Tag Archives: climate change

Some actual good things about Europe.

It seems to me that Europe is getting a bad rap Stateside.  Oh, their populations are dying out.  Oh, they’re being taken over by Muslims.  Oh, they’re sissies who get their army provided by America.  Oh, the EU is … wait, why don’t we like the EU again?  I either forgot, or never knew in the first place.

I just have a couple of completely superficial observations to make, neither of which is an actual rebuttal of the above criticisms.  But first off, I just got done watching a movie with Juliette Binoche, whose work I always admire.  Now, Binoche is certainly beautiful enough for Hollywood standards, but she’s in her forties now, and I notice that she (and many other comparable actors, male and female) is not retouched or made up in European cinema, nor are these people relegated to sinister/aged/otherwise marginal roles.  This is even more the case for Daniel Auteuil.  Honestly, I don’t think he’s a bad looking guy at all, but can you even imagine an American film with him in top billing?  It’s no wonder he doesn’t work over here; he’d be cast as a villain with twenty lines, twelve of which would be sinister cackles.  And yet both are fantastic actors, capable of working in something like the daunting Michael Haneke’s Cache and also much lighter fare, such as Chocolat or The Valet.  

All of this is to say that the conditions for stardom seem to be much less superficial and destructive in Europe than in the States.  I even read somewhere that public intellectuals like Foucault were treated like stars in France.  That’s quite a tall order in a nation where Angelina Jolie serves the point of both Foucault and Gandhi, but still.  Perhaps we could start with the airbrushing cult.  Couldn’t a semi-intelligent magazine, like (say) Vanity Fair, run a series of photographs of someone who is beautiful, truly and unaided, but perhaps has (gasp) some crow’s feet untouched by Botox?

Here’s another bit.  Senator Kit Bond (R-Mo.) recently said, in opposition to the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act, that “nobody in their right mind” believe we can get half our power from wind and solar or “drive a fleet of golf carts” (from an article in Salon).  Are you absolutely positive, Senator?  Is ownership of an Escalade, a Durango, and a Hummer part of what makes us, essentially, Americans?

Well, probably, at least for now.  However, I have been seeing more Smart Cars on the roads, and with the current price-per-barrel of crude, I’m not surprised that the Smart is gathering steam.  I had to laugh when I read this review by Salon’s Machinist blog, especially the bits where people ask silly questions like “can it go on the highway?” or “does it run on gas?”  I’ve never been all that surprised by the Smart, since I saw absolute droves of them in Italy, Germany, and France during my semester abroad in 2005.  Obviously, the Smart isn’t for everyone — large families, construction contractors — but what would be wrong with it for single people, couples without children, etc.?  Well, one problem is that our infrastructure does in fact favor a fleet of aircraft-carrier-sized vessels.  Everything is so far apart in America that road trips require large gas tanks and plenty of storage space, and the trains and low-budget airlines that Europeans use for long-distance travel either don’t exist or are extremely difficult to get to.  The Smart car is built for city driving, but nobody lives in cities here.  Instead, our enlightened zoning laws have given us neighborhoods like mine, in which you can’t throw a rock without hitting any one of a host of identical Starubckses and banks, but have to drive twenty minutes to get to a CD shop, an independent coffee house, or the public transit station (and that’s without traffic, which is to say, never).

All of which is to say, we should abolish our zoning code and allow people to build things where they live.  New Urbanist communities are a step in the right direction, but as of yet, they’re all pristine yuppie havens in which the cheapest store is Banana Republic and the cheapest sandwich is $9.95.  In other words, most people are priced out of them.  We need to let these ideas get carried out to ordinary people if we want to see any sort of progress on the pollution/environmentalism issue.  Otherwise, people just can’t live without their monstrous oil-burning frigates.

Any thoughts?


An inconvenient movie?

Well, despite the ghastly reviews, I went to see The Happening, the sixth feature by thriller director / guru wannabe M. Night Shyamalan.  Last time I gave him the benefit of the doubt, contra the critics, I was horribly disappointed by the stilted, weird, anti-climactic Lady in the Water.  So let’s just say that my expectations weren’t very high at all.  

Actually, though, it wasn’t so bad after all, at least not to me; then again, I don’t have very exacting requirements for much “plot” in the movies I enjoy, and I think the lack of dense plotting and a “twist” were part of what irked critics most.  So don’t trust me, necessarily, unless you enjoy the sorts of things that I do.

For me, the best part of Shyamalan’s films has usually been the shooting: he’s willing to give long, patient shots that build suspense slowly, in a kind of Hitchcockian way, something most MTV-generation directors simply don’t have the attention spans to pull off.  For this feature, he teams up again with long-term collaborator Tak Fujimoto, and once again, most of the shots are classy and suspenseful, in a sort of art-horror way that I like.  However, the death of one character is blatantly foreshadowed by means of a cheap slow-mo shot of him driving away in a car that is worthy of a 1980s sentimental music video.  Most unfortunate, but it was the only major technical gaffe I noticed.

I may be wrong, but I think that the acting problems that some critics noticed are mostly script problems — Shyamalan writes all of his own movies, which has worked for some, but in this director’s case, not so much.  It’s as though he doesn’t stop to think about how people really talk, instead focusing on the “message” he wants to get across.  So there always has to be a big “conversation” (“Do you believe in … signs?”) in which someone ponderously just happens to start discussing spirituality, the unknown … you know, a more intimidating Eckhart Tolle or something.  This time, it’s a high-school student talking about forces of nature that will never be explained, which in a movie with the most vague title since 1982’s The Thing, is all too predictable.

So if Zooey Deschanel does little more than act confused throughout the whole movie, it’s at least partly the stilted script’s fault.  She also does the Mel Gibson “let me open my eyes as widely as possible for dramatic effect” thing (viz. Gibson’s Hamlet) — but let’s face it, her eyes are objectively a lot cuter than Mel Gibson’s.  Mark Wahlberg, who is becoming one of my favorite actors, is more than adequate as a leading man, but is also sort of forced into just “acting confused” for a lot of the time.  Maybe just a horror film convention (“Oh my god, where is it?  I think it’s in the … bushes!).  They both shine, though, in the few humorous moments and the “we’re gonna die so let’s renew our flagging love for each other through a speaking tube” scene.  Better than it sounds on paper.

Enough of that.  A lot has been made of the first R-rating this director has garnered, but I’m not sure what the big deal is.  Yes, there are a few gruesome suicides.  But they’re only shown for a few seconds each and are absolutely nothing on anything in, say, the work of Tarantino.  It’s a horror movie, guys.  

And then the inevitable brouhaha about environmentalism.  Again, I’m not sure why this is a big deal.  Wasn’t there a big global-warming blockbuster just a few years back?  And then Al Gore’s really quite excellent An Inconvenient Truth got an Oscar, something that the Shyamalan thriller is certainly not going to do.  It seems like a rather small blip on the climate-change radar screen.  And although the idea is seems rather silly to me — plants have been lying down and taking it from us for centuries, and no doubt will continue to do so — a movie in which plants get their comeuppance seems pretty timely to me, actually, and that counts whether you’re a climate-change believer or not.  Even the most fundamentalist conservative can’t really think that blacktopping the planet and belching smoke into the formerly blue sky is actually what was intended, by God or nature.

So basically, go and see it if you’re bored.  I give the whole package a B-, and advise Shyamalan to come see me in the writing center before attempting any more “naturalistic” dialogue …