John Wick 2 – A Movie Review

Earlier I reviewed John Wick.  And he killed everyone in sight and got a new dog, so story over and he lived (or bled to death) happily ever after.  But, doggone it, John Wick must have made some money so there’s gonna be a John Wick 2.

I watched it last night.  I even rented John Wick, just in case I needed to be refreshed on the details.  But it all came flooding back.  As luck would have it, there’s an evil crime lord who has a marker from John Wick that he can cash in if John comes out of retirement.  Wouldn’t you know it!  John declines.  Crime Lord blows up John’s house with some kind of a grenade launcher which based on its effect must involve anti-matter.  John is blown clear of the house (relatively unharmed mind you) and luckily for the Crime Lord the dog is unharmed.  You would think after what John did to a Crime Lord in the first movie word would have gotten out to the Crime Lord community.  Alas it hadn’t.

The remainder of the movie is the body count involved in first fulfilling his debt to the above referenced Crime Lord and then completing the vendetta against this self-same Crime Lord.  It is a ponderous count.

So, to review my take on this series, it’s based on John Wick being possessed of ultra-fast reflexes and a machine-like precision at killing men, whether with gun, knife, hands, head or pencil.  In fact, I think in one scene he stabbed his opponent to death with a rather blunt pistol.  In John Wick 2 he gets to mix it up a bit, in that a couple of his opponents are women (I think).

So, if you’ve already seen John Wick why would you need a second dose of the same?  The innovation in the second film is speed.  In this second outing a mere ten or twenty opponents would only be a momentary diversion, perhaps something for him to keep busy with between brushing his teeth and flossing.  During one sequence he’s armed with three guns (a pistol, a fully automatic rifle and a shot gun) and he’s barely able to reload anything fast enough to keep from running out of ammo.  And he’s not wasting bullets.  Amazingly, no matter what lighting conditions, distance or direction every shot is a head shot kill.  Sometimes he’s so busy that he’s forced to kill his opponents with one hand while reloading with the other.  And sometimes he’s so hard-pressed that he has to kill other attackers with a gun that’s still being held by a guy he’s also throttling.  It’s a dizzying dance of death that goes on and on and on.

The twist in the plot is that the Crime Lord has put out a seven million dollar price on John’s head and apparently all eight million inhabitants of New York City are hit men (and women).  So wherever he goes, subway, museum or restaurant, he’s assaulted by multiple assassins trying to collect on the contract.  So, knowing he needs help to survive he goes to the King of the Homeless (played by his old Matrix buddy Lawrence Fishburne) and is brought to the location of the Crime Lord.  The catch is he’s only given one gun and it only has a seven-bullet clip.  That would only last John Wick for at most four seconds.  But he agrees and away he goes.  The finale is another ballet of bullets.  Only this time exchanging guns with his victims is a pressing detail.

John Wick 2 is full of growth for Keanu as an actor.  At one point he makes a joke ( it’s about a knife in an aorta).  And he gets to banter with his friends and enemies in multiple languages, English, Russian, Italian and American Sign Language for the Deaf (one of his victims is a deaf woman, I think).  He truly is a Man for All Seasons.

By the end of the movie John Wick has now broken the code of the Continental Hotel and Hitman’s Club.  He is given an hour’s grace before all the same bounty hunters as earlier are coming to kill him.  We last see him heading south (I think) out of Central Park.  And he’s moving pretty fast considering the beating the movie has inflicted on him.

So, I once again recommend this new John Wick movie.  It provides fair recompense for your time and money in the form of ludicrous speed gangland killing.

My only worry is what about John Wick 3?  Based on the increase in killing speed between the movies, in the next one he’ll either have to upgrade his brain and body with cybernetic replacements or he’ll have to put in a lot of overtime.  I guess if he can learn to kill people while simultaneously performing his other daily activities he can get his quota up high enough.  Showering, shaving, eating breakfast, talking on the phone.  These things can certainly be done one-handed.  Working out at the gym could get tricky but I guess he could try shooting a gun with his foot while working the Lat-Machine.

Watching All Three Extended Versions of the Lord of the Rings Movies in One Weekend – Part 2

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this review, it really isn’t advisable to watch all three extended versions back to back.  However, that is probably the best way to judge the entire series as a unified work.  And that is why I wrote this post.  I wanted to judge the entire work.

I’ll start with the things that I think Peter Jackson got wrong.  I’ll follow with what he did very well.

The Elves.

As I stated earlier, Galadriel and Celeborn are awful.  Some kind of other-worldly or ethereal quality is being portrayed that just comes off as weird.  I do not believe it matches the intent of the books at all.  In the book, when Galadriel talks to Frodo about taking the Ring she does give him the image of herself amplified to some terrible queen.  But at the end she shrinks back down and assumes a normal form and speech pattern.

She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illuminated her alone and left all else dark. She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a slender elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.

“I pass the test”, she said. “I will diminish, and go into the West and remain Galadriel.”

In the book, in her dealings with Frodo, Galadriel displays a totally normal human personality.  In the movie, many of the elves, but Galadriel especially, are these weird non-human things.  This is a failing.  Galadriel is a major character.  Her kinship to Arwen and friendship with Aragorn are important points.  If elves are not human in their emotional make-up then the love of Aragorn and Arwen makes very little sense.

Luckily, Legolas is given a human personality.  His differences are portrayed as largely super-human physical abilities.  His banter with Gimli and his good-natured behavior toward most of the characters strikes the viewer as completely natural and not as some inhuman personality.  At most he displays a sort of noblesse oblige.  Which considering his greater age is completely reasonable.

The Siege of Minas Tirith

Several problems crop up here.  One I’ve mentioned, is the characterization of Denethor.  He is portrayed as a base individual.  In the scene where Faramir was forced by his father to attack the orc army on the Pelennor Fields we are forced to watch Denethor eat a meal of grape tomatoes and chicken.  His inability to keep the food from dribbling onto his chin and the noises he makes eating are obviously meant to give us the impression that he is a slob.  His cowardice during the initial attack and Gandalf’s cavalier assault on the Steward’s person is completely at odds with the book.  Denethor is a noble and honorable individual.  The misfortune to his sons and the disheartening images he has seen in the Palantir have driven him to despair.  But he is not the evil character that the movie portrays.

The other major problem of the Siege is the meeting of Gandalf and the Witch King.  In the book, they meet at the point where the Gate has been breached with Grond.  At this point they are face to face and the Witch King taunts saying that the moment belongs to him.  At this point the Horns of the Rohirrim are heard and the duel is interrupted.  In the movie, the meeting is not at the gate but during the ongoing retreat upward in the city.  And in fact, the Witch King shatters Gandalf’s staff, much the way Gandalf did to Saruman’s staff.  This seems to be too much.  I could see Gandalf overwhelmed by thousands of orcs and Trolls with the Winged Nazgul providing aerial reinforcement.  But if Gandalf the Grey could destroy a Balrog, how could a Ringwraith, even one who was perhaps super-charged with Sauron’s spirit during the attack so easily take him down now that he was Gandalf the White?  Seems wrong.

And finally, the scene between Eowyn and the Witch King.  The scene is still very, very good.  But it should have more exactly followed the book’s lead.  It should have been from Merry’s point of view.  And Eowyn, should have revealed herself as a woman before the fight and in exactly the words printed.  The dramatic force of the scene was perfect in the book.  But the scene is still very good.

Frodo and Sam

This is the most difficult fault to describe.  Sam for the most part seems fairly close to the intent of the book.  He’s a simple village boy caught up in the chaos.  Frodo is some kind of invalid from start to finish.  It’s not at all apparent why he is a reasonable ring bearer.  It seems altogether more reasonable to have given the Ring to Sam.  Granted Frodo’s personality is not completely at odds with the portrayal in the book.  Frodo is always a problematic personality.  But I believe this tendency has been brought much too far.  There’s not much more that can be said other than I think it harms that aspect of the story severely.

Alright, I’ve laid the bad stuff on you first.  So now I’ll tell you what I did like.

Aragorn

The portrayal of Aragorn is just about perfect.  He is a kingly man who also has the common touch.  He interacts with the other characters and always improves the scene.  He displays humor, mercy, gallantry, wisdom and each when it is needed.  All of this and yet he always appears human and in the moment.  He isn’t a superman.  He’s a hero.

Boromir and Faramir

I believe in the scene where Faramir is remembering the day when Boromir recaptured Osgiliath, I think the movie outdoes the book.  Boromir and Faramir are shown as brothers in the best sense of the word.  Their good qualities as men and soldiers are on display.  We get a scene that defines both characters and their relationship.  Unfortunately, this was outside the scope of the book.  Kudos to Jackson for inventing it.  And here it can be seen how the danger of the ring is thrust on Boromir who, as a man of action is least able to resist it.  The type of man who would see it as a solution to the enemy at Gondor’s gate.  It is an explanation for why he was both a good man and tempted by the Ring.

And the other great scene for Boromir is of course, his defense of the hobbits against the Uruk-hai.  You would have to have a heart of stone not to feel admiration and sorrow watching Boromir battle on as each arrow pierces his body.  It is perhaps, the best acting scene anyone gets in the movie.  Then his dying speech with Aragorn is equally poignant.  He shows his love of his people and nobility toward his rival Aragorn.  It’s a fantastic sequence.

The Ride of the Rohirrim

This in my mind is the high point of the movie.  When Theoden’s army overlooks the apparent destruction of Minas Tirith and he leads the stirring charge against the enemy’s main force it is electric.  And after they break the siege and see the Haradrim and the elephants approaching it is stirring and finally when the Witch King smashes Theoden and Snowmane to the ground we get Eowyn’s moment.  I have stated that the book’s portrayal is better.  It is.  But the movie version is still great.  And although Theoden’s farewell to Eowyn isn’t in the book it is still very affecting and natural.

The Black Gate

This scene differs in several particulars from the book.  The killing of the Mouth of Sauron is notable but not critical.  In general, I would say it was very well done.  And in one particular it exceeded the book.  Aragorn’s rallying speech to his troops before the battle is stirring.  And does not occur in the book.  The other effect that the movie added over the book was the sight of Barad-dur in the background and the line of sight to it allowing Sauron to call to Aragorn right before he started the battle charge.

 

Conclusion

So there is the bad and the good.  Over all, any real fan of the Lord of the Rings has to recognize Jackson’s movies as a great achievement that brings most of Tolkien’s wonderful story to life.  Maybe someday the story will be done again and improved on.  But what we have is a great work and something to be enjoyed.

Orion’s Cold Fire – The Origin Story

Now, you’re gonna have to bear with me for a bit.  This will be a rambling seemingly incoherent rant.  But I’ll try by the end to bring it back to the point.

 

Over the course of the last few years I have become aware of the range of “philosophies” and personalities that exists on the right wing.  I do not have an exhaustive knowledge of all the players, nor do I want or need to.  I think it would be fair to say these personalities run the gamut from extremely sober to raving lunatic.  And over the course of the last few years this has given me reason to pause and consider how or if I fit in with this spectrum of individuals.  Surprisingly, I have learned that not all the serious individuals are right and not all of the nuts are wrong.  Now, that doesn’t make it easy to commune with the lunatics.  In fact, most of the time you probably shouldn’t.  Lunatics tend to the mercurial and don’t always play well with others.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hear what they are saying.  And by the same token, the sober guys may be charming and polite individuals but listening to them may be counter-productive.  Especially if they are extremely clever.  Sophistry can be highly entertaining and unfortunately also highly deceptive.  To my mind that is kind of how we got where we are now.  Cheerleaders for supposedly conservative ideas convinced a lot of people that the Bushes and John McCain and Mitt Romney knew what the word conservative means.  That was sophistry.

 

So, the people you agree with logically aren’t the same as the people you enjoy listening to.  What that means is that you tend to have to compartmentalize your relationships.  Some people you can discuss your political beliefs with easily and other people you can’t.  Some people are fun to discuss zombie movies with and others only want to discuss the actual apocalypse.  It’s not the most comfortable arrangement imaginable.  It’s sometimes annoying.  And it’s the way things are going to be for the foreseeable future.  Trying to avoid this reality will lead to trouble.  For example, suppose you have a good friend who likes the same sports you do.  The two of you can go to a ball game anytime and sit up in the stands and talk all day about Joe Dokes’ batting average or who the best relief pitcher is.  It’s great.  But if you try discussing politics with him you’ll end up in a shouting match and probably won’t want to get together for months.  Very not great.  And alternatively, you might know someone either in real life or on the web who you agree with politically almost completely.  The two of you can discuss politics and even cooperate on political action and other projects.  A mutually beneficial relationship.  But otherwise you have nothing in common.  You like country music he’s a gangsta rap enthusiast.  You like science fiction he reads books on playing golf.  Absolutely no common ground.  What about these two scenarios?

What about them?  There’s nothing wrong with either one.  They reflect the reality of the world around us.  You accept that division.

 

Now, of course, the best case scenario is when both spheres align.  Now you can talk about baseball and the revolution at the same time.  Better still, you can start a fantasy baseball league for right wingers!  And for something like baseball or hockey or NASCAR you might do quite well lining up people who fit both sides of the equation.  No problem!

 

But what if your interest is photography or science fiction?  Now it’s not so easy.  If you happen to be a photographer and also happen to not be a left winger you’re probably aware that the majority of photographers both professional and amateur skew pretty hard left.  As with a lot of the “creative” professions these people seem to be steeped in a bohemian, urban culture that is extremely hostile to right-wing values and individuals.  When I first got interested in photography I experienced this hostility over and over at a number of photography websites.  It was both on a subliminal level and also on a purposeful, even confrontational basis.  Whenever anything in the news offended the denizens of these sites it inevitably was dragged through the forum pages in the most strident and challenging terms.  Basically, it was a public challenge to deny the libel being foisted.  And interestingly if you succeeded in presenting a logical argument that was too convincing, the powers that be on the site were very likely to step in and either erase your posts (or force you to erase them) or ban you from the site altogether.  To say this was a sorry state of affairs would be an understatement.  The only way to coexist (what a loaded word) in such an environment would be to keep your mouth shut and ignore these virtue-signaling spasms.  You can only imagine how much fun that would be.  But there was no other way.  Eventually I found one website that had a policy that I found commendable.  They specifically forbade divisive discussions that involved non-photographic topics.  So, no political, racial, religious or ethnic discussions were allowed to drift into an argument.  It could be a little restrictive but it totally avoided the type of nonsense I was discussing above.  Interestingly, I could still tell which individuals would be the worst offenders if it was allowed.  They were always the ones being censured by the moderators.  And it never was anyone on the right being stopped.  Always rabid leftists.  You could tell they thought it was highly unfair that they were not allowed to lecture us all on the topic of the day.  I have to confess I took a good deal of delight in posting complaints against the worst offenders whenever I could.  But it was still only a grudging allowance of what was obviously a despised minority opinion.  I believe the site owner was a right-wing guy who found that, to avoid alienating the lefties, the best he could do was try to avoid all flash points.  He knew that the demographics were against him and he settled for this uneasy truce.  I still have great respect for the way he maintained that arrangement.  It was the best environment that existed for right-wing photographers that I ever found.

Another of my interests is (or was and now is again) science fiction and fantasy stories.  Growing up in the nineteen sixties and seventies I can remember finding all the classic books by the Golden Age authors and just eating that stuff up.  And there was all kinds of range to the quality of the stories.  Some were great and some were pretty bad.  And even as a kid I knew that.  And yet, I could still enjoy even the bad ones because at least they were of a kind.  They involved science and adventure and space flight and alien creatures and time travel and inter-dimensional mumbo-jumbo and especially cover art involving scantily clad green-skinned women.  Who could ask for anything more?  But as time passed and it moved into the late seventies something started to change.  Fantasy books weren’t about orcs and dwarves.  They were about nature spirits fighting back against modern western civilization to protect Mother Gaia.  And science fiction wasn’t about humans exploring the galaxy but sexually confused individuals exploring their various orifices.  And along with all these “improvements” was the overarching message that the most important problem that science fiction and fantasy needed to solve was how can we make books that no straight white men would want to read?

And I’ll be the first to admit they succeeded with a vengeance.  For a few years I still picked up new books and gave them a try.  But without a doubt something bad had happened.  It was like all the nit-wits who had made the sixties into a stinking hippie nightmare went off and got MFA’s and started writing sf&f.  And worse still they had taken over the publishing houses and the awards ceremonies and only allowed their own kind of stories to make it to the bookstore shelves.  Well, eventually I stopped trying and gave up on the genres.  I figured it was me.  I was no longer a child and I had to put away childish things.  But a few years ago, I read about the Sad Puppies.  I think the link was at PJ Media.  After reading about the Hugo Awards and the way nominations were only handed out to those who fit the club and wrote only right-think it all clicked.  I read all I could about the Puppies and started picking up some of their books.  And they were good!  Of course, not everything was great.  Some was just okay.  But all of it was recognizable as sf&f.  And there was a community of people who believed in writing stories and not social justice agit-prop.  And they had websites where like-minded individuals could talk and discuss writing and stuff they liked without having to get approval from the better sort.  And I heard them talk about what it used to be like before the Puppy movement, how everyone had to kowtow to the better sort and if you wanted to get ahead you had to like the right sort of stories and hold the right kind of ideas.  And how even if you went through this kabuki act you still had to wait your turn and if you had the wrong plumbing and skin tone chances were you wouldn’t ever get a shot at the brass ring.

But what really sounded familiar was how everyone had to hate the same things.  There was an orthodoxy and if you didn’t hate George Bush and the military and straight white men, then you were cast out.  And that I recognized.  It was the same group-think I had seen on the photography sites.  These were the same people.  The Artists.

And it got me thinking.  If the Puppies could do it for sf&f why couldn’t I make a photography site where right-wing opinion wasn’t something you had to hide.  Now I wasn’t looking for some kind of gated community where only right-wing right think was allowed.  But a place where I wouldn’t have to hear a two minute hate every time Donald Trump’s name was in the news.

So that’s kind of my whole reason for making this site in a nutshell ( a very long 1900 word nutshell).  I wanted this site to allow me to discuss right-wing issues both seriously and with a little humor.  That’s for all those folks who agree with me politically but don’t speak my language on hobbies.

And for those who happen to also have an interest in either sf&f or photography it’s a place where I could talk about those things.  And other general things like tv and movies and other culture topics with like-minded people.  So, if any of those things interest you stop by and have a look and leave a comment.

And finally after the revolution when I am elevated to the highest circles of the new order, hopefully in the movie version of my life story I’ll be played by Ryan Reynolds and Morena Baccarin will play Camera Girl.  And they really should include “Angel in the Morning” in the soundtrack but absolutely nothing by Wham!  They really suck.

See I told you I’d bring it all back in the end.

Whispers from The Abyss – An Anthology of H. P. Lovecraft Inspired Short Stories –  Edited by Kat Rocha – A Horror Book Review – Part 2

Whispers from The Abyss – Part 1

Taking up where I left off, I’ll discuss some of the longer works in the anthology.  I arbitrarily divided the works as those eight or more pages long and those shorter.  First up, “Secrets in Storage” by Tim Pratt and Greg Van Eekhout.  It’s a straightforward tale of a man who looks in a mysterious box.  The set-up is up to the minute Americana.  A man spends his whole nest egg on the contents of a storage locker.  He goes with a hunch and of course exhibits more guts than brains when he reacts to an impossible scenario by literally climbing into the paradox.  I like the ending.  It reminds me of the ending of Heinlein’s “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag.  Only instead of no mirrors, no boxes or pools.  It’s a refreshing change of pace.

Next is “The Substance in the Sound” by W. B. Stickel.”  This is also a simple tale but well told and the details of the characters and the harbor environment is interesting.  The tie-in to the mythos is not the conventional one and allows some added surprise.  As a New England resident it’s always interesting when the stories return to Lovecraft’s old stomping grounds.

My favorite long story is The Jar of Aten-Hor. By Kat Rocha.  It is a story linking back to the Egyptian religious customs surrounding death.  The description of the funerary artifact around which the story revolves is very vividly described. As with some of Lovecraft’s best imagery it calls out for a visual representation.  But the description is detailed enough to bring it to the mind’s eye.  The protagonist at each turn is provided an avenue of escape and each time she believes that she is deciding her own fate but by the end of the story it is evident that she was the one being manipulated.  Although Egypt wasn’t the most frequent focus of Lovecraft’s mythic sources he did borrow from it for some of his Old Ones names.  I remember reading a description of the pyramids that Lovecraft wrote for some event of Harry Houdini’s.  It was entitled “Under the Pyramids.”  It was one of the better things Lovecraft ever wrote.  It’s nice to see a story that links Lovecraft back to a rich source of highly relevant mythic material.  The inexplicable changing images on the jar provide the link to show the change going on in the protagonist.  Her fascination with the jar grows past a professional interest until finally it becomes an obsession.  The story is well crafted and full of interesting details.  If only Lovecraft himself had been as careful with his writing.  Then I wouldn’t have to make so much fun of him.

In my final post I’ll sum up my thoughts on Whispers from the Abyss and I’ll even throw in some more abuse of Lovecraft at no extra charge.

Whispers from The Abyss – An Anthology of H. P. Lovecraft Inspired Short Stories –  Edited by Kat Rocha – A Horror Book Review – Part 1

 

Anyone with a comprehensive knowledge of this blog knows that I have a love/hate relationship with the works of H. P. Lovecraft.

Why No Love for the Craft of Howard Phillips? – Part 1- The Whisperer in the Darkness

Space Opera (High and Low)

On the one hand, some of his stories are, in my opinion, terribly written.  The action and narration are painful to read and sometimes seem like parody.  On the other hand, some of the images he presents possess the potency of an archetypal nightmare.  I feel that he had an extremely powerful imagination but for whatever reason lacked or neglected to use the writing techniques needed for good story-telling.  For this reason, I continue to circle around Lovecraft’s works.  Aggravated by the reality but fascinated by the potential.

So, I just finished the stories in this anthology.  I read them over the course of yesterday and today.  That’s twenty-eight stories inspired by the writings of Lovecraft.  By any protocol currently in place that is dangerously north of the recommended median safe dosage.  And what I found is consistent with both what I know about Lovecraft and what I know about anthologies.  Let’s look at the categories.

Case 1:  Assume you are a rabid Lovecraft fanatic.  Then by definition you’ll love this anthology.  It’s chock full of Lovecraftian bug juice.  You’re not gonna find a stronger dose of the real thing.  But even you, the grand master of the Lovecraft Day Parade will enjoy certain stories more than others.  Stands to reason.  Because even though the stories have the main attraction it’s there in different dosages and also it is flavored with the other ingredients.  Suppose you are a rabid right wing Lovecraftian and you hit upon a story that includes some feminist story elements or sentiments.  Then that would decrease your enjoyment.  Or suppose you’re a Cthulhu Mythos purist and a story contains some element that you see as heretical, say humor or some science that disagrees with your vision of the saga.  This also would be a negative.

Case 2:  You’re a Lovecraft agnostic.  You don’t hate or love him.  Then each story is taken on its merits.  And so, even more powerfully than in Case 1 your own spectrum of preferences come into play and by definition you will have a much lower average score for each story since it won’t start out on the Lovecraftian plateau.

Case 3:  You despise Lovecraft.  Well, in that case you’d have to be reading this collection out of some kind of masochistic impulse.  Because even if the story characteristics agreed with your other requirements for good fiction, the Lovecraftian elements would be a constant irritant.  Chances are a much smaller subset would be acceptable.  These would be stories that have all the other personal qualifications going for them to offset the anti-Lovecraft bias.

As previously stated, I fall into the second category.  The story will work or not based on how well the elements resonate with my tastes.  And since I’m an old geezer brought up in the paleolithic era I respond well to regressive, patriarchal, hetero-cis-normative, Europhilic, western pro-American themes extremely well.  All other influences lower the enjoyment quotient to some degree.  By definition, anything written after 1957 is going to suffer from a certain deviation from this baseline point of view.  End of truth in advertising disclaimer.

So let’s get started.  The story that best represents the nightmare quality that I think is the most powerful part of the Lovecraft experience is also one of the shortest pieces in the anthology.  I’ve always thought that parents’ emotional bond to their children is the strongest point of attack for horror writers.  In his story “When We Change,” Mason Ian Bundschuh identifies what can be truly horrific about humans being forced into a meat grinder.  Forcing people to make unthinkable choices is the very essence of tragedy and horror.

Interestingly, another of my favorites is a parody, a Lovecraftian farce.  James Brogden’s “The Decorative Water Feature of Nameless Dread” was very good.  It falls into the British tradition of Wodehouse, Fawlty Towers, The Office and anything else that juxtaposes the English desire for propriety and normalcy against the actual absurdity of real life. I definitely was smiling during my read of this story.  It aligns very nicely with my own sense of humor.

In the next installment of this article I’ll give my ideas on some of the larger stories.

Cowboy Bebop – A Sci-Fi TV Review – Part 2

Cowboy Bebop – A Sci-Fi TV Review – Part 1

So I’ve watched two and a half of the discs.  Interestingly Netflix says there is “Unknown Availability” for Discs 3 and 6.  How’s that for the customer is always right?  I’m liking the show.  The episodes vary.  Some are back story.  Some introduce new characters.  There’s usually at least a little bounty hunting involved.  The ratio of comedy to drama is high.  The visuals are a mixture of standard cartoon and high-end graphics.  Some of the space scenes are especially well done and interesting.

I’ve been trying to think of what I can compare the viewing experience to.  As I said in my last post, there is a decidedly close resemblance to the look and atmosphere of Firefly.  But because it’s animated it’s obviously not identical.  And in a related sense it is reminiscent of Westerns.

Not being a recent consumer of Japanese cartoons, I guess another thing it reminds me of are the Japanese cartoons that were on when I was a kid back in the sixties.  One that has a little relevance was “Eighth Man.”  The story was completely unrelated.  But just something about the pacing makes it seem akin in my mind.

With respect to back story, the protagonist, Spike, has a history involved with a crime family.  There is an evil brother figure lurking in his past.  Down the road there is sure to be a reckoning for past sins.

I still don’t know what the relevance of the welsh corgi will be.  Maybe he’ll turn out to be super intelligent.  Right now he’s just sort of annoying.  They’ve also added a young girl who is also (of course) a world class hacker to the crew.  I’m guessing she’s the River Tam of the crew.

So, just to update, not sure where it’s going, still liking it.

Forbidden Planet – The Quintessential Sci-Fi Movie? – OCF Classic Movie Reviews

A lot of stuff has been said about what makes Forbidden Planet such an important sci-fi movie.  The ground-breaking special effects, the plot element of a human military vessel exploring space that would spawn the endless iterations of the Star Ship Enterprise.  And of course, there’s the classical angle.  Supposedly the plot is an update of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”

So, there’s all that good stuff.  But to my mind the real reason can be summed up in two words, Anne Francis.  When the angelic face of Miss Francis first appears on screen I began to see the movie in the correct light.  This was an epic adventure story that rivalled the Odyssey of Homer for timelessness and meaning.  Now the fact that I was a sixteen-year old boy at the time probably colored my thought processes to some extent and the skimpiness of her costumes might even have had something to do with it.  But let’s face it, giant ants can only get you so far.  If you want to keep the natives from getting restless you have to appeal to their most powerful motivations and if a blonde-haired, blue eyed creature with a very pretty face and extremely long shapely unclad legs is brought center stage, suddenly even the acting skills of Leslie Nielsen seem greatly enhanced and worth a fair hearing.

But now that I’m in my dotage and no longer as easily swayed by a pretty face, I’ve had a chance to re-evaluate the movie.  Surprisingly, I’m still a big fan.  And this is despite the obvious weaknesses that are extremely evident in such an old film.  The dialog has some extremely cliché-ridden exchanges including:

  • The captain tells off the young woman because her uninhibited interest in the young men in his crew will be a distraction from military discipline.
  • Morbius displays the stereotypical arrogance of the academic intellectual toward the practical military authorities.
  • The banter provided by the ship’s cook is the comic relief that would seem right at home in an Abbott and Costello movie.

So what makes it good?  Well, the humans are mostly likeable and admirable.  The plot unwinds in a manner that allows for the gradual reveal of the mystery.  Of course, the who of the question is answered long before the why and how of the problem.  But the details provide reinforcement of the underlying lesson to learn.  We are reminded that smarter isn’t the same as perfect.

And the special effects are still pretty good.  The animation of the Krell infrastructure impresses the viewer with the gargantuan scope of the installation.  The humans walking through it literally look like ants at one point.

And finally, the interaction between the isolated inhabitants of this dream world and the crew of the no-nonsense military vessel is classic.  It reminds you of the stories that portray the first contact between Europeans and the South Sea Islands.  The sailors always have a feeling they have somehow discovered paradise with its idyllic climate, scantily clad, friendly women and tropical fruit. The military men are enthralled with how favorably it compares to the boring, spartan existence of their all-male naval vessel.

Are there problems with the story?  Yes.  Morbius seems a little too dense for a brilliant scientist.  The resolution of the crisis at the end is a little jarring.  The solution is quite heavy handed.  But all in all, it’s a pretty neat story.  I think it indicates why the Star Trek series was so popular.  But I think it also shows why the later tv series were less interesting.  The adventure and discovery aspects became less of a focus as the Enterprise became less of a military/exploration vessel and more of a social worker/nanny vehicle to the stars.

The Edge of Tomorrow – A Short Movie Review

Last night I watched the Tom Cruise movie “Edge of Tomorrow.”  The first thing that strikes me is that it is a sort of mixture of things.

First off, it’s a mil sci-fi movie.  It tells the story of aliens invading and battling humans.  Almost the entire movie takes place within the confines of a single battlefield.  And because it’s a big budget movie with a big star that part is done rather professionally.  The special effects and sets are very good looking.  The action takes place in England and France and Germany so there is the interest of seeing The Louvre and London engulfed in military paraphernalia and smashed by battle.  So, there’s all that.

Next, it’s a time travel story.  The gimmick is that Tom Cruise has been caught up in the gears of the aliens’ ability to alter the future.  Because of a chain of events involving his lucky killing of a high level alien, Cruise is effected in such a way that every time he gets killed in battle, it resets time back to the start of the day of the battle he’s in.  But when he returns to that day he remembers each of these past lives.  It’s sort of like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog’s Day.  So, even though he’s a complete neophyte to combat, he can learn from what happened to him on the previous incarnations.  Comically, after countless iterations he can effortlessly step through the battlefield performing a choreographed dance with death.  Of course, this means to keep advancing his progress on the battlefield he has to keep dying over and over again.

So, in a way, it’s also a metaphor for, or even a parody of someone playing a first-person shooter video game.  You keep playing the game and increasing your knowledge and skills.  You also have to die over and over and over.  And for anyone who has spent a lot of time playing one particular game you understand the psychologically painful experience of building up the necessary muscle memory and rote memorization of the endless sequences of motions and thought processes needed to wend your way to the next level.  That’s the feel this movie provides.

I’ll have to say it’s a mixed experience.  It’s both stimulating to sense the iterative advancement and at the same time irritating.  There’s one particular sequence that occurs almost endlessly during the movie.  It’s when he’s awakened by a sergeant screaming abuse into his face.  It must happen at least two dozen times.  By the end of the movie I’m genuinely hoping Cruise just clocks him in the face, just to shut him up.

So, does the movie work?  Yes, it does.  The initial introduction to Cruise’s character presents him as an unlikeable jerk.  By the end of the movie he has had to grow.  There’s even, believe it or not, the elements of a love story in the tale.  And, Lord help me, I know how ridiculous that seems in the context of a war movie.

Who is this movie for?  If you’re a Tom Cruise fan and you liked him in War of the Worlds and Minority Report you’ll probably like this movie a lot.  If you’re a mil sci-fi fan I think you’ll probably enjoy it.  If you don’t like science fiction or war movies you will hate this.  And if you’re neutral on Tom Cruise, sci-fi and war movies I think it’s 50/50.  It’s a good sci-fi movie and provides solid entertainment.  But it isn’t “Gone with the Wind” so if you’re looking for highly cerebral or morally meaningful move on.

Justified – A TV Series Review – Part 5 – Season 5 & 6 (Conclusion)

Justified – A TV Series Review – Part 4 – Season 3 & 4

 

Wow!

That’s some damn show.  I won’t drop any spoilers.  Suffice it to say that in the last four episodes everything seemed to be going to hell and I was incensed at the trajectory I saw for the plot.  But by the conclusion I was satisfied that there wasn’t a better possible ending.  I’ll take a while to digest the whole story.  There’s a lot there.  Criminals and cops and their girls.  But at the end Raylin and Boyd together are the motor that runs the show.  They are like the two poles of a magnet.  Opposite and linked.  And then there’s Ava.  Who’s responsible for that disaster?  And then there’s just the sheer scope of the mayhem. By the end of the show the killing becomes like a steady rain.  I seriously wondered if the last episode would close on nothing left of the cast but body bags in the morgue.

Justified is a very well-made crime drama.  The main characters are interesting and in some ways sympathetic.  The run of the show is neither too short nor too long to provide a solid entertainment experience.  The story runs its course and the potential of the situation like the coal in one of the Harlan County mines is extracted and exhausted.

In a crime story that has both, it’s sometimes difficult to strike the correct balance between drama and comedy.  In my opinion Justified manages that balance unusually well.  With the large and shifting parade of criminals and lawmen, victims and friends, there were many colorful characters that provided ample opportunities for laughs.  But often that laughter was tinged with disgust at the ignorance, greed or stupidity that was the source.  And the laughs were often at the expense of the lawmen too.  Trying to outsmart idiots sometimes ended up poorly.  And Raylin consistently had troubles with his love life.  Too often it intersected with his work.  And when that happened, his boss Art would call out, “Raylin, would you come in my office and close the door?”

Critiquing entertainment is far from an exact science.  Objectivity is not even a theoretical consideration.  Why I like Justified so much probably has more to do with me than with the show.  And if your tastes are at all different from mine then we could completely disagree on the quality of this TV show.  With all of that said, I highly recommend Justified to anyone who likes well written and acted drama with a healthy dose of ironic humor thrown in for leavening.  Everything about the show is well done and enjoyable.  And probably best of all it has the correct balance.  There is a beginning, middle and end.  At the end, it was enough.  Anymore extracted from these characters will need to be a different chapter in a different place and with a different flavor.  Harlan County, Kentucky has been successfully mined and the treasure collected and sold to the consumers.  Amen.

Wyatt Earp and Tombstone, A Comparison – Movie Review – Part 2

Wyatt Earp and Tombstone, A Comparison – Movie Review – Part 1

Kevin Costner was originally going to be Wyatt Earp in Tombstone.  But he and the director/screenwriter disagreed on how much of the movie was supposed to center on Wyatt Earp and his background.  He left the production and decided to make the movie “Wyatt Earp” instead.

Wyatt Earp is a sort of biography of Earp.  It starts with Wyatt as a teenager trying to run away to fight in the Civil War, shows him falling in love, marrying and losing his young wife to typhus.  Giving in to a drunken despair he commits some capital crimes and has to flee his old life never to return.  He went out to the frontier and worked first as a buffalo skinner and then as a lawman.  These chapters effectively chronicled the background and events that formed the man that we recognize in the various versions of the legend.  And it shows his links to other characters of legend like Holliday and Bat Masterson and his brother Ed.  And we get the particulars of all of the Earp brothers and their wives.  And what does Wyatt Earp end up as?  He’s a man hardened to the realities of life in the West.  And someone who trusts his family and very few others.  This sets up the events that transpire in Tombstone and afterward.

Costner plays the part with his typical understated style.  The supporting cast is interesting and probably the best of them is Dennis Quaid as Doc Holliday.  The production is done in high style with excellent cinematography and a full musical score.  The direction and scene selection seemed well thought out and deliberate and didn’t produce any confusion over plot elements which was important considering the length of years and progression of different characters covered in the film.  It is a very long film coming in at three hours.  And the deliberate pace and varying importance of the scenes probably was too much for some viewers who really came to see the Gunfight at the OK Corral.  In fact the film was neither a financial or critical success.

So, what do I think of it?  I like it.  I think it comes closer to the actual facts of the story than Tombstone.  And I think despite his unflamboyant acting manner Costner does a much better job of portraying Wyatt Earp as he actually was.  Where I would fault the effort is being so unreservedly faithful to the facts.  Neither The Gunfight at the OK Corral or the subsequent vendetta appear as grandiose and mythic as they do in Tombstone and other descriptions.

It’s a shame when a critic complains about an historical account being too accurate.  It almost seems like nostalgia for mendacity.  But that’s an occupational hazard when dealing with the Old West.  In fact, there’s Holy Writ that covers it. In the western epic “The Man Wo Shot Liberty Vanlence,” one of the characters who I believe is a newspaperman says, and I paraphrase, When the legend becomes the facts, print the legend.

In Part 3 I’ll tie these two films together and ramble on about all thing cinematically Earpish.

 

Wyatt Earp and Tombstone, A Comparison – Movie Review – Part 3