Monday, April 25, 2005

In Praise of Reading...and TV Watching

This past weekend commemorated the 10th Annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, billed as "a two-day celebration of the written word and one of the country's premier literary events."

In material terms, this translated into a bibliophilic extravaganza that sprawled across the UCLA campus and featured rows upon rows of booths representing what seemed to be just about every bookshop in the L.A. area, from the major retail chains (e.g., Borders) to the obscurest of specialty shops (e.g., Abril Armenian Bookstore); panels and book signings featuring authors of equally varying levels of celebrity; workshops for writers of all ages; and your usual concession stands selling lemonade and kettle corn at above-market prices.

I visited the festival o'books today (Sunday). Gorgeous day for it, like nearly every other this month. (April may be the cruelest month, but not in California.) I didn't go to any of the panels, which required one to obtain tickets in advance. I did, however, browse the booths, and reached the melancholy conclusion that for a reasonably well-educated and well-read ex-English grad student, my literary tastes are as boring as they come. Rare books and first editions could be, and were, prominently displayed before me, and I would glance absently at these before contemplating whether Donna Tartt's "The Secret History" was worth $5. (I decided no.) It's slightly disheartening to realize that Barnes & Noble adequately meets your reading needs, notwithstanding the more rarefied charms of Baby Tattoo Books or the zen-friendly Bodhi Tree Bookstore.

Ah well. Hipness fades, but beautiful writing is forever.

At this same book fair, quite serendipitously, I met Kenneth Turan, the senior film critic for the Los Angeles Times, who was hawking (and signing) his own recently published book, "Never Coming to a Theater Near You," at the Dutton Books tent. Now ordinarily, I've never been one to seek out author signatures: to me, they carry zero personal significance - especially if you have to wait in line to get it and (s)he doesn't know you from Adam. But Turan was unbesieged and alone, except for a woman (possibly his literary agent) who was sitting next to him. He was just about to close up and leave, so on an impulse, I approached and indicated I wanted to buy his book. Which I'm sure made him happy - I don't know if I was his only customer that day, but I was certainly the only one at that moment.

We had a brief chat before he signed my book - I told him I loved his movie reviews, even if (with a smile) I didn't always agree with them, and after a moment's hesitation, I asked him, half seriously, half in jest, how one became a film critic. In answering, he didn't tell me anything I didn't already know, but he confirmed what I did know: it's easier if you're already in the journalism industry, and you just have to find someone willing to publish you, usually without pay, so as to get your name in print/out there, etc. I think he softened the grimness and slimness of the prospect because I'd just flattered him to his face, but he seemed like a very nice man generally. His book is a good read - basically a shout-out to the best of the smaller, less publicized & aggressively marketed films he's reviewed in the past ten years. Many, if not most, of them I haven't seen (though I have heard of most of them), others I didn't love quite as much as he did, but there are some that I'm heartily in agreement with him on celebrating - most notably:

"The Quiet American"
"Vanya on 42nd Street"
"You Can Count on Me"
"Eat Drink Man Woman"
"In the Mood for Love"
"Red" (possibly my favorite movie ever, the best of the trilogy)

Glancing at this list, I realize that they are all what I'd call very *quiet* films. Nothing (much) happens, and yet everything happens. They are dramas of human feeling, though a couple of them are also wonderfully comedic. As such, they're more easily lost in the flash and clamor that is mainstream cinema today. But they shouldn't be.


Speaking of artistic independence being devoured by the voracious maw of capitalism, here is a rather long but *excellent* article on the predicament of theater in Los Angeles today:

(Can some kind soul enlighten me on how to activate these links? Blogging idiot that I am, I don't understand's instructions...)

Amid Morris' sharp, if undisguisedly partisan, sociological observations regarding the push & pull between artists and the developers that always seem to trail in their wake is some fairly astute commentary on the relation between the arts and the notion of "community" or "neighborhood." Nothing we haven't heard before, but a well framed analysis.


On a more upbeat note, it cheered me to discover today that contrary to conventional wisdom, popular TV has become "more cognitively demanding, not less"---such that TV watching may actually be making us smarter, not dumber:

This, coupled with those recent studies showing that a drink a day may actually be good for the health, is a great rationalization for the inordinate amount of time I spend watching my favorite prime-time TV shows while partaking of my daily glass of wine...As if I needed a rationalization...

Sunday, April 24, 2005

"The Interpreter": Starring the U.N. Like You've Never Seen It


directed by Sydney Pollack
starring Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn, Catherine Keener

There are three main characters in “The Interpreter.” One, of course, is the titular translator played by Nicole Kidman. The second is the Secret Service agent played by Sean Penn. The third is the United Nations, starring as itself—sort of. Director Sydney Pollack reportedly moved heaven and earth to shoot the film on location, and the finished product completely obviates any fears that previously kept those doors closed to Hollywood. Trust me, the U.N. never looked so good. Its gracious, lofty-ceilinged interiors buzz with activity and discourse that has the smack of Very Important Things. At the same time, they exude the kind of august dignity that, in dramatic motion pictures, is usually reserved for courtrooms—or the White House.

But of course it’s Kidman who puts the face of glamour on Global Organization Number One as the impossibly blond, impossibly willowy and chiselled-featured Silvia Broome, a U.N. interpreter who professes to believe in everything her employer stands for—peace, justice, human rights, and accountability for violations thereof. Everything, in short, that her country of origin—the fictitious African nation of Matobo—is not. As scripted, Silvia’s imaginary motherland bears some resemblance to Zimbabwe and some to the Congo-formerly-known-as-Zaire, but is really meant to represent a kind of Every-Africa. Torn by unspeakable violence and deadly civil strife, Matobo is headed by a president who embodies its deeply fractured identity: Dr. Zuwanie, a one-time enlightened revolutionary hero turned ruthless oppressor, is being called on the carpet (that is, the floor of the U.N. General Assembly) for suspected ethnic cleansing and other crimes against humanity.

If you’ve seen the ubiquitous trailer, you already know everything you need to know about the plot. One night after hours at ye olde U.N., Silvia overhears a fragment of a conversation in Ku, the native dialect of Matobo (specially created by a linguist for the movie), hinting at a possible assassination plot against the reviled Zuwanie. She reports the incident to her superiors, who in turn page Secret Service—specifically, the “Foreign Dignitary Protection” wing—to assess the credibility of the threat. Enter Penn as sad-eyed Agent Keller, along with his partner, sharp-eyed Agent Woods (an underutilized Catherine Keener). Keller is melancholie (in the full Elizabethan sense) because he’s just suffered a devastating personal tragedy. But his knee-jerk skepticism remains unsoftened, especially as he digs deeper into Silvia’s checkered history and finds it littered with anti-Zuwanie memorabilia. At the same time, he finds himself increasingly emotionally drawn to her and frustrated by her persistent guardedness.

The two leads command the screen without competing for it, and have a believably prickly, understated chemistry that almost makes up for certain unbelievable aspects to their individual characters—especially Penn’s. Keller’s back story gives the actor an excuse to emote, which he at least does with restraint (for Penn), but one has to wonder in what alternate universe the Secret Service would put a man back on the job who was so obviously still in the throes of clinical depression. Kidman, for her part, projects a brittle, watchful composure that comports well with the character of a woman still haunted by ghosts of her not-too-distant past. Some viewers will no doubt fault the film for focusing the plight of postcolonial Africa through the lens of a whiter-than-white expatriated settlor. Still, as Hollywood appropriations go, this one’s less obnoxious than most—and to the extent that Kidman’s star power gets audiences into a theater and thinking about global problems of the non-“XXX” variety, I count that a plus. In fact, in that respect one could argue the movie has more social utilitarian value than the best documentary or news report on Darfur that no one sees.

As a thriller, however, “The Interpreter” ends up being workmanlike rather than inspired. As a suspense director, Pollack’s an old hand of the old school, and he slowly ratchets up the tension in a deliberately plotted style that’s more reminiscent of “The Firm” than—well, I haven’t seen “The China Syndrome,” so let’s say last summer’s flawed but effectively creepy Jonathan Demme remake of “The Manchurian Candidate.” There’s a pivotal four-way confrontation on a bus that’s crisp and surefooted, and a couple of jumpy sequences that take place in Silvia’s apartment. The actual climax, however, is something of a letdown. Yes, there’s a twist, and no, it’s not a particularly impressive one. In fact, it’s so limp I didn’t even bother to try to figure out if it actually added up logically. Suffice to say the U.N. comes out untainted, which is more than one can say about its real-life counterpart.

Which brings me back to the point I started with: the real star of “The Interpreter” is the U.N. It’s more than a backdrop—it’s an almost archaic symbol of hope that remains virtually undimmed by the jaded cynicism that hangs about it today. In the entire film, there’s not a breath or whisper of corruption, at least of the internal variety. All the corruption comes from outside its walls, which ultimately remain unbreached. The top brass might have been nervous about letting Pollack inside them, but they didn’t need to worry. What they got was the best P.R. that money can’t buy: an earnest, unironic tribute to the ideals of the U.N. from someone who, at some level, clearly still believes in them.

RATING: ** 1/2

Friday, April 22, 2005

The O.C. Report

Having missed about three or four of the last several episodes (though I did manage to catch slightly more than half of last week's), I return to my favorite guilty pleasure to find that everything old is new again:

-Ryan punches someone out
-An Atwood gets a narrow-shave save from jail, thanks to the man in the white hat, aka Sandy
-Sexual tension (and possibly sex?) between Ryan & Marissa
-Scrapping between Seth and Summer
-Julie gets caught in flagrante delicto in a cheap motel room with a guy who's not her husband (either of her husbands).

And whaddya know, it works - I really enjoyed this episode. It's the classic formula with a new twist:

-Unlike Ryan, Trey may prove to be un-savable, despite his own and everyone else's best intentions.
-Marissa and Ryan are *so* going to get it on...though not, I think, in this eppy.
-Marissa doesn't pull a Tijuana. In fact, I don't even remember seeing her take a drink. This has to be unprecedented.
-Seth's the toast of the town - the comic book town, that is - and Summer's the one on the outside looking in. Granted, more with the attitude of someone visiting a zoo than peering into a garden.
-Kirsten teeters precariously on the brink of marital infidelity. (You know the show's working when it has me hollering "Don't do it!" at the T.V.)
-Julie's innocent - and egad, she shows a streak of humanity! Who'd have thunk it? Unless Caleb's pulled a Stepford and replaced the porn queen with bizarro-Julie. Or - better yet - unless Julie herself has some more diabolical plot afoot.

Other random observations:
-The guy playing Trey bears a striking resemblance to the actor Jonathan Rhys-Meyers.
-I don't like how the writers are making Zack into a smirking asshole. Can't tell if he's just enjoying watching Seth squirm or has real intentions of stealing Summer back. Probably a bit of both. But it's unworthy of him, and most unappealing.
-What's with Summer dissing people who drink wine for fun?
-Speaking of wine, I half-expected Jack and Miles from "Sideways" to make a cameo in the winery scenes - especially when Carter and Kirsten talked about not using the spit bucket. (Btw, how much you wanna bet he LIED about that surfer-chick turning him down?)
-I gleaned absolutely no shard of intelligible meaning from the jumble that was "scenes from next week" - except for a vague impression that the will-Kirsten-fall dance is going to be prolonged for yet another episode. Nooaaugh...If she does succumb, I will throw pita chips at the T.V. Sandy, I love you, but you're being a total chump about your wife.
-High cab fares were incurred in this episode. In case any of you thought that Summer was just being pissy when she said the cab ride from the comic-book fete would be over $300...well, she wasn't. The party was apparently in Silver Lake, and let me tell you, from Silver Lake to Newport Beach is an obscenely long schlepp. Santa Barbara is significantly farther.

No line of the week. Suggestions welcome.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Daily Roundup...

So we have a new Pope: All hail Benedict XVI. I studiously refrain from offering any extended commentary on a man about whom I know very little except for a few early news reports. It's too early to tell what his impact will be. But his selection signals a pretty clear lack of interest in broadening the appeal of the Church to an increasingly secularized and globalized world. Which perhaps is less blinkered than many liberals would suppose: broadening appeal at the expense of doctrinal integrity can ultimately lead to implosion. Still, it's a fine line between the doctrinal and the doctrinaire, and it remains to be seen whether John Paul's successor will carry on his tradition or constrict it still further. I hope not the latter, if the Church is to have any continued relevance in addressing the world's ills.

In other news, the Chinese government shows signs that it's finally calling a halt to the anti-Japanese protests:

I suppose it was time...the protests were getting ugly, and I don't doubt the police were being deliberately lax in restraining the violence. Which I do not condone. But I do understand it, on some level. Unless you are of Chinese or Korean descent, you can't possibly fathom the depth of resentment against Japan that lurks in the cultural consciousness of both nations, and that takes very little to ignite. It's not helped by the reactionary attitudes entrenched in the current Japanese government. Whatever its public, official admissions (and even they have been woefully inadequate), the fact remains that Japan has continued to downplay, avoid, and even outrightly reject any true accountability for the atrocities it committed in the years leading up to and during WWII. The most recent round of whitewashed history textbooks are the symptom, not the disease. But they are a pretty bad symptom. Can you imagine German history textbooks referring to the Holocaust as a "controversial incident"? How about German officials who publicly visit Hitler's grave? If you think the comparison between Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany is overstated, think again:

Add to that the fact that in its pre-WWII occupation of Korea, Japan essentially sought to wipe out every vestige of an independent Korean language and cultural identity. Talk about ethnic cleansing. And let's not even get started on the comfort women.

This is not to deny that as many Japanese were innocent victims, rather than perpetrators, of coldblooded atrocities during WWII. Two words: Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One could further argue that there has been no recognition or acknowledgment that these were crimes against humanity. (Yes, I realize I'm in a minority on this.)

But at least no one denies that they happened, or the magnitude of their impact. The worst of Japan's continued resistance to accountability is that generations of Japanese grow up not knowing, and therefore not understanding, the source of all this anti-Japanese sentiment - which just exacerbates the tensions. If those who do not learn *from* history are condemned to repeat it - well, for goodness sake, what do you expect of those who don't learn history in the first place?

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Another Passing...

This one's more personal...A guy in my high school class was killed last weekend while mountain-climbing in Oregon. He wasn't a close friend - I'd lost touch with him years and years ago - but he was a core member of a group of friends I knew well, a couple of whom I'm still very much in touch with. It was through them I heard the news, though I don't know all the details, and they took it very hard.

On me, his passing has had a more muted effect, after the initial shock - sorrowful reflection rather than tears or sleepless nights. I'm still processing it, though. I've been seeing his face throughout the day, seeing it as I remember it from high school. I see it always with a smile...not because he was always smiling, but because he had such a nice smile - quiet, yet tinged with a spark of impish humor. And that was his personality, too. Quiet to those who didn't know him well (which included me, except by observation), but a presence that made itself felt.

Good-bye, Pat. I don't know what happens after death - but I hope you know how much you're missed.

One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

-John Donne

Monday, April 11, 2005

A Love Song for Red Sox Nation: "Fever Pitch" is a Winner


directed by Peter & Bobby Farrelly
starring Drew Barrymore, Jimmy Fallon

Because it’s entirely impossible for me to be objective about this movie, I’m not even going to try. My guess is that anyone who’s from Boston or has spent significant time there will find it difficult to dislike “Fever Pitch.” Myself, I loved the movie. Not so much because it’s a great romantic comedy (it’s not), but because it’s such a heartfelt love letter to the Sox, to Sox fans, and, of course, to Boston.

Which is not to say that’s the only reason to see it. “Fever Pitch” has a lot going for it besides the Boston connection. In its original incarnation, of course, it had no connection to Boston or to baseball at all. The current version is very loosely adapted—or rather, derived—from the Nick Hornby novel about a Brit whose hapless devotion to a soccer (sorry, football) team threatens to derail his love life. (It was made into a 1997 movie, little seen outside Britain, starring Colin Firth.) Still, the transatlantic translation works, and Hornby’s excellent track record for transfer to film (see, e.g., “High Fidelity,” “About a Boy”) remains unmarred. The Farrelly brothers’ insight into the boy-man mentality isn’t as incisive as Hornby’s, but they portray the Bosox-besotted boy-man, Ben (Jimmy Fallon), with a nice balance of sympathy and ridicule—and much less than their usual quota of gross-out humor.

They also have the benefit of Drew Barrymore, who could carry a rom-com in her sleep. She’s endearing as always here, if not quite convincing as the high-powered workaholic consultant-type who falls for Fallon’s type-B schoolteacher. The movie does get in a couple of funny and fairly on-point observations about the dating landscape for ambitious professional women, though the supporting cast of female friends (including Ione Skye, the chick from “Say Anything”) is underdeveloped across the board. (Ben’s cronies don’t fare much better, though they’re funnier.) Still, the two leads have a nice, relaxed chemistry that wards off some potentially prickly questions of class and gender dynamics. And though their respective moments of romantic epiphany are both predictable and contrived, they do give us a hilarious sequence involving Barrymore dashing like mad through the baseball field and using Johnny Damon as a human shield.

But it’s the Farrellys’ affection for Beantown and its favorite home team that gives the movie its unquenchable sparkle. A friend of mine accurately noted that real Sox fans can get a lot uglier and more obstreperous than the fairly harmless group of lunatics who make up Ben’s Fenway family. Yet “Fever Pitch” does pay fitting homage to the unreasoning attachment, the fits of gloom, and the superstitious tics and rituals, incomprehensible to the uninitiated outsider, that constitute a true believer—pre-2004 World Series. The fact that there was a real-life fairy-tale ending, though it’s somewhat awkwardly incorporated into the movie, only increases the sentimental value of remembering the Red Sox Nation as they were. By the same token, I concede that Boston is never as consistently sunny and pleasant as it apparently was for Lindsey and Ben. Still—the visual image that always comes to my mind when I think of my old stomping ground is the sunlight reflecting off the glass face of the John Hancock Tower and the Charles River. Seeing those same shots in the movie was like coming home. “Fever Pitch” is must-viewing for the Boston expat—because it shows the city as it ought to be remembered.


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

What Happens in "Sin City"...


directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller
starring Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Brittany Murphy, Benicio del Toro, Rosario Dawson, Devon Aoki, Alexis Bledel, Elijah Wood, Nick Stahl, Jamie King, Carla Gugino, Michael Madsen, Powers Boothe, and a hella lotta people I know I'm forgetting...

What is the line between pulp and porn? Whatever it is, “Sin City” straddles it with glee—and, against all odds, turns it into high-octane art. The kind of art that most likely adorns hell rather than heaven, perhaps, but art none the less.

I’m talking about the movie, of course, though I could just as easily be talking about the comic from which it’s been adapted. From all appearances and accounts, “Frank Miller’s Sin City” is just that: “Frank Miller’s Sin City.” Courtesy of Miller himself and co-director/ex-DGA member Robert Rodriguez, the movie’s been turned into a living, moving graphic novel—rather than the other way around.

The result, as even the naysayers concede, is visually stunning. (I didn’t see it in digital projection, and I still found it impressive.) Shot in black and white, with splashes of color for accent—the red hue of an evening gown, the blue depths of a girl’s eyes, the bilious yellow tint of a villain’s skin—“Sin City” reproduces Frank Miller’s universe, frame for frame, with remarkable precision. The nature of that universe, however, is practically tailored to alienate that portion of the American population for whom “sin” is a tangible, un-deconstructed concept and “fanboy” a foreign word. Frank Miller’s Sin City is a world of no fixed time or place—the cars, clothes, and other accoutrements range from 1930’s noir to Hong Kong/Tarantino chic—but of one fixed mode: corruption, vice, and grisly violence. Torture, dismemberment, sexual assault, and cannibalism are all the order of the day, not to mention prostitution and assassination. As hellmouths go, this one makes Sodom and Gomorrah look like Care Bear land.

Three men pass for heroes amid the mayhem, and that’s relatively speaking: they’re the ones who kill and mutilate the people who *like* to kill and mutilate other people, and brood a lot in between. The movie tracks each of their stories, which intersect with neat non-linearity à la “Pulp Fiction.” Oddly, the most compelling of the three is also the one that features the most relentlessly over-the-top sadism. That’s the story of Marv (Mickey Rourke), a gravel-voiced bruiser and ex-con who spends the better part of the movie hunting down the men who killed the love of his life (a blonde hooker, archetypally, if somewhat unimaginatively, named Goldie) and doing really terrible things to really terrible people. (One of these encounters involves a showdown with Elijah Wood, who uses his deer-in-headlights stare to creepy effect: you’ll never look at Frodo the same way again.) Yet Marv, thanks largely to Rourke’s strong performance, somehow emerges intact as a bona fide brooding romantic, with the kind of wry gallows humor that only real heroes can pull off.

The same can’t be said of Clive Owen as the Raymond Chandler-channeling Dwight, who unwittingly disrupts a hairpin truce between the Sin City police, the Mob, and the hookers led by his ex (Rosario Dawson, resplendent in high bondage gear). Owen certainly looks the part, though he doesn’t quite master the accent. But his real problem is the lack of energy behind this storyline, despite a funny sequence involving Benicio del Toro’s head, which was guest-directed by Quentin Tarantino, and frequent swooping appearances by a blade-wielding Asiatic angel of death—is there any other kind?—embodied by Devon Aoki. The movie goes slack here, and becomes a little too stilted and campy for its own good. It’s not helped by Dawson’s scenery-chewing or the incongruous appearance of Alexis Bledel as a goody-two-shoes prostitute who calls her mother regularly: it’s as if Rory Gilmore dropped out of Yale and wandered into Sin City unbeknownst to Lorelai. Equally random appearances by bomb-happy ex-IRA mercenaries (side note: was Miller working through Irish heritage issues? the Catholic Church doesn’t come off too well in this movie, either) and tar pits out of a Park La Brea nightmare make this the most surreal—and least coherent—of the three threads.

To the extent the movie has a moral center, it’s Bruce Willis as Hartigan, one of the few honest cops in Sin City, whose narrative flanks those of Marv and Dwight. In the first act, Hartigan rescues a young girl, Nancy Callahan, from a child molester (Nick Stahl), delivers a suitably painful punishment to the latter, and goes to jail as his reward. In the second act, he emerges eight years later and seeks out little Nancy, only to find that she’s grown into a beautiful young stripper (Jessica Alba) who’s been in love with him from the day he saved her. (I have to hand it to Miller for serving up the most unfiltered, unadulterated, unabashed male fantasy this side of James Bond and porn.) Unfortunately, the child molester is still lurking in the background, and plotting revenge. Willis has the stoic-yet-vulnerable-hero act down pat, and displays a surprisingly touching, non-icky chemistry with Alba—who, like Natalie Portman, opts to play a stripper of the non-strippin’ variety, thereby cruelly disappointing legions of fanboys. That said, I was probably more disturbed by the sudden shift from paternal to sexual relationship than I was by the fact that I had to see Nick Stahl castrated not once but twice.

Moviegoers unprepared for “Sin City” may be turned off by its Grand Guignol violence and/or its fetishization of women’s bodies (not to mention body parts). I was prepared. Still, even if I hadn’t been, I might not have been much affected. The violence is so extreme and yet so stylized, it left me feeling at once visually riveted, intellectually amused, psychologically detached, and emotionally empty. Sin City” is noir on acid—its brutality not so much hardboiled as overcooked, and its driving force the male id run amok. In some ways it put me in mind of a less self-aware, less ironic “Fight Club.” There’s something to be said for a peek into the dark side of the male psyche that aestheticizes it into postmodern entertainment. But there’s something to be feared about it, too.

RATING: *** for style and entertainment; NEGATIVE stars for redeeming social value

Friday, April 01, 2005

Many Passings: R.I.P.

Well, it's still too soon, as of the present moment, to call it for the Pope. Anyway, as a lapsed quasi-Catholic turned agnostic, I haven't any comments to offer on his passing that aren't conflicted or self-contradictory. All I'll say, without irony or rancor, is: may he go with God.

As for Terri Schiavo, I've already said my say on the political/legal implications of thrusting her case upon the federal courts. But in the face of her death, the only important thing to remember, and to mourn, is the tragedy that befell her. Any way you view it, it was a tragedy that she didn't deserve. May she rest in peace.

And finally, somewhat overshadowed by these more celebrated passings: yesterday marked the death of Fred Korematsu, the Japanese American who challenged - unsuccessfully - his arrest and internment during WWII. His conviction was overturned 40 years later, but not the Supreme Court's 1944 ruling that the "evacuation" (as opposed to"detention" - a weird distinction that Jerry Kang and other legal scholars have written much more lucidly about it than I could possibly do) of Japanese Americans was lawful, and not unconstitutional.

For obvious reasons I needn't go into detail here, Korematsu's case still has (or should have) striking resonance today. Here's what the Supreme Court had to say in 1944:

"Compulsory exclusion of large groups of citizens from their homes, except under circumstances of direst emergency and peril, is inconsistent with our basic governmental institutions. But when under conditions of modern warfare our shores are threatened by hostile forces, the power to protect must be commensurate with the threatened danger."

Underscoring the grim familiarity of these arguments is the masterful dissent by Justice Murphy. Justice Jackson's dissent tends to get quoted a lot (there's a great line in it about a principle of racism being like a loaded spring), and it's good. But Murphy's is ballsier, and his analysis of the flimsy military evidence all the more searing for being so right on the money. (It was later discovered that the DOJ had effectively covered up just how flimsy, as in nonexistent, the evidence of Japanese American espionage really was.) In tribute to him, and to Korematsu, I'll close my yammering with a passage from his dissent - though I highly recommend reading the entire thing if you can get a hold of it:

"No one denies, of course, that there were some disloyal persons of Japanese descent on the Pacific coast ... But to infer that examples of individual disloyalty prove group disloyalty and justify discriminatory action against the entire group is to deny that under our system of law individual guilt is the sole basis for deprivation of rights ... To give constitutional sanction to that inference in this case, however well-intentioned may have been the military to adopt one of the cruelest of the rationales used by our enemies to destroy the dignity of the individual, and to encourage and open the door to discriminatory actions against other minority groups in the passions of tomorrow."

Amen to that. It troubles me to think that Korematsu died at a time when Murphy's warnings may be proven all too prescient. Despite that, I hope he, too, rests in peace.