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Topics/Questions/Exercises Of The Week—16 October 2009

Where My Head's At: Whenever I hear or read something about "rebooting the Jack Ryan franchise," I always think about that Illinois conservative politician who derailed his career (and, in a sense, handed Barack Obama his) by trying to take his super-hot actress wife (Jeri Ryan, aka Seven of Nine) to swingers' clubs. And I figure, "Good luck with that, pervoid." And then I remember that this Jack Ryan is the hero of a bunch of not-terribly compelling geopolitical thrillers. Christ, people. James Bond took off after precisely one movie. Your boring Tom Clancy fella can't get anybody to give a shit about him after five—or was it four, I can't remember or even be bothered—films and three actors. Give up, you losers!

What If Michael Haneke Started A Greeting Card Company?: Have y'all seen Haneke's The White Ribbon yet? And by y'all I of course mean The Auteurs' readership, and of course I know they/you all haven't, unless you've been to the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Palme d'Or, or the New York Film Festival, where it was criticised for being a too-punishing exercise in "festivalism" or whatnot. So I suppose the question is, finally, rhetorical, and you've either seen it or you haven't. If you haven't, you might want to proceed with caution here.

There's a very nasty moment in the center of the film, which is set in some German space in the period directly prior to the start of what we now call World War One. In this moment, we see, among other things, that the film's village doctor is not quite as benign a figure as we like village doctors to be. He is engaged in a long and painful argument with an individual with whom he has long been familiar, and, reaching a point of ultimate exasperation, he looks up at this individual and says—in German, mind you—"My God. Why don't you just...?"

Oh, I  can't spoil it. Suffice it to say that what he says is a remarkably cruel thing to say, and in the film the line has a particularly awful impact. What kind of person says that to another person, anyway?

And yet, I guess because I myself am a bad person, that line comes back to me sometimes (and I only saw the film, a week ago!), when I'm looking at or reading something. Can I tell you that last Sunday I was perusing an article in the New York Times Magazine by Jonathan Safran Foer, about why he's a vegetarian? I've sat still for a few arguments for vegetarianism in my time, and been moved by many of them, but just as Mike D'Angelo's viewing of Linklater's Fast Food Nation at Cannes sent him straight to the nearest McDonalds (sorry, no link; yeesh, those Nerve guys have no respect for film criticism history), so did this piece make me want to park myself outside of Foer's Park Slope brownstone and ostentatiously eat veal sandwich after veal sandwich. And then there's Foer's description of the birth of his first son: "The world itself had another chance." Hey, dude, don't set your expectations too high. For all you know the damn kid'll be overturning headstones at Greenwood Cemetery and buying loosies at the bodega you spent so many years steering him away from by the time he's twelve.

So. I ask all of you who've seen The White Ribbon thus far: Have you had any "My God. Why don't you just...?" moments yet? Or is it just me? And does it make me, in fact, a bad person?

Speaking Of Haneke (Sort Of): In conservative mag National Review's online outlet The Corner this week, Anthony Lane's negative New Yorker review of The Invention of Lying is cited positively by that website's own Maria von Trapp, Kathryn Jean Lopez. Quite a tetchy little passage it is, the one she likes; Lane seems rather unhappy with certain developments in his native land. "[t]he execration of religious faith, specifically Christianity—plus a reflex sneer at the fools who fall for it—has, in the past decade, become the default mode of British cultural life." Oh, my. This uncharacteristic bit of scolding from Lane is interesting not just in and of itself but because it comes hot on the heels of a near-worshipful profile of Haneke (available online only to subscribers, alas), which paints the director not merely as a provocateur but as a morally serious provocateur, and approvingly deems The White Ribbon "a six-o' clock movie," that is, the kind of movie you need to actually see early in the evening, because "if all runs according to plan you will spend the second half of the evening tossing the movie—the impact and the substance of it—back and forth." Wow. This isn't the Lane we've come to know and feel ambivalent about—the funny one. These are only two examples, but they suggest that as his later middle age approaches, Little Lord Fauntleroy could, erm, blossom into Malcolm Muggeridge. And wouldn't that be interesting.

On The Other Hand: It's a slow enough news week that pretty much the only "hot" topic is what Armond White might have said about Karina Longworth at the Hampton's Film Festival, and Karina Longworth's pained, convoluted, and (am I allowed to say this?) somewhat, um, humorless reaction to it. I had a whole burlesque of the thing drafted for this column, but now in the cold light of day it all seems so...pointless. (Although if I get enough reader requests for the thing, I'll put it up at my own blog. Cast your vote here or there.) Searching for material earlier in the week, I was thinking that it all just...sigh...almost made me want to check in with David Poland. So I did, and wound up drafting the following:

"...[Poland] appears to be on the same Fox junket to London for the new Wes Anderson joint...that Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeffrey Wells is on. Holy shit! They're mortal enemies. Are they gonna kill each other? That would be sweet!"

"Alas, no. Here's Poland's latest dispatch, as of Tuesday evening: 'Something lovely...... about sitting in a cue for hours, hoping to get tickets to go into a show in London.' I do love the way he tries to polish a veneer of sophistication with the 'lovely' and the ellipsis...and then spells 'queue,' 'cue.' Holy shit, again. But never mind. Ideas are more important than spelling, too. Fuck me. I give up. I'm never gonna check for misspellings again, and if anybody calls me out for a misspelling of my own, I'm gonna tell him to go get fuct. What's good for Tanboy is good for Fatfuck. Y'all kin jest eet mee frm na on."

And again. Pointless.

Armond White-ism Of The Week: "Jonze (with coscreenwriter David Eggers) interprets Sendak with generational specificity—not as a pre-schooler’s bedtime story but a daytime realization of childhood’s rages and complexes." David?

Also: man, he's thrown me off for the third week in a row by bestowing a positive review on Where The Wild Things Are. Isn't White supposed to hate hipsters?

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