Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Vista Right-Wing Conspiracies of 2007

Ok, folks. It's that time of year again. Time for the top conspiracies of 2007. As in years past, the rules remain the same: conspiracies should be relevant to current events of 2007, plausible but not necessarily true, and ranked in order of general meaning and influence.

Ready? Here we go.

10. Clocking in at number ten is Michael Vick's dogfighting conspiracy. This was a literal, legal conspiracy, and Vick was sentenced to 23 months in jail for it. Perhaps the idea of a real "conspiracy" in the legal sense stretches the spirit of the conspiracy awards; nevertheless, the fodder this provided for Late Night comedians surely makes it deserving of a nod in at number 10.

9. At number nine, we give the award to Hollywood in general, who finally found it the year to cash in on America's love affair with conspiracy, what with at least five big movies on the topic: the by-the-book finale to Bourne's Conspiracy, the politically glib Charlie Wilson's War, the inarticulate and both right- and left-wing paranoid Shooter, the based-on-a-true-story Breach, and the intriguing whistle-blower corporate conspiracy of Michael Clayton.

8. At number eight, another literally legal conspiracy, this one, with more ominous...and possibly political...overtones. That is, the Fort Dix conspiracy, charging six foreign-born muslims with a plot to attack the New Jersey army base with automatic weapons.

7. Was Don Imus REALLY fired because he was about to reveal a 9/11 conspiracy (and not because of that nappy headed ho remark)? You decide.

6. In a sign of his lame-duckness, the Bush Administration factors into events much less in 2007. Nevertheless, rumors that Bush plans to cancel the 2008 election still abound, making us all feel better that Bush still has some power left to tap in the anxiety and irrational fear of our psyches.

5. Perhaps the best covered conspiracy by the press this year was the Jena Six conspiracy, in which six black teenagers were charged with beating a white teenager. Was this a racist conspiracy against the black defendants, or was it a reverse-racist conspiracy against the white victim? The answer is in the eye of the beholder.

4. Thank God for Hillary Clinton's campaign. It has revived for us perhaps the best conspiracy of all time. What conspiracy is that? Why, it's Hillary's "vast right-wing conspiracy." Once again in operation, without skipping a beat, her vast-right-wing conspiracy even has its own new book out to derail her campain, nevermind a entire nation of blogging pundits who made their names on her conspiracy-minded feelings, ready to rally Republicans should she be the nominee.

3. And let's not forget Barack Hussein Obama, whom right-wing conspiracy theorists, as well as ordinary voters, would like us to believe is a muslim plant, here to undermind the Christian order of the United States.

2. Finally, 2007 reveals the ulterior motive behind the war in Iraq: - it's all part of the conspiracy to drive oil prices to over $100 a barrel and stoke the profits of international oil conglomerates. And this conspiracy was promulgated this year by that most off-the-rocker conspiracist of all, Alan Greenspan.

1. But for the number one conspiracy of the year...we have the first #1 conspiracy from the world of technology. Brought to us by the master of technological conspiracy, Microsoft. Why, it's Windows Vista, of course. Many argue that there's been no real change from Windows XP, except to introduce more personal data collection and allow the NSA to have access to your computer. Why, some people think Vista is so bad, it can only be explained as part of a conspiracy by Microsoft to boost sales of Apple (as part of a plan to avoid anti-trust investigation by the Justice Department?) Why, Vista has been such a disaster that users are migrating back to XP in droves, a phenomena that Apple certainly wasted no time making fun of. But perhaps the best explanation for Vista is that it's part of Microsoft's overall strategy to drive up price points for licensing Windows and the amount of RAM and processing speed needed to operate computers.

So there you have it. Ten conspiracies that make 2007 a year worth forgetting. And now...on to 2008, the Presidential elections, and more great new conspiracies to make our hairs stand on end.

Monday, December 03, 2007

2008 Oscar Predictions

It's a little early but I'm lining up my early predictions for best film. These will be updated as the award season goes on.

One thing I'm struck by - early in the year there did not seem to be many Oscar-worthy contenders. More and more these quality films are being saved for release in the few weeks before award nominations begin. Perhaps the only Oscar-worthy films from early this year are Zodiac and Hairspray. Personally, I did not find Hairspray likely to make the cut but I throw it in as the only comedy/musical of note this year.

What's striking about this year, in fact, is that all the Oscar contenders this year are in fact hard-hitting, often bloody, testosterone driven dramas. The type of gritty-realism we used to see in the Seventies. Those worthy of the cut are truly outstanding films from today's auteurs working at the height of their talents. There are not a lot this year, but those there are are a tough lot to choose from.

Here, then, is my early list:

"Zodiac" - Fichner's tone poem to the 1970s sleuthing out of a serial killer is pitch perfect, and his best movie to date. This should propel him into Best Director ranks. Coming out early in the year, it may be forgotten, however, at Oscar time.

"3:10 to Yuma" - director James Mangold offers this post-modern interpretation of an old-fashion Western morality tale without a wasted beat or line of dialog. As good or better than Unforgiven, it's a perfect little movie in almost all respects: if only it didn't have such good competition, and get a bit lost at the box office.

"Michael Clayton" - Clooney turns to writer/director Tony Gilroy to deliver this year's adult thriller. The "Erin Brochovich"-style tale of corporate badness is a bit thin gruel, but like our other contenders, the art of cinema language comes back into vogue in this film with verve. Not the best movie, but with its crowd-pleasing bow it could make a "Crash"-style appeal for the most votes.

"No Country for Old Men" - the Cohen Brother's masterpiece is the most richly textual movie of the year. This is my favorite of the list. A tough movie with a nihilistic that Hollywood rarely rewards...but with this yin to Fargo's yang, the Cohen Brother's achieve a kind of iconic movie significance that only a rare film in a great while achieves. If it isn't nominated, it would be the travesty of the year.

The final film to make the cut I would not yet have seen - with American Gangster and Lions for Lambs both going down at the box office, and the small but critically acclaimed "Once" lost in the springtime memories, my money is on the yet-to-be-released "There Will Be Blood" by the amazing director of Boogie Nights, Paul Thomas Anderson.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Couch-Potato Review: V for Vendetta

As I'm able to catch these movies now on fabulous high-def rebroadcast, I'm able to finally digest and think about what's fascinated me about some of them. Here's some thoughts about tonight's viewing: V for Vendetta.

V for Vendetta tests the theory that the hero of a film can be morally ambigious and still presented as a hero.

Or maybe this review tests the theory that one man can misread a movie, when so many others seem so sure that they 'get it.' And is that man right? Or wrong? That would be your call.

But I persist. Verily, V vexes the verisimilitude of valor, the viscicitudes of the vanquished versus the victorious. But here, I have alliterated in vain - and missed the point.

Why, does no one ask, do we have a major motion picture where the hero, throughout the picture, acts his way behind a mask? Does this not seem a tad...unconventional? And not in the Team America, puppets on a string kind of way. This is a "serious" melodrama thriller, not the type of movie typically prone to take avant-garde risks.

V, needless to say, is a cipher. His absence, his super-human non-humanness, places him outside the action. The mask and Hugo Weaving's wonderful articulation make us pay attention to his non-sensical alliterative ramblings in a way most films would envy. But V is no more than this: a device, albeit an extended and exhausting one. Evie and Finch, however, are the characters. V is but undiluted id that drives all men to violent action: the wounded child, the revenge-seeker, the poet. He is an incomplete X. We need no more backstory than this. He is merely meant to swash-buckle his way onto the screen, and into E-V's heart, and Finch's curiosity.

For indeed: violence in the name of political expediency is romantic. And facinating. This is where most critics have lost (or been lost by) the story of V. He may rouse this sleeping Britain from its slumber, but he is, after all, a bomb-maker and a murderer. After might argue that even the momentary hope of a nation rising out of a fascist pact with the devil is hardly worth the destruction of a historical relic such as Big Ben. The story does not shrink from the unpleasant facts of V's actions. He may be romanticized: but we are, like Evie, given a choice: do we also romanticize this evil/heroic V...or do we eye him with a bit of skepticism? Thus the real story of V is not V but the story of EV - the child who comes to face her fears - and Finch, the bird that flies the coop.

No doubt, the symbology of Sutler's Britain is a bit paper thin and obvious. But, my dear fellows, this is a cartoon. Someone has to play the part of the boogeyman. It may be a bit old school, but it never cesses to be enjoyable having religious conservative fascists to cheer against.

The climax of V is not the fireworks at the end but the domino demonstration that proceeds the third act. The point of the movie is simple: one man, with enough directed anger, can inspire a mob. A mob of angry voters? Or a mob of destructive rioters? Yes, the movie plays lightly with such moral distinctions. But this is not a movie about subtlety: it is a movie of symbols. V is not the hero but the anti-hero: V is for Violence, and Violence is the man behind the mask. E-V is us, the children of history who must decide whether violent action with historical purpose is worth the moral cost. At a time when our timidity has been turned into a self-reinforcing fetish, at a time when we are asking young men to go to war, this movie dares to offer a symbolic narrative of how violence imprisions as well as rouses a truculant populous. It may be a simplistic political parable - and it may be more ambigious than the initial easy distinctions between "right" and "left" - but it's also refreshingly brave.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Death By 10,000 Smoke Alarms: The Top 10 Conspiracy Theories of 2006

Well, a little late this year, but better than never.

The world gets a bit stranger and more unpredictable every year. People need to find some way to make sense of events, some greater explanation that would seem to tie the whole random mess together. Which is why, more and more, we need our conspiracies. Just like we need our religion. (If indeed religion isn't one more conspiracy in this day and age).

So, each year I sum up the biggest conspiracy theories of the year. Everything from 9/11 to big business to election politics. How do items make the cut? Read the Official Rules.

Here then, without further ado...Common Mistakes unveils the top 10 conspiracies of 2006.

10. Yet another stolen election. This time, just the 13th District in Florida (Catherine Harris's district.) Faulty touch screens, Republican's all too familiar. Which is why it comes in at number 10.

9. Our annual internet conspiracy always seems to favor the latest "it" website. This time, it's two "it" sites: YouTube and Google are conspiring to drive every other video site out of business by cracking down on copyright infringement (except on YouTube, of course).

8. An event in need of a good conspiracy - Dick Cheney's hunting accident. The whole thing was great fodder for late-night comics, but a bit too absurd to be a great conspiracy. Nevertheless, people tried, eventually boiling it down to: Cheney was drunk and his handlers stepped in to cover it up.

7. Thanks to Al Gore - who keeps them conspiracies coming - this year, we have a Global Warming conspiracy: that Big Oil is paying off scientists to discredit global warming science.

6. A conspiracy that comes in the shape of a cold-war mystery: how and why was Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko assassinated? Was it really death by 10,000 smoke alarms? Was he an Isreali double-agent? Was Putin behind it, as Litvinenko claimed? Only the best conspiracy theorists will know for sure.

5. If you were a fan of "Brokeback Mountain" it's no doubt that "Crash" won the oscar over "Brokeback" because of an anti-gay conspiracy in Hollywood. Why, even the LA Times believes it was a conspiracy of homophobia.

4. The Baby Suri Conspiracy. Well, actually, there seems to be dozens of them, ranging from the idea that Tom/Kat's baby Suri isn't Tom's, to that she's a space alien, to that she doesn't exist at all.

3. Isreal, Lebanon, Hezbollah - the biggest news event of the war in Lebanon this summer were the dozens of civilians killed when a bomb struck an apartment building in Qana. Was the tragedy actually staged by Hezbollah itself as a bid to gain world sympathy? Was the building pre-filled with dead or disabled children? A grim scenario, at best.

2. On the lighter side - if there is a lighter side, these days - some say those Danish Mohammed cartoons were all part of a zionist plot to insult Muslims (or perhaps the Danish...)

and the number 1 conspiracy of 2006....

1. That the Democrats "set Floey up", according to Rush Limbaugh. (That's page-molesting Congressman Mark Foley. What did they do, put "gay juice" in Foley's tea, or did they just hire especially seductive pages...????) Whatever they did, it seems to have worked - just ask Nancy Pelosi...who no doubt will be showing up in a conspiracy or two for 2007.