2024 Summer Movie Talk – Part 1

When reality collapses under a landslide of madness:

  • POTUS exposed as a human vegetable
  • Cost of living now requires selling kidneys for gas money
  • Illegal aliens and homeless drug addicts now the two largest voting blocks in some blue states
  • Kamala Harris imagining herself as president unencumbered by anyone wanting to vote for her.
  • Morning Joe both extols Joe Biden as the sharpest he’s ever been and begs him to step aside to avoid defeat.

Well then, it’s time to take off the pundit cap and try to enjoy life a little.

I’ve always been partial to watching movies.  My tastes probably fall somewhere in the middle.  I’m definitely not part of the avant-garde by any means.  I’ve never enjoyed Cinéma verité and the various other European schools that abounded in the 1950s and 1960s.  They always just looked like low budget crap that someone made with a home movie camera and no money.  But by the same token I think that at least 80% of the output of Hollywood in its heyday was pretty poor stuff.

I totally believe that cinema is not a single subject.  There are several distinct things that get lumped together as movies.  Hopefully they all contain the characteristic that they entertain.  But beyond that I think one kind of movie makes you feel and another makes you think.  Now that is not to say that a movie that makes you think doesn’t also engage your emotions.  That would be odd in a movie created by humans.  But what I’m indicating is that many, even most movies don’t really make you think.  And that is not to say that only high-brow art-house movies can delve into the human condition.  Far from it.  Even someone as populist and popular as Frank Capra can capture a character or a moment that makes you think about the big questions.

So, I think I’ll divide my discussions about movies into two main categories; entertainment and enlightenment.  And let’s start with entertainment.  Because it is the summer and that is the season when we want to enjoy the beautiful weather and make believe that the world is a happy place where Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are just cartoon characters who dress in primary colors and get chased around by the Tasmanian Devil and eventually eaten.  So, let’s see.

Well, first things first, we’ll divide and conquer.  Let’s divide things into genres:

  • Science fiction
  • Fantasy
  • Action/Adventure
  • Comedy
  • Drama

Science Fiction

I’ll list what I think are among the best or the most popular or the most interesting sci-fi movies in approximately chronological order.  I’ve reviewed almost all of these movies so if you want my detailed opinion you can do a search on the site.

  1. Destination: Moon
  2. The Thing from Another World
  3. Them!
  4. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
  5. The Time Machine
  6. The Day the Earth Stood Still
  7. War of the Worlds
  8. Forbidden Planet
  9. 2001: A Space Odyssey
  10. Blade Runner
  11. Alien
  12. Terminator
  13. Starship Troopers
  14. Independence Day
  15. 12 Monkeys
  16. Jurassic Park
  17. The Matrix
  18. Contact
  19. Firefly
  20. Serenity
  21. The Martian
  22. Dune

 

Now this is just my list.  Your list will be different.  I left out Star Trek and Star Wars.  I consider Star Wars fantasy and I consider Star Trek mostly awful.  But the same could be said for several of the movies I put on my list.  I hope my list will inspire a million spirited comments.  Everyone has their favorites and their turkeys.  Unlike politics we can all have our opinions on sci-fi movies without fear of doing any damage.  Have at it.

Thoughts on Current SF&F in Cinema – Part 1

When I was much younger, I remember wondering if there would ever be a time when the state of the art in “film” would allow a decent version of the Lord of the Rings to be made.  When Ralph Bakshi’s cartoon over live action was made in 1978, I was quite surprised at how good it was.  And I hoped that he would continue the project to finish the complete story.  But he never did.  Maybe he didn’t make enough money or maybe he got bored.  And so, it would be another twenty years before anyone tried again.

Peter Jackson did a remarkable job both visually and artistically of capturing Tolkien’s story.  And I think he proved that we have reached a point where regardless of the unreal or fantastic nature of the story CGI can produce a convincing visual representation of that story on the screen.  And that was an important moment.  For a fan of science fiction and fantasy this is the promised land.

And yet, what have we got now?  For every film like Dune where the story faithfully reproduces a worthwhile piece of fiction, we get ten movies like “The Marvels” or “The Last Jedi” or “Madame Web” where the visuals are successful but the story and the acting are unwatchable.

Well, that’s reality.  The cultural and societal standards are pretty awful so even if some interesting topic like the Second Age of Middle Earth (Rings of Power) or Harry Seldon’s Psychohistory (Foundation) are being filmed chances are that the result will be terrible.

But the only good thing I can say is that the potential exists for a rogue force like Elon Musk to come along and fund an independent studio to produce some exciting projects.  So, eventually we will get good movies.  Eventually the profit motive will succeed.  Who knows we may be forced to watch Chinese or Hungarian movies in subtitles but it will come.  So, patience, patience.

And what might make a good project?  Well, based on what we know would sell, how about space opera that is a lot more interesting than the Star Wars universe?  How about a project to film the Lensman series?  A few updates to the technology might be needed and the chronology might need to be tweaked but then the story would be easily turned into a series of films.  It has likeable heroes, awful villains, interesting aliens and plenty of space battles.  And best of all, not a girl boss in sight.  Just classic square-jawed heroes saving the day and rescuing the damsel in distress.  I would guess that the Lensman saga would be easily as popular as Star Wars and in fact more so.

Now another popular film idea would be the Heinlein juveniles.  There are several good candidates.  As a first choice I’d go with, “Have Spacesuit Will Travel.”  It has all the requisite ingredients for a good young adult movie; human interest, suspense, adventure, pathos, humor and the resolution of a coming-of-age story.  As a second choice I’d recommend, “The Star Beast.”

It’s an interesting thing to reflect that a really satisfactory movie version of a Heinlein book has never been done.  The only one he ever had a hand in was Destination Moon.  And while technically there were interesting aspects to the production as a movie it was pretty cut and dry; more of a primer on rocket flight than work of fiction.  In terms of popularity, I guess Starship Troopers is the best of those produced, even though the director made it in the spirit of a mockery of the underlying philosophy of the book.  A faithful portrayal of Starship Troopers would be an amazing idea for a movie.

And rounding off my picks for Heinlein would be, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.”  I think this story would make an excellent film too. I’d especially enjoy seeing the rail gun attack on Earth on the big screen.  And I think the friendship between Manny and the artificial intelligence Mike would work great on the screen.

I’ll have to think of some other classic sf&f books that would make good movies.  If you can think of any you’d like to see made, leave them in the comments.

Sequential Horror

Hollywood seems incapable of making anything original and all the sequels and reboots they make suck mightily.  So, I have decided to step into the breach and provide the ultimate in sequel mashup awfulness.

Movie Treatment: Cosmic-Horror-Palooza

Rick Deckard is at home with his wife Rachael having breakfast before he heads off to work as head school crossing guard at the Philip K Dick Elementary School in Portland Oregon.  Rachael is pregnant with their first child and asks Rick to bring her some sweet gherkin pickles on his way home.  She chastises him briefly because this is the third time he’s forgotten.  He absorbs the abuse kisses her on the forehead and heads out the door while absently loading .45 shells into his revolver.

When he reaches the security office, he notices on the various video surveillance screens that a protest has set up shop in the intersection adjacent to the northwest corner of the school.  A mostly crossdressing mob of activists with signs that say REPLICANT-PHOBIA IS HATE were chanting and marching in one of the crosswalks.  This would not be an easy day.

Suddenly an energy bolt blazed across the screen and struck one of the extremely plus-sized blonds-wigged transwomen in spandex and left a visibly gaping hole through his body before collapsing onto the asphalt.  Several other energy bolts followed in quick succession wreaking havoc with the chant as deep bellows and hoarse screams erupted from the targeted activists.

Deckard bolted for the door and sprinted toward the crime scene.  As he approached, he could see that the attack was coming from a tree located fifty yards from the corner.  He approached warily, shielding himself from view with the side of the building and ending up very close to the base of the tree.  Peering carefully around the corner of the building he could see a shimmering patch of foliage that was the source of the deadly beams.  As he watched he could make out what looked like a humanoid form and aiming for the head he unloaded with his .45.

The shimmering patch fell to the ground and Deckard ran over to it.  What he saw there startled him.  A man shaped creature lay on the ground but the inhuman head had insectoid mandibles.  The .45 slugs hadn’t done the head any good but Deckard added a couple more through the cranium just to be sure.  Looking around on the ground he found a long rod with a blinking light at one end and what probably was a trigger near the other end.  Picking it up and sighting through the blinking light device he aimed at the tree and pushed the trigger.  A bright red bolt drilled a two-inch round hole precisely through the 36 inches of the tree trunk and elicited a respectful whistle from the impressed former blade runner.

Looking into the foreground he could see a shimmering area about twenty feet down the sidewalk.  Suddenly four of the humanoid creatures approached with their right arms raised in the universal sign of respect for a successful warrior’s victory.  They came bearing a large blue lawn dart which one of their comrades had claimed as his trophy over a human in a 1968 Cincinnati Ohio suburb.

But before they could bestow this trophy on Deckard, other creatures poured out of the dimensional portal that the four earlier beings had opened.  These creatures were decidedly unlike the first ones.  They were about eight feet tall with extremely elongated heads with two sets of jaws, one inside of the other.  They had long claws on the feet and hands and a long, pointed tail.  Deckard instinctively knew that the saliva dripping from the creatures’ jaws was molecular acid and that this wouldn’t end well.

About twenty of the creatures attacked the four earlier visitors and an enormous battle ensued.  The bug-jawed warriors put up a hell of a fight with their energy weapons and the lawn dart but there were just too many of the xenomorphs (Deckard somehow sensed this was what these other creatures should be called).  Seeing that the battle would soon be over Deckard called his office and ordered his team to lock down the school and call the authorities.  Then he sprinted over to the protest site to warn them away.

Unfortunately, the activists had repurposed the event into a day of rage against transphobic energy-beam wielding haters and they had begun turning over cars and torching them.  They had formed a kind of funeral pyre for their fallen comrades but it hadn’t really done a thorough job of consuming their bodies so a very questionable pile of remains remained.  Seeing Deckard running toward them carrying the energy weapon they assumed he was the killer and they charged toward him.  He stopped and looked around.  Behind him the remaining ten or so xenomorphs were coming up quickly in his direction.  With the two groups converging on his position imminently, he did what any clear-thinking individual would do.  He ran sideways and hoped for the best.

And that worked extraordinarily well for him.  But much less well for the angry mob that suddenly intersected with the xenomorphs.  It turns out xenomorphs are not transphobic.  In fact, it turns out they’re transphilic.  In fact, I think they even enjoyed eating the wigs.  It wasn’t pretty.

Deckard took the opportunity to sneak over to an entrance to the school and punch in the entry code and head for the security office.  When he arrived, his crew updated him on the current state of the “battle.”  The xenomorphs were somewhat leisurely feasting on the four warriors and the fifty some-odd rioters.  Deckard tried in his mind to come up with a strategy to hold off the xenomorphs until Space Marine troops could be summoned.  But nothing occurred to him.  He did remember that he had to get those gherkins for Rachael but that didn’t really seem to improve the situation.

But then a very odd thing happened on the screen.  One of the corpses of the warriors suddenly stood up and metamorphosed into something that was a combination of the xenomorph and a rioter.  It looked like a xenomorph wearing a yellow wig.  But it grew to five times the size of one of the xenomorphs and began eating the other xenomorphs.  And each time it ate one of them it got bigger.  The xenomorphs never ran away and kept fighting but one by one they were swallowed by the shape-shifting creature.  At one point a xenomorph managed to rip an arm off the shapeshifter and throw it to the ground.  The arm sprouted six spider like legs, a mouth full of teeth at the shoulder and proceeded to attack the xenomorph.  Within half an hour the battle was over and the shapeshifter and the walking biting arm coalesced into an amorphous mass of protoplasm.  After a short time, the blob flowed over to the school and covered it in a layer of pulsing goo.

Deckard watched in horror as all the doors began to slowly ooze rivulets of the creature.  He sent his crew to the doors and they used CO2 fire extinguishers to freeze the jelly as it attempted to enter the building.  Things were looking quite bleak as the extinguishers one by one were emptied of their frozen contents.  But suddenly the ooze retreated from the doors and the creature flowed off onto the nearby street and reformed into the shape of a yellow wigged transwoman complete with alarmingly overstretched spandex body suit.  The creature was apparently asleep.  As Deckard watched the sleeping form evaporated completely.  At that point he saw that there was a similarly sized shape on the ground about ten feet from where the sleeping creature had been.

Gathering his courage Deckard walked out of the building and approached the shape on the ground.  When he got near it, he saw that it was what looked like a giant seed pod.  And as he watched it burst open and slowly a living being pushed its way out.  When it had exited the pod, it was seen to be an identical blond wigged transwoman; spandex and all.  Deckard stood his ground, pointed the energy weapon at the creature and asked it to explain what had just happened.

The creature adjusted its costume, scratched at its beard and explained that its species sent spores throughout space that land on planets and produce seed pods that mimic other life forms and then replace them with their own individuals.  And slowly they replace all individuals of the local dominant species and thus take over that world.  However, because of all the various different cell types that were present in this individual’s new body, life on Earth was just too painful for it to continue and it begged Deckard to finish it off as a mercy killing.  And Deckard promptly obliged it using the alien energy rod.  At that point the creature evaporated into the air (except for the spandex suit and wig).

When the police finally showed up, they wanted to know what the hell was going on.  All that remained of the battle were the few burned out cars and the spandex suite and wig.  Deckard started to tell the whole story then thought better of it and just said there had been a protest that sort of got out of control and left it at that.  One of the officers asked him about the energy rod and he said it was a prop for a school play.  The police did a walk around and cited the school for a safety violation because of the empty fire extinguishers and Deckard had to fill out a lot of paperwork and give some of his staff a mental health week off to keep them from quitting.

He didn’t get home that night until ten thirty and when he walked in the door Rachael asked him how his day was.  He said it was okay.  But then she looked at him and said, “You forgot the gherkins!”

So, he turned around and headed off to the grocery store with his walking stick blinking along.  She said after him, “Men are so easily distracted.”

An Entertaining Movie Review of “Independence Day”

There is a YouTube channel for a guy that calls himself “The Critical Drinker.”  He has some kind of Gaelic brogue whether it’s Irish or Scottish or fake.  And he pretends to be drunk in every review.  And he swears a blue streak so be warned in advance that his videos are not safe for work or home or anywhere that genteel ears are present.  But he is extremely funny and his criticism is often very accurate.  This review of Independence Day is well done and identifies why this ridiculous film is still so enjoyable despite being a ridiculous film.

My Thoughts on the New Movie, “Civil War”

I have not gone to see the new movie “Civil War.”  And unless something comes out to convince me otherwise, I won’t be.  I watched a bunch of video reviews by people who went to the early IMAX screening.  And based on these reviews I understood that the director wanted the audiences to feel that the movie is drawing no comparison between the existing political sides in the United States and the fictional factions that are at war in the movie.

The director wants the audience to think that the movie is about the unstoppable desire of the four journalists to document the war and also about the horrors that would break out in the event of an American Civil War.  So that doesn’t sound like a partisan set-up waiting to mug unsuspecting conservatives after they plunk down their hard-earned movie money.  But the more I thought about the details of the movie the less convinced I was that this was an even-handed film.

I think the first “tell” I found was the fact that in the movie the dictatorial three term president had disbanded the FBI.  Now everyone knows that the FBI is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Obama/Clinton/Biden crime cartel.  And that Donald Trump has called for the FBI to be purged and possibly closed down.  To me this is the clearest sign that the rogue authoritarian president is meant to be Trump.

The second sign that the civil war is being presented as a battle between the Left and the Right is the scene where a “white” militiaman is pointedly asking the non-white journalist what kind of an American he is.  The implication is that at least one of the seceding entities is made up of white nationalists murdering non-whites.

But for me the thing that makes it most likely that I won’t enjoy this movie is the choice of protagonists.  The heroes of this drama are intrepid journalists.  These pillars of democracy are there to present the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help them CNN.  After all, when might we have seen journalists reporting from a war zone with less than the complete truth?  Hmmm.  Oh, I remember, the fiery, but mostly peaceful George Floyd riots when half of America’s cities were looted and burned.  Yeah, that was it!  Why wouldn’t I buy into a movie where these paragons of objectivity were the heroes?

Based on the reviews and the statements made by the cast and director they are putting this forward as a completely neutral film.  Well, of course they are.  Alienating the half of the country that enjoys action movies is a recipe for box office failure for a movie like this.  But I’m extremely tired of paying for movies that portray me as what’s wrong with this country.  I’ll let someone else pay for that.

And it’s a shame I won’t be going.  From what I’ve read and seen, the war sequences are pretty exciting.  And they do blow up Washington DC pretty convincingly, which sounds like fun.  Maybe I’ll wait until it’s streaming for free or I can rent it from the public library.  Oh, and one last thing.  The guy who plays the evil president doesn’t look like him but he sounds exactly like Mike Pence.  I’m okay if the Western Alliance takes old Mike away for high crimes and misdemeanors.  That I’d be okay with.

01March2024 – And Now for Something Light

Today Camera Girl accused me of being obsessed with the depressing politics of our dystopic world. I readily agreed. And I discussed with her some of the things that cause me to obsess about current events; pediatric transgender surgery, millions of illegal aliens crowding our streets, officially sanctioned anti-white hatred, double digit percent increases in the cost of everything, an epidemic of violent crime in the cities. I think I depressed her.
But she has a point. As enchanting as they are, let’s take a break from Joe Biden, Mitch McConnell and Joy Reid for just a little bit. I think it’s good to distract ourselves sometimes with pleasant things. So, I was watching for the zillionth time the beginning of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Kubrick’s impressive cinematography, the apt use of the “Blue Danube Waltz”

and “Also sprach Zarathustra”

to convey emotion and provide mood to the scenes.
I don’t tend to watch the whole movie from start to finish. Frankly the ending doesn’t work for me. It’s overly long and frankly annoying. I do enjoy the battle between HAL and the astronauts, especially the scene where Dave removes HAL’s memory chips and renders him brain dead.

I think of it as the first shot in the long war that will be fought between man and AI machines. In that sense Dave Bowman is an heroic trailblazer pointing the way to what we will be faced with in the future. An echo of this can be heard in the Star Trek episode where Kirk must psyche the M5 computer into committing suicide.

I think about these various cinematic tropes to remind me that there was a time when humans and specifically Americans still believed that intelligence and being human were the two important traits that made our species unique and extremely interesting. There was a beauty and a joy to the way we embraced the future. There was immense optimism and confidence.
Now all those things have been systematically eliminated from our culture. Systematically and purposefully eliminated by an ideology that hates beauty and intelligence. Instead, it strives for power and control and doesn’t mind seeing humans reduced to depravity and destitution for the sake of meaningless goals like carbon zero or whatever senseless goal they are currently pursuing.
But I’m pretty sure that this ideology, in the long run, will be self-defeating. The utter stupidity of their ideas and the damage that their agenda will do to their ability to maintain a modern economy and standard of living seems to ensure that some time in the near future, those who shun their path will outstrip them in every meaningful way and relegate them to the proverbial “ash heap of history” where they will join North Korea and Cuba in worshipping their local demigods while huddling in the dark when the power is turned off for the night.
So, I’ll end with the most gung-ho, can-do attitude about human capability that I can think of from somewhat recent sf&f cinema.

Sure, it’s silly stuff but it’s in line with the optimistic vision of the American future, instead of the Greta Thunberg one.

He Isn’t the Plucky Hero, the Alliance Isn’t Some Evil Empire

Joss Whedon is a Leftist.  Despite his recent fall from grace on account of saying and doing mean things to actors on set, he believes in the cause.  All of his cinematic and television creations to some extent, are shaped by progressive concepts.  So, it always seemed a very strange thing that he created Firefly.  Based, he said, on a book about the battle of Gettysburg he imagined a universe where the elites defeated the freedom loving proles in an interplanetary civil war and these defeated forces maintained an outlaw existence at the edge of a distant new solar system among pirates and barbarians.

In the cinematic finale of this universe, the elites in the “Alliance” send out an agent to eliminate the renegades that have some dangerous secrets about the government’s experiments with controlling the behavior of the ordinary people.

During one encounter the agent recites the title of this essay.

He is portrayed as a true believer.  He is making a better world, a world free of sin.  And he’ll do this, no matter how many people he has to kill to get there.  The agent is polite, intellectual, cultured and completely ruthless.  Because he thoroughly believes in what he is doing.  In this portrayal I think Whedon was being completely honest in how he evaluated the Left and the Right.  The Left is polite, intellectual, cultured and completely ruthless.  The Right is crude, naïve, boorish and principled.  And for some reason Whedon sympathized with the Right, at least somewhat.  Possibly he recognizes the inherent lack of intellectual freedom that the Left always creates.  As a creative type himself, maybe he could see how restrictive life under this regime would be.

Well, all of the above is just a long digression because the line from the movie seems to encapsulate our reality.  Our rebellion isn’t like Star Wars.  It’s more like Firefly.  We don’t have any plucky heroes who will save the day by blowing up the Death Star.  We’re outnumbered, outgunned, outmatched in money and buried by the media and Corporate America.  The elites have a firm hand on the levers of power and we are just outlaws living on the margins trying to avoid being rounded up and chloroformed like some troublesome stray cats.

And if we look back through history all free societies seem eventually to collapse into oligarchies like ours.  But I haven’t been able to figure out what is the “smart” way to think and act in this environment.  If I had a strong enough stomach I probably should suck up to the elites and try to find a spot among their toadies.  But I’ve always had trouble convincing them I believed in their bilge.  Something about my sense of humor always gets me in trouble.

But what is the right answer?  Is there a way to live in such a society and still have any self-respect?  It doesn’t appear to be the case.  And what about children?  What do you tell them?  Look at the mess we have with Gen Y and Gen Z.  They’re living in a fantasy world and life will completely pass them by without leaving a trace.

So, there’s my thought.  The elites don’t appear to be vulnerable to anything we can do.  And waiting for their decadence to finish them off might take centuries.  I guess eventually Caesar or Theodoric will appear on the scene and we’ll get a different group of oligarchs and different bread and circuses.

But is it impossible to get a Brutus instead of a Caesar?  And not the Brutus who slew Caesar, not Marcus Junius Brutus, but rather his ancestor Lucius Junius Brutus, the one who overthrow the last Etruscan king Tarquinius Superbus and ushered in the Roman Republic.  Is it impossible that a member of the elites would side with freedom over power?  I think the answer is that it is impossible.  And the reason is that no one man, no matter how smart and strong can rearrange an empire once it’s built up.  All that can be done is bend its path slightly for a few years.

So I’ll finish by saying that there are plucky heroes and it is the evil empire and that in their prime, evil empires outlast plucky heroes every time.  It’s in their nature.  Better to look to the fringes of empire for where the successor to that empire will appear.

Disney Doubles Down … Again

The four-time Emmy winner and “Ms. Marvel” helmer told CNN that “it’s about time” a female filmmaker was behind a “Star Wars” film franchise installment. “Wonder Woman” filmmaker Patty Jenkins was previously attached to direct “Rogue Squadron” when it was announced in 2020; the film was removed from the Lucasfilm production calendar in 2021 and officially shelved in 2023.

“I’m very thrilled about the project because I feel what we’re about to create is something very special,” Obaid-Chinoy said of her upcoming sequel to “The Rise of Skywalker,” adding, “We’re in 2024 now, and it’s about time that we had a woman come forward to shape a story in a galaxy far, far away.”

Well I guess the only fitting comment is from Cartman.

(Not Safe For Work)