Latest Blog Posts
I have this sense that I should be cheering on the efforts of FDIC chair Sheila Bair, who is seeking to ensure that more TARP bailout money goes toward helping prevent foreclosures. I am probably supposed to be glad that she’s fighting for the little guy against Wall Street bankers and other undeserving beneficiaries of socialism for the rich. But instead, the idea of helping homeowners out with their mortgages makes me angrier than helping out irresponsible industries. Haven’t home buyers had enough help already on their mortgages in the form of tax breaks and Fed-orchestrated interest rate adjustments? Helping keep or put people into homes they couldn’t afford is what has caused much of the economic mess we’re in to begin with. Continuing down that road seems foolhardy—solving the problems of a burst bubble by reinflating it.
And mortgage modification programs—hard enough to implement since securitization has made it near impossible to figure out who owns the loans—often don’t work. People who have their mortgage rejiggered to prevent foreclosure often end up redefaulting.
But what stokes my anger about foreclosure prevention is that I can relate directly to the decisions that got underwater homeowners where they are. Many of them were making poor decisions at my level, accepting the sorts of deals that were available to me but that I didn’t pursue. They took advantage of the housing bubble while prudent (or timid) people like me didn’t, and now that they are facing consequences, part of me—the vindictive, reptilian-brain part—wants them to suffer. Instead society is poised to reward them for their poor decisionmaking at the expense of chumps like me who didn’t follow the herd into McMansions in the exurbs.
Thanks to an apotheosis of various ideological strains prevalent here—rugged individualism, fetishized private property, the freedom of open space, the need for consipcuous consumption and identity display through possessions—American society has a tendency to make homeownership seem like the ticket to legitimacy and adulthood, as if it’s the only way to mark a seriousness about belonging to your community. This tends to discourage other forms of community organization as well as making homeownership appear more of a boon than it often proves to be. Felix Salmon cites recent research into the pleasures of home ownership that yielded results that seem almost unbelievable, considering the prevailing attitudes:
I find little evidence that homeowners are happier by any of the following definitions: life satisfaction, overall mood, overall feeling, general moment-to-moment emotions (i.e., affect) and affect at home. Several factors might be at work: homeowners derive more pain (but no more joy) from both their home and their neighborhood. They are also more likely to be 12 pounds heavier, report lower health status and poorer sleep quality. They tend to spend less time on active leisure or with friends. The average homeowner reports less joy from love and relationships. She is also less likely to consider herself to enjoy being with people… The results are robust after controlling for reported financial stress.
Homeowners use their homes to retreat from society and lessen their awareness of their true interdependence with it. To a degree, people focus on their houses to the exclusion of the surrounding community—building good fences, making good neighbors, that sort of thing. This apparently can become an unhealthy withdrawal. So maybe I shouldn’t be so angry—resisting the mantra of homeownership has saved me a lot of psychic misery.
Anyway, I completely agree with Salmon’s reaction:
It’s idiotic. I don’t expect Americans to all go to Germany and realize how happy people are when they don’t need to worry about all the stresses which accompany homeownership. But I do think that substantially all of the upside to homeownership in recent years has been a function of rising house prices. Now that’s come to an end, it’s hard to see why anybody would want to buy.
In fact, if Americans could be persuaded that rent payments aren’t “wasted money” and that owning often makes less financial sense than renting, I think the rate of homeownership might, happily, drop substantially. But it’s not going to happen. The ideal of homeownership is deeply embedded in the American psyche, and any datapoints which don’t fit into that ideal are automatically discarded.
Rent is not “throwing money away” anymore than buying food at the grocery store is “throwing money away” since you didn’t plant your own garden and raise your own livestock. Shelter is something you consume; it’s not an investment. Bailing out homeowners is rewarding the people who treated housing as an investment and not a consumption good, a fulfillment of personal need. Preventing foreclosures is often a matter of rescuing people from their failure to properly assess risk, not from some unforeseen natural disaster. Let’s not pretend this is any different from bailing out imprudent or inept investment bankers.
If aspirations and ambitions were all it took to make a good movie (or at the very least, a merely entertaining one), there’d be no reason for critics. We lowly members of a dying print and public consciousness medium would be parking cars or pumping gas, the ever-present noble goals of the world’s filmmakers constantly saving their projects from utter failure. As part of his commentary track for the recent summer snoozer The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, director Rob Cohen offers up numerous scholarly excuses for his less than satisfying film. To hear him tell it, this third installment of an already dead franchise is rife with chronological wonders and visual splendor. He must be talking about the movie that’s still in his head. What’s on screen is just dull and dopey.
While really not enjoying their post-War retirement, adventurous couple Rick O’Connell and his wife Evie are content to try and live as normal, everyday people. All that changes when the British Government gives them a chance to return a precious artifact to Shanghai. There, they run into Evie’s brother Jonathan, their college aged son Alex, and a new supernatural threat - Emperor Han, cursed leader of a long lost Chinese dynasty. Along with his terracotta army, this petrified pariah will take over the world if he is resurrected, and sure enough, the item the O’Connells are trafficking is the key to his rebirth. It’s not long before the reunited family is scrambling to prevent such a catastrophe, a local Asian girl named Lin providing much needed guidance - and a mysterious knowledge of long past events.
There is no greater crime committed by a film like The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (new to DVD in a two disc Deluxe Edition from Universal) than being no damn fun. We’ll accept lame characterization, narrative hogwash, and an overall aura of cheesiness. We’ll even accept your uninspired idea of over the marquee casting. But when you can’t make massive CG battles entertaining or exciting, you’re clearly out of your popcorn movie league. No matter the extent of extras, not matter how you explain away the special effects, the actual historical context, or the specialness of working with Jet Li and Michele Yeoh, blockbuster boredom is the worst kind of tedium. This third go-round for the franchise even fails to deliver in the familiarity department. Gone are Rachel Weisz (clearly too big and award winning to be involved in such silliness anymore), our bandage wrapped Egyptian villain, and a sense of supersized kitsch.
When Stephen Sommers took on the task of revitalizing the classic Universal creature a few years back, he opened up his overstuffed brain and clearly said “Yes” to each and every excess. From the first film’s attempted epic-ness to the follow-ups proclivity toward pygmy mummies, Sommers understood the inherent goofiness of his charge. While allowing star Brendan Frasier to mug like a monkey on crack, he provided some certified genre brashness. But the idea of taking this kind of approach never got to new helmer Cohen. Instead, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor flounders in fake historical accuracy, an Indiana Jones meets the Temple of Tools wannabe-ism, and a fundamental lack of Li/Yeoh martial artistry. These two Hong Kong powerhouses should light up the screen, especially when fisticuffs are involved. Instead, their confronts are crap.
Maybe it’s the basic premise that undermines this third Mummy. Here, Li’s Han is your standard undead megalomaniac. He’s not some heartbroken shaman sent to sleep with the scarabs because of a forbidden tryst with the Pharaoh’s lady. There’s no sexiness here, no golden skinned cat clawing between Evie and some otherworldly babe. Instead, Maria Bello bumbles around like a bad parlor trick, her interpretation of the character cause for concern and utter contempt. Frasier seems to sense his co-star’s flop sweat, and ups his eye-popping panto to outrageous levels. Even John Hannah, whose whining drunkard brother Jonathan was never a subtle facet of the first two films, goes elephantine in the performance caricature department.
When it came to theaters back in August, many critics complained that, even though its scope suggested something spectacular and larger then life, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor was probably better suited for the small screen. As an amusement, it was a TV, not a theatrical party. Well, they were wrong. Dead wrong. Details that at least looked likable in 35mm are lost on the DVD, while other aspects blurred in the cinematic shuffle are emphasized now. Sure, it’s kind of neat to see how Cohen’s concept of “liquid stone” was realized during the Chinese New Year chase, and the Yeti’s lose some of their randy ridiculousness ratcheted down to boob tube size. But even with an outlay of deleted and extended scenes, cast and crew interviews, and numerous behind the scenes insights, this third installment in the franchise just lays there, dormant and uninvolving.
None of this matters to the ambitious filmmaker, however. During the course of his commentary, Cohen makes it clear where storylines were left purposefully ambiguous to make room for a few more films in the Mummy series. “As long as the fans want them” he says, suggesting that ticket sales and strong DVD sell-through will somehow sway Tinsel Town into taking on the material yet again (sure, like Hollywood is ever persuaded by a title’s commerciality before considering a sequel. Right.). If money is any measure of success, then this Asian update of the series earns a presupposed second chance.
But cash almost never matched creativity. In some cases, the amount of dollars earned is inversely proportional to the quality of amusement on the screen. Judged by those studio slicked standards, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is a rock solid return on the investment. It’s also a sloppy stink bomb. Here’s hoping the next few installments find a way to balance ambitions with actual entertainment value. One senses, however, the motion picture maxim remaining in effect for the foreseeable future.
When you’re shopping for the perfect gift, you’re often looking for a gift that someone would love but would never purchase for themselves. If money is no object, just such a gift for the traveler in your life is the HEADPLAY Personal Cinema System, a portable headset that hooks up to any input to give the user the appearance of big screen viewing in a tiny little package. At first, it feels a little like watching a movie or playing a videogame on one of those ViewMaster 3D slideshow gadgets that we loved as kids, but you eventually realize it’s better than that the first time you swing your head around to try to look behind you. Hook a decent pair of headphones into it and you have a surprisingly immersive cinematic experience, whether for watching a movie, playing a videogame, or viewing a slideshow of pictures from your most recent trip abroad. It’s not cheap, but for a certain subset of frequent traveler, it might be just the ticket to making all of those trips just a little bit more pleasurable.
In this vast world of cultural offerings, we would be lost without our curators that are so vital in separating the wheat from the chaf. For the generalist who finds virtually any subject matter worth reading about so long as it’s well-written about, PopMatters recommends what we believe are the best of these Best of 2008 books. Edited by Adam Gopnik, Salman Rushdie, Holly Hughes, Jerome Groopman and Anthony Bourdain, respectively, these five books represent the most delicious literary offerings from 2008’s crowded table of ‘Best of’s. The perpetually curious intellectual in your life will savor these books throughout the year.
The Best American Essays 2008 (The Best American Series)
The Best American Travel Writing 2008 (The Best American Series)
The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2008 (The Best American Series)
The Best American Science Writing 2008