Category Archive: Film, TV & Theater

Jul 26

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesThis weekend, I decided to take my father out to the movies. It is part of my effort to have some kind of life outside of work (an issue I’ve struggled with throughout my life). And at the cheap theater they were showing Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. I mistook it, however — thinking they were just showing an old film, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. I was pleased to find that I was wrong. This pleasure did not last long.

Dead Men Tell No Tales is certainly the worst of the Pirates of the Caribbean series. But before you listen to me, you should consider that I believe On Stranger Tides was the strongest of the films. The reason for this is simply that the Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) character is the heart and soul of the franchise. On Stranger Tides is the only film that is focused on him. What’s more, the film is wonderfully absent Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley). Dead Men Tell No Tales is not.

A Romance We Didn’t Want

As much as I didn’t care for the Turner-Swann romance, it was fine compared to a romance involving their son. Here we have Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) meeting his love interest Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario). Henry has no real personality to speak of, whereas Carina is a stock character: the science woman. But given that they are in the Pirates of the Caribbean universe where ghosts (and anything else the screenwriters find helpful) are very real, Carina’s commitment to Galileo Galilei and the scientific method are of little use and, ultimately, interest.

This romance is the heart of the film. So we are back to The Curse of the Black Pearl, but without characters that are even vaguely as interesting. What’s more, Carina turns out to be Barbossa’s daughter, turning a wonderfully complex and unpredictable character into a fawning “good father” who sacrifices his life to save her.

Fake Barbossa

Is it just me, or does Barbossa seem utterly fake when he smiles? Geoffrey Rush is a great actor, but all his skills don’t seem to be able to overcome such an uncharacteristic change in the character. It was hard to watch. This reached a peak with his sacrifice. I suppose since Barbossa had already gotten a good death in the first film, this second one didn’t need to be good. But it was cringe-inducing — probably the hardest scene to watch in the whole series.

Jack Sparrow

The plot that directly involves Jack Sparrow is only marginally better. He seems to be in the film only to push the plot forward. This is especially true when he trades his compass for a drink. Given how important the compass is throughout the other films, this strikes me as outrageous, even for Jack. But apparently the writers couldn’t come up with any other way to get the primary villain involved in the action.

The villain is Captain Salazar, who gets surprisingly little to do throughout the film. When he does become a major element of the film, it is in the form of Henry Turner (a waste of actor Javier Bardem). And then, he acts like a typical stupid film bad guy. Once the curse is lifted and he gets his life back, he doesn’t try to save himself. Instead, he continues with his vendetta against Sparrow. And this leads to exactly what we expect.

More and Worse Ahead

At the end of the credits of each Pirates of the Caribbean film, there is a short scene — a postscript. In general, it is meaningless. For example, in the first film, the monkey goes back to the chest and takes a coin out of it — becoming undead again. Yet the monkey showed up normally in this film without having ever returned the coin (at least according to the films).

But in Dead Men Tell No Tales, the post-credit scene seems to point toward a sixth film in the series. In it, Davy Jones is about to attack Will and Elizabeth as they sleep. But then Will wakes up, showing that it was all a dream, except that there are barnacles on the floor. Not exactly inspiring material for another go at this.

The whole franchise has really overstayed its welcome. Almost everything we saw in this latest offering had been in previous films. The thought of Will and Elizabeth on the run against Davy Jones sounds quite a lot like At World’s End. But I guess as long as these things continue to make money, Disney will continue to grind them out.

Afterword: Post-Credits Scenes

Overall, I like post-credits scenes. They are a nice kind of Easter egg for the film geeks around. But I think that Dead Men Tell No Tales broke a convention in its post-credits scene. Since there were no credits at the beginning of the film, the opening credits were put right after the end of the film. After they were done, the normal end credits scrolled up the screen.

A convention has been developed over the years that if you do such a thing, any post-credits scene will go after the first credits and before the scrolled credits. Dead Men Tell No Tales did not do this. As a result, everyone but my father and me exited the theater after the first set of credits. Badly played on the filmmakers’ part.

None of this would be a problem if it weren’t from the ridiculous 5 or more minutes of credits we are now forced to sit through. Although film is a collaborative art form, I don’t think this use of credits helps to make this clear. Instead, it tends to relegate someone who does make an artistic contribution to the final product (eg, an assistant editor) to the same position as one who doesn’t (eg, a caterer).

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/07/26/dead-men-tell-no-tales/

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Jul 22

The Out-of-Towners: Review and Analysis

The Out-of-TownersLast night, I watched Neil Simon’s 1970 hit The Out-of-Towners, starring Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis. I had only the vaguest memory of seeing it when I was 6 years old. Strangely, I have a fairly clear memory of finding it very funny at that time. So it seemed like a good choice.

The Out-of-Towners Summary

The film is funny. It tells the story of George Kellerman and his wife Gwen. They are going to New York, where George is going to be interviewed for his dream job, which will move them from their quiet lives in Ohio with two young children to an exciting life in the big city. But things go wrong almost from the start.

Their flight is forced to land in Boston. Then, with some effort, they manage to get a train into New York. But once there, they can’t get a taxi, because there is a strike going on. So they walk to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where they find that their room has been given away. And so on. Somehow, George manages to make it to his interview and lands the job. But he decides not to take it; both he and Gwen have decided that they are happy with their lives in Ohio.

Writing and Rendering

I’ve never been a big Neil Simon fan. That’s not to say that I disliked his work. As I said, I liked this film when I was a kid. And I loved the film Murder by Death when I was younger. Today, I enjoy its companion film The Cheap Detective. But overall, Simon is just a dialog writer. And he’s pretty stylized. I really have to be in the mood.

Sexism

A bigger issue is that most of his stuff is dated. And The Out-of-Towners certainly suffers from this. It’s kind of hard to imagine that people like this really existed. The sexism of George is really amazing. On the plane, both at the beginning and end of the film, we find Gwen pleading to be allowed a cup of coffee.

But on a deeper level, Gwen is a very strong character. How it is she puts up with George’s behavior is anyone’s guess — especially at the end of the film. But both of the characters are pretty typical of the insular world of Neil Simon.

Class

Throughout The Out-of-Towners, George collects a list of everyone who he believes has harmed him. He is going to launch a major lawsuit if he manages to survive the night. But the truth is that almost everyone in the film is actually nice to the couple. For example, the guy managing lost luggage does everything he can, but their luggage is in Ohio. There’s nothing more he can do than he already has.

This is a recurring theme throughout the film. And the truth is that the film would only be about a half hour long if George weren’t so difficult. They could have just stayed at the Waldorf-Astoria lobby until 7:00 am, when it would have had a room for the couple (and the luggage would have been delivered at 8:00 am). But George insists upon acting like a child.

There is a nice moment in the film when George arrives at his interview on time and the person he’s meeting with says he’s amazed — that with the strike and the weather, he didn’t figure George would have been there. So all of George’s anxiety and histrionics was for nothing.

Acting

The performances by Lemmon and Dennis are outstanding. And it really made me wonder about the script for this. Obviously, by 1970, Neil Simon was a star. Otherwise, I doubt the script would have been shot. I can only imagine that the dialog lays there on the page. There is very little that is really funny all by itself, but the stars and the impressive supporting cast make it shine.

Directing

The Out-of-Towners was directed by Arthur Hiller, who just so happened to direct probably my favorite comedy ever, The In-Laws. He shot this film in a cinéma vérité style. This adds enormously the feeling of anxiety in the film, and ultimately to its comedic impact.

Music

The score for the film, by Quincy Jones, is unusual. Its only real flaw is in being too good — too interesting. It is rare that the music in a film becomes so compelling that it takes me out of the film. But that happened once here. Just the same, Jones’ use of extreme dissonance also adds to the whole feeling of dread in The Out-of-Towners, which is so import to it.

Summary

Overall, The Out-of-Towners is one of the best things that Neil Simon ever wrote. I may be under-appreciating what he created on the page. Regardless, Arther Hiller and the rest of the gang that worked on it clearly understood what he was going for. At the time of its release, it stood as an excellent example of cutting edge comedy. Today, the edge is worn. But it still works remarkably well.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/07/22/out-of-towners/

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Jun 06

The Raven Is Wrong About the Word Vegetarian

The Raven / Comedy of Terrors - The Raven Is Wrong About the Word Vegetarian1963 was a big year for Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff as a team. Of particular interest is that all three of them starred in two of my favorite horror comedies: The Comedy of Terrors and The Raven. Both were also written by one of the greatest horror writers of his generation, Richard Matheson. Recently, I’ve been watching The Raven a lot. And doing that tends to cause one to start noticing really minor things.

There is a very funny moment in The Raven. Peter Lorre shows up in the form of a raven and wants Price to turn him back into his normal form. But Price doesn’t do that old fashioned kind of magic. He’s able to do magic with hand gestures not the kind of stuff the three witches did in Macbeth.

The Vegetarian Joke

Lorre asks if Price has various things like dried bat’s blood. Then he says, “How about some chain links from a gallow’s burg? Jellied spiders, rabbit’s blood, dead man’s hair?” And Price responds, “No, we don’t keep those things in this house. We’re vegetarians.” It’s a wonderful 1963 reference. The comedy comes from the fact that the film does not take place in 1963.

We know that Price’s father died roughly 20 years earlier. And later we see his coffin, which reads, “Roderick Craven: 1423 – 1486.” So we know that the film takes place around 1506. Maybe it’s a little later — 1509, but certainly not as late as 1516.

The Etymology of Vegitarian

The whole thing got me thinking because I know that the very idea of vegetarianism is quite new. Being a vegetarian is an indication that your food supply is quite stable. Certainly different species of animal have preferences for different foods. But humans are the only ones who get to pick and choose.

Until quite recently, we were the same as other animals: we were lucky to get food to eat at all. So we didn’t make philosophical decisions like vegetarians do that we won’t each animals. In fact, that’s why even most animals that we think of as carnivores and vegetarians are actually omnivores, unless they simply don’t have the ability to digest vegetables or animals. If you’re hungry enough, you’ll manage to eat anything.

So I went to the dictionary to find out when “vegetarians” made it into our language. After all, the term does not have to only apply to to humans. We know that cows, for example, are vegetarians. I believe all snakes are carnivores — at least the ones where I live.

Vegetarian Is a Young Word

But it turns out that “vegetarian” is quite a recent word. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the first known use of the word is 1839 — just a little bit more than a century before “vegan.” So The Raven is off by at least 323 years!

I’m not blaming the film. Stupid indeed is the person who trying to learn word etymology from old horror films. That’s especially true when the film at hand is using the word for a joke. The idea of a 16th century sorcerer being a vegetarian is pretty funny.

Two Good Vincent Price and Peter Lorre Films

But since we are on the subject, you really should watch the film. It’s a lot of fun. I always like films where Vincent Price plays a good guy. And this is yet another film where poor old Price is cuckolded by an evil woman.

On the other hand, check out The Comedy of Terrors if you want to see a film where he is just horrible to his wife and Peter Lorre is the sweetest man in the world. And you can get both films together on a single DVD.

There’s something very special about comedy-horror as a genre. The truth is that horror is a very silly genre of film. So it combines well with comedy — as long as you aren’t looking for grammar lessons!

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/06/06/raven-vegetarian/

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May 28

Daryl Is Dead

Daryl: The Magician's MagicianWhen I was a kid, I was very interested in magic. In fact, it is that interest that I credit for getting me interested in reading. But I remember when I was 13 years old, I went to my first magicians convention and one of the stars of the event was Daryl Martinez[1] — in his early 20s, he was a rising star in the field. I just found out that he killed himself on 24 February of this year — right before he was supposed to appear at the Magic Castle. He was just 61 years old.

(Before I go on, you should know that there has been some misreporting that his death was an accident. There was also a lot of reporting that he was only in his underwear — a assume implying that it was a matter of autoerotic asphyxiation. But no. He was fully clothed and intentionally killed himself by hanging.)

I saw Daryl a couple of more times. I attended a lecture he did for his first book Secrets of a Puerto Rican Gambler. I remember that he was signing the books “To a TNT man.” When I had him sign my book, he asked if I was a TNT man. I told him I didn’t know, so he wrote in mine, “To a future TNT man.”

Over the years, I corresponded a bit with him and his wife (who is a magician too). They were both very nice. And that’s saying something, because my experience in the world of magic is that most people are not very nice. See what I’ve written about Harry Lorayne and Ed Marlo as well as Michael Close.

Why Did Daryl Kill Himself?

So Daryl’s death means something to me. And from what I read, there was no indication of it. He had no health problems. He really was the happy guy that he played on stage. He hadn’t fallen into a depression. His suicide seems to have come out of nowhere.

Was Daryl Having Financial Problems?

I have a few thoughts regarding this. One is that Daryl might have been suffering from financial problems. People think of performers as rich. But that’s not true. Performance art has the same kind of income inequality that our society does. Robert Downey Jr might get paid $20 million for a film, but other actors who are in the film as much as he might make $100,000. An important character who isn’t on screen much might make as little as $3,000.

In magic, it’s the same — especially for a guy like Daryl. He didn’t perform a big show in Las Vegas. I believe most of his money came from the books he wrote and the videos he created. The lecture that I attended was $3.00 as I recall. There were maybe 15 people at the lecture and he sold 10 books at $8.00 each.

Selling DVDs

The last time I remember writing to him was about seeing volume 7 of his 8-volume DVD collect Daryl’s Encyclopedia of Card Sleights was on YouTube. I noted that maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing because I was so impressed that I bought the whole collection. He said he had given up chasing after people doing that kind of thing. But in passing, he said he regretted that I hadn’t purchased it from him. (Any writer will tell you that they make a whole lot more selling their own books than they do from the royalties. I’m sure the same is true of the videos.)

I looked on his site, but the truth is that his website was badly organized and I didn’t find the whole thing as a set. I felt really bad about it, although that clearly wasn’t Daryl’s intent. But more than feeling bad that I had screwed him out of a hundred bucks, I felt bad that it was even an issue for him. Here was one of the top sleight of hand artists in the world and he was counting pennies.

I don’t think that Daryl was poor, but he a lot closer to it than rich. And that’s sad. I’d noticed over the last couple of years him being involved in some money making ventures. They weren’t sleazy. But they also weren’t what a man of his brilliance and experience should have been doing.

Getting What You Want

For some time, I was playing around with writing a book about people who more or less come out of the womb knowing what they want to do with their lives. I’ve always been fascinated by these people because I’m the opposite. I’m interested in everything and I haven’t changed despite many decades. But Daryl was one of the people I wanted to interview for the book, because magic had been his passion since he was 7 years old.

And now I wonder about that. Daryl was 61 years old. He’d certainly accomplished everything he ever could have wanted in a professional sense. What more was there for him to do? I wonder if having one great passion isn’t something of a curse. I’ve always envied people like Daryl. But maybe I had it all wrong.

Think about it. He didn’t kill himself at home. He killed himself right before a performance. He was dressed for the show. Could there be a clearer indication that his chosen profession was not fulfilling him?

Everyone’s Secret Pain

There is also the possibility that Daryl was depressed. No one knows the secret pain of others. I am the last person to blame him for taking his life because life is hard. And I don’t know what anyone is going through — other than myself. But I know that that is hard. There are days when I really don’t know why I go on. And maybe on that day, Daryl came to the conclusion that there really was no reason.

Missing Daryl

What meaning there is to life is how we make life better for others. That can take the form of helping people to die like Mother Teresa or teaching magic geeks how to do a cutting display in the middle of a triumph routine. It’s sad that Daryl is gone now, but his life was not in vain.

It is interesting that the last few months, I’ve been thinking of buying his Daryl’s Expert Rope Magic Made Easy DVD series. Although I do love card magic, my very small hands have always gotten in my way. And I’ve never really done much with rope, even though I’m very aware of how extensive and fascinating a field it is.

Here is Daryl doing one of his versions of a classic:


[1] Just as I was born Frank Morris and later found out that my real last name was Moraes, Daryl later learned that his real family name was Eastman. When I first contacted him as an adult, I referred to him as “Mr Martinez. He responded asking that I call him Daryl and certainly never to call him “mister.” Like I said, he was a nice guy.

As a performer, he went simply by “Daryl” — and often “Daryl: The Magician’s Magician.” That second moniker is not wrong. Daryl was loved by magicians because he was a great innovator — I think the greatest of his generation.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/05/28/daryl-is-dead/

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May 18

Nobody Knows A Big Bang Theory Fan They Actually Like

The Big Bang TheoryThey say “fricking” instead of actually swearing. They probably have ketchup with every meal. Two Big Bang Theory fans I know genuinely own shoes which fasten with velcro. The word “basic” is a bit of a cruel insult to throw around willy-nilly — we can’t all listen to Mac DeMarco while munching gourmet scotch eggs — but they do tend to be united by a complete lack of imagination and cultural adventurousness.

It’s not just the fact that liking Big Bang Theory indicates a total lack of taste, it’s the vague sense that they feel that liking it is a big shiny gold badge of honor which indicates that they’re intellectually superior to fans of other sitcoms. As we’ve already established, The Big Bang Theory is not a clever program. It’s that middle of the road that if you swapped their references to Star Wars and astrophysics for references to forests and body hair you could be watching Harry & the Hendersons.

If you want intellectual jokes, go and watch Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead or something. You’ll not find them on Big Bang Theory, so drop the cleverer-than-thou attitude guys.

–Tom Nicholson
11 Reasons The Big Bang Theory Is the Worst Thing on TV

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/05/18/big-bang-theory/

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May 15

Why Zorro Is the Superhero of Liberals

Zorro - The Curse of CapistranoThe last couple of nights, I’ve watched the 1975 Zorro starring Alain Delon and Stanley Baker. Regular readers can perhaps guess how I came upon the film, given that Stanley Baker was the star and co-producer of Zulu — a film much on my mind of late. Zorro was one of Baker’s last films before dying at the young age of 48 due to lung cancer. In Zorro, he plays the bad guy. And French actor Alain Delon has the pleasure of playing two roles: the dashing Zorro and his simpering alter ego Diego de la Vega, the governor of Nueva Aragón. But I’ll write about the film over on Psychotronic Review. Here I want to talk about the politics of the film.

The truth is that it’s hard not to talk about the politics of Zorro. The character and the stories that relate to him are political in nature. Part of that is because they are set in a particular time and place. And the fact that they don’t take place in the US allows them to be more honest about class. Even today, it’s hard to get most Americans to discuss class. And Zorro is all about class.

Zorro vs Lone Ranger

The closest superhero to Zorro is The Lone Ranger. But note that in the latter’s case, his villains tend to be standard outlaws. Zorro, on the other hand, is a class traitor. He is a man determined to protect the lower class from the greed of his own ruling class. But more than that, the stories usually involve the poor and how they can be a force for their own salvation. They needn’t depend upon one iconoclastic rich man to save them.

There is a big difference between the leader who says “Follow me because together we are strong” and the leader who says “Follow me because I am strong.”

Of course, this isn’t surprising. Zorro first appeared in a pulp series The Curse of Capistrano in 1919. And it was an attack on the Mexican aristocracy. It was written by Johnston McCulley — a very white man with a very white name. So Zorro was not the creation of self-criticism any more than True Lies was. (Note: I’m not comparing Zorro to that ghastly bit of American propaganda.)

Fascism of Superheroes

But the biggest problem with the superhero genre is that it is fascist in nature. It tells ordinary men and women that they are powerless and that they must bow down to their betters. It is no coincidence that the most famous superhero, Superman, is the literal translation of Nietzsche’s Übermensch.

There is a big difference between the leader who says “Follow me because together we are strong” and the leader who says “Follow me because I am strong.” And certainly, there are some fascistic elements to Zorro, but he’s the least objectionable well-known superhero. And that’s why he’s the superhero who liberals can support.

Collective Action

What Americans — perhaps more than any modern people — need to understand is that our strength lies in our ability to work together. We see this in every presidential election that we have. Look back at 2008 where we elected Obama and then sat back and waited for Obama to save us. This is not only a criticism of all of us. It’s also a criticism of Obama himself, because he certainly showed no interest in keeping his base pushing for liberal change (perhaps because Obama wasn’t very interested in liberal change).

Maybe it would have been different if Hillary Clinton had become president because she’s a woman. I truly don’t know, because her campaign was largely about her resume. I understand that with a resume such as hers, it’s hard not to make it your calling card. Regardless, we’ll never know. Instead of finding out, we elected a man who considers himself the Übermensch rather than the immature trust-fund child that he is.

Regardless, if there is a liberal would-be novelist out there, they might try their hand at a take on Zorro — one that downplays the sword and the whip even more and makes him above all an organizer and inspiration of fellow humans. Because it’s all there in the character. Not a lot of work would need to be done on the character. Sadly, a lot of work has to be done on ourselves to organize and inspire our way to a more liberal nation.

Afterword

Recently, I saw a bit of Real Time With Bill Maher. There’s so much that annoys me about Maher that I avoid him these days. But he still has his moments. And he made a joke to the effect that had Hillary Clinton become president, she would have been a first: the first president who didn’t play golf. I really liked that. Because I despise the game of golf. It is a game that seems to be popular because of its implicit classism. I really think that playing golf should be disqualifying for being president. Note that Bernie Sanders didn’t play golf. So neither of the two major Democratic presidential nominees played golf. That says something. It also says something that we elected a man who didn’t just play golf but who owned golf courses. Is it any wonder that we’re in so much trouble right now.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/05/15/zorro/

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May 13

No, Zulu and Rocky Aren’t Racist; We Are

No, Zulu and Rocky Aren't Racist; We AreReddit has a series called “Today I Learned” (TIL). Frankly Curious articles have ended up in there before, but usually in a good way. Yesterday, someone posted, TIL Rocky and Zulu Are Racist Because the Villains Are Black. Oh, my! You can tell from the title that it’s pathetic. It is in reference to my article a week and a half ago, Zulu and the Racism We Bring to It.

Notice just how the two titles compare. On reddit, it is claimed that Zulu is racist because the villains are black. And on Frankly Curious I talk about the racism we bring to the film. I always wonder about these things. Are those who post such things just terrible readers? Or perhaps am I such a terrible writer, that they just can’t understand what I’m talking about? I tend to think neither. I think such people simply bring their pre-judgments to the article.

I’m a Fan of Zulu and Rocky

I was very clear that I like both movies very much. What’s more, I say that the movies are not racist. Rather, it is our racism that gets in the way of what is objectively on the screen. In fact, I said that as our society becomes less racist, the films will automatically be fixed, because it is not the fault of the film. The title of my article was very accurate: the racism we bring, not the racism in the films.

I can only stand to read so much of such comments, but I didn’t find any that defended me. It is mostly just the same thing over and over: how stupid I was. Of course, they just show themselves to be what they claim for me. For example, I wrote, “A South African filmmaker who wanted to do the same thing would doubtless tell the story of the Battle of Isandlwana (the one right before the events shown in the film).” One of the commenters responded, “Yeah, they did. It was called Zulu Dawn and was made as a prequel to Zulu.”

In this case, maybe it is just a question of read comprehension. I’m well aware of Zulu Dawn. There’s just one problem with it: it was not made by a South African filmmaker. It was based on Cy Endfield book. Endfield was the writer-director of Zulu. And Zulu Dawn was very much a British production. (It’s also not really a war film. There is almost none of the battle in the film.)

The Films Aren’t Racist

But it all goes to show that these people did not understand what I was getting at. I was talking about ethnocentrism and that it was natural for the British to make a movie about the battle that they won, not the battle that they lost. But let me quote the first sentence in that paragraph:

It is because of this that the film isn’t racist.

But the people reading it are so determined to find something to whine about. Oh, the poor white man! Here I am beating up on him — saying that Zulu is a racist film (even though I explicitly said the opposite) because the “bad guys” are black.

It’s About Perspective Not Villains

It’s also that I wasn’t making a case about villains at all. I was talking about whose perspective the films were told from. Stuff like this just makes me want to give up writing. There seems to be no point to it because people are so determined to hear what they want. And now I can be another example of the foolish liberal who wants to make everything about race and says that you can’t have a “bad guy” who’s black without a film being racist.

Of course, reddit it a thick forest of ignorance and stupidity.

Afterword

I run into this all the time in my life. People want to tell me about some outrage, “Can you believe that blah, blah, blah.” But in every case, I go and look into the matter and find that they have a very one-sided version of things. In fact, things are much more complicated. And when you know both sides of the story, the outrage factor tends to go away — except when it comes to the Republican Party doing what they’re always very clear about doing: taking from the poor and weak and giving it to the rich and powerful. But people don’t rush to me to tell me about Trumpcare the way they do things like Barbara Lee not voting for war with Afghanistan.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/05/13/zulu-rocky-racist/

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Apr 29

Chaos Theory as it Relates to Rick and Morty

Fractal - Chaos TheoryIt’s weird, but the television show Rick and Morty has given me many ideas for articles. There’s just so much to it. A show like Bob’s Burgers is really all about the characters. But Rick and Morty brings up so many bizarre ideas that I have a hard time not getting lost in them. Most recently, I was thinking of the infinite timelines. This is what explains the Council of Ricks and Jerryboree — the daycare center for Jerrys. Of course, it’s all absurd.

To begin with, if there are infinite timelines, why are there only three thousand Ricks on the Council of Ricks? Well, I do have what might sound like a reasonable explanation: out of the infinite timelines, there are only so many that just happened to have Ricks. This doesn’t work, of course. If there are an infinite number of timelines, there would be an infinite number of timelines with Rick. Infinity is that way. But that doesn’t bother me all that much. What does bother me is this: Rick, Morty, Summer, Beth, Jerry.

Chaos Theory

The issue is this: chaos theory. When I was in my 20s, chaos theory was the thing — even non-nerds were into it. I wasn’t, of course. And that’s because it’s actually a really simple thing. (Research on it, is another matter; but that’s beyond pretty much all but specialists.) It’s just about non-linear systems. Let me explain.

Imagine you are pushing a cart down the road at a fairly constant rate and I’m making measurements of it to figure out how far you’ve gone. That’s a linear system. If I make a small mistake in the measurement of your speed, it will cause me to be wrong in calculating the distance you’ve traveled. But the error will be proportional to the error I made in your speed.

Non-Linear Systems

Rick and MortyNow imagine that you are tripling your speed every ten seconds. Then a small error in my speed measurements will lead to a huge error in the distance traveled. In this case, the error will be squared for reasons that I’d love to explain to you, but don’t have the time (nor, admit it, do you the the interest — a fact I know from experience).

Non-linear systems can be highly non-linear, however. To (inappropriately) use the cart example, you could have a situation where a single small error would cause your final answer to be off by a factor of millions. And that’s what chaos theory is all about. And we have an example of that: the weather, which is where this all started. If you want to know more, learn about Edward Lorenz.

Chaos Theory and Time

Think about time. But first, let’s quote Robert Marley from John Dies at the End, “Time is an ocean, not a garden hose.” We have to forget that, even though I think it’s more or less correct. Imagine time as a garden hose — a line. How chaotic is it? Well, we certainly know it is nothing close to linear. Consider the following example:

A woman is going to buy a ticket for the state lottery. She uses the random system. On her way to the store to get it, a squirrel darts in front of her causing her to slow down and get to the store a couple of seconds later. That is the difference between her life going on as usual and her life completely changing because she won a half billion dollars.

That’s one example. So my belief is that time is the most chaotic system imaginable — indeed, infinitely chaotic — the ultimate example of chaos theory. And that brings us back to Rick and Morty. The best estimates are that our universe is 13.8 billion years old. Given that all of the universes in the show are roughly the same, they too must be that old. Time is just stuff happening: it’s a concept to explain why things change; this is why time doesn’t exist without matter. And 13.8 billion years is a lot of time.

A Long Time Coming: 13.8 Billion Years

Even if time were non-chaotic and changes had linear effects — if small changes would have small effects — that’s enough time that there just wouldn’t be multiple Ricks. But even if there were, how is it that they all marry the same woman who has a daughter named Beth, who goes on to marry a man named Jerry with whom she has two children named Morty and Summer.

Okay: infinity. If there are an infinite number of timelines, then literally every possible universe would exist. (It’s still odd that all of those universes start at the same time.) But if that’s the case, where are all the timelines that are exactly like the 3,000 that we know about except that Morty’s sister is named Winter?

I understand: Rick and Morty is just a television show — one I find quite entertaining. But I actually think that it is dangerous to think that time is not chaotic. Politically, it’s the same as believing in an activist God. It justifies kings because they are the result of fate rather than blind chance.

Who You Are Is the Result of Dumb Luck

The more we know about the world, the more we know that luck is everything. Were you born with a good body? Were you born to parents who raised you in a loving and intellectually stimulating environment? Did you inherit billions of dollars? Were you born in the San Francisco rather than Monrovia? Did a squirrel run in front of your car when you went to buy your lottery ticket?

I think that if people can see that their entire success in life is due to nothing but luck (and I cannot escape this conclusion myself), then we will build a more equitable society. Feudalism existed because people believed that God chose how people’s lives should be. Capitalism exists because people believe that the rich have earned what they have — at least to some extent.

Thomas Paine: Computer Program

Thomas PaineThomas Paine was a great rhetorician who was far ahead of his time in terms of social thinking. But that’s just because he was born with the perfect body and environment to make him Thomas Paine. He didn’t choose to be Thomas Paine. Now that’s not to say that we shouldn’t look up to him. The society should pay tribute to people who made the world better, because we want to create an environment that causes people to be better. Thomas Paine’s body born into 1950 Soviet Union would not be the Thomas Paine we all know and love.

But recognizing that Thomas Paine could no more be anything other than what he was than that a computer program can do anything other than what it was programmed to do allows us to see that having great material differences between people is immoral. Thomas Paine should not have had any more comfortable a life than the millions of African slaves that supported the southern colonies’ economies. We are nothing more (or less) than exactly what we have to be.

Immoral Society Based on False Premises

And these are the kinds of things that you can think about if you watch Rick and Morty. Time is the ultimate example of chaos theory. Luck is the only thing that determines who we are. There is no free will. Our unwillingness to see this provides intellectual cover for an immoral system — one that (if we are very lucky) future generations will look back on in horror, just as we look back at the burning of witches and the enslavement of humans.

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Apr 26

Creed: the Best Swan Song for the Rocky Franchise

Creed Would Be the Best Song Song for the Rocky FranchiseOver the weekend, I watched the 2015 hit Creed. This is not surprising. Since I saw the first Rocky in early 1977, I’ve been a fan of it. That first film remains a great cinematic accomplishment. Although utterly genre, John Avildsen’s direction makes the film seem almost cinéma vérité. It was the first film to make major use of the steadicam — but primarily for financial reasons. Thus, it adds to the film rather than distracting as it did in many films to follow, most notably Goodfellas. The acting was exceptional, and the script establish Sylvester Stallone as one of the best genre writers in Hollywood.

I was almost as happy with Rocky II. Although Stallone directed it, he did his best to imitate Avildsen. I remember going to see Rocky III on opening day and being crushed. It was clear at that point that any art in the Rocky franchise was gone and that it was now commodity. Rocky IV was an offense of epic proportions. Even without getting into the politics of it, the casting of Dolph Lundgren was rediculous. Rocky V is an odd film. It is Stallone’s weakest script, but it manages to succeed more than it deserves with the return of Avildsen as director. Finally, Rocky Balboa managed to charm, but the boxing was ancillary and even more unbelievable than usual.

Creed Is a Reboot

I just don’t think Creed could have been a hit four decades ago, which is all the more reason it makes a fine bookend to the Rocky franchise.

Creed is distinct in many ways. Primarily, it is a reboot — essentially a remake of the first film. It is the only one in the Rocky universe in which the title character does no boxing. Unlike all the other films that you could say were Stallone’s, this one is writer-director Ryan Coogler’s. (It was co-written with Aaron Covington.) And there is much to like about him. I think he has a fine career ahead of him. But Creed is hardly a great film, even though only the original Rocky is clearly superior.

The biggest problem with the film is that it tries to do far too much in what is, after all, a simple genre picture. The film is based on the same “give a nobody the chance of a lifetime” plot that the original was based on. I have no problem with that. But I’m not sure how a writer could create a story based on that kernel and then expect us to take seriously the chemotherapy treatments of the trainer. But more than that, this is a film that is cluttered with too many subplots and a lead character that doesn’t have much in the way of a personality.

Creed Washes Racist Tint of Original

Still, I’m very glad the film was made, because it makes up from what I always saw as a problem with the first film: its implicit racism. By this, I’m not talking about the film itself. Rather, I’m talking about what I discussed in Zulu and the Racism We Bring to It. I simply don’t think that Rocky would have been a hit had the races of the fighters been swapped. That’s just a fact of American life. Maybe its more accurate to say that the problem is ethnocentrism: whites want to see a white man win — especially in the mid-1970s — when whites in the US were still in their migration from the cities to the suburbs to escape the “horrors” of busing.

Creed does manage to reverse the races of the characters. And it does it effectively and affectingly. Just the same, Tony Bellew as the “bad” British boxer Ricky Conlan isn’t quite the threat that Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) was. Creed was a stand-in for the ultimate white terror: an intelligent and powerful black man. In fact, that’s one of the high points of the original movie where Creed is working on his various business dealings while we watch Rocky punching raw frozen beef on the television.

Let Creed Be the Franchise’s End

I find it impossible not to see Creed in political terms — and very positives ones at that. The first was a huge hit, and I just don’t think Creed could have been a hit four decades ago. And it makes a fine bookend to the Rocky franchise. Unfortunately, a sequel was in development and may become a film. I doubt that Coogler would be much involved, given he is finishing Black Panther and seems generally of a mind to make films of some substance.

My hope is that Creed is the end of the franchise. It is the way to go out. What would a sequel offer us anyway? It would almost certainly be a combination of Rocky II and Rocky III. Adonis Johnson (Michael B Jordan) would marry Bianca (Tessa Thompson). And Rocky would die — but probably much later in the film than Mickey (Burgess Meredith) did in Rocky III. And Creed would become the champion. I just can’t see it being anything but filmmaking by the numbers.

Creed would be the best swan song for this very uneven franchise. I dearly hope that it is.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/04/26/creed/

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Apr 23

The Short Life of Jill Banner

Jill BannerI don’t know how we found out about Jill Banner. Somebody must have told us about her. She just came into the office for an interview and I’m sure she wasn’t expecting to get any kind of a leading role. We just chatted with her and she admitted she hadn’t had any experience. But she said, “I’m a lot of fun to have around.” And the way she said that, all of us in the room suddenly felt that this strange girl was just right for the picture. She just had this kind of presence.

It wasn’t until not too many years ago I had been trying to locate Jill Banner. I had a phone number on her, and I had no idea that she had died. And I learned that she had died in a terrible, terrible automobile accident on the Pacific Coast Highway. She was at that time living with Marlon Brando and, in fact, working on a screenplay with him. And I also heard from Jill’s manager that Brando that told someone that Jill was the only woman he had ever really loved. At her funeral, he remained long after everybody else had left — standing over her grave. So it must have been quite a relationship. And she was quite a remarkable girl, so I could understand very much why Brando would be fascinated by her.

–Jack Hill
Interviewed in The Hatching of Spider Baby

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/04/23/jill-banner/

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Apr 18

Pychotronic Film’s Move to Television

Old TelevisionI created another page on Psychotronic Review for Kolchak: The Night Stalker. I’m sure that many of you remember when I wrote about the show here (that article is included on the new page). In that article, I talk about how I think that the show is ultimately what led me to be a writer. And even more than that, it affected how I behave.

I don’t work in corporate environments anymore. The main reason is that they won’t have me. It seems these days that after putting you through days of interviews with dozens of people, they decide to hire you. But first they must get a criminal background check on you, a credit check, a drug test, two juggling tests (balls and then clubs), a 5 minute stand-up routine at a local comedy club, and one to five pints of blood (depending upon the needs of upper management). I’ve never gotten club juggling down, sad to say.

I’m a Bad Boy

But the bigger issue is that I do act a lot like Carl Kolchak. And I don’t mean that in a good way. Oh sure, I have my depressive periods. And I’ve been fighting like hell with a major one over the last month. But if I’m in a good mood, I am the most arrogant person. But not without cause. It’s pretty cool that most of the people I work with now are both smart and creative. But in the corporate world, I could run circles around those people. And I don’t think I hid my own feelings to myself.

As I wrote of Kolchak: “his pluses just barely offset his minuses.” So I totally understand why employers often wanted to get rid of me and hated the fact that they needed me. It’s a bit of a rush, to be honest — to know that your employer wants to fire you but that their entire IT infrastructure would fall apart without you. As if I would ever let that happen! But it is fun to be someone’s mixed blessing.

Psychotronic Television

As I put up the page for Kolchak: The Night Stalker, it occurred to me that I was once again adding a page for a television show. Out of 16 pages, 3 of them are for television series. And actually, that makes a lot of sense. Because by the time of my generation, the B-film had gone away. I went to plenty of double features when I was young — but always at specialty theaters. First run films showed trailers and then the feature.

(Note: this always bothered me. It bothered me even more on VHS tapes, “And now our feature presentation.” No! Now your only presentation! I don’t consider ads for coming films a presentation. But a Looney Tunes cartoon and a short B-picture, sure. Then you get to say, “And now our feature presentation.” Otherwise, don’t try to con me.)

As a result, psychotronic film really went to television. That was even more true once cable came around and all these stations needed content. You all know Mystery Science Theater 3000. It never would have been a national thing had it not been that Comedy Central had just started and the idea of two hours of cheap programming was just too much to pass up on.

Star Trek

But think about it: the original Star Trek? That’s totally psychotronic! You doubt me? Watch:

Look at Roger Corman: he started in the movies but he moved increasingly to television. So none of this is too surprising. Of course, now producers have the best of both worlds. They can shoot feature films, get them distributed if they are lucky, otherwise release then on DVD, and license them to cable. A good example of that is District 13.

Anyway, that’s all I have to say other than that you should watch more psychotronic films and spend more time over at Psychotronic Review. But I know many of you are, and I appreciate that.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/04/18/psychotronic-television/

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Apr 16

The Soviet Union in 1960s Television – Unconscious Propaganda

Star Trek - The Soviet Union in 1960s Television - Unconscious PropagandaIn my page on Space: 1999 at Psychotronic Review, I wrote, “And the original Star Trek had its stupid Soviet Empire proxy in the Klingons — actually more pernicious propaganda than you got from the John Birch Society newsletter.” Lawrence defended the show, pointing out how liberal it was. And he’s right. But it wasn’t my intent to pick on Star Trek. For one thing it was hardly alone.

Hogan’s Heroes had Marya (played by the television Rosalind Russell, Nita Talbot), who was a Russian spy who perfectly encapsulated American’s strange reaction to the fact that the Evil Empire was our ally during World War II. First, she could never be trusted. In the end, she always turned out to be on the ally’s side, but her commitment was at best unclear. What’s more, she just stood around and let the Americans take care of everything. This was, and still largely is, the way that Americans see the war. The idea that in the simplest terms it was the Soviet Union more than anyone else who defeated the Germans and the Japanese is something most Americans have a very hard time dealing with.

There’s also The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show where Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale act as the perfect foil to our all-American heroes: evil for the sake of itself and incompetent. But note: I’m a big fan of both Hogan’s Heroes and The Rock and Bullwinkle Show. And I am rather fond of the original Star Trek — especially when it did comedy. So I’m not putting these shows down just because they fully embraced our country’s international propaganda. In the case of Hogan’s Heroes and The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, it was done in quite a charming way. And I certainly don’t think that any of the writers of these shows thought they were creating propaganda.

Unconscious Propaganda Is the Most Powerful

To my original claim, I do think that Star Trek was far more effective anti-Soviet propaganda than the John Birch newsletter.

But it is exactly because these shows didn’t know what they were doing that made them such powerful propaganda delivery devices. This is another issue of fish and water. If someone says that the Soviety Union is the Evil Empire, you can question the claim. But when such a belief is simply in the air — when no one even knows that they are making an assumption — that is when you are really in the danger zone. That is the sort of thing that causes the Cuban Missile Crisis.

(And speaking of the Cuban Missile Crisis: who won that confrontation? Certainly it was presented to Americans as a victory. But that’s not true. The US installed nuclear weapons in Turkey — a clear first-strike threat to the Soviet Union. In response, the Soviet Union installed nuclear weapons in Cuba. The Soviet Union got what it wanted: nuclear weapons out of Turkey and southern Italy. It was the US, not the USSR, that blinked.)

My point is that it is the unstated assumptions that are the most dangerous. Lawrence noted, “For when it was made Star Trek was about as liberal as you could get.” And that’s exactly the point. When the conservative assumptions go unnoticed, even the liberals spread them. And they do it even when they are specifically trying to be liberal.

The John Birch Society

So to my original claim, I do think that Star Trek was far more effective anti-Soviet propaganda than the John Birch newsletter. It’s not hard to read Birch material and see that they are true believers who have a faith-based take on the world. It’s hard to fight against the Klingons given that they don’t actually exist.

But note that in the first run of the show (Klingons have evolved as a people), Klingons weren’t very good characters. There was no depth to them. They were just bad. And accepting that the world worked that way in the 23rd century makes it all the more easy to accept that it works that way today.

The Chicken and the Egg

The Federation wanted to allow people choose for themselves but the Klingons wanted to force people to do as the Klingons said. It’s funny that this is literally exactly what the United States still says of itself; why we support so many despots is just one of those unknowables. Every war we get into, we do so reluctantly. It’s truly amazing how different we think we are from every other empire in history. The one way we are the same as every other empire in history is in thinking that we are different and only trying to do good.

Now I understand: there is a chicken-egg issue here. People accept the Klingons between they accept the Evil Empire mythology. But the truth is that the two feed each other. And this is why people should watch for the themes in movies other forms of entertainment. It is also why I’m not crazy when I talk about fascism in super hero movies.

Our entertain defines us. And I think we were doing far worse in our 1960s television shows than the Ancient Greeks were in their myths and stories. And that embarrassing.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/04/16/1960s-tv-propaganda/

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