THE WEEK FROM MY VIEW

by James Killough

No matter the howling and the hatred from the right, no matter the moans of disappointment from the left, one has to admit that the Obama administration has always been pretty slick.  There are no online blooper video compilations of the president’s gaffes and malapropisms, much less entire books of them published, which seemed to sprout weekly under Bush.  So it was something of a shock that there was such a seemingly colossal stumble by the administration when Joe Biden declared the Taliban our friends.

Theron dazzles in "Young Adult," maybe because the character isn't much of a stretch?

The media, academics and a few other so-called political analysts are all aflutter over Biden’s statement, but when the White House says that it was “taken out of context” and goes so far as to back the VP on this, you can be sure we are all being eased into the reality that we are going to be doing business with the Taliban.  Indeed, it’s been common knowledge for some time that we, the Pakistanis and the Afghan government have been in talks with them, because without some kind of accord, we have no exit strategy from that morass.

Don’t get me wrong: long before 9/11 I was so outraged by the Taliban I could barely finish those few articles I could find about their atrocities buried deep in the back pages of the New York Times.  But the reality is the Afghan reality isn’t ours, which doesn’t mean we won’t find common ground one day, that they won’t eventually emerge from the eternal Middle Ages they have been struck in for centuries.  But it has to be their initiative, not ours.

I'm not inclined to call faceless armed fanatics "friends," but that might be a New Yorker thing.

We know what needs to be done, and it’s not more fighting.  It’s going to be the pen, not the sword that will win any sort of success in Afghanistan.  But reorienting an entire culture through education is going to take at least a generation to accomplish.  The Taliban are likely to behave now; it’s exhausting for them to fight relentlessly, too.  Just as the IRA laid down their arms and entered the political process in Northern Ireland, so will the Taliban.  It’s just something with which we’re going to have to live.

So, as much as I am sick of tooting horns at the Republican circus and throwing balls to dunk their clowns, as much as I would have welcomed a Democrat fuck-up just for a change of tone in this blog, regrettably Biden’s statement appears to be yet another polished gear change by Team Obama.  Given the perilous times we live in, I would rather have an administration that is doing the right things, no matter how distasteful on the surface, than the kind of leadership that led us onto our own fanatic path of wrongdoing and warmongering this past decade.

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I would almost be embarrassed for the North Koreans for having such clownish leadership if I hadn’t just reminded myself of George Bush and the current Republican ‘candidates,’ whom I can at best refer to as ‘presidential hopefuls’ at this point, even though ‘delusional wishful thinkers’ would be more accurate.

Smoke a joint and watch this.

There’s not much left to say about Kim Jung-Il that hasn’t already gone viral.  We’re talking about a character so comical he had a recurring role on 30 Rock.  The best spoof ever was the “I’m So Ronrey” song from Team America, which sprouted almost as many Facebook reposts as the Fed Ex man chucking a computer monitor over someone’s fence.

Republican Clown-in-Chief Rick Perry’s bumble in an email statement earlier this week giving his position on the demise of the despicable dictator “Kim Jong the Second” was yet another indication of how we Americans really shouldn’t throw stones from our glass skyscrapers.  It’s  painful to remember that Perry is governor of one of the largest and most influential states in the Union.

I was feeling oh-so-foreign-policy-expert until I realized I didn’t know who the president of South Korea was.  His name is Lee Myung-Bak, and he seems to have rather good taste in ties.

I didn’t discuss Kim Jung-Il or Myung-Bak with my buddy John Wood the Plumber’s Korean friend Jae when we had lunch together on the roof of the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills on Tuesday.  I’d never been to the SLS before, but I’ve been to other Philippe Starck-designed establishments before, and the look has really grown thin.  Who woulda thunk it?  When he first burst on the scene with Café Costes in Paris and the Royalton Hotel in New York, we couldn’t get enough of Starck.  He was achingly hip.  Now he’s just so Target, and something of a douchebag: I watched a few episodes of his Design for Life reality show for the BBC a few years ago, and if he wasn’t being gratuitously abusive, he was grindingly inconsistent and just plain wrong a lot of the time.

Korean Jae at lunch. Kindly note how one dresses on December 20th in LA.

Jae used to be in a boy band in South Korea and now lives in Vancouver.  He was charming enough for me to not regret paying twenty dollars for a chicken Caesar’s salad, although it was delicious.  One of the things Jae likes about visiting LA is the Korean food, and he recommended Cho Sun Galbee at 3330 West Olympic Boulevard, which I shall visit just as soon as my bank account recovers from our lunch.

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Tyler Kimball and I were supposed to do a video review of Young Adult this week, but he’s being super glamorous and rushing to finish scenes for the feature he’s starring in before they break for Christmas.  Of course, I think Kimball is a total slacker for not finding the time after working twelve-hour days on set and then rehearsing for the next day to run to the Arclight to see the film and then tape a review with me, but that’s just my opinion.  Here is my portion:

Misery has company: Oswalt and Theron.

If you can’t get a ticket to Dragon Tattoo this weekend, go see Young Adult.  It isn’t the most satisfying film in terms of plot, but it is in terms of characters and dialogue.  Diablo Cody has grown a great deal as a screenwriter since Juno, which also featured some keen character observations, but was also rather too smugly baby hipster toke-on-my-irony-pipe.  In YA, Charlize Theron plays a depressed former prom queen who returns home to try to win back her childhood sweetheart, who is now happily married and a new dad, played by balding hunny Patrick Wilson.

Jason Reitman is emerging as one of the few directors in Hollywood who can pretty much do what he wants and work within the studio system, damn him.  In terms of plot I found Up In The Air to be the stronger of his recent outings, but I have a hard time connecting with George Clooney when he’s trying to wring pathos from me, just as I did with The Descendants.  Theron, on the other hand, delivers her finest performance since her Academy Award-winning turn in MonsterIf she isn’t at least nominated for YA this year, there is no justice.  But wait, there really is no justice.  Never mind.

Despite the trailer, YA isn’t a broad comedy at all.  It’s a dramedy that deftly hops between drama and comedy, and serves both genres well.  Patton Oswalt is also superlative as the straight guy who was gay bashed in high school for being fat and a “theater fag,” which is the sort of brilliant quirky twist that is becoming something of a Cody hallmark.  I commend Ms. Cody for this obliquely powerful statement about homophobia in the flyover states.

I would give YA a “wow” rating on our scale had the production and story not been so simplistic for a feature film.  So it gets a “nice,” and that seems to be a very Minnesota thing to say.

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Dame Bea sent me an email to remind me that Anson Mount’s show Hell on Wheels has been renewed by AMC.  Heartiest congrats, my friend.  The next few rounds are definitely on you.

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As an explanation for the title of this post—yes, it’s a reference to a song from The Mikado as well—I had something of an interfaith showdown yesterday with three adorable ten-year-old Jewish kids outside Trader Joes on Santa Monica, two girls and a boy.  They were holding boxes of candles, and as I came out of the store the boy stepped forward and asked, “Excuse me, sir, are you Jewish?”

“Do I look Jewish in this silly Santa hat?”

He ignored me.  “We’re giving away free Hanukkah candles.”

One of the little girls piped in, “Was your mother Jewish?”

In the future, we will celebrate the birth of Richard Dawkins by decorating a double helix and eating a roast Christian.

“No, but I believe Great-Grandma Maude might have been.”  I resisted adding that Maude might also have been the owner of a brothel in Melbourne, Australia that was raided in 1919, according to police reports I unearthed online.  “Anyway, no, I’m not Jewish, but happy Hanukkah all the same.”

“Happy Hanukkah,” they chimed.

“Can you say merry Christmas to me?”  Their lips all pursed in unison as if their no-doubt fundamentalist rabbi had run in and zipped them shut.  No way.

“You really should learn to return the courtesy,” I said as I hopped on my bike.

I thought to myself, They’re whispering, “Fucking goyim!” to each other right now.  But not all children are like me.  Just some.

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The aforementioned Santa hat I’ve been wearing all week around town—together with Persol sunglasses and a goblin-green hoodie—has been garnering the sort of amused-but-patronizing expressions normal people don when they see crazy folk in the street.  The fact that I have been bellowing the Christmas song “Let It Snow” at the top of my lungs as I sail down Sunset on my bike at a suicidal speed only adds to the image.  I’m left with no alternative but to declare myself Schizo of the Week, and pat myself on the back for being an equal-opportunity offender.

Happy holidays, everyone.  We will return on Monday with Eric Baker’s column.  Peace.

(Photo: Gil Alan)