Letters to Holly

Monday, March 20

The Wachowski Weekend

Got home on Friday and helped Your Sister polish off some essay rough drafts. We went through a stack if about 25 since Tuesday, and my life is brighter for having them all behind me. We ate dinner at a new steakhouse owned by Juan, the guy who owns Cielito Lindo. It was much better than we expected. I mean, Juan has a great Mexican restaurant but a steakhouse is a whole other kettle of fish. And now, I have found my new favorite steakhouse in the area. Our waitress was a former student of Your Sister’s, and this happens virtually everywhere we go.

Saturday, we saw V for Vendetta. You know I’m a fan of the author, Alan Moore. I’ve got a copy of almost everything he’s written. And you know I was afraid of what this adaptation would become; the previous Moore-based films – From Hell and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – went laughably off the rails. Moore never lets his name be used to sell a film because of his blood feud with DC Comics and by extension its owner, Time-Warner. The lead-up buzz for Vendetta has been worrisome because the source material is so incendiary: Fascist future-set Britain is beset by an anarchist who kills bad bosses and blows up buildings. There’s an obvious worry over analogies to terrorism and the possibility that the story might glorify it. But that’s just dumb. Robin Hood and the Dukes of Hazzard could be called terrorists if one merely considers a rascal running about, frustrating and flouting the authorities. The book was made to warn against the spread of frenzied Margaret Thatcher policies in the early 1980s. The Wachowski Brothers, the guys who made The Matrix, have been working on this project for years; some say it even predates The Matrix. They updated it to reflect current technologies and concepts, but left whole the theme of combating government corruption and cruelty.

And it’s fabulous. There was a lot good about the Moore comic, and a lot that weakened the story. The Wachowskis judiciously kept the good and culled the bad, refining the story’s focus. It packs a wallop. Several times last week, I said that I couldn’t believe they made a movie out of this. Of all the comics to adapt to film, this was the least likely. It’s political, dark, intelligent, and complicated. Now, I can’t think of anyone who could have done it better, and I really think Moore might have been be proud to have his name on it. You still have to keep up, and you have to listen carefully, and consider what the imagery of the film really means in places, but it makes for an evocative, surprisingly emotional experience. I was moved to tears twice (but I’m a self-admitted sap). As with The Matrix, there are layers to the story and symbols, and as with The Matrix, I’m having a ball dissecting them. I was surprised to find the film is rated R; it doesn’t strike me as a particularly violent or gruff film. But it is a powerful one, and one I’d like to see again as soon as possible.

Many have tried to make political hay out of Vendetta as a Hollywood attack against the Bush administration. There are new bits of detail to connect the spread of fascism to modern troubles, but anyone saying the film explicitly attacks Bush is looking to be offended. Then again, there is a guy who sounds like Bill O’Reilly and the torture of political prisoners. If story elements hit close to home, doesn’t that suggest bothersome events are afoot?

But this is ultimately not liberal vs. conservatism; this is nobility vs. inhumanity. Vendetta is about principles and will to power. It’s about waking up and acting. It’s a great film.Not to say it’s perfect; the first time we meet V, you want to clobber him. He comes across as a dandy fop. But the Wachowskis have a history of weak beginnings to their films. The first five minutes of Matrix are the worst in that film.

We caught their first film, Bound, this weekend, and its first 15 minutes are wince-inducing. It’s ostensibly about two women who fall for each other and team up to screw over a low-ranking Mob thug for $2 million. It eventually becomes an interesting movie, but initially it’s just another soft-core Cinemax time-killer. Bound is an odd duck of a film because we follow the two women through their scheme, and then the movie smoothly switches over to the guy’s point of view as he acts differently then they expected. We’re supposed to watch this twerp squirm and fumble, but he summons up his courage and becomes a shocking capable guy. Unfortunately, the end of the movie switches back to us rooting for the gals, leaving the audience with no sense of stability. Bound reminds me a lot of the early Cohen Brothers films like Blood Simple, and while you can see touches that suggest what the Wachowskis would do later with Matrix, it’s still a giant, colossal leap between this tiny, cheap noir film to the Gnostic epic sci-fi, martial arts trilogy. Anyway, if you watch Vendetta, give it a few minutes to get its sea legs and then enjoy it.

Sunday, Your Sister got sick and stayed running at minimal function all day. I top-toed around the house, watching some March Madness and playing some games. I finished up Harry Potter. It’s such a small story that I’m surprised it became a sensation. But it is well-written, charming, and quick. I’m curious enough to try the next books.

Last night, we watched "West Wing," a show that has drastically shifted focus from the administration to the candidates for office. It's been a standout year of television writing and acting. Alan Alda is knocking it out of the park very week. I wish they could continue the show with the two candidates teaming up to create one ticket and winning the White House. A Smits/Alda White House show would get my hour of TV every week.

Sketch Day
I worked on a cover of the magazine last week. We didn’t have any decent color pictures for the front so I cobbled together brass instrument parts from online pictures and drew them on the computer. This probably isn't the finished product.

In the news
The Prime Minister of Iraq says Iraq is in a civil war. People living in other countries with political vested interest in success disagree. Because, hey, what does he know?

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Rumsefeld made the clich├ęd Nazi reference when defending the Iraq policy. Godwin’s Law states, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” This is also the desperate resort of those who argue hysterically no matter their political stance.

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