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I Luvz Me Some ON THE SILVER GLOBE

5/08/2016

On The Silver Globe is one of those films in which the story behind the film is just as fascinating as the film itself.

On the Silver Globe 8b

The basic story of the film is this: 
Three space farers land on an alien world and end up drastically changing the local culture; a generation later another spacefarer tracks them down and discovers their new world has degenerated into a brutal, oppressive mess.  Things go downhill from there.[1]

On the Silver Globe picture-31

The story behind the film is this:
In the mid-1970s, Polish director Andrzej Żuławski received permission from the then-Communist government of Poland to make a film based on his great-uncle Jerzy Żuławski’s novel of the same title, part of his magnum opus The Lunar Trilogy, a huge hit in pre-WWI Europe and translated into every language on the continent…except English.

On the Silver Globe 3

Żuławski the younger had a prickly relationship with the Communist censors and an on-again / off-again career that typically saw him being exiled, making a hit movie for another country, invited back, exiled again, etc., etc., and of course, etc.  On The Silver Globe was greenlit during one of the on-again periods.

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On The Silver Globe was to have been the biggest and most expensive Polish movie ever, and the Poles have made some pretty big, grandiose movies.[2]  What’s important to note is that Żuławski launched this project before Lucas’ Star Wars was released or Leiji Matsumoto’s Space Battleship Yamato or Captain Harlock changed the face of sci-fi manga — and subsequently world sci-fi — forever.

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And it sure as hell was waaaaay ahead of David Lynch’s Dune or George Miller’s Mad Max.

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So why have you never heard of this film before now?  Well, as par for the course, Żuławski went from on-again back to off-again; a Communist official, thinking the film was a criticism of Marxism, took umbrage at the production and shut it down when it was 80% complete, ordering the sets & costumes & negatives destroyed.

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Żuławski, fed up, left for France.  And there things remained until 1988 and the fall of Communism in Europe.

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Freed of censorship, Żuławski was delighted to learn cast and crew members had hidden away footage from his work print as well as some of the costumes.  Żuławski reassembled the film into as close to his original idea as possible; it’s missing several key scenes (and presumably the special effects, miniatures, and opticals that would have been added in post production) that are filled in with modern city scenes and narration.

On the Silver Globe 1c

But as for what’s left — holy shamolley, wotta movie!  This is indeed a big film and filled with big ideas.  It develops a lot of ideas that later productions would build their entire film around[3] and had it been released as planned in 1977, almost every major sci-fi film after that would be accused of ripping On The Silver Globe off.

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As it is, it’s a perfect example of Mark Twain’s dictum, “When it’s steamboat time, you steamboat.”  Space opera was in the air in the mid-to-late 1970s and somebody had to be first with the game changer that would re-write the rules; George Lucas drew the lucky number from the hat.

On the Silver Globe 6b

It is a must-see movie for all serious film buffs, sci-fi fans, and especially film makers who specialize in cinefantastique.  On The Silver Globe looks like it was filmed by aliens on an alien world, and while American audiences might feel parts of it are evocative of our own Native Americans’ cultures, Żuławski was also drawing upon the cultural traditions of the Lapps and the Mongols as well.  There is an unreal dream-like quality to the entire film (which, truth be told, may be due in no small part to the truncated production history) but like our most vivid dreams, an unsettling sense of reality as well.

On the Silver Globe 1b

In an era when most films are CGI spfx ridden, On The Silver Globe is shot using mainly real locations, giving the production a sense of solidity found more in Mad Max movies than Star Wars.

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It was released in the States on DVD in 2007 with English subtitles but now a fully restored versions is making the rounds of the last few art houses.

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Or if you’re a cheap bastard like yrs trly, you can watch it on YouTube in Polish without subtitles.

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However you watch it — watch it!

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[1]  Oh, yeah, and like Star Wars movies are any cheerier when you boil them down to their key points.

[2]  Check out The Saragossa Manuscript or Pharaoh if you ever get the chance.

[3]  Looking at you, Prometheus.

 

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I Luvz Me Some GHOSTBUSTERS 2016

16/07/2016

This is how you do a remake![1]  Keep the core idea and story, keep the elements and tone people like, but feel free to go afield from that so long as you stay in the same ballpark.

Ghostbusters (2016; directed by Paul Feig, written by Katie Dippold & Feig, based on the 1984 film directed by Ivan Reitman, written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis) does that perfectly, adapting and expanding upon the original by reinterpreting it for the 21st century and reflecting a female cast.[2]

The new all-female Ghostbusters are not simply the original characters in drag: 
They are unique and interesting on their own account, their relationship is not that of three college chums + an employee but rather a series of overlapping relationships and histories that finally jells into a single compact team.  Kristin Wilg as Erin Gilbert is former BFF with Melissa McCarthy’s Abby Yates; the friendship broke up over Gilbert’s desire to pursue “serious” science instead of paranormal investigations.  Yates is now friends / co-researcher with Kate McKinnon’s Jillian Holtzmann, a hyperkinetic engineer whom my younger granddaughter describes as “the best because she’s funny, she builds things, and she’s flexible.”  And to this mix Leslie Jones as MTA employee Patty Tolan who first comes to the Ghostbusters as a client and pretty much invites herself into the club; her encyclopedic and photographic memory of New York history and geography make her a vital addition to the team and while her character may lack to formal education the others possess she is certainly their equal in the brains department.

Oh, yeah, these ladies are all smart.  Very smart.  That’s what makes this film so delightful:  The female characters are characters who are female, not stereotypes being forced into an old story.  They come across as fresh and original while still maintaining the flavor of the 1984 film.

In fact, the only real dummy in the film is their beefcake receptionist, Kevin (played by Chris Hemsworth) who is one of the stupidest yet most endearing characters ever in movies.   He, too, plays a vital part in the construction of the film, albeit not the one you might expect.

The basic plot is still the same: 
Ghostbusters, after being drummed out of academia, start a business that nobody takes seriously until they finally catch a ghost; then as business booms the government tries to regulate them out of existence only to find itself hopeless outgunned by a massive supernatural invasions and forced to rely on the team to save the day.

The script construction is great, you get everything you want in a Ghostbusters movie only not in the way you expect it, including cameos galore featuring the original cast.

Highly recommended.

ghostbusters-2016-cast-proton-packs-images

[1]  Not a reboot, a remake.  A reboot drastically alters something about the theme / tone/ intent of the original  Reboots done well are good, but too often they are just a new creative team pissing on material to mark it as their.

[2]  There’s been a lot of hate directed at this film by MRAs suffering terminal butthurt from the fact the four main characters are female as opposed to the four male protagonists of the first film.  Congratulations, guys; now you know how women feel when they see men starring in 88%.  Ghostbusters ’16 is aware of that animosity and comments on it directly more than once in the course of the film, and almost always to dismiss it as unimportant to Just Doing Their Jobs.  Brava, Ghostbusters ’16!

 

 

 

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Aren’t You Reading ASHES TO ASHEVILLE Yet?

2/06/2016

Mi amigo John Shore is hard at work on a new novel, Ashes To Asheville, which, in the time honored tradition of Charles Dickens and Armistead Maupin, is being serialized in a newspaper, in this case the Asheville Citizen-Times.

I’ll let John describe it:

“It’s the story of Tammy, a 45-year-old mother of two grown children whose husband of 22 years … well, let’s just say critically disappoints her.

“For 10 years she taught art and painting at a San Diego junior college. She thought her life was settled. And suddenly she discovers that it’s anything but. This launches her into what is, to say the least, an unsettling time for her.

“In her anguish, Tammy flees her comfortable life in San Diego for the home of her beloved half-brother, Charlie, who lives in Asheville.

“And if you’re going to be thrust into an intensely wrenching, soul-upheaving season of your life, in which so much of what you know, or thought you knew, about yourself is essentially up for grabs, then Asheville is certainly a spectacularly unique place to have that experience. It sure proves to be for her, anyway.”

Check it out. As a former resident of Asheville (and with family members still living there), I can say he’s capturing the flavor and spirit of the town in a really well crafted story.

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I Luvz Me Some Silent Danish Sci-Fi

26/04/2016

We live, as the eminent philosopher Louis CK has noted, in an age of wonders, and films long thought lost or available only in badly deteriorated form are now restored to almost pristine condition.

1918 A_Trip_to_Mars_aka_Himmelskibet_advertisement_1920

One year after D.W. Griffith made Birth Of A Nation in the U.S. (and American audiences blithely bought into the ballyhoo that he had invented the language of cinema and creature the feature length film format), the Danes opted to end the world with a film called — surprise, surprise — The End of the World (Verdens Undergang).

Before we proceed, a bit of historical context: 
From 1914 to 1918, Europe was up to its neck in a little number called World War One.

It severely disrupted all the European nations involved in it, killing millions of people (mostly young men), and bringing much of those nations’ pop culture (read “movies”) to a screeching halt.

The United States, sitting safely on the other side of the Atlantic, was able to stay out of the first half of the war and kept cranking out big budget, high polished films that dominated the international market.

With virtually no home grown movies of their own (and the few that were made reflected the Spartan resources and budgets available), the European film markets eagerly lapped up the Hollywood product.

Even after the U.S. entered the war, our nation was never under direct threat, much less attack, and so was able to continue making highly polished big budget films.

Hollywood had no competitors in the world at that time…

…except for Denmark.

The Danes took a look at the gawdawful bloodbath going on just south of them and said thanks but no thanks, we’re sitting this one out.

As a result, they were able to make some truly astonishing movies, films that could — and did – compete head to head and nose to nose with the best American products.

While they made movies in a variety of genres and styles, I’m going to focus on two big budget (for the era) science fiction films they made (although the term “science fiction” wouldn’t be coined until almost a decade later).

The first was the above mentioned The End Of The World, a pretty straight forward tale that also clearly reflected Danish anxieties about the hell breaking loose just below their southern border.

Written by Otto Rung and directed by August Blom, it’s a story about a near collision with an asteroid causing worldwide havoc.

It pretty directly influenced the latter French film La Fin du Monde (1931) and both directly and indirectly (through adapted source material) the American productions Deluge (1933) as well as the opening chapter of Flash Gordon (1936).

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Those films in turn influenced When Worlds Collide (1951) which in turn influenced both Deep Impact and Armageddon in 1998, and those films influenced a shipload of crappy direct-to-video disaster-from-space movies.

Not too shabby for a 77 minute movie you never heard of before, eh?

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While The End Of The World has a compact cast, it makes an effort to provide as impressive a spectacle as possible.  An elaborate village miniature was built and destroyed in a hail of smoky comet debris, terrific storms (stock footage and tank work) flood the countryside, and in a poignant ending, the heroine wanders through a now desolate and decimated village that has been reduced to utter ruins.

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The movie clearly reflects the Danes’ then anxiety about what was happening south of them, as well as their fears they would get swept up in it (they didn’t…in that war; World War Two did see them overrun by the Nazis).

Two years after that, as World War One was finally winding down, the Danes tried an even more ambitious science fiction project, A Trip To Mars (a.k.a. Himmelskibet, Excelsior, and Das Himmelschiff in various markets).

1918 Trip To Mars 6

Adapted from Sophus Michaelis’ novel by screenwriter Ole Olsen and directed by Holger-Madsen, A Trip To Mars is the space opera genre delivered full blown, with all the trappings we’re familiar with.

While the spaceship, the Excelsior, is somewhat fanciful, it’s based on aviation technology of the time and compared to the tiny cabins of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers’ rockets, certainly looks like it could be a functioning spacecraft.

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It may be the first time spacesuits were depicted in a film, and the actual trip itself takes place over a several month-long flight.

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But the most impressive part comes when they finally reach Mars.

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Although the Martians are depicted as being identical the humans — specifically Danish humans – there are hundreds of them on screen in various scenes, all in full costume.  An elaborate set was built for the Martian city, and unlike most films an attempt is made to show how Martian civilization differs from humanity’s attempt at the same.

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What’s missing is the slam bang violence that’s the hallmark of American sci-fi films.  The Danes, clearly appalled by the carnage they’d seen unleashed beside them, stressed a pacifist message, and after an initial conflict between the human crew and the Martians, peace is made and the daughter of the Martian leader opts to come to earth with the returning crew to help spread the message of love.

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While Danish cinema continued on, it lost interest in science fiction themes and, coupled with the impact of World War Two, the country did not produce any more science fiction films until Reptilicus in 1961 and Journey To The Seventh Planet in 1962.

Despite being in color and sound, neither measures up to either The End Of The World and A Trip To Mars, both of which have been extensively restored by the Danish Film Institute and are available for viewing on YouTube.

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Seriously, 2016, Stop It. Just…Stop.

21/04/2016

FU2016 prince-side-view

FU2016 david bowie

FU2016 Haggard

FU2016 blowfly-studio-1970-billboard-650

FU2016 Dale-Griffin-Mott-the-Hoople

FU2016 dan hicks

FU2016 george martin

FU2016 glenn-frey-old-1453160905

FU2016 Jimmie Van Zant 2 BWs

FU2016 kantner-700x602

FU2016 keith-emerson-lake-palmer-portrait-bw-billboard-650

FU2016 maurice white

FU2016 vanity

This is only a small portion of the large number of talented people we have already lost this year — musicians, composers, songwriters, creators — but I thought 13 would be an appropriate sample.  

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I Luvz Me Some ZOOTOPIA

7/04/2016

I’m going to break my overview of Zootopia into five parts:
How it succeeds as a social critique, how it succeeds as science fiction, how it succeeds as an animated film, then — because this part will be spoilericious – after the jump how perfectly plotted it is, then finally for the most masochistic of you, the theological implications.

Shall we begin?

Zootopia_ticketsZootopia as social critique:

This would make a perfect double feature with Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful 8.

Like The Hateful 8, Zootopia is at its heart a sincere and surprisingly profound meditation on prejudice and ethnic stereotypes in contemporary society.

Unlike The Hateful 8, Zootopia is afforded the luxury of being an animal fable, and while certain parallels are evident between its characters and ethnic stereotypes in modern day America, there are no one-to-one analogies.

The Hateful 8, on the other hand, even though it is apparently set in the alternate Tarantino universe, can’t avoid very specific comparisons among and between various ethnicities in the US today.

The Hateful 8 is a hard film to digest. As noted, it is Tarantino’s most significant film to date, but it’s also his least successful one.

That’s because there is no cushion between the audience and the ugliness it portrays, there is no distancing that lets people identify-with-yet-pretend-they-aren’t exactly like the characters seen on the screen.

Zootopia, conversely, has the luxury of being an animated animal fable, so audiences can nod sagely in recognition yet at the same time not feel a condemning “thou art the man” finger pointed at them.

Zootopia also lets the viewer off the hook insofar as those few scenes in which the audience recognizes themselves are quickly offset by those same characters doing something virtuous or by non-ethnic comedy.[1]

What Zootopia does brilliantly is to admit there are friction points among us all, and that not every body gets along well with everybody else.

But it also points out that, while life is messy, it is also full of options, and just because one particular path is blocked does not mean there isn’t a way to the ultimate destination.

If The Hateful 8 tells us we must pay for our sins before the healing begins, Zootopia tells us we can forgive the sins of others and ask forgiveness for ourselves.

Zootopia as science fiction:

The basic premise is this:
Thousands of years ago animals — predators and prey — found a way of living peacefully with one another and, because there was no longer disruptive hunting preventing the advancement of societies and science, the world became a better / cleaner / happier place.

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The world realized from that premise is flawlessly executed. Every imaginable detail is either demonstrated or alluded to, and everything seems to fit.

In a perfect exampled of the old dictum, “He who handwaviums least, handwaviums best”[2], Zootopia doesn’t have to explain every single little detail of its world.

Something is presented to us and we simply roll with it. “Of course that’s the way they’d do it” even when five minutes of thought would make us realize what we’ve just seen actually opens can after can of worms.

ZOO Screen-Shot-2015-12-31

The trick to writing good sci-fi is not to explain each and every thing but to let the audience presume there is an explanation for each and everything.

The world building in Zootopia is great, a perfect combination of advanced CGI technology[3] and clever human ideas. It looks and feels real enough for us to accept it without thought, and that acceptance is what makes the powerful impact of Zootopia’s social comment possible.

Zootopia as an animated film:

This may be the best animated film ever.

I’m talking Ghost In The Shell quality.

Technically it is flawless. The character animation is great, the world building superb, the voice acting just about the best ever heard.

zoodebate

Snow White and Pinocchio and Dumbo
are great, but they can’t hold a candle to this.

This is Wizard Of Oz perfection and timelessness, and like the quest for the ruby slippers, so much more complex and enriching than Disney films of the same era.

And more importantly, it’s a demonstration of what animated films do so much better than live action movies: Properly executed, they can engage audiences of all levels and all backgrounds better and more effortlessly that comparable live action films.

Zootopia is a parody of classic 1980s buddy-cop movies, but it is so much better than Lethal Weapon or 48 Hours or Die Hard or The Last Boy Scout.

zootopia-is-an-important-movie-disguised-as-a-comedy-869236 Indeed, crap stuff that would be ridiculously over the top in a live action film is accepted here without breaking the gossamer thin suspension of disbelief.

Zootopia is a funny talking animal cartoon that grown-ups can enjoy without apology, and if one studio can do it, any studio can do it.

This may be the death knell for big budget live action movies.

No, I am not kidding…

SPOILERICIOUS AFTER JUMP

Read the rest of this article »

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2nd Thots On MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

16/01/2016

Let me explain the circumstances behind my re-watching Mad Max: Fury Road so as to better explain my additional thoughts on the film.

Along the way we will eventually drag in
Stephen King and The Horror Of Party Beach.

Soon-ok is a light sleeper, so if the volume on the TV downstairs is above a whisper — particularly for an action film — I run the risk of waking her when I watch movies late at night.

To compensate for the volume being waaaay down, I turn on the closed caption subtitles. This actually makes it a lot easier to track most modern films.

I re-watched Mad Max: Fury Road the night after the last GOP debate. Reading the dialog as opposed to hearing it thunderously shouted at me on a theater sound system sparked a couple of thoughts.

First off, it’s lousy pretentious dialog. George Miller & co get away with it by keeping the pace and spectacle so huge and over-the-top that you only catch a few phrases and ideas tossed out here and there.

Mad Max: Fury Road doesn’t do a lot to develop those ideas, and a lot of them (like the entire premise of the movie) would collapse under their own weight if examined too closely, but they go ripping by so fast that when you do catch them they sound Really Important and, like much of the rest of the movie, we fill in vast blank spots on the mental canvas with our own imaginations.

Which is okay:
Mad Max: Fury Road is a popcorn movie and is meant to be enjoyed as a visceral experience.

And as a visceral experience, it is enjoyable.

So call this a post-apocalypse motor-fantasy, not an actual bonafide sci-fi movie, and have a good time.

But reading the dialog made me recognize how much the language of the GOP debates parallels it.

I’m not talking about the weasely obfuscation found in standard issue political / diplomatic discourse, but rather the very specific ways the bulk of the GOP candidates use language. [1]

A fast pulp writer could turn this whole election cycle into a Mad Max pastiche with no real difficulty.[2]

In the film, Immortan Joe uses language not so much to convey information as to trigger responses in his followers.

They literally hear what they want to hear, and a catch phrase tossed out at the right moment will trigger a reaction that Immortan Joe can exploit.

The war boys can not explain their reactions, they can not analyze why they do the things they do. They have been conditioned to respond and respond they will, even when it’s painfully obvious it’s against their own self-preservation, much less self-interest.

In fact, only when Nux thinks of himself as cast out of Immortan Joe’s blessed circle does he take even the most rudimentary steps towards analyzing his own personal situation.

So how does this tie in to big Steve King
and The Horror Of Party Beach?

Well, in his book Danse Macabre[3], King writes about how the lowest forms of pop culture can tap into the cultural gestalt at a basic, more intrinsic, more primal level than high brow art.

Case in point:
When the makers of The Horror Of Party Beach wanted to make a movie about hideous monsters attacking slumber parties full of teenage girls, their explanation of where the monsters came from was a short sequence showing leaky drums labeled “Radioactive Waste” being dumped into the ocean.

An A-production from a major studio on the topic of handling nuclear waste would have taken years to get produced; it would have faced both political and business pressure not to denigrate such an important industry so vital to America’s future. It would have required A Major Star or three as well as Some Very Important Writers and it would be all yak-yak-yak and in the end not a single person would have had their mind changed because by the time said film actually reached said eyeballs, their audience would have predetermined if they believed those liberal Hollywood types or not.

But The Horror Of Party Beach just chucks a couple of cans into the water, shows a couple of monsters evolving from the muck, and bingo! – next thing ya know they’re attempting to devour and/or mate with teen girls in negligees.[4]

Stephen King’s point was that instead of rationalizing it, the makers of The Horror Of Party Beach just tapped in on something they instinctively knew everybody else instinctively knew: It was not a good idea to dump radioactive waste into the ocean, yet if there was a buck to be made doing so, somebody or some business would do so.

Mad Max: Fury Road is a film about
the end of civilization as we know it.

And, no, not in the obvious manner you think:
On that level it’s just another mindless action movie, and you could change the costumes and the location and the handwaveum and turn it into a Bond film or a Star Wars movie or a Harry Potter adventure and get pretty much the same superficial story / spectacle.

No, it’s not about blowing things up and then people ride really cool junk cars out in the middle of the desert: It’s about the triumvirate of religion / business / defense finally collapsing. It’s about white boys, the staunchest supporters of that triumvirate, finding themselves replaced and superseded and ultimately ignored by a new non-white boy culture.

“It’s the end of  the
world as we know it,”

sang R.E.M.,
“but I feel fine.”

What Miller & co have done, in their brilliantly brainless fashion, is to cut through all the obfuscating bullshit of talking head TV pundits and show what all of us instinctively know: Established organized religion is empty; big business can not even recognize its own self-interest if it doesn’t mean an immediate profit; defense is never about protecting anyone.

There is, like it or not, a new world being born around us. It is a world that, for ill or for good, is going to be much more responsive to the needs and objectives of the non-whites and the non-boys.

Mad Max: Fury Road calls its white boys “half-lifes”. They are recognized even by themselves as being a dying breed, kept alive only by the machinations of Immortan Joe and The People Eater and The Bullet Farmer; kept alive to serve them in exchange for a promise dangled in front of the white boys, a promise neither Immortan Joe nor his ”brothers”[5] intend to keep — in fact, that none of them are actually capable of keeping.

That’s the old world we have let the greedheads build, the one that can no longer be sustained, the one that’s unraveling and in that process terrifying those who bought into the false promises and now live in abject horror that the powerball lottery will be closed before they have their chance to become multi-millionaires.

That is what Mad Max: Fury Road is all about.

It’s not a hopeless message, and it does show a way out for those who have invested heavily in the old system (such as Nux): White boys can recognize that change is upon them and help birth that new world, but instead of trying to dominate it, be prepared to step back and serve it.[6]

So in retrospect, I have somewhat modified
my opinion of Mad Max: Fury Road.

It’s a good movie,
but not a great film.[7]

And that’s a good thing, because if it had been any better, if it had been any smarter, it could have never said what needed to be said.

The Faces Of

MMFR Mad-Max-Fury-02

 Religion

MMFR People-eater-3

Business

MMFR Bullet_farmer03

Defense

.

 

[1] And I’m focusing very specifically on language use as opposed to the topics purportedly being talked about.

[2] Anybody out there who wants to take that idea and run with it, be my guest.

[3]  Highly recommended, BTW.

[4] The teen (ha! Twenty-somethings!) girls are in the negligees, not the monsters; we had to wait for The Rocky Horror Picture Show for the latter.

[5] Literally? Figuratively?

[6] A lesson audiences seem more than willing to embrace; viz. Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

[7] However, it would make one helluva double-feature with The Hateful Eight.

 

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Compare And Contrast: TARANTULA vs THE SPIDER

7/01/2016

I’ve been asked about a phrase I used in an earlier post re one motion picture being a better film while another was a better movie.

This kind of distinction can be made in any art form, any media, but for English speakers “film” and “movie” describe two ways of enjoying a motion picture.

I could blather on, but rather than discuss the matter in abstract terms, I’ll use two perfect examples to illustrate my point: The giant monster movies Tarantula (Universal 1955) and Earth Vs. The Spider (AIP 1958) a.k.a. The Spider.

CnC TvS a2

They’re similar enough yet different enough to demonstrate my thesis. Both hinge on the same basic plot: Giant arachnid threatens remote community.

But each is significantly different.

Tarantula is a Universal production directed by Jack Arnold, Universal’s go-to guy for 1950s sci-fi. It’s well written, well produced (a B-picture from a major studio), well cast[1], and with good make-up and special effects[2].  The Spider, on the other hand, was a Bert I. Gordon production for AIP. Story is minimal bordering dumb, cast (aside from a pair of stalwart minor supporting characters) is merely adequate, and the effects are not-so-special.

Of course, it’s tons o’fun and far more
entertaining than the Universal film.

Now, it’s fair to point out much of The Spider’s entertainment value comes from its campiness (such as twentysomethings playing high school students), but the truth is it’s a much faster paced and exciting movie.

Tarantula offers some handwaveum explanation for its big arachnid[3], The Spider skips all that: Their audience just shelled out sixty-five cents to see a movie about a giant spider so there’s no need to waste time with explanations where it came from.

For that same reason, there’s no futzing around by the characters, wondering if there’s a giant monster on the loose or not: The teen heroes convince their high school science teacher and the local sheriff with remarkable ease and they all go to confront the beast in her cave with a tanker truck full of DDT.[4]

This refreshing head-on approach is what gives The Spider its goofy charm: Twenty minutes into the film and they’re already at a point it takes Tarantula the better part of an hour to reach.

Once they think they’ve killed the damn thing, they drag it to the local high school gym[5]. Of course the monster revives midway through an impromptu sock hop and goes on a low budget rampage through town.[6]

The quality of The Spider’s effects are pretty minimal — mostly a real spider walking in front of a still photo of the live action location — but there’s a lot more of ‘em and they show her doing a lot more than Tarantula ever did.[7]

The Spider’s rampage is a remarkably effective piece of low budget film making and includes one of the really great iconic moments in 1950s sci-fi: A woman gets her dress caught in her car door as the spider bears down on her and in her very realistic hysterical panic doesn’t think to open the door so she can escape.

animated trapped woman in The Spider

Gordon also stretched his budget by showing more of the aftermath of the giant spider’s rampage (i.e., junk and bodies strewn in the streets) before moving on to his climax in which the heroes electrocute the big bug (sic!) in her cave.[8]

Tarantula’s characters (an admittedly higher caliber cast) are adults with boring grown up concerns; they never really connect with the audience. The Spider’s central characters are the teens, and everything in the movie orbits back to their teenage concerns in some fashion. Because of that, they and their problems are much easier to identify with.  Tarantula may do a better job of explaining where its big spider came from, but The Spider sucks us along for the ride.

So, in the end, which is the “better” motion picture?

Oh, c’mon, get serious:
They’re both giant spider movies, and the difference between a really good giant spider movie and a really bad giant spider movie is negligible.

You make movies with your head, and you make movies with your heart, same as any other creative expression. Use both, but if ya gotta go with one over the other, go with your heart.

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.

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[1] Clint Eastwood shows up unannounced at the end as the jet pilot who saves the day.

[2] Arnold and his crew recreated the film’s live action landscapes on a sandbox covered with white cloth then guided a real tarantula’s performance by squirting air at it from a rubber bulb. Not only did their tarantula create its own traveling matte, but it threw a realistic shadow when superimposed on the live action footage. Arnold was ingenious in this manner: To simulate water drops hitting The Incredible Shrinking Man’s match box house, he had technicians drop water filled condoms on the set. When asked by Universal’s accounting department why he had purchased one gross of condoms, Arnold’s straight faced reply was “I throw a hell of a cast party.”

[3] Leo G. Carroll was experimenting with making big critters small and small critters big because, hey, science!

[4] The Spider may be dumb but it sure ain’t stoopid.

[5] Because, hey, science!

[6] Which is a hell of a lot more than Tarantula ever accomplished: A few stray cattle and cow boys, a mid-century modern ranch house, and that’s it. She’s a mile or more out of town when Clint finally fricassees her.

[7] Bert I. Gordon — affectionately known as “Mr. BIG” by B-movie fans — is Arnold’s chief rival among sci-fi directors of the 1950s, at least in terms of the number of films he made. Like Arnold, Gordon was a clever innovator of special effects, and while his films may fail due to lack of time, talent, and taste, there’s nothing in the raw materials that prevented them from rising higher. Indeed, when finally afforded an adequate budget and schedule, Gordon produced the entertaining children’s fantasy The Magic Sword. An extra week spent on any of his other films would have made all the difference.

[8] This is an example of the rule of three in low budget film making: Always try to get a minimum of three key scenes out of each major location; this stretches the budget and shortens shooting time.

 

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I Luvz Me Some HATEFUL EIGHT

30/12/2015

Hateful Eight poster 2

Here’s the conundrum that will prove the make-it-or-break-it for many film goers:
This movie is so far over the fncking top in terms of violence / gore / rape / language / race that many in the audience will throw up their deflector shields and refuse / be unable to see what Quentin Tarantino is doing with the material.

‘Cuz boy howdy, has he got one really major significant-to-our times theme here, and his refusal to pull any punches is 100% germane to getting his point across.

You may not like what you see but
dadgumbit, you gotta see this!!!

Our boy Quentin is tackling the issue of race in America in The Hateful Eight, and he’s doing it in a classic context: The American Western.

Or more specifically: The Episodic American TV Western Bottle Show.[1]

If I wanted to be clever, I could work out an elaborate allegory in which So-and-so represents such-and-such element of modern American society but Tarantino is too good a writer / director / film maker for any simplistic analysis that.

There are no good guy heroes in this movie.

The closest to virtuous characters are a handful of extraneous supporting players who simply aren’t onscreen long enough to show if they have any negative qualities.[2]

Everybody else has character flaws that would
fuel a dozen Shakespearean pastiches.[3]

It’s some time after the Civil War.[4] Ex-Union calvary officer Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) strikes an uneasy alliance with rival bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) to deliver outlaw Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to the ex-Confederate sheriff of Red Rock (Walton Goggins) for hanging, only they’re snowed in at a way station with Mexican Bob (Demian Bichir), English hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and ex-Confederate General Sandy Smithers.

Murder / mayhem / horrendous violence ensues.[5]

And while the above mentioned cast constitutes our Hateful Eight, there are also nine more characters (plus three corpses) who round out the story.[6]

Even the best characters have woeful flaws,
and even the worse have some redeeming feature.

And as was true re McClintock!, The Hateful Eight is a contemporary story set in the Old West, and as such it offers a contemporary view on contemporary society filtered through the lens of the past.[7]

Tarantino the writer drops more N-bombs in this movie than any other he’s made, but in the context of the story and characters (at least two ex-Confederates and several overt white racists) they do not seem to be gratuitous.[8]

And, man, does he ever tackle the issue of race head on. Bounty hunter Warren is at best tolerated by Ruth, Mobray, and stagecoach driver O.B. (James Parks), Sherriff Mannix despises him but will obey the law, Gage pretty much ignores him, but Domergue and Smithers shower him with almost non-stop abuse.

Which is fine, because Warren certainly holds them in equal contempt.

But Warren is no turn-the-other-cheek type; as the story unfolds he’s depicted unflinchingly as a non-heroic (as opposed to being an anti-hero) thug different from Domergue and others only because he is clever enough to stay just inside the boundaries of the law.

Mannix comes across as an idiot and a bigot, and while his racial bias never entirely vanishes, he does manage to (painfully; very painfully) acquire some belated smarts by the end of the movie and an appreciation for what others may have gone through.

Ruth is the closest thing to a hero among the Eight, but he’s not nearly as smart as he thinks he is.

And he is brutal — gawd, is he brutal! — to Daisy Domergue.

I honestly don’t know how to react
to her treatment in the film.

On the one hand, the physical abuse ladled on her would be appalling even if applied to a man; on the other, if any character is so irredeemably evil as to deserve such abuse, she’s the one.

Tarantino avoids plot asides that a lesser writer would waste spend time on; instead of teasing out several small plot reveals, he just drops them full out in plain view.[9]

I keep coming back to the race theme, because that’s pretty much what this movie is about. Even the semi-Pollyanna-ish flashback of a seemingly racially enlightened group is marred by the later revealed fact that one of them, despite their jolly good nature, is just as terrible a bigot in their own way as Mannix, Smithers, and Domergue.

And that, in an oddly perverse way, is the common unifying humanizing feature of all the characters, even — or rather, especially! — the very worse.[10]

These are not hagiographic heroes
ala Roy Rogers and Gene Autry or
even John Wayne or Clint Eastwood.

Hell, Eli Wallach as Tuco would be a step above them in terms of basic human decency / compassion / virtue!

But that is Tarantino’s point: Who are we to judge?

Even the best can be pretty despicable, but even at their most detestable worst we can say, “I can understand why you’d think / say / do that” without actually agreeing to their POV.

And the worst of the lot can be seen as genuine psychopaths, greedily sucking up all life around them, spitting (literally!) on everything others hold near and dear.[11]

As Ruth says roughly midway through the movie:
“You only need to hang the mean bastards,
but the mean bastards need to be hanged.”

In the end, the film’s point is that for all the friction generated between / amongst the protagonists, they are ultimately on the same side, fighting for the same cause, and being oh so subtly manipulated by antagonists who hate for no other reason than it feels so damn good.

Highly recommended, but when you go see it, go prepared. The last part is Quentin Tarantino’s most gruesome grand guignol finale ever.

Oh, and by the way,
it’s a Christmas movie.

Hateful Eight animated

[1] Tarantino explains the origins of The Hateful Eight was his fascination in old TV Westerns in which an outlaw would take the cast hostage in one of the established interior locations, and the next 30-60 minutes would be spent engaged in psychodrama until the heroes finally turn the table on the baddie/s. Shows like that are referred to as “bottle shows” in TV parlance because they use mostly series regulars and existing sets instead of spending money on anything new. Producers frequently turn to bottle shows when schedules and budgets grow tight.

[2] And at least one of their number is an out & out bigot.

[3] And forgive me if this veers into spoiler territory, but the only major Hollywood production with a more nihilistic ending involved an army of apes invading a city of mutants in a futile attempt to stop Charlton Heston from blowing up the whole fncking planet.

[4] And the film occupies that weird alternate history / reality of all of Tarantino’s other movies, including Inglorious Basterds. Lincoln may not have been assassinated, John Wilkes Booth may have been chased down by bounty hunters, the South may have unconditionally surrendered yet not gone through Reconstruction, but the Red Apple tobacco brand is available for public consumption.

[5] I’m going to strive to be as spoiler free as possible, so that means pretty much all of act two (i.e., after the intermission in the road show presentation) is off limits. Lemme just say (a) holy crud, nobody dies easy and (b) at least three chimpanzees survived for Escape From The Planet Of The Apes.

[6] And Tarantino hizzownsef as the uncredited narrator of part two.

[7] Does that mean The Hateful Eight may not age gracefully? It’s possible, though I hope that’s not the case and as with McClintock! it will be viewed as both a product and a commentary of its times.

[8] Though if that’s the sort of thing that can annoy you, it will annoy the livin’ fnck out of you during the course of the picture.

[9] Which paradoxically turns out to be the freshest thing he could do with them. We expect a character to hide the fact they’ve been lying about an important letter; we do not expect him to confess to it almost immediately upon being questioned, or for another character to read the letter as true even when they know it to be a fake!

[10] And if you think Daisy Domergue is the worse, you’ve got another think coming.

[11] Even, ironically, when those near and dear things are proven to be false.

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Spoilericious THE FORCE AWAKENS Review / Speculation

21/12/2015

The Force Awakens is the first
cringe-free Star Wars movie
since The Empire Strikes Back.

tfa_poster_wide_header-1536x864-959818851016

SEMI-SPOILER
“The Force awakens” can mean
“the Force itself wakes up” or
“the Force wakes up others.”

SPOILERICIOUS AFTER THE JUMP

Read the rest of this article »

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