Category Archives: Movies

Thor, aliens, racists and elderly Japanese: movies viewed (#SFWApro)

THOR RAGNAROK (2017) has Thor no sooner expose Loki as having taken Dad’s place (at the end of Thor: The Dark World) than all of Asgard falls to the Odinsons’ elder sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), which results in Thor getting trapped into gladiatorial games on the world of the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). There’s some good stuff (the handling of Hulk, Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie) and Karl Urban makes a great Skurge (the character is so lightly scripted it’s entirely to Urban’s credit his dramatic arc is plausible), but there’s way, way too much comic relief (Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner is played purely for laughs). And I don’t see any real excuse for the Dr. Strange scene other than to remind us they’re in the same universe. Art by Walt Simonson, all rights remain with current holder“Open communication has never been our family’s forte.”

ARRIVAL (2016) is the First Contact film in which linguist Amy Adams and physicist Jeremy Renner try to figure out how communicate with the recently arrived “heptapods” before someone panics and starts a shooting war. The stock opening reminded me too much of V but things picked up as it went along, enough I can forgive the weaknesses of the linguistics (I could spot some even before reading this article). Overall I’m glad I saw it, but I don’t regret waiting for streaming. “Sheena Easton had a hit song in all twelve cities in 1980.”

GET OUT (2017) probably shouldn’t have worked as it’s in many ways a conventional reworking of old horror tropes. However, the story of a young black man discovering meeting his new girlfriend’s family was a bad life decision is very well acted and raising black/white issues gives it a distinctive feel (no, they’re not targeting black victims for racist reasons, just because — oh look, a chicken!). It gets weaker at the gory end (and I can’t see how the protagonist pulled off his escape) but I’d much sooner have seen this in a theater than Arrival. Catherine Keener plays a sinister hypnotist. All rights to image remain with current holder. “I don’t think they’re a kinky sex family.”

TOKYO STORY (1953) shows that the problem of aging parents is apparently universal: A Japanese couple visit Tokyo to see their assorted children, only to have the kid fob the parents off on each other as much as possible and as cheaply as possible, with only their widowed daughter-in-law (who clings to her husband’s memory to an unhealthy degree) showing them genuine kindness. Slow-moving but no less effective for all that; I’m inclined to suggest I Never Sang For My Father as a movie tackling similar issues, though with a much less sympathetic older generation. “You see, even you are dissatisfied.”

Moving to TV, MARVEL’S INHUMANS wrapped up its eight-episode run earlier this week. While not as awful as some reviews paint it , it is very underwhelming: scheming Inhuman Maximus takes over the city of Attilan, sending the rest of the Inhuman royal family on the run (and presumably to slash costs, they shave Medusa so her living hair is off the table). After various adventures, they reunite to fight back against the usurper. Which certainly could work as a set-up but this just limps listlessly along. While not formally cancelled, it doesn’t seem anyone’s eager to give it a second chance. “That will always be my story — ‘he did so well, considering what he’s less than.’”


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Movies: Shakespeare’s Henriad (#SFWApro)

Sam Mendes’ The Hollow Crown, which I’ve been watching over the past few weeks, is a quartet of plays sometimes known as the Henriad: Richard II, Henry IV Part One and this week’s viewing, HENRY IV Part Two (2012) and HENRY V(2012). The book Shakespeare After All explains that they form a dramatic arc: Bolingbroke usurps the crown from Richard in the first film to become Henry IV, then his son redeems the dubious claim to rule by proving himself a true king. It would also have had added meaning to Shakespeare’s era: the story of how Prince Hal starts out wild, then reforms was common knowledge, as was the awareness that for all Hal’s triumphs in Henry V, they would ultimately be frittered away by his son.

Henry IV Part Two is one I’ve never actually seen before, wherein Tom Hiddleston’s Hal discovers that his reputation as a hedonist still leaves the powers that be (including father Jeremy Irons) suspicious he’s not worthy of the crown, even after his triumph over Hotspur in the field. Ultimately he proves himself not just by valor but by his rejection of Falstaff — hypocritical (he condemns Falstaff at the climax as if he’d never participated in the man’s roguery) but necessary to be a good king. To the cast of Part One, this adds Geoffrey Palmer as the Chief Justice.. “Let order die, and darkness be the burier of the dead.”

I’m familiar with both the Olivier and Branagh versions of Henry V and this falls somewhere in between, neither Olivier’s patriotic morale booster nor quite as gritty as Branagh’s. Hiddleston does a good job as a new king struggling to live up to his responsibilities as he goes to war against France and finally triumphs in the climactic victory at Agincourt (this includes the documented historical fact that he had his knightly prisoners executed when the proper act would be to hold them for ransom). A good job. “If we are marked to die, we are enough to do our country loss; but if to live, the fewer men the greater share of honor!”

The logical follow-up to the Henriad was Orson Welles’ THE CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT (1965), which reworks the two part Henry IV to focus on Falstaff (Welles) and his antics, his cheerful but repellent amorality (like Harry Mudd, he’s always looking for an angle) and his final falling out with Hal. Welles does a good job not making the rogue purely sympathetic but showing his corruption as well; with Keith Baxter as Hal, Jeanne Moreau as Doll, Margaret Rutherford as Quickly, Ralph Richardson narrating and John Gielgud as a very icy Henry IV. “There are but three good men in England yet unhung — and one of them is growing old and fat.”

(All rights to image remain with current holder).

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The myth of Stepford (#SFWApro)


Writing about the suburbs (it ties in to her new book Switchback), Melissa Olson argues that while suburbs initially appealed to homeowners because they presented a clean, peaceful, perfect facade, they horrify us (and her) for the same reason: “the first generation of suburban kids had grown up, developing a deep unease and distrust of this attempted perfection. As a result, we got books and films like The Stepford Wives, Carrie, Poltergeist, Halloween, ‘The Lottery,’ and so on. The problem with the suburbs, these works argued, is that their quest for perfection becomes a quest for conformity—and conformity breeds corruption, in all its forms.”

This is a slapdash analysis. “The Lottery” was a 1948 story, way earlier than the others, and it’s set in a traditional rural community. And I wouldn’t buy that Halloween and Carrie express anything about the suburbs because they take place in one, any more than Ghostbusters or Troll imply anything about apartment life. And then we get Stepford Wives, where Olson is really, really wrong (all rights to image remain with current holder).

It’s true the movie starts out with Katharine Ross and her family relocating from New York to the bucolic bedroom community of Stepford. But even then, her husband is plotting to replace her with an obedient, big-breasted sexbot. Not because “Rebellious, feminist Joanna Eberhardt must be replaced in order to keep Stepford pure and perfect” but because some men (as one specifically points out at the climax) would sooner have an obedient, eternally beautiful sex doll that does the chores than a real woman who ages and sometimes disagrees with them.

The suburbs have nothing to do with it. Pop culture simply took the movie (and Ira Levin’s source novel) and plugged them into an existing trope, that suburbs suck. They’re soulless. Conformist. They don’t have the vibrancy of a big city, but nor are they quaint or traditional like small towns. So they become the bogeyman and the message of Stepford becomes “live in the suburbs, have your brain and personality sucked out.” Which is probably easier to digest than contemplating that feminists might have a point about men’s attitudes.

And so everyone, including Olson “knows” Stepford Wives is about the sins of living in a suburb (note: I’ve lived in a couple and I like them just fine). The movie Perfect Little Angels, for example, is set in a gated community where planner Michael York uses brainwashing to turn rebellious teenagers into model citizens. Characters keep remarking the squeaky clean, smoothly functioning community is Just Like Stepford.

At Slacktivist, Fred Clark discusses how things everybody knows are influenced by pop culture and influence it in turn.

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New Screen Rant is live: forbidden messages vs. censorship (#SFWApro)

“forbidden” in this context, ranging from violence to sex to “Nazi Germany is the enemy” to “American women have sex before marriage.” To find more, just click.

Below we have an image from Hound of the Baskervilles (1939) which has a reference to Holmes’ using cocaine.

And Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939) which broke through the Production Code rules against anti-German messages.

All rights to both images remain with current holders.

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The dream of an outsider (#SFWApro)

There is a running theme in pop culture that running the country is really simple — it’s the politicians who make it complicated. And yes, this obviously reflects real life memes (We should run government like a business! This politician is awesome because he’s a “Washington outsider.”), but in fiction we can actually make it happen.

(All rights to image remain with current holder)

Part of the appeal is the perennial fantasy of the ordinary Joe or Jane suddenly elevated into a fantastic life — superhero, monarch, movie star, leader. But I think it’s also drawn on an underlying belief about politics: government is simple but politicians make it complicated. They’re corrupt, act out of self-interest, too partisan to do what’s right. If we could get that out the way and convince them to knock off the bullshit, finding solutions to our problems would be a cakewalk.

So by putting someone in office who’s not a politician — a real American, a plainspoken guy (almost always a guy) who has no dog in the hunt, we can fantasize about how easy it would be for him/us to make this country work the way it’s supposed to.

Dave is a perfect example. Kevin Kline [edited to correct name] as the eponymous protagonist becomes the president’s double; when the president has a stroke, Dave steps in (part of a scheme by political insiders to keep the upright Veep from stepping in and thwarting their plan). Miraculously, he’s able to set the country on the right track because he actually cares about people more than politics. In Gabriel Over the White House (admittedly not a regular guy — the protagonist is possessed by an angel), Walter Huston creates a New Deal-like jobs program to end the depression, ends Prohibition and declares martial law so he can take down organized crime. Then he builds the world’s mightiest navy, so just the hint the US might use it will keep the nations of the world at peace.

Over on TV, Mr. Sterling was a TV series starring Josh Brolin as the son of a Democratic senator appointed to fill his late father’s position. Only instead of being a Democrat as everyone assumes, he’s an independent — OMG, he can vote principle over party! Or Kiefer Sutherland as the Designated Survivor forced into the presidency.

It’s no surprise there are many more examples. Distaste for politics has been around since the Founding Fathers, literally. That generation gave us our first political parties, but it also looked on parties as “faction,” a decision to act based on political agenda rather than principle. But the solution we get in movies like this is a fantasy.

Sure, lots of people think they know what America needs (I certainly do) but we don’t all “know” the same thing. I could see a Christian movie in this vein where knocking off the bullshit means a big speech about how we all know abortion is murder, now let’s get to work and ban it nationwide. That might make perfect sense to right-to-lifers but to me it would be a step towards The Handmaid’s Tale.

Even if we agree on the goal, the fantasy skips the ugly steps that Dave or Mr. Sterling might have to take to achieve it: FDR got Social Security passed by exempting field hands and servants. As most Southern blacks worked in domestic service or agriculture, Southern Democrats supported Social Security knowing blacks in their states wouldn’t benefit.

I know political bloggers who really loathe the movies for presenting a fantasy about how politics works; I’m not one of them. I liked Dave (a starring team of Costner and Sigourney Weaver doesn’t help). But I thought it was worth mentioning that politics doesn’t work like that.



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New Screen Rant is live: 20 Terrible SF Shows You Forgot (#SFWApro)

The godawful alien invasion series First Wave. Alcatraz. The TV Timecop spinoff. And of course Baywatch Nights! Take a look.

Below is a photo of Judson Scott (Khan’s son in Wrath of Khan) as that God From Outer Space, The Phoenix. Suffice to say, if you’re making the incredibly stiff Scott the center of your series, you’re doomed.

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Movies: Royalty, soldiers and zombies (#SFWApro)

THE HOLLOW CROWN: Henry IV Part One (2013) follows Richard II and stars Tom Hiddleston (all rights to image remain with current holders) as the seemingly roguish Prince Hal who miraculously straightens up and flies right when Hotspur (probably the most intense Percy I’ve seen) joins forces with Owen Glendower to overthrow Jeremy Irons’ Henry IV. As my mind tends to wander during the low comic scenes of this show, that it held my attention is a mark in its favor; shows Hal as more genuinely fond of Falstaff than some takes. “Thou knowest in the age of innocence Adam fell — what can poor Jack Falstaff do in the days of villainy?”

BRAVE (2012) is the Scots Disney Princess movie in which the redheaded archer Merrida learns she really should have phrased her wish to witch Julie Walters better (“Mum—you’re a bear!”); as she didn’t, she’s forced to defend mom from the local nobles and a real Bear of Doom (a memorable monster indeed) until she can find a cure. Way too stock for the first half-hour but picks up after that; with Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson as Merrida’s parents, plus Robbie Coltrane and John Ratzenberger in the mix. “A witch turned mum into a bear — it wasn’t my fault!”

STRIPES (1981) is one of the top-grossing comedies about basic training (there have been many), with Bill Murray and Harold Ramis as the slackers who sign up for the Army on a lark. What follows is their locking horns with drill sergeant Warren Oates, falling for MPs Sean Young and PJ Soles (easily the most competent soldiers in the film) and eventually saving their platoon (including John Larroquette and Judge Reinhold) from imprisonment inside the iron curtain. Great fun, and while the action sequence of the end doesn’t quite fit the basic training stuff, it’s funny enough to be forgiven. “I got my ass kicked in Wisconsin once.”

CEMETERY MAN (1994) is an oddball Italian horror/art film starring Rupert Everett as the cemetery manager forced to kill zombies rising from their graves with the help of his Brute Man sidekick, then eventually deciding to shoot living people in the head as a preventative measure (also from frustration at repeatedly losing his Great Love). A mess, but an interesting mess; I Bury the Living would be the obvious double-bill. “You’re supposed to set a good example — now come down and go back to your grave.”

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