men and throughout the second, much critical discussion centered on the the show's depiction of advertising, domestic life and gender relations in the late '50s and early '60s, the immense cultural changes America was about to undergo, and what opinion series creator Matthew Weiner might have on it all. After watching the last three episodes, I believe those aspects are mere means to an end. Like the mob storylines on The Sopranos—a series on which Weiner served as a writer and producer—they exist to inform and amplify Mad Men's real interest: the continual struggle between what Sigmund Freud called the id and the superego, between the deep, authentic self inside us—the sum total of our desires, appetites, urges and fantasies—and what we might call the constructed self, a superstructure of social conditioning that cages the beast within and lashes it with guilt and shame when it gets too rowdy. The third major component of the personality, the ego, referees between the id, the superego and the external world; in a sense, the ego is the locus of drama, because it's the place where decisions happen. The struggle is apparent in any story worth watching, but it's foregrounded in Mad Men, a series in which—like The Sopranos—dramatic decisions often come down to a blunt cost-benefit analysis. A character in moral quandary tries to choose between what he or she wants, and what his or her conditioning—and the expectations of family, friends or society at large—will allow.

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TAGS: mad men, matthew weiner, meditations in an emergency, recap, the jet set, the mountain king


Nagisa Oshima

Hello Faithful Listening Non-Listeners!

Vadim and I rejoin the podcasting group and we have a special treat as writer-director Dan Sallitt (Honeymoon and All the Ships at Sea) joins us to discuss his recent retrospective at Krakow's First Annual Off-Camera Film Festival.

We blend in other topics as well, ranging from the state of modern film festival-ing, nannys, and other such fun stuff. We even delve a bit into the New York Film Festival (with discussions of Happy-Go-Lucky and the Nagisa Oshima sidebar), but overall we marvel at what Dan has to say on the foreign circuit.

And we hope you do too, as it's incredibly interesting.

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TAGS: all the ships at sea, dan sallitt, happy-go-lucky, honeymoon, john lichman, keith uhlich, nagisa oshima, new york film festival, off-camera film festival, vadim rizov


Max Payne

We're introduced to Max Payne (Mark "Talks to Animals" Wahlberg) through disjointed jump-cuts, as he's gasping for air in a frozen river and grumbling,"I don't believe in life. I believe in pain. I believe in death." Somewhere in the first 120-seconds, screenwriter Beau Thorne manages to completely and utterly deviate from a video game script by Sam Lake that followed traditional noir and graphic novel formats so completely (in structure and as storyboard) that to deviate from it seems insane.

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TAGS: Amaury Nolasco, Beau Thorne, donal logue, mark wahlberg, max payne, mila kunis, sam lake







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