Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Review: Fair Game

Fair Game (2010)

Dir: Doug Liman
Starring Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Sam Shephard

Fair Game will go down in history alongside All The President's Men and The Insider as one of the finest real-life thrillers ever made.

If that's an overstatement, it will at the very least be another in a list of films in which Sean Penn makes real people seem intensely awesome (Milk, The Falcon and the Snowman and arguably Spicoli are on that list).  As former ambassador to Iraq Joseph Wilson, Penn practically holds court in every scene, even ones where he's not on a lecturing tour.

The intense, and surprisingly personal, drama chronicles the 2002/2003 lead up to and execution of the Iraq War, during which Wilson's wife Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) was outed in a column by Robert Novak (not in the film...or on earth anymore) as a CIA operative.  The leak, fowarded along by "Scooter" Libby (David Andrews) as revenge for an Op-ed Wilson wrote about WMDs in Iraq, slowly disintegrates their lives as Wilson fights in the press for vindication and Plame holds a dignified silence.

Watts does some very good, quiet work here particularly early on while she attempts to get nuclear scientists in Iraq safe passage.  The film soon switches from a first-rate espionage thriller to a heartbreaking family drama, where it focuses more on Penn.    

Wilson is the best kind of bastardly curmudgeon; a man of great conviction and righteous indignation who has a small problem speaking up a little too easily.  When Jon Stewart publicly scolded CNN's Crossfire (an event that took place shortly after those in the film, no less), Tucker carlson asked him if this is what he did with dinner guests as well.  It was Wilson he should have been worried about.  He berates dinner guests, friends, and reporters - all the while chomping on cigars, a fact that nearly every journalist who has met Wilson loves to mention (reporters, we get it, he likes cigars).

It's his short fuse that becomes his achilles heel, as his mairrage splits in two paths - his to find justice, hers to be left alone.

The film's only flaw are the scenes that follow Libby and Karl Rove as they plot to destroy Plame. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and their cohorts are on television throughout the film, lending it a spooky Orwellian quality.  To bring us behind the curtain, rather than marvel at it's hulking monolith, feels unnecessary.  To be fair, Andrews manages to make Scooter Libby a surprisingly threatening villian for a man who, in reality, looks like and is called Scooter Libby.

Doug Liman's you-are-there technique previously brought to the Bourne films works in some early action sequences, but really shines in quiet, personal scenes.  He brings to the fore an overwhelming sense of outrage at what these people fell victim to.  The collateral damage is severe, and it we all now know it doesn't end there.    

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Elephant Sitting On The Couch In The Living Room That No One's Asked to Leave

"The Mosque at Ground Zero."  Wow.  What a powerful piece of ignorant propoganda.  It's like something out of a college art project meant to titillate and shock (and probably piss off daddy).  It's that haunting juxtoposition at the end of Planet of the Apes.  Those maniacs. They blew it up.  Goddamn them.  Goddamn them all to hell.

Two problems.  You already know what they are (not a mosque, not at Ground Zero).  And while I'm sure that I haven't blown anyone's mind by reciting those two facts (if I did, I'd like to be the first to welcome you to our planet; here's a sampling of some of our finest music, literature and foodstuffs), you have to admit they seem to keep falling by the wayside, haven't they?  Because there's a special kind of shock value in repetition, and the mind has this thing called implicit memory that the right loves to exploit these days.

So the moniker stuck around longer than the facts, accompanying nearly every television broadcast.  That's alright.  I'm sure most guys' nicknames stick around longer than their relevant, too (unless said nickname has something to do with the loss of a limb - you're not getting that limb back).

But there's a much darker, unadressed reason why "The Mosque at Ground Zero" is such an upsetting phrase - a reason that, oddly, no one seems all that upset by.

You couldn't say "The Mosque at Ground Zero" if there was something else AT Ground Zero.

"We will rebuild," Mayor Rudy Guiliani said on that awful day. "We're going to come out of this stronger than before, politically stronger, economically stronger. The skyline will be made whole again."

The last estimated completion date for One World Trade Center was set for 2037.  Completion dates for the other buildings remain entirely unknown.  Over $7 Billion has been spent and virtually nothing has been built, despite two groundbreaking ceremonies and endless empty promises.  

I'd argue that's a little more outrageous than what's replacing a Burlington Coat Factory a block and a half down the road.

So perhaps it's time we stop worrying about the Cordoba House and start worrying about the people who are worrying about it.  Because at heart, they're a lot like the school bully:  he'll push and he'll shove and he'll shout, but in the end, you know that kid has bigger problems back home.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

He Thinks He's People

"He's mad at me because I didn't take him for a walk this morning," my mother said of her Chihuahua Marty.  I looked to the dog, perplexed.  Marty's face wasn't contorted in any way that would suggest contempt.  He looked like, well, a dog.  His marble eyes were attentively staring up at his owner, most likely wondering if anything on her person was edible.

Mom tends to anthropomorphize animals, expressing whatever inner-dialogue little Marty might have.  A lot of people do it.  They say (usually in a cutesy voice reserved for children and small animals), "Ooh, he's saying, 'Can I have some of that steak?'" or "He wants to go for a walk!"  Given my weakness for cute things, I'm sure even I'm guilty of doing this now and then.  When I do, though, I instantly feel a little silly and my inner-voice mutters, "You can't possibly know that."  I remind myself that animals, though capable of very basic training and recognition, don't have inner turmoil.

Certainly, Marty could have been upset with his owner, but it would be fleeting, and he certainly wasn't capable of logically explaining his anger.  He's not sitting in her lap, seething with anger thinking the doggie equivalent of "Bitch stepped out on me."

Fox news recently ran a story about Al Quaeda potentially training monkeys to shoot Americans (a large portion of my demographic probably saw this on The Colbert Report).  Immediately, it was shot down as bullshit.  It's funny bullshit, for sure - funny enough for an entire episode of Frasier to be based around a theoretical homicidal monkey (and let's not forget George A. Romero's Monkey Shines...but most of you already have).  We anthropomorphize to amuse and, probably, because some of us would go a little insane if there were creatures on this planet that we had absolutely no relationship with beyond the impetus to procreate and protect our spawn.

Sharks are terrifying for that very reason.  As Richard Dreyfuss put it, "All [sharks] do is swim and eat and make little sharks and that's it."

Driving through Oklahoma today, my family and I stopped at a rural gas station just off the highway.  Behind it was a small grazing field cordoned off with barbed wire, where three brown horses stood.  I walked up to the fence.  The horses noticed me instantly and started to approach, one by one.  They put their heads on my shoulders, sniffed me.  I fed them biscuits.  These beautiful creatures were eating out of my hand, sniffing my chest.  I hadn't seen horses upclose for years, but I instantly remembered why I loved them; why I rode them and cared for them when I was young.  And as I stood there, one of them slowly turned around, his backside facing me.

And he raised his right hind leg and let out a series of loud, ripping farts.  Coming from this animal was the kind of sound that class clowns spend their careers trying to master.  The smell was horrendous.  When he was done, a good fifteen seconds later, he turned his head to look at me and walked away.  And I could swear the little bastard was smirking.

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