Time Is On My Side

Ah, so much TV to watch, so little time to devote to quality blogging. I’ve got 1987 ranked, just need to write it up. I hope to get to that this weekend. Til then, here’s some quick reviews from recent tivo-watching:

To Catch A Thief: One of the few classic Hitchcock films I hadn’t seen, I finally got around to watching last night. It was alright, if the plot had twisted like I thought it should have, it would have been better. Still, there’s a lot of weird stuff going on with Grace Kelly’s character. Anyway, it’s pretty, but no North By Northwest.

TV Shows: It’s season premiere time, with Arrested Development, Lost, Alias, The OC, and Curb Your Enthusiasm all back on the cable this week. Some new shows that seem interesting so far: My Name Is Earl, Kitchen Confidential, Extras, Rome and Invasion (though I haven’t watched any of it yet). Battlestar Galactica finished it’s season in excellent fashion after what I thought had been a disappointing second season. Hopefully it’ll be better when it comes back in January.

The Hitch-Hiker: Had to watch it to follow along the film noir podcast and it was well-worth it. Very strange, remarkably economical story about a guy who holds two men hostage and makes them drive him through Mexico. A lot like the Sidney Poitier/Kirstie Alley movie Shoot To Kill, only really good. It’s not a noir generically speaking, but it’s got the style down to a science. Only 70 minutes long, too. My fist Ida Lupino movie, she sounds like a fascinating person.

Also, there’s a couple cool documentaries out there. The first is about the history baseball in Latin America called Viva Baseball that has some really interesting interviews and some great footage I’d never seen before. Very well done, especially considering it’s on Spike TV of all networks. The other is Spaghetti West, and IFC documentary about, well, Spaghetti Westerns. They did a similar one a few months ago on Hong Kong martial arts movies, and this is just as good. Gave me some films to add to the old queue, since the only one’s I’ve seen are Sergio Leone’s four movies.

And in real news: Tom DeLay got indicted. WOO HOO! HOO RAY! YEE HAW!!

Movies Of The Year: 1986

A not-quite-as-but-still impressive 39 Movies I’ve Seen in 1986. Though the quality at the top is significantly better than ’85, this year has some of my least favorite movies of all-time.

39. Gothic
38. F/X
37. Highlander
36. Iron Eagle
35. Police Academy 3: Back In Training
34. Wildcats
33. SpaceCamp
32. Labyrinth
31. Jumpin’ Jack Flash
30. Flight Of The Navigator
29. The Great Mouse Detective
28. Blue Velvet
27. She’s Gotta Have It
26. The Transformers: The Movie
25. Crocodile Dundee
24. Short Circuit
23. Sid And Nancy
22. The River’s Edge
21. Gung Ho
20. Down And Out In Beverly Hills
19. The Golden Child
18. Manhunter
17. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
16. A Better Tomorrow

15. The Karate Kid Part II – Not as good as the original, obviously, but still pretty good as 1980s sequels go. The female lead is Tamlyn Tomita, who’s had a pretty spotty career since. She was in The Joy Luck Club, Touch, The Day After Tomorrow and Four Rooms.

14. The Fly – One of the few David Cronenberg films I’ve seen, and one that I like, though I think it’s better in theory than in actuality. It just isn’t a lot of fun watching Jeff Goldblum puke on his food before eating it. At least, not my idea of fun. These things are subjectictve. I really don’t like Geena Davis.

13. Pretty In Pink – I can’t believe she chose Blaine over Ducky. It’s all about the money with Molly. Great soundtrack though. Maybe the best of the 80s, in fact.

12. Three Amigos – Chevy Chase’s last great movie, and he needed Steve Martin and Martin Short to carry him through it. In small parts you will find Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, Joe Mantegna, Randy Newman (who also co-wrote with John Landis and Lorne Michaels). This might be the last really good SNL movie until Wayne’s World. “Mail plane” Heh heh.

11.Stand By Me – I think it’s overrated, but then, I never saw it as a kid. It does have a great cast, and it’s better than most Stephen King movies, but I can’t say it’s as meaningful to me as it apparently is to so many others. It’s good though.

10. Down By Law – Much like Stranger Than Paradise, Jarmusch’s next movie adds a very little more plot, and Tom Waits and Roberto Benigni to John Lurie this time. Slow moving, but very funny and featuring some very pretty swamps. If you like Jarmusch, this is a must see. If you haven’t seen any Jarmusch, this is as good a place to start as any, but patience is important and will be rewarded.

9. The Color Of Money – Tom Cruise doesn’t bother me, but I’m still not a big fan of this movie. It pales in comparison to The Hustler, for one thing. And the end drives me nuts. I don’t know what should happen instead, but I know that the film should not be over when it is. It’s like the whole movie is build-up, but never delivers. It was about time for Newman to win an Oscar, though, and I won’t begrudge him it.

8. Hoosiers – One of the great sports movies of all-time, and probably the best movie about basketball. I’ll agree with The Sports Guy that the pseudo-romance between Hackman and Barbara Hershey is totally out of place and doesn’t work at all. Nice performance by Dennis Hopper, much better than the scenery chewing in the ghastly Blue Velvet, also from this year. Director David Anspaugh went on to make Rudy and not much else.

7. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – My pick for the Best John Hughes movie, and there isn’t a greedy redhead in sight. Give me Mia Sara’s inexplicable accent over Molly Ringwald’s money-grubbing social climbers any day. Iconic performance by Matthew Broderick, classic supporting performances from Ben Stein, Edie McClurg, Jeffery Jones, Charlie Sheen, Alan Ruck and Jennifer Grey. The only problem with it is the totally unrealistic absence total Ferris has accumulated. 9 times? Please. That’s less than nothing.

6. The Name Of The Rose – Not surprisingly, the book is much better. Sean Connery is great as the sleuthing monk fighting the hordes of ignorance and superstition as he tries to solve a series of murders at a Dark Age abbey. Christian Slater, though, is not very good at all. F. Murray Abraham and Ron Perlman are decent in supporting roles, but neither gets much time to develop a character or anything. Director Jean Jacques Annaud went on to make The Bear, Enemy At The Gates and Seven Years In Tibet. Not an especially interesting career. The book’s great though. It’s Eco’s first novel, and his books tend to get worse as he goes along, so this one is highly recommended. The next one, Foucault’s Pendulum, is also great.

5. Top Gun – One of the better high-concept action movies of all-time. Chock full of great air combat scenes and blatant homoeroticism. Quentin Tarantino’s speech about this movie in the film Sleep With Me is one of the classic bits of film criticism. I have to say I’m more a fan of Tony Scott than his brother Ridley. I appreciate the fact that Tony seems to know what he’s good at and sticks to making the best action movies he can. Whereas Ridley tends to annoy me with his pretensions at profundity (Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise, Gladiator). Anyway, Top Gun’s got a great cast (Cruise, Anthony Edwards, Tom Skerritt, Meg Ryan, Tim Robbins and Val Kilmer), a great soundtrack, is great looking, full of memorable lines and wall-to-wall inanity for a plot. You’ve gotta love it.

4. Aliens – It’s an odd year indeed when Top Gun isn’t even the best action film of the year, but that’s the case this year when the competition is perhaps the single greatest action movie of all-time. I definitely recommend sticking with the theatrical release, because much like with Apocalypse Now, while the extra footage is definitely interesting, it slows the pacing down way too much. Pace what Aliens is all about as the action never stops. It’s like the last 45 minutes of Hard-Boiled, only less balletic, but stretched over 2 hours. There’s supposedly a theme about Ripley and trying to be both a mother and an action hero (working mom) at the same time, but don’t believe it. Bill Paxton delivers another classic performance as Hudson (Game over, man! Game over!) and Michael Biehn is solid as he always is in James Cameron movies. Lance Henrikson and Paul Reiser also star. James Cameron’s best movie.

3. Platoon – Oliver Stone’s best movie. And the best movie about Vietnam, depending on whether or not you think Apocalypse Now is really about that war or something else entirely. Tom Berenger and Willem Defoe are outstanding as the veteran soldiers who fight out out over Charlie Sheen’s soul amidst the chaos of war and a My Lei-style incident. The outstanding cast includes Kevin Dillon, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Depp, John C. McGinley, and Dale Dye. A great looking movie, and perhaps the last time Stone made a film with any kind of subtlety. The soundtrack is great too.

2. Hannah And Her Sisters – Woody Allen narrowly loses his third Movie Of The Year award, and instead comes in second for the second straight year. The closest Allen ever came to making an epic, this follows the lives of three sisters, or rather, it follows the obsessions Allen and Michael Caine have with said sisters. All of the actors are terrific (except maybe Barbara Hershey), as you’d expect in a Woody Allen movie. My favorite part is Allen describing how his year-long existential crisis got solved. After Manhattan, this is his best serious comedy. Features Carrie Fischer, Max Von Sydow, Daniel Stern, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Joanna Gleason, Julie Kavner, Sam Waterston, Lewis Black, J.T. Walsh, John Turturro, and, uh, Soon-Yi Previn.

1. The Mission – A brilliant film about all the good and bad things that religion can do to people. First it saves Robert DeNiro, a murderer and slave-trader and turns him into a terrific guy. Then it helps the Amazon natives learn to sing Ave Maria and build houses and farms and civilization. Then it becomes greedy, tries to enslave all the natives and kill all the priests who disagree with it. Sounds about right. DeNiro and Jeremy Irons are the best parts of an outstanding cast featuring Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn and Ray McAnally as the representative of the Pope who has to decide between saving the Indians and saving the Jesuits. The outstanding score is by Ennio Morricone, the screenplay by Robert Bolt and the absolutely beautiful cinematography by Chris Menges, who did The Killing Fields, Michael Collins, Dirty Pretty Things and the upcoming North Country. Director Roland Joffé never came close to anything this good again.

Not a lot of essentials in The Unseen this year, though there are a couple big ones:

Big Trouble In Little China
Little Shop Of Horrors
Howard The Duck
The Money Pit
Jean de Florette
The Hitcher
The Mosquito Coast
Ruthless People
9 1/2 Weeks
Peggy Sue Got Married
An American Tail
Back To School
Manon Of The Spring
Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer
Children Of A Lesser God
One Crazy Summer
Mona Lisa
Delta Force
True Stories

Movies Of The Year: 1985

A huge year is 1985, with a record 42 Movies I’ve Seen. Not a lot of depth though, as the vast majority of these are movies I liked well enough as a kid, when, frankly, I’d watch anything. Really only one or two truly great movies this year.

42. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
41. Red Sonja
40. White Nights
39. Return To Oz
38. The Jewel Of The Nile
37. St. Elmo’s Fire
36. A View To A Kill
35. Commando
34. Rambo: First Blood Part II
33. Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins
32. Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment
31. The Black Cauldron
30. King Solomon’s Mines
29. The Man With One Red Shoe
28. Teen Wolf
27. D.A.R.Y.L.
26. Legend
25. Rocky IV
24. Day Of The Dead
23. Explorers
22. Spies Like Us
21. Real Genius
20. Lost In America
19. Young Sherlock Holmes
18. Witness
17. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure
16. The Color Purple

15. Weird Science – Strange that this and Real Genius cam out the same year. Just an early example o Hollywood groupthink I guess. Like when Dante’s Peak and Volcano came out the same year, or Deep Impact and Armageddon. Bill Paxton’s Chet is one of the defining performances of the 80s.

14. A Room With A View – You won’t find a bigger Helena Bonham Carter fan than me, but this is not her best Merchant/Ivory film. Still, it’s not bad. Probably won’t make you fall asleep. Denholm Elliot is in it too, so that’s good.

13. The Goonies – After watching it again last year, I can’t say it holds up well over time. Still, one of the great kids movies of the decade, for sure. Joe Pantoliano is surprisingly one of the Fratelli’s.

12. National Lampoon’s European Vacation – More of the same, only this time making fun of foreigners instead of Americans. Still very funny though. Billy Zabka co-stars. That’s The Billy Zabka.

11. Ladyhawke – A personal favorite, a really great looking movie. Does the whole fairy tale thing very nicely. The special effects are dated, and the acting isn’t particularly good, though it doesn’t bother me too much. The score is a problem. I recall it as that annoying 80s-synthesizer wanna-be Vangelis crap that isn’t any good when it is Vangelis. Ugh. Vittorio Storaro did the cinematography, so you can believe me when I say it looks great. He’s the guy who did Apocalypse Now, Reds, The Last Emperor, Dick Tracy and, uh, Ishtar.

10. The Breakfast Club – I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the John Hughes films. They seem to forced and unnatural too me, dividing the kids up into whatever ideology Hughes has at the time (normally cheap class-based stereotypes). But this is an important film, and does have some very good parts. It works better for me than, say, Pretty In Pink. Probably because Molly Ringwald doesn’t get the chance to sell out.

9. Back To The Future – 1985 may not have a lot of great films, but man does it have a lot of classic kids/teen movies. This is the best of them, by a fair margin too. Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd give their typical fine performances, but it’s Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson who are the real stars of this movie. Tom Wilson, who played Biff, as had a rough career. It’s highlights are: Action Jackson, the Wing Commander video games, Turner & Hooch and the Spongebob movie. Ouch.

8. Brazil – It’s overrated, but it’s still very good. I have to knock it down a few notches because it’s one of those movies I can never really remember, no matter how many times I see it. Jonathon Pryce is great as the hero, lots of other great actors star, but it’s Katherine Helmond from Who’s The Boss who is the creepiest.

7. Clue – One of the few attempts to make a modern screwball comedy that actually works. And, as far as I know, the only good movie adaptation of a board game ever. Directed by Jonathon Lynn, whose career has been truly horrifying ever since (Nuns On The Run, My Cousin Vinny, The Distinguished Gentleman, Greedy, Sgt. Bilko, Trial and Error and The Whole Nine Yards.)

6. Fletch – I can’t rate it any higher because, to my shame, I’ve only seen it a couple of times. Enough to recognize it’s brilliance, but not enough to be able to quote it at will. I suspect it is the best Chevy Chase movie, but I cannot prove it. Director Michael Ritchie’s had an interesting career, which I believe I chronicled in the Bad News Bears entry in 1976. Did I mention Cops and Robbersons?

5. After Hours – In it’s own way, a perfect little comedy. Doesn’t rank any higher because it doesn’t want to. Griffin Dunne plays a guy who gets trapped in SoHo, passed from one lunatic woman to another. The cast is great (Bronson Pinchot!) This is what Scorsese did after his first attempt to make The Last Temptation Of Christ fell through. Its really the only comedy he ever made, unless I’m forgetting something.

4. Silverado – A great classicist Western from a time when the Western was all but dead. Lawrence Kasdan wrote and directed an outstanding cast (Scott Glenn, Danny Glover, Kevin Kline, Brain Denehey, Kevin Costner, Jeff Goldblum, Rosanna Arquette, John Cleese,) There hasn’t been a Western like this in a very, very long time.

3. Out Of Africa – Call me an imperialist pig if you will, but I love this movie. Frankly, the insinuation that there’s anything racist about this movie is absurd. It doesn’t have anything to do with colonialism in Africa, it just happens to be set amongst colonialists. Arrgh, don’t get me started. It isn’t the politics I dig, nor the very cliché romance (ooh Robert Redford as the quiet manly man who doesn’t want to commit to the woman he loves, shocking!). It’s Meryl Streep. Or rather, it’s Streep as Isak Dineson. Dunno why, maybe it’s just the way cool accent, but I just think she’s a fascinating character. And it’s a great looking movie to. In a generic ‘look at the pretty scenery’ way, but still great looking. Besides, what’s wrong with a little imperialist, cliché, melodramatic romance now and then? Jerks.

2. The Purple Rose Of Cairo – One of Woody Allen’s more underrated movies, and maybe the best movie about movies ever. Mia Farrow’s outstanding as a Depression Era neglected (even beaten) wife who escapes into the movies every week. One day, the lead actor in the movie, Jeff Daniels, escapes the screen and into her life. The melodrama of the Depression scenes is expertly balanced with the comedy of what the characters in the movie do without Daniels. By far the best 1985 movie with “Purple” in the title. Despite what any Book Club founders may tell you.

1. Ran – Akira Kurosawa’s last great movie, it’s his version of King Lear, and it’s a heck of a lot better than the play, at least better than reading the play. Tatsuya Nakadai plays the samurai king who splits his realm between his sons, but rejects the one who tells him what a stupid idea that is. “Ran” is Japanese for ‘chaos’ and that’s pretty much what happens. An amazing film, from the battle scenes ripped off by Spielberg in Saving Private Ryan, to the Noh influences in make-up, costume and acting, the brilliant use of color, and the terrific, non-method acting, especially by Nakadai and Mieko Harada, who as a combination Lady MacBeth, Edmund character is one of the great movie villains of the 80s. Only Kurosawa’s third best movie, but that’s only because the two better films are among the top ten best movies of all-time.

The Unseen:

Better Off Dead
Desperately Seeking Susan
Pale Rider
Enemy Mine
Prizzi’s Honor
Brewster’s Millions
My Life As A Dog
The Toxic Avenger
Jagged Edge
Kiss Of The Spider-Woman
My Beautiful Laundrette
The Falcon And The Snowman
The Legend Of Billie Jean
Vision Quest
Once Bitten
Year Of The Dragon

A Quick One While I’m Away

I hope you all saw Felix Hernandez’s 2/3 of a no-hitter the other night. I’ve never yet seen a whole no-hitter, if anyone will do it, it’ll be the King.

Here is another rave review of No Direction Home. It’s a must-see.

Bought some Johnny Cash last night, inspired by his appearances in the Dylan movie. It’s the first Cash I’ve owned. He’s outstanding. I give the man in black my full endorsement. I got 16 Biggest Hits, American Recordings, and a smattering of other songs. The best: I Walk The Line, A Boy Named Sue, Ring Of Fire, I Still Miss Someone, Hurt, Redemption Song (with Joe Strummer(!)), The Man Comes Around, (Ghost) Riders In The Sky, Sunday Morning Coming Down, Man In Black, Folsom Prison Blues, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, Drive On, Oh Bury Me Not, Jackson, Long Black Veil, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Pocahontas, I’ve Been Everywhere and You’ll Never Walk Alone.

It looks like we’re not going to get Serenity. Damn Mark Cuban.

Old, Weird Dylan

The Dylan movie is, predictably, fantastic. If you’ve seen the EMP exhibit, you’ll recognize some of the footage as the same interviews are used. I didn’t really notice any repetition though, so you’ll want to see both. Here is the David Thomson review of the film I mentioned a couple weeks ago. He thinks it’s one of Scorsese’s best films ever. While I’m not ready to go that far, yet, he does make some interesting points about the film and Scorsese’s career.

I also picked up Greil Marcus’s book on The Basement Tapes, ‘The Old, Weird America’. After reading the first couple of chapters, it’s very good. It picks up right where the documentary leaves off, a wacked-out Dylan ends his tour, gets in a motorcycle accident, spends months locked up in Woodstock with The Band playing bizarre little folks songs wholly different from what he’d been doing from 1964-66. He also specifically connects The Basement Tapes to the two albums of folk covers Dylan made in the early 90s, Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong. I just bought the first one, but World Gone Wrong was the first Dylan album I ever bought. It’s a terrific little album that never gets mentioned as one of Dylan’s best, but probably should. Those albums led directly to Dylan’s revitalization in Time Out Of Mind and, especially, Love And Theft, just as The Basement Tapes revitalized Dylan after the whole crazy “Judas” tour and led to John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline and SelfPortrait.

Turning Japanese

There’s a trailer up for Memoirs Of A Geisha here. I dunno about it. On the one hand, it stars Zhang Ziyi and Michelle Yeoh, who are always awesome. On the other hand, they’re playing Japanese people (Zhang’s Chinese, Yeoh Malayasian) and it’s directed by the guy who did Chicago, which I haven’t seen and don’t really want to see. Hard to tell whether it’ll be good or not from the trailer. Could go either way at this point.

Kerry On My Wayward Son

Man, he’s so close to actually being a compelling leader. He says all the right things, but the way he says it is so, so very wrong. For example:

“And when you ask that simple question – what’s in it for all of us? – the direction not taken in America could not be more clear or compelling.”

His fundamental inability to communicate with other human beings is what kept him, and Al Gore, from beating W. He seems intent on running again in 2008, at least I assume that’s why he’s still sending me emails. I don’t think that’s a good thing: he’d beat Hilary for the nomination, but would lose to, say, Rudy Giuliani. But we haven’t really got any better options. The best hope we have is that Kerry runs and all the serious Republican candidates are too intimidated by the scandal parade of the W administration to actually run. If it’s between Kerry and Frist, we win.

Anyway, read the man’s speech, it’s worth your 3 minutes:

Providence, RI – I want to thank you for what the Brown community has done to help and comfort the many victims of Hurricane Katrina. This horrifying disaster has shown Americans at their best — and their government at its worst.

And that’s what I’ve come to talk with you about today. The incompetence of Katrina’s response is not reserved to a hurricane. There’s an enormous gap between Americans’ daily expectations and government’s daily performance. And the gap is growing between the enduring strength of the American people — their values, their spirit, their imagination, their ingenuity, and their willingness to serve and sacrifice — and the shocking weakness of the American government in contending with our country’s urgent challenges. On the Gulf Coast during the last two weeks, the depth and breadth of that gap has been exposed for all to see and we have to address it now before it is obscured again by hurricane force spin and deception.

Katrina stripped away any image of competence and exposed to all the true heart and nature of this administration. The truth is that for four and a half years, real life choices have been replaced by ideological agenda, substance replaced by spin, governance second place always to politics. Yes, they can run a good campaign — I can attest to that — but America needs more than a campaign. If 12 year-old Boy Scouts can be prepared, Americans have a right to expect the same from their 59 year-old President of the United States.

Katrina reminds us that too often the political contests of our time have been described like football games with color commentary: one team of consultants against another, red states against blue states, Democratic money against Republican money; a contest of height versus hair – sometimes. But the truth is democracy is not a game; we are living precious time each day in a different America than the one we can inhabit if we make different choices.

Today, more than ever, when the path taken last year and four years earlier takes us into a wilderness of missed opportunities — we need to keep defining the critical choices over and over, offering a direction not taken but still open in the future.

I know the President went on national television last week and accepted responsibility for Washington’s poor response to Katrina. That’s admirable. And it’s a first. As they say, the first step towards recovery is to get out of denial. But don’t hold your breath hoping acceptance of responsibility will become a habit for this administration. On the other hand, if they are up to another “accountability moment” they ought to start by admitting one or two of the countless mistakes in conceiving, “selling”, planning and executing their war of choice in Iraq.

I obviously don’t expect that to happen. And indeed, there’s every reason to believe the President finally acted on Katrina and admitted a mistake only because he was held accountable by the press, cornered by events, and compelled by the outrage of the American people, who with their own eyes could see a failure of leadership and its consequences.

Natural and human calamity stripped away the spin machine, creating a rare accountability moment, not just for the Bush administration, but for all of us to take stock of the direction of our country and do what we can to reverse it. That’s our job — to turn this moment from a frenzied expression of guilt into a national reversal of direction. Some try to minimize the moment by labeling it a “blame game” — but as I’ve said – this is no game and what is at stake is much larger than the incompetent and negligent response to Katrina.

This is about the broader pattern of incompetence and negligence that Katrina exposed, and beyond that, a truly systemic effort to distort and disable the people’s government, and devote it to the interests of the privileged and the powerful. It is about the betrayal of trust and abuse of power. And in all the often horrible and sometimes ennobling sights and sounds we’ve all witnessed over the last two weeks, there’s another sound just under the surface: the steady clucking of Administration chickens coming home to roost.

We wouldn’t be hearing that sound if the people in Washington running our government had cared to listen in the past.

They didn’t listen to the Army Corps of Engineers when they insisted the levees be reinforced.

They didn’t listen to the countless experts who warned this exact disaster scenario would happen.

They didn’t listen to years of urgent pleading by Louisianans about the consequences of wetlands erosion in the region, which exposed New Orleans and surrounding parishes to ever-greater wind damage and flooding in a hurricane.

They didn’t listen when a disaster simulation just last year showed that hundreds of thousands of people would be trapped and have no way to evacuate New Orleans.

They didn’t listen to those of us who have long argued that our insane dependence on oil as our principle energy source, and our refusal to invest in more efficient engines, left us one big supply disruption away from skyrocketing gas prices that would ravage family pocketbooks, stall our economy, bankrupt airlines, and leave us even more dependent on foreign countries with deep pockets of petroleum.

They didn’t listen when Katrina approached the Gulf and every newspaper in America warned this could be “The Big One” that Louisianans had long dreaded. They didn’t even abandon their vacations.

And the rush now to camouflage their misjudgments and inaction with money doesn’t mean they are suddenly listening. It’s still politics as usual. The plan they’re designing for the Gulf Coast turns the region into a vast laboratory for right wing ideological experiments. They’re already talking about private school vouchers, abandonment of environmental regulations, abolition of wage standards, subsidies for big industries – and believe it or not yet another big round of tax cuts for the wealthiest among us!

The administration is recycling all their failed policies and shipping them to Louisiana. After four years of ideological excess, these Washington Republicans have a bad hangover — and they can’t think of anything to offer the Gulf Coast but the hair of the dog that bit them.

And amazingly — or perhaps not given who we’re dealing with — this massive reconstruction project will be overseen not by a team of experienced city planners or developers, but according to the New York Times, by the Chief of Politics in the White House and Republican Party, none other than Karl Rove — barring of course that he is indicted for “outing” an undercover CIA intelligence officer.

Katrina is a symbol of all this administration does and doesn’t do. Michael Brown — or Brownie as the President so famously thanked him for doing a heck of a job – Brownie is to Katrina what Paul Bremer is to peace in Iraq; what George Tenet is to slam dunk intelligence; what Paul Wolfowitz is to parades paved with flowers in Baghdad; what Dick Cheney is to visionary energy policy; what Donald Rumsfeld is to basic war planning; what Tom Delay is to ethics; and what George Bush is to “Mission Accomplished” and “Wanted Dead or Alive.” The bottom line is simple: The “we’ll do whatever it takes” administration doesn’t have what it takes to get the job done.

This is the Katrina administration.

It has consistently squandered time, tax dollars, political capital, and even risked American lives on sideshow adventures: A war of choice in Iraq against someone who had nothing to do with 9/11; a full scale presidential assault on Social Security when everyone knows the real crisis is in health care – Medicare and Medicaid. And that’s before you get to willful denial on global warming; avoidance on competitiveness; complicity in the loss and refusal of health care to millions.

Americans can and will help compensate for government’s incompetence with millions of acts of individual enterprise and charity, as Katrina has shown. But that’s not enough. We must ask tough questions: Will this generosity and compassion last in the absence of strong leadership? Will this Administration only ask for sacrifice in a time of crisis? Has dishonesty in politics degraded our national character to the point that we feel our dues have been paid as citizens with a one-time donation to the Red Cross?

Today, let’s you and I acknowledge what’s really going on in this country. The truth is that this week, as a result of Katrina, many children languishing in shelters are getting vaccinations for the first time. Thousands of adults are seeing a doctor after going without a check-up for years. Illnesses lingering long before Katrina will be treated by a healthcare system that just weeks ago was indifferent, and will soon be indifferent again.

For the rest of the year this nation silently tolerates the injustice of 11 million children and over 30 million adults in desperate need of healthcare. We tolerate a chasm of race and class some would rather pretend does not exist. And ironically, right in the middle of this crisis the Administration quietly admitted that since they took office, six million of our fellow citizens have fallen into poverty. That’s over ten times the evacuated population of New Orleans. Their plight is no less tragic – no less worthy of our compassion and attention. We must demand something simple and humane: healthcare for all those in need – in all years at all times.

This is the real test of Katrina. Will we be satisfied to only do the immediate: care for the victims and rebuild the city? Or will we be inspired to tackle the incompetence that left us so unprepared, and the societal injustice that left so many of the least fortunate waiting and praying on those rooftops?

That’s the unmet challenge we have to face together. Katrina is the background of a new picture we must paint of America. For five years our nation’s leaders have painted a picture of America where ignoring the poor has no consequences; no nations are catching up to us; and no pensions are destroyed. Every criticism is rendered unpatriotic. And if you say “War on Terror” enough times, Katrina never happens.

Well, Katrina did happen, and it washed away that coat of paint and revealed the true canvas of America with all its imperfections. Now, we must stop this Administration from again whitewashing the true state of our challenges. We have to paint our own picture – an honest picture with all the optimism we deserve – one that gives people a vision where no one is excluded or ignored. Where leaders are honest about the challenges we face as a nation, and never reserve compassion only for disasters.

Rarely has there been a moment more urgent for Americans to step up and define ourselves again. On the line is a fundamental choice. A choice between a view that says “you’re on your own,” “go it alone,” or “every man for himself.” Or a different view – a different philosophy – a different conviction of governance – a belief that says our great American challenge is one of shared endeavor and shared sacrifice.

Over the next weeks I will address some of these choices in detail – choices about national security, the war in Iraq, making our nation more competitive and committing to energy independence. But it boils down to this. I still believe America’s destiny is to become a living testament to what free human beings can accomplish by acting in unity. That’s easy to dismiss by those who seem to have forgotten we can do more together than just waging war.

But for those who still believe in the great tradition of Americans doing great things together, it’s time we started acting like it. We can never compete with the go-it- alone crowd in appeals to selfishness. We can’t afford to be pale imitations of the other side in playing the ‘what’s in it for me’ game. Instead, it’s time we put our appeals where our hearts are – asking the American people to make our country as strong, prosperous, and big-hearted as we know we can be – every day. It’s time we framed every question – every issue — not in terms of what’s in it for ‘me,’ but what’s in it for all of us?

And when you ask that simple question – what’s in it for all of us? – the direction not taken in America could not be more clear or compelling.

Instead of allowing a few oil companies to drill their way to windfall profits, it means an America that understands we can’t drill our way to energy independence, we have to invent our way there together.

Instead of making a mockery of the words No Child Left Behind when China and India are graduating tens of thousands more engineers and PhDs than we are, it means an America where college education is affordable and accessible for every child willing to work for it.

Instead of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, it means an America that makes smart investments in your future like funding the science and research and development that will assure American technological leadership.

Instead of allowing lobbyists to rewrite our environmental laws, it means an America where lakes and rivers and streams are clean enough that when a family takes the kids fishing, it’s actually safe to eat the fish they catch.

Instead of letting a few ideologues get in the way of progress that can make us a stronger and healthier society, it means an America where the biology students here today will do the groundbreaking stem cell research tomorrow.

And instead of stubbornly disregarding intelligence, using force prematurely and shoving our allies aside, it means an America that restores its leadership in the world. An America that meets its responsibility of creating a world where the plagues of our time and future times – from terror to disease to poverty to weapons of mass destruction to the unknown – are overcome by allies united in common cause, and proud to follow American leadership.

That is the direction not taken but still open to us in the future if we answer that simple question – ‘what’s in it for all of us?’ It comes down to the fact that the job of government is to prepare for your future – not ignore it. It should prepare to solve problems – not create them.

This Administration and the Republicans who control Congress give in to special interests and rob future generations. Real leadership stands up to special interests and sets the course for future generations. And the fact is we do face serious challenges as a nation, and if we don’t address them now, we handicap your future. My generation risks failing its obligation of assuring you inherit a safer, stronger America. To turn this around, the greatest challenges must be the starting point. I hope Katrina gives us the courage to face them and the sense of urgency to beat them.

That’s why the next few months are such a critical time. You’ll read about the Katrina investigations and fact-finding missions. You’ll get constant updates on the progress rebuilding New Orleans and new funding for FEMA. Washington becomes a very efficient town once voters start paying attention.

But we can’t let political maneuvering around the current crisis distract people from the gathering, hidden crises – like energy, environment, poverty, healthcare and innovation – that present the greatest threats to our nation’s competitiveness and character. The effort to rebuild New Orleans cannot obscure the need to also rebuild our country.

So realistically, I’m sure you’re wondering: How do I change all this? What can I do? The answer is simple: you have to make your issues the voting issues of this nation. You’re not the first generation to face this challenge.

I remember when you couldn’t even mention environmental issues without a snicker. But then in the 70’s people got tired of seeing the Cuyahoga River catch on fire from all the chemicals. So one day millions of Americans marched. Politicians had no choice but to take notice. Twelve Congressmen were dubbed the Dirty Dozen, and soon after seven were kicked out of office. The floodgates were opened. We got the Clean Air Act, The Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water. We created the EPA. The quality of life improved because concerned citizens made their issues matter in elections.

You are citizens in the greatest democracy in the world. Moments like Katrina are so difficult – so painful – but they help you define your service to your fellow citizens. I’ll never forget as a teenager standing in a field in October of 1957 watching the first man made spacecraft streak across the night sky. The conquest, of course, was Soviet – and while not everyone got to see the unmanned craft pass overhead at 18,000 miles per hour that night – before long every American knew the name Sputnik. We knew we had been caught unprepared.

In the uncertain years thereafter, President Kennedy challenged Americans to act on that instinct. He said, “This is a great country, but I think it could be a greater country…the question we have to decide as Americans,” he said, is “are we doing enough today?”

Today, every American knows the name Katrina — and once again we know our government was undeniably unprepared, even as Americans have shown their willingness to sacrifice to make up for it.

But in these uncertain weeks of Katrina’s aftermath, we must ask ourselves not just whether a great country can be made greater — the sacrifice and generosity of Americans these last weeks answered that question with a resounding yes.

No, our challenge is greater – it’s to speak out so loudly that Washington has no choice but to make choices worthy of this great country – choices worthy of the sacrifice of our neighbors in the Gulf Coast and our troops all around the world.

What’s in it for all of us? Nothing less than the character of our country – and your future.

Movies Of The Year: 1984

A huge year is 1984, with an amazing 35 Movies I’ve Seen, obliterating the previous record. Great quality too, as at least the top 11 are all undisputed classics. And not a single one of them is Sixteen Candles.

35. Tank
34. Nightmare On Elm Street
33. Supergirl
32. Dune
31. Conan The Destroyer
30. Splash
29. The Never Ending Story
28. 1984
27. Starman
26, Greystoke: The Legend Of Tarzan
25. Dreamscape
24. Red Dawn
23. Cloak & Dagger
22. Police Academy
21. Romancing The Stone
20. Star Trek III: The Search For Spock
19. Top Secret!
18. Gremlins
17. The Last Starfighter
16. Repo Man

15. Broadway Danny Rose – One of the few times Woody Allen made a simple, non-manic character study-comedy that actually works. Allen plays a bumbling theatrical agent who does everything possible to satisfy the one client he has who actually has any talent. Mia Farrow’s excellent (almost unrecognizable) as the client’s ditzy girlfriend who Allen must shepherd around the city.

14. The Bounty – All-star retelling of the Mutiny on the Bounty story that ditches the Hollywoodization of earlier versions and goes for realism above all else. Anthony Hopkins’s Captain Bligh isn’t the sadistic freak he is in other versions, nor is Mel Gibson’s Fletcher Christian the rebellious hero he was in the Gable or Brando versions of the story. Also starring are Daniel Day-Lewis, Liam Neeson, and Laurence Olivier. Directed by Roger Donaldson, the man responsible for No Way Out, Cocktail, Species and Dante’s Peak. Screenplay by Robert Bolt (A Man For All Seasons, Lawrence Of Arabia).

13. The Killing Fields – The story of the takeover by the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia and how it affected Western journalists. That’s being a little unfair to this fine movie and the terrific performance by Dr. Haing S. Noir, a real-life Khmer Rouge escapee, but this is a movie about America, not about Cambodia. It’s the same mentality that brought us Mississippi Burning: a film about the civil rights movement in which the FBI are the heros. It’s well-intentioned, I think, but doesn’t really tell us much we didn’t already know.

12. Footloose – Might be the best musical of the 80s, not that there’s much competition. It’s a nostalgia pick, as this was the first movie I ever saw in a theatre without adult supervision. The soundtrack remains a favorite. The cast is surprisingly good, with Chris Penn, Sarah Jessica Parker and Diane Weist in supporting roles. Kevin Bacon and John Lithgow are, of course, their usual brilliant selves. If you think the premise is absurd: it’s actually based on real events. Yes, people really are crazy enough to ban dancing.

11. Beverly Hills Cop – The quintessential Eddie Murphy movie, and perhaps the film that best captures the 80s as a whole, in all their wacky, violent, greedy craziness. A classic supporting performance by Bronson Pinchot, which probably got him that Perfect Strangers job. Director Martin Brest has had an odd career. After this film, the only movies he made are: Midnight Run, Scent Of A Woman, Meet Joe Black and. . .Gigli.

10. The Terminator – James Cameron’s breakout movie is a near-perfect sci-fi horror movie. Great performances by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Biehn really help what is essentially just another slasher movie. The film is hurt by what I think is a dreadful performance by Linda Hamilton. She’s just awful, and the standards fro female leads in horror movies aren’t particularly high. I always ending up rooting for the robot.

9. Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom – Unfairly forgotten as the second film in its trilogy, I think it’s significantly better than the third one. It lacks the epic scope of the first movie, and descends too much into melodrama (oh won’t somebody please think of the children!), but the final long action sequence is as good, if not better, than any other in the series. Kate Capshaw’s pretty bad too. That doesn’t help.

8. The Karate Kid – Another nostalgia pick, to be sure, but a pretty flawless coming of age film. Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita are very good (Morita even got a Supporting Actor nomination) and Elizabeth Shue is, well, Elizabeth Shue. Yes some of the supporting performances aren’t very good, but that’s where the camp value comes in. If William Zabka is a bad actor, but you cannot imagine the film without him and he makes a hateful villain, can his acting really be bad? Zabka’s had a rough career by the way, we should cut him some slack.

7. Once Upon A Time In America – One of those great movies that ever got released the way they should have. Thankfully we should see much less of this in the DVD era. I haven’t seen the chopped up version of this movie and neither should you. Get the long version. A chronicle of 30 years in the life of childhood friends and gangsters Robert DeNiro and James Woods, it also features Elizabeth McGovern, Joe Pesci, Jennifer Connelly, Danny Aiello, and Tuesday Weld. Long, slow, great looking, it’s about as good as anything Sergio Leone ever did.

6. Blood Simple – The Coen Brothers burst onto the scene with a truly unique thriller about a hired killing gone horribly wrong for everyone involved. It’s not nearly as funny as most of their later movies, but there are the tell-tale moments of true weirdness that are the Coen’s hallmark. The film is hurt by the fact that the hero is not an especially interesting actor. He’s not bad, just kinda dull. Frances McDormand though, is great as the femme fatale with a heart of gold, M. Emmet Walsh is fantastic as the killer who talks too much and Dan Hedaya is his great greasy self.

5. The Natural – Yeah, I know the book doesn’t have a happy ending. What I don’t know is how that’s supposed to make the book more ‘serious’ or ‘artistic’ than the movie. It is immature pseudointellectuality that demands that all ‘serious works of art’ end tragically. the natural is a great looking movie, one of the best of the decade, in fact. Robert Redford gives a good performance, though not one that shows much range for him. Glenn Close is very good in a small supporting role. Also distinguishing themselves are Wilford Brimley, Richard Farnsworth, Joe Don Baker, Michael Madsen, Barbara Hershey and Robert Duvall. And Kim Basinger isn’t terrible. At least not enough to ruin the movie. Directed by Barry Levinson, and it may very well be his best movie. Either this or Bugsy or Wag The Dog.

4. Stranger Than Paradise – Jim Jarmusch’s first movie is also my favorite. About as minimalist as can be, the film has three characters and three different sections in three different locations. John Lurie plays a small time hipster who gets a surprise visit from his Hungarian cousin. They hang around his apartment for a few weeks, then she leaves. A few months later, he visits her in Cleveland. They hang out for awhile. They go to Florida. Never in film history has nothing been so entertaining. A perfect little film about boredom.

3. This Is Spinal Tap – One of the most quotable movies of all-time is also the best ‘mockumentary’ of all-time. I don’t really have anything to say about this movie. If you have seen it, you know why it’s ranked so highly. If you haven’t, stop what you’re doing and go watch it right now.

2. Ghostbusters – 1984 wasn’t an especially good year for comedies in terms of volume, but it does boast two of the all-time best comedies ever. I wrote a longer comment on this movie a few weeks ago, it’s around here somewhere if you haven’t read it. Suffice it to say that Ghostbusters is unique in the 80s for it’s total lack of mean-spiritedness. Wholly different from the earlier films by MUrray, Ramis and Ackroyd. I used to be able to play the theme song on the xylophone.

1. Amadeus – Have I mentioned that I don’t really like biopics? Well, this is the exception. Unlike most movies in this genre, Amadeus doesn’t just tell the life story of it’s subject, but filters it through the fascinating filter of Mozart’s rival, Salieri. The films becomes more than just a life story about a genius, it is now an examination of genius in general and the way it affects us regular non-genius people. Hence the title, “loved by God” if I’ve got my Latin right. Anyway, F. Murray Abraham is great, and his Oscar win was certainly earned, but I think Tom Hulce (whose only other role of note was in Animal House) may actually give the better performance. Elizabeth Berridge, Simon Callow and, especially, Jeffery Jones are great in supporting roles. Oh, the music’s pretty good too. The director’s cut is alright, but not necessary. The movie works better as originally cut. I think this is the first time I’ve agreed with the Academy on the best picture of the year. (Turns out we agreed on Annie Hall in 1977.)

The Unseen:

Sixteen Candles(!)
Revenge Of The Nerds
Paris, Texas
The Razor’s Edge
Places In The Heart
The Philadelphia Experiment
Stop Making Sense
Purple Rain
A Passage To India
The Cotton Club
All Of Me
Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Winds
Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai