Watchmen – A “Magnificent Disaster”

Saturday night, after seeing Watchmen with TG and LG, I commented on Facebook that it was a “magnificent disaster.” After letting it sit for a few days, I think I’ll let that stick.


Really, two reasons.
First, because simply the acting was horrible (not helped by the dialog which was lifted directly from the comic and not smoothed to make it sound like real humans were speaking). With the exception of Jackie Earle Hayley, who was magnificent – as good as Cagney in ‘White Heat’ – even though I kept seeing Mooch when he spoke (my problem, I’m a ‘Breaking Away’ fanatic), the acting was consistently subpar.

Malin Akerman (Silk Spectre II) and Patrick Wilson (Night Owl II) needed to be realistic people – part of the story is how they fall in love – and just weren’t. When you see Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne, you see something in him that makes you believe that he really could be going out at night and kicking bad guy ass. Wilson left me remembering that I need a new accountant.

The problem extends throughout the movie; no one except Hayley really feels like a grounded character at all.

That works for Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Comedian, because he’s playing an archetype, rather than a person (he also gets the grin-inducing line of the film, when he says “I haven’t had this much fun since [I’m assuming he meant to say “I killed”] Woodward and Bernstein.”)

And that’s the other problem – the core problem – with the film.

Great comic-book movies break into two groups – the fantastic (‘300′, ‘Sin City’, ‘Kill Bill’) and the realistic (‘Spiderman’, ‘Batman Begins’, ‘The Dark Knight’). the realistic films are real human dramas that involve situations that require CGI. The fantastic films are not human dramas, they are about the conflicts between archetypes that we can nontheless relate to – Leonidas, The Bride, Hartigan.

Watchmen tried, I think, to stand in the middle of that gap, and failed on both counts as a consequence.

It’s a magnificent, ambitious, failure. It’s probably worth seeing if you love visual spectacle and can relax about story and character. If you loved the comic, you’ve already seen it, so I’m not writing to you. But if you haven’t, in these hard times, I might consider picking up the graphic novel instead and saving $20.

Others have commented on the politics of the movie; it’s a period piece politically, but it’s worth remembering that the archetypes in the story (even if badly presented in the film) do have something to do with what America is about. They don’t represent all of it, by any means at all. But the comic was powerful because it was archetypical and because we see those in our national character.

Dispassionate science, and the power that comes from it. Casual brutality (read ‘Born Fighting’). The desire to help, and somehow make the dark and chaotic world a better place.


“There’s nothing special about Britain”

You’re kidding me…

The Telegraph has a column up about how Obama’s lukewarm reception was explained by the fact that Obama is simply exhausted.

Let’s put that aside for a moment, because buried in the article is this quote:

The real views of many in Obama administration were laid bare by a State Department official involved in planning the Brown visit, who reacted with fury when questioned by The Sunday Telegraph about why the event was so low-key.

The official dismissed any notion of the special relationship, saying: “There’s nothing special about Britain. You’re just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn’t expect special treatment.”

I’m going to go knock my head against the wall for a little while…

Chas Freeman, In His Own Words

I just wrote my Congresswoman, Jane Harman, to ask her to aggressively support the IG investigation of Freeman’s appointment as Director of the NIC, and I’d suggest you write yours as well.

I’ve been reading Freeman’s writings and listening to his speeches. Here, Freeman talks about Taiwan and China.


Now I don’t see what he suggests as somehow outside the bounds of policy discourse; but I interpret this as saying that he believes that it ultimately is our interest to support the reintegration of Taiwan into China. For a variety of reasons (many of them set out in Robert Kaplan’s article in the current Foreign Affairs), I think that a China that divides its attention between Taiwan and the Indian Ocean is a China that I’d personally be happier with – and one in a situation that better suits the interests of the United States.

Here’s is Freeman talking about Iraq, in late 2007.

Note that – even on the tail end of the success of the Surge, he’s talking about a level of disorder and rick of civil war that have – in the months since his speech – declined dramatically. Iraq is certainly not “done” but it’s certainly on the road to there. If we had adopted his policies and announced withdrawal in 2007 – instead of pressing forward with the Surge – would Iraq be better or worse off? Would US interests in the region be better or worse off?

And here’s Freeman talking about Hamas (the opening audio is choppy, but it gets better)

Again, Hamas is ‘besieged'; they are a passive victim of outside forces. But my favorite is that “while Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, they do recognize that Israel does exist”. Not a word about the murder of Fatah political rivals; not a word about the plunder of aid that is then diverted to military resources.

And, I’ll point out Martin Kramer’s neat catch of Freeman’s reversal on the meaning and role of Israel in Middle East politics:

How important has resentment of Israel been to Al Qaeda’s terrorism? Here is one side of the argument, by an American who knows Saudi Arabia well:

The heart of the poison is the Israel-Palestinian conundrum. When I was in Saudi Arabia, I was told by Saudi friends that on Saudi TV there were three terrorists who came out and spoke. Essentially the story they told was that they had been recruited to fight for the Palestinians against the Israelis, but that once in the training camp, their trainers gradually shifted their focus away from the Israelis to the monarchy in Saudi Arabia and to the United States. So the recruitment of terrorists has a great deal to do with the animus that arises from that continuing and worsening situation.

And here is the opposing view, by an American who knows the Kingdom equally well:

Mr. bin Laden’s principal point, in pursuing this campaign of violence against the United States, has nothing to do with Israel. It has to do with the American military presence in Saudi Arabia, in connection with the Iran-Iraq issue. No doubt the question of American relations with Israel adds to the emotional heat of his opposition and adds to his appeal in the region. But this is not his main point.

So now you’ve heard two sides of the debate. Who made the first statement? Charles “Chas” Freeman, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia and the Obama administration’s nominee to head the National Intelligence Council (NIC). Who made the second statement? Charles “Chas” Freeman, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia and the Obama administration’s nominee to head the National Intelligence Council (NIC).

The first quote dates from January 2004, the second from October 1998. The difference between them is 9/11, when it became the Saudi line to point to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians as the “root cause” of the September 11 attacks. The initial promoter of this approach in the United States (well before Walt and Mearsheimer) was Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed. “At times like this one,” Alwaleed announced a month after 9/11, “we must address some of the issues that led to such a criminal attack. I believe the government of the United States of America should re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance towards the Palestinian cause.” That statement led then-mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani to return a $10 million check Alwaleed had just presented to him for a special “Twin Towers” relief fund.

There’s is no question that Freeman is a smart and experienced man. But there are questions about his vision of America and America’s interests.

Now the defenders of Freeman’s views – most recently James Fallows – point out that he’s a ‘call it like he sees it’ contrarian. Quite possibly, and that’s a good thing in many cases.

But in this political environment – are his views all that contrarian? Really?

Possibly President Bush would have been well-served by having someone like Freeman in the intelligence process. But I’ll suggest that President Obama isn’t likely to be.


What Elections Are Really Worth

In the City of Los Angeles, a labor union and environmental coalition assembled an ill-considered effort to have the public utility add electricity from rooftop solar and add a bunch of really highly (over?) paid union jobs.

It appears that the measure was defeated (a good thing, for a lot of reasons). Here’s LA Mayor and 2010 Gubernatorial candidate (if you disagree, want to bet?) Antonio Villaraigosa’s response:

As Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Measure B seemed poised for a narrow defeat Wednesday, he held out hope that uncounted votes would save the solar-energy proposal.

“I hope it passes, but if it doesn’t even those who are opposed to it said we should move ahead with the solar program, notwithstanding the vote of the people,” Villaraigosa said. “I agree.”

So – remind me why we bother to have elections, again??

Note that it was a front-page quote in the local Daily Breeze, but I can’t find it anywhere on the Los Angeles Times website.


So a few people mentioned that we’d broken their RSS feeds when we upgraded.

True, and sorry about that – I’m not sure what we could have done (although I welcome people using this as a teaching moment and telling me in the comments).

But we’ve dropped from over 900 sbscribers in Bloglines to 2 today (including me). So you may want to consider resubscribing, using the url on the bottom of the lefthand column.

By the way – what do people think of the changes??

The look is still a little cluttered and messy (we’ll work on that), but in terms of function??