Avengers: Infinity War – A Science Fiction and Fantasy Movie Review

Spoiler alert.  If you don’t want to know how this movie ends don’t read this.  But just know that I don’t recommend this movie.

Last week was a birthday party for one of my grandsons.  I was talking to my two older grandsons (13 and 10 years old) and told them I’d seen a commercial for The Incredibles Part 2.  They told me it was already out so I told them I’d take them to see it Saturday. (May 19th).  Well I checked the theater listings on Friday and it turns out The Incredibles doesn’t start playing until June.  Not wanting to disappoint the kids I asked them if there was anything else out they wanted to see.  Well, they said The Avengers.  I’d brought them to see the first two and they were pretty good.  But I’d heard that the third one (Civil War) was starting to get lefty preachy so I skipped it.  So, I went to Infinity War with some trepidation.  And I had good cause.

This movie is a hot mess.  They threw everything and the kitchen sink into it.  There’s all the Avenger characters, then they added in the Guardians of the Galaxy crew for good measure.  Then there was someone called Doctor Strange and some stray characters with him.  He seemed to be some kind of imitation Dr. Who – Time Lord character.  Then they threw in the Black Panther characters.  And just in case there was anyone who wanted more, they threw in Spiderman.  All these various characters are working together to defeat Thanos.  He’s collecting the Infinity Stones and if he gets all six of them he’ll be able to perform his plan which is to kill half of all the intelligent beings in the Universe.  There’s all kinds of battles and fights and at the end Thanos wins and his power kills half of the world.  You see half of the Avengers and the other super heroes evaporating into dust.

Now, what the hell kind of Super Hero movie is that to bring kids to?  The good guys lose and half of everyone in the world dies.  Of course, in the next movie they’ll bring them all back to life but what a depressing stupid mess!  Thanks Marvel.  Well I sure hope they don’t ruin the Incredibles too.  Honestly, I’m starting to wonder if the only movies worth watching are from a generation ago.  I’m going to start making a list of the movies that we watched as kids and renting or buying them so the grandkids have stuff worth watching.

Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” – A Movie Review

Kubrick produced some very memorable films.  All the ones I’ve seen are extremely idiosyncratic.  Full Metal Jacket is definitely in the same mold.  It tells the story of a group of U.S. Marines from boot camp to their participation in the Tet Offensive during the height of the Vietnam War.

In the opening scene the Drill Sargent played memorably by R. Lee Ermey berates and sometimes beats on the recruits to cow them and focus their attention on how serious their situation was.  I won’t reveal the details of the boot camp section of the movie but suffice it to say that the consequences of the discipline prove to be as serious as the consequences of war itself.

After the boot camp scenes we go directly to Vietnam and meet up with the new Marines.  One has ended up as a reporter with the military news service “Stars and Stripes.”  He is bored and anxious to get into the field to see the real war.  With the beginning of the Tet Offensive he gets his wish.  He’s sent up country and meets up with one of his boot camp buddies and joins their patrol.  Here he sees the real war with all the brutality and even criminality associated with a guerilla war.  And here we meet the most interesting character of the movie, Animal Mother played by the inimitable Adam Baldwin.  He’s the M60 machine gunner of the platoon wearing ammunitions belts like bandoliers across his chest and shooting an enormous number of rounds at anything that fired at him.  When asked how the war should end he stated that the “smart guys” should bomb North Vietnam into surrendering.  He’s brutal and completely uninterested in helping the South Vietnamese, only in killing the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese and anyone else who gives him trouble.

The final battle scenes show the patrol running into a sniper position.  One of their men is hit in a forward position.  The acting squad leader is worried that a large North Vietnamese force is ahead and doesn’t allow his men to retrieve the downed man even after the sniper continues to wound him with additional shots.  Finally after seeing the wounded man hit several times, Animal Mother charges in.  He manages to reach cover and determines that a lone sniper is at work.  When the patrol reaches him they take further casualties including the acting squad leader.  The final scenes show the ironic nature of this unconventional war and the effect it has on the Americans who have to navigate it.  But as insane as their world has become, they still celebrate the fact that they’ve survived what so many have not.

Based on the tone of his earlier movie “Doctor Strangelove” I assume Kubrick was not a patriotic cheerleader of the Vietnam War but I would say he represented the war right down the middle.  He showed the horror but he doesn’t have the men represented by only pacifists.  They represent a cross-section of attitudes.  They show a cross section of behaviors from humane to sadistic.

It’s been called a classic.  I’d say Full Metal Jacket is a Kubrick style take on the Vietnam War.  I have a brother-in-law who was in the Tet Offensive.  I remember his description of what went on and it seems to jibe very closely to what Kubrick is showing.  That speaks well of what Kubrick made.  I think it’s a good movie and one of the few representations of that war that gets it right.

Galaxy’s Edge – Galactic Outlaws – A Science Fiction Book Review

Back in January I reviewed Legionnaire, the first volume in the Galaxy’s Edge series by Jason Anspach & Nick Cole.  That story was a straight up mil-sf story set in a future where the human race has spread into the galaxy and formed a “Republic” of worlds.  At the point in this Universe’s history that Legionnaire takes place, the Republic is beginning to devolve into an empire, ruled over by an elite that controls the rich central systems, with an underclass occupying the rest of the galaxy and the edge of the galaxy as an outlaw haven where even the powerful Legion can do little but skirmish with the rebels and pirates that abound out there.  By the end of that story it’s apparent that all the skill and valor of the remnant of faithful soldiers is being frittered away for political points by the bureaucrats that call the shots and wield the Legion as a bludgeon against the innocent inhabitants of the poorer sectors of the Republic.  As I said back in January, it is an engaging military tale.

So, what have Anspach and Cole done for an encore?  It appears that Legionnaire merely set the stage for the main event.  This is going to be a space opera of epic proportions.  And it’s easy to see what they intend to do is follow the space opera play book but dial it up to eleven.  And in doing so they are following in a long tradition.  Most recently, George Lucas mined that vein for all it would pay with his Star Wars franchise.  His rebels revolting against a republic that has turned into an evil empire is the latest iteration of a story that goes back to the actual Roman Empire and the tales of Brutus and Spartacus and Masada.

And when I say they’ve dialed it up to eleven I’m not kidding.  The text is full of little blatant references to dialog and images reflecting some scene from Star Wars or Firefly.  It was kind of fun finding them.  And whole characters are parodied.  There is a princess with the rebels named Leenah.  There is a plucky scoundrel in a freighter who rescues the princess.  There is a bot that guards a young damsel in distress.  The bot speaks with some combination of the diction of C3P0 and the Operative from Serenity.  You can literally hear the toff British accent.  And then to make sure you don’t miss any ingredients they are sometimes doubled.  So, there are two scoundrels with freighters helping damsels in distress.  There are two damsels in distress.  There are two bounty hunters.

And there’s even a cantina.  There are mob warlords with bounties on the plucky scoundrels.  There is something like a dark lord whose name is Goth Sullus.  So far there are no Jedi Knights but some of the characters seem to live forever so something’s going on there.

Suffice it to say that a lot of stuff is going on.  And by the end of the book you can see that this is just the beginning of the story.

And now, what do I think of all this?  Well, I have a theory about space opera.  I believe that space opera has the potential to be very good or very bad.  It entirely depends on the imaginative powers and writing skills of the author.  Take an E. E. Doc Smith or an Edgar Rice Burroughs and you get the Lensman stories or Barsoom, fun and excitement.  Take the likes of George Lucas and you end up with Jar Jar Binks or the latest Disney feminist trope with a light saber.

The good news is this is fun space opera.  None of the damsels in distress rescue the hero.  No one mentions race or gender studies terminology and the good guys aren’t ashamed of being good.  I’m pretty sure the authors have included the homages to Star Wars imagery to sort of point out that the story doesn’t have to be bad just because of the space opera tropes.  It just requires the story and characters to be interesting, likable and fun.  And in this case they are.  So if you like your space opera right up front without too much artistic restraint then I’d recommend Galactic Outlaws.

Longmire – A TV Review – Part 1

Last year I watched Justified on Netflix discs. I thought it was great.  I liked it so much I bought the blue-rays and watched it again.  It was still great.    But I didn’t want to burn the show out.  So I asked around to see if there was anything else out there that was worth watching.  One of my relatives suggested Longmire.  He said it was a modern day western, a show about a sheriff in modern day Montana.  It sounded odd but I figured why not.

So me and Camera Girl have watched the first two discs. She thinks it’s great.  My reaction is slightly different.  I like the main character.  My problem is with the female characters.  Sheriff Longmire has a daughter who is some kind of lawyer.  She always seems to be whining about something.  Either her father isn’t doing something he should be or he is doing something he shouldn’t be.  It’s very annoying.  Then there’s the female deputy from New Jersey.  I thought we were done with the female cop who complains about being treated different than the guys.  Apparently she hasn’t gotten the memo.  In one scene she starts gyrating on the stripper poll at a club to get the patrons to give her information and in the next scene she’s threatening some cowboy for checking out her butt while she’s walking in front of him.  I mean, come on.  Do we have to have this nonsense in a cop show?  And there some other things.  There’s a believability thing sometimes.  In one episode Longmire threatens to release a grizzly bear on a suspect unless he confesses to using a grizzly bear to murder his enemy.  I’m not 100%  sure about this but I’m guessing that might be considered a coerced confession.

 

So there are some fantasy aspects to the plot lines in the show and the personal stories of the characters are a little shaky. The daughter I find especially annoying.  I’m hoping he gets that grizzly bear back and lets it eat her for real.  But I actually do kinda like it so far.  Camera Girl has adopted the show and I do like to keep her happy because she feeds me so I’m going to keep watching it.  If it goes completely off the deep end I will have to invoke male television primacy and call an end to it.  But I confess it’ll have to be really bad for that to happen.  It’s like Mueller.  Trump can only pull the plug on him if the damage he is doing is worse than the fallout from the firing.  Definitely a delicate judgement call.

 

So, so far, one thumb up. To be continued.  The jury is still out.

11APR2018 – Quote of the Day

“It’s a Gift” and “The Man on the Flying Trapeze” are two of my favorite movies.  I often tell Camera Girl that she reminds me of the wife in those movies.  And she often throws things at me afterwards.  Fields was a sort of genius in my opinion.

 

“No doubt exists that all women are crazy; it’s only a question of degree.”

W. C. Fields

 

 

10APR2018 – Quote of the Day

Sometime soon I’ll have to write a book review of Zorba the Greek.  I have a love/hate relationship with the book but every few years I have to reread it.  I think I read it not because the book is flawless (far from it) but because Zorba represents the essential component of the male soul, force of will.

Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis

Chapter 19

…    ‘Let’s get back to our subject! What about Zeus?’

‘Ah! the poor chap!’ sighed Zorba. ‘I’m the only one to know what he suffered. He

loved women, of course, but not the way you think, you pen-pushers! Not at all! He

was sorry for them! He understood what they all suffered and he sacrificed himself for

their sakes! When, in some god-forsaken country hole, he saw an old maid wasting

away with desire and regret, or a pretty young wife – or even if she wasn’t at all pretty,

even if she was a monster – and her husband away and she couldn’t get to sleep, he

used to cross himself, this good fellow, changed his clothes, take on whatever shape

the woman had in mind and go to her room.

‘He never bothered about women who just wanted petting. No! Often enough even he

was dead-beat: you can understand that. How could anybody satisfy all those she-

goats? Ah! Zeus! the poor old goat, More than once he couldn’t be bothered, he didn’t

feel too good. Have you never seen a billy after he’s covered several she-goats? He

slobbers at the mouth, his eyes are all misty and rheumy, he coughs a bit and can

hardly stand on his feet. Well, poor old Zeus must have been in that sad state quite

often.

‘At dawn he’d come home, saying: “Ah! my God! whenever shall I be able to have a

good night’s rest? I’m dropping!” And he’d keep wiping the saliva from his mouth.

‘But suddenly he’d hear a sigh: down there on earth some woman had thrown off her

bedclothes, gone out onto the balcony, almost stark naked, and was sighing enough

to turn the sails of a mill! And my old Zeus would be quite over-come.

“Oh, hell! I’ll have to go down again!” he’d groan.

“There’s a woman bemoaning  her lot! I’ll have to go and console her!”

‘And it went on like that to such an extent that the women emptied him completely. He

couldn’t move his back, he started vomiting, became paralysed and died. That’s when

his heir, Christ, arrived. He saw the wretched state the old man was in: “Beware of

women!” he cried.’

 

 

09APR2018 – Quote of the Day

When I was grade school kid every English teacher made you read Jack London’s “To Build a Fire.”  But unlike most of the stuff given to us that story spoke to me.  And after a lifetime of doing stupid things it’s all the more resonant.

 

Following at the man’s heels was a big native dog. It was a wolf dog, gray-coated and not noticeably different from its brother, the wild wolf. The animal was worried by the great cold. It knew that this was no time for traveling. Its own feeling was closer to the truth than the man’s judgment. In reality, it was not merely colder than 50 below zero; it was colder than 60 below, than 70 below. It was 75 below zero. Because the freezing point is 32 above zero, it meant that there were 107 degrees of frost.The dog did not know anything about temperatures. Possibly in its brain there was no understanding of a condition of very cold, such as was in the man’s brain. But the animal sensed the danger. Its fear made it question eagerly every movement of the man as if expecting him to go into camp or to seek shelter somewhere and build a fire. The dog had learned about fire, and it wanted fire. Otherwise, it would dig itself into the snow and find shelter from the cold air.

 

Lord Valentine’s Castle by Robert Silverberg – A Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Review

A while back TomD gave me an SF&F book recommendation. He said that Silverberg’s Majipoor series was a combination of science fiction and fantasy.  At the time I couldn’t think of anything I’d read that fell into that category.  Well, my brain is old so I’ll plead that because after thinking about it awhile I remembered that Zelazny’s Lord of Light had aspects that fit both mythology and science fiction.  So I sent away to Bezos’s megamonopoly and received the three volumes in the series.  And of course it was interesting to see that on the cover of the first book (Lord Valentine’s Castle) that Zelazny had provided a positive blurb.  He said it was a picaresque tale.  And as it turned out, he was exactly right.  I’ll cut to the chase with the verdict.  I liked the story.  Now you’ll get the ponderous literary review.

So how can it be both a fantasy and science fiction? The story takes place on a planet called Majipoor.  It was a world colonized by humans via space travel more than ten thousand years before the story unfolds.  So there’s the science fiction.  And the humans seemed to have also brought along a number of sentient species to live on Majipoor from other planets.  These various species and the humans interact as good neighbors, for the most part, in a civilization of twenty to thirty billion souls that comfortably fits on the giant world of Majipoor.  Now here comes the fantasy.  This world is ruled by four beings designated, the Coronal, the Pontifex, The Lady of the Isle of Sleep and the King of Dreams.  The first two of these individuals performed much as the Augustus and Caesar of the later Roman Empire did, being a senior and junior king appointed to rule a gigantic state.  But the second two, the Lady and the King intervened in Majipoor by sending dreams to the inhabitants.  It is this dream life that lends a fantasy element to the story.  And just to lend a fantasy aspect to the surroundings most of the technology is more or less of a pre-industrial vintage.  But there are exceptions.  Beasts of burden pull the carts and wagons of the inhabitants but the wagons are actually placed on anti-gravity modules.  So, whatever power provides anti-gravity doesn’t also produce forward locomotion.  Very odd.

So this is the background. The narrative follows a very engaging fellow named Valentine who ends up on a journey to discover his past and his destiny.  He meets many interesting and amusing characters and even learns an interesting skill, juggling.  It sounds odd and doesn’t seem to have anything to do with either science fiction or fantasy but it makes for an interesting and entertaining read.  And that is the definition of a picaresque story.

Silverberg has invested a substantial amount of effort building up the background and scenery of Majipoor. He has given us the canvas.  There are several other volumes in the series and I like it enough to continue on to the next volume.  But I want to clarify a couple of things.  This isn’t the Lord of the Rings.  There is no solemn morality play underlying Majipoor.  It is a sunny world where the good guy gets the girl and the crown and juggling and wine are their own reward.  Read it for the inventiveness and the story.  No profundity impinged on my reading but it was fun.  Recommended for folks who like their fiction fun.

Darkest Hour – A Movie Review

I remember as a kid seeing Winston Churchill’s funeral televised.  I knew who he was from the old early morning presentation of Mike Wallace’s “Biography” series.  I knew he was our ally during WW II and that he had rallied his country when the rest of Europe surrendered to the German military juggernaut.  Later I read some of his speeches and read about his earlier history during WW I.  But I didn’t imagine at this point that a good movie about his time as Prime Minister would come my way.  I am happily surprised to have been mistaken.

I finally got a chance to watch “Darkest Hour” tonight.  It has the look of a period piece and the feel of a film made from a stage play.  There are set pieces and dialogs and very little filmed outside of buildings.  I didn’t think Oldman was given a close resemblance to Churchill and the difficulty of understanding him when he is mumbling during certain scenes is considerable and I think purposeful.  And there is a particular scene in a subway car that is completely fictional and that includes a Jamaican man in the scene who seems to have been added for the sake of diversity or inclusion that seems anachronistic.

Put all that aside.  I thought it was a great evocation of the desperation of the time and the fateful choice of Churchill stepping into this darkest hour of British history.  His flawed and idiosyncratic personality rubbed almost everyone the wrong way and his pugnacious courage was at odds with the war-weary British government in the post-WWI era.  His relationship with Neville Chamberlain and King George VI are highlighted to show how he contrasted with those in government but the evolution of the war and the need for someone with the will to persevere in the face of Nazi blitzkrieg success becomes his inevitable platform from which to energize the Parliament and the people of England to take up the frightening struggle of all-out war.

Many of the scenes take place in underground bunkers where military and government teams are meeting and analyzing incoming war reports.  There is a definite claustrophobic feel in much of this.  And the frailty of Churchill’s age is highlighted when he seems overwhelmed by the infighting within his own war cabinet.  But all of this only magnifies the achievement when he resolves on what will be his path forward and what must be done.  The final speech in Parliament is stirring.

Highly recommended.

Inside Man – A Movie Review

For the most part, the Millennial Generation is composed of hopeless nincompoops whose taste in movies, television and books is so vapid and cretinous that being boiled in oil would be preferable to watching one of their picks.  But there are exceptions.  I work with a young fellow who has demonstrably received an education that includes many of the elements of the Old School.  He has a good grounding in history and science and is acquainted with the western canon of literature.  Without a doubt he leans far more to the left than I do but paraphrasing Churchill a man in his twenties who isn’t a liberal has no heart.  Well about a week ago we were talking about crime dramas and he asked me whether I like the “caper” movie genre.  I assumed he was going to mention Ocean’s Eleven or a Guy Ritchie film.  But he said it was a movie with Denzel Washington as a New York City Police Detective negotiating a hostage crisis during an abortive bank robbery.  It sounded interesting.  I like many of Washington’s movies.  As an expat New Yorker, I’m sort of a pushover for New York City stories so I was interested.  But then he said it was a Spike Lee film.

I had never, up to that point, watched a Spike Lee “joint.”  I consider him a race hustler who has built his reputation by fanning the flames of black animosity toward white people.  All in all, I consider him a jerk.

In my reaction to my young friend’s suggestion I mentioned these feelings.  He did his best to assure me that this was a pure crime drama without any hint of racial justice propagandizing.  Based on his past track record of good sense, I begrudgingly decided to give it a shot.

So last night I watched it.  It was good.  It was very good.  Full disclosure, there were a few minor race hectoring flourishes that added nothing to the story.  But they did little to harm the story either.  I looked at them as involuntary reflexes that Spike Lee probably didn’t even know he’d added.  But they were minor and didn’t spoil the story.

The movie is a very good caper.  I won’t spoil any of the plot but will just say that there are lots of balls in the air and several interesting major characters and lots of minor characters doing interesting things.  Denzel is the star of the movie outside of the bank and Clive Owen is the star inside the bank.  Other relatively big-name actors are Christopher Plummer, Jody Foster and Willem Dafoe.  Washington’s cop partner is played by Chiwetel Ejiofor whom I know from his role as “The Operative” in “Serenity.”  And lots other unknowns do good work as the hostages, cops and criminals.

So, knowing that Spike Lee made this picture does detract from my enjoyment of the film.  I begrudge the African music he adds at the beginning and end.  I take points off for those flourishes of racial sniping I mentioned above.  But after all that I am forced to admit it’s a very good caper film.  I recommend it to anyone who likes this genre.  It’s highly enjoyable and skillfully constructed.  Well done Spike Lee?