The Films of Alfred Hitchcock – Part 8 – The Birds – A Classic Movie Review

Chronologically, “The Birds” is the last of Hitchcock’s films that I admire.  Films like Torn Curtain and Topaz have their points but none of them catch my imagination.  I’ll loop around onto a few more of his earlier films soon but I want to delve into “The Birds” first.

Tippi Hedron plays Melanie Daniels a wealthy young woman who tries to play a practical joke on Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor’s character) to revenge herself for a joke he played on her when they were in a San Francisco pet store.  Knowing that he wanted to buy a pair of love birds for his sister but was unable to, she buys the birds and secretly follows him to his home in Bodega Bay, California and leaves them at his door.  While outboard motoring back across Bodega Bay she is attacked by a seagull.

Mitch witnesses her escapade and patches things up with her and invites her to dinner.  Melanie becomes friends with Mitch’s mother and sister and even befriends and sleeps over the house of Mitch’s old girlfriend Annie.  From this point onward, the story begins to revolve more and more seriously around bird attacks.  At first seagulls seem to be the culprits and only seem to behave aggressively when Melanie is present.  But later all types of birds begin to attack humans randomly and finally the attacks become fatal.

The two most visually memorable attack scenes are the crows at the school and the seagulls at the gas station.

In the first case Melanie has gone to bring Mitch’s sister back from school by car because of the growing risk.  Annie, who happens to be the teacher, is getting ready to dismiss the class but tells Melanie to just wait until the class finishes a song they are learning.  Melanie sits in the school yard with her back to the playground and we listen to the class’s hypnotically monotonous song while we get to watch as a “murder” of crows slowly but surely fill up the monkey bars.  When Melanie realizes what has happened she goes to Annie’s class to warn them.  The class leaves in a silent and controlled withdrawal until the crows suddenly attack en masse.  In the chaos of escape no one notices that Annie has fallen fatally victim to the crows.

In the gas station scene, a man filling his gas tank is struck in the head by a seagull and drops the flowing gas pump hose.  The seagulls attack several individuals.  But the whole things spin out of control when  a smoker who hasn’t noticed the flowing gasoline lights a match near the gasoline pool.  The station bursts into flames and amid explosions the attacking gulls unleash mayhem on the fleeing humans.  Melanie is of course in the thick of the action and when she takes refuge in a telephone booth the gulls perform kamikaze attacks trying to break through the glass.  The scene ends with an aerial shot retreating up above the carnage and intersecting with one of the flying gulls.

The movie never really explains why the hell the birds have decided to wage war on humanity.  The closest we get is a lecture given to a diner full of townspeople by a lady ornithologist on how birds lack the intelligence to coordinate a cross-species campaign.  But when pressured to measure the numerical threat she does admit that if all birds ever coordinated an attack on humanity it would rival a biblical plague.

The last act takes place in Mitch’s house that has been reinforced with planks covering the windows and doors.  But as evening turns to night birds furiously attack even the walls and vigilant repairs are barely enough to prevent a breach.  Finally, later that night Melanie hears fluttering noises upstairs and find that one room has been infiltrated through the ceiling.  She is trapped in the room and badly injured before Mitch hears her cries and saves her.

Finally, before day breaks Mitch and his family decide that Melanie must be brought to a hospital.  The birds have become quiet and the family decides to attempt their exit.  They tip toe into the car and drive slowly and carefully through a sea of thousands of standing birds that grudgingly give way as they drive through them.  The movie ends on a shot of this ocean of quiescent bird life, waiting for the next trigger to send them marauding through the town again.

The concept of the movie is ridiculous.  But as with his anticipation of slasher movies with Psycho Hitchcock has presaged the hostile natural disaster genre that became such a big hit with Jaws.  The idea that technologically invincible humanity can be brought to its knees by hostile natural forces has become a favorite theme of horror and environmental revenge films.  But all this ground-breaking stuff aside, The Birds is an engaging movie.  The production values are very good and the acting is sturdy enough for the material.  As with several other of Hitchcock’s protagonists, Melanie isn’t actually the most sympathetic personality and in addition when she walks into that bedroom where all the birds are hiding she appears to be moronic in her inability to make a quick getaway.  I mean what did she expect to see in a room from which bird noises were coming?  An elephant?

I give The Birds a solid six out of ten.  Your mileage may vary.

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock – Part 7 – Dial M for Murder – A Classic Movie Review

The same year (1954) Grace Kelly starred in Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” she appeared in another Hitchcock film “Dial M for Murder.”  This one is also a claustrophobic apartment centered drama.  This one takes place in London and Kelly is Margot Wendice unhappily married to Tony played by Ray Milland.  She has an American boyfriend Mark Halliday played by Robert Cummings.  Tony is aware of the affair and has a plan to eliminate his wife but keep her money.  He plans her murder to occur at their apartment while he is at a party with Mark thus providing himself with a strong alibi.  He blackmails an old acquaintance of his from college, Charles Swann, who is a small time criminal, to commit the murder for him.  He gives Swann the key to the apartment and designates a time when he will call his wife to lure her into the darkened living room where Swann can strangle her.

The machinations around the crime and the details of its failure make for the complexity of the second act.  While being strangled Margot manages to grab a pair of scissors and plunge them in Swann’s back.  After Swann expires, Tony recovers from the failure and without missing a beat tells Margot over the phone to wait until he gets home to call the police.

Tony manages to tamper with evidence and clue in the police to blackmail evidence that paints Swann’s death as Margot killing her blackmailer.  She is subsequently charged with murder, tried, convicted and sentenced to death.  The third act involves Chief Inspector Hubbard’s investigation of the facts of the crime and his clever trap for the real killer.

So, this sounds like a pretty standard British murder mystery story.  It is.  But the thing that elevates it is Ray Milland’s work.  He is extremely entertaining as the clever, manipulative and thoroughly affable Tony Wendice.  In every scene, except those with John Williams’ Inspector Hubbard character, Tony dominates the screen and the atmosphere.  He manipulates the other characters easily and expertly.  They don’t even realize after the fact that he’s been working against them.  Grace Kelly and Robert Cummings do a competent job of performing their parts.  John Williams does a slightly over the top portrayal of a senior British police detective with his Oxbridge accent and proper mustache brush.  But it is Ray Milland that makes this movie so much fun for me.  He is delightfully evil, a suave friendly devil.  And Hitchcock did his best to make the staging enhance the choreography of the crime and also the crucial finale that completes this filmed play.  And finally, once again I think Hitchcock’s English roots allows him to stage American actors as Brits but to still capture the essence of the British drawing room murder mystery.  And all this without even a butler to be framed for the crime.

Well done Sir Alfred.  I give this my highest rating for excellent entertainment value.

Chuck Dixon’s Avalon #1 – The Street Rules – A Science Fiction & Fantasy Review

I’ve never been a comic book guy.  My thing was always science fiction books.  My closest approach to comics was the Marvel and DC tv shows I saw as a kid.  So, I never really had a reason to buy any.  But my policy on right wing artistic and commercial endeavors is to always give them the benefit of the doubt when they compete on the Left’s turf.  I decided to pick up Avalon #1 to see if I could understand what it was all about.  A comic book is like a book chapter with pictures.  You tell a piece of a story and try to hook the reader in for the next installment.  The story and the art work are of equal importance.  Well, to me they are.  I guess if you’re really more of an art lover then the pictures might be the main attraction.  But I don’t think that would work for me.  There’s got to be a story I want to hear.

I’ll make this short because I don’t have the background to talk any nuance about comic books.  The story is introducing a world where people with superpowers are a fact of life and not all of them are good and not all of them are heroes.  We meet a small cross section as we are primarily introduced to King Ace and Fazer.  They are close to the classic vigilante super hero like Batman or Superman.  They fight crime outside of the prescribed legal framework that superheroes adhere to in this world.  They do it according to their code.  Well, for the most part.  Some hints of a less selfless motive do show up in the book.  The story is good.  It’s set up as Fazer telling his story to a reporter but the action bounces back and forth between narrated action and other events that give additional information on other characters and other plot lines.  I like the art work but I will not claim I know much or even anything about the state of the art in comic book aesthetics.

Long story, short I think it’s good.  I look forward to the next installment.  I won’t say I’m hooked but I’m interested enough to want to see where this all goes.  Bravo Chuck Dixon and good for Vox Day for venturing into enemy territory.

Skin in the Game – Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life – by Nassim Nicholas Taleb – A Book Review

Back in March 2017 I purchased Taleb’s four volume set “Incerto: Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan, The Bed of Procrustes, Antifragile.”  Taleb is a retired options trader.  He made his fortune betting on unlikely events.  And the topic of that whole, almost sixteen hundred page work, was the concept of the Black Swan.  The Black Swan is the very rare but extremely disruptive event.  It’s the thousand-year storm, the “extinct” volcano eruption, the Black Monday stock crash.  The subject is extremely interesting and I plan to review these books in the future.  “Skin in the Game,” on the other hand is not about any of that.  It’s more or less exactly about what it’s named, skin in the game.  Well let me qualify that.  He explains why those without skin in the game shouldn’t be trusted with deciding what is and isn’t risky.

Taleb’s writing style is iterative.  He provides numerous examples of various aspects of this thesis.  I will now distill the whole book into one sentence.  Never trust anyone who doesn’t have skin in the game.  That’s the whole thing right there.  But Taleb provides the logic, the applications and the ethical underpinning for why those who avoid a risk have no credibility talking about risk.  One of his prime examples are the big banks who benefitted phenomenally from financial practices that ignored the risks associated with their business practices but when the meltdown finally came were bailed out by the federal government by claiming the meltdown was an act of God.  So, if they know they can’t lose they have no skin in the game and therefore can’t be trusted to avoid endangering everyone.

The list of untrustworthy authorities is defined to include any entity that is centralized, bureaucratic and otherwise insulated from accountability.  Highest on that list is anyone who either directly or indirectly partakes in the immunity of the federal bureaucracy.  EPA administrators, climate and wildlife scientists, IRS agents, FDA and banking regulators and all other petty mandarins that are immunized against real life consequences but revel in their ability to bully and dictate to the productive sectors of the population.

Taleb makes a lot of good points and reinforces his theories with examples from normal life and even adds some mathematical rigor to his argument to show that these unaccountable experts that benefit from heads-I-win-tails-the-fed-bails-me-out tactics need to be made accountable for benefitting from Black Swan government insurance.

Throughout the book Taleb makes use of concepts that he explored in his larger study Incerto.  The concepts of fragility and the above described Black Swan.  He also mentions the “Lindy Effect.”  It’s the phenomenon that the longer something is successful the longer it is predicted to continue being successful.  This highlights that one of the real advantages of skin in the game is the sorting of winners and losers along an evolutionary and survival of the fittest mechanism.  Without this accountability it’s possible for hidden bubbles to grow unnoticed and take down the system they reside in.

Skin in the Game is a strange combination of philosophical meditation and real-world critique of the unaccountable entities that put us all at risk.  I can’t and won’t pretend that this book will be enjoyed by everyone.  Taleb has an odd repetitive style that at times can seem almost garrulous.  He has many axes to grind and he can be both petty and somewhat gossipy in his personal anecdotes.  But he has a very strong case for his thesis.  And the point is a valuable one to keep in mind.  Basically, he is providing a tool to evaluate experts.  The question to ask yourself about them is what would they lose if they are wrong.  If the answer is not much then run away.

And finally, this reminds me of a story I once heard about Grouch Marx.  It might be apocryphal.  When the New York Stock Exchange crashed in 1929 Groucho Marx lost $800,000.  When Groucho received this news in his stockbroker’s office he was devastated and became almost incoherent.  His broker tried to console him by saying Marx wasn’t alone and that everyone had lost.  When Groucho thought about this he regained some composure and asked the broker how much he had lost.  When the broker replied $350, Groucho then attempted to strangle him.

Remember.  Look for skin in the game.

Vox Linked to a Really Interesting Article About Vice Magazine and Sarah Jeong Harming a Chinese Woman With Dangerous Publicity

Vox Day is always saying nevr talk to the media.  Here he highlights the plight of a female DYI techie in China whose lifestyle could put her in legal hazard with the regime if a western publication blabs her social details on-line.  And who shows up to turn the knife?  Sarah Jeong!  Here’s Vox’s link  http://voxday.blogspot.com/2018/08/dont-ever-talk-to-media.html

and here’s the link to the article  https://medium.com/@therealsexycyborg/shenzhen-tech-girl-naomi-wu-my-experience-with-sarah-jeong-jason-koebler-and-vice-magazine-3f4a32fda9b5

These people are ruthlessly stupid and can’t even help hurting their own friends and allies.

 

 

Z-Man and I Seem to be Hearing the Same Things

In a recent post, Why is the New Right Successful? I ended by saying, “Donald Trump is our Northern Star and we will follow him as long as he can withstand the onslaught.  If he falls then we’ll be waiting for the spark to ignite the powder keg.  Because it’s long been primed.”  It was interesting to read Z-Man’s latest post entitled “Waiting For The Spark.”  I guess it’s getting kind of unanimous that both sides are getting ready for the dust up.  And which side is readiest for the consequences?  Disrupting a relatively comfortable life is not the easiest thing in the world to do.  But either way everyone seems to sense that something’s gotta give.  Hope it’s them and not us.

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock – Part 6 – Strangers on A Train – A Classic Movie Review

Strangers on a Train is a Hitchcock film from the middle of his Hollywood era.  It has one of Hitchcock’s craziest villains and one of the weirdest finales.  Which with Hitchcock is really saying something.  The premise is that two strangers meet on a train and one of them proposes that each commit a murder that benefits the other.  The idea is since they’re perfect strangers they won’t be suspected in a murder associated with the stranger but not himself.  The one proposing the deal is a very strange man named Bruno Anthony (played by Robert Walker) who hates his father.  The other man is a relatively famous amateur tennis player named Guy Haines (played by Farley Granger) who has an unstable and unfaithful wife Miriam, that he’d like to divorce to marry Anne Morton, the daughter of a US Senator.  But Miriam refuses to allow it because of the monetary benefits marriage provides.  Guy doesn’t even know how to react to this outrageous proposal so he treats it jokingly and gets off the train at his stop.  But he accidentally leaves his very expensive and monogrammed cigarette lighter on the train with Bruno.  Guy may treat this proposition as a joke but Bruno certainly doesn’t.  We get a scene with Bruno and his parents.  Bruno and his mother are both lunatics but she seems relatively harmless.  We hear his father state that he will have Bruno put away.  This activates Bruno and he proceeds to murder Miriam at an amusement park.  He stalks her and flirts with her and chokes the life out of her.  Then he casually walks away.

Bruno  goes immediately to Guy and announces that he has carried out his side of the bargain and expects Guy to kill Bruno’s father.  When Guy threatens to call the police Bruno counters by saying both would be held responsible in the conspiracy.  Most of the rest of the movie involves Bruno hounding Guy even within his circle of friends.  And this is where you realize that Bruno is the most interesting character in the movie.  His insanity does not prevent him from entertaining the minor characters at dinner parties and outside restaurants.  He tells Anne’s father about his theory of interplanetary clairvoyance and he entertains an old lady socialite with his theories on murder.  Unfortunately he gets carried away and almost chokes her to death at a dinner party.  All in all he’s a very spirited fellow.  But eventually all good things come to an end and when guy doesn’t come through with his “criss-cross” side of the murder bargain, Bruno decides to frame him for the original murder using the monogrammed lighter as evidence.

Several additional scenes advance the story to the climax and we return to the scene of the crime, the amusement park.  A very bizarre and cinematically interesting scene with a carousel brings it to a head and Bruno and Guy and the police finally sort things out.

Even though Guy and his friends are the innocent victims, I never felt all that much sympathy for them.  They don’t really evoke much interest.  They’re all kind of flat.  So, despite the fact that he’s a thoroughgoing psychopath, the movie is really the Bruno Anthony show.  And as creepy as he is he definitely keeps my interest.  I like this Hitchcock pretty well but I could see how it might not appeal to all tastes.  Caveat emptor.

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock – Part 5 – The Thirty Nine Steps – A Classic Movie Review

Continuing on with the British films I’ll review “The Thirty Nine Steps.”  This is another espionage tale where the civilian protagonist is swept up in a confusing web of events that he must navigate or be left holding the bag in a murder manhunt.  Our hero is a Canadian visiting London on a work assignment who meets up with a femme fatale at a London music hall and quickly gets drawn into her attempt to prevent a spy ring from stealing vital British military secrets.  When she ends up in his apartment with a large knife protruding from her back he flees the scene to attempt to clear himself by finding and foiling the espionage ring.

The coincidences, unlikely events and sheer dumb luck that fills the story line makes the suspension of disbelief out of the question.  But Hitchcock replaces it with humor, human interest and a twisting turning plot line that comes full circle and provides the payoff.  Along the way you meet a varied cast of characters each lovingly fleshed out by the dialog and script.  One of my favorites is a milkman delivering to the hero’s building the morning he’s trying to escape from the scene of the murder.  He tries to recruit the milkman to help him escape the scene of the murder but the deliveryman flat out refuses to believe that there’s been a murder and he’s trying to elude the killers.  When the protagonist relents and claims that he’s just spent the night with a married woman and is trying to elude her husband the milkman immediately falls in with the plan and agrees to help without further complaint.  The fleeing man is obviously a brother in arms to the apparently philandering milkman.  Quite a lot of dialog is lavished on this completely ancillary plot device but it’s just this attention to detail that makes the picture memorable and interesting.  And there are several of these types of vignettes sprinkled in the picture.  And there’s a sort of love story although it does involve being handcuffed to a fleeing murder suspect and being gagged and even choked at one point.  But in Hitchcock love will find a way.

The final twist of the story as I mentioned, circles round to the beginning  of the story and is quite clever although there were clues if you were paying attention earlier.  All in all, it is a very well put together plot.

Once again, we have an earlier British Hitchcock that equals or even exceeds the quality of the Hollywood era “classics” that Hitchcock is famous for.  With actors that are complete unknowns to an American audience and immersed in the unfamiliar and idiosyncratic milieu of 1930s Britain, Hitchcock constructs an interesting and highly entertaining story out of a totally improbable premise.

I will dial back my praise with one caveat.  For the younger readers who have been saturated from birth with high definition picture and sound quality, it may be a little off-putting to see an old black and white movie from the 1930s.  This is a restored film where the worst of the sound and visual damage has been repaired.  But it’s picture quality is not even close to 2018 standards.  For those viewers of an older vintage this warning is of course unnecessary.

The Silly Season

It’s officially the summer doldrums both on the web and in the real world.  I remember an old science fiction short story called the “Silly Season” that had as a premise that during the summer doldrums newspapers were so starved for real news that they would publish any kind of nonsense just to fill space.  Apparently the Martians knew about this too so they flooded the news with UFO sightings throughout the silly season for several years running.  This had the effect that the papers and their readers became so completely fed up with reading these accounts that when the real invasion began everyone ignored the initial news stories for so long that the humans were conquered before they could react.

That is how I’m beginning to feel about Flynn and Cohen and Manafort and Mueller and Hayden and  Brennan and Clapper and Rice and McCabe and Comey and Page and Stryzk and Rosenstein and, and, and!!!

I am completely and utterly fed up with hearing about these idiots.  I just can’t decide who is playing whom.  Is President Trump about to be dragged off in irons or is Comey and the whole lot of them headed for Guantanamo Bay?  Either way I just can’t care anymore about any of this stuff.  In fact, I can’t even care enough to make a Trump vs. —– parody about it.  The only thing I can think of is to have a parody where he is bored to tears about it.  That seems reasonable.

So anyway, sorry for the lack of output.  But let’s face it, the silly season is in full swing.  If only there were some way to get the Kanamits to load all of the Deep State swamp creatures into the saucer and send them off to that big smorgasbord in the sky.  That at least would be worthy of a parody.