Guest Contributor – The Fat Man – Movie Review – A History of Violence – David Cronenberg

I thought sci-fi fans might get a kick out of a review of this film since its source was a graphic novel and its director is David Cronenberg, who I rank with Kubrick as among the most important directors working in the genre.

The movie has a quality cast, including Viggo Mortensen as the rural Indiana restaurateur, Tom Stall; Maria Bello as his wife Edie; Ed Harris as the gangster Carl Fogarty; Ashton Holmes as Jack Stall, Tom’s son; and William Hurt as Tom’s kingpin brother from Philly. There are also a host of additional small-role actors that do an excellent job. Harris is particularly effective as the one-dimensional killer as is Holmes as the nerdy millennial.

The movie opens by following two motel guests, one in a dark button-down shirt in the middle of the desert, i.e. a bad guy, packing up to “head east” and “avoid the big cities”. The younger partner complains of the boredom and yawns his way through the rest of the scene, including when he’s asked to go back to the front desk and fetch water from the cooler for the long drive.  There he sleepily encounters the clerk and maid whose throats his partner has just slit and almost nods out as he notices that a small child is emerging from the back room and shoots her. Like I said, bad guys.

This lovely bit of business is immediately contrasted by Tom and his quiet nuclear family. In these introductory scenes of the Stalls they all speak so softly and behave so tenderly to one another that the opening scene becomes submerged by the normal impulse to separate this seemingly vulnerable family from the monsters. But we know they will come and the savagery of the two drifters is anticipated by the inevitable high school bully that humiliates Jack in gym for daring to catch a fly ball to right. Violence, large and small, is almost clumsily emphasized. Cronenberg was said to have commented in connection to the film, “I am a great believer in Darwinian evolution and that violence is baked into our genes”, presumably explaining his lack of subtly on the issue.

When I read his comment, I thought of Cronenberg’s other films, like “Dead Ringers”, the story of twin gynecologists that descended into a surgical horror. And other of his films, Naked Lunch, Crash, Fly, all disturbing, but not particularly violent in any conventional sense. Rather, at their core, his films stylize death and disfigurement in a kind of grotesque eroticism. His focus, until “History”, was more in line with Poe than Peckinpah. Afterwards, however, gangsters and violence become common in his movies. One suspects the shift may be understood at least in part as commercial, but also, he seems to be trying to work out more conventional themes in more mature ways. For instance, “History” includes Bello in a frontal nude scene that seemed all too blue-blooded for the director of Naked Lunch.

In any event, when a very fickle fate sends our drifters into Tom’s diner, we are shown all the good that violence can do. For just as blue shirt instructs his youthful partner drooling at the waitress to “start on her”, mild mannered Tom dispenses with the would-be butchers faster than you can flip a flapjack. His ruthless efficiency at smashing a hot coffee pot in the face of one assailant, retrieving his gun and then dispatching both make his adversaries seem like amateurs. Even professionals like Ed Harris’ Carl and his gang can’t measure up to Tom’s lethal skill set. Carl, hearing of Tom’s heroics on the news, emerges from Tom’s past as if vomited out of hell’s mouth.  His face seems half melted, one eye is clouded, he claims his visage is a reflection of Tom’s true nature and he has come to return him to it.

I won’t belabor the obvious. I’m sure the reader knows there is only one way our genes and destiny can resolve such a history. It’s a pretty good film, especially given its source. “A History of Violence” made money and won acclaim but it was less influential than one might have guessed back in 2005. When I saw it back then, I thought that some of the film’s hokier elements like the straw man bullies and one-dimensional housewives would evolve along with the genre. I was wrong, in fact, the thinnest parts of graphic novel sources like Watchmen or Westworld, the robot/costume stuff, became the focus of their realization on the screen. We have devolved, but I’m sure that statement comes as no surprise.

 

 

 

Guest Contributor – The Fat Man – Movie Review – Ford v Ferrari

Ford v Ferrari is the true story of the effort by Ford Motor Company, led by Carol Shelby, to build and race the first American car to win the Le Mans Gran Prix, the most prestigious road race in the world. The film was directed by James Mangold, starring Matt Damon as Carol Shelby and Christian Bale as Ken Miles, the lead driver for the Ford team. The movie is something of a small miracle; a mostly live action Hollywood film shot on real locations. Also, there is no political agenda. All the actors are who they actually were, white men, and they fight, lie and cheat, which is to say they compete, for the purity of winning. How did this happen in 2019 America?

It is a wonderful spectacle to behold. Matt Damon as the Texan Shelby battling the soulless suits, led by Josh Lucas, who has made something of a specialty out of playing dastardly weasels. The movie is unconcerned with cultural appropriation, casting the Jewish Jon Bernthal as the Italian-American auto industry icon, Lee Iacocca. He does a fine job. Even Henry Ford II has a substantial role played by Tracy Letts. And to top it off, the film is centered on Miles’ intact heterosexual family of three, a supportive, if somewhat feisty wife and his heartbreaking 10-year-old son, who will witness his fiery death.

Now the movie aims for iconic myth-making but I’m happy to report it is at least soundly competent. I have been wondering the last few years if the industry was still capable of making a real movie. Apparently in some corners, it is. The racing scenes are fun, much of it CGI, but still enjoyable. Grown men past sixty, as were many in the audience, will have a different experience from everyone else. If you were around in the 1960’s but still too young or too working class to be in college, cars was the most important thing in life. They are the material and cultural medium that ties the suits to the cowboys and the Brits to the Italians. They hate each other in all the deplorable ways we make believe is unnatural. It is the very nature of men and it is their crafts and creations, mechanics, racing, auto making that channels their animal spirits to a higher plane. They compete, they innovate and even when they lose they tip their hats to the winner, as Enzo Ferrari does to Miles.

Bale and Damon go a little over the top now and then as does the film itself when the Ford scion is reduced to a sort of weeping orgasm at his first experience of real racing at the hands of Shelby. But these flaws are welcome and authentically quixotic in their ambition. If the film ultimately misses the mark myth-making, it doesn’t matter. It succeeds at something more important, reminding us what real movies and real men once looked like.

 

 

 

 

Guest Contributor – The Fat Man – Science Fiction and Fantasy Movie Review – The Terminator and Terminator Dark Fate

It is interesting to me to consider the new movie as part of two bookends to James Cameron’s strange career, while providing some comment on the evolving image that Linda Hamilton has presented in media and the almost unchanging one of Arnold.

When he made The Terminator, James Cameron had not done any of the films that built the industry position he holds today. He was a special effects guy that wrote a typical sci-fi screenplay about a murderous robot. But “The Terminator” somehow had a strangely enduring effect on American culture. The screenplay had all the stock components, with a few slight twists that would become Cameron trademarks like transforming female characters into alternate heroes. Otherwise it included the typical murderous, apocalyptic future so common, perhaps even central, to all science fiction, the obligatory arrested love interest, and a commendable combination of live action and classic stop motion animation right out of Jason and the Argonauts.

But this movie resonated with all kinds of segments, many without much taste for either conventional action or science fiction. And Cameron made both Schwarzenegger and Hamilton actual cultural icons. It’s easy to argue that neither of them surpassed their roles in the film, with Arnold literally milking it for billions in ticket sales and a governorship and Hamilton clearly chewed up by hers. How do we account for this? Can we see something in the two stars’ comparative destinies and did Dark Fate provide any clues?

The character of Sarah and the actress Linda Hamilton were perfectly matched to project the most innocuous presence, never rising above cute, until the cyborg is blasting a shotgun at her. We meet Linda working an adolescent fast food job and then going to a movie. In parallel a housewife mistaken for her is executed in her home and her roommate and boyfriend, beaten to death in her apartment. This balancing of extremes continues as her protector, Reese, and the cyborg finally meet shooting at each other in a bar over Linda’ head. The scene in a new wave disco called New Noir is one of the few that warrants the otherwise overused slow motion. While the “new wave” music plays and the young yuppies sway, the cyberpunk uncoils again from behind the bar, laser and machine guns in hand. Thus, begins the carnage. We see Sarah innocently look blandly at the camera with a red laser site on her head, about to be terminated when Reese uncorks his own assault, ending the scene by blasting the cyborg through a plate glass window.

When he rises, Michael Myers-like, Reese and Sarah alternately flee and shoot at the bot in every possible venue until Sarah/Linda is told that she is the mother of the future resistance, a legendary warrior whose son will defeat the future. She cries out for us all, “What”? The chase scene ends when the terminator drives straight into a brick wall with the cops chasing both of them.  Suddenly, Linda finally becoming partially aware of her surroundings and knows to grab Reese as he reaches for his shotgun to confront the cops. She yells, “No Reese, No, they’ll kill you”, in a voice we don’t hear again until she is does some terminating of her own.

Arnold gets the opposite treatment. We meet him emerging in a spherical electric storm naked in a crouch and watch him straighten up into the Hulk. He then walks through the park to murder and kill some punk rockers for their clothes, thus, cyberpunk. He is a comic figure We see his ass; he reads visual algorithms to select pre-coded responses like, “Fuck You, Asshole” in what became America’s definition of a slightly fascistic cyber/Germanic voice. His hair gets cropped and he wears cool ray bands to hide the eyeball he plucks out. He looks like Brando on his bike. Best of all, because he is a robot, he is not morally responsible for any of this, so we can enjoy his antics. This is no trivial accomplishment; Cameron creates a character Arnold will play for the next three or four decades. Remorseless, brutally violent, but cool and funny.

So, by the movie’s end, when Sarah punches the steel press on his steel skull, and he takes a last look straight into the camera, as if winking, with his laser red eye shining as the press crushes it dark, Sarah has gone from cute to terminator, and Arnold, the reverse.  Society, however, won’t let Linda be a terminator, but Arnold can be anything. He’s a protector, then he’s Danny DeVito’s genetically perfect twin, JL Curtis’ lucky husband, Sharon Stone’s even luckier boyfriend, a predator’s predator, a Kennedy, a Governor, even an expendable, and finally a terminator husband/father in Dark Fate. In the subsequent films, she will become a Rambet, permanently.

But a Rambet is denied even the righteous orgies of violence Stallone formulated for John Rambo. Sarah must become the separatist feminist, gaunt, cut, unsmiling, long suffering, ideologically pure. Most importantly, she is always angry. She invented the Hollywood version of the resting bitch face. She’s pissed about the apocalypse and having to bear the messiah and she’s going to do something about it. This may make for good doctrine, but it’s a bad career choice. It’s a classic Hollywood scam, make a “feminist” sci-fi cyberpunk movie that destroys the female lead’s career. Message, stick to cute.

That’s why The Terminator was so memorable and the rest, I don’t remember. Because at the end of the film with Linda Hamilton driving off into the stormy Mexican desert with her revolver, dog and headband, Sarah is still cute. There was still a Soviet Union. The apocalypse was coming, as it really is for all of us, but she came through the realization, as we all can. Later all this is revised as her ideology requires. We can’t be left with our faith, only her ideology. And therein lies the rub for Linda and even Arnold when it comes to the rest of their lives till Dark Fate.

I read that James Cameron, after years without contact, reached out to Linda Hamilton, his former wife, to ask her to make a new sequel. She claims that it took her years away from the industry living in Louisiana to finally build a stable life in a community away from Hollywood with real connections. But, for some reason, could it be money, she agreed to play Sarah again. The results are exactly as you would expect; it’s a disaster. Arnold’s body is gone, and his face looks like a parkinsonian mask. Linda’s voice sounds like she speaking through a tracheotomy. Now, with the right screenplay and if there had been no other sequels, these physical transformations could have made for interesting material. But given their respective ideological “careers” there was no way out. They went through the joyless, soulless motions until time, thankfully, ran out and Arnold was dead and burned next to the latest, multicultural terminator.

We had to suffer it all in Dark Fate. A tanned wrinkled, aging second wave feminist Sarah croaking out lines like “they want your womb”. A dumpy, younger, millennial feminist protector constantly signaling her sacrificial virtue. A Mexican virgin 2.0 screaming about her right to choose. Finally, a constantly transitioning multicultural killer cyborg. An identity maelstrom. I came to the conclusion that both Arnold and Linda got screwed by their roles, although Arnold a little more lucratively. They are left having lived out the superficial script written for them by Cameron. His hollow successes after The Terminator, with the exception of Aliens, have condemned him to the same lucrative irrelevance. It’s fitting that the Avengers franchise, sourced from dime store children’s comic books, is eclipsing his pretentious achievements, Titanic and Avatar. Stan Lee must be rolling in his grave.

So, looking at two films separated by 35 years, and two actors with seemingly opposite careers that ended in the same place, and the director responsible for the whole mess, what can we say about any of this. Only that the tenuous string that used to barely connect what passes as popular culture to at least a modicum of genuine craft has, over the course of one director’s career, entirely disappeared, leaving in its wake a trail of cultural victim/collaborators in various states of wealth and debasement. And nothing whatsoever for us.

 

 

Guest Contributor – The Fat Man – Movie Review – The Irishman

The Fat Man is a learned critic of cinema.  I welcome his contributions and hope to see him on a regular basis.

 

There are many ways to consider The Irishman, Scorsese’s’ latest, and hopefully last, gangster pic. We can try to at least mention them all but it may be best to see it as another allegorical mock epic. Almost the entirety of post-war US history not only acts as a backdrop to the film, but the movie suggests its main characters were central players in such events as the Kennedy assassination, the Bay of Pigs, Cuban missile crises, perhaps even Watergate. The baby boomers can’t get over their all but irrelevant history of air conditioned atavism and faux passivism. They have no epic story to tell, so they are continually painting up their cowardice in the face of a minor war or their alternating deification and denunciation of their fallen non-hero, JFK.

It is no shame that Scorsese reveals himself as sentimental and self-deluding in The Irishman. Many great films begin with cherished delusions, like the tradition of the Ronin or the hooker-with- a-heart-of-gold. Marty and Paul Schrader did wonders with that last fantasy in Taxi Driver, with the whore/Madonna duo played by Cybil Shepard and Jodie Foster. The fact that poor Jodie was still prepubescent was just a cute detail, like attending college to avoid the draft and then going on to graduate studies to learn to justify it to the memory of the poor guys that got killed. But at least Taxi was, in its dysfunctional characters and their infantile motivations, funny. “He’s not a murderer, he’s a Sagittarius” (or was it an Aquarius), protests Jodie Foster’s character, Iris, to Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle for criticizing her pimp, Sport. That may be the funniest line to come out of Hollywood in the 1970’s.

 

I guess it’s time to address the details of The Irishman and justify all this scorn I’m heaping. Let’s start with funny. It’s not. The cheap laughs squeezed out by mocking the blue-collar naivety of the regular-guy-come-psychopath, Frank Sheeran, the movies protagonist played by De Niro, are so hackneyed they will make you squirm. The rest is humorless. How Scorsese managed to get one of the most naturally funny actors of the 1970’s and 80’s, Joe Pesci, to turn in a joyless performance will remain a mystery.

But, you may ask, why is funny so important. This is big stuff, Pacino, De Niro, Pesci, Keitel, the all-stars, it’s an epic, remember?

It’s true Scorsese swung for the fences on this one, as he did with The Aviator, The Age of Innocence and The Gangs of New York. You’d think he’d learn. Not satisfied with his one true contribution to American cinema, Raging Bull, a small movie perfectly drawn, he continues to balk at the big canvas. He can’t do it. All of his attempts, whether he juices them with amazing sets as in Gangs, or beautiful costumes like in Age, or a remarkable profile like Howard Hughes, fail for the same reason. He can’t tell that story. He can scare us and make us laugh, but he can’t move us. His work can be natural or abstract but never profound. He knows it, as all directors do that pile on the violence. They’re impotent so they pour on the blood.

And Scorsese, as usual, does pour on the blood. We make our way through Frank’s mournful decent from hard working family man to prolific serial killer. We are told the war was to blame where he was asked to unofficially execute German prisoners. His wonders why these prisoners were so compliant in digging their own graves. He asks himself maybe they thought they would get a break if they did a good job? It never occurs to him they were just taking more orders, the same process that dehumanized them in the camps and him.

The Irishman is quiet for a Scorsese movie, without any of the Eric Clapton that accompanied the mayhem in Goodfellars. A number of times, in the background score and in shots of empty rooms through partially open doors we see references to that most quiet of directors, Yasujiro Ozu. Ozu, who directed Tokyo Story, is of course admired by Scorsese but unlike the Italian neo realists that he loves, Ozu and his peaceful style is wholly unsuited to a gangster movie. It’s a clue of what Scorsese is trying to do. Make peace. It explains the unfunny Pesci performance and the banality of De Niro’s narration. Scorsese never had the hand to paint the kind of movie that his contemporaries Roman Polanski and Francis Ford Coppola did. He could never shoot a scene like Brando in his office listening to the undertaker or like John Huston and Jack Nicholson discussing broiled fish. So he made up for it with rotating camera’s in the ring and forensic dialog ripped from FBI files.

But in The Irishman he tries Ozu and we get a whispering Joe Pesci saying “I chose us” to De Niro at the movies end to explain Hoffa’s betrayal. And Hoffa was betrayed, by Scorsese, by Pacino, by everyone who might be interested in what he did build into his union. It must be a curse to try to do a film about the union boss. Nicholson’s Hoffa was terrible, but at least he wasn’t transformed by an aging Italian actor and his friend’s pathetic confession into a one-dimensional stooge. Nothing is examined, nothing explained, just gossip.

And that is the reason the Irishman is a terrible movie. You can’t attempt to depict the sweep of a generation without saying something about why it matters. But because his generation still lies about the meaning of Kennedys and Castro and war, Scorsese has to lie as well. And so he does for the three hours of The Irishman.

 

 

 

Destination Moon – An OCF Classic Movie Review

The 1950 motion picture Destination Moon is in several aspects an odd duck.  It was an independent production under George Pal’s control.  He worked with Robert A Heinlein to adapt his novel Rocket Ship Galileo into a screen play.  In point of fact the plot changes involved make the movie and the book completely different stories.  For Pal who would go on to make such sci-fi classics as War of the Worlds, The Time Machine and When Worlds Collide this was a chance to make a realistic space flight movie with Heinlein providing the scientific accuracy.

After a government project to build an advanced rocket motor is sabotaged and abandoned a plan is hatched to overcome the loss of government funding in rocket design by recruiting patriotic business leaders to pool their resources to pay for and build a Moon rocket.  General Thayer and Dr. Charles Cargraves were the moving force behind the earlier government project and Jim Barnes is the principal industrialist who uses his aircraft design facilities to build the atomic powered rocket.  Along with Joe Sweeney who provides radio and communication expertise (along with Brooklyn-accented comic relief) these men will be the crew to travel back and forth to the Moon.

When local bureaucracy threatens to tie up the launch in the courts, the team decides to launch immediately.  Just as the sheriffs are arriving to serve the launch injunction the crew is riding the elevator up to the cockpit.  The ship takes off and the crew gets to experience the pain of eight gee take off acceleration and the nausea associated with zero gravity conditions.  Shortly after taking off they discover the need to do a space walk to repair equipment.  One of the astronauts carelessly allows his magnetic boots to become separated from the ship’s hull while not holding onto his tether and begins floating away from the ship.  One of his mates has to use an oxygen cylinder as a makeshift rocket to rendezvous with the lost man and bring him back.

As the rocket approaches the Moon, errors in the navigation (or should I say astrogation) force the crew to expend to much reaction mass from the rocket to land in their planned destination.  Mission control on Earth begins calculating how much weight must be removed from the ship to balance the reduced capacity of the ship’s fuel load.

Meanwhile the crew investigates the Moon.  The first thing they do is claim the Moon for the United States (for the good of all mankind).  Using a Geiger counter General Thayer discovers large deposits of uranium.  Later on, one of the astronauts takes a picture of Joe Sweeney holding his arm up in such away that it looks like he is holding up Earth in the sky behind him.

The calculations on the fuel are distressing.  The ship has to be lightened by over a ton.  The crew starts removing everything that isn’t required to get the ship back to Earth.  But even after sawing off any metal components of the ship that can be removed, they’re still short by one hundred ten pounds.

Barnes, Cargraves and Thayer realize that someone has to stay behind and each one of them tries to convince the other two that he is the one to stay based on authority, age or responsibility.  Meanwhile Sweeney takes it upon himself to take the last space suit and leave the ship.  He tells them to leave without him.  But Barnes figures out a trick to get them below the weight limit.  With a rat-tailed file Sweeney puts a notch in the outer door frame of the air lock.  A heavy oxygen cylinder is hung outside the ship from a line that runs through the notch in the door.  With the door closed the airlock is pressurized with only a slow leak from the notch.  Then Sweeney ties the space suit to the other end of the line.  Once Sweeney reenters the ship the outer door is opened and the weight of the cylinder drags the space suit out the door.  Then the ship launches back to Earth.

And the movie ends with the words THE END followed by “of the Beginning.”

Destination Moon is a landmark.  It is the first reasonably accurate portrayal of actual space flight.  Coming nineteen years before Apollo 11 it is remarkably realistic.  Now as cinema it definitely isn’t King Lear or even King Kong but it’s excellent propaganda for a space program.  And it does contain all the correct tropes of the time.  If you are a sci-fi fan this movie is a must see.

Plan 9 from Outer Space – A Science Fiction Movie Review

War Pig has staked out the schlock sci-fi movie review corner but I hope he won’t mind if I try my hand at the grand daddy of all bad sci fi movies.

Summarizing the plot of Plan 9 is absurd.  Aliens have become alarmed by Earth’s increasingly powerful weapons and try to contact us to warn us of our danger.  But allegedly, we refuse to acknowledge they are even there so they proceeded to attack us.  But the first eight plans are ineffective so that leads to “Plan 9,” namely, resurrecting the dead.  Now the resurrected dead are murdering the citizenry and generally causing trouble.  Finally, the police, an army officer and an airline pilot join forces to find the alien space craft and destroy it.

Yes, the plot is idiotic but that is the least ridiculous aspect of this movie.  Everything about this movie fairly screams mental illness.  The movie begins with an invocation by the Narrator, Criswell.  Criswell appears to be a lunatic with his bizarre vocal delivery, oddly jelled hair and bedazzled tuxedo.  He tells us this is based on a true story and the guilty will be punished and the innocent rewarded, whatever that means.

In the next scene we see what looks like amateur footage of a frail looking Bela Lugosi attending a burial.  Then he is killed (off camera by a car crash sound effect).  This was necessary because this was all the footage of Lugosi they had.  He died before the movie was made and the producer/director/writer/editor, Ed Wood used this existing footage to allow Lugosi’s name to be tacked on the film.  Now Lugosi and his pre-deceased wife (Vampira) rise from the dead and start attacking the living.  But the fact that Lugosi was really dead meant that someone else had to portray “the Old Man.”  Luckily Ed Wood’s wife’s chiropractor, Tom Mason was available.  The fact that he was a foot taller, years younger and looked nothing like Lugosi was easily overcome by having Mason stoop over, and hold his Dracula cape in front of his face during all his scenes.

Vampira is a hoot with her wide-eyed stare, stiff armed zombie shamble and divided cleavage get-up.  Eventually when gigantic wrestler Tor Johnson is killed by Vampira and zombified he joins the other two ghouls as they stalk the living and stumble around the set.

One of my favorite scenes is where the flying saucers make their appearance.  Jeff Trent is an airline pilot.  He and his copilot are in the cockpit (or actually in a room with a curtain over the door).  They’re sitting on folding chairs and instead of the control yoke in front of him, each man has a piece of wood shaped like nothing in particular sticking out of the floor.  When they look out the window, we see three flying saucers that are pretty obviously wobbling on strings.

When the army counter attacks against these alien craft, we get to see a man in a military uniform, standing in a room, looking through binoculars as stock WW II footage of a rocket launcher unloads on something.  Now the flying saucers head back to their space station where the aliens provide an update to their leader.  And we find out about the earthlings’ bad manners in not acknowledging that the aliens even exist.

I won’t go into all the absurdities that crowd the whole length of this dopey masterpiece of schlock but I’ll cut to the climax.  The heroes enter the flying saucer and interrogate the saucer captain Eros and he tells them that the reason that he is killing earthlings is because “you’re stupid, stupid!”  So, he gets in a shouting match with Jeff Trent and eventually a fist fight.  And when Trent punches Eros and he bumps into a table with what looks like the guts of a 1930s vacuum tube radio on it, the radio bursts into flames and eventually burns the saucer and causes it to explode.  Now we return to Criswell who tells us what we’ve seen is based on fact but follows up by saying, “Can you prove it didn’t happen?”

Ed Wood must have known how awful this movie was but you can see that he lavished loving attention on some of the details like the credits.  The acting is abysmal when it isn’t non-existent.  The special effects are what you’d expect from a grammar school film maker.  Basically, this is a freak show.  But I have to confess that I can watch this about once every five years and enjoy it.  I recommend that every fan of 1950s science fiction movies watch it at least once in his life.

The Best Years of Our Lives – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Nineteen Forty Six was a pivotal year in the American Century.  The United States had won World War II by harnessing the minds and bodies of its people and focusing that output single-mindedly on victory on the battlefield.  It had required all its young men to drop their lives and join the most powerful fighting machine ever assembled.  But equally extreme was the disruption that this mobilization had on the rest of the population.  The industrial capacity of the country was shifted over from producing cars and clothes for the populace to producing battleships, tanks, munitions and supplies needed to maintain millions of men across a far-flung battle field that spanned the globe.

And those industries had to produce this war-time materiel with almost none of their regular workers.  They had to train women and older men to take the places of their husbands, sons and fathers.  Other disruptions existed because of the male deployment.  Marriage and family growth were often postponed until after the war.  But equally disruptive were the last minute marriages and even conceptions that were consummated in defiance of the war’s demands.  Many a young woman had to raise a posthumous child to a father who would never return to his family.

But finally the war was over.  By dint of the effort of millions and with the help of a couple of atomic bombs the war was won and done.  Now these millions of soldiers. sailors, airmen and marines were returning home to their families and friends.  But in many ways, the returning men were strangers in a strange land.  They were changed and so was the country.  Whereas, for the last four years, they had been the focus of all that went on, now they were being deposited back in the country to try and restart their lives where they left off.  But things were not where they left off.  The jobs they had had before their enlistments were either being done by someone else or didn’t even exist anymore.  And the meager but regular paychecks they got from Uncle Sam would soon disappear.

And finally, many of these men were physically or mentally wounded.  In addition to the injured and maimed a great number of them were victims of what today we call PTSD.  The experiences they had lived through had left a mark on their minds that only time might heal.  The ones that had lost limbs had the added physical and psychological difficulties associated with these losses.

The Best Years of Our Lives was a movie that ambitiously attempted to portray and speak to these realities.  And this was an innovation for the times.  Up until this point Hollywood portrayed America’s wartime experience through a patriotic lens that glossed over many of the harsh realities that existed.  But this movie cast a veteran who had lost his hands in the war (Harold Russell) as Sailor Homer Parrish one of the returning servicemen.  The realities of divorces and unemployment and the depression associated with the alienation and various disruptions impacting the former GIs are openly addressed and nothing is glossed over for the sake of sparing the audience.

Frederic March and Dana Andrews along with the above-mentioned Harold Russel are the protagonists.  They meet on the airplane ride back to their home town of Boone City and the three men bond over the relief and anxiety associated with leaving the service and returning to civilian life.  March is a forty-something infantry sergeant named Al Stephenson and Andrews is Army Air Corps Captain Fred Derry.  But whereas Captain Derry was a highly paid officer and a gentleman in the service he returns home with his only civilian work experience being a soda jerk at the local drug store.  Alternatively, Stephenson trades in his infantry grunt existence for the comfortable lifestyle of a bank officer.  Homer Parrish returns home to the pity and awkward glances from friends and family associated with his missing hands.

Al Stephenson reintroduces himself to his wife Milly and his son and daughter.  Milly (played by Myrna Loy) tries to make Al feel at home but they both are ill at ease trying to take up their relationship where it left off.  Finally, nervous about heading to bed early he drags Milly and daughter Peggy off to the local watering holes to drink away his nerves with scotch.

Meanwhile Fred Derry reaches his father’s home to discover that his young wife Marie has moved out into her own apartment downtown and is working as a cocktail waitress in a night club.  He heads out trying to find out what night club Marie is working at.

And finally, Homer is home with his and his girlfriend’s families celebrating his return and talking about his future.  But he becomes so unhappy with the tense and nervous atmosphere that he leaves to hang out at his Uncle Butch’s bar.

And so, all three ex-servicemen coincidentally meet up at Butch’s Place.  And there we see Al and Fred get royally drunk to distract themselves from their domestic issues.  And in this impaired condition Fred flirts mildly with Peggy Stephenson.  Finally, Butch tells Homer his family wants him home and Milly and Peggy manage to drag Al and Fred into the car and after Fred fails to gain entry into Marie’s apartment building, they drive both men back to the Stephenson apartment where the fall-down-drunk men are bedded down.  During the night Peggy hears Fred Derry crying out.  He was reliving a nightmare where some of his comrades were shot out of the air.  The next morning, he apologizes for waking her and she sympathetically assures him that she didn’t mind.  Peggy gives Fred a lift to his wife’s building and this time he gets in.  Now we meet Marie.  Fred married a very beautiful woman (played by Virginia Mayo) whom he had only known for days when he was deployed to Europe.  Now we see that Marie is a selfish, materialistic woman who expects to be supported in the style she has been accustomed to as a night club denizen.  While Fred has a thousand-dollar severance payment from the service they live it up.  But when the money runs out the couple begin to battle over Marie’s dissatisfaction.

Meanwhile Al and Milly reconnect and talk about their children and Al’s future with the bank he left when he enlisted.  Al tells Milly that he feels responsible to help all the other veterans who didn’t come home to a good job and need some help to get their lives back on track.  He uses his position as a loan officer to help fellow veterans who need GI loans to try to catch up with the new world they find themselves in.  This puts him at odds with the bank president but Al perseveres to champion his fellow vets.

At Homer Parrish’s house we meet Homer’s sweetheart Wilma and find that although she is demonstrably in love with Homer, he is withdrawn and morose.  She asks him why he hasn’t asked her to marry him.  But he tells her he doesn’t want to ruin her life by tying her down to a helpless cripple.  Homer is so unhappy that he explodes in frustration when he thinks his little sister and her friends are gawking in a window at his prosthetic hands.  Finally, Wilma tells Homer that her parents want her to leave town to forget him but she wants him to marry her.  Homer decides to let her see just how helpless he is when he removes his prostheses.  But instead of recoiling from his injuries she embraces him and proves to him that she wants to be with him.  They set the date for their wedding.

An additional story line involves a romantic attachment that grows between Fred Derry and Peggy Stephenson.  When Al finds out about his daughter’s romance with the married Fred, he angrily confronts him for involving his daughter in an extra-marital affair and Fred stoically agrees to break it off.  But even with Peggy out of the picture Fred and Marie fall apart and he leaves home while she declares her intention to get a divorce.  When he leaves, he intends to leave town and start his life over somewhere else.  But while waiting for a flight at the airport he roams through the warplane graveyard and climbs into a bomber.  While reliving some disturbing memory from the war he is discovered by a man who is reclaiming the old planes for construction scrap materials and is told to get out of the plane.  Fred asks if he has any jobs available and manages to convince the man that he is a good prospect and so Fred restarts his life again in his home town.

Now the three ex-servicemen meet up at Homer’s wedding where Al, Milly and Peggy are friends of the groom and Fred is the best man.  Now that Fred is no longer married, he and Al no longer have a reason for fighting and at the end of the night Fred and Peggy come back together and decide to marry.

 

Back in 1946 when winning an Academy Award actually meant the movie was good, The Best Years of Our Lives was competing against It’s a Wonderful Life.  And I think The Best Years of Our Lives won because America needed to move beyond the simplified vision of life represented by It’s a Wonderful Life and recognize the harsh realities and ugly side to life that came along with the changes that the war generated such as the liberation of women and the choice of some of them to embrace a life style that did not value a traditional family role.  But acknowledging the problems facing the returning vets made this movie resonate with the American people.

In my opinion it is one of the best films ever made.  The acting by March and Loy is exceptional and Andrews, Russell and several other players are also excellent.  It captures the feeling of the time and who the American people were back then.

After you’ve read enough sexbot articles on Drudge maybe switch to something interesting

Guest Contributor – War Pig – The Killer Shrews – A Science Fiction Movie Review

Killer Shrews: Schlock at its finest. Poor special effects, hackneyed plot and ham acting. They used hand puppets of the giant killer shrews for up-close shots. They looked like an oversize stuffed mouse with chopstick fangs glued in and black ping pong balls for eyes. For action sequences, they used coon hounds with carpet and fur attached to them and never shot them close up. The coon hound shrews supposedly ate the token Black man in the movie, which would be protested today.

 

The premise is that a Swedish scientist was working on the then threatened coming food apocalypse. He had a Hispanic servant (Alfredo de Soto; more racist tokenism), a cowardly assistant (played by Gunsmoke’s Festus, Ken Curtis, who was an investor in the film and also a fine western actor and amazingly good singer), a beautiful Swedish daughter (played by the attractive Swedish actress Ingrid Goude) and an American assistant scientist played by Gordon McLendon. They are on an isolated island somewhere in the Atlantic hurricane zone so they can be left alone, especially by federal inspectors. James Best (most famous for playing Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrain on Dukes of Hazzard) plays the captain of the small motor ship bringing them supplies. With him is the faithful Black actor Judge Henry Dupree who is his first mate and apparently engineer, playing the character Rook.

 

A hurricane is approaching, so they have to anchor in the protected harbor and wait it out before unloading. The captain goes ashore to meet with the scientists while Rook runs extra anchors and has to tie the boat to a tree ashore. The captain is met by Ken Curtis’ character who is armed and takes him to the residence. There he is told what all is happening, that the experiment went astray and they accidentally created giant killer shrews who must eat their body weight daily to survive, that other animal food is running out, that the shrews are mostly nocturnal and that they will eat humans with gusto.

 

Poor Rook is chased and run up a tree by the coon hound shrews and the effects are so poor you can see the lines pulling the tree down supposedly under Rook’s impressive weight to his doom of being eaten alive. The shrews then surround the residence like the Little Big Horn and try to get in to eat the humans. They dig through the adobe walls and have to be shot or burned. One grazes the assistant scientist’s leg and they therefore find out that the shrews are also deadly venomous, as he dies shortly thereafter. The Hispanic servant also dies from a shrew bite. The shrews make a very distinctive noise that sounds something like “aaawk-ch-ch-ch!”. The shrews are also enthusiastically cannibalistic and will eat any form of meat, including each other, to quell their ravenous appetites.

 

The surviving humans decide they must escape and create a human-powered tank made of barrels roped together. Ken Curtis refuses as he is deathly afraid of the shrews and stays behind. Creeping in the tank the Captain, the Scientist and his lovely daughter make it, barely, to the water where the shrews, who cannot swim, leave them and go back to eat Ken Curtis who, instead of camping out on the roof and safe for a couple of days until the shrews turn on each other, stupidly tried to run off through the woods and he suffers Rook’s fate. As the shrews take him down he screams like a 12 year old girl with a spider on her face. The survivors swim to the motor launch and the Scientist declares; “In twenty-four hours there will be only one shrew left on the island, and he will die of starvation.”

 

This movie and it’s double feature The Giant Gila Monster made a surprising amount of money on the drive-in circuit. Although they were both low budget and schlocky even for 1959, I enjoyed the two movies at the drive-in. An amazing fact is that James Best reprises his role as the captain in the remake “Return of the Killer Shrews” in 2012, which was mostly a mockumentary of the original with even worse special effects and played for laughs. I am probably one of the very few people who have seen both movies. It is also a break of 53 years between the original and the sequel. Has to be some kind of record.

Blade Runner 2049 – A Science Fiction Movie Review

I saw Blade Runner in 1982.  It was a dystopic sci-fi story based on a Philip K Dick story, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”  Harrison Ford is a cop named Rick Deckard whose job is to terminate runaway androids (replicants), he’s called a blade runner.  The movie was constructed as a film noir with Deckard in love with a woman that he knows to be a replicant.  The movie is full of dark violent imagery.  And the story has at its core the concept of the inherent dignity of all human life and the injustice of denying anyone freedom.  And Rutger Hauer was a lot of fun running amok as a brilliant homicidal replicant named Roy Batty.

Since this is Orion’s Cold Fire, I feel it is necessary to record here Roy’s final speech before dying:

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears…in…rain. Time to die.”  It’s effective, both dramatically and emotionally.  In point of fact it’s the best thing in the movie.

Blade Runner 2049 is the sequel to this movie.  It’s about thirty years after the first movie and K (played by Ryan Gosling) is a replicant who works for the Los Angeles police department as a blade runner.  While terminating a rogue replicant he detects a body buried under a tree on the replicant’s farm.  Forensic evidence points to the body belonging to the replicant that Deckard ran away with at the end of the first movie.  And the forensics shows that she gave birth to a child.  This is supposed to be impossible and so frightens the law enforcement establishment that they order K to find the child and terminate it and destroy all evidence of its existence.

But based on evidence associated with the child in K’s search he begins to believe that he is that child.  Because of the usefulness and efficiency of having replicants fertile, Niander Wallace, the wealthy, brilliant and evil CEO of the replicant manufacturing corporation wants to find the child in order to learn the secret of its ability.

This scenario sparks all manner of fights and chases and clues are found and people are hunted down.  Eventually K finds the woman who delivers the child and learns he is not the child.  He finds Deckard (reprised by Ford) and reunites him with his daughter.

I thought it was an awful movie.  It was full of off-putting action, boring and confusing dialog and unsympathetic characters.  Even as science fiction it didn’t make any sense.  We can currently read the entire genome of any human being.  How could it be possible for a future world that could produce synthetic humans not be able to make them fertile.  Also, since as we learned in the first movie, these replicants were born adult and only lived a few short years, how could having them gestate other replicants make any sense?  They would be born infants and take twenty years to mature.  Or even if in the meantime replicants now lived longer why were humanoid slaves needed at all?  The advances in artificial intelligence showcased in the movie made the need for android slaves nonsensical.

But honestly, all that is beside the point.  The movie was terrible.

The French Connection – A Movie Review

When the “The French Connection” came out in 1971 I was a high school freshman.  My home room teacher was trying to come up with a class trip that would be less boring than the usual trip to a museum.  So, he took the class to a Manhattan theater to see this film.  I would say that was the only successful school trip during my four years there.

The movie is shot in the gritty and sometimes annoying cinema verité style that was popular at the time and the soundtrack is full of weird and fairly arbitrary sounds and music meant to add a disorienting sensation to the movie.  And the New York City streets and low life environs that make up a good chunk of the geography of the film are an ugly and depressing scene.  But the movie succeeds on its own terms.  It is the story of Popeye Doyle (played by Gene Hackman) a New York City Police detective who works undercover with his partner Buddy Russo (played by Roy Scheider) to try to stem the flow of heroin into the city.  Popeye is a cowboy who will use violence and intimidation to find out where the low-level drug dealers are getting their heroin from.  And his recklessness in capturing the bad guys has led to the death of a fellow cop at some time in the past.

Based on the info of an informant Popeye learns that a huge shipment of heroin is coming into the country from France.  The mastermind behind the deal is a Frenchman named Alain Charnier who is accompanied by his hitman Pierre Nicoli.  They are arranging to sell the drugs to a small time Brooklyn gangster named Sal Boca who along with his young wife Angie run a sandwich shop and drug dealership.  In the movie Popeye and Buddy discover Sal’s part in the drug deal completely at random.  They were in the Copacabana after work for a drink when Popeye notices a number of mob-connected drug dealers socializing with a young couple that neither of the detectives recognize.  On a hunch they follow the couple and see them change cars and appearance before assuming the part of small business owners in Brooklyn.  After checking their police records and observing Sal enter the building of a known drug financier named Joel Weinstock, Popeye becomes convinced that Sal is part of the heroin deal and asks his boss to request wire taps for Sal’s home and business.

The two Frenchmen reach New York and Popeye and Buddy, assisted by some federal agents, follow Sal and identify his contacts.  But Charnier is aware of the surveillance and plays a game of cat and mouse with Popeye, in one case outwitting him in a game of follow the leader on a subway car.  But the lack of results frustrates the police hierarchy and the assignment is cancelled with Popeye and Buddy sent back to the street work they usually do.  But Charnier’s hitman Pierre Nicoli is unhappy with Popeye knowing so much about the plan and he tells his boss that he will take care of the detective.

In the next scene Popeye is walking home to his apartment in the Marlborough Housing Project off 86th Street in south Brooklyn when a rifle shot strikes a nearby woman wheeling a baby carriage.  After Popeye avoids another half-dozen rounds, he goes up to the roof to find the sniper.  He finds the rifle but Nicoli has fled and looking down Popeye sees the man fleeing the area.  He chases Nicoli to the elevated subway station of the B train and sees the killer escape on a train.  Popeye flags down a motorist and commandeers his car.  What follows is one of the greatest car chase scenes in movie history.  The elevated train line Straddles and constricts 86th Street running beneath it.  And this narrowness and the congestion of the traffic along this busy road makes the high-speed chase that Popeye attempts essentially suicidal.  He’s chasing an overhead train on a crowded road by weaving in and out of the oncoming lane while traveling at what’s supposed to be sixty miles an hour.  Suffice it to say the unlucky motorist wouldn’t be getting much of his car back at the end of Popeye’s race.

Meanwhile Nicoli is commandeering the train and preventing it from stopping at the local stations.  In the commission of this plan he shoots an NYPD officer and the train conductor and gives the subway motorman a heart attack which leads to the train crashing into the back of another train on the same track.  Staggering out of the wreck Nicoli tries to leave the elevated station but Popeye has managed to reach the station ahead of him and when Nicoli tries to run Popeye shoots him in the back and guards his body until the police arrive.

After the killings committed by Nicoli, the investigation is relaunched and Popeye and Buddy are in charge again.  They discover the drugs hidden in a car planted for the exchange and once the deal takes place, they spring their trap.  A small army of police surround the deserted building on Ward Island where the drug dealers are holed up.  Sal is killed in the gun battle but the rest of the New York gang and the drugs are captured by the police.  Now Popeye and Buddy go after Charnier.  Popeye tells Buddy that Charnier is in the far end of the building.  Popeye walks straight toward the room but when a figure appears in the doorway Popeye cuts him down with five shots from his revolver.  But when Buddy goes over to the body it’s the federal agent that Popeye disliked the most.  Popeye ignores the gravity of what he’s just done and says he knows Charnier is in the room and charges in.  We hear a shot ring out and the scene ends.

Text on the screen tells us that only a couple of criminals served time and even that wasn’t for more than a few years.  Doyle and Russo were transferred out of the narcotics division and reassigned.  Charnier was never caught and was believed to be back in France.

As noted above this movie suffers from being a product of early nineteen seventies film-making.  New York City at that time period was a pretty gritty place.  At best, Popeye Doyle is a flawed hero but more accurately he is an anti-hero.  But his cowboy approach to police work is fast-paced and riveting.  Hackman and Scheider have a good chemistry as cop buddies.  And without a doubt, the chase scene is a must-see experience.  On a personal note I grew up in the area where Popeye Doyle lived and where the chase scene took place.  I can attest that only a heavily armed individual with a death wish could live in the Marlboro Projects back in the 1970s with no fear for life or limb.    And if someone tried to drive down 86th Street in the way represented by the movie’s chase scene the body count would have been truly noteworthy.

I recommend the movie to all fans of action movies and crime dramas.