Category Archives: Review

Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can (2002)

Leonardo DiCaprio in “Catch Me If You Can”Catch Me If You Can, the 2002 true-crime caper film by Steven Spiel­berg, is made out of con­trast­ing and often­times self-contradictory sen­ti­ments and ele­ments. It’s brisk, breezy, and blithe, with a per­pet­u­ally jazzy spring in its step, about a teenager who conned his way to riches for a few years and the FBI agent who doggedly pur­sued him in pre-Vietnam 1950s, cast in an attrac­tively nos­tal­gic hue, where being an air­line pilot meant all the good things in the world—especially if you were a fake one. At the same time, how­ever, it resem­bles a tragic coming-of-age tale, harsh rather than gen­tle, mean rather than indulgent.

Put it this way: On one hand there are the gauzily golden scenes where Leonardo DiCaprio, hid­den behind his Avi­a­tors and Pan-Am pilot cap, marches through the Miami air­port arm in arm with a obliv­i­ous gag­gle of gig­gling stew­ardesses, who are absurdly suc­cess­ful in dis­tract­ing police offi­cers and law enforce­ment agents who are teem­ing around in wait for Frank Abag­nale Jr., the “James Bond of the sky,” the mis­chie­vous young prodigy with quick wits and quicker feet after whom Tom Hanks runs after com­i­cally, the boy­ish charmer who can stroll up to an attrac­tive teller and, with a few choice words, cause her to blush and chor­tle uncon­trol­lably and fall in love while he extri­cates var­i­ous details con­cern­ing bank checks (ah, these won­der­ful years that were…). Catch Me If You Can, when required, oper­ates on a rough but sus­tained level of comic incredulity that is required from the audi­ence, like a sweet ado­les­cent fantasy.

And yet, insep­a­ra­bly, there is also the story of a priv­i­leged, promis­ing young man wrecked apart by his par­ents’ sud­den divorce and finan­cial woes of his father and who runs away from home. He turns to forg­ing checks and swin­dling mil­lions from the banks with intu­itive, innate ease, and pro­ceeds to lie to every­one includ­ing his own father. Frank Abag­nale Jr. becomes the air­line pilot (and the doc­tor, and the lawyer as well) and flies the friendly skies, but—a telling detail—every Christ­mas Eve, out of for­lorn lone­li­ness, he calls the FBI agent whom he has nar­rowly escaped from sev­eral times to plead to be left alone. This is the epit­ome of mis­er­able­ness, and Tom Hanks, on the other line, cack­les in glee. Spoiler alert: Frank is even­tu­ally caught, and thrown in prison, after hav­ing lan­guished for what seems to be a cou­ple of years in a bru­tal, cold Mar­seilles lockup. But he’s given a sec­ond chance on account of his bril­liant mind—working dull office hours for the same FBI depart­ment that caught him, ana­lyz­ing fraud­u­lent checks and other things that he knows. (He accepts.)

One would expect Frank Abag­nale Jr., the enter­pris­ing, fear­less young man who refused to be beat down by the dregs of real­ity, to pull a Shaw­shank Redemp­tion and escape to some blue Pacific shore, and he does try—not show­ing up for work one day and run­ning off to the air­port all dressed up in his pilot uni­form, in a last-ditch attempt to recap­ture the now unat­tain­able. But Tom Hanks, wiser than he seems, knows the ulti­mate truth. The viewer does too, and so does Frank. Every­one knows, which makes it all the more depress­ing. Only half of Catch Me If You Can is sen­ti­men­tal and sweet, and, in con­text, it gets swiftly over­pow­ered. The end­ing might be intended as being a some­what “happy” one, con­sid­er­ing the alter­na­tives, but it is not cheer­ful nor does it bring a smile to one’s face. At least, it didn’t to mine.

I can’t say the sober, even quite despon­dent dénoue­ment of this film low­ers my opin­ion of it as a whole, because I can’t say I didn’t see it com­ing, see­ing the empha­sis on the non-teenage fan­tasy parts that fore­warned an end­ing in tune with real­ity. Steven Spielberg’s love of always-complicated-never-easy fam­ily rela­tion­ships (specif­i­cally father-son dynam­ics, one can argue) in his films has become famous, under­stand­ably so, and it man­i­fests itself strongly here. But, although some of the exchanges between Leonardo DiCaprio and Christo­pher Walken, who plays his father, are touch­ing, even wrench­ing, why were they there?

The thing is that Catch Me If You Can is never as pro­found as it could be or thinks it is, if Spiel­berg had been inclined to steer his ship so res­olutely in that one direc­tion, nor is it, ulti­mately, a fun light-hearted lit­tle gem, which, in my opin­ion, is what it should have been. Why can’t we just enjoy this sweet ado­les­cent fan­tasy with­out feel­ing the weight of the con­se­quences and the knowl­edge of the causes of Frank Abag­nale Jr.‘s dar­ing escapades, so heavy they ground the whole thing irrev­o­ca­bly? I feel ful­filled watch­ing Leonardo DiCaprio charm­ing pretty girls and liv­ing the good life while Tom Hanks huffs and puffs after him, thank you very much.

Photo via Google Images.

The Dull Bleakness of “No Country For Old Men”

The strength of 2007’s No Coun­try For Old Men, the win­ner of the Acad­emy Award for Best Pic­ture, would be its min­i­mal­is­tic genre adher­ence, the con­sid­er­able sim­plic­ity of its story—about three dif­fer­ent men in 1980s Texas whose fates are tied together by a bag of drug money, “one har­row­ingly extended chase sequence,” as a critic put it—in which a last­ing sense of muted men­ace, dread, and dark fore­bod­ing per­vades per­sis­tently and ulti­mately becomes its strongest asset. That car­ries the movie—this inten­tion­ally very bleak, very flat atmos­phere, care­fully con­structed and cul­ti­vated by the Coen Bros., where the specter of vio­lent death is always hang­ing above, dis­cussed plen­ti­fully and wit­nessed even more. This is a film where you know death is com­ing, and you just have to sit back and watch. Well, No Coun­try For Old Men is hand­somely crafted, spar­ingly yet effec­tively, and is mor­bidly engross­ing in large parts, but that does not stop it from being dull, so very dull.

That came as a gen­uine rev­e­la­tion to me, for No Coun­try For Old Men has been acclaimed as noth­ing short of a mod­ern mas­ter­piece. Indeed, you would be hard-pressed to find more than one or two neg­a­tive opin­ions about it within the bound­aries of good film crit­i­cism. (How­ever, rest assured that Inter­net com­menters are quick to find it “rub­bish,” “over­rated,” and ”bor­ing,” among other such delight­fully pithy opin­ions.) More impor­tantly though, I find it dif­fi­cult to be a con­vinc­ing con­trar­ian on this mat­ter when I don’t really know what in par­tic­u­lar irked me about No Coun­try For Old Men. I watched it a week ago, and would not object to hav­ing my mem­ory of doing so oblit­er­ated, if only because there was noth­ing remark­able about it, and so noth­ing really remark­able about the movie itself.

Maybe that’s not entirely true. I remem­ber some scenes vividly—one where Josh Brolin is sit­ting on a motel bed with his bag full of $100 bills, wait­ing with shot­gun in hand. He’s right in front of his room door, and behind it is the man who’s been hunt­ing him down, the polite psy­cho­pathic hit­man played by Javier Bar­dem. It’s dark save for the light com­ing from under the door, and only nigh imper­cep­ti­ble creak­ing and foot­steps in the hall­way out­side dis­turb the care­ful silence. The ten­sion is mas­ter­fully ratch­eted up to near unbear­able levels.

That’s a good scene. But on a whole, No Coun­try For Old Men is rather dis­ap­point­ing. Tommy Lee Jones plays the third man, an aging, weary sherif, who seems to mostly sit around in cof­fee shops and increas­ingly muse about all the vio­lence and death which he finds he can no longer deal with, because it’s just too much. He feels “over­matched,” as he tells his ex-lawman uncle. He’s the pro­tag­o­nist, I sup­pose, since Brolin’s Llewe­lyn Moss is never very lik­able and Bar­dem, well, he plays the part of the relent­less killer, invok­ing curios­ity with his man­ner­isms and quirks, “prin­ci­ples” they are referred to in the film, but still quite a vil­lain. Some have enthused at the propo­si­tion that it all makes splen­did, strange sense in Anton Chigurh’s head under that odd hair­cut, mak­ing him fas­ci­nat­ingly deep and per­haps not as “evil” in the sense of the word. Why? Because he is a man of vio­lence, who under­stands it, who was bred in this world of death and dying, much like Llewyn—but unlike his prey, he is the creepy per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of it. Per­haps. But I just saw a psy­chopath with some­what redeem­ing qual­i­ties attrib­uted to the crazy world we live in now, as such char­ac­ters are wont to have nowa­days onscreen.

No Coun­try For Old Men’s dull­ness comes from the fact that it doesn’t really have any­thing to say, and that it takes a long while—an intemit­tently excit­ing and gen­er­ally plod­dingly stale, while—to say it. It’s qual­ity film­mak­ing through­out, yes, but with too few moments of bril­liance which we’d expect from the mak­ers of Fargo. From what I heard, it’s pretty faith­ful to Cor­mac McCarthy’s novel of the same name, which might be part of the prob­lem, but I wouldn’t know see­ing as I haven’t read it. And I feel no urge to read the source mate­r­ial either after watch­ing No Coun­try For Old Men, which is a shame, because I do love a good book.

The Opening of “West Side Story” (1961)

{Note: Some loose thoughts on the open­ing of “West Side Story,” which, along with the absolutely bril­liant “Amer­ica” and “Gee, Offi­cer Krupke” musi­cal num­bers, are the best scenes of a dra­mat­i­cally uneven film. But when it shines, it shines. Ded­i­cated to Roger Ebert.}

This scene is one of the few that were shot in loca­tion in New York 1, fun­nily enough. But I wouldn’t have guessed it. It still reminds me of a stage setting—somewhat enclosed and con­stricted, with noth­ing there that shouldn’t be there if the pro­duc­ers said no. The play­ground wire mesh fences, cast­ing thin, angu­lar shad­ows, bring to mind a prison court­yard, even. The drab grey hue of the build­ings and the street ground lazily meld into one another with­out much effort.

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One of my favorite shots con­cern­ing the Jets, the gang of white boys, is the one below. The cam­era moves along with them, from the other side of the fence, as they saunter along, snap­ping their fin­gers rhyth­mi­cally, look­ing for some­thing to do. They look some­what men­ac­ing, like the cool kids who are also the school­yard bul­lies. (Which I guess, they are.) They are still, visu­ally, con­strained in their surroundings.

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But then they leave the play­ground. And we real­ize the ten­sion has been build­ing up to dance, that pure, care­free expres­sion of hap­pi­ness and sim­ple con­tent­ment for these street kids—physically man­i­fested in their pirou­et­ting bod­ies and vocally in Riff’s unadul­ter­ated cry of joy, “Yeah!” You smile with, and for, them, unexpectedly.

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This con­tin­ues even after some scuf­fles with the Sharks, the rival Puerto Rican gang. Noth­ing can hold them back, or maybe it is even some impe­tus to keep danc­ing, to keep their feet off that hot, bor­ing pave­ment that holds them down.

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And the nar­ra­tive ends, in sorts, with this shot of their hands thrust up as one into the sky, hands that soon will be catch­ing a bas­ket­ball but for now are reach­ing for the blue, for the beauty, for the unat­tain­able. For­get the ground, look up. The box has been bro­ken out of, and in that moment noth­ing else matters.

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Notes:

  1. Accord­ing to the IMDb trivia page, at least.

The Murky Moral Questions of “M” (1931)

“I have no con­trol over this, this evil thing inside of me, the fire, the voices, the tor­ment!” So anguishes a squirm­ing, des­per­ate, wretched Gollum-esque Peter Lorre in 1931’s M, and his confession—that he felt com­pelled to lure young chil­dren walk­ing in the streets of Berlin and then mur­der them; that he did hor­ri­ble deeds, yes, but was taken by a dan­ger­ous dis­ease of the mind when he did them; and that he is not a mur­der­ous mon­ster, but a very sick human being—indirectly brings to mind unpleas­ant real-life recent events. Lorre’s char­ac­ter, Hans Beck­ert, is both com­pletely pathetic in his whim­per­ing fear and more than pitiable in his dis­gust­ing inno­cence and help­less­ness, which sets him far away and apart from the shoot­ers of Aurora and New­town, but still he brings them and the debate that fol­lowed to mind.

This scene is fab­u­lous cin­ema already, but M’s direc­tor Fritz Lang lay­ers the sit­u­a­tion with more moral and social com­plex­i­ties. It is not a real jury who lis­tens to the con­fes­sion, but a kan­ga­roo court com­prised of a volatile mob of crim­i­nals, as well as other towns­peo­ple and griev­ing moth­ers. It was the crim­i­nals who had taken it upon themselves—seeing the police’s inap­ti­tude in appre­hend­ing the child killer—to find him and deal with him them­selves. They did this not not out of the upstand­ing moral good­ness that lie in their hearts, but rather because the mys­te­ri­ous mur­derer, and the ensu­ing police atten­tion, were a dis­rup­tive annoy­ance to their crim­i­nal goings-on. Of course, how­ever, once they do catch him they become the noble pro­po­nents of swift jus­tice, which is, yes, quite ironic.*

So it has come to the pecu­liar state of affairs where one mur­derer is plead­ing for his life in front of more mur­der­ers who all would love to lynch him. Well, per­haps, this sce­nario is not so pecu­liar, but I think the pecu­liar­ity in this case arises from the fact that we are told to choose between the two evils, one of which is lesser, but still evil nonethe­less. It’s also inter­est­ing to mull over that the crim­i­nals are, deeply afraid and dis­gusted of the child-killer, not only for the rea­sons appar­ent, but because he rep­re­sents the most vile of their selves, and what they hope will never emerge. He reminds them of their own evil, only worse, so doing him away makes sense. At least, this is before Beck­ert opens his mouth and exposes his tor­tured soul, his men­tal ill­ness against which he has no respite, by which time it, how­ever, doesn’t really mat­ter; the mob thirsts for blood, some­what under­stand­ably so, and for them, in this mat­ter, vio­lence is the most appro­pri­ate answer. But of course it’s not as black-and-white as that. I found myself sym­pa­this­ing with the devil, if you will, but also of the opin­ion that they should kill Beck­ert, because it would put an end to his suf­fer­ing and his guilt. That sounds ter­ri­ble, I know, but I felt com­pelled to find an opin­ion in this matter—I did not feel like a dis­tanced onlooker, and this film is mildly hate­ful for that reason.

And then, there’s the other inter­est­ing thing, that in the end M, for all of the ques­tions it poses of what or who is right or wrong, might just be a PSA for moth­ers to take closer care of their kids. After all, the end­ing, where the film denies the audi­ence the ver­dict of the (proper, and offi­cial) jury decid­ing Beckert’s fate, con­cludes with this odd line of dia­logue from a weep­ing, mourn­ing mother: “This won’t bring back our chil­dren. We, too, should keep a closer watch on our chil­dren.” I think it some­what odd, indeed, because it shifts the audience’s atten­tion from the grip­ping moral­ity ques­tions back to the “core” of the film, which is, I sup­pose, that for the great major­ity of its run­time M is a psy­cho­log­i­cal crime thriller—a very great one, per­haps the first of its kind—about the hunt for a child-killer. Indeed, the last twenty min­utes or so caught me by sur­prise, for I was not expect­ing any­thing of the sort. But it is, by far, what makes this movie endure, and still res­onate, so many decades later.

*The dis­rep­utabil­ity of the pros­e­cu­tors, namely the leader of the crim­i­nals Shraenker (Gustaf Gründ­gens), who is on the run from the police him­self for triple homo­cide, is brought into ques­tion at the kan­ga­roo trial, but quickly dis­missed at non-revelant. What is it that makes Shraenker, very much a career crim­i­nal, more wor­thy than the mentally-ill man who mur­dered chil­dren? Is it for chil­dren are the sacred inno­cents? Or it is just hypocrisy?

La Jetée” (Marker, 1962)

La Jetée

See­ing as it is a 1962 thirty-minute avant-garde science-fiction film that is almost entirely com­prised of black-and-white images, the irony runs thick indeed that La Jetée, cre­ated by the late Chris Marker, struck me as being per­haps the purest, fresh­est, and most organic piece of cin­ema that I have seen in a long time. It is uncom­monly invig­o­rat­ing and haunt­ing. It’s now one of my favorite movies, which was decid­edly an unex­pected sur­prise, since I don’t pre­tend to have a par­tic­u­lar prefer­ment (beyond that which is to be expected) for obscure art-house films that con­found as much as they enchant. How to put it?—I don’t prac­tice the assump­tion, or rather have not devel­oped the gen­eral think­ing that a work of art that is not able to be enjoyed by a great many must be bet­ter to a more sophis­ti­cated few, inher­ently so.

But herein lies La Jetée’s wonderfulness—it is not a “WTF was that” film that you need to watch over and over before you grasp it, before the knot becomes unrav­elled, if it ever does. You re-watch it because you want to, very much, and because there are things you might have missed the first time around that are worth mus­ing over and mar­veling at, but cer­tainly not out of neces­sity, mind. The audi­ence does not feel obliged to find mean­ing in the obscure less they miss the whole point. The almost holy sim­plic­ity of La Jetée is evi­dent with­out effort, and it is a truly beau­ti­ful thing to experience.

The plot, from which count­less film­mak­ers have lifted, and yet appar­ently not enough, is thus: Our pro­tag­o­nist is a man, a sur­vivor of World War III, but a pris­oner of the win­ning side. Under­ground, in the gloomy sewer sys­tem, he is cho­sen by sci­en­tists to be a guinea pig for time-travelling experiments—to ven­ture back into the past, and even­tu­ally into the future. Why him? Because in his mem­ory burns an image of a woman’s face from the past, which will serve as an anchor to ward off the mad­ness that comes with tam­per­ing time. He had seen this woman on the Orly Aiport pier before the war, as a child, and he also has the vague rec­ol­lec­tion of a body falling and a man dying shortly thereafter.

After much suf­fer­ing, the man is sent back in time, and in a series of dream-like encoun­ters meets the woman whom he does not know. “They are with­out mem­o­ries, with­out plans. Time builds itself pain­lessly around them.” Even­tu­ally, his cap­tors deem the time-travel sta­ble enough to ful­fill its real purpose—to go forth into the future and find a panacea of sorts to make the post-apocalypse present liv­able again. It is much more painful, but the man is sent and meets the technologically-advanced human race of the future, who give him the solution.

Upon his return to the now, the man real­izes he will likely be killed by his cap­tors, since he has ful­filled his duty as a expend­able time-traveller. The peo­ple from the future, enter­ing his mind, offer him a place with them, but he declines; he’d rather go to the world of before and find the woman on the jetty, “who per­haps was wait­ing for him.” So off he goes. And the nar­ra­tion hence­forth goes like this:

Once again, in the main pier of Orly, in the mid­dle of this hot pre-war after­noon where he was now able to set­tle down, he thought of a con­fused way that the child he had been was due to be there too, watch­ing the planes. But first of all he looked for a woman’s face at the end of the pier…He ran toward her. And when he rec­og­nized the man who’d trailed him since the camp, he knew there was no way out of time, and he knew that this haunted moment he’d been granted to see as a child…was the moment of his own death.”

The last photo fades out. Fin.

That end­ing, with all its real­iza­tions and rev­e­la­tions, is the nicest kind of cin­e­matic con­tent­ment you could pos­si­bly get. It is just per­fect, in all its com­plete­ness, and left me walk­ing around for five min­utes after­wards savor­ing the hazy after­glow, mut­ter­ing “That was so good. That was really good.” I wanted to watch the movie again, and I did the next day.

There, I paid atten­tion to more things. Like the museum that our pro­tag­o­nist and the woman wan­der around in, “a museum full of age­less ani­mals,” creepy in their frozen immo­bil­ity, sus­pended in time. I was intrigued fur­ther at the scene where the man points beyond a giant tree and says, “This is where I come from.” Where? Lis­tened closer to the music, the nar­ra­tion, and the unnerv­ingly unin­tel­li­gi­ble whis­pers as the sci­en­tists pre­pare the time-travel. Admired the fact that the black-and-white images, arranged in a giant photo-montage, deftly con­veyed more emo­tion and made for a more arrest­ing watch than visu­als could pos­si­bly. But there’s no sense of pre­ten­tious­ness or gim­mick­ery in La Jetée. It flows and moves uniquely, like a poem full of flow­ery lan­guage that still cuts through to the core. It’s a mar­velous piece of work, one not too dis­tant to be loved. And so I adore it. ♦

Photo Essay: Twenty-Three of Roger Deakin’s Most Beautiful Shots For ‘Skyfall’

There are lots of things I could say about the cin­e­matog­ra­phy of Sky­fall, hope­fully ade­quately encap­su­lated with these carefully-curated selec­tion of stills, which I won’t say, keep­ing with the old adage of “A pic­ture is worth a thou­sand words.” Heavy on sym­bol­ism, in key with the film’s mood of shad­ows and ressurec­tion, and with a strik­ingly dif­fer­ent, yet coher­ent color scheme for each episode, if you will, Sky­fall’s visu­als are truly stunning.

Deakins was nom­i­nated for an Oscar. He did not win.

It is my inten­tion that this gross mis­judge­ment, the most recent in a long string of them, be rec­og­nized more fully with this photo essay of sorts.

Pre­sented in chrono­log­i­cal order

All pho­tos copy­right Sony Pictures/MGM, if used please attribute to this site

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Questions In Need Of Answers, Consumingly So, Arise In Mysterious ‘Mad Men’ Season Six Poster

Don Draper, glanc­ing slightly over his shoul­der at his dop­pel­ganger whom he has crossed on Madi­son Ave.—exactly sim­i­lar, except for a dif­fer­ence in suit color and a briefcase—holding the hand of a lady we can only assume, or not, is Megan, with a sus­pi­cious quan­tity of police offi­cers in the back­ground, a plane fly­ing low over New York’s sky­line, and fore­bod­ing “ONE WAY” and “STOP” signs lurch­ing above his head, seems to be going some­where per­haps not in pre­cip­i­ta­tion, but with decid­edly pur­pose­ful intent, in Mad Men’s sea­son six poster. (It was drawn by vet­eran ad illus­tra­tor Brian Sanders, still young at seventy-five years old, who worked exten­sively in the ‘60s—with such lumi­nar­ies such as Kubrick—and com­mented in the New York Times that work­ing on the art set him back: “I almost wanted to reach for a cig­a­rette, and I haven’t had one for 30-odd years.”) More than usual, maybe, but then again it might just be the queasily ver­tig­i­nous angle. Lots of things that could hold many con­no­ta­tions are vis­i­ble, and none are clear as of yet. So many ques­tions, so lit­tle answers. Let’s just keep star­ing at it obses­sively until April 7th.

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Critics Denounce ‘Oz The Great And Powerful’ As Sexist, Which Isn’t A Big Surprise

Here is what can be gleaned from one of Oz the Great and Pow­er­ful’s trail­ers released months ago: James Franco, it would be only nat­ural to assume a cheap con­jurer of magic tricks, gets spir­ited away in a twister to the won­der­ful land of Oz, where Mila Kunis, all breathy won­der, asks him, “Are you the great man we’ve been wait­ing for?”—the “we” being her­self and her pow­er­ful witch sis­ters— and the answer being, for the moment, no, Franco’s later blank expres­sion of befud­dle­ment that could pass off as wor­ried fear as some threat­en­ing magic things swirl up pro­poses. (But, surely, he’ll even­tu­ally find his bet­ter self and save the day.) Read up on the movie a lit­tle bit more, and it’s easy to find out that it is Kunis’ witch who will suc­cumb to a dra­matic fit of jeal­ousy and rage and turn all green, very directly due to some­thing Franco’s blankly befud­dled char­ac­ter does, or rather doesn’t do. Doesn’t this already, with­out actu­ally watch­ing the film, stink of sex­ism? From Manohla Dar­gis’ New York Times review:

The big­ger bum­mer, though, is that the stu­dio that has enchanted gen­er­a­tions with Tin­ker Bell and at least a few plucky princesses has backed a movie that has such back­ward ideas about female char­ac­ters that it makes the 1939 “Wiz­ard of Oz” look like a suf­frag­ist clas­sic. Which it was, in its charm­ing way: L. Frank Baum, who wrote the 1900 book “The Won­der­ful Wiz­ard of Oz” and its 13 follow-ups, was the son-in-law of the pio­neer­ing fem­i­nist Matilda Joslyn Gage, and her influ­ence per­me­ates the Oz books, which take flight with a brave girl who saves her friends and their land. Baum’s sec­ond book, “The Mar­velous Land of Oz,” even fea­tures a par­o­dic take on the suf­frage move­ment, with a female gen­eral, Jin­jur, lead­ing an all-girl army equipped with knit­ting needles.

Friends, fellow-citizens and girls,” Jin­jur declares, “we are about to begin our great Revolt against the men of Oz!” Too bad they didn’t storm Dis­ney next.

I don’t want to go all Glenn Green­wald and start crit­i­ciz­ing a film which I haven’t seen, more than I have already (I also feel inclined to say that, although it is no excuse for an demean­ing atti­tude towards women, Dis­ney was not allowed to ref­er­ence The Wiz­ard of Oz because Warner Bros. owns the trade­marks. The books, how­ever, are in the pub­lic domain.) If you want a detailed, insight­ful read into more of Baum’s fem­i­nist ten­den­cies, of which I had no idea, this Film.com arti­cle by Eliz­a­beth Rappe is a great one.

Not as grand or glorious as imagined, Rand Paul’s marathon Senate takeover was still worth it

Yesterday’s old-fashioned talk­ing fil­i­buster was the first time in my life I’d seen a politi­cian take con­trol of the Sen­ate floor and hold every­one hostage for hours and hours while sprout­ing out the dis­plea­sure and unhap­pi­ness of him­self and sup­pos­edly that of his con­stituents, a roman­tic notion that is, at least to belt­way out­siders like myself, grand and glo­ri­ous as true indi­ca­tion of what a democ­racy Amer­ica really is. When Sen. Rand Paul doggedly, if some­what apolo­get­i­cally did so for more than a dozen hours, how­ever, real­ity took over as it is wont to do—the fil­i­buster was a weirdly com­i­cal, ram­bling, and sur­real blabfest where printed #Stand­With­Rand tweets of sup­port were read aloud (mostly by the vig­or­ous, more youth­ful likes of Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, help­ing out) and every­thing from Alice in Won­der­land to the Alamo—and Wiz Khal­ifa in between—was men­tioned. As a Huff­in­g­ton Post reporter tweeted yesterday:

Rand Paul has got to feel like he’s won a marathon when done. Get­ting lots of media atten­tion, fundrais­ing $ and yes, new Twit­ter fol­low­ers— Ethan Klap­per (@ethanklapper) March 7, 2013

Still, it wasn’t just a silly, self­ish spec­ta­cle, Paul had accu­sa­tions and argu­ments to voice about drone attacks on U.S. soil, the need for trans­parency and the uphold­ing of Amer­i­can con­sti­tu­tional rights, and the impor­tant, fun­da­men­tally, thing is he said them—and then repeated them, and then empha­sized them again by cit­ing numer­ous articles—all day long. It wasn’t filled with flow­ery ora­tory or rag­ing, rous­ing speech—where’s Tony Kush­ner when you need him?—but it was, I guess, just fine, if you count out the more goosy para­noid aspects of Paul’s imag­i­na­tion. It was com­mend­able. The Daily Beast’s John Avlon wrote in his col­umn ear­lier today:

But in our time of hyper-partisan polit­i­cal kabuki, Paul deserves respect for advanc­ing a seri­ous, prin­ci­pled, sub­stan­tive debate. This is what fil­i­busters are sup­posed to be—and one of the lessons learned might be the neces­sity of real fil­i­buster reform that requires sen­a­tors to take the floor rather than hid­ing behind the pass­ing of paper. In addi­tion, it has pro­vided a happy reminder that the word fil­i­buster itself is a Dutch word for “pirate”—fitting because there is some­thing rene­gade about the cap­tur­ing of the Sen­ate floor in such a soli­tary stand. I’d like to think this issue would res­onate with the same wide­spread prin­ci­pled pas­sion if a Repub­li­can were pres­i­dent, but given our recent his­tory, I am not con­vinced that would be the case.

In such a worth­while debate, one down­side is the feed­ing of mili­tia anx­i­eties about the rise of a tyran­ni­cal gov­ern­ment. It would be naive not to assume that at least some of the sen­a­tors who clus­tered on the floor were look­ing to score polit­i­cal points and get some reflected glory with TV face time. But Paul’s stand was edu­ca­tional even if some of his col­leagues saw it as high-rating polit­i­cal enter­tain­ment. These emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies are deserv­ing of seri­ous civic debate, as long as they are grounded in real­ity and a fair degree of good will from our gov­ern­ment. To his credit, Paul largely debated within these wise lines: “I really don’t think he’ll drop a Hell­fire mis­sile on a café in Hous­ton like I’m talk­ing about,” he said of Obama, “but it really both­ers me he won’t say that he won’t.”

All things con­sid­ered, it was a good first filibuster.

No Need For A Lasso, We’ll Make Our Own

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Very inter­est­ing arti­cle from Megan Gar­ber over at the magazine’s web­site on a sub­ject I had never heard of before—how cities were lit in the last few decades of the 1800s, not with street­lights but with gigan­tic, arti­fi­cial “moons,” hoisted high up on tow­ers. The exper­i­ment didn’t really last into the 20th cen­tury, but must’ve been a very strange and beau­ti­ful expe­ri­ence, to say the least.

And so, for a brief and lit­er­ally shin­ing moment early in the days of human-harnessed elec­tric­ity, the future of munic­i­pal light­ing was glow­ing orbs sus­pended high above cities — tow­ers, resem­bling oil der­ricks, capped with 4 to 6 arc lamps with a can­dle­power of 2,000 to 6,000 each. These man­made moons made the ulti­mate promise to the peo­ple below them: that they would never again be in the dark…The light itself…was the true attrac­tion. It was, as [inven­tor Charles Fran­cis] Brush had guar­an­teed, “pic­turesque and roman­tic,” one observer put it. Con­tinue read­ing