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Thor Ragnarok (and agonizing about the future of cinema)

5 Nov

Thor Ragnarok begins with our hero suspended in chains and speaking essentially to us, the audience. It’s not giving anything away to tell you that he soon breaks out and lots of action ensues. I1 saw the film with my wife, our adult daughters, and our son-in-law. They all loved the picture, as did I. TR has everything that we’ve come to know and love in a Marvel movie:

Humor? Check. Thor of the comics is (or at least was – I haven’t kept up) a stick-in-the-mud. Movie Thor is a fun guy. It also has a way of pulling the rug out from under you for comic effect, as when, later in the film – oops! – don’t want to give that away…
Big name stars? Check. Thor’s nemesis in this one is played by … well, you may already know, but I don’t want to give it away. Not only that, but there’s a really fun supporting character played by … oops, never mind…
Action? Check. TR is Action City.
Guest appearances by other Marvel heroes? Check. It’s almost a given.
Great special effects? Check.
A teaser after the end credits? Check.


Yeah, life’s like that sometimes.

Superhero movies tend to be lavish affairs, with filmmakers going overboard to lay on fantastic visions of other worlds, alien creatures, and futuristic technology. TR delivers in spades on this score. Any Marvel fan will come away smiling.

Here though, is where I become curmudgeonly.  I have issues with the film – well, not with TR specifically, but with franchise films in general ( 007, Alien, DC, Die Hard, Dirty Harry, Marvel, Star Wars, Underworld, you name it.)

1. Franchise films soon become formulaic (or tend to, anyway.) We know that 007’s imminent demise won’t happen. The bad guy will leave the scene certain that Bond can’t possibly escape. Bond does, of course, and the first few times, this is great. After that, it’s fodder for an Austin Powers parody.

2. Franchise films have a need to top themselves. If a lot of stuff blew up in the previous installment, more has to blow up in the next. If a car and a tanker truck collide in the first picture, the next will feature a collision between a car, a tanker truck, a motorcycle, a train, a helicopter, and an airliner.

3. The first two points lead to the third – since they become formulaic and have a need to top themselves, they essentially become vehicles for telling the same story over and over, with minor variations.

OK, maybe I’m being too crabby. That’s part of the fun, right? We know going in what to expect, but we can’t wait to see how the filmmakers will tweak the formula, adding new parameters and permutations to well-established patterns (even if it’s Jar Jar Binks.) Doesn’t classical music follow this model? Haydn would have taken this as a given (no, not the Jar Jar part – the thing about variations on well-established norms.)
Too, production values in franchise films are generally high – these pics have big budgets and it shows on the screen. What’s not to like about a well-conceived, well-photographed cinematic roller coaster ride?

I’m left though, with a certain disquiet. I worry that big-budget franchise films will and perhaps already have, resulted in a dumbing-down of cinema in general. The buzz for such movies generally includes a breathless report of the millions it cost to make it and the box office receipts after its opening weekend. That is not, in my humble opinion. and perhaps yours too, any way to judge the worth of a thing.

OK, here again, I’m off in the weeds – I really don’t know where I’m going with this. Thor Ragnarok is not Pride and Prejudice and it doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is – a fun (if often violent) fantasy. Tell you what – see the picture, and I’ll sit here and moan and groan about the dumbing-down of cinema and the future of motion pictures as an art form. Deal?

1 We’re eschewing the editorial ‘we’ that we normally use for this one.


Writing about Kubrick Part I

5 May

OK, we haven’t posted in, like, forever.  Part of the reason is that we’ve wanted to write about one of our favorite directors for a while now, but we felt cowed by the task.  We wanted to be as methodical with this post as Kubrick was with his films.  Once you find yourself thinking that way, though, it’s a recipe for inaction.  Here goes.

We¹ remember where we were when we found out that Kubrick was dead.  We were driving back from Chicago with our spouse, Maryam, when the news came over the radio.  Back at the house, we called our friend, Diane (not her real name – she might not like us using her real name.) “Kubrick’s dead,” we said. We have no idea why we called Diane. She and her husband are mutual friends of ours, but she isn’t exactly a Kubrick fan. Diane handled the news with her usual candor. “Didn’t he make A Clockwork Orange?”,  she asked. “What a sick mind.”  We were not put off, and we went on to have a pleasant conversation about the deceased and his films.

We don’t think that Kubrick was a perfect director – he made relatively few films, and his very meticulousness often worked against him. (His penchant for repeated takes, 100+ at times, often put him behind schedule.) There are few strong women in Kubrick films,  and his worldview is often bleak (the world blows up at the end of Dr. Strangelove, for Pete’s sake, and it’s a comedy.) Not only that, he cut the last chapter of Anthony Burgess’ novel, A Clockwork Orange, one that changes the tone of the novel’s ending. Kubrick couldn’t write for sour apples and always wrote with a collaborator.

Nonetheless, more than any other director we can think of, Kubrick is in every frame of his films, though he never once stepped in front of the camera the way Martin Scorsese has occasionally done.  Don’t get us started about the way he moves the camera. Remember the scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey where Gary Lockwood jogs in the centrifuge of the spacecraft?  How ’bout the scene in Paths of Glory where the camera tracks though the WWI trenches? Danny riding his tricycle though empty hallways in The Shining? You’ve probably thought of a few that we haven’t.

Kubrick had budgetary control over his films that many directors would have given their eye teeth of have.  Vincent D’onofrio recalled (it’s on You Tube, we forget the name of the documentary) showing up on the set of Full Metal Jacket and seeing men sitting in a van who never seemed to leave it. “They’re from accounting,” Kubrick explained. “They’re not allowed to leave the car.”


When ya go crazy in a Kubrick film, ya gotta glower

OK, we’re all over the map here, but we suggest that you check out Fear and Desire, Kubrick’s first feature. The film’s been unavailable for years ’cause Kubrick found it pretentious and amateurish.  The picture’s not great (it sometimes feels like a Twilight Zone episode), but we like it because it foreshadows the Kubrick that was to come – a war theme,  and a scene that in its way prefigures the end of 2001. (Killer’s Kiss, another early effort, has a quick scene that predates the 2001’s light show, as well as a chase though a manikin factory.)

The real purpose of this post was to review Emilio D’Alessandro’s Stanley Kubrick and Me, but we’ll get to that next time.

¹ If you’ve followed this space, you’ll know that we refer to ourselves in the third person, an trite affectation to be sure, but we can’t seem to break ourselves of this annoying habit.

On viewing Fellini’s “La Strada” again

20 Feb

We saw Federico Fellini’s 1954 film,  La Strada  (in English, “The Road”) last night for perhaps the 3rd time. Repeated viewings of a film can reveal things that you hadn’t noticed the first time around, and with last night’s viewing, we saw something as obvious as a speeding Mack truck  that we had somehow managed not to notice on previous viewings.

OK, we’re getting a mite ahead of ourselves.  If you haven’t seen La Strada, and you want to see it free of anyone else’s opinion or perceptions, please stop reading this and by all means, view the film. (If so, we hope you’ll return to this post later.)

Have you seen the film? Great! Glad you’re back. If you’ve not seen the picture and you don’t care about spoilers, La Strada is the story of Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina) and Zampanò (Anthony Quinn), a traveling performer on a run-down 3-wheel motorcycle that doubles as a sleeping quarters.

As the film begins, Zampanò’s erstwhile partner, Rosa, has died. Zampanò turns up at Rosa’s mother’s home, where the mother promptly offers Gelsomina as Zampanò’s new partner for 10,000 lire. As for Gelsomina, well, nobody really asked her opinion.

Zampanò is your basic bully, and while training Gelsomina to be his partner, he applies a switch to her legs for not following his instructions to the letter. He’s also essentially a one-trick pony; his act consists of breaking a chain fastened around his chest and performing a brief farce in which Gelsomina is a duck and he the hunter.

OK, so what was the big, obvious thing that we noticed on this viewing that we failed to appreciate on previous viewings?  This time around, we saw Gelsomina not just as the naif-saint of previous viewings, but as a woman trapped in a relationship with an abusive partner. (If you find yourself thinking “Duh!”, we understand.) We don’t get the sense that theirs is a sexual relationship – Zampanò thinks nothing of leaving Gelsomina stranded while he goes off with women, but it’s relationship nonetheless. To be fair, Gelsomina is not completely passive; she makes an attempt to leave Zampanò, only to be found and forced to stay with him again.

Zampanò joins up with a larger traveling circus, where he manages to get himself thrown in jail. While he’s in the hoosegow, Gelsomina has a conversation with The Fool, a tightrope walker (Richard Basehart).  In response to her lament that she feels useless, The Fool observes that even the pebbles below their feet have a purpose, adding that if one thing is useless, then everything is useless. Gelsomina, holding a pebble in her hand, is radiant. She seems to decide that The Fool’s meaning is that she should stay with Zampanò, as he needs her. Others in the traveling circus entreat her to join them and leave Zampanò behind, but she declines, despite their seeming a lot kinder and a lot less dysfunctional than Zampanò (which would not be hard.)

We won’t summarize the rest of the film, as we don’t want to completely spoil your viewing experience. This time around, though, we were left with some pretty disturbing questions: Why did Rosa die?  Was she ill or did the brute Zampanò hasten her demise?  Why does Gelsomina pass up a chance to join a more congenial group of people? (True, she’s a bit of an innocent, but still, ya gotta wonder.)

Now, this isn’t the first time we’ve failed to appreciate something obvious in a film.  We remember watching Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring with our spouse.  As the film ended, we reflected on the acting, the great cinematography, and the like.  We turned to our spouse, who was weeping.  She pointed out that the film was extremely sad – a young woman is brutally raped and murdered in the film. In our focus on acting, lighting, and photography, we had failed to see the forest for the trees.

So, in addition to providing you with new insights and things you’d not noticed before, sometimes repeated viewings of a film can show you how out of it you were on the first viewings.Nonetheless, on this viewing,  we again appreciated how Fellini frequently juxtaposes scenes of religion with scenes of show business. Even better, once again we were struck by Guilietta Masina’s expressive face.  With just a movement of her eyes, she can speak volumes.


Her face speaks volumes

Terrence Malick’s “Knight of Cups” and the difference between US and European movies

30 Jan

Knight of Cups is essentially a deeply personal student film made with a big budget, famous actors, and first-rate cinematography. This is not your conventional narrative – the film frequently works on the level of a collage. Christian Bale is Rick, a guy who, from what we can tell, is some kind of big deal in the film industry, though we never really know what his job is. Titles with the names of Tarot cards introduce characters and scenes. Early in the film, we see the title “The Moon”. We’re trying to recall what happens next (and we’re too lazy to put the DVD in the player again), but we think that next come scenes of Rick and a young woman cavorting by the sea or on an outdoor stage or something. It’s hard to remember, because during the course of the film, Rick frequently cavorts by the sea with people, usually women (we’re not using ‘cavort’ as a euphemism – a lot of excited jumping and dancing goes on.) The film shows us women who have come in and gone out of Rick’s life, including Cate Blanchett, who plays a doctor, and Natalie Portman, a married woman with whom Rick has an affair. There is also a dancer in a topless club (The “High Priestess”, if we recall correctly) that Rick takes to Las Vegas, and other women, apparently prostitutes, with whom Rick cavorts in a room (again, not euphemistically.)  Interspersed are scenes of Hollywood parties at too-opulent mansions and scenes of Rick’s adult life with his father (Brian Dennehy) and brother, which  consist mostly of lots of yelling between the latter two.

The guy in the New Yorker seemed really ga-ga about the picture, but we weren’t as enthusiastic.  Halfway through the picture, it occurred to us that if the film stopped following Rick and instead chose to focus on another character, we’d have been just as happy.  This is not to say that the film is not worth your time – the cinematography is beautiful, and the film, though in our view not fully satisfying, is nonetheless intriguing.

The difference between American cinema and European cinema, in our humble opinion, comes down to the tendency of US movies to tell you too much, and the tendency of European movies not to tell you enough. We recently watched Orson Welles’ The Stranger (1946)  (and no, it’s not based on the Albert Camus novel of the same name) where Welles plays an escaped Nazi living in a small college town. He tells a fellow Nazi “You know how I gathered and destroyed every single item in Germany and Poland that might have served as a clue to my identity. Only my heart knows who I am…”  OK, we the audience are smart enough to have figured out that the guy probably did his best to cover his tracks before he split, so why do we need this line?  Or, if we do, why not ‘every single item in Germany’?  Do we really need to know that he destroyed stuff in Poland, too? Do we even really care?  Sheesh…


WTMI, Orson!

Contrast that with Antonioni’s Red Desert (1964) (which we’re not yet done watching)*, where we see the main characters partying in this horrible shack by the sea.  We don’t know why they’ve chosen such a horrible setting for their partying, the scene seems to go on forever, and we’re about halfway into the picture and nothing seeming to resemble a plot has really shown itself.

Now, the difference may have less to do with these films’ countries of origin and more to do with the decades in which the two were released – conventions in filmmaking changed between the two periods.  Nevertheless, we think that US pictures tend to give you too much info and European pictures tend to toss you in and leave it to you to figure it out.

*we’ve since finished watching the picture.

Arrivals and Fast Runners

29 Nov

Moviedom has a lot of stock characters – the debonair spy, the macho soldier, and the female linguist to name a few.  Wait, the female linguist – is that a thing?   It is now – the movie is Arrival based on Ted Chiang’s The Story of Your Life and we found it amazing that the picture got made at all.  This is a movie with lots of ideas, and it doesn’t treat the audience as if they were idiots.  That’s a recipe for box office poison, right?  We don’t think so;  we first tried to see the film the day after Thanksgiving, only to find the show sold out.  (We came back the next day.)

Amy Adams is Louise Banks, who’s recruited by the US to figure out a way to communicate with some aliens after a whole bunch of space ships appear at various sites around the globe.  Louise is befriended by Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) a physicist who’s also trying to figure out how to communicate with the new kids in town.

The heptapods (the aliens) are non-humanoid and their spoken language cannot be rendered by the human larynx.  A better avenue is offered by their written language, Heptapod B, which is unrelated to the spoken language.  It’s as if sentences were shapes, and you had to know how you were going to end a sentence when you started writing it, or at least that’s how we understood it.

The film (not so much Chiang’s story) amps up the tension, stressing the fear and xenophobia that comes with the arrival of the heptapods.  China becomes bellicose, with the Russians and the US not far behind. Intercut throughout the film are scenes of Louise and her daughter, the significance of which is revealed later on in the story.

As per usual, we find ourselves reluctant to reveal much else – the fun of watching a movie is diminished if some loudmouth like us tells you everything that’s going to happen. This is the holiday season, with lots of movies coming out over the next several weeks. This one is worth your time.


There goes the neighborhood


We’ve always wondered what it would be like to watch a movie about native people with no white people in it.  After all, Westerns that feature Indians are always about the interactions between the two groups, mostly told from the vantage point of the whites.  What if there were only native people in the film?

The Fast Runner (available on video – your library may have a copy) answers this question by retelling an Inuit folk tale.  So what is it like to watch a film about native people that’s not about their encounters with Europeans?  The answer is, really cool. The film is so intriguing that we plan to watch it again just to get the nuances we missed on the first viewing.


Ekkekos, Elections, and “Er Ist Wieder Da”

17 Oct

We’ve not written much about the upcoming U.S. Presidential election. The thing’s already a surrealistic debacle, so we didn’t think we had anything to add to the mess.  And what the heck, we don’t, except to notice that many people treat their favored candidate like their own personal ekkeko.  “What’s an ekkeko”, you ask?  So did we. Years ago we received a gift of a small open-mouthed guy in a brown suit and bow tie.  He’s  festooned with a tiny basket, bags of grain, small play money, a box of laundry detergent (go figure),  a small pair of huaraches, and the like. (There was also something in a small plastic bag, but we put him on our workbench in the basement and a mouse ate whatever was in there – we forgot what that was.) We lost the tag that goes with him, which explained that one puts things on him related to what one wants to manifest in one’s life, so his burden of treasures increases over the years.  (When we were studying computer science, our youngest daughter thoughtfully drew a picture of a computer and put it on our diminutive plaster person. What the heck, we got an A.) Only after a Web search did we recall that this droll little man is called an ekkeko, and it comes from the Incan tradition.


We’re on Facebook, and some of our friends (and people we don’t really know – we’ve gotta adjust our filters) like to post things of a political nature. We wonder if the candidates are emotional ekkekos of sorts, something for people to pin their hopes and dreams on.


We’ve seen David Wnendt’s “Er Ist Wieder Da” (“He’s Back”, or “Look Who’s Back” in English) twice now. The first time, we didn’t realize that there were optional English subtitles on this German language film and we missed about half of what’s going on.  (Nevertheless, we have long believed that if you want to see if a film is engaging, watch it with the sound turned off – if it still holds your attention, then the film is cinematic.  Some very good movies may fail this test, but on the whole, it’s not a bad way to judge a movie.) “He’s Back” could be described as “Borat meets Network meets Rip Van Winkle.” It’s based on a novel of the same title by Timur Vermes, and the one who’s back is none other than Adolph Hitler (played by Oliver Masucci.) As the film begins, we hear Hitler’s voice over expressing amazement that the German people have survived World War II, despite his order that all Germans be killed.  We see shots of clouds, and it’s not clear if Hitler has descended from the sky or been vomited up from the bowels of an Earth that has rejected him, as we then see him lying in the dirt near the former Führerbunker. In the course of the film, a hapless videographer named Fabian begins an uneasy relationship with the dictator, thinking him a demented actor who refuses to break character.  He takes him on a road trip of sorts around Germany. We don’t want to say too much else about the picture, as we’re always cautious about revealing plot points, but we found the film intriguing, funny, and disturbing all at the same time.


We suspect that the novel is less Borat-like than the film is.  Oliver Masucci, the actor who plays Hitler has said that during scenes shot at the Brandenburg gate, many people seemed happy to see him, and unprompted, begged him to bring back concentration camps.  (One woman hit him, and he felt that it was the healthiest reaction he received.)

The one quibble we have is that Masucci, a 6′ 1″ tall actor, is too tall for the role (Hitler was 5’9″.)  Nevertheless, the film is worth your time, and it raises some disturbing (and in this election season, timely) questions.

Werner Herzog’s “Lo and Behold” (and the Mud Guy)

22 Aug

Werner Herzog may well be our greatest living filmmaker, with a body of work spanning decades and as diverse as Aguirre, the Wrath of God (a film about a crazed conquistador), and his current documentary, Lo and Behold, an often disturbing exploration of the Internet.

As the film begins, we learn that the letters L and O were the first two characters ever transmitted between two networked computers (the sender was attempting to log in), whereupon the recipient machine crashed.  In those early times, the entire community of internet users could be (and was) listed in a single directory.  From such humble beginnings came the networked world we know and love (and hate) today.

Herzog’s film is wide ranging, exploring such topics as networked driverless cars that learn from the mistakes of their peers, the potential for total internet disruption by solar flares, a family cruelly traumatized by internet trolls, young people addicted to internet games, the problems stemming from an inability to track individuals on the internet, the problems posed by too much internet trackability, and internet communications on Mars (Herzog expresses an interest in going even if it means remaining there.) We especially liked Herzog’s interview with Kevin Mitnick, a famous hacker who paid dearly for his hacking with a prison term.

Over the years, Herzog has pretty much figured out that people find his Teutonic eccentricities a mite zany and he now seems to go out of his way to include Herzogian touches in his films.  For example, “The Cave of Forgotten Dreams” ends with a bewildering epilogue about albino crocodiles living near the cave in water flushed from a nearby nuclear reactor.  While Herzog does not go that extreme in Lo and Behold, his voice over declares the corridors of a university building ‘repulsive’ and he throws in a bit about Buddhist monks tweeting on iPhones in a future Chicago where the populace has apparently emigrated to Mars.  It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but we like it ‘cause it gives a chance to nudge our partner as if to say “Oh, that Werner.  What a zany guy!”

Eccentricities aside, “Lo and Behold” gives the viewer a lot to think about and it’s well worth your time.  The one thing we found odd about the documentary is that Herzog manages to explore the topic of the Internet and its implications without ever mentioning two Internet mainstays: pornography and cat pictures.



Our eldest daughter is a photographer  who often creates assemblages from disparate photographic elements. She recently asked us to be the subject of one of her photo shoots.  We don’t like to be photographed (it steals the soul), so we didn’t take to the idea until she told us that we were to be covered in mud.  Being caked with mud would provide a certain anonymity. Too, there was something Werner Herzogian (see above) about being covered in mud that appealed to us.  We agreed to  be photographed.

On a weekend, we conducted the shoot.  Clad in shorts and our own hirsute epidermis, she and her sister used sponge brushes to apply the mud. After about 10 minutes of application, she pronounced the result satisfactory.  We assumed that we’d then shoot among some trees, but she posed us in front of the white garage door.  We’d be electronically separated from the background in the final assemblage.

As we awaited her instructions, we decided that channeling our inner Incredible Hulk would be just the thing.  We began to psyche ourselves up, putting what we fervently hoped was a Hulk-like grimace on our face.  With the camera in position, our daughter gave us an instruction that was breathtaking in its simplicity. “Dad, I want you to look at the tail light on that car”, she said, indicating her sister’s vehicle about 10 feet away. That was all we needed. We forgot all about the Incredible Hulk, and abandoned the idea about psyching ourselves up. The world now consisted of that tail light, and if we were supposed to look at it, then by gum, we were going to look the hell out of it. As the shutter clicked, she provided a few more instructions, but stressed that we should continue looking at the tail light.

At length the session was over and our daughter had the images she wanted.  She explained that the mud guy was to take up only a section of the final piece. We went inside to wash off the mud, reflecting on how powerful a simple instruction to a non-actor can be. It occurred to us that when directing people (especially space cadets like us),  a simple instruction often suffices.

We caught a glimpse of the mud guy in the bathroom mirror. Some of the mud had dried, while some of it was still wet.  The two-toned effect was awesome. We thought about reporting for work the next day still caked in the mud.  Since that was impractical, we washed it off.

Blood and Robots

1 Jun

Our local Red Cross chapter called recently to ask if we’d donate some blood platelets.  Since we had some left over, we said “sure.” To get the platelets, a machine whirls the blood around in a centrifuge, as a tube in one arm sends blood to the machine and one in the other arm receives blood back from the machine (sans some of the platelets, we assume.)  The whole process takes about two hours or so.  As the arms must remain still during the process, reading a book is out; there’s no one to turn the pages. The procedure is, however, tailor-made for watching movies, which our local chapter thoughtfully provides on DVD.  We steered clear of the Adam Sandler section – we wanted a pleasant movie-watching experience, not the Ludvico technique from  A Clockwork Orange. We got hooked up to the machine and with the centrifuge whirling, the nurse started the film we’d chosen to re-watch, “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, directed by Robert Wise (the original one, starring Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal.)



We think this 1951 film is one of the better sci-fi films of its era, but thematically, it’s a bit muddled. At the opening, a huge flying saucer touches down in Washington, D.C.  Out steps Klaatu (Michael Rennie) and his laser-eyed robot friend, Gort. Klaatu, as we come to learn, is an odd mixture of Jesus of Nazareth and Al Capone.

Here’s the Jesus part. Klaatu is wounded when he reveals a gift for the President that a soldier mistakes for a weapon. Taken to Walter Reed hospital, he doesn’t spend much time on the mend. Klaatu swipes a suit from the hospital cleaners (?) and soon he’s out to explore D.C. on his own. Examining the tag on the purloined suit (which just happens to fit perfectly), he sees it belongs to a man named Carpenter. Later in the picture, Klaatu is killed by the military, who shoot first and ask questions later. It’s Gort to the rescue as Patricia Neal awakens the behemoth with the words Klaatu has given her: “Klaatu barada nikto.” (Memorize these words in case you’re ever on a quiz show, and with a million dollars on the line, they ask what the words are.) Back aboard ship, Gort hooks his humanoid master up to a gizmo, and in short order, raises him from the dead.

Here’s the Al Capone part.  Klaatu has come to give the people of Earth a message.  Sure, he comes in peace, but he’s backin’ up his peaceful words with muscle.  Earthlings have developed atomic weapons and them atomic weapons make Klaatu’s people and those on other worlds a mite nervous. (The fact that Earth people have no interstellar delivery systems for those weapons, and until he showed up, didn’t even know there were other inhabited worlds seems to have escaped Klaatu’s notice.)  He doesn’t give a fig about how Earth governs its own affairs, but if Earthlings start waving those atom bombs around on his world, well, they just might have to reduce Earth to a burned-out cinder. The Luka Brasis of Earth are gonna sleep with the fishes. With that, he and Gort hightail it out of there at warp speed.

As the credits rolled up the screen, the centrifuge ceased its whirling, the platelets were collected, and we gorged ourselves on juice and cookies.

Trumpe l’oeil

15 Mar

We just got an idea for a sci-fi screenplay. Being the layabouts that we are though, we know we’ll never get off our lazy duffs to write it. We’ll pitch it to you and maybe you can do something with it.

It’s a dirty story of a dirty man and his clinging wife doesn’t understa – wait, that one’s been done…

No, actually, this one takes place in the not-too-distant future. A guy is running for President. He’s rich, he says racist things, and he’s a bit of a bully. He actually encourages his supporters to use violence at his rallies. (Remember is a sci-fi dystopian future-type story, so if the scenario we’re describing seems really far-fetched, just remember, this is fiction.) The guy is not as wealthy as he makes himself out to be – he has bankruptcies in his past and the book he’s written is not the best-selling book of all time, despite his assertions that it is. Our character has an overweening ego and always uses superlatives to describe himself.

By now, you’re probably saying, “Wait we know who this guy is – it’s the bad guy from Steven King’s ‘The Dead Zone.'” OK, we’ll admit, there may be similarities between King’s villain and ours, but we’re trying to go in a different direction with our story – it’s sort of a Dead-Zone-meets-Citizen-Kane-meets-Philip K. Dick mashup.


Dead-Zone-meets-Citizen-Kane-meets-Philip K. Dick

In our screenplay, we drop hints that the guy is an alien, with an orange-hued visage to suggest he just might be from some other planet or perhaps another dimension. We’ll also suggest his other-worldliness by the hypnotic effect he has on his followers. No matter how outrageous his statements, his followers praise him for his “straight talk” and for “telling it like it is.” They even raise their arms in a gesture reminiscent of the Hitler salute. OK, we know we’re now straining credibility to its breaking point, but stay with us.

To cut to the chase, the guy keeps winning primary after primary, racking up impressive wins without anyone understanding how he’s doing it. After a rancorous convention, he wins his party’s nomination. In debates with our anti-hero, his opponent makes reasoned arguments, only to see them fall flat. With a combination of bluster, bullying, and low humor, our dystopian candidate wins every debate.

We then cut to Election Night. Things are going well for our anti-protagonist as several states fall into his column. It looks like he’ll soon be slouching toward Washington to be inaugurated. His supporters are ecstatic! It’s then that the CIA (those wonderful folks who brought you MK Ultra) make their move, sticking a hypodermic in the almost-President-Elect’s derriere and spiriting him away in a black limo.

We then see the CIA guys head for a shadowy underground location with scientists in lab coats and armed, burly MPs at every door. Using the latest in Virtual Reality technology, they construct a scenario where our anti-hero sees himself in front of adoring masses who hang on his every word. We see subjective shots where he tells them that a neighboring country has just acquiesced to his demand that they pay for the large wall that has just been completed on his decree. The crowd cheers. The almost -prexy is blissful. The scientists will keep him in this state for at least eight years

Meanwhile back at the ranch, our would-be dictator’s followers undergo a shocking reversal. It’s as if the mind-link connecting them to their hero has somehow been severed. With the polls still open, they head to the polls en masse, and to the surprise of  the pundits, vote against their erstwhile idol! The country is saved! (well, not really saved, as the opponent is not all that great, but much better than our orange-hued alien.)

OK, that’s the gist of the thing. Some of it might need punching up and you can change the ending if it’s too cliche. Again, this is so far-fetched as to be laughable – American voters certainly aren’t as naive as we suggest, but suspension of disbelief is at the heart of the movie-going experience.

High Plains Drifter and the race for the Republican presidential nomination

18 Jan

This article contains spoilers, but given that the picture in question was released over 40 years ago, we figure that if you like this sort of thing, you’ve already seen it.

We’re fans of some pretty bad movies.  We love Arnold Schwarznegger’s Commando as well as some bad Clint Eastwood movies (The Gauntlet, for example.) While channel-flipping last week,  we found High Plains Drifter, which we had never seen.  We don’t recall which film critic coined the term “adult fairy tales” to describe pictures of this type, but it fits this movie to a T.  The moral universe of the movie is unrelentingly ugly. ( The picture was made in the early 70s when anti-heroes were starting to be a thing -Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange had been released two years earlier in 1971.) One of the first things Clint’s character (who’s never given a name) does when he arrives in the Western town where the film is set is to rape a woman because, well, he’s Clint and he can.  He also establishes his street cred as a gunslinger.

We then see violent flashbacks of three bad men as they brutally bullwhip the town’s former sheriff to death. This sequence goes on waaaay too long.  The townsfolk watch this horrible spectacle and do nothing to stop it (and as we later learn,  they’re complicit in this murder.)  The scene makes no sense: if these guys want to bump off the sheriff, why don’t they simply shoot him?  Well, that would be direct and to the point, whereas the writers (and Clint, who also directed) apparently want to make this scene as nasty as possible.  What the hell, they succeed.

The three who killed the sheriff are expected to return and they’re mad at the populace, so the townsfolk hire Clint to protect them (sorta like the Seven Samurai, but in this case, there’s only one.) Clint balks, so they sweeten the deal;  in return for his protection, he can have anything he wants.  Big mistake – there’s a whole lot of things that Clint wants.  After a while, the folks get pretty sick of Clint’s demands and plot to shoot him while he sleeps.  In a scene straight out of a Warner Brother’s cartoon, he’s waiting for them on the balcony and tosses a bundle of  dynamite into the room.  Ka-boom!  That’s all, folks!

Unfazed by the attempt on his life, Clint has the townsfolk paint all the buildings in the town red as he renames the town “Hell”.   That’s where we quit watching the picture – unlike The Gauntlet, which to us is a good bad movie, this was a bad bad movie.  Besides, we pretty much knew how the thing was going to play out. There’d be a lotta mayhem, the bad guys’d be killed off, the townsfolk’d get their comeuppance and Clint would vamoose. (Based on what we read on IMDB, we were pretty close.)


Clint paints the town red

The picture is deliberately unclear about Clint’s relationship it to murdered sheriff – is he the ghost of the sheriff, the sheriff’s brother or what?  One thing is clear, the picture is apocalyptic, with an entire town in chaos, in turmoil, being destroyed by a malevolent interloper.

We then turned to the news and saw that Donald Trump was still doing quite well in his bid for the Republican nomination.