Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Better Life

So, this movie about an illegal immigrant gardener living in East L.A. has been hanging around the theaters lately and I really wasn't going to go see it. These things almost always work out the same way, with the good-hearted Latinos being oppressed by the evil gringos or, say, the immigrants teach the repressed white man how to really live.


Then @Darcysport mentioned that it was written by Pajamas Media founder Roger Simon.


I actually don't know much about Roger Simon. I remember Althouse mocking him mercilessly when he was recruiting bloggers for PJ Media. That was almost six freaking years ago. So, I guess her estimation that they would flounder didn't pan out.

Anyway, I think Simon's shtick is that he's a Hollywood outsider by choice, due to his political conservatism, which in this town sounds like "no one will hire me". Not that I have any insight into his career that IMDB doesn't give.

What I'm getting at is that I wasn't all that enthusiastic going into this thing, with a story by Simon, directed by Chris Weitz (About A Boy) and screenwriter Eric Eason, and a cast of people you maybe have seen around...places...maybe on street corners...


It's a solid movie. It's the sort of movie that people say "Why don't they make movies like that anymore?" only to have you point out that they do, and that they just watched it, you moron!

Though it has been a while.

Carlos is an illegal, living in L.A. for about 15 years, raising his son, Luis, on his own. He wakes up early, gets driven around in a truck by his boss, and does gardening all over the fair City of Angels. He works hard, lives in a mean little hovel in East L.A. where he tends his own mini-garden. He's not relating well to his teenage son, who skips school and runs with a bad crowd.

Pretty standard stuff, right?

Carlos' boss is going to sell the truck and equipment to the highest bidder and take his money to go buy a farm back in Mexico—something he refers to, without irony, as "the American dream". This puts the pressure on Carlos, since he doesn't have the money to buy the truck, and doesn't have the necessary papers to hold on to the truck if he could buy it. (That is, he has no driver's license and if he gets caught, he'll get shipped back to Mexico.) If he doesn't buy it, on the other hand, he's back out on the curb with the other day laborers. (An interesting and accurate depiction of the various strata of illegal society here.)

Meanwhile, Luis is a snotty, spoiled teenaged brat who disdains his father, disdains the day laborers, hates his own poverty and really has no sense of how bad it could be. He is, at least, smart enough to be running with the gangs, but there's an attraction, and it doesn't help that his girlfriend is part of the baddest crime gang in the neighborhood.

Once again, pretty standard stuff, right?

Ah, but it's character, plot, tension, story arc—all the basics covered here.

And it works. Well.

Why? Because it's a depiction of a good man, working hard to get ahead—to the live the American Dream—and the forces arrayed against him are formidable but not insurmountable. Demian Bichir plays Carlos, and he's an excellent everyman.

The whole cast is convincing and authentic feeling, and the (presumably) low budget doesn't work against it.

You care, but more than that, the movie is always engaging you with narrative "effects" a lot of dramatists avoid: Just because this is a serious drama (some say melodrama) doesn't mean it can't have moments of suspense, mystery, action, etc. These enhance the drama, just as drama can enhance those sorts of scenes.

What I'm getting at is that the movie doesn't take your caring for granted, constantly giving you moments to make you care a little bit more. For Luis's character, this is critical, because he's such a tool you feel like slapping him at first. But he gets to have his highs and lows, his moments of glory and, well, inglory, and he evolves as a character.

Given my bent, I'd like to say "This movie shows that socialism (and other forms of big government) ruins everything." Because to my way of thinking, the Carlos' of the world are never an immigration problem. If it weren't for the government offering freebies to illegals and regulating the jobs market so much that they price the native poor out of the jobs immigrants do, I think we'd have a lot less of an issue.

But as much as I'd like to say that's the message of the movie, I can't any more than I could say "The problem with immigration, according to the movie, is the gringos oppressing and exploiting the brown peoples." (Racism, and white people in general, barely make an appearance in the film.)

The point being, the movie is basically politics-free. You can say "Well, that sure is stupid" at various points of the film, but that's just honest observation. Politics gets into the why (like my preferred "why" mentioned above) and the how to fix, and who's to blame, which would make for an insufferable film.

The Flower had a little trouble following it with all the subtitles (the movie slips in and out of Spanish frequently) but she liked it. The Boy really liked it. And I did, too. I was glad we went and glad that a movie like this—on many levels—could be made.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Harry Potter And The Last Goddamn Movie

It's over! Hallelujah! After ten years, 19-and-a-half hours and eight movies, There are no more Harry Potter movies to sit through! 

Thank God.

Actually, all things considered? This is a very solid series of movies. Especially after the first couple of cutesy-poo Chris Columbus flicks (Sorceror's Stone and Chamber of Secrets). The uneven third flick had some edge and real heart, with Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) at the helm, and Mike Newell (Prince of Persia) made the silly plot of The Goblet of Fire overlookable.

The last four films (Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince, Deathly Hallows I and II) were all done by David Yates who has done a fine job, st least as far as creating watchable movies, I can't speak to faithfulness to the source material.

So, what to say about this one? Well, Ace of Spades lamented, when he heard the last book had been split in to two movies, that there wasn't enough material.

Not a problem. Part 1 moved along briskly, and Part 2 is actually pretty breakneck. There's a lot to wrap up here, and the Big Reveal to be revealed, and what-not.

The Big Reveal isn't going to surprise anyone, I don't think. My kids saw it coming around the fifth movie—well, The Boy did. The Flower was born the year the first one came out so she wasn't even prepared to be surprised by the twist.

Well, that's one reveal. The other reveal—well, that seemed obvious to me from the get-go.

This is not a bad thing, mind you. If they had really been shocking at this point, halfway through the last half of the last book, it would have felt like a cheat. (Though this theory about Neville would've been fun.) Really, for a movie series that's based on a fair amount of slapdashery, the final chapter hangs together and brings things together.

The movie could actually be stitched two the first half to make a seamless four-and-a-half-hour movie (yow!) beginning as it does at the point where Valdemort robs the Elder Wand from the grave. Meanwhile, Harry, Ron and Hermione are off to destroy the horcruxes (the vessels that hold Valdemort's soul and preserve his immortality).

This leads to a bank heist (with shootout!) and then takes them back to a thoroughly occupied Hogwart's (apparently Valdemort thought it would be a good idea to keep two horcruxes in the same place). And thus begins the last stand.

There's not much to say really. At this point, you know whether you're going to see it or not. Are you really going to see 6 1/2 chapters of a story without seeing the last? Although, in fairness, I know a guy who has only seen the last three or four films and enjoyed them.

To the film's, and the series', credit, this isn't the Star Wars prequels or Lord of the Rings, where I really did just see the last ones because I'd seen the first two. The Boy shares my opinion here: While far from a fan, he's been liking these later movies more.

The Flower, on the other hand, hates them. Not that she thinks they're bad, necessarily, but she's sort of picked up on the fact that Rowling basically dumps on Harry. He can't get a break. The Flower doesn't care for that sort of thing. (She hates Charlie Brown, too, for stuff like the ever-escaping football. "The most depressing series ever.")

Her opinion? "It's no Gran Torino, but it wasn't bad!"

High praise, indeed. (Gran Torino is one of her favorite movies and the funniest she's ever seen, she says.)

The movie suffers a bit from a few things. For one thing, if you primarily watch the movies when they come out, you're basically seeing the second half a movie after you got interrupted 6-8 months ago. It takes a while to catch up.

For another thing, you're wrapping up this near 20 hour story. If you've come to care about any of the characters, there's a good chance you won't find out what happened to them. A lot of creatures drifted through the stories over the years and are left to drift.

Also, a lot of the characters die. Now, it's a war, so you expect that. But you just see them stretched or crumpled over and you don't really get a chance to—well, hell, you're wondering who it is when they flash by and by the time you think you've puzzled it through, a bunch of other characters end up dead.

And when it's over, it's over. They very wisely did not do the LOTR thing with the four hundred different endings, but the price of that is a sort of anticlimactic denouement, if that's even possible. It's almost a "monster's dead, movie's over" situation, though there is a nice (short) epilogue.

So, yeah, good ending to the series.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Chameleon

The movie well is pretty dry, as it tends to be mid-summer, if you're not into loud, obnoxious and dumb. And I'm actually into any two of those, but all three at once sort of turns me off. Anyway, the upshot is that we ended up seeing a movie called The Chameleon which has two cuts: One which is apparently crap, and one which is apparently good.

We, of course, didn't know which cut it was. But I hope it was the bad one.

The premise is intriguing, and based (very loosely) on a real events: A missing Louisiana child turns up four years later. Only looking a lot more than four years older. And having a (Continental) French accent. And just generally not seeming much like the missing child.

The family with the missing child is apartment and trailer dwellers, so there's no monetary motivation for him to lie. They're also seriously dysfunctional, with a con half-brother and a half-in-the-bag mother (played by a very anti-glammed Ellen Barkin). On the other side, you have to wonder why any family would pretend that an impostor was their missing son.

So, you have a mystery. And one that's irritating the crap out of an FBI agent (Famke Janssen), who pursues the situation when no one else cares to.

The con half-bother (Nick Stahl) also seems to be constantly on the verge of killing the kid (Marc-André Grondin) which gives the movie a kind of a thriller aspect to it.

In fact, it was the mystery/thriller aspect that inclined me to take a shot at this flick, but it really fails at both. (Or the cut I saw did, and frankly, I don't know enough about French director Jean-Paul Salomé to vouch for him.) The problem is, the mystery comes from murky motivations. What happens doesn't entirely make sense from any point of view apart from a sort of surreal, highly emotional one.

The Boy and I were trying to figure out who the main character was, with no success. The only real possibilities are the kid, the mother or the FBI agent. The kid and the mother form a bond, and the former has a sort of character arc, but it's a very strange and muted one. The FBI agent doesn't really have a character arc. 

It's one of those movies that seems more like a series of events than a focused narrative. That makes it sort of listless, despite the rather interesting subject matter. It comes off sort of like an episode of "The Closer", except "The Closer" is a pretty tight show with better production values. And less on-screen drug use, I guess.

The most compelling drama is between the kid and the mother, but their moments seem sort of stilted. Janssen's character has some real depth, and since she's in less awkward situations, her character is revealed in ways that seem more natural. They also tried de-glamming her, but it didn't really take. 

I think, sometimes, if you're doing a "ripped from the headlines" type story, you have some obligation to the truth, and that can tie your hands, dramatically speaking. But that presumes you're trying to stay true to life, which I think was pretty secondary here. 

If you're not, you should go to town and do whatever it takes to make an artistically satisfying film, facts be damned. I think this movie wasn't concerned with the actuality, at least as production wore on (if ever), but they didn't cut loose and give us either a good mystery or a good thriller. And in the long run, aspersions were cast. Cast, slung and sprayed all over the damn place.

The Boy and I were not impressed, and we couldn't recommend what we saw. I'm suspicious how much better another cut could be, though. The flaws seemed to be structural. Thinking about it, while the audience does not know what's going on, the film's characters pretty much all have to. The exception is the FBI agent, of course, and if the movie had gone from her perspective the whole time, you might have had something.

As it is, it's just us trying to figure out what's going on and the movie basically refusing to tell us. There is a scenario strongly suggested throughout most of the movie, which then seems to be potentially refuted by the last scenes. And without any particular suspense, really.

So, view at your own peril (as always).

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Names of Love (Le nom de gens)

Holy cow. A French movie about a coupla French socialists. How the Hell do I sell this to The Boy?

Popcorn. Lots of popcorn.

The Names of Love is one of those quirky movies that only the French can make and—unlike so many things they do—can make completely unselfconsciously. It's so backward from an American point-of-view you can't help but be a little charmed and a little, like, "Hey! I thought these guys were sophisticates!"

Here's the story: Buttoned-up Arthur Martin, Parisian dead fowl investigator, is chided by "liberated" (read slutty) Baya Benmahmoud during a radio show where he's warning against bird flu. She says, astutely, "You're making us all crazy with your panicky talk" or something of that sort. Arthur, for his part, says stuff like "We must be constantly vigilant, but not too alarmed" and other very official, meaningless things.

After rejecting Baya's offer of sex (she only sleeps with men on the first date) the two part ways, only to meet up again on another occasion. This time Arthur takes her up on her offer, but they split for a minute, which is long enough for Baya to become completely disoriented, caught up in three other obligations, and wandering the street naked.

Arthur rescues her and they become a sort of item. We learn that Baya is a committed socialist who targets right wingers and converts them from their wicked ways by having sex with them.

I know, right? French!

Arthur is different, of course, or we wouldn't have a movie. Arthur is already a committed socialist and the two share a love of Lionel Jospin, the socialist candidate beaten in 2002 by (right wing) Jacques Chirac. ("Right wing" in France means "not completely committed to the total control of the economy in all its facets by the government", I gather.)

Actually, in some ways, this movie is thematically a lot like the last movie we saw, Beginners. Arthur and Baya are sorta messed up in their own ways that go back to their parents. But in this case, the problems seem to be cultural. Baya is the daughter of an Algerian solder and a hippie mother, while Arthur's Jewish mother escaped concentration camps in WWII.  Arthur's paternal grandparents, on the other hand, were actually deported from France back to Greece.

Given the Martins' policy of never talking about anything, we don't learn anything else about the Greek grandparents.

At one point, Arthur realizes he can attract the girls with stories of his grandparents' persecution, but it makes him feel unclean to do so, and he simply stops talking about it at all. Baya, on the other hand, regrets that she hasn't experienced the persecution that is her due, as a half-Algerian.

At this point, it's hard to regard the French as anything but a sort of naive, muddled provincials. I mean, seriously, Arthur and Baya are riddled with angst over questions of birth that would register a shrug in the United States! Can you imagine an entire modern American movie based around a mixed couple? Didn't we do all those in the '70s?

But I digress. It's still an issue for the French, apparently.

One of the cutest moments is when Arthur confesses to Baya that he thinks, right or left, political parties tend to do bad things. Baya cannot absorb it. If it's true, she reasons, nothing makes any sense at all. The left is good, the right is bad, she asserts existentially. (I don't know if that's the right word, but it should be.)

The murkiness doesn't end with politics and race, though. Sex is an issue, too, of course. Baya is "liberated", in Martin's words. Maybe even "too liberated". Of course, she's not "liberated" at all: She's a slut. And nuts. She was molested as a child—French comedy, remember—which would seem to cast doubt on the whole sexual free spirit stuff.

And maybe this kind of muddled messaging is why the whole movie works. Director Michel Leclerc doesn't try to assert the rightness of any of it. A lot of it is played for laughs, thought always with a gentle touch and empathy for the characters. The movie suggests that, somehow, the characters will survive the success of such right-wing heavies as Chirac and (gasp!) Sarkozy.

And maybe, just maybe, a whole lot of fuss is being made about politics and race and freeing crabs (you'll understand when you see it) that pales next to the business of actually living and loving.

Which also seems very French.

Leclerc co-wrote the script with Baya Kasmi whose name and appearance evokes that of the Baya Benmahmoud of the movie, suggesting some autobiography here.

The cast is excellent, but unless you're an afficianado of French film you probably don't know these guys. I see more French flicks than most, but I couldn't place Jacques Gamblin (who plays Arthur) and Sarah Forestier looked really familiar but I think the only movie I've seen her in is the unusual Perfume: The Story of a Murder. Zinedine Soualem, who plays Baya's dad, was in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Michele Moretti (Martin's mom) played a role in the enjoyable Apres Vous.

But that probably doesn't mean much to you. There are typically 2-3 French films a year I get to, so unless someone's having a very good year, I'm probably not going to see them enough to be able to recognize them. And all the hot stars from 5 or so years ago aren't getting into movies that make it out here very much.

C'est la vie, eh?

Anyway, worked for me. Worked for the Boy, even with the odds stacked against it. Pretty good recommendation, overall.


Longtime readers know how I feel about teh gay, at least as it appertains to indie cinema, and I didn't exactly stampede to see Beginners, the new(ish) movie with Christopher Plummer and—uh, what's his name. That guy who did the kick-ass Alec Guiness impression in the Star Wars prequels. Not Ethan Hawke...Ewan MacGregor! That's the guy.

Sorry. I'm getting older. The names aren't coming as fast as they used to.

Anyway, the story is about Oliver (MacGregor), a wan sort of graphic artist, whose mom has just died. His 76-year-old father, Hal (Plummer) has since come out of the closet and devoted his last years to pursuing his sexuality. Also, Hal has terminal cancer.

The story takes place along three timelines: One in the late '50s, where we meet Hal's mom, Georgia (played by the lovely Mary Page Keller, best known to me as the star of the early Fox sitcom "Duet", who's actually a little too old to be playing a mom in the '50s, but I didn't mind), one from 2003 showcasing Hal's life after Georgia dies, and one from 2006 where Oliver tries to sort out his head after Hal dies, and make a relationship with the beautiful Anna (Mélanie Laurent, of last years fun Franco-Russo flick The Concert).

Wow, does that read as awful as I think it does?

It's really not. It's actually a very enjoyable movie.

Yeah, Oliver's a mope, but he's sort of a whimsical mope. He loves his dad, and is supportive of him. A central player in this drama is Hal's dog, who has occasional subtitles, which works better than you might think it would. 

I guess what it comes down to is, none of the characters are bad guys, they're just sort of befuddled. Hal is as unapologetic about his relationship with Georgia (who entered the relationship knowingly, if deluded) as he is about his 11th hour aggressive pursuit of homosexuality. Oliver and Anna struggle along, being sort of weird, hurting each other by sheer emotional awkwardness.

It wasn't boring. You're rooting for everyone. 

The movie largely stays away from being glib or simplistic, although I had a little trouble with the central premise, which I took to be "I'm screwed up because my dad was gay and married to my mom." 

But what do I know?

The key may be that The Boy enjoyed it, and that says something about a movie that features a fair amount of dudes kissing. 

Anyway, if you up for a low key drama that's not too heavy, and you're not, you know, adverse to the dudes kissing thing, it's a good bet. 

(Also, if you're a Christopher Plummer fan, check out The Man In The Chair.)

Super 8

What if  a bunch of kids in 1979 were making a movie and they saw a massive train wreck? And what if the train were carrying some kind of mysterious menace? And what if the kids embarked on an adventure to discovery the mysterious menace, while being further menaced by menacing military madmen?

Now, what if Steven Spielberg happened to catch all this on film?

Or, okay, J. J. Abrams filmed it, which is sort of like Spielberg-plus-lens-flare.

Well, then you'd have something like Super 8, the modern day Goonies flick which seems to have registered a collective "meh", given its pedigree. The Boy and The Flower both failed to register any enthusiasm for it, though they didn't really complain, either. They didn't have high expectations going in, and they weren't disappointed or surprised.

The story is about a group of kids making a movie in 1979 on the titular film. Said film stock, by the way, is never referenced by name, so I imagined a substantial percentage of the audience saying, "Huh?" That is, if they paused to ask themselves what "Super 8" meant.

Anyway, the kids are shooting their film when there's a train wreck right before their eyes (and camera). Throw in a mysterious, incoherent teacher injured in the wreck, strange noises, and menacing G-Men, and you got yourself a picture.

It's well shot, of course, moves briskly, has some laughs, and the kids all carry off their acting duties. Special effects are good, too.

So why isn't it boffo?

I have some theories, as you might expect.

First of all, in one of the early scenes, the fat director kid is explaining to the main character that he's rewritten the script to have the cute chick in it because adding the character development will make the audience care what happens to the hero when he's eaten by zombies.

So, we have this sub-plot where the main character's mom dies and this is kinda-sorta the fault of the cute chick's alcoholic dad, and the main character's dad is a hardass, and there's a love triangle, sorta, between the main character, the fat kid and the cute chick and...

Well, it all feels like they lampshaded it in that early scene. "Look, now we're making you care about the characters!"

Strangely inartful.

Sorta like the very first scene where the camera pans down (with dolorous music a-playing) to a factory, then cuts to the inside where a worker is solemnly taking down the counter from a "days since last accident" sign, to replace with a "1". (At least, I hope it wasn't a zero. That would be too much.)

Feels like an exercise from a screenplay writing handbook. Also, it conjures up a whole lot of humor. I think "Family Guy" and "The Simpson's" both have done a gag like that. Pretty sure I've seen it in a "Far Side" cartoon. As a joke, I expect it goes back to WWII, or to whenever those signs were invented.

Little risky using that for your "telling the audience someone has died" serious moment.

The drama comes off as a by-the-numbers exercise.

It doesn't help that the big dramatic connection between cute girl's dad and hero's mom's death is really tenuous. I mean, when the big reveal came, I just kind of thought everyone was sort of stupid. I guess that's not entirely unrealistic, but it wasn't very involving.

The whole thing kind of comes off that way. A lot of near misses that sort of remind you of more successful endeavors. People are disappearing right and left, but the why of that isn't really clear, for example.

Another thing: The climactic scene isn't, very. And I can't for the life of me figure out why they left a perfectly good opportunity for a suspenseful conclusion on the table. The kids are really barely involved with the final resolution of the story.

Which is just sort of weird.

There's also no real resolution about the nature of the mysterious menace, in a moral sense. It also feels like a plug-in menace right out of a '50s sci-fi movie. You're just supposed to fill-in-the-blanks, apparently.

Now, they nailed 1979. This was of little interest to the kids. But the lingo, hairstyles, clothing and technology was all pretty dead on. (There was a "bogus" and a "totally" which struck me as more '80s, but that's kind of splitting hairs.)

Like I said, it's not bad. And if you're not expecting the return of—I dunno, whatever, 1980s-era kiddie movie floats your boat (I pretty much hated all of them)—it's a not unpleasant way to pass a couple of hours. Bonus points if you've got any 1979 nostalgia. (But if you do? You should be ashamed of yourself.)

Anyway, all three of us were, like, totally, "Yeah. OK. Not bad."

So there ya have it.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Quote of the Day: That's Not Irony

Meghan Casserly, of something called ForbesWoman, made the following statement in an article about how women won't marry guys who don't have jobs. (According to "Red Eye".)
It is ironic that women place more weight on love than money, yet won't marry if they or their potential suitor is unemployed.
 Ms. Casserly, that's not ironic, that's just wrong. If they placed more weight on love than money then money wouldn't matter.

On "Red Eye" this was followed up with Kayleigh McEnany saying:
I'm all about finding true love and what-not but...if you don't have a job, if you're homeless, I'm probably not going to love you.
So much for "true love". But note: This is about marriage. The implications for non-marriage, non-loving relationships are left as an exercise for the reader.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Least Likely and Most Awesome Tax System Ever

Looooooong time readers will remember my "fair tax" proposal, the only one that is truly fair. But with Independence Day coming, I thought I'd try for another (ridiculous) tax idea. It wouldn't be fair in any sense of the word; it'd be better than fair, though.

As Barbie knows, a government's authority should derive from consent of the governed. The government never has the entire country's full consent, of course, but it does things that are more or less popular, like social security, health care "reform" or giving money to gang members.

So, how about this: How about no taxes?

Now, I realize they tried this with the Articles of Confederation, and it was a great weakness. But at the time we were a lot more States and a lot less United.

"But Blake," you say, "that would be the end of the government!" 

"You have something on your cheek," I say. "Also, stop texting and driving."

It wouldn't be the end of the government if the government had the consent of the governed. I'm pretty radical, I know, but even I wouldn't want to see the government to go away completely. But when we allow the government to set its own levels of taxation, well, we get the current state, where we all pay about half of everything outright to various agencies with an added bonus suppression of our economic activity worth another half or more.

Run the government on donations. Run all of them on donations.

Also, allow taxpayers to allocate their money. Hate war, love handouts? Allocate your tax money to Welfare. Or, if your preferences are reversed, send it to Defense. Maybe even take it to the micromanagement level: Allow your donation to social security to be used for poor handicapped kids, but not rich old people. Or support the war in Afghanistan but not the one in Iraq.

Now, would this lead to some phenomenally bad decision making? Oh, yes, guaranteed. I don't know if we could have won the war in Iraq had we not persevered through unpopular times. On the other hand, we probably would have won Vietnam. Also, maybe Iraq wouldn't have been so unpopular if the administration had known that their success was tied to its popularity, and put some effort into explaining it.

Americans tend to be isolationists, though, so I suspect we'd see a quick drop in overseas military bases. Foreign aid—some of it would drop dramatically, of course, but some might actually go up.

War on drugs? I don't think there'd be huge support for it. But maybe if funds were limited, they could focus on the really bad stuff, and stuff aimed at kids.

The sort of business-squashing regulation industry that's bloomed over the past 100 years would be interesting. How many people would pay to support that? The real danger there would be that various industries would put a lot of money into regulation, then use that squash the competition.

Kind of like they do now. So, it's not a panacea. We'd still have to be paying attention. (Eternal vigilance, eh, what?) But, wow, what a feeling it would be. You'd really feel like you had some control. And various government agencies would bloody well have a good reason to treat you like a customer rather than a subject, wouldn't they?

I mean, hate the DMV? Don't fund it. If it has to shut down, the state could make a different plan up to better serve people. The IRS (and various state mini-IRSes) would be completely gone. Absolutely no need for a tax authority. The TSA would be a bad memory.

Tax time would be whenever you felt like it. The government could produce estimates of how much it needed to collect, monthly, quarterly, yearly. There'd be strong motivation to save a little cash in reserve for lean times.

Oh, yeah, the government would absolutely not be able to borrow.

Me? I'd pay $3,000-$4,000 a year for government. Maybe more. It's a little hard to gauge, since if it were drastically smaller, I'd be drastically better off, and feeling way more benevolent toward it than I currently am.

If you're thinking, as a lot of people probably would at this suggestion, that there's just no way that a government can exist without using force to collect money from people, I submit to you that no government really has the consent of the governed or could.

Now, if you want to argue that it's not fair, I agree. There would be tons of free-riders, just like the 50% or so of the population that pays no Federal income tax, or actually gets money back. I suspect, though, that quite a few of that 50% would donate. A lot of rich people wouldn't, probably more than the number of rich people who find ways out of paying taxes now.

But it would all be voluntary. A select few carry the burden of national defense for all of us. It's horribly unfair, but the only times you hear people complain we need a draft are when they want our national defense to be unpopular. (That's why some agitated so strongly for a draft at the height of the Iraq war's unpopularity.)

Some people would be exceeding generous while others would simply not donate at all. But there could be few complaints if none were forced into paying for things that they didn't want. And in this age of high-speed information, it's eminently do-able.

And if this couldn't work, the more interesting question become why not?

Midnight In Paris

If I were going to write the executive summary for Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, it would probably be: "This is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for nebbishy dweebs who think they're too good for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen."

Screenwriter Owen Wilson takes a trip to Paris with fianceé Rachel MacAdams and her parents Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy, when they run into friends Michael Sheen and Nina Arianda. As taken as his fianceé is with the male half of this duo, Wilson himself is put off and takes to wandering around Paris rather than going out with them. When he gets lost, and the clock strikes midnight, a car shows up and takes him to 1920s Paris where he meets Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Cole Porter and Ernest Hemmingway. Then Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dali, Matisse, Bunuel, and on and on.


I don't like Woody Allen. This goes back to when I was a kid, knowing nothing about him. His movies occasionally made me laugh, but I also always felt a little icky and hollow after watching one. The last movie of his I saw (prior to this) was Match Point, which I saw without knowing it was him. I sat through it thinking, "Well, this is well done, but it seems to reek of a kind of malignant narcissism," and then, roll credits, "Written and Directed by Woody Allen".


So, my first gripe with this film is the League thing: If you're going to represent yourself as worthy of writing for the giants of literature, you better write some damn good stuff. Similarly, if Woody Allen wants to put words in the mouths of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, etc., etc., he better bring it.

By the way, if you like Woody Allen, you might find his representations cute and charming.

My next gripe is that, if one were picking a time in history to idealize, and one were a Jew, one might think 1929 Paris wouldn't be first choice. France hated her Jews by the '30s, and one presumes that it didn't spring suddenly out of whole cloth from a totally egalitarian '20s, but you could rationalize this by presuming the time would never change and would always stay in that ideal moment (I guess). Or maybe by arguing that Owen Wilson wasn't a Jew, but I'm not sure that the responsibility can be sloughed off in that way.

My gripe after the last gripe is that if you had gone back in time, maybe your first instinct shouldn't be to get laid. In fact, unsurprisingly, the movie has an appalling sexuality to it. Our "hero" is engaged to a woman the script makes only the frailest attempt to demonstrate an attraction to—making the relationship resolution a foregone conclusion from scene one—but he's immediately hitting on a different woman in his time travelling. And on museum tours. And just walking the streets.

Meanwhile, his fianceé is fawning over a pedantic fop whose main service to the film is to be more insufferable than the lead. Actually, that's about every "real" main character's role: To be awful in comparison to the poetic hero. The Boy, who's never seen a Woody Allen flick before, leaned in at about 5 minutes and said "Everyone in this movie is a dick."

Astute, that.

He exempted the hero's in-laws, because they didn't have many lines (at least at first). Early on, though, we learn they're horrible because they're Republicans. Easy-peasey. No need for character development, huh, Woody?

My mother, who sees very few movies in a year, was going to see this because of the various raves she'd heard about it. But they were all from people with radically different tastes from her—Mommah likes her some action flicks—and she hates Woody Allen. (The Old Man hated him, too, while admiring his prowess as a cinematographer, so maybe it runs in the family.)

I told her to go see Win-Win. She loves sports movies. She loves Paul Giamatti. She hates Woody Allen.

And if you hate Woody Allen, this movie isn't going to change your mind. On the other hand, if you like Woody Allen, you're going to like this in all likelihood. Even I would say it's fairly entertaining, if you can stand it. I found myself constantly irritated by—well, call it Woody-Allen-ness.

The Boy said it just made him want to take a nap. He realized early on he wasn't going to care about the characters, the historical references are largely lost on him—and I tend to think that the giants of Woody Allen's literary mind are not necessarily going to be remembered long past what's very possibly undeserved late 20th century renown—so the gratification of the character's ego on this fantasy altar was not just narcissistic to him, but largely meaningless.

Good cinematography, of course. And music. And women. (Carla Bruni, Marion Cotillard and Lea Seydoux are his love interests.)

Excuse me while I go shower.