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Passion Revisited

I went to see The Passion of the Christ when it came out, and it seemed pretty anti-semitic to me. It also seems to me that evaluating the film based, in part, on anti-semitic things Mel Gibson said long after its release is a fallacy. I'm just old-school like this, but it seems to me that the work is the work and the author is the author and the one thing has very little to do with the other -- if we discovered tomorrow that The Birth of a Nation was actually directed by a talented African-American looking to make some cash by making a film that D.W. Griffith could put his name on that wouldn't alter the fact that it's a racist movie.

What's more, anti-semitic or otherwise, it's still a good film in my opinion just as various other (usually significantly older) literary or dramatic works have recognizable quality notwithstanding the existence of discernable objectionable views. The Great Gatsby, after all, is not without its anti-semitic moments.

July 31, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (56)

Miami Vice

The good news is that this movie contains one of the greatest gun battles I've ever seen on film. The bad news is that you need to watch almost the entire thing to get to the gun battle. Treating essentially the same subject as Michael Bay's underrated masterpiece Bad Boys II, Michael Mann manages to offer the audience considerably less in the "awesome shit" department but doesn't really add anything. The movie is shot and paced like it's a semi-serious thriller or something but there's actually nothing serious about it. Several characters -- including Jamie Foxx as "the black guy" -- are utterly zero-dimensional and certainly nobody gets a second dimension. The key love story is totally weird and non-credible, and it just doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone that a film whose basic storyline involves a handful of local cops taking down a vast international drug cartel with a couple weeks' work is going to be fundamentally unserious (nothing wrong with that; again, see Bad Boys II) and shouldn't bother pretending otherwise. [spoilers]

No doubt, however, someone will someday decide that this was a brilliant deconstruction of the buddie movie concept. A white cop partnered with a black cop neither of whom seem to interact with each other in any way or have any sort of thoughts or feelings about the other guy. Indeed, the white cop could even pressure the black cop at one point into making a controversial decision (black cop backs his partner up) that winds up getting the black cop's girlfriend kidnapped, tortured, and badly burned by a bomb and -- or so it seems -- neither cop seems to react in any way to this awkward situation other than by redoubling their resolve to get the bad guys. It's pretty sweet. I have a more intense relationships with random people I run into a lot on the elevator.

July 30, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (20)


If the housing market is really on the way down, then why am I having such a damn hard time finding a new place to live? Seriously. I need to move because the dude who owns the house I live in had an adjustable rate mortgage that, in light of recent interest rate developments, he no longer thinks it's worth holding on to. So he's selling. And presumably he's not the only one in that boat. This is the sort of thing that should drive home prices down, and according to reporting I've seen that is what's happening in the District. But as I look around for a new home, rents seem way up from where they were 18 months ago.

July 30, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (26)

Payday for J.J.

Having been something of a Jared Jeffries detractor for a while now, I'm glad to see that genius general manager Isaiah Thomas seems to think he's pretty damn good.

July 29, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (12)

The Strange Case of Allen Iverson

Iverson is a guy who a lot of people think is overrated. That, in turn, implies that a lot of people rate him quite highly. I wonder, though, if this is really the case. After all, no general managers anywhere seem interested in trading much of anything for him. The irony is that as his reputation has declined he seems to have . . . gotten better if you look at the stats. Indeed, Iverson seems to have had his two best seasons ever in 2005 and 2006.

July 28, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (29)

Sir Charles Speaks

""I was a Republican until they lost their minds," says Barkley, who's at least claiming to be considering a run for governor of Alabama. I think Democrats should try harder to recruit more sports stars to run for office . . . given the demographics of pro sports it's got to lean in that direction, and I think athletes tend to have a lot of the qualities that voters (mostly wrongly, but that's a different issue) look for in a politician.

July 27, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (39)


I'm not nearly the fan of Orwell's 1984 that, seemingly, everyone is these days. Consequently, for a while I thought it might be fun to claim that Yevgeny Zemyatin's We, of which there's apparently a new translation out was actually the superior book. That's almost certainly false now that I think about it, though it's still the case that We gets relatively little recognition for pioneering most of the key themes that then pop up in the better-executed 1984. From a political point of view, the most interesting thing about We is actually its very early date -- 1921. When you read it, it seems like a parable about Stalinism but it's actually too early for that and serves as a reminder that the more discerning Soviet minds had an inkling of where things were headed even in the early days.

July 25, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (22)

Banks to Phoenix

I guess this happened a few days ago, but signing Marcus Banks seems like a good move for Phoenix. As usual, the local paper seems to be overstating the case, but a somewhat-below-average player off the bench is something that could help a thin team like the Suns and Banks is young enough and has been showing improvement so you've got to think he has some upside.

July 24, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (29)


Julian Sanchez writes about how the iTunes playlist concept is leading to the decline of album-listening: "I was struck with the realization that I own entire albums, mostly ones I've gotten in the last few years, from which I basically only know three or four songs--in a few cases more like one or two." People have various feelings about this, but everyone knows where he's coming from. What I think often goes missing in this conversation is an appropriate appreciation of the contingency of the album concept.

In the domain of popular music, the song suggests itself as an obvious, natural unit of consumption. What's more, since songs are short, the idea of bundling them into larger units also suggests itself as obvious. This works on two levels. On the one hand, from the pure point-of-view of commerce, it makes sense to bundle the product. On the other hand, there's an aesthetic idea of a group of songs arranged in a specific order for a specific purpose. The actual convention of the album represents a merging of these concepts. Given the technology of the era, the best way to package music was to combine roughly as many songs as would fit on an LP record. This was a purely commerical consideration, but a strong and compelling one. Given that commercial reality, artists would shape aesthetic impulses around that commercial imperative and try to product roughly LP-length series of songs that had some level of aesthetic integrity.

The rise of digital music ought to allow us to decouple these ideas. Under the current order, it makes perfect sense for an artist to envision a more-than-one-song product, intended to be consumed in a block, without that block necessarily containing approximately as much music as can fit on an LP record. This, I think, could be a very positive development. Realistically, it's actually rather rare for a band to release an album wherein the album per se has a ton of aesthetic logic. Relaxing the length constraint would make it easier for bands to construct song-packages ("albums") that served a real aesthetic rationale. Probably my favorite recent album-qua-album is Set Yourself on Fire by Stars. This comes very close to being a well-conceived conceptual and thematic whole. But "He Lied About Death" and "Celebration Guns" (which I love as a song-qua-song) clearly don't fit with the overal scheme, and I'm not sure that "Calendar Girl" does either. Absent the pressure to make albums rather than series of songs of arbitrary length, the band could have done a somewhat-shorter-but-more-reasonable package on the love-and-loss theme and then just released a few more songs that they thought were good but didn't fit the scheme.

July 24, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (16)

Team USA

Gene Wojciechowski writes about the good chemistry between Dwayne Wade and LeBron James, the two young cornerstones of the USA Senior National Team. That's great. The only trouble is that I think it would actually be a mistake to play the two of them at the same time. They're both extremely effective offensive players. You'd be thrilled to get to run your offense through either guy. But on any given play, only one guy can have the ball in his hands. And either Wade or James is certain to face shitloads of double-teams and/or packed zones. So you're going to need guys on the floor who can reliably hit the open outside shots. And neither James nor (especially) Wade is a very good three-point shooter.

From where I sit, you want to build your starting lineup around James. When he's on the floor, the ball is going to be in his hands. Dwight Howard, a dominant rebounder, plays center. You want your other three players to be guys who can shoot well -- probably Shawn Marion, Gilbert Arenas, and Kirk Hinrich. When James needs a rest, that's when Wade enters in the game (in exchange for Arenas or Hinrich) while Joe Johnson comes in at the three. Jamison backs up Marion, and Chris Bosh will probably have to play backup center. That way you'll always have either James or Wade initiating the offense plus three credible outside shooters on the floor.

The temptation, I fear, will be to just play the "best player" at each position without regard to what everyone's actually supposed to be doing.

July 21, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (34)