Archive | 1:00 am

I’d Rather Be Called Unsassy

6 Dec

So it seems my alma mater was named the fourth ugliest college campus in America by a Web site called Campus Squeeze. (Drexel University is number one.) Jeez … when I was there we were named one of the unsassiest colleges by that leading authority on such things, Sassy magazine. This one hurts even less.

A Losing Battle

6 Dec

I didn’t really think I was going to like Charlie Wilson’s War. After all, I’m sort of over the whole “Tom Hanks Is Holier than Thou” thing, and I can’t get too excited about Julia Roberts anymore either. Plus, I’m skeptical of a major studio movie that’s billed as Oscar bait based on pedigree alone. But I’ll admit, Hanks is real good here in the true story of a Texas Congressman with questionable ethics, and he won me over. And generally, I was entertained by the movie, which documents how Charlie Wilson raised money — $1 billion annually — in Congressional funds to support Afghanistan in its war with Russia in the 1980s. (Those are your tax dollars at work, folks!) Afghanistan was underarmed and the Soviets were overpowering, and without the type of guns and missles that could take down helicopters, the Afghans basically had no chance. Of course, this was during the Cold War, and at the time, Russia was our enemy, so of course, we sided with the Afghans. And because he was such a big factor in the Afghan freedom fighters eventually defeating the Soviets, Charlie was branded a hero.

How times change. And therein lies the movie’s greatest problem, and why I ultimately don’t like it. How are we supposed to root for this guy Wilson when he’s the one who basically armed Al Qaeda? This mission of his seems awfully selfish and misguided, and that makes it really hard to take the guy’s side. And if you can’t root for Tom Hanks in a movie where he’s supposed to be the hero … well, that’s a problem. Wilson may be charming, but he’s not even likable.

Further, Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay really doesn’t explain what motivates the guy. When we first meet Wilson, he’s in a hot tub in Las Vegas next to three naked strippers. And yet, his attention is on the TV, where Dan Rather is reporting from Afghanistan. (Hmmmm … naked strippers in a hot tub or Dan Rather. Which one would you choose?) Wilson’s a real bastard, a guy who exerts his power by showing off his Texas-sized boots and who calls his buxom team of aides “Jailbait,” and yet audiences are supposed to believe he’s concerned about the plight of the Afghan people halfway around the world? Especially when his major supporters are Jews, he says, who think he supports Israel. Even played by Tom Hanks, this guy has character flaws.

And also, I feel like the film is so slick that it makes the events, true though they might be, seem too easy. There are some good jokes about the futility and stupidity of our government, and yet Wilson, a nobody Congressman, was able to transform $5 million in support for Afghanistan into $1 billion and unite Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan to work together and supply the actual weaponry for Aghanistan? The guy’s a frickin’ miracle worker. Why isn’t he involved with the peace talks?

So what’s good about the movie? Well, in spite of the above, Hanks is good and quite watchable. So is Philip Seymour Hoffman, as a CIA case worker who teams with Wilson to aid the Afghans. Emily Blunt’s half naked and looks great. And the film doesn’t exactly ignore Wilson’s part in at least sowing the seeds of U.S. resentment in Afghanistan … but that part of the story is given a real brush-off at the end, even if the last frame is of a quote from Wilson (the real guy) saying “Those things happened and they were glorious, and then we fucked up the end game.” (On his site, Jeff Wells says this was played up more in earlier drafts of the screenplay. There was even an epilogue that takes place on 9/11 that I think would have made the film better.) I think more should have been made of Wilson’s role in our current situation, rather than celebrating his “accomplishment.” So, I can’t exactly support this War, and I’m going to give it a C+.