Friday, February 09, 2007

Talking Movies with the Globe's Ty Burr!

Pandachews caught up with Boston Globe film critic Ty Burr during a February 9, 2007 chat on Here’s our back and forth on the future of moviegoing, the impact of the iPod, comic book films, and a bit of an online parlor game for movie hounds.

Pandachews: Hi Ty. Did you read David Denby's article about the future of Hollywood in the New Yorker? How do you feel about a generation of movie goers raised watching films on iPod screens or, at best, on home theatres?

Ty_Burr: Good question… I read Denby's article -- we all did -- and I think it's dead on in some respects and simplistic in others. I'm having a lot of fun watching my two kids, 9 and 11, move into the moviegoing sphere, and I'm keeping an eye on how and what and why they watch...

We have a video iPod -- but they never watch anything on it, except maybe on car rides when they're bored out of their heads. But the screen size is an agnostic issue -- they'll accept something on my Mac or the small bedroom TV or the big dad's-office TV or on the screen.

But they intuitively understand that there's something special about GOING to the movies -- sharing the experience with strangers who then get welded into one happy unit (if the movie's good).

Pandachews: Are we witnessing the end of the movies as a group experience? The end of movie theatres?

Ty_Burr: I don't think that will die -- but I do foresee a split between big cinematic circuses (blockbusters with heavy effects, all in 3D, which is coming faster than you think) and smaller, drama friendly theatrical settings. I think the neighborhood theater will become something like a jazz club, for cognoscenti. It's really up to parents to educate their kids in why a movie on a big screen is good and not just leave it to the DVD player and flatscreen. Any of that make sense?

Pandachews: What about the "premium experience" theatres, like AMC Framingham, that combine dinner with the theatre-going experience? Denby LOVES this idea because it makes the movies a destination for a night out. What do you think?

Ty_Burr: Well, that fits in with the jazz-club concept, and I think it's a good idea. You'll definitely see an increasing division between theatrical movies for the masses and movies for an elite, much like what happened in jazz when rock and roll came in. I can't say I'm entirely happy with that.

Pandachews: There's a gorgeous old theatre in my hometown of Quincy--the Wollaston--that's been shut down for a couple years. I have a fantasy of buying it, and turning it into some combination of the Somerville Theatre and--I dunno--The Good Life (former fifties themed restaurant and bar). Would people come?

Ty_Burr: Absolutely -- and I'd flog the heck out of it for you. But it's really tough to make a one-screen theater work these days, just about impossible in fact. Thus the Brattle's problems. I don't know how the Somerville does it, frankly -- must be all those concerts.

Pandachews: Films I'm dying to see: Ghost Rider (for laughs); 300 (for toughs). Should I be prepared for a letdown?

Ty_Burr: Here's something weird: of all the movies opening up next Friday, the one with the best tracking (highest awareness) is "Ghost Rider." And it looks like the dumbest one of all, which is probably why. The director of "Breach" told me that last night, and he's really depressed about it. "300" does have a buzz, though. Don't know anyone who has actually seen it.

Pandachews: Yeah, Marvel seems to be shredding through its characters carelessly. There's a terrific writer named Garth Ennis who could, in his way, do for a Ghost Rider film what Frank Miller did for Sin City. Anyhooo... what's the word on the James Brown biopic. Spike Lee?

Ty_Burr: It's in rewrites, last I heard. The original screenwriters spent time with Brown before he died, so it has his input. No idea when/if it starts filming. Who's your pick to play James?

Pandachews: Ooooo... I liked Eddie Murphy for JB, but I guess he's not interested. Don Cheadle can really do anything, so why not?

Ty_Burr: True enough, but Cheadle's wearing the big hair for a movie coming up about a real life 60s DJ, Petey Green. Movie's called "Talk to Me," due in July. AND he's signed to star in and direct a Miles Davis biopic, so his slate is full.

I say Cuba Gooding Jr to play JB -- he has the energy and, Jesus, does his career need the help.

Pandachews: Most obnoxious experience I had in a theatre last year: at Boston Common, a guy who kept yelling "F&*K Mel Gibson!" throughout the Apocalypto preview. Which begs the question: will Gibson ever eat lunch in Hollywood again?

Ty_Burr: Yes, he'll definitely eat lunch and get taken to lunch in Hollywood again. Because "Apocalypto" was a reasonable commercial success but even more because it was a well-made movie and it showed that he could pull off a creative risk. The town admires that, maybe more than anything.

Pandachews: Fun exercise: George Clooney=Clark Gable; Kevin Costner=Gary Cooper; Kate Blanchett=Katherine Hepburn; Spencer Tracy =(FILL IN THE BLANK).

Ty_Burr: Hm. Tough one. Vince Vaughn with Edward Norton's talent.

Pandachews: I'd say Vince Vaughn is more Cary Grant. Not in manners, obviously, but in terms of pure charisma.

Ty_Burr: Well, even Cary Grant wanted to be Cary Grant. He always felt he was Archie Leach (his real name).

Pandachews: Ken Watanabe=Cary Grant (with subtitles)

Ty_Burr: Reese Witherspoon = June Allyson. And Demi Moore = Joan Crawford.

Pandachews: THANKS for a fun hour Ty! Don't be a stranger!

Ty_Burr: :)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Chatting with Former Counter-Terror Czar Richard Clarke

Pandachews chatted with former White House counter-terrorism Czar Richard Clarke at on 2/1/2007 at 1030am. Here's some background on Clarke (and a link to an extended audio interview) taken from the Web site of the PBS program, Frontline.

A counterterrorism expert, Richard Clarke was a member of the White House National Security Council in both the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations and is the author of Against all Enemies, an insider account of the Bush administration's policy-making in the war on terror. As an intelligence analyst in his early career, and later, a high-level policy maker, Clarke offers insights into the interplay between the two worlds and shares some thoughts on the heated intelligence wars during the lead-up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Here's our chat:

Pandachews: Mr. Clarke, what do you say to people who defend the war in Iraq based on the notion that, if we don't fight the terrorists there, we'll be fighting them in the US?

Richard_Clarke: I say take a class in logic. There's nothing about our being in Iraq that stops a terrorist from coming here. Indeed the US Army found documents in Iraq of al Qaeda of Iraq planning to send people here.

Pandachews: Supporters of the Bush Administration say that the President has been a "victim of his own success." Because there have been no more terrorist attacks since 9/11, they say people have lost their sense of urgency about the war on terror and that's why they're turning on the President.

Richard_Clarke: I don't know of any real success that the President has had. People are turning on him because he is mindlessly getting people killed in Iraq, there was no reason to go into Iraq in the first place, and he can't admit his error and stop the carnage. He's forcing the next president to clean up his mistake...knowing that the clean up will be messy. Not exactly a profile in courage.

Pandachews: What do you think about Cheney's reported "One Percent Doctrine" that we need to treat a 1% chance of terrorist attack as though it were a certainty? How does that serve or defeat US interests in the world, particularly in the war on terror?

Richard_Clarke: The one per cent solution means that if there is a one percent chance something will be a threat you go after it. Well, if you really took that attitude you would be bopping a lot of innocent people...which would make you more enemies.

Pandachews: The Bush Administration says it HAS strengthened homeland security, and points to legislation last year tightening port security. Are they blowing smoke?

Richard_Clarke: They are. They oppose the 100 per cent screening of container shipping. They have done little or nothing about chemical plant and chemical rail car security, securing radiological material, protecting subways, etc...

Pandachews: What about Musharraf in Pakistan? It's clear that Al Qaeda has safe haven at the border with Afghanistan. Yet we keep supporting Musharraf. Why?

Richard_Clarke: Because they can't figure out an alternative and are afraid of radical Islamists getting democratically elected. Yet there is only so much Musharraf will do to help us, and it’s not enough. He has created a sanctuary for al Qaeda by refusing to control the border provinces.

Pandachews: Why do people like Rick Santorum keep saying weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq? Where do they get this stuff from and is there any truth? How do you talk to people like this?

Richard_Clarke: They did find a few old, leaky, inoperable chemical weapon artillery rounds from the Iran-Iraq War...unusable and probably not even known to the Iraqi government. Santorum just further undermined his overall credibility by saying things like that...and it contributed to his landslide defeat.

Pandachews: Putting Bush aside, what now for Iraq? Should we redouble our efforts--massive spending, many more troops--because we broke it, so we bought it? Or do we withdraw because we're just making it worse? Some combo of the two?

Richard_Clarke: We should withdraw major combat units over the next year. Major combat units do not help create security there, they stimulate the terrorist attacks. We should have a residual presence of Special Forces, intelligence units, etc. The result may well be a mess when we leave, but that will be true whenever we leave: next year or five years from now.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

What John Kerry Should Have Said

I was glad to see Massachusetts Senator John Kerry fire back at White House comments over his "stuck in Iraq" remark, but then saw that none of the stuff about the criticism of his remarks coming from guys who "never wore the uniform" got on the evening news. The sound bite everyone used was Kerry trying to explain his remark as a “botched joke,” which made him look weak and defensive.

Kerry never should have explained anything. He should have stepped out and said that the time for Bush, Cheney and Rove to show respect for soldiers in combat was when Kerry and a lot of other guys who couldn’t get deferments or afford to go to college went to Vietnam. Instead, the cabal in the White House went AWOL (a veiled reference to the questions around Bush’s own ANG service). Kerry might have also pointed out that it should come as no surprise that, thirty years later, these guys are happy to talk tough from the safety of the White House and let everyone else do the fighting and dying for them.

THEN he should have said that if Bush, Cheney, or the Pilsbury doughboy from Hell, Karl Rove, had any problems with what he had said, he’d be waiting for them this Sunday on Meet the Press, where he’d be happy to debate their respective records of military service. But if not, then Kerry should have told them to shut their mouths and let people who have actually heard a shot fired in anger figure out how to deal with the cesspool of violence and corruption they’ve created in Iraq.

Friday, October 20, 2006

J-U-S-T-I-C-E, not J-U-S-T U-S

Watching last night’s debate, I kept wondering what Kerry Healey would do if someone she loved – say her husband – were arrested for a violent crime? What if it were a particularly brutal crime: a rape or a murder? What if he was convicted but maintained his innocence, or she believed there had been a miscarriage of justice? Would Healey tell the police to lock her husband up and throw away the key?

We all know the answer to these questions. Healey would fight for her husband. Like Bernard LaGuer, she would use her intelligence and articulateness to rally support for her husband’s case. And she would take the funds she’s been using to defame Deval Patrick’s character for the last few weeks and get the best defense attorney money could buy.

EVERYONE is someone’s husband, or daughter, friend, etc... That’s one of the reasons why there’s the presumption of innocence in our criminal justice system, and why we’re all entitled to a defense. Another reason is that, without these protections, we have the kind of tyranny the folks in Lexington and Concord were fighting against years ago. Healey knows this, but to get elected she has consciously chosen to denigrate these fundamental rights and liberties. That’s immoral.

From Healey’s antipathy toward the justice system, to the Bush Administration’s attempts to suspend habeas corpus, wiretap without warrants, institute military tribunals, and legalize torture, Republicans seem to hold in contempt the freedom they so often extol in their speeches – except when it’s Scooter Libby, Jack Abramoff, or Mark Foley in the dock. Maybe they’ve forgotten; it’s J-U-S-T-I-C-E not J-U-S-T U-S.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Public Service Announcement, Healey Style

While women's groups like the Jane Doe Fund have expressed outrage at Kerry Healey's recent ad campaign again linking her rival, DevalPatrick, with a convicted rapist, I would like to thank the Lieutenant Governor for doing us and other voters a great service.

Here I was, concerned that my wife and I can't afford to buy a home or raise a child in the "Commonwealth," that our property taxes and healthcare premiums have skyrocketed, and that much of coastal Mass, where we now live, will be under water in the next 100-200 years unless greenhouse gas emissions are greatly reduced. Thanks to the Healey campaign, though, I now know that my wife will be raped if I vote for Deval Patrick, the African American candidate for governor. Clearly, my other concerns are trivial next to the danger the Healey campaign says I now face.

I don't know where Healey stands on all those other "silly" issues I was worried about. I don't really know what she's done to make her qualified to be governor, other than be the silent partner of a guy -Mitt Romney - who doesn't really seem to like Massachusetts very much. But I know she doesn't like rapists. Thank God we live in a democracy where that - and $7.2M of your own money - is all it takes to raise your standing in the polls.

Friday, September 15, 2006

It's like, torture George

Dubya parses the meaning of “human dignity” at today’s Presidential press conference:

QUESTION: What do you say to the argument that your proposal is basically seeking support for torture, coerced evidence and secret hearings? And Senator McCain says your plan would put U.S. troops at risk. What do you think about that?

BUSH: This debate is occurring because of the Supreme Court's ruling that said that we must conduct ourselves under the Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. And that Common Article 3 says that, you know, There will be no outrages upon human dignity. It's like -- it's very vague. What does that mean, outrages upon human dignity? That's a statement that is wide open to interpretation.

With you all the way Mr. President. I mean, come on. What does “outrages upon human dignity,” really mean? Surely not waterboarding, beatings, rendition, secret prisons, or solitary confinement. It’s really wide open to interpretation. Unlike the Bible and US Constitution…

The writers at the Daily Show and Colbert Report will CRY when this guy leaves office.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

BOTU for OpenSource with Christopher Lydon

Blog of the Union, January 31, 2006 for OpenSource

My fellow Americans…

Tonight the President will say the state of our Union is strong. That will be appropriate for the leader of an administration that has put such a high premium on loyalty (Colin Powell at the UN; Scooter Libby under indictment), secrecy (energy task force), and conformity (“You are either with us or you are with the terrorists”), and scorned dissent (Joe Wilson; Richard Clarke), debate (domestic spying program), negotiation (Iraq again) and power sharing (the imperial presidency). It may also be true. But while the state of the union may be strong, I fear the state of our democracy is not.

The opportunities for average citizens to participate in the decisions that impact their civic, social and economic lives are probably fewer and less meaningful today than they have been since the Gilded Age. At all levels, government is for sale. Millionaire candidates solicit donations from millionaire supporters and then create policy in partnership with millionaire lobbyists who represent multi-billion dollar corporate interests. Only in America could such a process be called free speech.

The prominence of money in our politics goes hand-in-hand with an equally worrisome phenomenon: the power of media. In the wake of the NSA scandal, there is much talk about Arthur Schlesinger’s “Imperial Presidency,” but more worrisome is the fact that the Bush years mark the inception of the first fully “Virtual Presidency.” (Although one could argue that Gary Trudeau was way ahead of the game during the Reagan administration with the “Ron Headrest,” series of strips.)

In virtual politics, the facts are simply irrelevant. What matters is a candidate’s ability to dominate the media that create and disseminate imagery: television, radio, the Internet and newspapers. With Bush, Karl Rove wove a candidate more or less out of whole cloth, creating identities for him to step into the way that you and I become, say, Lara Croft when we play Tomb Raider.

And so a child of privilege, a graduate of Phillip’s Academy, Yale University and Harvard Business School became a leather skinned rancher who clears his own sagebrush; a self-made oil man from dusty West Texas; a born again Christian loved by poor Southerners. A man who avoided service in Vietnam and fell two weeks short of the minimum requirements for Guard service from May 1972 through May 1973 becomes a great warrior who steps out of a fighter plane as though he has just flown in from Iraq and declares “Mission accomplished!”

Once elected, virtual politics becomes virtual policy. A horrible crime becomes an “act of war.” Invasion becomes liberation. A tax on the inheritances of the wealthy becomes a “death tax” on hard working farmers. Spying is “force.” And the answer to all criticism is “9-11, 9-11, 9-11.”

The apex of virtual politics and policy is the “war on terror.” Like a steroid pumped version of the war on drugs, the war on terror is frighteningly malleable and therefore corrosive to democracy. If the terrorists don’t attack, we’re winning and the war must go on. If they do attack, we’re in danger and the war must go on. When our nation commits itself to war without boundaries and without end, and when that war can be used as a justification for an extraordinary expansion of executive power, it calls into question whether or not we will continue as a democracy.

We are rapidly approaching the political version of Malcolm Gladwell’s “tipping point.” The old political divisions are absurd. More and more the struggle isn’t between Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative, left and right. It’s between those who believe in democracy and people who don’t. This calls for a new kind of politics, one that reaches across the political spectrum. It’s about freedom. It’s about popular government. It’s about whether we live up to the ideals that folks like Kanaan Makiya are always raving about, or whether we become a bigger and richer version of Singapore.