“The Force awakens” can mean
“the Force itself wakes up” or
“the Force wakes up others.”
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Like many others in my generation, I grew up watching old B-Westerns on TV. Hopalong Cassidy was my favorite, narrowly beating out the Lone Ranger and Roy Rogers (though I loved them as well).
When a friend informed me he’d purchased Classic Westerns: 50 Films, I felt I had to give it a try, too. What follows are the films as I viewed them in the order they play on the DVDs. Although I’m calling this a B-Western Round-up, there are some Italian Westerns and a few Hollywood A-Westerns than fell into public domain included as well.
The round-up starts after the jump.
(Will I do this next year with other megapacks? Maybe, I dunno…)
A story of two Hollywood street hustlers on Christmas Eve, it has everything you could want in a holiday film: Inventively obscene language, rampant prostitution, startling displays of nudity, and horrifying-yet-hilarious street violence.
Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) is barely out of jail when friend & fellow street hustler Alexandra (Mya Taylor) informs her that her fiancé / pimp Chester (James Ransone) has been cheating on her with Dinah (Mickey O’Hagan).
This sets off the erratically bi-polar Sin-Dee on a one-transgender woman mission of vengeance to track down Mickey and confront Chester with her. Alexandra tags along, first trying to calm Sin-Dee down, but also trying to promote her own one-person show at a local bar later that night.
Add to this basic Frankie & Johnny mix —
- (a) Razmik (Karren Karagulian), a roving cabbie who pines for Sin-Dee and hopes to keep his wife from finding out,
- (b) Ashken (Alla Tumanian), his vengeful mother-in-law who has found out about his dalliances with transgender hustlers, and
- (c) a third complication which we’ll refrain from mentioning as it’s a spoiler
— and Tangerine rockets off on a howling funny erratic roller coaster ride which, like all good roller coasters, convinces us at times it’s about to fly off the tracks but in reality is always skillfully and deliberately operating exactly as intended.
Big kudos to writer / director / photographer Sean S. Baker, co-writer Chris Bergoch, co-photographer Radium Cheung, their production team, and the remarkable cast, especially Rodriguez and Taylor who brought a lot of their own real life experience and insight to the production. The sassy but savvy minority sexual nonconformist is a well established trope in films and drama now, threatening to become a full fledged stereotype. Rodriguez and Taylor occasionally get close enough to that trope to wave and yell hello from the other side of the street, but they never actually embrace it.
The relationship between Sin-Dee and Alexandra shows how diametrically opposite personalities can find solace and companionship in one another. Alexandra, for all her street cred, at heart harbors a bittersweet yet very conventional ambition, and despite her failure to gain traction towards her ultimate goal she never seems foolish in her pursuit.
She wants a very conventional form of success and acceptance, and one senses she would cheerfully leave the street far behind if she could find even a modicum of success as a performer.
Sin-Dee, on the other hand, is the most outrageous street hustler since Pam Grier’s Charlotte, the gold standard of psychotic street hustlers from 1981’s Fort Apache: The Bronx. If Rodriguez was not able to lace Sin-Dee’s anger and hurt with inventive humor, she would have been as terrifying as Grier was.
But despite her intense emotional pain, Sin-Dee will not abandon a friend, and even though she’s kidnapped Dinah and is en route to confront Chester (via public transit!), she nonetheless finds time to drag her hostage into the bar where Alexandra is singing so as to support her friend’s performance to a room full of barflies.
Indeed, not only has Sin-Dee compassion for her friend, but she even shows compassion to Dinah, helping her clean up a bit and become more presentable for their inevitable confrontation with Chester.
And in the end, when she is feeling at her worse — abandoned, shamed, betrayed, friendless — she finds Alexandra genuinely cares about her, and is literally willing to give her the shirt off her back (or rather, the wig off her own head) to comfort her.
The film intercuts between that and Razmik sitting in his brightly lit apartment, his life and marriage not exactly destroyed but certainly irreparably damaged, and Dinah facing one of the emotionally coldest and bleakest Christmas Eve’s imaginable, and let’s us know what is truly important in our lives. It strips away all the surface distinctions that we get hung up on and let’s us see people relating to others as people, not objects to be used.
Merry Christmas indeed.
Now, some will wonder why I’m celebrating a grim & gritty / down & dirty film about low lifes instead of more upbeat / happy / zesty holiday fare ala White Christmas.
And I love White Christmas.
It’s a family favorite we
watch every year.
But the big difference between White Christmas (specifically) and other films like it is that they very rarely touch on real life.
White Christmas is a good counterpoint to Tangerine: It also deals with betrayal and trust and compassion, and like Tangerine ends up with an affirmative scene.
But it’s also a fantasy, wholly unrealistic, a lifeless product of the studio system that, while absolutely entertaining on the surface, really doesn’t carry a very deeply resonating meaning.
Yeah, it turns out Rosemary Clooney
could trust Bing Crosby after all,
But there was nothing real about their on-screen personas, nothing real about the characters they played.
They were perfect happy characters with perfect happy lives that had Some Whacky Complications but in the end everything turned out even more perfectly happier than everything that had happened before.
And that’s fine in a film that is just light entertainment; we certainly don’t need to be stretching our intellectual muscles over a movie designed to shoehorn as many Irving Berlin songs as possible into a single production.
But while the characters’ conflicts symbolized similar problems audiences might face, there is precious little in White Christmas itself that people then or now could recognize in their own lives.
It’s like a Saturday Evening Post illustration come to life: It pretends to depict reality but in actuality it’s a highly stylized interpretation of same.
Tangerine, on the other hand, may exaggerate reality by cramming so many wild incidents into a single night, but it never depicts anything, no matter how outre’, that doesn’t seem to be 100% authentic.
Which is what makes the reconciliation and forgiveness and compassion at the end so refreshing and — heaven help us — heartwarming.
It doesn’t ring of triteness,
but of real, genuine feeling.
A further word on Tangerine, this wholly unrelated to the dramatic aspect of the picture.
O’Hagan and Rodriguez preparing to shoot
a scene with photographer Radium Cheung and
writer / director / photographer Sean S. Baker (right).
[photo by Shih-Ching Tsou]
Tangerine was shot entirely on iPhone 5s Smartphones* and that should have traditional production companies and major studios defecating cinderblocks. It gets in and among its characters with astounding ease, and people familiar with the Hollywood / Highland / Santa Monica Blvd area where the film was shot will be amazed at the versatility of the production.
Seriously, you’ve got a film that looks as good as any other low budget feature, and accomplished entirely on a device you are probably already carrying in your pocket. Tangerine had a $100,000 budget, but in a big part that’s because they were filming with permits in Hollywood; I can imagine a production with less scruples and / or shot in a less media savvy area costing but a tiny fraction of that.
What in means in terms of film & media production is that there’s now literally no bar to entry except the imagination and ability of the film maker/s & casts.
* Wikipedia notes “They used the FiLMIC Pro app, a video app (to control focus, aperture and color temperature, as well as capture video clips at higher bit-rates) and an anamorphic adapter from Moondog Labs (to capture widescreen). They also used Tiffen’s Steadicam Smoothee to capture smooth moving shots.)”
It is the lowest acceptable bar for any type or genre of movie:
If you can’t make a film at least as good as this, don’t even try.
The Good Dinosaur is Pixar’s MBM. It’s a fun, fast paced, entertaining film, well made and technically flawless.
Why it stumbled is a good question, and I think there are probably several overlapping issues.
First off, while one of the things the movie does perfectly is convey about 90% of the story in purely visual terms, I don’t think many in the audience grasp that the film is supposed to be happening in the present day, specifically in an alternate timeline in which dinosaurs didn’t die out but achieved sentience and Neolithic technology.
Even supposedly scientifically literate people have failed to understand that, complaining that the movie mixes dinos and cavemen.
Well, no: The film is not set 65 million years ago (except for the brief opening gag) but Right Now.
But that leads to problem #2: The world of The Good Dinosaur looks absolutely realistic, some of the best nature effects ever put in a film, but the character design on the dinos is much too cartoony for the world they inhabit.
One may argue over 65 million years that dinos would evolve into odd forms even as they were acquiring intelligence, but they still seem more suitable for The Flintstones.
The third problem is script oriented: Pixar films traditionally are delightfully complex and multi-leveled. Kids can enjoy the basic story line / characters / gags but there’s enough depth / meat for adults. Inside Out is perhaps the most perfect example of this, but the Toy Story movies and Brave are also good examples.
But The Good Dinosaur is rather plain and simple; everything is out there in full view. Scratch these characters and you find just more of what you’ve already seen.
The plot, while working for a specific goal, is still pretty episodic and any number of sequences could be dropped / rearranged / swapped out without affecting the story in total.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s nothing exceptionally compelling about it. To me, that’s what makes this Pixar’s MBM: It’s good enough but not really memorable.
And finally, there’s a fourth element, one that can’t be easily quantified but one I suspected worked against the film’s box office success.
Before the movie begins, there’s a short film called Sanjay’s Super Team about a little Hindu boy whose love for superheroes is at odds with his father’s desire for him to participate in the family’s faith. It gets resolved in seven short minutes, of course, with young Sanjay realizing the Hindu deities Vishnu, Durga, and Hanuman are analogous to the Western superheroes he idolizes.
There are a lot of potential ticket buyers in the Bible belt who are doubtlessly taken aback by a sympathetic — and informed — view of a non-Judeo-Christian theology.
Then, in the film itself, there are several pterodactyls who literally worship a rolling storm front that they follow, preying on victims they find trapped in the wreckage the storm leaves behind.
The language and terms the pterodactyls use is very clearly evocative of evangelical rhetoric, and while one can find parallels between them and certain televangelists, I wonder if other Christians in the audience don’t perceive it as a criticism of Christianity as a whole.
This, combined with the other points mentioned above, may have kept a big segment of the early audience from recommending the film as highly as they might have.
No one factor is sufficient to sink the film on itself, of course, but together they may have served as force multipliers that worked against The Good Dinosaur.
Which is a pity, because even for the areas where they don’t hit a home run, Pixar is still batting solid doubles and triples.
 Which, frankly, would make for a helluva an interesting movie if more time had been spent on examining what that culture would be like instead of just focusing on a few isolated individuals.
 I know many Christian artists and creators who strive to do Christian superhero stories. I’m not one to say to another what shouldn’t / couldn’t be done, but for me personally I’ve always had a problem reconciling the inherent violence of superheroics with the explicit non-violence taught by Christ. But where Christianity hinges on Jesus being an actual historical person (such as the Buddha or Muhammad), Hinduism seems more open to metaphorical interpretation, and so the violent / war-like aspects of certain Hindu deities does not necessarily equate to real life militarism.
Josh Hadley interviews me for the Radiodrome podcast. We cover more than just the Sunbow Productions this time around, including Thundarr The Barbarian, Dungeons & Dragons the TV show, and even the short lived Beanie & Cecil revival.
Had a great time recently with Gina Ippolito, Ray Stakenas, and Robert Chan doing first an overview of my work leading up to G.I. Joe for Sunbow Productions and an analysis of my episode “Lights! Camera! Cobra!” This was a great experience and so much fun we didn’t realize we had run waaaaaaay over time so here it is broken into 4 parts!
Thomas Nast’s classic cartoon
created the symbol of both parties
Caveat #1: This post has nothing to do with policy; it is entirely about the strategies and tactics, individual strengths and weaknesses of the various candidates for the two parties’ presidential nomination. It is a purely intellectual exercise, not an ideological one.
Caveat #2: We are 13 months out from the election; the political landscape can cartwheel three or four times between now and then. This post reflects conditions as they presently exist.
Among the GOP:
Historically, the only non-politicians elected president by Americans are generals who just won major wars that either protected the U.S. or expanded its holdings. Trump, Carson, and Fiorina will not make the cut.
If you are not a fresh face to national presidential politics this year, you are yesterday’s news. Quite specifically, if you didn’t soundly defeat the rest of the ’08 and ’12 fields, why should anyone believe you can beat the Democrats’ 2016 candidate?
Bush fatigue is a real thing, and nobody thinks he did a good job anymore (at best they will claim he was sincere in his efforts). Jeb Bush has been campaigning in a way that makes one suspect a passive-aggressive agenda: He is bowing to family and old boy network pressure to run, but he’s saying things that — while the old boy network can’t fault him — drives more and more potential voters away.
That leaves us with Rubio and Kasich.
On paper, Kasich is the least problematic: Solid conservative principles, pragmatism to cross the aisle and get things done. He’s dropped the fewest potential verbal land mines.
The problem is he a middle American white boy at a time when a significant number of American voters have expressed a willingness to listen to what non-middle American non-white non-boys have to say. Ironically, race and gender may be two of his biggest handicaps.
Rubio is a little more of a firebrand, but his public utterances haven’t been as extreme as other GOP candidates and he would be able to plausibly appeal to Latin American voters as having earned the nomination on his own, not as a GOP ploy to win minority votes.
As of today: A Rubio-Kasich ticket looks like the GOP’s most viable team. Carson has an outside chance as the bottom half of the ticket, especially if Bush can’t convince enough of the GOP base not to vote for him.
Among the Democrats:
Clinton fatigue is real, too. Hilary Clinton has the chops to do the job, but after 8 years of Bill and 8 years as Obama’s secretary of state, a lot of voters — Democrat and independent — have had enough of her.
Bill C. has done her no favors, either; and by Bill C. I mean Bill Cosby. In an astonishingly short time, Cosby plummeted from one of the most admired and respected figures in America to a pariah. The generation of female voters who came of age after 9/11 look at Bill Clinton’s shenanigans in light of Cosby’s disgrace and curl their lips in disdain. Hilary’s relationship with Bill is not a strong selling point with this crowd.
Bernie Sanders is old, he’s white, he’s Jewish, and he’s a socialist, but oddly enough those characteristics tend to cancel themselves out, making him the most ideologically pure candidate in either field (“ideologically pure” in the sense that identity politics have been nullified).
As an old white guy, he’s reassuring to old white voters; while his age and whiteness have no appeal to younger and/or non-white voters, his other characteristics do.
He’s Jewish, which appeals to people sick of evangelical Christian influence in politics. Conversely, he has successfully reached out to evangelicals and told them what while they’ll never get what the GOP promised them, there are things President Bernie can deliver.
The evangelicals are listening to this.
He is a socialist, but he’s a socialist from one of the most contrarian conservative states in the union. The fact he has served them and served them well tells voters that even though he’s the most extreme left candidate, he’s still comfortably within mainstream American politics.
(As of this posting, neither Joe Biden nor any other viable potential candidates have officially announced for the Democratic slot. Biden is not the goofy uncle the public perceives him to be, but nonetheless they perceive him as the goofy uncle and it’s too late in the narrative to change that. Of the others, only Elizabeth Warren today offers an outside shot of securing the nomination but she seems willing to wait 2016 out. It’s not impossible she could end up on the bottom half of either a Clinton or Sanders ticket.)
Clinton faces a unique situation among candidates in both fields: She has started the campaign with the most support she can possibly get and must now keep voters from defecting to Sanders or later to the GOP candidate. She will lose supporters but if she can keep it down to a trickle and not a stream or more disastrously, a torrent, she can win handily. To do so she has to defeat Sanders in the early caucuses and primaries, defeat him decisively yet diplomatically so as not to alienate his supporters.
As of this posting: The nomination — and quite probably the election — is hers to lose.
like the Cadillac was overturning down a cliff
And the radio is on
and the radioman is speaking
And the radioman says women were a curse
So men built Paramount
And men built Columbia
and men built Los Angeles
And the radioman laughs because
the radioman fucks a model too
for teenagers with automatic weapons and boundless love
Gone savage for teenagers who are aesthetically pleasing
In other words fly,
Michael Doughty / Mark Degliantoni / Yuval Gabay / Sebastian Steinberg
Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.
photo © Buzz Dixon
thanx to Richard Becker for the suggestion
I’ll take the opportunity of Martin Milner’s passing to comment on Route 66, and Route 66 to comment on Martin Milner.
Mr. Milner passed away this weekend at the respectable age of 83.
He had a long and worthy career as an actor behind him. Never a huge star (though he starred in two of the best remembered shows on TV, one of which is a bonafide classic), he was a competent journeyman actor.
Do not read that as a put down:
Quite the contrary, it’s a tribute to his ability to show up, take an ordinary character / scene, and imbue it with life. He worked and worked a lot because of that ability. While his TV career overshadowed his film career, he had significant roles in several major motion pictures, four of them quite good.
He was the jazz musician fiancé of Burt Lancaster’s sister in The Sweet Smell Of Success, a much too laid back shore patrol officer from Alabama in Mr. Roberts, James Earp in The Gunfight At O.K. Corral, and Natalie Wood’s friend-zoned playwright suitor in Marjorie Morningstar.
What he is most famous for, depending on your age, is as the driver of two of the most iconic TV cars after the Batmobile and the Beverly Hillbillies’ truck.
The obituaries all mention Adam-12, which was a good show and used the easy rappaport between Milner and co-star Kent McCord to present a more personable view of police work than displayed in its companion series, Dragnet.
But the great shining jewel in Milner’s career crown was Route 66, arguably one of the most important TV series in American cultural history and one of the few that everyone should track down and watch, even if only for a few episodes.
Route 66 was created by producer Herbert B. Leonard and writer Stirling Silliphant in answer to the Chevrolet Motor Company’s musical question: “If we lend you a brand new Corvette, can you build a TV show around it?”
Leonard & Silliphant could & did, and the result was the incredible Route 66, a semi-anthology that offers rare slice of life Americana, with stories taking place in less traveled parts of the country, involving occupations and true-to-life situations typically not explored in drama, much less network television.
Milner was convincing as Tod Stiles, son of a bankrupt industrialist who inherited nothing from his father except the Corvette he and his traveling companions drove. They were the consistent, friendly, appealing touchstones that enabled audiences to get into the surprisingly complex and insight stories that made the series a justifiable hit.
One may argue that Maharis (who had to leave the show due to health reasons) and Corbett were more dynamic actors, but Milner made it possible to welcome the show into your home every week. He may not have been a dramatic showboat, but he got people to tune in.
Milner had a shockingly normal personal life:
The child of a family on the fringe of show biz, he married actress / singer Judy Jones in 1957 and stayed married to her for the rest of his life, producing four children.
We’ll let him have the last word in his own memorial:
“I have no complaints on any level.
I’m pretty happy about the way
everything turned out.” — Martin Milner
We are, too,
10-4 & RIP
 Milner and his co-drivers George Maharis and later Glenn Corbett typically bookended every episode by arriving in a new town looking for work and thus getting involved with the characters & story of the week. Their contributions to the actual stories were often slight: Knights errant arriving in the nick of time to serve justice at the end of an episode, then hopping in their car to drive off to their next adventure.
 Jack Kerouac felt Route 66 had ripped off his novel On The Road. While the basic idea of two young men drifting around the country, taking odd jobs where they could find them, is similar, the focus of the TV show was vastly different from the novel’s. Noetheless, credit where credit is due, and without On The Road there may never have been a Route 66.
Someone did not like my previous Duggar post:
“like them or not you are commanded by Christ to love them – your words do not exemplify that – no matter how loathsome you may find their words or deeds you are called to love them – you do not have to accept them or approve of them – but you do have to love them – call them to task for what you see as their faults or failures but you have to do it in a spirit of love – not in a snarky sarcastic way – THAT is how others will know you are a disciple of Christ”
As my late aunt was wont to say, I am bumfuzzled.
First off, I don’t see any snark in what I posted previously.
Josh Duggar is a sexual predator.
The Duggar clan are sexual deviants.
The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches, the Bill Gothard led faction of same, and the whole Purity Movement have perverted the gospel of Christ.
These are inarguable facts.
Pretending these facts are not true by refusing to call them what they are is not going to help anybody.
Josh Duggar has checked in to “rehab” for treatment of his “sexual addiction.”
I use quotes because addicts can’t self-diagnose themselves; they may indeed have that particular problem, but it takes trained professionals to recognize all the symptoms and help locate the root of the problem.
I use quotes because the “rehab” facility is is attending has no medically or legitimately trained personnel; it is yet another extension of the same basic mind-warping / soul-killing / child-abusing IFB cult that both directly and indirectly made Josh Duggar what he is today!
Sending him to that facility
is like trying to conduct an
AA meeting at a bar
during happy hour.
They will do nothing to fix his problem, because they are the problem: Their grossly distorted, domineering, sexually deviant, soul crippling theology that attracts the spiritually and intellectually fearful.
It would be bad enough if their toxic nonsense was just confined to their own group, but that’s not the case: They crowd themselves in front of microphones and cameras, determined to shout down all attempts to try and present the genuine gospel of Christ at work.
They are modern day Pharisees, concocting an ever widening network of laws and rules and regulations and rituals and practices that are guaranteed to make worse the lives of anyone who tries to follow them.
They are precisely what Christ championed against in his brief ministry on earth.
And it’s not just the IFB;
they’re merely the particular flavor
of the Duggar clan sickness.
People are leaving Christianity, and they’re leaving it because we are letting the moral imbeciles and the con men and the slickee boiz get away with their crimes and perversions.
The Duggars, at least Jim-Bob and Michelle, are not victims but perpetrators. He’s a hack politician who couldn’t even please the undemanding electorate of Arkansas. She’s his enabler. Together they milk the system to enrich themselves without regard to any havoc they wreak.
Wanna see the Duggar true colors?
After their “we’re a wonderful family and you’re not” show was canceled (because they hid the fact their son had molested his kid sisters while they were away pressing political flesh), they tried to crawl back on TV by pitching a show where they would “counsel” victims of sexual abuse.
This after Jim-Bob blithely asserted child molesting by older teen sons goes on all the time in fundamentalist families.
Good lord — these people have no shame!*
Do not try to protect these people. They cannot be forgiven and loved until they stop harming others, and by that I mean shutting the fnck up and getting out of the public conscious and acknowledging the system they embrace causes far more problems than it purportedly solves.
You wanna love and forgive ‘em, fine; just don’t let them keep spewing their nonsense out to the world at large.
* I don’t, either, but then I’m quick to point that out to people. They don’t; in fact, they hide behind a false mask of pious humility.