Saturday, April 11, 2009

Mocking "conservative" movies, part 2

This is the second installment in my intermittent series poking fun at National Review Online's list of the 25 best "conservative" movies. Mostly, I am mocking the notion that there is a single unified "conservative" ideology anymore at all. Now, then, on to #6-10 (WARNING: Spoilers abound!):

6. Groundhog Day. I actually haven't seen this one, either (that's two so far), but I've certainly heard a lot about it. It's "conservative" cred apparently comes from its moral "that redemption and meaning are derived not from indulging your 'authentic' instincts and drives, but from striving to live up to external and timeless ideals." All I can think to say is duh. If you do anything enough times (as Bill Murray's character is forced to repeat the same day again and again ad nauseam), you're bound to either (a) go insane or (b) discover some deeper meaning to it all. This is hardly a viewpoint upon which "conservatives" hold a monopoly.

7. The Pursuit of Happyness. Long story short, single dad sacrifices everything to provide for his young son, and becomes a fantabulously successful stockbroker in the process, all during the Reagan administration. Possibly Will Smith's best performance ever, and it certainly does demonstrate the ostensibly "conservative" virtues of self-reliance, family values, and accumulation of wealth. I have a few bones to pick with NRO's analysis of the film, though:
  • "[T]his film provides the perfect antidote to Wall Street and other Hollywood diatribes depicting the world of finance as filled with nothing but greed." Perhaps you missed the scene where Will Smith's character gets the idea to become a stockbroker from a man driving a Ferrari.
  • "They’re black, but there’s no racial undertone or subtext." Except for the one you just created. Seriously, you already said it was a Will Smith movie, so why was this sentence necessary?
  • "Gardner [Will Smith's character] is just an incredibly hard-working, ambitious, and smart man who wants to do better for himself and his son." Who takes an unpaid internship based on the dream of a Ferrari and the ability to solve a Rubik's Cube (see above YouTube link).

Those quibbles aside, this was a terrific movie. Certainly some liberties were taken with the facts, but the story ought to inspire anyone who sees it.
An amusing side note: after getting the job at Dean Witter, Gardner was then recruited to Bear Stearns.

8. Juno. Sigh. If this movie has any sort of anti-abortion message to it, it's really just one that viewers impose onto it. Juno's only stated reason for leaving the clinic is that it "smelled like a dentist's office." More importantly is the fact that Juno chose to leave the clinic after running a gauntlet of a single protester. The protester was more an object of satire in the film than anything about Juno's decision to seek an abortion. A common problem in the whole abortion debate is that people see it as only being two-sided: you oppose abortion rights, or you think it's all hunky-dory. I always thought "pro-choice" was a great choice of labels, because you can support the right to choose without actually liking the procedure itself. But back to the film: aside from the imposed "pro-life" meaning (and I hate that label for reasons I'll discuss some other time), the NRO reviewer doesn't have much nice to say about the movie: "The film has its faults, including a number of crass moments and a pregnant high-school student with an unrealistic level of self-confidence." Actually, I thought it pretty much depicted the teenage years as a series of crass moments. Juno is not a particularly realistic individual 16 year-old, but she is a pretty good cypher for a generalized teenage mindset: torn between all the various pressures and expectations of late childhood, and trying to maintain her own sense of self throughout it all, blah blah blah...point being, there is a lot more going on here than just a "pro-life" or "conservative" message. Finally, recall that the movie ends with the baby being adopted by a single mother. Yikes!

9. Blast from the Past. If you wanted evidence that "conservatives" have no sense of irony or satire, look no further. "Brendan Fraser plays an innocent who has grown up in a fallout shelter and doesn’t know the era of Sputnik and Perry Como is over. Alicia Silverstone is a post-feminist woman who learns from him that pre-feminist women had some things going for them." I haven't seen the film in a good long while, but I'm trying to imagine the two actors discussing the merits of Valium-addled '50s housewives versus Prozac-addled late-'90s career-driven mothers, etc., etc. It could be that I'm too cynical. Maybe I need a good dose of 1950's-era idealism! Well, it's sure a good thing I'm not a gay black communist woman--I hear the 1950's weren't so great for those groups. This is just the same tired old "conservative" cliche that there existed some mythical past when Everything Was Better, and modern society has somehow lost its way.

10. Ghostbusters. Really? Well, there was a very Reaganesque ethic to the movie, which I think is the sole basis for including it on this list: "[Y]ou have to like a movie in which the bad guy (William Atherton at his loathsome best) is a regulation-happy buffoon from the EPA, and the solution to a public menace comes from the private sector." Of course, the EPA buffoon as portrayed utterly failed to follow any of his own agency's procedures for information gathering, but that allowed Bill Murray to have a funny smackdown scene with him. The shutdown of the containment facility was a sterling depiction of Bush II-era disregard for the rule of law in the interest of national security (they had a warrant none of the Ghostbusters were allowed to see.) But seriously, my main concern with this movie's "conservative" creds arises from two facts: (1) a god not mentioned in the Bible tries to destroy the world, and (2) salvation is left to the New York National Guard and four snarky private contractors--four smart-asses defeating ultimate evil? That's what the movie is really about, and it's a little too timelessly awesome to just be "conservative."

Now for some video:

Question re: pirate standoff

OK, I understand the importance of safeguarding the captain held hostage aboard the pirates' lifeboat, as well as the 200-odd other hostages held by Somali pirates elsewhere. This isn't something where we (and by that I mean the U.S. military) should charge in guns blazing--those times are quite rare, if they exist at all. Keeping the hostages safe is the most important factor, although I think "never negotiating with terrorists" is strongly vying for the top spot among priorities. And yes, just because your motives are pecuniary and not ideological doesn't mean you are not a terrorist--just my $0.02.

Here's what I don't get, though: the U.S.S. Bainbridge, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, is "keeping its distance, in part to stay out of the pirates' range of fire."

I am no expert in naval strategy and tactics, nor do I have any proficiency in hostage negotiations (particularly where there are potentially multiple hostages in play in multiple locations). But really, unless they are carrying suitcase nukes, what could the pirates possibly have on board the lifeboat that could seriously threaten the Bainbridge? The only shots fired so far appear to have been fired by the pirates during an escape attempt by the hostage. Does the Bainbridge have any Marine snipers on board or anything? Maybe I've just seen too many movies, but when the most powerful Navy the world has ever known is held at bay by a lifeboat, something just seems a bit wrong.