Category Archive: Film, TV & Theater

Jan 19

Love Actually: One Review or Nine?

Love ActuallyMy brother Eric left all of his movie collection to me. This included an unopened DVD of “the ultimate romantic comedy,” Love Actually. Now, I’m not much of a romantic comedy fan. But it was written and directed by Richard Curtis. You know him: the man who co-wrote every episode of Blackadder? Less impressively, he wrote Four Weddings and a Funeral — but still a solid film. So I had been wanting to see the film for some time. And last weekend, visiting my sister seemed like the perfect opportunity because it’s the kind of thing she would like.

What a mess of a film! I’m sure the screenplay looked like a recipe for gumbo. You know: just keep adding stuff until its done. It must have seemed like a great idea. Romantic comedies are incredibly predictable. So why not just throw together nine romantic plots of varying styles and voilà: soup’s ready! There’s just one problem with this analogy: soups work this way because the different ingredients combine synergistically. These nine plots were related in the most tenuous way. Not one of them made another better — or even different.

Love Actually: The Good

None of this would have been a problem if all the stories — or even most of them — worked. But that isn’t the case. Of the nine, I thought two of them worked — and brilliantly so.

Christmas Is All Around Us

The first was a bromance between aging rock star Billy Mack and his manager Joe. Bill Nighy plays the Mack character for all its cynical old-man comedy potential. And comedian Gregor Fisher plays straight-man to Nighy, adding the pathos to the story that makes it work. The story goes along with my theory that if you scratch a cynic, you will find a blubbering fool who cries a number of time during the course of films like Love Actually. (Not that I have anyone in mind!)

The Body Doubles

The second — and best — story was about John and Judy, played pitch perfect by Martin Freeman and Joanna Page. They are professional body doubles — people who stand in for actors while the technical issues (lighting, framing, camera movement) are worked out. It’s hard and thankless work. But they are working on a sex scene. In addition to often being naked, they are in some hilariously obscene positions. All through it, they chat, very much as if they were having coffee. Eventually, John asks Judy out on a date, and they are wonderfully awkward. But John literally jumps for joy after getting a meaningful but not terribly passionate kiss from Judy.

Love Actually: The Bad

Some of the stories were just bad.

The American President — But Even Worse

Hugh Grant plays a wholly unbelievable prime minister who falls in love with a young woman on his household staff, played by Martine McCutcheon. It features yet another twitchy Good Guy™ performance by Grant, which no sane person would want to sit through. But worse, the implausibility of the story and the characters ruin it. However, I did like that it showed that some men do like women with a bit more meat on their bones, even if McCutcheon probably only wears a size 8 — max.

The Universal Language: Cliche

A similarly insipid yet unbelievable story featured Colin Firth as a writer and Sienna Guillory as a housekeeper who only speaks Portugese. Love blossoms in the way that 13-year-olds think it does. As a viewer, I can see how they might make a fine match. But I don’t see how either of them could possibly know it. But what the hell: Firth is British and Guillory is beautiful! What else does a bad film need?

The Boy Who Wasn’t Arrested

There is also a horrible story concerning recently widowed Liam Neeson and his pre-pubescent son who is in love. If this sentimental claptrap wasn’t bad enough, it all turns into an action adventure that made the “single prime minister searches the streets for the housekeeper love of his life” plot seem like Schindler’s List.

Two for Keira

Of course, there had to be the cinematic equivalent of Jessie’s Girl. In this case, the girl is Keira Knightley, looking about 15 (I think she was 17 while filming). The story is entirely predictable, although the denouement was clever and sweet.

Richard Curtis’ Porn Fantasy

But without a doubt, the worst story was that of Colin (Kris Marshall) who runs off to America because all British women rightly think he’s a creepy idiot. Once in America, he finds himself in a porn fantasy where he goes to stay with four beautiful women (played by four models) who “will be naked.” At first, I couldn’t believe it. I thought surely this was a set-up to steal his money or sell him sex. But no. Apparently, Richard Curtis knows that Americans are keen on European accents. We aren’t that keen. But okay, I get it: broad comedy. Unfortunately, tonally, it simply doesn’t work with any other part of the film. Also: where’s the comedy except for, “American women are stupid, ha ha!”

Love Actually: The Ugly

There were two stories that almost worked. They were both dramas.

The Brother Calls

The first featured Laura Linney, desperately in love with Rodrigo Santoro. But here’s the catch: he’s desperately in love with her too! The problem: Linney has a schizophrenic brother (Michael Fitzgerald) who is in a mental institution. Unlike any mental institution I can imagine existing, this one allows the patients to wander around with cell phones and call whoever they want whenever they want. So Linney is constantly interrupted in her brief attempt to have a romance. She ultimately chooses her brother, and I can’t decide whether it is noble or cowardly. It might make a good feature drama. Certainly Richard Curtis is not the man to right it, though.

The Necklace and Joni Mitchell

The other drama was about Harry (Alan Rickman) and Karen (Emma Thompson). He has a very sexually aggressive secretary, Mia (Heike Makatsch). You know the story. What makes it more interesting is that I don’t believe Rickman ever has an affair. But it shows that the pain is not because of the act, but because of the feelings. This story has some of the best scenes in the entire movie. If it weren’t for Harry being such a complete idiot, it would have worked better.

Image this. Your wife tells you that she knows you find your secretary attractive. She tells you explicitly, “Be careful.” And you have at least a hunch that she caught you buying a gold necklace. In that case, you either give her the necklace or you buy another one and give her that. You absolutely don’t buy her a Joni Mitchell CD in the exact same sized box.

Love Always Is a Christmas Movie!

The whole film takes place in the lead-up to Christmas. I can’t help but feel that I’m supposed to forgive the film its many sins against intelligence, human emotion, and art because of this. But I didn’t walk away from the film feeling good. My main thought was, “Oh my God! Laura Linney is spending Christmas with her violent schizophrenic brother!” On the plus side, I’d do that before I’d watch Love Actually again.

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Jan 17

Clark and Dawe — Great Satire From Australia

Clark and DaweJohn Clarke and Bryan Dawe are two, well, Australian comedians. It’s hard to peg them. For one thing, Clarke is actually from New Zealand, but I’m an American and so that’s close enough. Also, they do an awful lot of different work. I suspect that both of them think of themselves as writers more than anything. Also, they are somewhat unevenly matched, with Clarke being a bigger star than Dawe.

That’s probably why they generally haven’t been considered a comedy team. In fact, in as much as they are a comedy team, it is presented on John Clarke’s website, Clarke and Dawe Project.

Clark and Dawe Begin

But back in 1989, the two of them started performing mock interviews for the Australian television program A Current Affair. What’s wonderful about these is that they are very easy to mistake for a real interview. Indeed, on YouTube is a video clip, Australian Idiot Talks About Whale Death FUNNY. The person posting it wrote in the description, “Watch this Australian guy (who I think is running for some kind of elected office) talk about the death of a whale in an interview.” Now that might be a con, but there is no indication on his YouTube channel and it is posted as News & Politics, not Comedy.

And the truth is, it is easy enough to get confused. James sent me the following video, and it took me roughly 10 seconds to figure out that it was not serious. James was apparently looking for information about an oil spill on 21 July 1991 that occurred to the Kirki when it lost its bow. I assume this segment was done within a month of it, at most. Their work has always been topical.

They did interviews like this from 1989 to 1997, and then stopped.

On The 7.30 Report

Some time later (I’m not sure — I assume a few years), Clarke and Dawe returned on a different Australian current affairs program, The 7.30 Report. According to Wikipedia, they did this act pretty much once per week until 2012 (The 7.30 Report became simply 7.30 in 2011).

The following video is from the end of that period. It is clearly making fun of tabloid king Rupert Murdoch. But the story is about Australian model Lara Bingle. And the subtext is that the newspapers are running some kind of vague stories just so they can publish pictures of this young woman — most likely in a bikini.

But there is another side to it, that I relate to. A lot of the time there are big stories and they don’t seem to be about anything that anyone actually cares about.

I probably should explain the Shakespeare jokes there, but you can just look it up. Or just realize that Dawe is right — Polonius is definitely not in Romeo and Juliet. In fact, he isn’t even in much of Hamlet, but he does do a lot of talking while he’s still alive.

Their Very Own Show

In 2013, they got their own show, Clarke and Dawe. As you can see by the link, it still seems to be going. Over the years, they’ve broadened their act. For example, there are a number of segments that are kind of like game shows, European Debt Crisis. (Note: it’s funny, but they miss the biggest point about what what going on — and continues to — in the EU.)

Here is one of the last things they did at the end of last year, “Some Great Xmas Gift Ideas Here.” The part about the Australian superhero is hilarious. But the whole thing ends kind of darkly — brilliantly — but darkly.

You really should check out Clarke and Dawe. They are quite brilliant. I spent well over an hour watching these two-minute bits and never got tired of them.

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Jan 14

The Martian and the Point of Entertainment

The MartianI finally got around to seeing The Martian the other day. And in a sense, it is the perfect American entertainment. What The Odyssey was for the ancient Greeks, this film is for Americans: it tells them who they are supposed to be. The film is so filled with pluck that I really wanted to see Mark Watney (Matt Damon) die at the end.

But no. The Martian tells us all that there is no problem we can create that we can’t fix. (This is a terrible philosophy — and provably false.) So the film becomes kind of a “how to” documentary for surviving on Mars. This is made less tedious than it would be by Watney’s constant flippant chattering. And I’ve always found Damon kind of adorable. But really, there isn’t much here to like.

There is a constant drum beat of supposedly funny lines about Watney being stuck with only Disco music. I’m not really sure if, as a viewer, I was supposed to agree with him or not. It would have been better to pick a style of music that has not been widely mocked. At least in that case, we might learn something about who Watney is. But we don’t. Nor do we learn anything about any of the other characters. Really: the film is made up of positions, not characters.

I’ll give a nod Sean Bean — playing the mission director. He doesn’t have much of a part, but he has almost the entirety of the humanity in the film. He’s an exceptional actor who really doesn’t get as much due as he deserves. But who needs humanity when you can be an American!™? Really, rather than The Martian, the film should have been titled, The American.[1]

The Martian Is Just Another Disaster Film

The Martian got me thinking about the point of entertainment. Because I’ve seen this film so many times before. It’s just a disaster film. It is The Poseidon Adventure. But, you know, without actual human characters. It is The Towering Inferno. But, you know, without actual suspense. I’ll bet the vast majority of my readers (who skew older) haven’t seen either of those films. So why not just watch them? Why watch a guy on Mars grow potatoes using his own excrement as fertilizer?

That’s not a rhetorical question. We live in a world in which no one needs to suffer from hunger or homelessness. So after you get those issues taken care of, what is left but ways to find meaning in life and enjoying entertainment? Nothing really. But entertainment is a business. So films are not produced to entertain, but to make money. So Hollywood is going to put how how ever many films each year, even though almost none of them are categorically different from films we’ve seen before.

Newer Isn’t Necessarily Better

What’s more, these new versions are not necessarily better. For example, The Martian, in addition to being kind of boring, is all CGI. The film just looks mushy. Watney mentions gazing at the horizon every day just because he can. Yet there is not a single frame in the film that made me think, “Wow! That’s beautiful!” This is a big problem with modern blockbusters: they’re all pretty much Who Framed Roger Rabbit (that is, live actors on top of a cartoon).

A much better film that is similar, but categorically different is Moon. (See my review.) It should have been made. The Martian? I really can’t say. You will get the same exact experience from countless other films. So why make just another disaster film? I mean: besides making money.


I think the film could have been something much greater if Mark Watney had died at the end. Obviously, the entire script would need to be reworked. But it might have said something about pluck that I hadn’t heard before. Maybe pluck is it’s own reward? Watney will die eventually anyway. What if he had just held out as long as he could and all the world looked on helpless? It wouldn’t have to be a downer. Think of Shane.

The Martian as it stands ends with an annoying lecture by Watney where he says, “You solve one problem — and you solve the next one — and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home.” Yeah. But we already knew that. If you just happen to be a botanist stranded on Mars who knows far more about operational matters than I find credible, then there might be a sequence of steps that allow you to come home. But often times, there are no steps that lead home. And that’s simply a more interesting thing to think about — especially when you consider how completely implausible the ending of The Martian is.

[1] There is a film called The American, which stars George Clooney. It is a much more likable film. Or rather, it is a much more poetic film. I’ll have to revisit it.

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Jan 12

Bloody Mallory Review, Analysis, and Wow

Bloody MalloryShortly before 2002, a young Julien Magnat was fresh out of film school. His only claim to fame was an Academy Award nominated short, The All-New Adventures of Chastity Blade. But somehow, he got a bunch of serious and impressive people to help him make his first feature film, Bloody Mallory. It is one of the silliest films I’ve seen in a decade. And I do mean that as a compliment. If you don’t enjoy this film, I fear that you’re dead inside.

The Plot

The set-up in Bloody Mallory is that there is this paranormal team that runs around France killing ghouls, demons, vampires, whatever. They are made up of a psychic child who can transfer her consciousness into other people and animals (voiced by Thylda Barès and on screen by her and several other actors). There is a transgender woman (Jeffrey Ribier) who has two primary concerns: her gorgeous nails and killing demons (check out her pumps). There is also a man who dies at the beginning — kind of a Sam Spade characters. He is replaced later in the film by a more interesting man (Adrià Collado).

And then there is Bloody Mallory (Olivia Bonamy), who dresses like a sexpot, and kicks major butt. She got that way after marrying a demon who she ended up killing on their wedding night. I’ll come back to this shortly, because it’s actually what I want to talk about.

The recently elected pope has been kidnapped. The Catholic Church has no one to turn to but Mallory and company. And she isn’t really very keen on the job. Both she and the transvestite are pretty clear that they don’t agree with his stance on contraception. Nor, I should note, are the French people who come to see the pope speak before he’s kidnapped. But Mallory takes the case because she thinks it is involved with the attack that took out her Sam Spade guy. The rest is just plot, including a reversal that I didn’t see coming, probably because I was having so much fun watching the film.

Bloody Mallory Has Something to Say

But what really elevates this film from the simple romp that it would be (which I would still highly recommend) is the relationship between Mallory and her dead demon husband, played by Julien Boisselier. (He’s unnamed — the credits just say, “Avec dans le rôle du mari”: in the role of the husband.) Because she killed him when he was in the form of a human, he is forced to roam Limbo. Because of Chapter 37 of the Necronomicon, he’s forced to come to her when she calls. But according to Chapter 37, Section D, he is only required to answer one question. Very legalistic those demons!

But he comes around at other times, because the two of them are clearly still in love. It’s like Romeo and Juliet. She’s a Capulet (Catholic) and he’s a Montague (Demon). But really: love conquers all — even if you have to hack your husband to death with an ax. It’s really quite sweet. I rarely like romantic subplots in movies, but I loved this one.

Good and Evil

Still, there is a deeper level that it works on. By marrying a demon, her blood was contaminated. So she isn’t completely Good. But she has fought since her wedding night against the Evil that lives within her. And at the peak of the film, she is forced to literally fight with her Good and Evil sides. She wins, of course. And there’s even a vague kind of reconciliation of Mallory and her husband at the end. You know the Vera Lynn song:

But think about this. Bloody Mallory, this bubble gum movie made to delight the 5-year-old in you, is saying that both Good and Evil are wrong. Thematically, the film is rabidly anti-Christian because it says, “To hell with Original Sin!” It also implies that heaven and hell are just two places to hang out. If David Byrne is right and heaven is a place where nothing happens, then hell is too — it just has more bikers in it.

A Fun Romp With a Moral Lesson

I love this idea, because the main practical effect of the Abrahamic religions is to make humans feel bad about the fact that they are humans. Bloody Mallory pushes a distinctly eastern idea of wholeness: yin and yang in the Abrahamic context. It isn’t heavy-handed. How could it be? This is, as I noted, one of the silliest films I’ve seen in a decade. But you’ll learn more about morality from it than from a typical Sunday sermon.

Get Bloody Mallory. It’s a wonderful film. Just don’t watch it expecting Schindler’s List — also a wonderful film, but quite a different experience.


The DVD comes with an English track. I appreciate that. But unlike the Italians, the French have never taken dubbing seriously. And the voice acting in English is decidedly worse than the original French acting. In addition, the dubbed dialog is often decidedly worse than the subtitles. So sad as it is for me to say, you really should watch the French version with subtitles.

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Jan 11

Review of Death Bed: The Bed That Eats

Death Bed: The Bed That EatsI finally saw, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats. Long time readers may think that I’ve lost my mind. Didn’t I write Death Bed: the Bed that Eats almost four years ago?! But that was based on the only copy I could find at the time: the DoktorSick version that was edited to make the film look as silly as possible. At that time, I noted, “Death Bed is a cross between art, horror, and fetish films.” That’s still largely true. But I missed that it is at core a comedy.

This makes Patton Oswalt’s stand-up routine about the film all the more pathetic. The film establishes itself as a comedy at the very beginning. The bed eats an apple and then returns it to the top of the bed with the core intact. Many similar sight gags follow. The film gets a bit bogged down at the end of the second act and part of the third act. I assume this is because the writer-director, George Barry, felt the need to make it a feature film, instead of the hour-long film it really should be cut to.

Death Bed Is Great to Look At

What’s most remarkable about Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is just how visually stunning it is. The camera work is great. The lighting is superior to the vast majority of low-budget student films. And the variety of images is far greater than anything I can think of outside of maybe Kundun. It would make a great stoner film at very least.

But there is much else to like about the film. The acting, for example, is really quite good — especially for a student film.

Is it a Bad Movie?

I understand why people laugh at the film. The story is hard to follow and so requires constant narration of an artist who has been consigned to eternity inside what I assume is one of his own paintings. And even then the plot isn’t clear. A demon wanted to make love to a woman on this bed, but she died, and so the bed came to life and needs to eat from time to time. Eventually, the demon falls asleep so that the artist can explain how to destroy the bed, which involves reanimating the woman. She and the demon copulate and the bed bursts into flame.

But none of that really matters. It’s just an excuse for a number of bits, the best being when a young man tries to kill the bed by stabbing it. Unfortunately, his hands get pulled into the bed, and when he removes them, they are skeletons. It’s hilarious — but even more, it is so bizarre. I would gladly watch anything that George Barry wants to put on screen. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, he never has again and is now pushing 70 years old.

The Evil Medved brothers

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats suffers from what I think of as the Medved brothers syndrome: the idea that it is fun to watch “bad” films. But somehow, it is always low-budget films that are “bad.” This seems to be because what people mistake for bad is really just idiosyncratic. They will watch the most mediocre, witless film and think nothing of it because it is just like so many other mediocre, witless films.

Bed With Still Living Foot - Toni Allen

So isn’t Death Bed: The Bed That Eats bad? It must be! George Barry must have been trying to make Captain America: Civil War and just couldn’t hack it, right?! Wrong. It never occurs to these idiots that Barry made a film that is unlike anything they’ve ever seen. It’s a work of art. And despite its low budget, it is technically competent. You don’t need to like it, of course. But you really are a philistine if you don’t respect it for the idiosyncratic art that it is.

And if you give it a chance, I really do think you will enjoy it.

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Jan 10

Hidden Figures: Film and Reality

Hidden FiguresI went to see the movie Hidden Figures recently. It is a movie about the women “computers” who were critical to the American space program. The twist, if that’s the right word, is that these weren’t just women; they were black women.

NASA’s Long History of Women Computers

Back in the day, NASA, along with it’s precursor the NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics), used people who were known literally as computers; “computer” was a job title. Starting with Virginia Tucker in 1935, NASA hired hundreds of women who had math or other science degrees to do the calculations for the work of the engineers. Since it paid more than being a teacher, plenty of women took these positions.

But the Langley campus did something remarkable: it recruited black women for the positions, and created a specific sub-department for them and assigned them as needed throughout the campus.

Hidden Figures Differences

In Hidden Figures, the timeline is a bit different than it was in reality. For instance, Dorothy Vaughn (PDF), who became the first black woman to be a supervisor (in 1949), actually learned programming before the film’s time. Desegregation occurred (legally) in 1945 with an executive order by FDR. Emotionally, it was another matter. However, it isn’t easy to say, “Oh yeah, this executive order made this possible.” It doesn’t relate to most film-goers because few know that he did that.

Setting it between the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the earthshaking change of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, it showed how the black women of the time navigated the dangerous waters of their race and gender even in the federal government. By doing this it lets the average viewer see how the world was changing towards a more just outcome for these women.

One of the women, Mary Jackson obtained permission to attend an all-white high school right about the time that Brown v Board of Education was decided (in 1953). And she completed her courses to become an engineer in 1958. The movie has her doing so after the setting of 1961, as it once again, showed the problems that lingered despite the efforts of the federal government.

Hidden Figures Similarities

Where Hidden Figures was similar was in the difficulties that women still face — especially black women. Katherine Goble (later Johnson) was eventually assigned, in 1958, to the Space Task Force. This was the unit that did the calculations and other needed work for Alan Shepard’s and John Glenn’s first space flights. Right before that though, Johnson’s husband passed away leaving her the single mother of three girls. It became a balancing act between the needs of her family and the needs of the space program. Things get even more complex when she is wooed by an army colonel.

Bathroom Breaks

Hidden Figures shows the numerous times that women, especially non-white women, have to bite their tongues. Because of the segregation still left in place in many places, the black “computers” were relegated to colored-only bathrooms that in this case was a half mile from the main facility that Johnson had to do her work. That meant she had to do a mile hike just to use the restroom. In heels. As fast as she could.

Then one day, she has to do it in the pouring rain and that is, of course, the day that her boss wants to know where she disappears to for forty minutes. In a powerful, but short, outburst she explains exactly why she has to disappear for forty minutes with a simple reference to one other indignity: the coffee maker labeled colored. The next scene shows the boss personally smashing down the signs and saying as of right now, where you piddle is desegregated.

It is an important scene because it means that the black women are treated at least as equals to the white women. It is about respect and dignity and why things like fighting HB2 are so important even though they can have real political costs.

Final Thoughts

Hidden Figures was extremely powerful, but not overwhelmingly so. It was ably broken up by the parts that showed the home lives of the women, but focused mostly on the work that the women did. For me, watching this in the aftermath of the painful results in November, what struck me the most was how quietly and overwhelmingly competent these women were forced to be in order to simply get the minimum standard of respect that white men and, to a lesser extent, white woman got.

After the movie was over, the audience applauded. So did I. I cannot recommend it enough.


For further reading on the ladies of NASA:

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Jan 06

Blind Fury

Blind FuryMany years ago, when I was in grad school, I saw what I thought was a hell of a fun movie, Blind Fury. It stars Rutger Hauer — an actor I have very mixed feelings about because his work is so uneven. But there are times when you just can’t help but love him, and Blind Fury is one of those times. It’s Death Wish for the thinking man who really can’t stand to look at Charles Bronson’s face anymore.

Anyway, I was over at our only remaining video store. I didn’t imagine that they would have it. But I asked and they did! So I brought it home and watched it. Was it as good as I remembered? Well… I’m not quite the same man that I was 25 years ago. For one thing, I’m well aware of the Zatoichi films — about a blind masseur and sword expert. Between 1962 and 1989, there were 26 films made about the character. I haven’t seen any of them. In the 1970s, it was turned into a television series and 100 episodes were made. I own 5 of them on DVD.

Now, of course, watching Blind Fury is kind of like watching The Magnificent Seven after you’ve fallen in love with Seven Samurai. But what I’ve seen of Zotoichi is not exactly great. It’s fun. And so is Blind Fury. In fact, the film seems more like a television show. The ending even sets up a sequel. Too bad the film wasn’t a success.

Blind Fury Should Have Been a TV Show

It should have been like another film that Rutger Hauer was (unfortunately terrible) in that became a television series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It should have become Blind Fury: The Television Series, with Rutger Hauer walking away at the end of every episode scored with solo piano, like The Incredible Hulk.

The story is awesomely silly. Hauer is blinded during the Vietnam War. He is capture by some good Vietnamese — the kind who train blind men how to be total badasses with a sword. And I mean it. I mean like “chopping a mango into quarters as it flies through the air” badass. But now it is 20 years later and he has come to see his old army buddy to forgive him for letting him get all blind. But it turns out that his old army buddy is being held captive by a casino owner who is making him create designer drugs.

Good Clean Fun

Much kicking of ass follows. Unfortunately, much annoying 13 year old boy that badass with a sword must protect also follows. But it’s okay. Most people don’t hate child actors quite as much as I do. He’s not Quinn Cummings. (Note: if you are reading this Ms Cummings, Don DiPietro isn’t good enough for you. Call me! We’ll move to Ghana together!) And it doesn’t really matter. The film doesn’t take itself seriously. Remember: the mango.

Should you watch this film? I think so. It’s so much better than most action films. Even if you don’t like action films (and I don’t), how can you not love a film where a blind guy walks about kicking ass? It’s just good fun. Now if he were a masseur, well, that’s the stuff the greatness.

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Dec 25

A Merry Christmas for Edwards and MacLiammóir

Hilton Edwards and Micheál MacLiammóirOnce filming was complete, MacLiammóir, Edwards, and Cloutier were flown first to Marseilles, en route — as they believed — for Morocco again; but instead of North Africa, they were transported to the idyllic artists’ colony at Saint-Paul-de-Vence in Provence, where they were greeted gloomily by Welles, who immediately set off for Paris. A few days later they joined him there. No explanation was ever offered for any of these bewildering peregrinations. Their lives had turned into a major-key rehash of Waiting for Godot, with a dash of Kafka — major key because they were excellently fed and watered and the locations were all charming, but the sense of disorientation was acute. They were beginning to doubt whether they would see Dublin that Christmas: “feel sure that Orson has plans for large Christmas tree in marketplace at Mogador, entertainment probably to include brief but startling appearance of O himself as Santa Claus.” As if in defiance of the chaotic reality, Welles made a public announcement that Othello had completed filming and that he would soon be starting work on Ulysses, which was certainly putting a brave face on things.

The truth of the matter was that he was increasingly anxious about money; his last earnings had been in April, on The Black Rose. With no handy $100,000 on offer from a passing blockbuster, he had started to think in terms of a theater tour, to kick off in Paris and then to play such centers as Brussels, Antwerp, Lille, and Amsterdam. It would consist of a double bill comprising The Importance of Being Earnest (slightly cut) and Marlowe’s Dr Faustus (savagely cut). Edwards would direct Earnest and play Canon Chasuble and Marlowe’s Prologue; Welles would direct Faustus and play Algernon Moncrieff and Faustus; while MacLiammóir would play Jack Worthing and Mephistopheles, having by now presumably accepted that villainy was well within his range. Suzanne Cloutier would play Cecily and — “poor child,” remarks MacLiammóir — Helen of Troy, while Fay Compton, if they could get her back, would be Lady Bracknell. They would ask Dior to design the costumes and André Derain to do the set. Of course they would.

After a few more days of ebullient planning, still at the stage where everything seems possible — Dior? pourquoi pas? Derain? mais naturellement — Edwards and MacLiammóir gratefully returned, just in time for Christmas, to Dublin, where a card from Welles was waiting for them: “Miss you badly already and hope for wonderful things in New Year.” There were affectionate phone calls on Christmas Day, but no certainty as to what was going to happen next. Welles wrote to them from the Hotel Lancaster in Paris, by no means encouragingly: “As 1949 prepared to die of old age I want to acknowledge that I’ve made it pretty awful for both of you. Come what may (and it probably will) you deserve to know how earnestly I’m going to balance the budget before next Christmas…” But then, in the New Year, something wonderful happened, just as Welles had hoped: the French-Algerian financier/producer Edmond Tenoudji of Films Marceau came through with 12 million francs in exchange for the French distribution rights, so filming could resume.

–Simon Callow
Orson Welles, Volume 3: One-Man Band

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Dec 22

Turbo Kid: Gory Post-Apocalyptic Nostalgia

Turbo KidI saw the 2015 film Turbo Kid the other day. It’s a post-apocalyptic gore fest designed to appeal to people of my age. Really! The film takes place in 1997, but the apocalypse happened in the mid-1980s. It features cool things from earlier times like a Rubik’s Cube and a View-Master (invented in 1939, but still big when I was in school). But there is one in situ song in the film, from 1986.[1] But I suspect that filmmakers mean to date it a few years earlier than that. And that kind of crap rock was certainly around earlier.

The story circles around The Kid, who I think is supposed to be a teen, but seems older as played by 25-year-old Munro Chambers. In this world, water is a scarce commodity — controlled by a warlord sort of character named Zeus, played with calm villainy by Michael Ironside. So The Kid scavenges in exchange for water, as he tries to avoid Zeus and his minions. One day, while reading a Turbo Rider comic he is introduced to the bizarre Apple, who is played by Laurence Leboeuf. (Yes, Laurence is a woman.) They eventually hook up with Frederic (Aaron Jeffery), who is kind of like the Marlboro Man, but without the cancer. And together they take on Zeus.

A Revue More Than a Movie

None of what I just told you much matters. The film is more like a revue than a narrative. But instead of song and dance, Turbo Kid features gore and silliness. A surprising amount of screen time is taken up with The Kid and Apple playing tag. So we are treated to alternative scenes of childlike idealism and scenes of more blood shooting out of a body than any body actually has.

I can’t say I liked Turbo Kid, especially. I get that the gore is done for humor’s sake. And it did make me laugh a number of times. And Apple is an irresistible character. But I generally like films with more heft — something more like Don Coscarelli directs. But what else do you expect from a romp? I am glad I watched it — twice.

So I definitely don’t think this was a bad film. It worked remarkably well. And the cast was great. They certainly take the sting out of what is mostly an uninspired script. But even bad acting wouldn’t have killed this film. It’s so much what it intends to be. The directors (François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell) and cinematographer (Jean-Philippe Bernier) have a good visual sense. The film looks great. It’s cut fast (in some cases too fast, I’m afraid). Above all, it works.

You Might Like Turbo Kid

Whether any given person will like the film is hard to say. If you think that excessive gore is funny, then it’s a no-brainer: see it at once. And if you like film as film and appreciate craftsmanship, it’s worth checking out. Sadly, if the gore is a problem for you, the sweet relationship between The Kid and Apple probably won’t overcome it. But if you are able to meet this film on its own terms, you can’t help but be happy to have spent an hour and a half with it.

[1] The song is “Thunder in Your Heart” by John Farnham. The rest of the soundtract is by the band Le Matos (made up crew members, I think), which does an excellent job of maintaining that mid-80s techno-pop feel. They manage to wrap the entire film in a blanket of the worst period in music history without making me wretch. Of course, it helps that it goes along with the kitschy charm of the film.

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Dec 21

Rick and Morty and Me

Rick and MortySome time ago, I was watching an episode of The Simpsons. And in the opening “couch” section, a spaceship crashes into their house, killing the family. And out pop these two characters named Rick and Morty who I had never seen before. Thus was I introduced to Rick and Morty. It looked to me like the kind of show I would love. I mentioned it to Andrea and she pooh-poohed it, saying it was coarse and vulgar. Well, I’ll put up with a lot of coarse and vulgar for brief moments of brilliance. Still, it took until this weekend for me to watch an episode. I ended up watching the entire two seasons.

First, an example. In the episode “The Ricks Must be Crazy,” the spaceship won’t start. Rick and Morty get out of the ship and Rick pops the hood. Morty says, “Is it the quantum carburetor or something?” Rick is disdainful, “Quantum carburetor? Jesus, Morty, you can’t just add a sci-fi word to a car word and hope it means something… Huh. Looks like something’s wrong with the micro-universe battery.” Yes, I know: I’m a sucker for this kind of meta-humor. But that’s a solid joke no matter how you look at it.

The Most Cynical Show

While watching the shows this weekend, I was struck by the fact that Rick and Morty was about the most cynical television show I’d ever seen. And it amazed me that Andrea said she didn’t like it. So I asked her again, and she too had gotten drawn into it thanks to her husband, and now appreciates it. (Clearly, she could do with fewer of the sexual references and the ridiculous amount of gore.) That made me feel as though all was right in the universe. Too much of it is typical of her sense of humor. This may also explain why I’m one of her few remaining friends. (Oh, I kid! Sorta.)

I think much of the appeal of the show to its target audience (basically me, but skewing younger) is that we all wish (at least superficially) we were Rick but always feel like Morty. (Excluding the evil Morty with the eye-patch who we met in “Close Rick-Counters of the Rick Kind.”) Rick is, after all, the cool kid in high school. Indeed, he becomes so explicitly in “Big Trouble in Little Sanchez.” But I’ve seen it a lot during those unfortunate times when I’ve been on the bus when the high school lets out. Almost everyone in high school wants to be Rick (not caring about anyone else) and lives in terror of being seen for the Morty who they are.

The Essence of Rick

You’ll note that I said “almost.” Rick is, as far as any likable character can be, a psychopath. The show does an excellent job of showing just enough of Rick’s inner life to see that ultimately he is Morty — just older and wiser. In “A Rickle in Time” he proves, mathematically, that, “As far as grampa is concerned, you’re [Morty and Summer] both pieces of shit.” But as a viewer, I’m unconvinced. I’m just impressed with any character who would be willing to say such a thing. And it is, after all, in the service of saving their lives.

Maybe We Have Rick and Morty Backward

But if Rick is really just Morty with a great con, then isn’t he the one who is really insecure. Morty just is who he is. Sure, perhaps this is just a function of his youth and stupidity. But he is authentic in a way that Rick clearly is not. So in the end, I’m ashamed to want to be Rick. Because the truth is: I am Rick — just not a very successful one. And I’ve long ago reached a point where I value authenticity above any of my childhood dreams.

What’s most interesting about Rick and Morty is that the series seems to understand this. It knows that all of Rick’s brilliance is ultimately impotent. Why has he come to live with his daughter? Because he knows he’s a fraud. He’s seeking meaning. But like the rest of us, he’s lost. It’s like in the episode, “Something Ricked This Way Comes.” Rick creates a robot to pass the butter. When it finds out that is its purpose, it reacts as any of us would. Although I have to say: that’s more of a meaning that I think my life actually represents. And I’m not just saying that because Rick would. I’m in the fifties. Some insights are inevitable.

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Dec 18

Difficult Wellesian Period

Orson Welles, Volume 3: One-Man Band - Difficult Wellesian PeriodKnowing that I had this difficult Wellesian period in my sights, friends sympathized with me — “how sad it is,” they said, “such a terrible decline.” But I have never shared that view. Welles did it his way. If he had modified his behavior — if he had trimmed his sails, if he had pulled in his horns — he could have made many more films. But he would not then have been the force of nature that he was. He would just have been another filmmaker. As it was, this period in Welles’ life left behind him at least two films, Touch of Evil and Chimes at Midnight, that are remarkable by any standards, plus extraordanary work in several other media — but above all I looked forward to tracing that arc as Welles struck out towards the unknown region.

Such was my plan. But I was baulked by Welles himself. His prolificity during these years was so immense, the circumstances surrounding every venture (successful or unsuccessful) on which he embarked were so complex and extraordinary, and the ambitiousness of his approach to each was so unfettered, that had I attempted to encompass nearly forty years from 1947 till his death, the book would have run to considerably more than a thousand pages…

–Simon Callow
Orson Welles, Volume 3: One-Man Band

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Dec 04

Trevor Noah Steps It Up Against Tomi Lahren

Tomi LahrenLast Wednesday, Trevor Noah of The Daily Show interviewed far-right video’s “It Girl,” one Tomi Lahren. Ms. Lahren’s bile-filled screeds against the evils of liberal America are hugely popular right now on social media. (Shouldn’t we change that description to “antisocial”?) She comes across as the Muppet Babies version of Ann Coulter.

It has apparently been widely shared among Noah fans, who appreciate his unflappable demeanor, and among Lahren fans, who like it whenever someone uses a vicious manner to expresses hateful sentiments they admire. (Oh, yes, does that make them feel strong.) Tomi Lahren also lies, which her audience no doubt loves, as well.

Dish It Out vs Take It

The lies begin immediately, with Lahren claiming she’s “not angry.” Well, then she does a good job playing it on TV (and she’s well aware that constantly-fueled rage is what her intended audience feeds upon).

As is usual with far-right media figures, Lahren’s untruths and deliberate distortions don’t cease. They become something like Phil Spector’s Wall Of Sound, with constant delivery and repetition of falsehoods substituting for argument. Throw in a little flag-decal patriotism, and the effect means to convey that people On God’s Side have so much data to back them up, their bomb-droppings are irrefutable.

With immense patience and charm, Noah sets about defusing them. It’s a terrific performance. He addresses each of her bogus claims and false equivalencies. I won’t spoil any of his jokes (and the best ones seem to fly right over Lahren’s head), but here’s one example of his tone.

Tomi Lahren considers BlackLivesMatter to be essentially a violent subversive organization, morally equivalent to the KKK. To “prove” this, she cites instances of destruction and murder committed by self-identified BLM supporters. Noah counters that these are the actions of individuals, and the movement does not advocate violence (which is true). Nope, says Lahren, if someone says your movement inspired their hatred, your movement is hateful.

Noah then asks about the KKK and Trump — by Lahren’s logic, isn’t Trump responsible for the KKK’s resurgence? Even if you haven’t watched the video yet, you already know her answer. No! Trump is good! BLM bad! Etc. We’ve heard this record before.

Tomi Lahren’s Damn Lies and Statistics

Tomi Lahren soon floats a statistic so baffling, the audience gasps; a black person is 18.5 times more likely to shoot a police officer than get shot by one. She then claims the 18.5 number is a statistic “no one wants to talk about.” Noah deftly changes the discussion point.

That multiplier 18.5 stuck in my head for a day. Surely, it can’t be true?

Of course, it’s not; and, as Gore Vidal once said elsewhere, it would make a good project for a course in logic. What on Earth can she mean? Well, for one, this statistic actually refers to the probability of any given police officer being shot by a black person, versus the probability of any given unarmed black person being shot by a police officer.

Since there are vastly more black citizens in America than police officers, the number starts to make sense. While policing is not among America’s most dangerous jobs, it does carry some risk, more so than that of the average citizen being killed by a cop.

Look at it this way: shouldn’t the police have a far higher risk of being shot by criminals than you have of being shot by officers? In that context, 18.5 seems amazingly low. If air travel was only 18.5 times less likely to end in explosions than space rockets, none of us would fly again.

The statistic comes from author Heather Mac Donald, who has long written that excessive police violence against minorities is a myth. As she has a clear ax to grind, her number is suspect, but I’ll use it for the sake of argument.

A Simple Test

The argument then becomes: how much more likely is a police officer to be shot by a non-black person than a non-black person to be shot by an officer?

Happily, a programmer named Joseph Atkins-Turkish has read Mac Donald’s work, and done the computations for us, Next Time You See a Racist Abuse Statistics, Here’s How You Call Them Out. Surprise, surprise! Using Mac Donald’s numbers, an officer is 124 times more likely to get shot by a non-black person than a non-black person is to be shot by an officer.

I realize this is Mac Donald’s sin. She is a published book author and contributor to publications like the Wall Street Journal, while Tomi Lahren is merely a young twerp kissing instant celebrity’s rear end. The one knows she is lying; the other blithely repeats this lie. Still, from my perspective, it’s hard not to fault them both.

Noah’s Better At Being Serious Than Funny

I have not watched The Daily Show much since Noah took over. To be honest, I never watched it much before, as I haven’t had cable in 10+ years. But I’d come across the occasional Jon Stewart segment online which had some bite to it.

Most Americans probably first saw Trevor Noah, as I did, on a Daily Show segment where Noah played a game called “Spot the Africa” — showing thriving cities and broken slums, asking Stewart to pick which one was America and which one Africa. The joke was that we tend to stereotype Africa as though it hasn’t changed in the last half century.

The appeal of that segment no doubt helped Noah land the Daily Show anchor gig. How’s he done? It’s a matter of opinion.

Larry Wilmore

Myself, I preferred seeing clips from Larry Wilmore’s Nightly Show — Wilmore’s an older fellow, like myself, and his sense of humor just gels with me more.

Plus, Wilmore got fired, largely because he wasn’t picking up the antisocial media “traction” Noah does. I’m still plenty mad at Comedy Central about that. We could have used Wilmore during the general election — and I think the added viewership during election season would have translated into more people coming to appreciate Wilmore’s dry wit.

But, that’s not Noah’s fault, and I should stop resenting him for it. Does his tenure on The Daily Show need time to find its own rhythm? Surely it does. Will they find it? Who knows.

His skilled, polite (on his side, at any rate) debate with Tomi Lahren shows one direction the show might go in. Noah’s “Spot the Africa” segment was serious underneath the irony. His interview here is deadly serious, yet he unearths humor in it. This might be his superpower! Let’s hope so.

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