Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Move Your Money

Filmmaker Eugene Jarecki, Arianna Huffington, and others have teamed up to make a website called "Move Your Money." The website urges people to withdraw their money from the "Too Big to Fail" banks--Chase, Bank of America, Citibank, and Wells Fargo; those which nearly brought down the entire world economic system through reckless lending practices, received an enormous, taxpayer-funded bailout, and now are refusing to lend to small businesses--and to deposit it into smaller, more socially responsible community banks. The website even has a tool that allows you to enter your zip code to find a bank in your neighborhood.

I actually moved my money--all twenty eight dollars of it--from Chase over to Albina Community Bank several months ago, and I couldn't be happier: the employees know my name; I've received handwritten cards in the mail; and at the end of the day, I know that the money I deposit there will be invested back into my community.

For those of us who like to pay lip service to liberal ideals, but who continue to invest our dollars with the likes of Bank of America and Chase, now would be the perfect time to put our money where our mouths are.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

List: Top Ten Films of the Decade

by Alex Gallo-Brown

1. There Will Be Blood (2007): A bona fide masterpiece from P.T. Anderson. Loosely based on a novel by Upton Sinclair, the film works both as a conventional narrative about a turn-of-the-century oil man (Daniel Day-Lewis) as well as an allegory for the American alliance between free-market capitalism and evangelical Christianity. In the end, capitalism beats Christianity to death with a bloody bowling pin.

2. The Wrestler (2008): Director Darren Aronofsky has always displayed a penchant for grotesque, arguably gratuitous imagery (think Jared Leto's amputated arm in Requiem for a Dream) and The Wrestler is no different. But Mickey Rourke gives the kind of performance that makes you forget you are watching a movie, and the film's denouement--defiant and true--should rouse even the most withered of hearts.

3. Old Joy (2006): The Pacific Northwest captured in 76 gorgeous minutes. Based on a short story by Portland-based author Jon Raymond and directed by Kelly Reichardt (the same team behind Wendy and Lucy), the film offers only the faintest trace of plot: two friends on diverging life paths depart on a camping trip together. The movie is distinguished by the fine, subtle performances of its lead actors, Daniel London and Will Oldham; by its pitch-perfect cinematography, which captures the Pacific Northwest in all of its verdant glory; and by its soundtrack, the wistful melodies of Yo La Tengo. A minor American masterpiece.

4. Goodbye Solo (2008): Ramin Bahrani's third feature (Man Push Cart and Chop Shop were the first two) is set in his hometown, the mythical Southern city of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. (It is the birthplace of Camel cigarettes, among other things.) The film follows Solo, a charismatic Senegalese cab driver who pines to become a flight attendant, and William, his fare, an aging southern man who wants nothing more than to leave this earth. The effect is one of great poignancy, sadness, and beauty.

5. Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001): The movie that launched the careers of director Alfonso Cuaron (City of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkban) and actors Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, it is still the best thing any of the three have done to date. At once sensual and political, joyful and sober, contradictory and consistent.

6. Two Lovers (2008): All the films James Gray has made this decade (We Own the Night and The Yards are the other two) have contained the same sorrowful, almost elegiac tone but Two Lovers is the first, in my opinion, that succeeds as film. Part of that has to do with the acting: Joaquin Pheonix is plainly stunning in his portrayal of Leonard, a troubled, bipolar man who becomes involved with two women at the same time. The first, Sandra (Vanissa Shaw), works for Pfizer (the same company that makes Leonard's prescription medication). The second, Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), is a party girl in love with a married man. Forced to choose between them, Leonard ultimately makes a decision that filmmaker Gray suggests isn't really a choice at all.

7. L'Enfant (2005): Capitalism shown at its most pure and therefore its most debauched. Set in modern day Brussels, Bruno is a young street hustler who survives by buying and selling stolen goods. When Bruno's girlfriend, Sonia, gives birth to a child, he decides to sell that too. But where most movies would climax in such a moment, the real drama for the Dardenne brothers (Rosetta, Lorna's Silence) occurs after, when Bruno has to come to terms with what he has done.

8. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (2008): Communism shown at its most corrupt and therefore its most stifling. Set in Romania in the Soviet Bloc eighties, the films follows two college roommates, Gabita and Otilia, over the course of one day as they attempt to accomplish an illegal abortion. Director Cristian Mungiu's style is relentlessly realistic, and the result is harrowing, horrific, and unforgettable.

9. The Royal Tenebaums (2001): The best and most complete of the Wes Anderson creations (and yes, they are less films than creations, with all the comprehensiveness that word implies). Angst-ridden, hilarious, and visually delicious.

10. Mullholland Dr. (2001): A series of moving images which have stuck with me these long nine years. To try to explain it would be nearly impossible--and would probably be beside the point.

Honorable Mentions: Adaptation, Brokeback Mountain, Eastern Promises, The Edge of Heaven, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Grizzly Man, Half Nelson, The Hurt Locker, I'm Not There, Match Point, The Messenger, Mysterious Skin, The Proposition, A Serious Man, Sin Nombre, The Squid and the Whale, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Sugar, Tyson, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Wendy and Lucy, You Can Count on Me

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Best Movies of the Decade

Over at Slate, they have compiled the Best of the Decade lists from several sources (The New Yorker, Time Out New York, The A.V. Club, and the London Times, to name a few).

The top three, so far?

Eternal Sunshine of Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry), There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson), and 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (Christian Mungiu).

All three, by the way, are excellent.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Health Care!

So it looks like healthcare is going to pass, and I for one think this is a good thing. No, there's no public option or early Medicare buy-in. But it will now be illegal for insurance companies to discriminate on the basis of preexisting conditions, or to cap how much they will spend on an individual over the course of his or her lifetime (55 percent of people with employer-based coverage currently suffer from these latter restrictions, writes Timothy Noah). Perhaps most intriguingly, it allocates $10 billion for community health centers, a victory for Bernie Sanders, the heroic Independent senator out of Vermont, who claims that these centers will provide primary care for an estimated 25 million Americans. There is also a complicated voucher program, the brainchild of Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, for people who live below the federal poverty line, and subsidies for moderate-income people.

In short, it ain't perfect, but it's long overdue. And it looks like it's going to pass.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Son Jack

Sorry to say, I am barely a sports fan anymore (although my enthusiasm has waned for very different [and hopefully more substantial and/or interesting] reasons than
this guy over at Slate). And yet the news that the Seattle Mariners, that beleaguered franchise still reeling from the reign of Bavasi (commonly known by residents of the Emerald City as The Years of Pestilence and Misery), have acquired Cliff Lee, arguably the best left-handed pitcher in all of baseball, to accompany Felix Hernandez, who might be the best pitcher in all of baseball, at the top of their rotation, set my heart involuntarily aflutter. 

This guy over at USS Mariner suggests you name your first-born son Jack, in honor of M's general manager, Jack Zduriencik. I'm not sure I disagree.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Review: The Tyranny of E-mail

The Brooklyn Rail has posted (and published, ostensibly, although I haven't yet seen a print copy) my review of John Freeman's book, The Tyranny of E-mail. You can find it here.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Barbaric Heart

If you only buy one book this holiday season, make it Curtis White's
The Barbaric Heart. Not an overly optimistic screed by any stretch of the imagination, it is, nonetheless, an edifying, inspiring, and ultimately hopeful analysis of the crumbling American empire.

White, an avowed conservationist, takes on the modern environmental movement in this book, claiming that it "uses [the] rhetoric and logic of the very entities [it] suspects of causing problems in the first place" in its crusade to "save the environment." Those entities, argues White, may indeed include corporate polluters, overzealous loggers, and money-snatching politicians. But the real problem is not these individual villains--and there are many; Dick Cheney, Joseph Coors, and James G. Watt come immediately to mind--but with the prevailing ethos of our society, a spirit White calls "the Barbaric Heart." Permeating nearly every aspect of American culture--sports, politics, entertainment, media--the Barbaric Heart pursues profit by any means necessary, using advertising and PR on the one hand and brutal violence on the other. This warrior spirit has pervaded even the environmental movement, using the cold logic of science to try and corral the Barbaric Heart, to convince it to "act better." This, White makes clear, is a fundamentally losing proposition. "Science can tell you that global warming puts the polar bear at risk," White explains. "But it can't tell you why you should care."

According to White, the alternative to an environmental revolution, of the kind argued for by barbarians-in-disguise like Al Gore and Thomas Friedman, is an
aesthetic revolution: a revolution against the values of science--which, after nearly two hundred years as the reigning intellectual system, has left us dominated by corporations and technocrats and bereft of communal or spiritual instincts--toward the values of art, philosophy, and spirituality.

"In some ways, the most fitting description of the liberal economist is the economist as lyricist," White writes. "The liberal economist answers the question 'what's the economy for?' not with 'profit' but with 'aesthetics.' The true liberal economist is less interested in spreading purchasing power (as with recent consumer-based economic stimulus programs) than in creating a vibrant public sphere through public works programs. In a world where high quality public education, attractive parks, affordable housing, clean and efficient public transit, free libraries, accessible wilderness areas, and rich cultural opportunities are all available through programs beginning with the state and paid for through progressive taxation, even the poor can live rich, dignified, and healthy lives...According to this point of view, the economy should function to make the human world beautiful, pleasurable, and harmonious with the natural world."

The environmental movement itself, according to White, is something of a mistake. If we are to make real progress, "environmentalism" should exist only as one component of a broader, more comprehensive revolution, addressing the ways human beings treat themselves in addition to the way they treat their world.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Collage: Self-Portrait

by Noah Gallo-Brown

The Profligacy of Food Stamps

When one in eight people need government assistance to simply put food on their tables, you know something is rotten at the core of this economic system.