ritual of attrition

With every presidential election comes a familiar spectacle we might call the Ritual of Attrition: the presidential primaries. As the marathon begins, a crowd of candidates hoping to reach the exalted status of presidential nominee presents primary votes with a buffet of choices. But the way in which the primary system is organized, with each state voting in its turn, means that as the campaigning sorts out the hard corns from the fluffy popped kernels the last states to vote have the least amount of choice. That’s certainly a complaint I’ve heard during the Democrat’s primary process in 2008, when the field was narrowed to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Progressive voters holding on to the hope of giving Dennis Kucinich or Mike Gravel a shot at the general election once again watched those hopes get tossed over the cliff.

And so it is with this year’s Republican primary process, which has been entertaining for its desperate flirtation with implausible candidates as an alternative to Mitt Romney. Although the argument could be made that the primary process is a good crucible from which only the least damaged candidates will emerge, its sequential nature presents a strangely comical irony: a process ostensibly linked to democracy is itself undemocratic. Nevermind that the process is in many respects unfair to the candidates, who are forced to amass and spend fortunes just to spin the wheel of voter preferences. The voters themselves have unequal opportunities to vote for their preferred candidates. One could even suggest that voters end up being manipulated by the party establishment into voting for the safe, mainstream, corporate-stamped candidates.

Given the absence of popular Republicans like Jeb Bush and the self-destruction of the potentially credible Rick Perry (credible to Republicans, that is), the only alternatives to Mitt Romney – a political chameleon who threw his state of Massachussets under the campaign bus in his bid to remake himself an orthodox conservative – flamed-out. The remains include Rick Santorum, who seems to be a more genuine conservative, and Ron Paul whose quirky libertarianism puts him at odds with establishment Republicans. Of course, there’s the volatile, luggage-heavy Newt Gingrich, whose prospective candidacy delights Democratic strategists looking for an exciting match-up. Certainly, the presidential race would be more interesting if President Obama was pitted against former Speaker of the House Gingrich. Mitt Romney, the John Kerry of the Republican party minus the reasonably consistent ideological stance, is bland enough to bring tears to the eyes.

But I digress: it seems that Romney – safe, wealthy Romney – or perhaps Gingrich, the so-called GOP icon – are the candidates Republican voters will be expected to choose from, just as Democrats had to choose between newcomer Obama and luggage-heavy icon Hillary Clinton.

It’s all enough to think that democracy is wasted on a republic.


A Raisin in the Sun Heats Up The Kirk Douglas Theatre

It always puzzles me when fellow critics take notes during a performance. I’ll notice them scribbling away on their note pads or in the margins of the press kit – sometimes sedately, sometimes madly – and wonder how they can possibly foster an osmotic relationship with the performance. Imagine my bafflement, then, on learning that the performance of A Raisin in the Sun I attended also happened to be an evening of experimentation by the Centre Theatre Group. 

What do tweets and a seminal American play have to with each other? Find out in my review of A Raisin in the Sun, currently on stage at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, at The Front Page Online. Click here.

A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry. Directed by Phylicia Rashad. Performances by Kenya Alexander, Keith Arthur Bolden, Brandon David Brown, Kevin T. Carroll, Jason Dirden, Deidrie Henry,     Amad Jackson, Scott Mosenson, Kem Saunders, Kim Staunton, and Ellis E. Williams. On stage at the Kirk Douglas Theatre until February 19, 2012. For tickets and information, visit the Theatre's website.



ACTA is the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which has less to do with counterfeiting than protecting intellectual property rights. Negotiated in secret, mostly by unelected officials, represents a threat to freedom of information, net neutrality, and the internet as we know it. And countries like the US, Canada, and others have already ratified it. Watch a video here:

ACTA comes to a vote in the European Parliament. According to La Quadrature, this is the last opportunity to keep ACTA from coming into force.

Learn more at La Quadrature's ACTA page



Film Review - W.E.

It’s not a good sign when you suspect filmmakers are lying to you. W.E.’s credits list Abbie Cornish in the role of a maritally distraught New Yorker obsessed with the scandalous love affair between the Once and Never More King of England, Edward VIII, and American Wallis Simpson. But throughout the film I wondered what Charlize Theron was doing slumming around in the glassy lead role when surely there was a better film elsewhere for her to inhabit.

Read the full review at The Front Page Online


Through a Glass, Bloodily - A Review of Alice: Madness Returns

"Gone was the innocuous blonde-haired girl with a summery blue-and-white dress and a penchant for attracting the whimsical. In her place, a dark gothic beauty with a blue, white, and bloodied dress, and a steely resolve to fight her way through Wonderland and, eventually, peace of mind."

A lengthy review of a very impressive game, at The Front Page Online:


quick review: Toy Story 3

I was a late admission to the Toy Story appreciation club, and even then I never rose above a loose associate membership. The first outing, with all the heft that comes from establishing a foothold in the history of animated films, was sweet and amusing, and followed by an enjoyable, light-hearted adventure sequel. Yet neither achieved for me, either artistically or emotionally, the depths of Finding Nemo and Wall*E

This time around, the toys confront the fact that their owner, Andy, has outgrown them on his way to college. Faced with a dusty retirement in the attic or a horrible fate at a local daycare, the emotions of nostalgia, family, and the free spirit of imagination are eloquently. The drama is terrific, though often intense as it involves horrifying scenarios of imprisonment and potential death as much as it does bittersweet goodbyes and, yes, hope. It holds its own with grace and a strong heart, but ironically takes on a more resonant tone with foreknowledge of the characters and their relationships from the previous two movies. Of three films nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar in 2010, I still lean towards How to Train Your Dragon or L’Illusioniste as the better films both in terms of animation and narrative effect, but the distinction is fine and, ultimately, rather pointless. See them all, and enjoy.


quick review - Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

Fans are, as I understand it, profoundly affronted by this film adaptation of the beloved and long-running Italian comic about an idiosyncratic paranormal investigator with the unlikely name of Dylan Dog. And with a 6% fresh rating on the TomatoMeter, film critics aren’t feeling the warm and fuzzies either. Understandably; though handsomely filmed, the script is mostly cardboard and the performances are mostly wooden or, at least, thinner than even the film’s paltry plot. Brandon Routh, better known for putting on the cape left behind by Superman Christopher Reeve, makes for a stilted protagonist. His partner, energetically played by Sam Huntington, fares better in the role of comic relief. The plot involves an artifact with the power to resurrect an unkillable monster, with Dylan trying to sort out a murder victim’s daughter, a power-hungry vampire, and a clan of werewolves. In other words, nothing that hasn’t been seen elsewhere in the Whedonverse or other offerings in the occult genre.

Yet nothing about the film is really bad, per se; merely lacking in professional refinement. The mystery is engaging enough to stick with, and the cast eventually loosens up as the film progresses. Sympathy for the dead is the film’s greatest asset, presenting the world of vampires, werewolves, and zombies not as unequivocally evil but just as morally variable as humans. A zombie subculture of body shops and support groups offers a hilarious and surprisingly poignant look at people who retain their personalities but have become undead creatures with unique needs. Into this universe comes a role for Dylan beyond occult detective; he serves as mediator between the living and the dead, ensuring that paranormal crimes don’t destabilize the social order. An interesting idea, and a refreshing alternative to the death-fearing stance typical of the horror genre.

Whatever the relationship to the comic, I find myself agreeing with other critics who see in Dylan Dog not a successful feature film, but a seed that a television series format could mature into something worthwhile.