The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, July 13, 2009

"Public Enemies" (2009)

Well, sorry for not writing much for the last couple of weeks, but they've been killer. Two weeks ago I drove up to San Francisco to teach a VONA three-day advanced writing workshop at San Francisco University. Great students, tremendous staff, seriously positive growth environment. First time T and I have team-taught a workshop, and enjoyed the hell out of it. But while I was there, I heard that my aunt had died. Sigh.

So, almost as soon as I got back, I had to drive out to Phoenix with my sister for the funeral. And as soon as I arrived (last Tuesday night) I had an email asking me if I could take a meeting to pitch on a television show on Friday. Which meant I had to turn around and drive back Wednesday night after the funeral so that I'd have a full day to look at the material, study the show, and devise at least five pitches. I generated thirty ideas, (easy if you give yourself permission for some of them to be stupid), read them to Tananarive, then an hour later asked her which ones she remembered. She remembered four, so those became the core of my work. Selected another four, tidied them up, and then drove out to Burbank to pitch, which was a 3 1/2 hour meeting that went quite well. More on that later. But Saturday and Sunday the cumulative fatigue hit me, and I was just toast. Recovering now.


Reading about the new president of the Young Republicans and the racist comments on her blog, her excuse that she was giving a "LOL" to a previous comment while banning the people who protested...all I can do is sigh. I'm sure that there will be those who defend this, say it's all a misunderstanding. What is disturbing is the number of these "accidents", and the fact that they all seem to be coming from one end of the spectrum politically. Perhaps they are accidents. But I can't help but think there is a component of unconscious (and not so unconscious) discomfort with the race of our new President. I've been saying that if Republicans don't stand up and scream at this stuff, banish it from their party, they will be rightly labeled as a party that harbors racists under their "Big Tent." And they will marginalize themselves. This is so sad.


I also heard about the black kids being banned from the white swimming pool with "complexion" comments as well as racial slurs. I knew that Obama's election would turn over a lot of flat rocks, and it's fascinating to see what's crawling out. And the good news is that this country is probably, almost certainly, less racist than it has ever, ever been. We have just reached the point where a lot of this stuff can even be honestly discussed. Fasten your seat belts--it's gonna get worse.


Public Enemies (2009)

Michael Mann's new gangster film is just terrific. The sound design alone is stupendously good, the cinematography is stunning, and Johnny Depp's portrayal of John Dillinger is worth the price of admission.. On the other hand, Christian Bale is starting to feel a little one-note: pure intensity without much shading. And I hadn't really noticed that until last night. Don't get me wrong--he is fine as FBI agent Melvin Purvis (who remains something of a cipher) but the performance isn't much different from his Bruce Wayne, really. Or his John Conner. Oh, well. The movie pulls off the hat trick of really humanizing a killer (you never actually see him kill anyone, but over the course of his career he was responsible for the deaths of several police officers, at the least). It is an Oscar-nomination worthy performance, really. The film is the first major Oscar contender I've seen so far this year (unless my memory is failing me, which is possible.) Loved it.


Well, not really. There are virtually no black people in the film (a couple of shoeshine boys and porters, a couple of small criminal parts). What was remarkable is the degree to which this is a WWPRTE movie. (Oh...that's When White People Ruled The Earth). I mean, shot after shot of roomsful of FBI, senators, police, movie audiences--all white. Street scenes, banks, newsreels, whatever...nothing but white people. It is hard to remember that that world was so recent, and was changed at such cost, with resistance every step along the way. Wow. Sobering. And made me very very happy to have been born when I was. There are people who think that these were The Good Old Days, that "we" were a freer country back then. What a joke. But at who's expense?

An "A"


The Proposal (2009)

The latest Sandra Bullock comedy is her first real hit in years, and I really wanted to see it. Yeah, it's kinda a chick flick, but I have a weakness for these predictable romantic piffles. So she plays a fire-breathing editor at a New York publishing house who is about to be deported back to Canada. She fakes an engagement to her assistant Ryan Reynolds, and of course, hilarity ensues. Think they fall in love? Anyone..?


Well, I found it very interesting that when she follows Reynolds to a family event in Alaska, she discovers that his family is rich. This, of course, makes it "all right" for her to fall for her social/economic subordinate. Considering that it was directed by a woman and produced by Bullock herself (although written by a man--and anyone who has flirted with the Hollywood screenplay development hell process knows that that could mean anything) we have to assume that this idea appealed to all concerned. And is right in alignment with everything we've been talking about in terms of male-female power dynamics. Want to marry a beautiful woman who makes more money than you? Good luck! I actually thought it was charming and fun, and Bullock is very good playing the buttoned-down character who is a creampuff underneath.

I'd give it a "B"


Pagan Topologist said...

Referring to the beginning of this post, there is a reason some people need private airplanes or helicopters. Think of the time you could have saved!

BTW, are you going to WorldCon this year, Steve?

Anonymous said...

Overall, I enjoy Michael Mann's works, especially Heat, but have been less than impressed with his treatment of People of Color. Heat, for instance, treated minorities as predictable disposables, with the Heist Crew's Black and Mexican members being marginal players compared to the Whites and biting the dust first. Then there was the side-story about the Crew's defector, who entertained himself by killing Black prostitutes.


Dan Moran said...

I am going to manfully restrain from commenting on the Bullock review. :-)

There are people who think that these were The Good Old Days, that "we" were a freer country back then. What a joke. But at who's expense?

I've been guilty of that sometimes, and while I'm aware of it afterwards (sometimes) it obviously doesn't hit me the way it hits you. I'm particularly fond of Westerns (not that they make them any more) ... but every now and again I catch sight of what Lonesome Dove or Rustler's Rhapsody must look like through eyes other than mine, and suddenly they're not the same movies any more.

Unforgiven I actually thought did a fair job of humanizing Morgan Freeman's character, but you and I went around on that one a while back, and I do understand your point of view on that one.

Brian Dunbar said...

nothing but white people.

Many towns in Wisconsin - where a lot of the film is set - right up until the late 60s - has sundown laws.

Which sure never comes up when people up here talk about the past, and how backward things are in the south.

Mike Ralls said...

Hey Steve,

Again sorry for your loss.

You asked for hard statistics on health care a while ago, and I ran across this list of cancer survival rates for various countries;

The difference between the US and England is quite large, and not in England's favor.

Marty S said...

The incident at the camp is very unsettling and sad. The comment the following day by the camp spokesperson that the Black kids would change the camp's "complexion" definitely deserves the Joe Biden award for hoof-in-mouth disease.
The criticism of remarks on the facebook page of the young Republican's new president is in my mind a little more questionable. If you looked at my facebook page about 60% of the entries are by an individual I only know tangentially. He is my son's poker buddy and IT support. I know him only because I originally setup the IT system and am still backup when this guy is out of town. Nothing he says reflects any opinion of mine. So the existence of someone who is racist on your facebook page is not prima facie evidence of your racism. Secondly, a lot of the criticism of Obama apparently occurs on this site are one's also made by many Republicans of Obama's policies. They are criticisms that would have been made of Clinton or any other Democratic president who pursued the same policies and have nothing to do with Obama's race. The fact that they are made mostly by Republicans reflects the fact that they are Republicans and so tend to be opposed to Democrats policies. If they weren't they wouldn't be Republicans. Again its the policies not the race of the president.

Dan Moran said...


So the existence of someone who is racist on your facebook page is not prima facie evidence of your racism

Look here

That's an actual image capture of her facebook page. Can you really look at that, at "You tell 'em Eric," and not see a racist? I can't.



nice link. I'm still in favor of insuring the uninsured in this country, and I doubt anything will change that -- but that is a striking data point, isn't it?

Christian H. said...

The funny thing about that racist remark is that you can tell what people want something just because they're white. NOT because they worked harder but because they did something and they're white.

It's a shame. And yes I do feel that a lot of it is because Obama did his work in the light of day. and just out did everyone.

Every major occasion of destructive hate from "these people" happens when one or a group of us excels.

That's why I'm so outspoken. I WANT you to come after me. I'd rather go out with my boots on.

Unfortunately most "brothers" are sorry little bitches acting fresh off a dick.
They treat women exactly the way white boys do while hollaring they're keepin it real.

I really hate that Sharpton et al have a lot to say when they can whine like bitches but nothing to say when it's time for the "men" in our communities to stand up and actually do something to make a change.

As far as Public Enemies, Bruno made more which is scarier than going back to Jim Crow.

Christian H. said...

And please remember I don't preface my comments so if you think you're who I'm talking about. Oh well. Look at the man in the mirror.

Marty S said...

Dan: I look at that page and see a clear racist. That racist is Eric. But Eric's racist rant was also a rant against the perceived socialist/communist policies of the current regime in Washington. This same theme was expressed in non racist terms by others on the page. Some of these others even criticized Eric for his racist tone. It is unclear to me that "You tell'em Eric" wasn't an endorsement of his rant against the socialist policies with out endorsing the racism. Vilifying a person you don't know as racist for one example of her not chastising another person for being racist is certainly being uncharitable. This is a person somewhat in the public eye. She was running for the position of president of the young Republican's. If those who have used this one sentence to get her as racist cannot point to a single other racist comment she herself has made and I'm sure they have looked then I hardly consider this sufficient evidence to convict her as racist. Character assassination and labeling someone as racist based upon one perhaps not well though out sentence is wrong whether its a new Young Republican president or a new supreme court justice.

Christian H. said...

Wow. I just came from an hour of reading the Daily Beast which I believe is run by McCain's kin.

Wow, there are some really "frustrated by their own ignorance" people in this country.

Hate Mongers?

Dan Moran said...


Vilifying a person you don't know as racist for one example of her not chastising another person for being racist is certainly being uncharitable.

Yep. All I know about this woman, 100% of what I know, is this:

Eric posts: "its the government making us commies ... can't even smoke in my damn car....whats next they gonna issue toilet paper once a month.....tell us how to wipe our asses...and when..."

Two minutes later, dude continues: "obama bin lauden is the new terrorist....muslim is on there side.....need to take this country back from all these mad coons......and illegals"

Six minutes later, Audrey Sigler Shay writes, "You tell 'em Eric! lol"

She sure didn't go out of her way to take offense to "coons."

I take it back; that's not 100% of what I know about her. I also know she got elected head of the Young Republicans after making this post. Now we're at 100%.

Shady_Grady said...

Audra Shay defriended the people complaining about the racist comments, not the person who made them.

In the daily beast link posted there are other examples of her joking comments about Obama hating his country, Obama only wanting to help Black people, or wondering if it would be okay to show Obama or homosexuals hung in effigy.
If she writes stuff like that in public one can guess what she says in private.

So, if somehow she's not a racist she does an excellent job playing one on TV.

The Republicans seem intent on political hara-kiri insofar as trying to reach out past their base.

Marty S said...

From my point of view the issue is not whether Shay is racist or not which to me is not clear just from the one response to the obviously racist Eric, but the attack mode that currently exists in this country. For example if you go to Yahoo this morning one of the their headline links is "Outgoing Gov. Palin faces 18th ethics complaint." This kind of headline will trigger in many people the automatic response of where there's smoke there is fire. Certainly there were more neutral headlines that could have been composed and a pro Palin headline would have been something like "Yet another frivolous ethics complaint filed against Gov. Palin". The article itself shows the bias of the reporter. The facts that this is the fifth complaint by the same person and that this person was turned down for a job by Palin are included in the article in the 19th paragraph. Far enough down where most readers will never get to read them.

The two sides will use any thing they can justified or not to attack the other side. It has become almost impossible to have a reasoned discourse on the issues in this country.