After finishing up my review of Galaxy’s Edge – Galactic Outlaws, it occurred to me that there was more to say about the category of Space Opera. Some might say that I was a little unfair to social justice fiction fans. After all there must be a significant audience of fans with blue hair and cats who really enjoy girl power super heroes and their adventures in space. So, to say that these are automatically bad just because I heartily dislike them might seem arbitrary and unfair. It might seem that way but it isn’t. And that’s because I am the final arbiter of good and bad in science fiction. I earned this coveted status by living long enough to see everything in the world. So, once again, all Star Wars movies after Return of the Jedi (and even some parts of them before that point) are irredeemably bad and should be cast into the outer darkness where there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth. And that lines us up for me to proclaim what does make a good space opera. What follows is:
“photog’s RULE FOR WHAT MAKES GOOD SPACE OPERA” (patent pending).
It needs to appeal to the sense of wonder of the twelve-year-old boy in you. Now mind you, it doesn’t have to only do that. It can also be a brilliant philosophical treatise on the dualistic nature of the universe or a psychological study of the impact of technology on the human race, or even a deathless love story written across the stars of the galaxy. But if it fails to inspire the twelve-year-old boy in you it’s not space opera. It may be science fiction or anything else but it isn’t space opera. And this isn’t even an exclusive precinct of science fiction. Any adventure story has to satisfy that same basic requirement. Take the literature of the late nineteenth century or early twentieth century. A quintessential example that comes to mind is Treasure Island. Here is a story that was tailor made for the sense of wonder of a twelve-year-old boy. It has all the earmarks of the tale of wonder. The boy who loses his father, the quest for riches, exotic locales, colorful and dangerous opponents, the revelation of secret knowledge, the coming of age experience of the world and the people in it. An adventure story is a story for a boy that kindles his interest in the world around him. It leads him to think there is more to life than school and chores. It inspires him to strike out on his own and find his place in the world.
Now I can just hear the modern women and girly men screeching, “Girls want adventure too!” To which I reply “Stop screeching, you’re hurting my ears.” But also, I would say that what girls want is neither here nor there. Boys need the adventure story because it fits their brains. Girls have been told that they want adventure stories so they want them in order not to get left out in the modern #metoo world that they live in. And in fact, I don’t really care if there are adventure stories for girls. More power to them, I guess. What I do mind is that for the sake of inclusiveness they are ruining all the adventure stories that are coming out of Hollywood. And that is why I look for good old (and new) space opera and other adventure stories for my grandsons (and for me).
As an old married man, I know whereof he speaks.
The Boss – Incidentally, you never told me. Are you married?
Zorba – Am I not a man? And is not a man stupid? I’m a man. So, I married. Wife, children, house. Everything. The full catastrophe.
Zorba the Greek (movie) 1964
“It’s a Gift” and “The Man on the Flying Trapeze” are two of my favorite movies. I often tell Camera Girl that she reminds me of the wife in those movies. And she often throws things at me afterwards. Fields was a sort of genius in my opinion.
“No doubt exists that all women are crazy; it’s only a question of degree.”
W. C. Fields
I copied this from the public domain Project Gutenberg website but the translation that I know it from is by Howard Thayer Kingsbury and of course from Jose Ferrer’s tour de force in the 1950 Hollywood film version. I’ll ignore Steve Martin’s Roxanne as too awful to consider. I have to take the time to watch Gérard Depardieu’s 1990 version someday.
CYRANO DE BERGERAC
A Play in Five Acts by Edmond Rostand (Translated from the French by Gladys Thomas and Mary F. Guillemard)
THE DUKE (pausing, while she goes up): Ay, true,–I envy him. Look you, when life is brimful of success –Though the past hold no action foul–one feels A thousand self-disgusts, of which the sum Is not remorse, but a dim, vague unrest; And, as one mounts the steps of worldly fame, The Duke’s furred mantles trail within their folds A sound of dead illusions, vain regrets, A rustle–scarce a whisper–like as when, Mounting the terrace steps, by your mourning robe Sweeps in its train the dying autumn leaves.
The recent furor over the large audience for Roseanne Barr’s tv show and the rumor about Fox resurrecting Last Man Standing got me thinking about what it would be like if TV and the Movies produced a certain amount of product every year for troglodytes like me. And let me try to be precise. I don’t mean generic action or sci-fi shows where the eighty-pound magic girl kung-fu-fights her way through acres of white South African and Serbian villains. And I don’t mean family drama about blue collar guys who clean up after a hard day on the construction site and strut their stuff on the local drag-queen circuit.
So that’s what I don’t want. But what would I prefer? You know, it’s been so long since there was a choice other than weirdo-liberation of the week tv that I actually have to imagine what it would be. Well, for a start how about a tv family where Mom stays home with the kids and Dad goes to work? And how about a family where everyone is heterosexual or even better let’s just say normal? And how about the words gay, lesbian or trans never come up? And imagine if there are no disgruntled minorities aggrieved about the name of the school being Washington or Jefferson? And how about if no one forces the boys’ baseball team to add a girl to the squad for “fairness?” And imagine if we never have to hear about “Black Lives Matter” or “White Privilege?” Suppose gun control and hate speech are unknown ideas? And just to round things out, if we never mention Obama, Al Gore or Climate Change I’ll be happy.
You know what was a pretty good sit-com? “Home Improvement” was actually almost perfect. Innocuous comedy, family warmth and chemistry between the actors playing the family. What else do you need? And here’s a thought, when Tim Allen already has a popular family show on tv, why not try supporting the show instead of cancelling it when it’s near the top of the ratings for its viewing night? ABC, you are truly hopeless. Walt Disney must be spinning in his grave.
Now as for action-adventure, just have Americans blowing up foreigners and space aliens and pretty much I’m there. Did I mention I don’t need any sexual weirdos or racial politics? Good. Try to remember it and I’ll go see your movies.
But who am I kidding? Hollywood would rather go broke than support normal values. They have too many friends in the LGBTQ weirdo network to turn back now. So, this whole arc must be allowed to reach its inevitable conclusion. In a few more years when Hollywood has completely lost the normal people someone will start over with the things I mentioned above and low and behold the people will beat a path to their door. Hopefully that will put the last nail in the coffin of Hollyweird.
Well, I’m back in the saddle at work again and catching up here on the site. I’m halfway through Robert Silverberg’s Lord Valentine’s Castle (hat tip to Tom) and should have the review soon. And based on the story so far, I think I’ll read the other two books at some point. I have some movie and tv reviews coming up very soon. I’ve got over a thousand photos from the Southwest to edit and rate so I should have a few photo posts coming up soon. The political situation is like some kind of crazy kaleidoscopic nightmare. It sounds like Ray Bradbury’s formula for his stories, “The trip—exactly one-half exhilaration, exactly one-half terror.” And now we know just how many women are willing to admit to having sex with Donald Trump. I guess he was right about them letting him grab them. But they do seem to have been paid for the experience. Trump truly believes in capitalism. Well at least he wasn’t attacking them like Slick Willie. Either way things seem to be going well. The Republicans are afraid of losing the House, blah, blah, blah. Well they are pretty lame so anything is possible. But they really should embrace populism and try to show some backbone. It is the smart move. I still have to read some of the political columns I missed but whether there is something important to share remains to be seen. From my point of view Trump needs to clean the stables and drain the swamp. Then he can move onto policy. And he needs to punish the sanctuary cities and send the illegals home. And finally, Justice Kennedy, go away, now!
Over the course of over fifty-five years of television viewing I have become jaded and much of what I once felt was entertaining has lost its thrill. For instance, as a young kid I was convinced that “The Twilight Zone” was not only great acting and entertainment but also intellectually dazzling. I thought that “Flipper” was top-notch adventure and “Lost in Space” was cutting edge science fiction. Ah, youth.
But one thing has remained constant from the early sixties to the present day. And that is the Shatner. From my first sighting of him on the Twilight Zone as the panicked lunatic on “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” to his every close-up on the original “Star Trek” TV series to his every career iteration he has distinguished himself as the World’s Greatest Bad Actor. No one can compare.
And along the way I’ve cheered him on. I thrilled to the scene where he agonized about “losing command” when the transporter separated him into “Good Kirk and Bad Kirk” and he knew that “Bad Kirk” was muy macho and he, “Good Kirk,” was a wimp. I was transfixed as marooned Kirk shouted up to the sky, “KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!!!!!!” And I fought back the nausea listening to his riveting rendition of Elton John’s “Rocket Man.” It’s been a wild ride.
But his greatest role is one that few have seen or remarked on. In 1984 he starred in a made for tv movie called “Secrets of a Married Man.” In it he is an engineer who is going through a mid-life crisis. His job is on the line due to a difficult project. He’s stressed out and his wife is busy with the kids. He starts having sex with hookers. There are a number of hilarious Shatner overacting scenes that turn what is supposed to be serious problems into over the top comedy. In one scene he’s in the shower and looks down and starts spazzing out and choking out the words “Oh my God!” In the next scene his doctor is telling him he just has a rash on his genitals and he shouldn’t worry. Another gem is Shatner driving down the main street with his wife in the car next to him and all the hookers are calling out greetings to him by his first name (Chris) and him claiming that it’s some kind of standard hooker greeting. Ah, if only the Oscar went to the deserving.
But time is running out. Shatner was born March 22, 1931. In a few days he’ll be 87. One day soon the world will wake up to the news that the Shat is no more. And on that day, I will morn. But in the meantime, it’s comforting to know that in this world of relativism and revisionist propaganda the gold standard for something has stood the test of time and will be there immortalized in all its tacky splendor, the life work of William Shatner. Well done Shatner, well done.
I remember as a kid seeing Winston Churchill’s funeral televised. I knew who he was from the old early morning presentation of Mike Wallace’s “Biography” series. I knew he was our ally during WW II and that he had rallied his country when the rest of Europe surrendered to the German military juggernaut. Later I read some of his speeches and read about his earlier history during WW I. But I didn’t imagine at this point that a good movie about his time as Prime Minister would come my way. I am happily surprised to have been mistaken.
I finally got a chance to watch “Darkest Hour” tonight. It has the look of a period piece and the feel of a film made from a stage play. There are set pieces and dialogs and very little filmed outside of buildings. I didn’t think Oldman was given a close resemblance to Churchill and the difficulty of understanding him when he is mumbling during certain scenes is considerable and I think purposeful. And there is a particular scene in a subway car that is completely fictional and that includes a Jamaican man in the scene who seems to have been added for the sake of diversity or inclusion that seems anachronistic.
Put all that aside. I thought it was a great evocation of the desperation of the time and the fateful choice of Churchill stepping into this darkest hour of British history. His flawed and idiosyncratic personality rubbed almost everyone the wrong way and his pugnacious courage was at odds with the war-weary British government in the post-WWI era. His relationship with Neville Chamberlain and King George VI are highlighted to show how he contrasted with those in government but the evolution of the war and the need for someone with the will to persevere in the face of Nazi blitzkrieg success becomes his inevitable platform from which to energize the Parliament and the people of England to take up the frightening struggle of all-out war.
Many of the scenes take place in underground bunkers where military and government teams are meeting and analyzing incoming war reports. There is a definite claustrophobic feel in much of this. And the frailty of Churchill’s age is highlighted when he seems overwhelmed by the infighting within his own war cabinet. But all of this only magnifies the achievement when he resolves on what will be his path forward and what must be done. The final speech in Parliament is stirring.
For the most part, the Millennial Generation is composed of hopeless nincompoops whose taste in movies, television and books is so vapid and cretinous that being boiled in oil would be preferable to watching one of their picks. But there are exceptions. I work with a young fellow who has demonstrably received an education that includes many of the elements of the Old School. He has a good grounding in history and science and is acquainted with the western canon of literature. Without a doubt he leans far more to the left than I do but paraphrasing Churchill a man in his twenties who isn’t a liberal has no heart. Well about a week ago we were talking about crime dramas and he asked me whether I like the “caper” movie genre. I assumed he was going to mention Ocean’s Eleven or a Guy Ritchie film. But he said it was a movie with Denzel Washington as a New York City Police Detective negotiating a hostage crisis during an abortive bank robbery. It sounded interesting. I like many of Washington’s movies. As an expat New Yorker, I’m sort of a pushover for New York City stories so I was interested. But then he said it was a Spike Lee film.
I had never, up to that point, watched a Spike Lee “joint.” I consider him a race hustler who has built his reputation by fanning the flames of black animosity toward white people. All in all, I consider him a jerk.
In my reaction to my young friend’s suggestion I mentioned these feelings. He did his best to assure me that this was a pure crime drama without any hint of racial justice propagandizing. Based on his past track record of good sense, I begrudgingly decided to give it a shot.
So last night I watched it. It was good. It was very good. Full disclosure, there were a few minor race hectoring flourishes that added nothing to the story. But they did little to harm the story either. I looked at them as involuntary reflexes that Spike Lee probably didn’t even know he’d added. But they were minor and didn’t spoil the story.
The movie is a very good caper. I won’t spoil any of the plot but will just say that there are lots of balls in the air and several interesting major characters and lots of minor characters doing interesting things. Denzel is the star of the movie outside of the bank and Clive Owen is the star inside the bank. Other relatively big-name actors are Christopher Plummer, Jody Foster and Willem Dafoe. Washington’s cop partner is played by Chiwetel Ejiofor whom I know from his role as “The Operative” in “Serenity.” And lots other unknowns do good work as the hostages, cops and criminals.
So, knowing that Spike Lee made this picture does detract from my enjoyment of the film. I begrudge the African music he adds at the beginning and end. I take points off for those flourishes of racial sniping I mentioned above. But after all that I am forced to admit it’s a very good caper film. I recommend it to anyone who likes this genre. It’s highly enjoyable and skillfully constructed. Well done Spike Lee?
So instead of looking at a movie, let’s switch it up and talk about an actor. Charles Laughton was a British actor of Hollywood’s Golden Age (1930s and 40s) who lasted into the 1960s. In most cases this was fairly rare. And that is because most of those actors back then were movie stars who depended on good looks to bring in the audience. Once they hit forty parts started drying up. Not Laughton though. He resembled, and as he got older, more and more closely resembled, a toad. Because of this he never depended on his looks to garner success. He was a truly versatile and skillful actor. As I’ve stated recently we are inside the month-long pre-Oscar movie festival on TCM. Many old classics are being shown daily. Over the weekend I watched two Laughton movies in one day. In the morning I watched him in “The Private Life of Henry VIII” and that night I watched him in “Mutiny on the Bounty.” The only thing that King Henry and Captain Bligh have in common is that they were both English. The characterizations, appearances and mannerisms are worlds apart. And yet both characters are memorable and believable. And the same can be said for the multitude of characters he played over the years. He was the Hunchback of Notre Dame, an American senator in the Cold War era, the Roman senator Cicero, an English barrister, the Emperor Claudius, a British butler in the old Wild West, Captain Kidd the pirate, a hobo, a ghost, a henpecked husband who murders his wife and even a horror movie mad scientist. His versatility allowed him to create entertaining characters in a comedy, drama, tragedy, history or any combination of the above. In fact, it was sometimes the case that a poor movie would still be worth watching just to see Laughton do his stuff. Laughton movies that I have enjoyed for at least his efforts include:
1) Mutiny on the Bounty (highly recommended)
2) Witness for the Prosecution (highly recommended)
3) Advise and Consent
4) The Private Life of Henry VIII
5) The Hunchback of Notre Dame
6) Ruggles of Red Rock (a very silly but enjoyable comedy)
8) The Canterville Ghost (a WWII comedy)
9) Island of Lost Souls (an early horror movie)