Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Bellying up to the bar of "The Master"

I slipped comfortably into a full crowd of movie geeks at Cinerama on Sunday night to see "The Master" - Paul Thomas Anderson's latest extended visit to the brain salad bar. While I normally don't venture into movie reviewing here, the overall movie has been lingering in my imagination for the past few days. Especially the imagery in a particular early scene.

To begin by clearing the main rhetorical bar, "The Master" is a daunting and inspired film. This is film making for grown-ups, and there's no easy summary. Or maybe there are too many. I'll nonetheless take a swing at it by saying that it's a movie about the terrible things people do to themselves. Joaquin Phoenix underwent a stomach turning physical transformation as the alcoholic representing one half of the heart of the story. He's a barely tethered wreck - thin as a greyhound and just as high-strung. On the other side of the whole stands an imposing Phillip Seymour Hoffman. He looks like any physical training he's done over the last few years has been limited to repeat visits to the bar - no matter what's being served there. He puts on an acting masterclass as a dynamic charlatan while never dropping the imposing sense that the wheels might come off at any unwanted turn of phrase. They are both very naughty boys, sharing only a temper barely tucked into their perfectly chosen period props. The entire cast and look feels more authentically pulled from 1950s America than anything this side of a Douglas Sirk movie. The storytelling is full of countless challenges, both great and small. If you do see it, go out afterward and talk talk talk about it. I think few filmmakers are better at launching conversation(s) than this Anderson. I think I loved "The Master"...although it will surely be the biggest "love it or hate it" movie of the year. Check back with me for a rating in a week or two. For now, it feels like totally A-grade material.

For my purposes, however, the scene of greatest impact came very early on - after Phoenix's character (Freddie Quell) comes home scrambled and drunk after World War II. He takes a job as a photographer in a department store. This introduction to life State-side begins with the image of a model wearing a full-length mink coat. She approaches customers opening the coat to show the green and blue lining that matches the fabric of her dress. She repeatedly quotes the price with a forgettable  tagline showing that she's just a walking, talking, sexed-up billboard. Soon thereafter we see her drinking Freddie's dangerous homemade hooch with him in his creepy work room - no more fur coat, still wearing the dress, after which the layers get peeled back further in the first of the many of the movie's brazen nude scenes. Some might see all this as just era-specific costuming. Not me, given all the time I spend looking for this specific imagery and the way it continues to be used to evoke post-War America through the following decades. I can (and will) take it a great deal farther in what I'm writing. Still, seeing a talent like Anderson use iconic images on the leading edge of the 1950s is heady stuff. Maybe someday I'll get the chance to ask him - or his production designers or costumers or prop masters or whoever one should go to in pursuing such minutiae - just what he meant to show by having this woman be the first who Freddie gets his hands on.

That's only a small piece of what I took away from this film. Any comments on what worked or didn't work for y'all when you see it would be appreciated. It truly amounts to a trip to the movie-going salad bar - lots to choose from, much of it good for you, some tastes just don't go together for some people. I really do suggest that you load up on what's served by "The Master". But, then again, I'm a sucker for a good salad bar.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

For fans of IRS Code "Subpart F" or "Form 5471" - get your lighters out.

This might sound like even more of a subjective stretch than usual. In terms of this being a scratch pad for thoughts and interests that spring up while doing book research, this one is maybe equal parts past and present. Whatever the tab, I ducked back down an unlit alley this morning. So goes the world when no editors are involved. Or metaphorical electronic dog collars to get me back within the proper mental fencing.

Back on the barely Google-able, leading edge of this century, I was doing some freelancing and had an assignment from a fresh web-based money/business newsy site. "Green Magazine" was pretty cool in its day. Now that URL is used by John Deere enthusiasts...where a certain cut of folk can find some serious ag and machinery loving kinks. Nonetheless, way back yonder I tried to work an angle on explaining "offshore bank accounts" as a tax shield. I soon realized I'd swung way too broadly and the idea never came together. I do remember one especially greasy interview with a financial planner - the sort where you want to take a brain shower afterwards - who loosely framed how people from all walks of life could set up a foreign company or open offshore accounts with little more than the will to do so. The devil - as the cliche` goes and he often is - was in the details.

Over the years I've often come back around to that subject. Not actually doing anything to better understand the idea of parking money offshore or setting up the means to launder it. Just thinking when the subject came up that an operational story would be a good idea. Was it hard to head down this road? Could truly anyone venture offshore with their money? Thankfully, there are some pros who are pursuing parts of that broad story right now. "Planet Money" (National Public Radio's economics and business podcast) just posted the latest installment in their series on setting up "shell companies" - they chose Belize and Delaware (yes, that Delaware). The "Planet Money" folks are describing how people might move money places in hopes of avoiding taxation. Not really a "how to" even though that's certainly part of it. I think it's more of a "what if you did" story. And a darn good one, at that. The style is incontrovertibly NPR-ish - quirky, willing to slow walk a story that might tucker out before it's run the whole course, genius as a concept and really well-executed, self-deprecating while being eviscerating. I really recommend that you check it out.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Future plans for NYC, farm funding, and redheads.

Although I'd planned to stick a fork in my research-y travel plans when I'd reached the end of August (and the end of the "Year On the Road" that began for me last September), I'm still very much looking forward to a pre-planned week back out there in America in early October. That's when I'm heading back to NYC for a inspiring mix of pursuits. Included in all that was a desire to catch a few events on the last day of this year's "New Yorker Festival". This morning was the opening of trigger-pullin' time - tickets went up for sale promptly at 9am PST. I had my daughter watch my web browser refreshing as I threw together our last few things before hopping her bike and pedaling toward Seattle's crazy late schoolday start. My results? Straight up 50-50. I got the Salman Rushdie conversation with David Remnick I'd put at the top of my wish list. Rushdie's memoir Joseph Anton will rightly be on top of coveted nightstands all around the world in little more than a month. However, I didn't get the walking and eating tour that Calvin Trillin does, taking a small group looking to nosh from Greenwich Village to Chinatown. That sold out in literally one minute. If I'd reversed the order of this short list...who knows. But seriously one minute? Just goes to show that few writers still earn the love quite like Mr. Trillin.

On a totally different page, the required reboot of the Farm Bill increasingly looks to be put out to pasture by this Congress. Few pundits are yet projecting hard numbers, but I'd bet a gallon of Roundup that there are a handful of races that just might tip to the challenger if nothing gets done. The timing is just brutal for not just farmers - the current bill runs out at the end of September. That could mean a month of being home in Districts campaigning while farmers cut from all stripes unload a bit of drought-fueled frustration. I'll even predict a whole lot of YouTube-ready moments capturing that collective frustration. If you've paid no attention to this debate, no worries - not even the wonkiest seem at all engaged. But as someone who has developed a tangential interest in ag policy and who now pays more attention to how this Congress is dealing with actual requirements when it comes to legislation, I'm appalled. It's not the sausage making. It's the complete unwillingness to pick up that casing and get on with the stuffing.

Finally, I try to stay away from most of the links half-way or more down the homepage of the Huffington Post. No disrespect - they have become masters at goosing traffic from even the most tired foibles. But I got grabbed by one of their science writers today - Cara Santa Maria - playing up the "ginger fear" card. Not the "Fear the Ginger" card. Those are very different cards. Basically, she did a clever job of making fun of us redheads while supposedly reassuring us that we're not on the road to extinction. Almost makes me want to grow it all out again - show some solidarity with my not-really-threatened compatriots and all that jazz. Then again, pieces like this show how a derivative artist like M.I.A. probably gets her ideas. Hug a redhead today, won't you? We're not infectious - I promise. And, obviously, we need the love.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Fueling the Anti-Clinton Conspiracy Theorists? COUGH...whitewater payback...

No matter what you think about Bill Clinton, it was fascinating to see some of the old shtick resurface this week in the wake of his Democratic Convention Speech. Bubba's long-winded. Bubba's a wonk. Bubba's charming as all get out. I'm not looking to stir up anyone's favored beehive (or am I?). But I do have another Bubba trope to offer that's I could see being slid back onto the table. Not the adults' table. I'm talking about a folding table, banished to and ignored in another room few people venture into anymore. Still...remember Whitewater? Well, I was shocked SHOCKED to stumble back into that tangle of stories when a surprisingly colorful figure from that whole overwrought saga came across my radar this week. That figure is Parker Dozhier - an Arkansan and self-confessed Clinton foe. Actually I'm talking past tense - Dozhier passed away last week. I never spoke with the man, but I'd been meaning to contact him for months after being told to seek him out by a writer I met at BEA back in June. It was only when I was looking to say a little something to that writer (Steve Rinella, who has a new book out as of this week) that I searched for the proper spelling of this suggested source - Dozier, Dozer, Do'h-seer. From there, I end up here. Polluting the water. With my tongue firmly in cheek.

Just goes to show that some linkages get all up in your face - or simper off into the margins without ever getting their due attention - after the fact of realizing how completely awesome it would have been to have made that call. The moral of this surely confusing story? If you've got a call on your list that might get made today, although it can probably wait until at least, well...it is awfully nice outside and the weekend's almost here in earnest...I'm here to say that you shouldn't delay making that call. You never know who you might end up chatting with across the ol' Bait Shop counter. Know what I mean?