Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Partisanship in America

I know it's trendy to decry partisanship these days; heck, I've even done so myself. But hey, I figure, why not flog a dead horse while it's down, and mix other metaphors while I'm at it?

Andrew Sullivan has a nice piece today about partisan blogging, and while I'd love to disagree, about all I can come up with is a weak, "So, what did you expect, exactly?"

Andrew points out that one of the benefits of blogging (I hereby vow to never use the word "blogosphere" unless a gun is held to my head, Or I change my mind.) is that individual voices can be more easily heard. This is so true, and is one of the reasons I love the Internet, because on the 'net, everybody is a publisher (though some companies seem to want us to forget this. What he doesn't seem to account for is that:

1. Nobody has to listen
2. Most individuals aren't terribly individual

The fact is, I can go to nearly any bar in El Paso county, Colorado and get Rush Limbaugh's opinion from nearly anyone on any world issue I care to name. Or maybe Michael Savage's; it would depend on the bar. But if I try to engage those people in conversation as to why they believe it, they tend to have the same rationales as their talk-show heroes, and are about as willing to listen to dissenting evidence.

Not that the Left is any better-- that's one thing I really noticed after moving to a much more liberal area of Colorado. They're just as shallow as their right-wing counterparts, just with Michael Moore and Al Franken instead of Limbaugh and Savage. Just try explaining to a random selection of people up here that we are doing good things in Iraq, and that the entire populace is not, in fact, lining up to kill themselves just to get at us. Heck, try pointing out that the "insurgents" (read: "terrorists") are targeting Iraqis more than they are us these days, and what that implies about their goals, vis-a-vis "liberation".

Or try pointing out to people in Colorado Springs that we badly bungled the postwar occupation, and that Rumsfeld should be fired for his criminally negligent understaffing of the occupation. You'll always get some people on all sides willing to listen to reason, and debate honestly and forthrightly on any subject, but the vast majority of people-- and I include myself in this, right up front-- are less interested in arriving at the truth, and more at winning, whatever that may mean to them. Why this should be any less true on blogs than in real life, I can't imagine.

A Somewhat Unfortunate Movie

Last week, I went to see the A Series of Unfortunate Events movie. Having written about it earlier, I owe both my readers at least a brief summary of my impressions. The executive summary: not as good as I'd hoped, but better than I feared.

The story follows the Baudelaire orphans as they discover their parents have died, and are shuttled off to a series of different (but all, sadly, incompetent) guardians. The children learn to trust each other and work together, but also learn that sometimes, bad things happen to good people. There is no happy-ever-after ending, and the characters endure silly and heart-wrenching adventures along the way.

Nothing was particularly bad-- the characters were, on the whole, pretty good (more on that below), and the story was not bad, just too cartoony for my taste. There were some truly fantastic moments such as where Klaus Baudelaire (Liam Aiken) expresses his anger at his parents for dying-- something I don't recall having seen in a children's movie before, and a feeling that anybody who's ever lost someone they cared deeply about knows all too well. The stark honesty of that moment, and the raw feeling of Violet's (Emily Browning) emotional discovery in the wreckage of their family home at the end of the movie redeem it from the "kiddie movie" status it might have otherwise enjoyed (and deserved).

Jim Carrey's Count Olaf was overblown and overdramatic, but his character is a bad actor, so it fits, if you think about it. The problem is that you do have to think about it, which kinda defeats the purpose. But then again, were he not in the film, it quite possibly would not have been made. Thankfully, most of the time his histrionics are appropriate. He was, however, not the star. The stars were the Hoffman twins, who played the baby Sunny, Liam Aiken, who played Klaus, and especially Emily Browning, who is already an actress to look out for, and will hopefully go on to even better things. Jude Law's narration (as the "author", Lemony Snicket) was spot-on.

Is this, like, the best movie EVAR? No. Do I hate myself for watching it? Thankfully, no. But I kinda wish I'd waited until it came out on DVD.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Battlestar Kickassica

I've just watched both the 2003 miniseries and the premiere of the new Battlestar Galactica miniseries, and I can not emphasize enough how incredibly good they are. Even as a wee lad of the '70s, the first series was just plain not that good. The characters were underdeveloped, at best, and the stories were lame. What saved the original Galactica was not so much any inherent qualities it posessed (save perhaps the visual effects, which were first-class for the time), but the possibilities it suggested. It was so almost-great, that the actors were able to barely carry off what could so easily have been pure drek.

This new series, on the other hand, excels in every category. It's so hard to pick a single element that singles out what makes this series great, but if I had to pick, I'd say it's the art direction. This show succeeds, in a way no tv series save Babylon 5 has, in creating a "used world", a world that feels not only real, but old. The ships, the uniforms, even the civilians, everything seems... ordinary. Fantastic, excellent, amazing, but it's all remarkably unremarkable.

The acting is similarly impressive-- Edward James Olmos' Commander Adama is more military and less avuncular than Lorne Greene. Greene's Adama was more presidential; Olmos' is a career military man that wasn't looking for any of this, and in fact wanted to leave the civilians behind so that he could retaliate for the Cylon attack. It's not that he didn't want to save them, but he was so focused on a military approach that he had to be talked into saving the human race. This was a lovely touch of realism.

Katee Sackhoff's Starbuck was the most surprising character. At first, I wasn't entirely sure about a female Starbuck, but she's sold me several times over-- I doubt she'll be Dirk Benedict's ladykiller (I suppose it's possible, but I think she may have a thing for Apollo), but she's at least as arrogant as Tom Cruise in Top Gun, and probably twice as good.

I could go on, but time constraints force me to move on to the cinematography. The show's documentary-style filming adds to the realism of the show, makes it seem more like a film crew happened to be stranded on the Galactica and are filming the struggle for humanity's survival for posterity. The camera is unsteady, but not shaky-- I'm sure it's a steadicam, but it gives the impression of a handheld camera, and adds strongly to the realism.

Finally, the stories. Unlike the original series, the new BSG respects the military aspect of the Galactica and her crew. The first Galactica was more like the Love Boat than a military vessel, crewed by soldiers fighting for the very survival of the human race. In fact, sometimes, it was easy to forget that we weren't watching a relatively well-done Lost In Space. These guys, on the other hand, are continually aware of that very thing-- the President even keeps a running tally of the number of humans left alive. So far, we haven't seen many civilians, but that's going to come up soon, and I have no doubt they'll be handled as well as the military has been.

I'm running long, so I'll try to continue and expand on this later. Bottom line: fantastic show. Watch it. (Then again, if you're reading this, you are most likely to have already seen it-- Hi, Sam!)