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This Will Not End Well


Erik beat me to the Oliver Stone/Power Broker* project. And yet, I think it might be more promising than fellow Belaborer of the Obvious Alan Ball** doing a movie about George Tiller. Fans of actors reading lengthy position papers telling you things you already know who are still upset by the cancellation of Studio 60 should get more than their quota from that one.

Speaking of Ball, since it’s hard to overstate how badly American Beauty has aged, I’m disappointed that Robert Stacy McCain missed his recent opportunity to create some common ground between liberal aesthetes and conservative aesthetic Stalinists.   He asserts that Ball’s politics in American Beauty (which are flattered by comparisons with Adorno rather than Frank Rich) were expressed in a matter that is “contextual and nearly subliminal.” Subliminal? Christ, the only way they could have been more foregrounded was if the experience involved paying 10 bucks to have Ball to repeatedly hit you over the head with a 2×4 that has “suburbs are conformist and homophobia is bad” written on it. Which, come to think of it, is what re-screening American Beauty felt like. (The whole hilarious post via Roy, of course.)

*Am I crazy to be considering reading The Power Broker again? Look, I need something to tide me over until Caro’s LBJ: The Vice Presidential Years 1961-2 (2144 pp.) appears in 2016.

**I don’t mean to suggest that Ball doesn’t have him moments when other collaborators are able to moderate the BOTO. Especially in its initial seasons Six Feet Under was very good, although the dream sequences were not merely aesthetic disasters like 99.9% of dream sequences but also involved spoonfeeding the audience neat morals in the way that the show at its best resisted. And while True Blood is not for me overly crude politics aren’t really an issue. My one-line review would be “I didn’t understand what’s particularly interesting about vampires, and after a season of True Blood I still don’t.”

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  • Considering the age we’re about to enter, re-reading the Power Broker sounds like precisely the thing to do, as a reminder that public works can go overboard and can be used to mask all sorts of venalities.

    • djw

      Considering the age we’re about to enter, re-reading the Power Broker sounds like precisely the thing to do, as a reminder that public works can go overboard

      Hmm. I kind of wish we were entering an age in which “public works going overboard” was a concern. If the present combination of a crumbling infrastructure, a substantial reserve army of the unemployed, and historically cheap money, and we don’t seem interested in doing anything much in the way of public works. There are many dangers to the era of pointless, destructive austerity, but public works going overboard seems kind of low on the list of worries.

      • Malaclypse

        When President Cain wants to add Reagan to Mount Rushmore, then plate him in solid gold, we will remember that Reagan proved deficits don’t matter.

      • Are you aware of how destructive Moses was, particular to poor and minority neighborhoods?

        • Malaclypse

          Yes, but now we will let the deregulated private market do the destruction.

        • djw

          Yes, I’ve read the book. I was just puzzled as to why you think the era we’re entering (pointless austerity, very limited investment in public works) is one that this book’s lessons speak to in a particular way.

      • wiley


        crumbling infrastructure
        reserve of unemployed
        cheap money

        This is the first time I’ve seen these three points put together. It really is pathetic and shameful, isn’t it?

  • Vance Maverick

    I remember seeing American Beauty as a strange experience — it seemed to have been built entirely, even self-consciously, out of cliches, and yet I enjoyed it. Since then every response I’ve seen has taken it more seriously, either pro or (lately, mainly) con. I’m afraid to watch it again, because I might find it seems like the makers really meant it as a message, not the smoothly peculiar formal exercise I (mis?)remember.

    • Halloween Jack

      The only real reason that I enjoyed it at all was Kevin Spacey’s comic delivery. Almost any other actor, even a good one, could have read the line “This is the highlight of my day” (when he’s whacking off in the shower) and it just would have seemed sad and pathetic.

  • snarkout

    At least American Beauty was shrilly horrified by the notion that a woman could be ambitious and expect her husband to be an adult participant in their marriage.

    God, I still remember having a long argument (with an actual professional actor!) about that movie and Bening’s character in particular at Thanksgiving the year it was in the theaters. I’m sure there’s a movie out there that will slip through my critical defenses as well as that one worked on a particular subset of Boomers, but hopefully I haven’t seen it yet.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Yeah, Bening was much better than that character deserved. (I should have included “women will ruin your life” on Ball’s metaphorical 2×4.)

    • dan

      Contrary to the assertions in the original post, American Beauty did not age badly. It was always terrible. Almost as bad as Crash, and possibly even worse than Titanic, on the list of terrible Academy Award Best Picture winners of the modern era.

      • Scott Lemieux

        I don’t disagree. Like VM I overlooked the magnitude of its awfulness because Mendes did a decent job polishing the turd, but it was terrible.

      • I wouldn’t quite go to “almost as bad as Crash” except ordinally. That list goes 1) Crash 2) Beautiful Mind 3) American Beauty, and (3) is almost (1) on a list like that– but the gap between Crash and everything else is huge.

        You couldn’t pay me to watch Titanic a second time, but I wouldn’t go to bat for the claim that it’s a terrible movie. Wildly overrated, eminently mockable, has no business being the highest-grossing and Oscar-winningest movie of all time– absolutely. But it’s honest schmaltz, not dishonest Art the way the three I just named were.

        • Scott Lemieux

          Oh yeah, A Beautiful Mind really belongs in the terrible best picture discussion. I never actually saw the sinking boat movie (I’ve been avoiding Cameron since I was coerced into seeing True Lies) but I can’t imagine it’s nearly as bad. Actually, I’m pretty sure I’d rather see Titanic than Avatar; the latter has the distinct look of failed Prestige Picture all over it.

          • Having, unfortunately, seen both, I can endorse your intuition. Avatar is a terrible, and a wicked, movie– much worse than Titanic in every sense other than gee-whiz technical achievement.

            • dan

              I have to come out the other way. The special effects in Avatar are legitimately jaw-dropping, and the action sequences were fun. Titanic, on the other hand, had nothing similar, or at all, to enjoy. From the inexplicable decision to use a framing device that eliminates all suspension while adding half an hour to an already overly-long movie to the wooden romance, absurd anachronisms, and unrelatable characters, I was bored from beginning to end. I knew enough to skip A Beautiful Mind when it came out and have never seen it, so I don’t know where it belongs on the list, but Titanic certainly deserves mention. And at least Avatar didn’t win best picture.

              • Both were watchable for the sake of planning. The odd physical business in each film is well done.

                Don’t go see if you like to have people in your movies. Who say words.

  • X

    “Especially in its initial seasons Six Feet Under was very good…”

    Really? I only made it through three or four episodes of the first season because I found it to be the poster child for BOTO. (The perfect middle class family! Except the son’s secretly gay! The daughter’s on crack! And the other son has sex with strangers at the airport!) At any rate, I found the characters so off-putting that I have no inclination to go back and check to see if I was missing something.

  • Oh, please, the man who could make Nixon will have no trouble making a film that glorifies Robert Moses.

    By the end of it, we’ll be wishing the part of The Big L.I.E. that runs through Manhattan were twenty city blocks wide. Who needs midtown Manhattan offices, after all, when you can just relocate them to East Northport and put in another reactor at Indian Point?

    • Or he will paint Moses out to be utterly diabolical.

  • wengler

    True Blood has a lot more than vampires. Its humor helps it balance out the ridiculous creatures that inhabit its world. The acting is top notch too.

    • John

      Really? I think the best thing that can be said for True Blood is that it is pretty high quality for soft-core porn. There’s some decent performances, but overall it is pretty terrible.

  • “although the dream sequences were not merely aesthetic disasters like 99.9% of dream sequences”

    Exception that (simultaneously) proves the rule? Living in Oblivion.

    • snarkout

      “I’m a dwarf and I don’t dream about dwarfs!”

    • Scott Lemieux

      Now there’s an underrated movie, and I agree that it fits in the .1%.

  • wiley

    If the story of why Doctor Tiller did late term abortions is told it might be a good thing, in spite of the director. I don’t have time to find it right now, but there used to be a website up with testimony from some of Tiller’s patients. Had their pregnancies gone full term, their babies would have suffered horrendously for days or weeks, and then died. Due to popular ignorance, when people think of Down’s Syndrome, they only think of the ideal cases and the Special Olympics. It can include a calcified brain and defective hearts, it can make a baby born for certain suffering and death. I don’t understand anyone who determines that a baby and a family should suffer what Dr. Tiller prevented.

    Some of the testimonials also brought up the issue of choice as far as medical treatment for their babies had they been born. It would have been outrageously expensive, most of the women had children already (oh yeah, most of the women had intended to get pregnant or would have opted to give birth had the baby not been so malformed) that they were obligated to, and the expense would have been tremendous and fruitless, and in all likelihood, out of their hands as the state and medical establishment would not allow them to terminate life support or refuse every hopeless intervention.

  • L2P

    What does BOTO mean?

    • Hogan

      Belaboring of the Obvious.

  • ninja3000

    Scott, go ahead and read The Power Broker again. It’s even more impressive than you originally thought.

  • charles pierce

    My understanding is that there’s only one more volume in Caro’s LBJ bio, and that it’s going to go all the way from becoming Veep to his death. How Caro’s going to do that is a mystery to me.
    And American Beauty does, indeed, blow goats.

  • Ralph Hitchens

    Sorry, count me among those who, despite acknowledging all that was said about it to be true, will go to the dog track or the grave (whichever comes first) believing that Studio 60 was high-end TV, & I wish it could have run a few more seasons.

  • DFH no.6

    Maybe it’s because I’m a member of some “particular subset of Boomers” that snarkout sneers at, but I liked American Beauty.

    Still do.

    Especially the very end, which haunts me like no other movie ending except the somewhat-similar “end” (well, it was her end) of young Ofelia in Pan’s Labyrinth.

    Wonderful movie, by the way, Pan’s Labyrinth. One of the very best, IMAO, in many years.

    Or maybe Del Toro’s 2X4 that has “fascism is bad and innocence can not survive our cruel world” written on it slipped past my critical defenses and whacked me in the head, what with me being in that “particular subset of Boomers” and all.

    But fuck it, I don’t care. I was deeply affected by it as I’ve seldom been by any work of fiction in my nearly 6 decades hanging around this vale of tears.


    • wiley

      I liked it. I have it. Me and the mate like Kevin Spacey a lot. As you say, that ending has a sharp edge—you’ll die—hardly anybody ever says that in American society.

      I also liked “Crash” and have that, too. So there are cliches. Big deal. Living cliches can be a sad or funny thing, but it happens.

      As far as “Crash” goes, IMO, racism is born of cliche and stereotype, that doesn’t make racism or its effects any less real. The cast is excellent. The acting is superb. The plot has a poetic structure. People are still loving and loved at the end. We all laughed at least one of those racist remarks. Don’t lie—it doesn’t make us hateful bigots that would hurt someone for the color of their skin if we laughed at a racist joke.

      • Crash is an utterly loathsome movie with all the subtlety of Ball combined with the sanctimony of Spielberg’s worst. Good fucking lord I hate that movie. More than any movie of the last decade. What’s worse, when I was traveling in Asia in 2006, the Europeans and Australians loved watching that movie and then talking about how messed up America’s race relations are. Look in the mirror. Grrr…….

        • wiley

          You’ve made that clear, Eric. Maybe you should watch “The Last Hour” or “The Rising Dead” to clear your hi-toned palate.

          Europeans do need to look in the mirror a little more, I’ll agree to that. When I lived there in ’81 and ’82 I saw elderly German women looking to see if black men had tails. Germans may still need to work on their problems with the Turkish population they imported to do their dirty work, as well. Some European countries maybe are doing worse than we are with mid-eastern immigrants—it’s hard to tell. Maybe it’s just that some of their nuts seem even nuttier than our nuts.

          I hated “Hurt Locker”. Hated. Hated. Hated. Hated “Hurt Locker”. Not really much redeeming value, as far as I could tell. Like most war movies, it condemns it with one hand, and slaps it on the back with the other while saying, “I’m not making any judgment, I’m just telling like it is.”

        • Yes, yes, yes. .

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