Friday, October 28, 2005

Interesting background on the "Yellow Cake" info

Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum linked to a blogger's translation of this 3 part story that ran in the Italian newspaper LA REPUBBLICA. It's a fascinating read. It describes the sordid tale of how the forged documents that started this whole Plame-gate affair came to be in the hands of the US government, and eventually, how they led to the war in Iraq. Read it yourself, but here's a quick abstract:

In 1999, three low level functionaries who served as informants for the Italian intelligence agency wanted to make some money (isn't that how all these things start), but they were short on information to sell--none of them had had any good contacts since the 1980s. At the time, the French were concerned that someone was pulling left-over uranium out of abandoned mines in Niger. This gave the three informats an idea. They got possession of some documents from the 1980s that indicated Iraq's past interest in buying uranium from Niger. They then conspired to break into the Niger embassy in Rome and steal some envelopes and letterhead so that they could forge additional documents to bring authenticity to their "old news." They sell the documents to the French, who quickly conclude (mostly because of obvious errors in the documents) that they are forgeries and worthless as intelligence.

The scam should have ended there. But after 9/11, the US government made it known that it needed proof that Saddam was still working on a nuclear program. One of the flunkies who made the forged documents, Rocco Martino, starts shopping them around again. This time, the Italian intelligence agency decides that, though they know that the documents are fake, it might improve relations with the US if they hand them over. They dispatch Martino to London to give the documents to MI-6. Later, Martino leaks the information to the Italian press, and they call the US Embassy to confirm (interestingly, even the Italian press has too many doubts about the documents and they decline to run a story). Now that the US is aware of the documents, George Tennet, director of the CIA, meets with representatives from Italian intelligence, and gets briefed on the documents. He concludes that they are probably fakes, the State department has doubts as well--especially since the story keeps changing--Now it's 500 tons of uranium that Saddam bought. And it wasn't from abandoned mines--one of which was flooded at this time, and another controlled by the French--it was stolen from a Russian facility . . . very suspicious.

Luckily for the Italians, Dick Cheney has started an "Iraq Group" that is operating independently from the CIA, and they are very interested in the Niger documents. Italian officials meet with representatives of Iraq group member Condalezza Rice, and the US decides that the documents are real. They also latch on to Saddam's purchase of aluminum tubes that they say could be used for a centrifuge to enrich uranium (even though US scientists say that they would be unsuitable). The US and Italian governments decide to leak this information to the press to build enthusiasm for the war. In the US, this leak is provided to Judith Miller of the NYT. In England, Tony Blair includes these "facts" in a speech. US officals now start using talking points that include the term "mushroom cloud"as a justification for war.

At the CIA, they are skeptical of these claims and send ambassador Joseph Wilson on a fact finding mission to Niger. He concludes that the documents are inept forgeries. Other governments chime in as well--The French tell the US that they recieved the documents in 1999 and that they concluded that they were forgeries. Italy mysteriously remains silent on the issue, though it was one of their own that created the docs in the first place. The CIA recommends that the President should avoid mentioning the Niger evidence, but Bush includes it in his state of the union anyway.

4 years later, when questioned about it, Rocco Martino admits his role in creating and disseminating the forgeries.

Here's where the article ends, but you know the rest:

We go to war. No centrifuges--No yellow cake. Joesph Wilson writes an editorial that says that the US government knew the documents were forged. Rove, Libby, and God knows who else, "out" Valerie Plame as a CIA agent to discredit Wilson. The "Downing Street Memo" confirms that the US was trying to "fix" intelligence around the war. To this day, the US claims it got the intel from Britain and Britain claims that they based it on "other evidence," not the "Italian dossier" as it has come to be called. The rationale for war shifts from 9/11 to WMD, to terrorism, and (currently) "freedom." 2,000 Americans dead. 15,000 wounded. Tens of thousands of Iraqis dead.

Interestingly enough, "Plame-gate" Prosecutor Fitzgerald has apparently asked for and received the forged documents as part of his investigation. This is all starting to fit together in ways that should scare the war-mongers. Maybe the time for truth and justice is at hand.

This story is getting traction too. Here's a summary in Slate.

--Tinfoil Out

Don't mess with the Onion

You may have heard that earlier this week, the Bush administration sent a letter to the Onion, telling them to stop using the Presidential seal inappropriately. Advice for the Bushies--in a week where your approval rating is around 40%, you've been forced to withdraw your crony-Supreme Court nominee, and high ranking members of your administration are faced with indictment (Update: Scooter was indicted and resigned this morning)--Well, it's not the best time to mess with a satirical paper.

Check out the Onion's "response." It seems that the gloves are off now.

Hee Hee

(I found this via americablog)

--Tinfoil Out

Thursday, October 27, 2005

iRobot domination?

I was struck by two related blog posts today that give a pretty clear idea of when this whole "humans in charge" thing might come to an end:

It seems that the robots are not only running the show, but we may unwittingly be supplying them with a technology that will compel us do their evil bidding. I'm worried, because we've got some serious payback coming for the humilating uses that we're developing for robots, and the way that the military is shamelessly abducting Furbies and forcing them to travel the world wearing strange outfits.

At least the robots will probably run the country better than the current administration. Artificial intelligence is at least . . . well . . . intelligence.

--Tinfoil Out

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Colbert Report

So we've had a full week of The Colbert Report (pronounced "Colbere Repore") on Comedy Central, and it is really funny. I think we've finally found a worthy partner for the Daily Show. I laughed hysterically at the following moments:
  • Every time the openning credits play. If you haven't seen it, watching Colbert in all seriousness wave an American flag back and forth while standing on a red-white-and-blue representation of the US while eagles fly around--well, that's just funny.
  • His "brand" is also hilarious. He has his name everywhere on the set--His desk is even in the shape of a giant "C."Leslie Stahl reported to him that Tim Russert now wanted a desk shaped like a "T" and Colbert suggested that he choose an "R" instead, and sit in the "R hole."
  • Having "real" newscasters on has been great. He and Stone Phillips had a headline reading contest (Stone was actually better, but it was close).
  • When Leslie Stahl told him that 60-minutes would be largely commercial free this Sunday, he asked her where Centrum Silver and Ensure would find ad time on TV this week.

In all very funny. You can see clips of episode 1 here, episode 2 here, and episode 3 here.

Still, since I am a former medicore actor with a couple of degrees in the Drama (promounced Draaaam-uh), I do have some notes for Mr. Colbert:

  • He seems to be trying to maintain a character throughout the show. It is the smug, self-satisfied, Bill O'Reilly type who is self-obsessed, opinionated, and loud. This works in the opening segments pretty well--when it's just him--but it doen't work as well when he's doing an interview. He seems to both want to ask probing questions and appear bored and stupid at the same time. Sometimes the guests don't get it--they try to answer his questions legitimately or they try to make jokes, but they keep getting interupted by his manufactured persona--and not in a funny way.
    • What to do? Colbert can go one of two ways: If he wants to maintain the persona (like Ali-G does with his "guests") he'd do better to interview less experienced, less serious people. O'Reilly doesn't ususally have Colin Powell on his show, he ususally has someone on the lunatic fringe of the news that he wants to insult and confront. This is what Colbert needs to do--Much as they did in the Daily Show segments he worked in. I want to see more Mary Carey--less Fareed Zakaria. More "the white guy who wants to distribute toy guns in Harlem" than John Kerry. The other way he can go is to do the "serious interview." But if this is the case, he should just do it, ask serious questions, and zing people in the context of the conversation with his dry wit on display from time to time.
  • I think he needs a "foil." Someone else who is doing a persona that can come on the show and work with him while he's "in character" for the first few minutes of the show. So far, he's looked a little uncomfortable reading the telepromter by himself--He ought to have a recurring character that sits with him while he reads the news, and to which he can comment. This could be the character of the the "legitimate" Comedy Central news reporter, who feeds stories to him and lets him comment on them. Or, he can Imus-style, have some "cheerleader" characters who help him discuss and insult people. Right now Colbert, who has a knack for playing off of other people, is trying to do a one man show for half the program.
  • I'm not sure that the studio audience works for this show. I'm pretty sure that O'Reilly, Chris Mathews, etc. have them, but they are mostly silent. In a show where he's trying to pull off pompous and arrogant in an "intimate" enviroment, pausing for laughs doesn't really work. He's going for laughs because his character says stupid things, when he pauses to acknowledge the laughs, it's kind of like winking at the audience to show that he's in character. It he wants to keep the audience, he should be cruel to them when they laugh "inappropriately" Scream for them to "pipe down" like O'Reilly did on the Daily Show the other night, or coach them to applaud and side with him a' la Jerry Springer. He could also use the "What's so funny?" line with them from time to time. The laughs keep reminiding me that it's a joke rather than letting me enjoy the joke.

Still, very funny and a good beginning. Comedy Central at 11:30pm (re-run the next day at 8:30pm).

--Tinfoil Out

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Roller Derby Finals--DLF! DLF! DLF!

The Rat City Rollergirls final was tonight, and I am pleased to announce that my beloved Derby Liberation Front claimed the title of league champions. I'd like to say that the result was not surprising, but honestly, I didn't know if the DLF could overthrow the mighty Throttle Rockets. In a strange twist of fate, I was watching The Godfather Part II on AMC today, which, in part, dramatizes the overthrow of the Cuban government by Castro's Marxist revolution. Michael Corleone sees a Cuban revoutionary on the street blow himself up and take a military officer with him. When he witnesses this dedication to the cause, he decides not to invest in Cuba, and that even though everyone thinks that the revolutionaries are hopelessly overmatched, he now thinks that they can win.

That's how I felt watching the girls of DLF tonight. Down by as much as 13 and down six at the half--everyone thought it was over. Throttle Rockets fans were looking smug, and even my own wife began taunting me for backing the wrong horse. Then the DLF pulled the equivalent of taking Havana.

Let me 'splain:

Early on in the bout, the Throttle Rockets were both kicking ass and taking names. Darth Skater pulled off a nice jam, as did Valtron. DLF couldn't seem to get out of the gates. Kim Reaper's first Jam looked great, but when the score was tallied, she got a whopping 1 point (you get points subtracted for team penalties--that's the only reason I could think of). The Throttle Rockets weren't really running away with it--DLF's defense was good, especially Kitty Kamikaze who was actually penalized for making some good hits--but the DLF just couldn't score. They barely used Burnett Down in the first half, and when she did jam, she, like Kim, looked good, but scored low.

At the half, things looked pretty desperate for my guerilla gals. They managed to chip away at the 13 point lead, bringing it down to six (largely due to the consistent jamming of Hideous Braxley), but the DLF--which is not exactly an offense powerhouse, was stuck with a meager 18 points at the half.

I tried to relax. I got a beer. I watched with some surprise as Grave Danger smacked down the Sockit Wenches by more than 20 points in the consolation game. I'm harsh on GD, but they really did play and excellent bout. Femme Fatale is still their brightest star (and she kicked ass on Saturday at both jammer and pivot) but I was also impressed with Basket Casey as a defender. I'm not sure where the scrappy, crazy Sockit Wenches jammers went (Miss Fortune only jammed once in the second half by my count), but hats off to GD for simply wanting it more and being the better team. Also, they ended the bout with an all out "brawl" where all of the skaters lovingly tackled each other and then hugged and shook hands. Now that's sportsmanship!

Finally--the main event. 14 minutes for all the marbles. Or some trophy. I actually don't think that there were any actual marbles involved. Anyway . . .

Un-F-ing believable. Hideous Braxley closed the gap a bit more with a nice jam. The DLF was chipping away at the lead, and then . . .

THE JAM OF THE YEAR. Hands down. The best.

We were all speculating about why Burnett Down was on the bench so much in the first half. She was out there in practically every jam of the semis. She absolutely carried the DLF in the semis. I'll admit to being a little pissed at the half when I thought that they were under-using her. We tossed around the "maybe they're saving her for the second half" excuse. All I can say is that if that was the plan, whoever came up with it should get the Nobel Prize for roller derby.

Burnett Down stepped onto the track and delivered the most amazing performance of the year. She jammed through the Throttle Rockets like they weren't even there. She went through the pack cleanly and was lead Jammer before anybody even knew what was happening. She then proceeded to lap the pack THREE TIMES--with no penalties, and staying in bounds. 15 points in one Jam. Burnett got some excellent help from her blockers, and some great whips, but it was like watching some ballerina in body armor dance around the track. Everyone who hit her bounced off, and I'm pretty sure that she couldn't have gone any faster if she were alone out there.

And it was a team effort, too, with excellent defense. How many did the Throttle Rockets score in this jam?--I've got to do some math . . . carry the one . . . square root of . . . OH YEAH, ZERO!The DLF defense was stifling. I think it was Astroglide who was jamming--I could be wrong, since I couldn't look away from the apotheosis that was Burnett Down--but whoever the poor Throttle Rocket was, she was getting nowhere fast, and was probably getting dizzy watching Burnett skate circles around her.

An amazing 15 point swing in one jam. Honestly, I don't remember a 15 point jam since the second or third bout when defense wasn't . . . um . . . such a priority. Certainly not in the finals. Certainly not against the Throttle Rockets. Certainly not a 15-0 jam.

How do you respond to that if you're the Throttle Rockets? Inexplicably, they responded with Strobe Lightning at jammer. Nothing against her, but when your season is slipping away, and you've got a bench that features Darth Skater, Valtron 3000, Dirty Little Secret, and a host of other super-jammers, why spread the wealth? The results were predictable with DLF widening their lead (I think it was Hideous Braxley or Sybil Unrest at jammer).

Finally, the Throttle Rockets, now down by double digits, finally brought out Darth Skater to try and close the gap a little. In my opinion, she should have been out there right after Burnett's mega-jam, but better late than never. Darth got off to a good start, but she ran into a pretty tough cookie at pivot for DLF--that's right ladies and gentlemen--say it with me, "Burnett Down." It looked like the DLF strategy was something like this:

DLF Coach: Burnett, do you see Darth over there?
Burnett: Yes.
DLF Coach: Get her!
And "get her" Burnett did, with a combination of great blocking moves, a few illegal grabs and take downs, and one unbelievable wallop that was actually kind of scary (perhaps foreshadowed by the above picture of the the two of them). Darth was down for a few minutes and had to be helped off. When they picked her up right in front of where we were sitting, there was pain in her eyes---Some of it was undoubtedly physical, but mostly, she knew that she might have to leave the big bout with her team on the ropes, and that really, really sucked. It happened right in front of me, and I and most of the Throttle Rocket fans that I was sitting with thought it was a clean hit. Still, no one wanted it to happen that way--you watch sports to see the best take on the best, not to watch the best limp off.

But without Darth's scoring ability (and she's a hell of a blocker/pivot too), the next few minutes were painful for TR fans. The DLF ran up the lead, and frustrated TR jammers couldn't break through DLF's big blockers. Darth did heroically return for the last 2 minutes, but she was at about 3/4 speed, and didn't have the time or the energy to make a dent in the lead.

DLF won, and won big. Burnett Down continues to be my overall choice for MVP of the world. She is the ONLY skater in the RCRGs that can change the game singlehandedly. She always comes through when DLF needs her, and tonight, in the biggest event in the short history of this young league, she ran the table and pitched a perfect game. Hats off to this towering Amazon. The program tonight said that her "day job" is as a bartender. I'm sure she pours a mean drink, but she was clearly made to skate, and it's a pleasure to watch her in her true calling--kicking ass and skating fast.

What a ride! Thanks RCRGs. You're all my heroes. I don't know what I'll do to amuse myself until March, but you have at least one EXTREMELY satisfied fan. See you in 2006!

--Tinfoil Out.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Roller Derby Finals Preview

Here we go . . .

This should be fun. My beloved DLF will square off against the Throttle Rockets in the big damn bout this weekend. This one's for all the marbles.

I do think that this will be an uphill climb for Burnett, Diva, Kim and the rollergirls of DLF. The Throttle Rockets have the fastest team in the league and they have the size to mix it up with anyone--and, let's face it, if they had an all-star game in the RCRG world, at least half of the Throttle Rockets' roster would have a good argument for showing up. Darth Skater and Valtron 3000 are clearly among the elite in the league, and Astroglide and Dirty Little Secret are not far behind.

So what can the DLF do to continue the "revolution?" First of all, they can publish instructions so that fans can make their own "Molatov Cocktails" (this is usually frowned upon at sporting events). But secondly, they can focus on what got them where they are--grit, strength, and size. The DLF has the advantage of having the biggest, strongest group of blockers in the league. That's how they beat the Throttle Rockets earlier in the year--by slowing the game down and keeping the scores low.

This bout is a classic example of a high scoring team going up against a defensive powerhouse. For the uninitiated let me offer a few analogies:

Football: The Throttle Rockets are like the St. Louis Rams in their Superbowl days. Fast, Fast, Fast. The DLF is more like the Joe Gibbs Redskins of the 80s--Gritty gutty big and scary.

Basketball: TR--The "showtime" Lakers. DLF--The "bad boys" Pistons.

Here's what I see as the keys to a DLF victory:

  • I have it on good authority that Kim Reaper will be back(she said so in the comments from my last post :)—She's the key for DLF's scoring opportunities. She needs to score big every time she jams.
  • I think that the best lineup for maximum offensive/defensive punch for the DLF is Diva State, Lorna Boom, and Kitty Kamakazie at blocker and Burnett Down @ pivot (Punchin Judy is a very good Pivot too, as is Diva) with Kim jamming. I'd try to get this package in as often as possible--especially when Valtron or Darth are jamming.
  • Even with Kim back, I think DLF would be wise to use Burnett at jammer as much as possible. Although, as I said above, it's tempting to use her at pivot given the speed of the TR jammers--still, I think that for DLF to win, Burnett will have to jam at least 1/3 of the time. With Kim taking a 1/3 and the remainder picked up by Hideous Braxley and Diva.
  • Astroglide was outstanding in the semis for TR, but I don't think that she's as much of a threat vs. DLF's defense. Key jammers to stop are Darth, Valtron, and Dirty Little Secret.

I'm really excited for this one. I think that if DLF can keep the score in the 40s, they'll win. If it gets up much higher, it probably means that the Throttle Rocket's outstanding jammers are skating rings around my beloved revolutionaries.

--Tinfoil Out

Friday, October 07, 2005

Words of wisdom from the General

Jesus' General is definitely one of the funniest, most insightful fake-conservative blogs out there. Today, he had a pithy quote in a letter to Michael Chertoff, Director of Homeland Security:

We know better. Bin Laden sees this as an opportunity to strike while our attention is diverted elsewhere. That shouldn't surprise us. He tried to do the same thing during the runup to the presidential election. Thank God we were able to thwart him by exposing his plots whenever Our Leader fell behind in the polls. Bin Laden isn't stupid (after all, he's been able to avoid capture since 9/11 by cleverly disposing of his nail clippers before entering airports).

Hee Hee

-Tinfoil Out

Thursday, October 06, 2005

First nine minutes of Serenity available online!

As far as I know, this is a first. Universal has just released the first nine minutes of Serenity on the Web in high quality full-screen streaming format (if your Internet connection is up to the task). They assume (correctly I think) that if you see the beginning, you'll want to see what happens later in the film. Clearly they want this film to succeed. I've never heard of a studio releasing a portion of a film online just 7 days after its release! Watch it here.

Keep in mind that this sequence is a lot of serious exposition/action. There's a whole lot that's funny about Serenity as well. (In fact, the "funny" starts right after this clip ends).

Hopefully this will pay dividends at the box office this weekend.

--Tinfoil out

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Serenity--big damn reaction piece

To put it bluntly--Serenity is a great film. Not just a good film--a great film. No, it's not Citizen Kane or The Godfather but, comparing it to other films in its genre (sci-fi and action), it ranks right up there with Star Wars, The Matrix, Star Trek II, Aliens, Terminator 2, and E.T.

Many will scoff. Many will roll their eyes at this comparison (many, many more will never read it . . .) but I tell you, that Serenity is a first. It's the first time that a TV sci-fi franchise--if you can call a colossal failure after 14 episodes a "franchise"--was brought to the big screen without making it a "feel good" fan movie. This movie is HARSH on fans, and only gives the most cursory of background to newbies and critics. That is why it is so great.

It's as if Joss Whedon said, "Great, I get to make a movie! I'll tell the story I always wanted to tell." rather than "How can I make everybody happy and keep this franchise alive?" This is not Star Trek: The Motion Picture or X-Files: Fight the Future--Watered down for non-believers, with lame homage moments for the major characters, and a few fan-tingling moments. This gives up a glimpse of where Joss would have gone with a series, if given the chance. This is like Firefly concentrate. 2-hours that are equivalent to 5 seasons. There are some shocks and most of the secrets from the series are revealed. It's all here.

I also have to say, that despite hopeful pronouncements by Universal executives and Joss himself, a $10 mil openning weekend for a $40 mil film probably means no sequel. I am, therefore operating on the assumption that this is last we'll see of our beloved crew. You never know--It could become My Big Fat Greek Wedding or Pulp Fiction and see its audience grow instead of shrink--or crazy good DVD sales could make the suits think it's worth their while to make another. But I doubt it.

I won't give a synopsis of the film (except the parts I'm highlighting, of course). Most critics have already done that for you. You may have seen me savaging some of the critics who didn't like it. The vast majority did, though, although most didn't understand the characters or the 'verse (short for "universe" in Firefly speak) in the movie. A tie for the award of best review for "getting it" goes to Stephanie Zacharek at (free pass required) and Peter Hartlaub at the San Francisco Chronicle. Read their reviews and the reviews of others. I think you'll find that a disproportionate number of critics thought that this was one of the best sci-fi movies in recent memory.

One note I'd like to clarify--In my earlier post I said that I would recommend that you see the series on DVD before watching it in the theatre. I will amend that to say that that's the way I did it, and I got a lot more out of the movie. As you can see, though, dozens of critics who had never seen an episode loved it. So go see it already, while you have the chance to see it on the big screen. If you want a taste before you go, there is a very funny episode this Friday on the Sci-fi channel @7:00PM. Mal plans a big heist with the woman who, on an earlier episode, tricked him into marrying her and tried to take over the ship. It will give you a good idea of who all of the characters are--since they all have a fairly large part in the action and play their "roles" really well.

Warning for those who haven't seen it yet: (What the hell are you waiting for?). Spoliers abound in the text below. Continue reading--all ye who have seen it or can stand to be spolied (or sit if you want--I don't care :) . . . If you haven't seen it yet, you probably don't want to read on:

So, what's my reaction? Well, I thought it was just about as perfect a film as I've seen in a long while. Granted, I'm a true believer--but I like to think that I can think critically about a film's failings. I've cringed through moments in the Matrix films, or thought that James Cameron or Steven Speilberg went way too cheesy--George Lucas . . . don't even get me started! In short, I have always been able to love, obsess over, and root for a film if I wanted it to be good, but still see the flaws. Not this time. My inner critc shut off 10 minutes in, and I was GLUED to the screen. Why? Because this was the anti-scfi-action movie without all of the comfortable conventions we've grown to expect: that the good guys win, major characters don't die--or if they do they get a grand death scene a la Spock in Star Trek II, that good guys act . . . well . . . good, and that we leave the theatre happy.

When the movie opens, we see a different side of the beloved Captian Malcom Reynolds. He could have remained his old wisecracking, confident self, but Joss decides to make him grow and develop. Mal had some dark moments in the series, but we meet him now at "rock bottom. " It's been six months since we saw him in the last episode and in the first twenty minutes he:
  • Kicks a man to the savage "Reavers" to save his crew.
  • We find out that he ran his love interest Inara off the ship (according to Kaylee)
  • Ever loyal Zoe is questioning his decisions (when have you EVER seen that?)
  • Kaylee complains that the captain will run off the whole crew when he runs River and Simon off. (When have you heard Kaylee complain about Mal?--except when he insults her.)
Mal is in crisis--the "Just stay alive, and make no trouble" code he's tried to live with isn't working. He's a hero, plain and simple, but he's convinced himself that he's really not. Remember that at the beginning of the series, Mal and Zoe started this journey--they were left to die in Serenity valley for three days while a "peace treaty" was negotiated. They were big damn heroes then, but it didn't mean a goddamn thing. The way that they picked themselves up was to stop believing in anything except protecting "them and theres" (does that make sense--It's the best I could do with the plural of "me and mine"). The series is all about Mal and Zoe's real struggle to transition from fighters who believed in something to "outlaws" just trying to stay alive--a role that never really fit for either of them.

Of course, the "Big Damn Spoliers" of the movie is the fact that two major characters die. The first is Shepard Book (played by Barney Miller alum Ron Glass). In the six months since we've seen him last he's left Serenity and started his own colony on a world called, appropriately enough, Haven. It's sort of a ramshakle missionary camp with lots of kids running around, and a pleasant atmosphere. Mal and the others go to Haven to hide from the Operative sent by the Alliance to kill River Tam.

Book spends the majority of his scant screen time trying to tell Mal that he is, at heart, a good and noble person, and that he needs to believe in something again. Mal recoils at this, saying that he doesn't have any need to believe in God--and Book says, "Why is it that when I talk about belief, you always think that I'm talking about God?" (a "shepard" is a Christian minister in the Firefly world). Book and all of his colony are killed by the Operative as he searches for River, but Mal and the crew of Serenity arrive in time to hear Book's last words. He tells Mal again to believe in something. This is a fairly typical "hollywood death" where the character gets to speak his peace and die heroically while trying to pass on his wisdom to the hero.

Shepard Book helped Mal (slowly in the series, but more explicitly in the movie) rediscover his beliefs. In the movie, he tells Mal that he has a "way." Book has always believed that Mal is a man of principle, and that he was just playing the bad guy. Mal would like to believe that too. Book was always Mal's conscience, because, we can see that he has made a similar journey--In his past, he was a high ranking member of the alliance, and he gave it all up to join the Shepard order.

Although we don't know the details, we know that Book was a bad man, who didn't believe in anything, but that he, unlike Mal at this point, has found "serenity." He's happy in his beliefs and putting the past behind him. When Book dies and begs Mal to believe in "something"--Mal seriously doubts that there is good in himself. He almost loses his humanity--He modifies his "boat" to look like a Reaver ship, and threatens to kill his beloved crew as well if they don't obey him. He almost becomes a Reaver, at least metaphorically, and when the Operative tells Mal, "Of course you care--You're a human being, you're not a reaver." But I'm not sure Mal believes that.

When Book dies, Mal loses his soul (for a while), and he's back again in Serenity Valley with all he's lost. Book had to die to force Mal to confront his true beliefs. The Operative had to kill innocents (I'm not condoning) to force Mal out of the "how will I get out of this" mentality, into the "what's right?" mentality. As a character (I think it was Jayne) says a little later in the movie--"If you can't do something smart, at least do something right."

So why does Wash have to die? Zoe was at Serenity Valley too, but unlike Mal, she found a way out of the horror of what happened to them--a wonderful, quirky, lovable dingbat (who she "didn't like" with a mustache)--Wash. As long as she had him, that was enough. Wash had to die, so that Josh could really make us understand what the battle of Serenity Valley was all about. Back then, they lost it all for nothing--and that's why Mal can't find anything to believe in, and Zoe still follows him and clings to Wash. They couldn't hold the valley, and everybody died for nothing--or so they believe. When Wash dies--Zoe truly believes that "the signal" is all that's important. She's back in Serenity Valley, too, with a cause to fight for. Zoe and Mal finally find something to believe in (the truth about Miranda) in the BDM, and for the first time, it's worth dying for--remember, the whole crew--Simon, Jayne, Wash---everyone agrees that getting the signal out is worth risking everything. I love Wash and Book too--but don't say they died for nothing or it was random. If that were true, you wouldn't feel a thing. They died to save Mal and Zoe, and to get the signal out--to reclaim everything the Browncoats lost at Serenity Valley. I know you'll miss them. I will too.

Like all of you, I'm blown away by Wash's abrupt end. Many have written that Joss could have teased it all out over several seasons on Fox if given the chance, and that may be true. But we all have to play the cards we're dealt. Joss had to tell this story as if it was his last chance. This movie was Mal's movie, and I thought it beautifully showed his character--who opens the movie a good deal meaner, sadder, and detacted than when we saw him last--go from an empty shell of a man who throws people to the reavers to a soldier who remembers why he fought the Alliance in the first place. I was sad to see Book go, but I think that the reason that Joss put him on that boat in the first place was to save Mal's soul--not to make him Christian--but to make him believe in something again.

When Mal sees Miranda, and he sees the tape--He has a purpose again. The reason that the Browncoats fought for independence is that they don't like people being "messed with." And to any Browncoat, especially a true believer like Mal (watch the opening sequence of the first episode again) the truth about Miranda is intollerable. This, finally, is something to believe in, and a cause worth fighting for--and dying for ("although, that's not exactly plan A!"). Mal foreshadows this in an earlier conversation with Inara--"When I go to war, you'll see something different." (I'm paraphrasing the quotes).

Once it's a war, people die. Mal spent the entire series keeping his crew safe. Simon tried to keep River safe. Jayne spent the series trying to save his own ass. But once they saw Miranda, they all agreed that this was more important than them--More important than their safety. This is a long winded way of saying--Joss had to kill Wash. And it had to be Wash. Everyone who wrote in to say that they felt for Zoe--that they were too emotional to pay attention afterwards--that they thought that the whole crew would die--How else could Joss have gotten you there? Once it's a war, people are going to die. When an idea is more important than saving the people you love--that's what happens. It had to be Wash, because Zoe's grief captures this perfectly. She's a soldier, she lost everything that she holds dear, but if there's a chance Mal can get that signal out--it's worth it.

I was shocked when Wash died--but the most emotional reaction I had was right afterwards when Zoe told Mal--"This is the place, this is where we make our stand" and when Mal said "You've got to hold" (again, paraphrasing). Go back to episode 1--If they had only held the valley, they wouldn't have lost everything. For Zoe, and for Mal, this is Serenity Valley all over again. This time, they have to hold.

Mal started this movie a broken shell of a man who was alienating his whole crew, and alienating the woman he loves--until he takes Book's dying words to heart and believes in something. Wash didn't die in vain. His death was about making a stand, and fighting for what you believe instead of hiding all the time and barely living. Sorry to be so long winded--I hated seeing Wash and Book go too, but they died for something. Mal may be able to find serenity after this. He was always an idealistic "good guy" trying to convince himself he was a "bad guy" until he almost believed it. He thought he lost everything in Serenity Valley, but thanks to the sacrifice of Book and Wash, he may have gotten it back. Believe me, if they hadn't died, you wouldn't have felt this so strongly. Bless you Joss, for not taking the easy way out. You and I loved these characters, but I guarantee that Joss feels their loss more. He didn't wanna kill them--but in the end he gave them a reason to live. That's what drama's all about. That's why this is such an outstanding movie.

--Tinfoil out

Saturday, October 01, 2005

I have found Serenity

Saw the Big Damn Movie tonight. I wrote a big damn reaction piece, but I'll hold that for a few days, since I can't talk around the spoilers with any satisfaction. Briefly:
  • It's better than I ever could have hoped for. Joss Whedon tells this story as if this is his last chance. I hope that's not true, but if it is, this was a hell of way to go out.
  • Much darker, much deeper than Firefly. It kinda had to be.
  • My advice: don't see it until you've watched the entire series on DVD. So much of what makes this film great relies on you loving these characters. If you're seeing it for the first time, it's a whizbang, funny, touching, sci-fi adventure--But you won't understand.

More later--don't want to give too much away. Fair warning, though--If you don't see it by Sunday night, all bets are off, and spoliers will float through my blog like a leaf in the wind . . .

--Tinfoil out