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Sunday, December 16, 2018

*This post will stay pinned at the top for a while. Please scroll down for new material. Thanks --- digby

Tis the Season

by digby

Holiday soother: a De Brazza’s Monkey baby.

First, let me thank those of you who have donated to the annual holiday fundraiser so far. As always, I'm overwhelmed by your support and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I'm not all that good at self-promotion and I'm sure I often let my friends and colleagues down by failing to promote them adequately as well. But it occurs to me that I haven't been doing my part to promote a weekly podcast/radio show that I do with my friend Sam Seder. And I've been doing it for almost two years! I also appear somewhat regularly on his other podcast Majority Report, usually on casual Fridays.

If you care to put it on your list of podcasts, you can do that by joining Ring of Fire.

Here's this week's Majority Report:

It's a labor of love for me because I adore Sam and love to talk politics with someone so smart and well-informed but it's also provided me (and his audience, I hope) an hour or so each week with a good overview of the week's major developments. We often hit on topics that I don't necessarily write about and because it's Sam, who is brilliantly funny, it's often very entertaining.

All of this is to say that aside from writing here every day and contributing to Salon, I do other things like these podcasts and activism work for Blue America PAC, all of which are an honor.  But this blog is what keeps me going and your support is vital.

We are, as you know, at the beginning of a presidential campaign (oh my dear god ...) and it is the most consequential presidential campaign of our lifetimes. They're all important, of course. But this one will tell the world whether the most powerful nation on earth has the wherewithal to right itself from the worst electoral mistake it's ever made or if we've taken a very dark turn that is leading the world to catastrophe. This man in the White House and the party that is enabling him are both malevolent and ignorant. It is a lethal combination and it's only a matter of time before we reach the point of no return.

So, I hope that we all pull together and do whatever it takes to ensure that the next generations are able to look back at this and say "what the hell were they thinking?" from the perspective of a safer, more decent world.

I'll keep plugging away here and wherever else I can. And I hope that you'll keep stopping by and reading and listening. Your support means the world to me and if you are able to throw a few bucks in the Hullabaloo Christmas stocking, I'd be most grateful.

The paypal buttons are on the sidebar and below as is the snail mail address.

As always I am immensely grateful for your continued loyalty and interest in my scribbles.

And I wish all of you Very Happy Hollandaise!

cheers --- digby

Digby's Hullabaloo
2801 Ocean Park Blvd.
Box 157
Santa Monica, Ca 90405

Trump is making America better, just not the way he thinks he is

by digby

I don't know about you, but this surprises me a little bit. Maybe we're not as isolationist and insular as we thought:
A 2016 HuffPost/YouGov poll, taken just after the U.K.’s vote for Brexit, found support for a similar set of isolationist attitudes percolating in the U.S. Nearly half the public agreed that the U.S. should step back from world affairs, and said that the inflow of newcomers from other countries “threatens traditional American customs and values.”

Two and a half years later, there’s been distinct movement away from both those ideas, coupled with increasing support for free trade ― all, to some extent, a repudiation of White House talking points. The share of American public that believes the country should pay less attention to overseas issues has decreased from 49 to 39 percent, and the share who are unhappy with free trade agreements from 29 percent to 21 percent. Most starkly, the percentage of Americans who say they feel the nation’s values are threatened by newcomers fell from 48 percent in 2016 to just 36 percent today.

Obviously, I'm not saying that unfettered free trade is something that's always good. But Trump's simple-minded "trade" policies which are really just schoolyard posturing without any sense of how the modern world actually works has probably illustrated for a lot of people just complex this issue really is.

And as much as we might like to withdraw behind our borders that just is not happening. We are part of the world and the world is part of us and it behooves us to try to make it a better place. We've done a very half-assed job of that in past but there's no reason we can't improve in the future.

The greatest challenge of our time is climate change and despite our president's imbecilic talk about the oceans being small so other countries need to stop polluting (or something) every country on this planet is going to have to work together to solve it.  And that's just the beginning.

There's no turning back from globalism. We have no choice so we might as well embrace it and try to make it works for all of us.

And then there's this which makes me think there is some hope for this country after all:
Americans across the political spectrum have warmed in their attitude toward immigration: Although Republicans still say by a 46-point margin that the number of newcomers to the country threatens U.S. values, that’s down from 58 points in the previous survey.

The results join a growing body of evidence that public sentiment in the Trump era has swung away from nativism. The belief that immigration hurts the U.S. is at a low ebb since at least 2006, according to NBC/Wall Street Journal polling. Support for free trade appears to have grown.

America becoming a better place? Looks like it's at least possible. Maybe Trump's ugly example has shamed most people in this country into taking a good look at themselves and deciding they want to go another way.

If you find what we do here to be helpful in understanding what's happening around us in this wild political era, if stopping by here from time to time gives you a little sense of solidarity with others who are going through their days as gobsmacked by events as you are, I hope you'll find it in your heart to drop a little something in the Hullabaloo stocking to help me keep the light on for another year.

The paypal buttons are on the sidebar and below as is the snail mail address.

As always I am immensely grateful for your continued loyalty and interest in my scribbles.

And I wish all of you Very Happy Hollandaise!

cheers --- digby

Digby's Hullabaloo
2801 Ocean Park Blvd.
Box 157
Santa Monica, Ca 90405

The country isn't buying it Trumpie

by digby

This new NBC/WSJ poll shows that Trump and his majordomo Rudy Giuliani aren't helping themselves with all this snotty caterwauling about witch hunts. It turns out that acting like a six year old in public isn't ver effective at reassuring people that you haven't done anything wrong:

Six in 10 Americans say President Donald Trump has been untruthful about the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, while half of the country says the investigation has given them doubts about Trump’s presidency, according to a new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

The survey, conducted a month after the results of November’s midterm elections, also finds more Americans want congressional Democrats — rather than Trump or congressional Republicans — to take the lead role in setting policy for the country.

And just 10 percent of respondents say that the president has gotten the message for a change in direction from the midterms — when the GOP lost control of the U.S. House of Representatives but kept its majority in the U.S. Senate — and that he’s making the necessary adjustments.

“The dam has not burst on Donald Trump,” said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, whose firm conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff. “But this survey suggests all the structural cracks [that exist] in the dam.”

The NBC/WSJ poll — conducted Dec. 9-12 — comes after new developments in the Russia probe and other investigations involving the president, including evidence and allegations that:

Trump and his team were offered “synergy” with the Russian government.

Trump directed an illegal campaign-finance scheme to make payments covering up two alleged affairs in the last days of the 2016 campaign.

Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort continued to communicate with Trump administration officials well after his indictment.

Former Trump lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen was sentenced to prison for three years.

In a recent interview with Fox News, Trump denied directing Cohen to make the payments covering up the alleged affairs.

"I never directed him to do anything wrong," Trump said. "Whatever he did he did on his own. He's a lawyer. A lawyer who represents a client is supposed to do the right thing that's why you pay them a lot of money."

Asked in the poll if Trump has been honest and truthful when it comes to the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign and related matters, 62 percent of all adults say they disagree. That includes 94 percent of Democrats, 64 percent of independents and a quarter (24 percent) of Republicans.

By contrast, 34 percent believe Trump has been honest and truthful about the investigation, including 70 percent of Republicans, 29 percent of independents and just 5 percent of Democrats.

These numbers are a slight shift from August, when 38 percent of registered voters agreed Trump has been honest and truthful about the investigation, and 56 percent disagreed.

“Last week’s Cohen and Manafort news clearly hurt the president — no dramatic movement to be sure, but incremental erosion in President Trump’s credibility,” said Democrat pollster Fred Yang of Hart Research Associates.

Also in the poll, a combined 50 percent of Americans say the Russia investigation — led by special counsel Robert Mueller — has given them “major,” “fairly major” or “just some” doubts about Trump’s presidency, versus 44 percent who say it hasn’t given them more doubts.

McInturff, the GOP pollster, says that the 44 percent without doubts is a “powerful reminder about the status of his political base.”

What’s more, a plurality of respondents — 46 percent — say the convictions and guilty pleas of members of Trump’s 2016 campaign suggest potential wrongdoing by the president, compared with 23 percent who believe the wrongdoing is limited only to those individuals; 28 percent don’t know enough to say.

And asked if Mueller’s investigation should continue, 45 percent believe it should, while 34 percent think it should come to an end — essentially unchanged from August’s NBC/WSJ poll.

A month after the results from the 2018 midterm elections, 48 percent of Americans say they want Democrats in Congress to take the lead role in setting policy for the country, versus 21 percent who want congressional Republicans to take the lead and 19 percent who want Trump in charge.

The numbers are consistent with past results on this same question from the June and October 2017 NBC/WSJ polls.

Asked about Trump’s response to the midterm elections, 10 percent of Americans say Trump has gotten the message that voters wanted a change in direction and that he’s making the necessary adjustments; 22 percent say he got the message but is not making those adjustments; 33 percent say he didn’t get the message; and 31 percent maintain the elections were not a message for a change in direction.

“The voters believe they sent a message, and they believe the president hasn’t gotten it yet,” said Yang, the Democratic pollster.

But McInturff counters that Trump is simply reflecting the overwhelming number of Republicans who feel positive about the results from the midterms and who don’t believe it sent a message.

Trump’s job rating in new NBC/WSJ poll stands at 43 percent approve, 54 percent disapprove among all adults. (Right before the midterms, it was 46 percent approve, 52 percent disapprove among registered voters.)

And looking ahead to 2020, a combined 38 percent of registered voters say they’d “definitely” or “probably” vote for Trump in his re-election, compared with 52 percent of voters who would “definitely” or “probably” vote against him — unchanged from December 2017.

Finally, the poll finds the percentage of Americans believing the U.S. economy will get worse in the next 12 months is at its highest point since 2013.

Overall, 28 percent say the economy will get better in the next year, 33 percent think it will get worse and 37 percent believe it will stay about the same.

(Those numbers were essentially reversed last January: 35 percent said the economy would get better, 20 percent said it would get worse and 43 percent said it would stay the same.)

“For the first time in Trump’s presidency, his safety net of a robust economy shows signs of unraveling,” said Yang, the Democratic pollster.

“And remember, the booming economy didn’t prevent voters from turning against Republicans in November,” he added.

I think some of Trump's supporters thought he would sober up and start acting like a president eventually. It's clear he is incapable of doing that. So even if they want to give him the benefit of the doubt his behavior is eroding his support.

Moreover, there are still a few hard-assed, law 'n order, "just the fact ma'am" types in the GOP coalition who are undoubtedly starting to feel the dissonance of people like Rudy Giuliani and the President, not to mention the entire wingnut media apparatus, trashing cops and prosecutors. That's a new one for them. (Granted, usually the lefty types are the skeptics of the cops, but in this case the graft, corruption and rank criminality of the persons being targeted is so obvious that most of us are hoping that they aren't treating them the way they often treat suspects without means. Let's just say they very rarely go after white-collar criminals and they aren't exactly liberals which lends some credibility to the idea that there is something very bad going on here.)

I think the majority of Americans can see that Trump and his corrupt cronies are unfit and that adopting the (formerly uncompromising prosecutor) Giuliani approach letting them get away with all this would irrevocably damage our society.

Trump whining all day long about it is just making things worse. Not that he'll stop. He is compelled to do it because he is a damaged and unstable person.

The annual holiday fundraiser is happening right now and your support means the world to me. If you are able to throw a few bucks in the Hullabaloo Christmas stocking, I'd be most grateful.

The paypal buttons are on the sidebar and below as is the snail mail address.

As always I am immensely grateful for your continued loyalty and interest in my scribbles.

And I wish all of you Very Happy Hollandaise!

cheers --- digby

Digby's Hullabaloo
2801 Ocean Park Blvd.
Box 157
Santa Monica, Ca 90405

Depends on what the meaning of the words "Trump Tower Moscow" is

by digby

The Daily Beast:

Rudy Giuliani claimed in an ABC interview that President Donald Trump knew that his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, was working on the Trump Tower Moscow deal “all the way up to...November of 2016.” Cohen, who pleaded guilty to lying to Congress over his role in pushing for the Moscow project, told a federal judge that the discussions stopped in June 2016. The President’s personal lawyer, who also just said that President Trump would be interviewed in person by the Special Counsel’s Office “over his dead body,” made the statement during an interview with George Stephanopoulos on This Week ABC. Stephanopoulos asked Giuliani “Did Donald Trump know that Michael Cohen was pursuing the Trump Tower in Moscow into the summer of 2016?” Giuliani replied “according to the answer that he gave, it would have covered all the way up to... November of 2016” apparently in reference to Trump’s written answers to Robert Mueller’s questions about potential Russian collusion in the election.

Yeah, Rudy's a tremendous lawyer.

Here's some more of Rudy's trainwreck of an appearance:

You can watch the whole thing here if you can stand it.

It's very ironic that Trump now says Cohen was just a PR guy and a lousy lawyer. That might be true but if so, Giuliani proves that Trump is continuing the practice.

If stopping by here from time to time gives you a little sense of solidarity with others who are going through their days as gobsmacked by events as you are, I hope you'll find it in your heart to drop a little something in the Hullabaloo stocking to help me keep the light on for another year.

The paypal buttons are on the sidebar and below as is the snail mail address.

As always I am immensely grateful for your continued loyalty and interest in my scribbles.

And I wish all of you Very Happy Hollandaise!

cheers --- digby

Digby's Hullabaloo
2801 Ocean Park Blvd.
Box 157
Santa Monica, Ca 90405


The third insurgency

by Tom Sullivan

Antelope Wells border station. Photo by wbaron via Wikimedia Commons.

They do not build. Not much since Eisenhower, anyway. Republicans break things. Now they have broken The Weekly Standard, Beltway conservatives' favorite bathroom reading. As the mouthpiece for Never Trump conservatives, Bill Kristol's little magazine had to die. Philip Anschutz, Colorado billionaire and reported Christian conservative, through his Clarity Media CEO announced he is shutting it down.

A conservative media outlet losing money for a couple of decades is expected. Criticizing Donald Trump is intolerable, especially while shedding readers.

Franklin Foer reviews the publication in his eulogy for The Atlantic:

The magazine itself combined high intellectual seriousness with the crass mentality of a political operative. A single edition of the Standard might contain gonzo reportage, erudite cultural essays, and op-eds filled with gross clichés that made you want to force the whole thing down the garbage disposal.
Clarity Media will flush the troublesome anti-Trump Standard down the corporate Hobart after its final issue on December 17.

Also on Friday, a conservative federal judge in Texas ruled that as congressionally disfigured — sans its original individual tax penalty for failure to carry insurance — the Affordable Care Act is no longer a valid exercise of Congress' taxing authority and thus unconstitutional. Legal scholars who support the ACA as well as conservative critics found the ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Reed O'Connor, dare we say, deplorable.

“He effectively repealed the entire Affordable Care Act when the 2017 Congress decided not to do so,” Yale law professor Abbe Gluck told the Washington Post. Ted Frank, a lawyer and ACA critic from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, called the decision “embarrassingly bad.”

O'Connor issued a declaratory judgment against the Act but no injunction. He means to break it, preexisting condition protections and all, but stayed his hand for now. Obamacare will continue, the White House said, “pending the appeal process.” Tens of millions of Americans shuddered.

George Packer believes the Republican party bent on eradicating Obamacare has become “a race to the bottom to see who can be meaner and madder and crazier. It is not enough to be conservative anymore. You have to be vicious.”

Packer presumably completed his essay for The Atlantic before reports of the death of 7-year-old Jakelin Caal. The child died of dehydration, shock and liver failure after hours in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol.

“This child’s death was the inevitable result of this administration’s cruel and inhumane border enforcement policies,” said Peter Simonson, executive director of New Mexico's American Civil Liberties Union. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen held up the child's death as an object lesson to desperate migrants who would cross the border illegally: Keep Out.*

The product of "a series of insurgencies against the established order," Nielsen's Republican party is by now thoroughly corrupt, Packer explains. "The corruption I mean has less to do with individual perfidy than institutional depravity. It isn’t an occasional failure to uphold norms, but a consistent repudiation of them."

An America that once celebrated the peaceful transfer of power after elections now sees Republican-controlled legislatures moving in state after state to lock in their power and lock out opponents after losing ground to the will of the voters. That is, to refute the will of displeased voters and to ensure popular democracy cannot undo what Republicans have done to them.

Packer chronicles the march of movement conservatism from Goldwater to the New Right's embracing "mass media, new techniques of organizing, rhetoric, ideas" and the opening of the movement to "extreme, sometimes violent fellow travelers." If Goldwater marked the first insurgency, Newt Gingrich led the second, demonizing opponents and announcing there could be no compromises.
Even after Gingrich was driven from power, the victim of his own guillotine, he regularly churned out books that warned of imminent doom—unless America turned to a leader like him (he once called himself “teacher of the rules of civilization,” among other exalted epithets). Unlike Goldwater and Reagan, Gingrich never had any deeply felt ideology. It was hard to say exactly what “American civilization” meant to him. What he wanted was power, and what he most obviously enjoyed was smashing things to pieces in its pursuit. His insurgency started the conservative movement on the path to nihilism.
Then came September 11, the Great Recession, and the election of Barack Obama.
In the third insurgency, the features of the original movement surfaced again, more grotesque than ever: paranoia and conspiracy thinking; racism and other types of hostility toward entire groups; innuendos and incidents of violence. The new leader is like his authoritarian counterparts abroad: illiberal, demagogic, hostile to institutional checks, demanding and receiving complete acquiescence from the party, and enmeshed in the financial corruption that is integral to the political corruption of these regimes. Once again, liberals failed to see it coming and couldn’t grasp how it happened. Neither could some conservatives who still believed in democracy.
The party's present condition was a long time coming, Packer concludes, "In fact, it took more than a half century to reach the point where faced with a choice between democracy and power, the party chose the latter." Power now trumps principle. Bow or perish.

Civil rights leader Rev. William J. Barber II sees a need for a counter-movement to this extremist "whitelash." The movement must be "indigenously led, state-based, state-government focused, deeply moral, deeply constitutional, anti-racist, anti-poverty, pro-justice, pro-labor, and transformative." Donald Trump's movement, Barber argues, sees "the possibility of a Third Reconstruction, which is why they’re working so hard this time to strangle it in its cradle." The third insurgency wants to roll America back to after the first Reconstruction.

* New Mexico's Antelope Wells Port of Entry is an official border crossing in the Chihuahuan Desert 120 miles west of El Paso, TX. It closes at 4 p.m. The Associated Press reports after being dropped off a 90-min walk from the border, seven-year-old Jakelin Caal, her father, and 161 other migrants crossed at Antelope Wells and approached U.S. Border agents to turn themselves in about 10 p.m.

If you find what we do here to be helpful in understanding what's happening around us in this wild political era, if stopping by here from time to time gives you a little sense of solidarity with others who are going through their days as gobsmacked by events as you are, I hope you'll find it in your heart to drop a little something in the Hullabaloo stocking to help me keep the light on for another year.

The paypal buttons are on the sidebar and below as is the snail mail address.

As always I am immensely grateful for your continued loyalty and interest in my scribbles.

And I wish all of you Very Happy Hollandaise!

cheers --- digby

Digby's Hullabaloo
2801 Ocean Park Blvd.
Box 157
Santa Monica, Ca 90405

Saturday, December 15, 2018

*This post will stay pinned at the top for a while. Please scroll down for new material. Thanks --- digby

Holiday Fundraiser Time!

by digby

Holiday soother: a Scottish wildcat kitten

Yes, it's that time again. It's the holiday season and I'm asking for your support to keep this rickety old blog afloat for another year. How time flies when the world has turned upside down. It seems like only yesterday that I was lying in bed with the covers pulled up over my head wondering how the country had finally gone completely mad and elected Donald Trump to be president of the United States. Actually, that was yesterday.

The last few years have been as tumultuous as I can remember in my lifetime and I've been around a while. I think if I weren't writing seven days a week researching, observing, analyzing and producing this blog I might just lose my mind. I hope that somehow my therapeutic ramblings every day give some of you a little way to cope and maybe a little hope that you aren't alone out there.

And for me, I can only say that your support means the world to me. I thank each and every one of you for contributing to this little project over the years. It's not just the money, although that makes it possible to keep going. It's the validation that what we do here is meaningful. I can't express how grateful I am for that.

The world has changed since I started blogging but maybe not quite as much as we think. Back then we were all still reeling from 9/11 and observing our government leaders lose their ethical moorings and decide to invade a country that didn't attack us. The president of the United States had been installed in a dubious electoral process manipulated by his own brother and a partisan Supreme Court majority. And that was on the heels of a dada-esque impeachment trial that ended giving the president a 60% approval rating.  And then there was the financial crisis. Oh man.

Let's just say we've been nuts for quite a while. But as wild as the last two decades have been, none of it really prepared us for the Trump era. This is unprecedented lunacy --- everything corrupt, decadent, ignorant and ugly about our politics congealed into one giant ball of daily rage tweets and overwhelming ineptitude. It's the last 20 years condensed into two on steroids.

People will say to me from time to time that Trump, at least, isn't a war president. And I wonder what they're talking about. Even aside from the fact that he's escalated tensions all over the planet, and poured money into the military, his coddling of Saudi Arabia has resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen and the war we have been engaged in for a decade and a half in Afghanistan shows no sign ending.

And the fact is that he's started another war, a big one. It's here in the United States, dividing the nation into his friends and foes and stoking every primitive hatred that exists in our culture.  And the major front in that battle is at the border with Mexico where the government has put babies in cages and just yesterday we learned that this week our border patrol let a 7 year old girl die for lack of food and water.

He is a war president and the war is right here on American soil.

We are living through important times. I'm trying to document it, analyze it, keep my sense of humor and perspective even though it is anything but easy. And if you find what we do here to be helpful in understanding what's happening around us in this wild political era, if stopping by here from time to time gives you a little sense of solidarity with others who are going through their days as gobsmacked by events as you are, I hope you'll find it in your heart to drop a little something in the Hullabaloo stocking to help me keep the light on for another year so that Tom, Dennis, tristero and I can keep the lights on for another year.

The paypal buttons are on the sidebar and below as is the snail mail address.

As always I am immensely grateful for your continued loyalty and interest in my scribbles.

And I wish all of you Very Happy Hollandaise!

cheers --- digby

Digby's Hullabaloo
2801 Ocean Park Blvd.
Box 157
Santa Monica, Ca 90405
Holiday Shopping Night at the Movies 

Blu Xmas: Best BD reissues of 2018, pt. 2

By Dennis Hartley

‘Tis the season, so I thought I’d toss out gift ideas, with more of my picks for the best Blu-ray reissues of 2018. Most titles are released concurrent with an SD edition, so if you don’t have a Blu-ray player, don’t despair. Any reviews based on Region “B” editions (which require a multi-region Blu-ray player) are noted as such; the good news is that multi-region players are now more affordable! So here you go, in alphabetical order…

Dietrich and von Sternberg in Hollywood (Criterion Collection; box set) – I picked up this box set with trepidation. Previously, I’d only seen two collaborations between director Josef von Sternberg and leading lady Marlene Dietrich (The Blue Angel and Shanghai Express). While I found both quite watchable, they struck me as creaky and melodramatic; it seemed “enough” at the time to get the gist of their creative partnership.

After watching all six films in this Criterion set (and being older and wiser this time around), I “get it” now. Viewing them as a unique film cycle reveals that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; this is Dietrich and Sternberg’s idiosyncratic cinematic universe; a romantic, glamorous, adventurous, exotic world-and you’re just soaking in it. Once you have given yourself over to Dietrich’s mesmerizing allure… plots don’t matter.

The films in the set were all made for Paramount in the early to mid-1930s. Included are: the romantic drama Morocco (1930), spy thriller Dishonored (1931), adventure-romance Shanghai Express (1932), romantic drama Blonde Venus (1932), costume drama The Scarlet Empress (1934), and the comedy-drama-romance The Devil is a Woman (1935).

The films have all been restored and boast new scans (some 2K, others 4K), rendering them as clean and sparkly as they can possibly be for 80+ year-old prints. This visual clarity accentuates Sternberg’s flair for composition and filmic language. Extras include documentaries, video essays, archival interviews, and an 80-page book. Buffs will love it.

Escape From New York (Studio Canal; Region “B”) – John Carpenter directed this 1981 action-thriller set in the dystopian near-future of 1997 (ah, those were the days). N.Y.C. has been converted into a penal colony. Air Force One has been downed by terrorists, but not before the POTUS (Donald Pleasence) bails in his escape pod, which lands in Manhattan, where he is kidnapped by “inmates”. The police commissioner (ever squinty-eyed Lee van Cleef) enlists the help of Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), a fellow war vet who is now one of America’s most notorious criminals.

Imaginative, darkly funny and entertaining, despite an obviously limited budget. Carpenter and co-writer Nick Castle even slip in a little subtext of Nixonian paranoia. Also with Ernest Borgnine, Adrienne Barbeau, Isaac Hayes (the Duke of N.Y.!), and Harry Dean Stanton (stealing all his scenes as “Brain”). Carpenter also composed the memorable theme song.

Boy, is this new sharp 4K scan ever a wondrous gift to fans of the film! This is probably the 3rd (or 4th?) dip I’ve made over the years; all previous DVD and Blu-ray editions have suffered from transfers so dark and murky that I’ve spent every screening squinting like Lee Van Cleef as I attempt to make out details. Granted, it’s nearly all night shots for the exteriors, but I have never seen the film looking so…film-like (outside a theater). Cinematographer Dean Cundey approved the restoration and color grading, and it shows.

Studio Canal’s new edition features 3 audio commentaries to choose from, and several featurettes and interviews with cast members. I haven’t been able to track down any information on a domestic (Region “A”) Blu-ray release; but given the popularity of the film I’m sure one is in the pipeline (this review is based on the Region “B” version only).

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (BBC; Original 1981 UK TV series) – I’m not sure if it’s possible to “wear out” a DVD, but I’ve probably come closest to doing so with my copy of the original BBC-TV version of Douglas Adams’ sci-fi comedy cult classic.

In a nutshell, the Earth is obliterated to make way for a hyperspace bypass by a Vogon construction fleet (as the result of bureaucratic oversight the requisite public notice was posted in a basement-on a different planet). One member of humanity survives-Arthur Dent, a neurotic Englishman who “hitches” a ride on a Vogon vessel just before the Earth-shattering “ka-boom”, thanks to his friend Ford Prefect, whom Arthur never suspected was an alien doing field research for the eponymous “guide”. Zany interstellar misadventures ensue, with a quest to find the answer to life, the Universe, and everything.

While the 2005 theatrical remake was a hoot, it lacked the endearing cheesiness of the 1981 series. As it was originally shot on video and 16mm, the very idea of a “restored” Blu-ray edition is a bit silly, really…but it actually is an upgrade, particularly in audio quality (it’s mostly about the wonderfully cheeky dialog anyway). And with 5½ hours of extras, Adams geeks will be in 7th heaven (or at least somewhere near Alpha Centauri!).

Ingmar Bergman's Cinema (Criterion Collection; box set) – One of my favorite exchanges from Barry Levinson’s infinitely quotable 1981 film Diner occurs between two friends sitting in a theater watching the Ingmar Bergman classic The Seventh Seal:

Edward 'Eddie' Simmons: Who's that?
William 'Billy' Howard: That's ‘Death’ walking on the beach.
Edward 'Eddie' Simmons: I've been to Atlantic City a hundred times. I never saw Death walking on the beach.

Speaking for myself, I saw Death walking on the beach just the other day, in a restored 4K print. It’s one of the 39 films included in Criterion’s exhaustive, bicep-building box set. I have previously seen approximately half of the films in this collection; several I have never even heard of (18 of these titles have never before been released by Criterion).

My plan of attack is to watch the films in chronological order of original release dates. OK, full disclosure: I watched the first two (neither of which I had previously seen, from the late 1940s) but then cheated by skipping ahead to The Seventh Seal (couldn’t wait to see the restored version). So…36 to go (is mid-winter a bad time of year to plow through a boxful of Bergman films? Discuss). From what I’ve seen so far, the prints are gorgeous.

Extras. Where to start? There are 5 hours of interviews with Bergman and some key collaborators. There are 2 rare documentary shorts by the director, extensive programs about Bergman’s work, “making of” featurettes, video essays by critics and film scholars, a 248-page hardbound book…everything short of a collectable Death action figure. Discs are mounted in numbered slots on cardboard flip-through “pages” (kind of like an oversized coin collection) and curated as a “film festival”. Of course, you can watch them in any order that you wish (especially at this price). A treasure trove for art house fans!

King of Hearts (Cohen Film Collection/Sony) – The utter madness of war has rarely been conveyed in such a succinct (or oddly endearing) manner as in Philippe de Broca’s absurdist adult fable. Alan Bates stars as a WW1 Scottish army private sent ahead of his advancing company to a rural French village, where he is to locate and disarm a bomb that has been set by retreating Germans. His mission is interrupted when he is suddenly set upon by a coterie of loopy and highly theatrical residents who (literally) sweep him off his feet and jovially inform him he is now their “king”. These happy-go-lucky folks are, in fact, inmates of the local asylum, who have occupied the town since the residents fled. The battle-weary private decides to humor them, in the meantime brainstorming how he can coax them out of harm’s way before the war inevitably intrudes once again.

It’s wonderful to have a newly-restored 4K scan of this cult favorite, which has been previously difficult to track down on home video. Extras include a feature-length commentary track by film critic Wade Major, a new conversation with the film’s leading lady Genevieve Bujold, and a new conversation with cinematographer Pierre Lhomme.

Little Murders (Indicator; Region “B”) – This dark, dark comedy from 1971 is one of my all-time favorite films. It was directed by Alan Arkin and adapted by Jules Feiffer from his own self-described “post-assassination play” (referring to the then-relatively recent murders of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy). That said, it is not wholly political; but it is sociopolitical (I see it as the pre-cursor to Paddy Chayefsky’s Network).

Elliot Gould is at the peak of his Elliot Gould-ness as a nihilistic (and seemingly brain-dead) free-lance photographer who is essentially browbeaten into a love affair with an effervescent sunny side-up young woman (Marcia Rodd) who is bound and determined to snap him out of his torpor. The story follows the travails of this oil and water couple as they slog through a dystopic New York City chock full o’ nuts, urban blight, indifference and random shocking acts of senseless violence (you know…New York City in the 70s).

There are so many memorable vignettes, and nearly every cast member gets a Howard Beale-worthy monologue on how fucked-up American society is (and remember…this was 1971). Disturbingly, it remains relevant as ever. But it is very funny. No, seriously. The cast includes Vincent Gardenia, Elizabeth Wilson, Doris Roberts, Lou Jacobi (who has the best monolog) and Donald Sutherland. Arkin is a riot as a homicide investigator.

Indicator’s limited-edition Blu-ray features a gorgeous high-definition remaster (please note that it is a Region ‘B’ locked disc that requires a multi-region player). A plethora of extras includes a 2004 audio commentary with Gould and Feiffer, an alternate commentary track from 2018 by film journalist Samm Deighan, new and archival featurettes, interviews, and critical re-appraisals, a 40-page booklet of essays, and more.

The Magnificent Ambersons (Criterion Collection) – It’s sad that the late great Orson Welles has (unfairly) become the perennial poster boy for “squandered talent” in the film industry. Granted, he was a rapscallion who loved to push people’s buttons; unfortunately, some of those “people” were powerful producers and studio heads who didn’t get the joke back in those days when “maverick” and “genius” were dirty words in Hollywood. But he was a maverick, and he was a genius…he just wanted to make the movies he wanted to make, precisely the way he wanted to make them. But alas, the “boy genius” became enslaved by his own legend soon after making Citizen Kane at age 25.

Welles’ disillusionment with the studio system began with the release of The Magnificent Ambersons in 1942, as what hit theaters was essentially a butchered version of how he had envisioned the film. Unfortunately, he had conceded final cut in a deal made with RKO (a decision he came to regret). Adding insult to the injury of the 50 excised minutes from Welles’ original rough cut, studio heads ordered that the negatives of that footage be destroyed as well. Regardless, the film is still heralded as one of Welles’ finest efforts.

Welles adapted the script from Booth Tarkington’s eponymous novel. It’s the story of a well-to-do family whose “magnificence” (as Welles’ stentorian voiceover narration informs us) “…began in 1873. Their splendor lasted throughout all the years that saw their midland town spread and darken into a city.” This sets the tone for what ensues, which is the rotting of that “splendor” from the inside out; not only the decline of a family dynasty, but of a mannered, measured way of life whose destruction was assured by the onslaught of the Second Industrial Revolution (the price of Progress can be steep).

Criterion’s new 4K restoration is a real showcase for Stanley Cortez’s striking chiaroscuro photography, and a testament to Welles’ mastery of visual storytelling. Extras include two commentary tracks by film scholars and critics, new video essays by film historians and scholars, an excerpt from the 1925 silent adaptation of The Magnificent Ambersons, written essays, and more. It’s another must-have for film buffs.

The Man Who Cheated Himself (Flicker Alley) – This marks the third collaboration between releasing studio Flicker Alley, the Film Noir Foundation, and UCLA Film and Television Archive in their mission to unearth and restore forgotten film noir gems from the classic noir cycle (it was preceded by Too Late for Tears and Woman on the Run).

The ever-gruff Lee J. Cobb stars as a bad, bad cop (a noir staple) who gets in the middle of a kerfuffle between his girlfriend (Jane Wyatt, cast against type as a femme fatale) and her estranged husband. The incident ends badly for hubby, and love-struck Cobb scrambles a cover-up. Adherent to the Rules of Noir, the more he tries to cover it, the deeper the hole gets. Having his straight-arrow rookie homicide detective brother (John Dall) by his side working so enthusiastically to solve the case does not quell his anxiety.

While I wouldn’t call this 1950 effort from prolific director Felix E. Feist (perhaps best-known for his noir cult pic The Devil Thumbs a Ride) a classic genre entry, it’s still quite involving, the performances are solid, and it’s always noble to rescue a forgotten noir. The real star is ever-cinematic San Francisco; some of its most iconic locations are used to great effect by DP Russell Harlan (especially the Golden Gate Bridge and Fort Point).

Extras include a mini-documentary about the original production, a “then and now” virtual tour around contemporary San Francisco scouting out original locations for the film, and a nifty souvenir booklet. The noir completest on your Xmas list will be pleased!

Shampoo (Criterion Collection) – Sex, politics, and the shallow SoCal lifestyle are mercilessly skewered in Hal Ashby’s classic 1975 satire. Warren Beatty (who co-scripted with Robert Towne) plays a restless, over-sexed hairdresser with commitment issues regarding the three major women in his life (excellent performances from Lee Grant, Goldie Hawn and Julie Christie). Beatty allegedly based his character on his close friend, celebrity hairdresser Jay Sebring (one of the victims of the infamous 1969 Tate-LaBianca slayings). The most memorable scene takes place at an election night event.

This was one of the first films to satirize the 1960s zeitgeist with some degree of historical detachment. The late great cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs infuses the L.A. backdrop with a gauziness that appropriately mirrors the protagonist’s fuzzy way of dealing with adult responsibilities.

Criterion’s Blu-ray features a 4K restoration (previous DVDs have been less than stellar in picture and sound quality). Extras include a conversation between critics Mark Harris and Frank Rich and a 1998 TV interview with Warren Beatty from The South Bank Show.

True Stories (Criterion Collection) – Musician/raconteur David Byrne enters the Lone Star state of mind with this subtly satirical Texas travelogue from 1986. It’s not easy to pigeonhole; part social satire, part long-form music video, part mockumentary. The episodic vignettes about the quirky but generally likable inhabitants of sleepy Virgil, Texas should hold your fascination once you buy into “tour-guide” Byrne’s bemused anthropological detachment.

Among the town’s residents: John Goodman, “Pops” Staples, Swoosie Kurtz and the late Spalding Gray. The outstanding cinematography is by Edward Lachman. Byrne’s fellow Heads have cameos performing “Wild Wild Life”. Not everyone’s cup of tea, perhaps- but for some reason, I have an emotional attachment to this film that I can’t even explain.

Finally… “someone” (in this case, Criterion) has done justice to Lachman’s lovely cinematography by giving this film a properly matted transfer (for years, the only version available on home video was a dismal “pan and scan” DVD). The newly restored 4K transfer was supervised by Byrne and Lachman, and it’s gorgeous. The 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio also lends a crucial upgrade to the soundtrack quality (all those great Talking Heads songs really pop now!). Extras include a CD of the complete music soundtrack, deleted scenes, written essays, and documentary shorts (new and archival).

12 Monkeys(Arrow Video) – Another wild ride from the vivid imagination of Terry Gilliam, this 1995 sci-fi thriller (inspired by Chris Marker’s classic 1962 short film, La Jetee) has become a cult favorite.

Set in the year 2035, it’s the story of a prison inmate (Bruce Willis) who is “volunteered” to be sent back to the year 1996 to detect the origin of a mystery virus that wiped out 99% of the human race. Fate and circumstance land Willis in a psych ward for observation, where he meets two people who may be instrumental in helping him solve the mystery-a psychiatrist (Madeline Stowe) and a fellow mental patient (Brad Pitt, in an entertainingly demented performance).

I like the way the film plays with “reality” and perception. Is Willis really a time traveler from 2035…or is he what the psychiatrist is telling him-a delusional schizophrenic actually living in 1996? There are many more surprises up Gilliam’s sleeve here.

Arrow Films’ 4K restoration is a marked improvement over Universal’s previous Blu-ray; picture and audio quality are outstanding. The commentary track (by Gilliam and Charles Roven) and an 87-minute documentary (The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of Twelve Monkeys) have been ported over from the Universal edition, but Arrow adds several new features-including a video appreciation by Ian Christie and an image gallery.

2001: A Space Odyssey (Warner Brothers) – The mathematician/cryptologist I.J. Good (an Alan Turing associate) once famously postulated:

Let an ultra-intelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man…however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultra-intelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an ‘intelligence explosion’, and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus, the first ultra-intelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make, provided that the machine is docile enough to tell us how to keep it under control.

Good raised this warning in 1965, about the same time director Stanley Kubrick and sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke were formulating the narrative that would evolve into both the novel and film versions of 2001: a Space Odyssey. And it’s no coincidence that the “heavy” in 2001 was an ultra-intelligent machine that wreaks havoc once its human overseers lose “control” …Good was a consultant on the film.

Good was but one of the experts that Kubrick consulted, before and during production of this meticulously constructed masterpiece. Not only did he pick the brains of top futurists and NASA engineers, but enlisted some of the best primatologists, anthropologists, and uh, mimes of his day, to ensure that every detail, from the physicality of pre-historic humans living on the plains of Africa to the design of a moon base, passed with veracity.

Earlier this year, for the 50th anniversary, Christopher Nolan supervised a theatrical 70mm re-release of the “unrestored” version that presents it as audiences experienced it in 1968. And, not missing an opportunity to make me re-purchase it for the 6th time (VHS, DVD, “remastered” DVD, Blu-ray, and “remastered” Blu-ray) Warner has released a “restored” Blu-ray (as well as a pricier 3-disc set that adds a 4K-UHD version).

This review is based on the 2-disc Blu-ray set (one disc is for the extras). There are no technical notes included; so I can’t confirm this is a 4K scan, but after an A/B comparison with my copy of the 2007 Warner Blu-ray, I can tell you the new scan is spectacular. I can’t imagine the film looking any more crystalline, with vibrant color grading, rich deep blacks and sharp contrast. Audio has also been noticeably upgraded. Extras are identical to the 2007 version (Warner is historically stingy with those) but it’s worth the dip for those who want the best possible home viewing experience of the film.

Previous posts with related themes:

Summertime Blus: Best BD reissues of 2018, pt. 1

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--Dennis Hartley

We are living through important times. I'm trying to document it, analyze it, keep my sense of humor and perspective even though it is anything but easy. And if you find what we do here to be helpful in understanding what's happening around us in this wild political era, if stopping by here from time to time gives you a little sense of solidarity with others who are going through their days as gobsmacked by events as you are, I hope you'll find it in your heart to drop a little something in the Hullabaloo stocking to help me keep the light on for another year so that Tom, Dennis, tristero and I can keep the lights on for another year.

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