Sunday, October 09, 2005

Not even Wensleydale?

We saw Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit this weekend. It's great. But it does not quite reach the level of sublimity that the earlier half-hour efforts do. The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave in particular are not mere children's entertainments but intricately-plotted, layered dramas. The characters and the world they live in seem like real people. Just to give an example: In ACS, Wallace develops a possible romantic interest in Wendolene Ramsbottom, the owner of a knitting shop. But Wendolene has been forced into a life of crime by her highly intelligent cyber-dog Preston, aiding him in his sheep rustling scheme. Wendolene's motives throughout the film are ambiguous and troubling. The budding affection between her and Wallace seems genuine at first, but later it appears she may have been using him to effect her escape from Preston. Or she may even be a willing participant. She says nothing as Gromit is sent to prison for crimes she and Preston have committed. At the end, she and Wallace part ways when she expresses a distaste for his beloved cheese. It's not clear if she really does hate cheese or if that's just her way of dumping him.

Wallace and Gromit are themselves a codependent pair. When Gromit is arrested and put on trial for sheep rustling, Wallace does not express outrage at the injustice being done. He simply says "Oh, Gromit!" with sorrow and reproach. It looks like he believes Gromit might be guilty, though he does later bust him out. In TWT, he needs some extra money and rents out Gromit's room to a penguin. When trouble arises, his first impulse is to say, impatiently, "where's Gromit?" Wallace's expectation is that Gromit will selflessly ride to his rescue - which he invariably does. Gromit is the only genuine adult in the films.

Back to my original point. COTWR is a very good film, packed with charms, entertaining throughout. Worth seeing alone for the Stinking Bishop cheese. Or the tenderness that Gromit lavishes on his giant melon. It at least returns his affection by growing so robustly.

But the movie lacks some of the emotional and plot complexity of the shorter films. There are no characters caught in a web like Wendolene. The bad guy is a buffoon, not a genuine threat. Earlier bad guys, Preston and Feathers McGraw (the penguin), are smart and devious - worthy adversaries for W&G, or at least G. They appropriate Wallace's inventions for their own ends. (There is a Ph.D. thesis for someone on what the W&G films say about technology run amok.) In form, COTWR suffers a bit as well. Both TWT and ACS are mysteries - we know something's afoot, but the full dimensions of the nefarious plot are not revealed until close to the end. The films make you think back on everything you've seen and reinterpret it. The main surprise in the COTWR occurs midway through, and after that it's just a question of how to sort out all the plot threads.

I don't want to get too down on Nick Park and Aardman for making a movie that almost, but doesn't quite, measure up to their previous efforts. Maybe it was the unusual pressure of making a studio film with Dreamworks, or the distinct challenges posed by the form of a 90-minute feature instead of a short. Obviously they have set their own bar incredibly high.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Reality 1, Bush 0

We shouldn't be surprised. It was bound to happen one day. But it's amazing how fast all of Bushworld is just unraveling before our eyes, turning to dust and blowing away like the CGI mummies in those movies. There is no need to list all the bad things that have befallen Bush & Co. lately. The situation is continuing to deterioriate. What's astounding is the Bush people seem to have no clue how to regain the upper hand. They are just throwing paint at the canvas and hoping some of it sticks. Bush himself appears dazed and dispirited. Rove is (apparently) about to be indicted. Party discipline has broken down, and disciplinarian-in-chief Tom DeLay is out. The heretofore amazing political and message discipline emanating from the West Wing are nowhere to be seen. Miers may well win confirmation, but the choice has divided the right. Karen Hughes is a sideshow, a bad joke. The ill will stirred up by the government's incompetent response to Katrina has not dissipated and is now being fueled by the outrages of the bloated contracting process. The Senate is rebuking Bush/Cheney on torture. It's like multiple organ failure. All the contrary political forces and hard truths that have been systematically denied or held in check for the past four years are rampaging through the Bush body politic.

It's funny to see Bush so adrift. Given that his formula has been both effective and simple (stick to a few things, repeat them endlessly, slavishly reward your supporters, screw the opposition, ignore everything else, including policies that actually work) I thought he'd stick with it. But he moved off it a bit with Roberts (non-provocative to the left) and then way off it with Miers (provocative to the right). If you're used to always having your way and believe your own PR, when reality catches up with you, you'll have no practical tools to deal with it.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Judy Judy Judy

If it's true what they're saying and Judy Miller has secured a $1.2 million book deal, there are so many layers of self-delusion involved not even the inevitable huge remainder pile will begin to jar her and her editor friend back to reality. I just don't get it. Is Miller dumb enough to think she is really some kind of First Amendment heroine from days of yore? And I thought publishing houses had to rigorously hew to the bottom line these days. But no.

The basic problem is no one will want to read such a book. I sure won't. It will be deathly dull and self-righteous. Some people will rush to check the index for their own names. Lou Dobbs will interview her again. But that's about it. Miller is about as unsympathetic a public figure as you could hope to find, the possible exceptions being Bush, Cheney, Libby, Rove, Novak, Ann Coulter ... never mind. Suffice it to say she is unsympathetic. Brittle, arrogant. She also has no apparent capacity for self-reflection. You know she's never going to come clean on her role pushing Chalabi and WMDs - any more than Cheney is. Her 85 days in prison were over something nobody understood or cared about. The whole exercise was apparently quite pointless, and in the process she has selfishly squandered the principle she claimed to be upholding in an attempt to turn herself into a martyr.

There is an interesting story to be written here, but Miller is not the one to write it.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Time for another vacation?

Bush looks really odd lately. I did not see his press conference this morning, but lately his attitude in public appearances has been diffident or petulant - not especially presidential. It's nothing we haven't seen dozens of times before, but without the old swagger and urgent bluster to pull it all together, he looks lost. The Daily Show has replayed a couple of his announcements in the past few weeks, one on Rehnquist's death, the other on Miers' nomination. In each case, Bush was given a sort of encyclopedia-style laundry list of accomplishments. Rehnquist was born in Wisconsin. He served in the army. In Italy. He was on the board of the Salvation Army. He worked for five and a half years in the Justice Department. He was a distinguished jurist, much admired by his peers. And so on. Ditto with Miers. I know that there is only so much rhetorical flash you can work into these announcements, but the image of Bush plodding his way through them is just ... depressing. Nor was he having a good time at another recent press conference, fielding questions on Cindy Sheehan in the heat at some godforsaken Texas roadside. He was clearly annoyed to be there. Then more recently there were a couple of exceedingly rare admissions of error, in which he looked like his intestines were being pulled into a squareknot while he was uttering the hated words.

This is not a man who is enjoying his work.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Bush is so over

With the nomination of Harriet Miers we see the Bush presidency imploding before our eyes. From the outside it is a baffling choice. She will not wow liberals. She will piss off conservatives. It's dispiritedness all around! It's kind of nice that there will be no grand, world shaking ideological battle over the Supreme Court, but in some ways this is worse - there will be a debate over basic competence, mediocrity and cronyism, all of the things that brought the nation so low in the response to Katrina.

Bush appears to have gone into an angry, defensive crouch. Has he lost his touch for politics and withdrawn into a state of pure churlishness, nominating a friend because he has so few of them, a crony just to stick it to ... well, everybody? Andrew Sullivan thinks so:

The one thing that could motivate him to appoint a crony as obviously unqualified as Miers is precisely to stick a finger in the eye of those accusing him of cronyism. Tell him we need more troops in Iraq? It's the one thing he won't do. Tell him he's a big spender? We get: "It's going to cost whatever it costs." Tell him he has botched the Iraq occupation? He'll give the architects Medals of Freedom. There's an adolescent streak of pure willfulness in the man. He cannot and will not self-correct. If pushed into a corner, he will simply repeat the error in order to prove himself immune to criticism.

It's going to be a long three years.