Thursday, November 30, 2006

Remember, "freedom is the point"

During some file-shuffling, I stumbled today on this wonderful rant from Larry “Brick” Pillow, who used to write voluminously for the old Libertarian Connection many years back. I admire Brick’s “back to basics” approach to anarchism.

“I’m an anarchist — not a socialist, not a libertarian, not a syndicalist, not an anarcho-capitalist, not an anarcho-communist, not any of the above — just a plain old anarchist. Now, some of my friends call themselves one or more of the above, and so long as it’s couched in a detectable love of liberty, I don’t generally make a fuss about the particulars. But to my way of thinking, the anarcho-this and anarcho-that folks are the lunatic fringe OF the lunatic fringe. Some of them are nice people (and some of them aren’t), but in their fetish for economics they’ve missed the point of what anarchy IS. Anarchy is not an economic system. It’s simply the absence of government, and that’s enough for me. Without an authority system crammed down our throats, we’ll have whatever economic systems we freely choose. I want my freedom; and whether that means living in a co-op, a commune, a cartel or a condominium is of very little interest to me. It’s utterly beside the point — the freedom is the point.”

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Good, the Bad, and the Overrated

Good buddy B.W. Richardson shared a list this morning of his ten favorite movies. He’s got some interesting choices. But I always have a better, maybe easier time choosing films that fall at the other end of the spectrum. So I was delighted today to find Premiere magazine’s recent list of the 20 most overrated movies of all time. Seven on the list won Best Picture Oscars, another seven were nominated for that dubious honor. Here’s Premiere’s list, accompanied by my agreements, disagreements, and snarky comments:

American Beauty (1999) Agree. I thought this smug Oscar-winner was just a bad TV movie with big name stars.

Chicago (2002) Disagree. I adore Chicago, which makes it all the more amazing that it won the Oscar.

Clerks (1994) I've never seen it. Probably never will.

Fantasia (1940) Agree. I couldn't sit still through it as a kid, and I still can't.

Field of Dreams (1989) Agree. This Best Picture nominee inspired a friend of mine to bundle up his crap and move to Oregon. I still haven’t figured that one out.

Chariots of Fire (1981) Agree. This Oscar winner was dull, dull, dull. And I don’t care if I ever hear that damn score again.

Good Will Hunting (1997) Agree. This Oscar nominee left me cold. Is anyone else out there as sick and tired of Robin Williams as I am?

Forest Gump (1994) Agree. I saw it, forgot it. It won the Oscar. Is anyone else out there as sick and tired of Tom Hanks as I am?

Jules and Jim (1962) I've never seen it. I probably should, though.

A Beautiful Mind (2001) I never saw this Oscar-winner. And I hope to successfully avoid it for years to come.

Monster’s Ball (2001) Agree. I rented it to see Halle Berry’s Oscar-winning performance. I think I liked her better in Catwoman.

Moonstruck (1987) Agree. An Oscar nominee that I barely remember.

Mystic River (2003) Agree. I wanted to blow out my brains after I saw this Oscar nominee.

Nashville (1975) Disagree. It deserved its Oscar nomination. But my favorite Robert Altman film remains his revisionist take on Philip Marlowe, The Long Goodbye (1973).

The Wizard of Oz (1939) Disagree. Only a heartless bastard can hate this Oscar nominee.

An American in Paris (1951) Disagree. An Oscar-winner, and it’s pleasant enough.

Easy Rider (1969) Disagree. Hell, I was raised on Easy Rider.

The Red Shoes (1948) I’ve never seen this Oscar nominee. Maybe I should.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Disagree. To his dying day, my dad never forgave me for dragging his butt to this one. I was 13 and thought it was cool at the time. I haven’t seen it in years.

Gone With the Wind (1939) Disagree. Another Best Picture winner, it’s my wife’s all-time favorite movie. I’m kinda fond of it, too.

I think the best way to determine whether a movie is overrated is to check if it won an Oscar for Best Picture in the past three decades. To Premiere’s list, I’d add the horrible Ordinary People (1980), the bloated Gandhi (1982), the weepy Terms of Endearment (1983), the sleep-inducing Out of Africa (1985), the exhausting The Last Emperor (1987), and the almost unwatchable The English Patient (1996). Does anyone even rent these pictures nowadays?

Monday, November 27, 2006


I believe The Wheelman is Duane Swierczynski’s first novel. And it’s a doozy. It helped me through a sometimes challenging Thanksgiving. The book's got everything I look for in a crime novel: a cinematic style, crisp dialogue (interesting, in that the book’s lead character, getaway driver Patrick Lennon, is mute), and nice, short chapters, something I’m a very big fan of. Some chapters are only a page long, others four or five, and several consist of just a few lines. That makes reading The Wheelman like digging into a bag of cool ranch Doritos: you can always squeeze in one more chapter, or maybe five, before turning out the light.

You won’t want to stop reading Swierczynski. He’s a piledriver of a writer. The Wheelman — which I’d spoil for you if I told you any more than that it’s about a bank heist gone terribly wrong — hammers you with surprises every other page, and its twists are such that you’ll occasionally turn back a few pages to better appreciate how the author managed to fool you so cleverly.

Here’s a warning, though: The Wheelman is cartoony pulp violence cranked up to High. So if you don’t enjoy a bloody, rough-and-tumble noir novel, avoid this. But if you are a fan of heist stories filled with crooked ex-cops, Russian and Italian mobsters, backstabbing partners, and unfaithful girlfriends, you’ll love this book. I've already got Swierczynski's new book, The Blonde, waiting on my bedside table. I can't wait.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


I remember vividly that Saturday in May 1965. I was ten. Decelerating from a Friday-night sleepover at my house, two pals and I were making my dear mother nuts. So she shoved a few bucks into our pockets, threw us into the station wagon, then dumped us curbside in front of the La Reina theater on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, promising to come back for us after the matinee. The movie was Goldfinger. To her dying day, I don’t think Mom ever fully understood the impact that afternoon had on me. Fast cars. Faster women. It was all earth-shattering.

Three months later, United Artists re-released a doublebill of the first two James Bond movies, Dr. No and From Russia with Love. I caught up, and my infatuation for Bond grew. But by Christmas that same year, Thunderball was in theaters, and even at my tender age, I sensed that 007 had already begun playing second fiddle to the gadgets. And so it generally went for the next 41 years.

There have been a few attempts to bring Bond “back to basics”: 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (the first non-Connery 007 movie, with George Lazenby), 1981’s For Your Eyes Only (with Roger Moore), and 1989’s License to Kill (with the underappreciated Timothy Dalton). I admire all three of those films, and still think that had it starred Connery, Majesty’s would even now be widely considered the best of the original 20 in the series.

But now here’s Casino Royale, not only a “back to basics” 007 movie with a new Bond but a total reboot of the franchise (akin to last year’s Batman Begins relaunch of the Batman series). Does it work? You bet your sweet Aston Martin, it does. And for the first time since that afternoon way back in 1965, I can’t wait to see Bond’s next screen adventure.

Everything works in Casino Royale. Everything. Most important, Daniel Craig works as Bond. He comes closer to Ian Fleming’s original concept of the character than most of his predecessors. He’s ruthless, like Connery. He’s charismatic without being a pretty boy, like Connery. And he’s got a witty, offhand charm, like Connery. Hell, he’s the best thing to come down the pike since Connery. But he’s still his own Bond. He’s cocky, but he can still get, well, really shaken. He’s confident but never over-confidant. And he bleeds. Craig’s Bond really gets the shit kicked out of him in this new movie. And I was scared to death for him, more so than I’ve been since Connery fought Robert Shaw in that train compartment in From Russia with Love. Craig rocks, and I can’t wait to see more of him.

Casino Royale is also the most faithful adaptation from the original source material ever. The movie is necessarily and effectively fleshed out from the 1953 novel, which was really little more than a novella. But remarkably, the film lifts many lines directly from the book. The characters are all here; it was good to see Felix Leiter again after, oh, 17 years. And Le Chiffre’s memorable (and grueling) torture of 007 remains intact. The only slightly bothersome deviation from the novel is the change from the fascinatingly obscure baccarat to the more common poker. But now I’m just being fussy.

Casino Royale will, I think, be recognized years from now as a high-water mark, a real turning point in the 007 franchise. It is James Bond genuinely reborn. But what’s most startling to me is that Casino Royale isn’t just a great 007 film. It’s a great film...period.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Black Op Radio: Aaron Russo

Those experts in conspiracy and parapolitics at the Black Op Radio podcast have this month interviewed Aaron Russo about his documentary film America: Freedom to Fascism. Find their site at the link above and download the MP3 of Show #296. Don't miss this.

Book Review: IT'S SUPERMAN!

I have two hard and fast rules about fiction, both of which I’ve broken in the past year:

First, I don’t read novelizations based on movie scripts. Well, I read the Serenity novelization last winter. So sue me.

Second, I don’t read novels based on comic book heroes. Well, I just finished It’s Superman!, a novel by Tom De Haven. Whew.

The cover illustration on the It’s Superman! trade paperback caught my eye first; it’s an animation cel from the Max Fleischer Superman cartoon series of 65 years ago. Hmm, I thought, this looks intriguing. So I read the first two pages. Then I read three pages more. Then I took the damn thing to the counter, plunked down fourteen bucks, and took it home.

I don’t know anything more about Tom De Haven than the five-line “About the Author” bio on the last page of this book: he’s written eight novels and writes for Entertainment Weekly and the New York Times. What I do know is that It’s Superman! is a 417-page romp that I didn’t want to end. As I reached its last pages, I began yearning for a sequel.

De Haven’s Superman is the Siegel and Shuster Superman, stripped down to his bare bones. This interpretation owes a lot to Philip Wylie’s pulp sci-fi classic Gladiator, long credited as the Superman template. De Haven presents Supe’s origin story, and I know what you’re thinking — jeezus, another version of the origin? Well, yeah, but this is a dynamite one. It’s set during the Depression, and teenaged Clark is just getting a grip on his powers. He doesn’t really fly yet, but he can “leap over tall buildings in a single bound.” Bullets bounce off his head, but shit, they also leave really nasty (but quick-healing) red welts and bumps. He knows he’s from Somewhere Else, maybe another planet, but even his dad doesn’t seem sure. After his mom’s death in Smallville, Kansas, Clark doesn’t immediately fly off to Metropolis (here, appropriately identified as New York City) to find fame and fortune as a “mild-mannered reporter.” Nah. Instead, he first hits the road like Neal Cassady, scouring the nation to “find himself.” But by novel’s end, Clark has reached NYC, met Lois, nabbed a job at the Daily Planet, and even fought a robot, compliments of crooked Manhattan alderman Lex Luthor.

It’s Superman! is terrific. De Haven has tossed a dash of Steinbeck and a smidge of Hammett together with a touch of Wylie to create a Superman story that is a wonderful blend of Of Mice and Men, gangster noir, and retro sci-fi. It’s a revisionist masterpiece, full of surprises. This may not be your Superman, but it’s sure your granddaddy’s. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

"Remaking" a classic

I may disagree with his politics, but occasionally, Jason Apuzzo over at Libertas, the “forum for conservative thought on film,” gives me a grin. This morning, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, he announced that Hollywood is remaking Tod Browning’s 1932 cult classic Freaks. The title of the new film: Disabled Special Little Victims of American Indifference Towards National Healthcare.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

DVD Review: CODE 46

My friend Ed sent me an email a few days ago, warning me off Code 46. Ed said this 2003 British science fiction movie starring Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton is sleep-inducing garbage. His email arrived too late. I’d already seen Code 46 almost a year ago via Netflix, after which I promptly bought a copy for myself.

Granted, Code 46 isn’t for everyone. It’s a quiet film with a very leisurely pace. But I find it haunting, one of those movies that clings to the back of your mind. One reviewer on calls it a “world-class ‘ambient film.’” That’s an awfully good description. You watch Code 46 like you listen to a Brian Eno album. It’s all mood. And the feelings it builds in me are intoxicating.

A quick summary: Code 46 is set in a near-future where people are only allowed to travel when they have the proper “papelles,” permits issued by the State. Outside the cities, people without papelles live primitively in desert communities. In addition, due to advancements in genetics, sex is prohibited between people who share as little as 25% matching DNA. Robbins plays a government investigator sent to Shanghai to solve a case involving faked papelles. He meets Morton, who is a prime suspect in his investigation, falls in love, has an affair, and we learn, inevitably, that their DNA matches. Robbins and Morton are Code 46 criminals.

There are problems with the story. It has holes big enough to drive a Hummer through. But Robbins is appealing. And Morton, who I’ve seen only one other time to my knowledge (in Spielberg’s Minority Report), is strangely sensuous and compelling; you understand Robbins’ obsession with her. The music and the set design are top-notch.

So there you go. Code 46 is a vital piece of my sci-fi DVD collection. I’ve watched it three or four times in the past year. I love it. But I hesitate to recommend it without caution. Do with that whatever you will.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Moving beyond Election 2006

I just love the CounterPunch newsletter, both print and online versions. Edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, it's solidly Left in the very best sense of the word. For example, here's the headline announcing their annual fundraising appeal:

Come On, CounterPunchers
Yes, The GOP Has Fallen,
But Now We Must Fight the Democrats!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Anti-electorate wins landslide victory!

Here’s the real scoop about Tuesday’s elections, which is going unreported by media:


Non-voters swept all national, state, and local races, garnering a nationwide non-vote landslide of 59.6% among registered voters. In addition, about 30% of Americans eligible to vote remain unregistered, further increasing the anti-electorate landslide. Frank Chorodov’s “quiet revolution” of non-voting, which he declared 61 years ago, continues.

Monday, November 06, 2006

On Election Day, think on this...

What is the motive to the secret ballot? This, and only this: Like other confederates in crime, those who use it are not friends, but enemies; and they are afraid to be known, and to have their individual doings known, even to each other. ... And this is avowedly the only reason for the ballot: for a secret government; a government by secret bands of robbers and murderers. And we are insane enough to call this liberty! To be a member of this secret band of robbers and murderers is esteemed a privilege and an honor! Without this privilege, a man is considered a slave; but with it a free man! With it he is considered a free man, because he has the same power to secretly (by secret ballot) procure the robbery, enslavement, and murder of another man, as that other man to procure his robbery, enslavement, and murder. And this they call equal rights!

— Lysander Spooner, No Treason, 1867

The Campaign Trail

Reporter: “We contribute to the local newspaper. The Tally Ho, you know. This is red hot stuff, you know. Haven’t had a candidate of your caliber for ages.”

No. 6: “Congratulations.”

Reporter: “How are you going to handle your campaign?”

No. 6: “No comment.”

Reporter (scribbling): “Intends to fight for freedom at all costs. How about internal policy?”

No. 6: “No comment.”

Reporter (scribbling): “Will tighten up on Village security. How about your external policy?”

No. 6: “No comment.”

Reporter (scribbling): “Our exports will operate in every corner of the globe. How do you feel about life and death?”

No. 6: “Mind your own business.”

Reporter (scribbling): “No comment.”

[From the 1960s TV series The Prisoner, “Free for All”]

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A morning in paradise

Just 14 minutes from our house this morning, we had banana pancakes on the patio at the Seaside Café, then walked our dog Cheyenne down to the cliffs overlooking the ocean. The tide was pretty high, so there wasn’t much beach to walk on once we climbed down the stairs. But the sky was blue, the air temperature was about 74, kayakers were aplenty, and we could see the heads of seals popping out of the water all around us.

“Your dog scares me,” said a woman, interrupting my meditation on the surf. “Could you please watch her more closely?”

Cheyenne, our boxer-shepherd mix who weighs an adorable 85 pounds, was sitting quietly at my side, on leash, sniffing the salty breeze and minding her own business, about 25 feet from the woman.

“We’ll do our best,” we promised her. Even she couldn’t ruin this beautiful morning.

November on California’s central coast. Nothin’ could be finer.

Remember, remember...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

MLL handbill: Anti-Electorate Manifesto

Just in time for next Tuesday's elections, I've created this Movement of the Libertarian Left handbill featuring my "Anti-Electorate Manifesto." If you feel so inclined, download the PDF right here, then distribute it widely during the weekend.

Remember, voting only encourages the bastards!

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Hardy Awards 2006

Claire Wolfe today announced the winners of the 2006 Hardy Awards for best freedom-oriented films. I joined Claire and webmaster Oliver Del Signore again this year in choosing the Judges’ Awards; Claire’s readers (maybe you) also voted in each category, resulting in the People’s Choice Awards. Predictably and deservingly, V for Vendetta won both awards in the Best Film category. But there was plenty of disagreement and revelation in the other categories — Best Documentary, Best Foreign-Language Film, and Hall of Fame. Check the link above for Claire’s report on the full results.

This time around, we judges also bestowed some “oddball awards” for our favorite moments, characters, features, bugs, and quirks in recent movies. Among my favorites:

Hottest Freedom Fighter (Male Perspective): Milla Jovovich as Violet Song jat Shariff in Ultraviolet

Lead Character You’d Most Like to Beat with a 2x4: A tie: Bruno Ganz as Hitler in Downfall, Anthony Hopkins as Nixon in Nixon

Most Authentic Portrayal of a Cop: Benicio Del Toro as Jackie Boy in Sin City

Best Song Segue into Closing Credits — Ever: The Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” in V for Vendetta