A Movie that Took Me Longer to Watch than it Took to Film

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Title: Victoria

Rating: 2 Stars

If you know of this movie, you probably know of its stunt. Not only is the movie set in real time (as in the length of the movie is the elapsed time that the movie plot takes place in), but it was actually done in one long take.

This approach was made most famous recently with Birdman, where through very clever editing, the movie appeared to be one long shot (although some of the scenes were indeed long).

Some years ago, I’d watched Russian Ark, which is truly a one shot film. This movie really was pretty much a stunt. Although it was clearly very intensely staged, prepared, and choreographed, there was virtually no plot. It was essentially a series of set scenes taking place in the Winter Palace in St Petersburg.

This was something different. This was a movie with real characters and a real plot, told in a two hour movie in real time with one camera and one take.

Victoria is a Spaniard living in Germany, clearly a little lost and looking for adventure. In the early hours of the morning after leaving a dance club, she meets up with four Germans. They get to know each, they bond with each other, she falls for one of them, one of the Germans is an ex-con who has to pay a debt to a gangster, which involves them robbing a bank, getting into a shootout, with dire consequences for all involved.

Let me repeat, this entire story is told in one two hour block of time. There are no montages, there is no fade to black, there is no time passing. All of this transpires in one two hour block of time.

The movie is shot with one person holding a camera. The characters go on walks, climb onto rooftops, get in and out of cars, and enter / leave buildings. Granted, it looks like all of the action takes place within maybe 6 blocks or so, but that’s an impressive amount of action that the cameraman has to keep in front of him.

The part I liked best was the actress playing Victoria. A lot of the movie rides on her taking up with a bunch of strangers and within an hour or so be robbing banks with them. She has a great presence and she does do a good job portraying the somewhat desperate carefree attitude of a person coming to grips with never being able to achieve her childhood dreams.

The plot, necessarily, is somewhat implausible. After all, that is a lot to cram into one two hour block.

Also, although I appreciate the ambition of the attempt, in all honesty the necessarily occasionally unsteady / unfocused camera work left me car sick. I actually watched it in two viewings because of that (so yes, my watching of the movie took one more take than the movie actually did).

So, I appreciated the attempt and I did like Victoria. I downgraded it because quite frankly, I probably would have never watched it if it wasn’t for the stunt. The movie itself was at best of average entertainment.

The ‘Burbs Aren’t Looking so Bad

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Title: High-Rise

Rating: 3 Stars

This is my second attempt at reading J.G. Ballard. The first was The Drowned World, one of his acknowledged classics. I didn’t regret reading it, it just didn’t do anything for me (hence, it ended up with 2 star review). It just read flat to me.

I enjoyed High-Rise, although it still seemed to be lacking to me. I think it has to do with the fact that the main characters seem to serve as part of the theme of the work instead of actually being fully three dimensional characters of their own.

There is a 1,000 apartment high-rise that has just achieved maximum capacity. Almost immediately, it begins to descend into disorder. Loud parties are held, music is blared, bottles are flung off balconies.

As a social unit, the high-rise disintegrates in an almost perfect description of de-evolution. The apartments first of all split into three groups. The top floors are the upper class (of course!), the middle floors are the middle class, and you get the idea. These are all professional people, so even in the lower class there are airline pilots and the like. The upper floors and lower floors try to get the middle floors to join them, to no great success.

Eventually this structure breaks down into tribes of contiguous apartments. As all of this happens, the high-rise infrastructure itself disintegrates. Elevators stop working, garbage chutes are clogged, and water / electricity become intermittent.

Ultimately, even this order breaks down into essentially individuals fighting and struggling to stay alive.

The main characters never seriously consider leaving the high-rise. This is their world and it is their battle to survive in it.

This was written in the mid 1970’s. I don’t know if they were consciously inspired by it, but both Wool and Snowpiercer would seem to owe something to High-Rise.

The bottom line to me is that it was an interesting idea well executed. However, when I’m reading fiction, I do like to read about characters that are, if not interesting, at least fully defined, so I can’t give this a personal high rating. With my grand total of two works read, perhaps this is just a style issue with Ballard.

The Law of Unintended Consequences Has Not Been Repealed

 

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Title: Last Call

Rating: 5 Stars

Some time ago, I read Last Call, by Daniel Okrent.  It’s a history of Prohibition.  It discusses how it was passed, how it was enforced, how it was bypassed, and very briefly, how it was repealed.

I found it to be both entertaining and informative. Among the things that interested me were:

  • In some ways, I kind of miss the days when racism was obvious and blatant. Nowadays, it’s more subtle, and therefore, more insidious.  At the turn of the century, it wasn’t quite so subtle.  My personal favorite is the cheap gin created to market specifically to African Americans.  The name?  Black Cock Vigor Gin. Um…wow.
  • On a similar front, pretty much as soon as it was proposed, the Mississippi legislature, after 15 minutes of debate, passed the prohibition amendment.  Pretty effective and efficient legislature you’d say, right?  That same legislature did not pass the amendment to outlaw slavery until 1993.  Um…you know, they had other things to do, right?
  • Politics truly do make strange bedfellows.  The so-called “Drys”, which were the ones pushing the amendment were truly a motley collection.  The main organization driving this was the Anti Saloon League.  They were the classic single issue organization.  They didn’t care what else you believed as long as you were for Prohibition.  They teamed up with the suffragettes.  Drunken men making off with the family’s wages was an obvious concern to women.  Fair enough.  Therefore, it makes sense for the ASL to team up with the suffragettes.  Once the women had the right to vote, then that would mean a lot more dry votes.  Not so obviously, the ASL teamed up with Southern racists (starring such wonderful men such as Cole Bease of South Caroline, who once said that education could “ruin a good field hand and make a bad convict”).  They were obsessed with drunken black men having their way with the fair maidens of the South.  The Southern lawmakers themselves (not such a dry bunch personally) were pretty confident that they could get their alcohol through other means but wanted to keep alcohol out of the hands of the lower classes.  Let’s not forget the Northeastern Progressives, oh so convinced that they can bring about the perfectibility of man by legislating his way to morality.  Such a toxic brew somehow managed to coalesce successfully on this one issue.
  • Interestingly enough, once the amendment was proposed in 1918, there was an immediate need to get it passed before 1920.  The 1920 census was going to make obvious the migration of the population from the country to the city.  The cities, full of those filthy Irish, Italian, and central European immigrants, were known to be strongly against prohibition.  It was important to get the amendment passed before these cities could get their fair representation.
  • Once passed, American culture changed.  Hypocrisy came to the forefront.  Since alcohol was allowed for medicinal purposes, this opened up a tremendous loophole.  Doctors regularly prescribed alcohol for various ailments.  My favorite prescription…”Take three ounces ever hour for stimulant until stimulated”.  Saloons closed and promptly re-opened as drug stores.  During the 20’s, Walgreen’s store grew from 20 stores to 525.  This would not be the only fortune made during Prohibition that still looms large today.
  • Since alcohol was now illegal, it was obviously unregulated.  Therefore, alcohol quality declined precipitously.  To mask horrible flavor of the alcohol, mixers started to be used.  This, in conjunction with the fact that with no alcohol people began exploring alternative drinks, directly led to the soft drink world that we live in today. Considering that there’s a non-trivial number of people that have drawn a positive correlation between obesity in today’s adults and children to excessive soft drink consumption, did Prohibition indirectly cause one of today’s largest health problems?
  • People could not drink in the US but they could drink in international waters.  Thus started the cruise to nowhere, where people got on a boat and sailed around, say, the Caribbean for a couple of days before ending up back where the they started. Prohibition birthed the modern cruise industry.
  • Cuba, where the rum flowed freely, became a popular vacation resort.  This in turn led to casinos being built and organized crime moving in.  This led to corruption in the Cuba government, terminating with Castro overthrowing Batista.  An argument can be made that Prohibition ultimately brought communism to our hemisphere and nearly led to a nuclear war during the Bay of Pigs.
  • Similarly, the whole concept of organized crime came to the fore during Prohibition. This is obvious, but still a significant historical development.
  • In New York City, so many people were arrested for violating Prohibition that there was no way to process them all.  An agreement was made that if they pled guilty to the crime that they’d get a reduced sentence.  Thus, Prohibition directly led to the idea of plea bargaining.
  • Finally, women used to sneak their alcohol in various home remedies.  With the rise of illegal speakeasies and the resulting increase of licentiousness, women abandoned the foul tasting home remedies and started frequenting speakeasies.  Thus for the first time, men and women could drink together in what passed for a public setting. It’s not too touch to imagine what this led to.  Thus Prohibition indirectly led to women being treated as equals in public as well as to the sexual revolution.

What finally brought about the end of Prohibition?

Did you think that people recognized the folly of their ways?  That making illegal an act that millions of people perform only ends with millions of people breaking the law and ultimately eroding respect for the law? Um…no.

Ultimately, what brought down Prohibition was the previous amendment, that which created the income tax.  Before the income tax, a significant percentage of the revenue from the US government came from taxes and duties on alcohol.  The ASL realized this and thus they were one of the forces behind the income tax amendment as a means to replace the funds that the US government would lose once Prohibition was passed.

However there were several people that were stridently against the income tax.  And, since they had last names like DuPont, they had the financial means to make their objections known.  They thought that they could get Prohibition repealed, reinstitute the taxes on alcohol, and then get relief from their income tax burden.  They had the money, resources, time, and the ears of politicians.  Other factors were at work, but they were the leading people that pushed the anti-Prohibition forces and ultimately led to its repeal.

Yes, taxes and import duties were re-instated on alcohol once it was legal again.  Alas for the elite, the new President, Franklin Roosevelt, had other ideas for their money.  Thus, although they won the battle, they lost the war and the income tax has been a part of our lives ever since.

This is a very interesting chapter in American History.  I’m glad that I was able to learn so much about it.  Now when I go to the Thread and Needle, the ‘secret’ upstairs part of the local speakeasy, Tavern Law, I understand more of the history that inspired it, including to but not limited to the 1920’s pictures of nude women on the walls.

Cormac McCarthy – A Tender Love Story

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Title: Outer Dark

Rating: 4 Stars

Yeah, OK, the title is a total lie.

This is classic early Cormac McCarthy.

He writes beautifully about horrifying things. In this case, a brother impregnates his sister. The sister gives birth. The brother takes the newborn and abandons it in a forest. The sister discovers this and embarks on a journey to find the baby. The brother embarks on his own journey.

Needless to say, there are no happy endings here. Death is quick and casual here. At the best, possibly, just possibly, there might be some glimpse of humanity and growth.

I’m fascinated by the language in this book. The characters are nearly all illiterate and simple in vocabulary. McCarthy captures their dialect in such a way that the simplicity of their language is expressed while at the same time you have no trouble understanding their intent.

He uses words and expressions that are clearly archaic. I find myself wondering how much research did he have to do to be able to inhabit that linguistic space? I read that he spent a lot of time in Tennessee. Did he learn it there and just happen to be blessed with a tremendous ear / memory for language?

I’ve read most of his novels now. As far as I can remember, nearly all of them involve a journey of some sort. I guess that’s probably not all that shocking since journey is clearly one of the meta-plots that literature is based upon. Perhaps because most of his novels take place in a time/place without a lot of mechanization (either turn of the century before automobiles or because characters are too poor or in the case of The Road, a post-apocalyptic world), the journey envelopes the novel. The journey isn’t moving quickly from one place to another. Usually the journey is on foot or on horse. In such a manner, on the road or in a field, characters and situations present themselves.

There are three characters that follow along the brother (Culla) that commit acts of destruction and murder in his wake. They ultimately cross his path and serve to pass judgement upon him.

Who are these men? Are they fate? Are they expressions from Culla’s mind? Regardless, they reminded me of the Tex Cobb character from Raising Arizona. In a similar manner, a rough-hewn angel of justice is out to wreak justice on behalf of a kidnapped child.  Or I could just be insane.

 

Tom Hanks is the Jimmy Stewart We Deserve

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Title: Bridge of Spies

Rating: 4 Stars

Let’s see now…

  • Director: Steven Spielberg, check
  • Screenplay: Coen brothers, check
  • Starring: Tom Hanks, check
  • Setting: Historical dram, check

Is there anyway that this movie couldn’t have gotten a best movie Oscar nomination?

The story, for those of you who don’t know it, is about the spy exchange of Rudolf Abel, a Soviet spy captured by the Americans, and Gary Francis Powers, a U-2 pilot shot down and captured by the Soviets. This exchange, on the American side, was brokered by a lawyer named Jim Donovan (Tom Hanks). I don’t really know much of the history except that the exchange did take place. I’m guessing that many liberties were taken with the actual details.

It was an exceedingly well done movie. It was beautifully shot. You really felt like you were in the 1950’s US and Germany.  Tom Hanks absolutely nails the decent, honorable everyman dedicated to doing the right thing no matter what obstacles are thrown his way (this might be his most Jimmy Stewart movie yet). Mark Rylance (who was unspeakably awesome as Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall) does an finely crafted portrayal of Rudolph Abel.

I see that the music score received an Oscar nomination as well, which considering that it had the subtlety of a sledgehammer both saddened me and did not surprise me.

Several characters throughout the movie acquire colds. There was a lot of sniffling going around. I really hope that this was some subtle expression of the interconnectedness of the various characters, be they American, German, or Russian; and not a statement of this being a ‘Cold’ war. If the latter, then someone needs to be taken out and punched in the head.

Just as an aside, this movie pretty seriously failed the Bechdel test. The only female characters that I remember are secretaries, cleaning ladies, the anguished German girlfriend of a captured American student, and Hank’s wife, whose main role seems to be to discourage Hanks from performing his everyday man actions of quiet heroism.  IMDB seems to back me up on this.

So, a well made movie. However, if not directed by Steven Spielberg and not starring Tom Hanks, I see no way that this ever gets the best picture Oscar nomination.

When Your Name is Your Destiny

Today I went to a reading from John Perkins. It really wasn’t much of a reading as a call to action.

John Perkins wrote Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. I’d read it many years ago (it first came out in 2004). He’d recently updated it and was embarking upon a book tour.

The thesis of Confessions is that there is a group of men who consciously take steps to encourage developing natures to incur massive amounts of debt to build infrastructure (built by US companies at enormous profit) that actually benefit a relatively insignificant percentage of their people. Ultimately, the debt is so massive that the nations have to default, which forces the nations to privatize previously public institutions and open up their natural resources for plundering (again by US companies).

Woo-hoo! USA! USA! USA!

As can be imagined, there is a significant amount of controversy around this topic. I’m certainly not educated enough in history and/or economics to have a firm position regarding the veracity.

Anyway, I went to his reading. He did not read from the book. Instead he decried the current state of capitalism (calling it death capitalism). He lays a lot of blame on Milton Friedman and his somewhat libertarian view that corporations’ sole responsibility is to maximize profits, regardless of the cost on employees or environment.

I certainly see his point and obviously over the last couple of decades I have seen a decrease in corporate responsibility. I have a slight problem with that statement because I’ve just completed reading Empire of Cotton. With the long US history of confiscating land from Native Americans and then forcing slaves to work on the confiscated lands, this death capitalism has not just been in place for 40 years but has been in place for over two hundred years, which to me makes it a much more intractable problem that can’t be solved just by writing some letters to corporations threatening to boycott them.

As I said, his talk was a call to action. He encouraged all of us to take positive steps to move from death capitalism to life capitalism, in which we focus on the larger issues of personal and social well being and move away from the idea that the economic value of an activity is its only value. It was very much a statement of progressive values.

It was inspirational. When he was done, the small (a couple of dozen people) group of attendees gave him a standing ovation.

Now, hold that thought a moment while I go on a tangent that I promise to tie back up in a bit.

Last year, I’d read Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It was basically the story of the rise of Republican progressivism. At the heart of it was, of course, Teddy Roosevelt. He clearly believed in an active government, and through his force of personality, moved aggressively to put a progressive stamp on federal government. Even with Roosevelt’s energy, he had at best limited success due to some extremely conservative elements in Congress.

At Teddy’s side was Gifford Pinchot. Pinchot was a forestry expert and was a key figure in leading Teddy’s efforts in conservation.

William Howard Taft was Roosevelt’s hand picked successor and he followed Roosevelt as president. As president, he lacked the energy and drive of Roosevelt. Therefore, Pinchot became impatient with Taft and actively spoke out against him.  Taft ended up dismissing him from his administration.

Pinchot still had Roosevelt’s ear and he was one of those that convinced him that he needed to run against Taft in the 1912 election under the banner of the Progressive Party, of which Pinchot was one of its leaders.

This of course led to both Taft and Roosevelt both losing to Woodrow Wilson, which was effectively the end of the progressive branch of the Republican Party.

Now, back to the present, after his talk, Perkins was taking questions from the audience. One of the questions was regarding a degree program being offered by the Bainbridge Graduate Institute. In response to the question, Perkins mentioned that this should actually be answered by the founder of the institute, who just happened to be in the audience that night. He stood up and spoke for a couple of minutes.

The founder is Gifford Pinchot III, the grandson of one of the founders of the Progressive Party. The institute that he co-founded offers an MBA focused on integrating environmental sustainability and social responsibility with innovation and profit. It was the first graduate school to offer such an MBA.

So, yeah, Gifford Pinchot III has had a lifelong passion and focus on progressive causes.

What did you expect, that he’d be a corporate lawyer for ExxonMobil?

Beat the Nazis with a Paddle

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Title: The Boys in the Boat

Rating: 4 Stars

One of the signs of a great non-fiction work is when you know how the book ends yet you still get caught up in the excitement and suspense of the action. Even though I knew that the Husky crew won the gold medal in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, I sweated every struggle and cheered their every triumph.

There are several focus points.  One is Joe Rantz, one of the rowers in the boat. He had what could only be described as a heartbreaking childhood. As a young child, his mother dies and his dad promptly shifts him off to a distant aunt. Later his father remarries and he recalls Joe back. Later, his now step-mom, harboring a grudge against Joe, ultimately issues an ultimatum to Joe’s father, who decides to stay with his wife and quite literally abandons Joe to fend for himself. He’s fifteen at the time. And, oh yes, this was in the heart of the depression.

From all of this, he somehow manages to attend the University of Washington, working as a janitor and anything else he can get his hands on while wearing the same tattered clothes day after day.

He is one of the crew eight that wins a national championship, wins the Olympic trials, and ultimately travels to Berlin to compete and win gold there. In so doing, with his fellow crew mates, he finally develops the closeness and trust that he’s been lacking in his life.

The second focal point is the struggle for the UW crew to win gold. Over a period of several years, they face multiple setbacks but each time come back more determined.

The third focal point is Berlin and the efforts that Nazi Germany goes through to put a bright, fresh face to their country. Many months of preparation, temporarily setting aside their censorship and Jewish repression, and the overt propaganda of Leni Riefenstahl all together cast a facade over Nazi Germany that fooled many people, not least the US head of Olympics Avery Brundage.

Many people make this comparison but if you like the work of Laura Hillenbrand (which I do), then this book will be right up your alley.

 

Memento vs Memento Mori

One of my favorite movies is Memento.  Which is cool, but also kind of sucks because that happens to be one of the favorite movies that’s listed on Stuff White People Like, which makes my love for what I think is a completely unconventional and complex thought provoking movie seem banal.

I’m going to try to rescue my love for it from this hideous pit of self-loathing by comparing it to Memento Mori. Memento Mori is a short story by Jonathon Nolan that appeared in Esquire magazine.  Jonathon, as most people probably know by now, is Christopher Nolan’s brother.  Christoper directed Memento. I’ve seen every movie he’s directed. With the exception of Interstellar, I’ve pretty much loved every movie he’s done.

He has replaced John Dahl as my favorite director, who some time ago made three awesome takes on film noir, Kill Me Again, Red Rock West, and The Last Seduction, all movies about not so bright guys and the way too smart and evil women that do them in. Those movies are typical of the much too densely plotted movies that I enjoy; the kind of movies where you’re scared to get up to use the rest room (yes, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, that is an occasional problem of mine) because you might miss something. You wait until you quite literally think that you’re going to burst, you run to the bathroom, frantically (yet still carefully) zip up upon completion, and then run back to the seat.

I thought that film noir movies were the ultimate in densely plotted movies. And then there is Memento.  I’m sure that everyone by now knows the premise.  A man is seeking revenge for the murder of his wife.  The police have already caught the man that did it.

However, he’s convinced that a second man was involved and it is his life’s mission to find that man.  This mission is somewhat complicated by the fact that he’s incapable of creating any new memories since the death of his wife.

There’s a couple of big ideas here.  One of course is the idea of constant grief.  Since he’s incapable of creating new memories, he’s incapable of getting over his wife’s death.  The saddest moment of the movie is when he hires a prostitute to wait until he falls asleep and then get up and make enough noise to wake him.  He wakes up, looks around, and for a moment, his wife is alive and he’s happy.  Almost immediately, the feeling dissipates and he’s once again immersed in grief.

Another idea is the process.  He’s convinced that the lack of short term memory should not deter him from his pursuit of his wife’s killer.  He has built up an entire framework of processes to guide him.  He takes pictures and labels everything.  Key facts are tattooed on his torso.  He has notes and maps.  If he can keep it all organized, he thinks that he can ultimately succeed. Of course, he’s wrong.

Another idea is that everyone, and I mean everyone, uses him.  The cop that uses him for amusement, the woman who uses him to avenge her man, even the hotel clerk that rents him multiple rooms.  Despite his self assurance and hard work to try to keep on top of things, he is ultimately nothing more than a victim.

Interestingly enough, he kind of turns this around to his own advantage.  Realizing that the cop that’s been pretending to be his friend has actually been using him both as a dupe to get some illicit money as well as basically just for his own amusement, he invents a clue on the spot (that he’ll know that he’ll almost immediately forget the source of) that he knows will lead him back right back to the cop, which brings us right back to the start of the movie.

And then, last but not least, is the mode of telling it.  It’s basically told kind of backwards, with each succeeding scene explaining the background of the preceding scene.  This is wonderfully effective because it puts you in the exact same place as the protagonist. You’re constantly, based upon minimal information, trying to figure out who’s who and what’s going on.  You’re the one with insomnia.

Now, Memento Mori.

Apparently Jonathon sold Christopher on the idea of Memento the movie while on a cross country drive.  Jonathon and Christopher co-wrote the screen play but Jonathon wrote Memento Mori on his own.

Memento Mori is the same premise yet different.  The premise is the same in that a man’s wife has been murdered and as a result, he cannot create any new short term memories.

In both, grief is a dominant theme.  In Mori, there’s a big sign over the man’s bed that says, Your wife is dead.  He wakes up every day and that’s the first thing he sees.  Every time he wakes up he weeps.

A key difference is the level of functional behavior.  The man in Mori cannot be functional. He’s kept in what appears to be a hospital room (or possibly an asylum?  It’s not clear). He leaves notes to himself about how to brush his teeth and how to smoke.  He chuckles at the simplicity of the notes, but even so, he still finds toothbrushes laying around with toothpaste on them and smoking cigarettes lying around.  He is simply not able to live on his own.

Similarities are the notes and the tattoos.  They are handled differently though.  In the movie, they are there to support his process of getting through the day.  In the short story, they are something else entirely.

A major theme of the short story is that everyone, not just the protagonist, is basically a series of people ever changing.  Picture a cartoon flip deck of a person walking.  Each card in the deck is a miniscule point in time.  Each card is effectively a different person.

Therefore, each person is made of a nearly infinite slice of point in time individuals. Most of these slice of time people in a person’s life are pretty much idiots.  They just want to sit on a couch and eat potato chips.  They’re non-entities.

However, every now and then, one of these slices of people is a genius.  This person has a complete understanding of life, what is important, and how to get it.  The tragedy, of course, is that this genius is then immediately followed by a series of potato chip eaters and thus nothing ever gets done.

In Mori, the notes / tattoos are communication devices from one genius to the next genius slice of time person.  Kind of like smoke signals that get communicated from one mountain top to the next, these are the ways that the protagonist’s actions are planned and executed.

By the use of these notes and signals, the protagonist who otherwise is incapable of functioning, actually is able to escape from his room and execute his revenge.

At the end of story, there’s a dead body on the sidewalk.  He’s sitting in the back of a car (a squad car? a taxi?) smiling.  He’s accomplished his mission.  His wife has been avenged.

He suddenly realizes that he’s about to forget this wonderful memory.  Desperately, he tries to get a pen to write this down (there is a similar scene in the movie but in a different context).  No pen is forthcoming.  The car hits a pothole, which distracts him.  Distracted, he looks down, sees one of his tattoos, and commences reading.  The cycle begins again. You’re left wondering, how many men has he killed before?  How many men will he end up killing?

A wonderful movie, and a wonderful short story.  I love them, even if that does make me just an ordinary white person.

The Folks that Make Kubrick Look Normal

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Title: Room 237

Rating: 3 Stars

The Room 237 in the title refers to the hotel room in The Shining where Jack Nicholson’s character experiences maximum weirdness.

This movies shows the folly of what happens if a number of very smart people have access to a freeze frame video player and a lot of time on their hands. They end up with multiple pretty bizarre theories of what Kubrick was actually making the movie about.

The genocide of the Native Americans

In some ways, this kind of makes sense. After all, one of the characters makes a brief reference to the hotel being built on an Indian burial ground. There are many pieces of Native American art in the hotel.

Where this theory goes off the rails is the fact that in the background of maybe two scenes, are seen multiple containers of Calumet baking powder. Keep in mind that these scenes are set in a kitchen, so it’s not exactly bizarre that there would be baking powder in the background. Calumet is the name of an Native American tribe, so clearly Kubrick was referencing Native American genocide by including images of Calumet baking powder.

Clearly…

The Holocaust

This one goes off the rails pretty much right away. The number 42 appears in several places and in several ways in the movie (for example, with room 237, 2 * 3 * 7 = 42). 1942 was the year that the Nazi final solution was started (I’m guessing that this refers to the Wannsee Conference).

The typewriter that Jack uses is of German manufacture.

Clearly…

Kubrick Faked the Moon Landing!

In case you didn’t know, Stanley Kubrick faked the moon landing because NASA couldn’t pull it off and it was under deadline pressure. Later, apparently either overcome with guilt or wanting to explain / apologize to his wife (?!), Kubrick made The Shining and then scattered hints throughout the movie referring to the lie.

The most obvious reference is the Apollo 11 sweater that Danny wears

Miscellaneous Sundry Theories

The movie is about a minotaur. And no, I am not making that up.

The movie is filled with subliminal messages about sex (including one freeze frame moment when one of the character is positioned in such a way that a desk inbox appears to be his erection).

Various meanings are derived from what appear to be simple continuity errors.  People do make mistakes, especially on long shoots.

One person did the rock album thing and played the movie backward. He then overlaid the movie playing backward on top of the movie running forward and pointed out numerous moments of enlightened meaning. Why do I picture a group of shaggy haired men lighting up a bong while doing this?

Anyhoo…

If anyone needs any further proof that humans are at the point where they have evolved intelligence but have not quite evolved enough to know what to do with said intelligence, this is the movie for you.

 

How to Win a War While Wearing a Frocked Wig

In the election of 1800, there was a fight for the soul of the country.  Was it going to be won by the Federalists, led by John Adams, or by the Democratic-Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson? Of course, Jefferson won.

Adams decided to give the country one last full kiss on the lips with tongue of Federalism before he checked out.  In his lame duck last days, he appointed a number of Federalist judges to new posts, much to the fury of the Democratic-Republicans.

However, not all got in under the wire.  One, in particular, William Marbury, did not get delivered his appropriate documents before the Adams administration was run out of town. When the new administration came in, Secretary of State James Madison refused to deliver them.  In true American fashion, Marbury sued to get seated. Thus ensued the court case, Marbury v. Madison, one of the most famous court cases in US history.

John Marshall, the supreme court justice, was in a pickle. He was an ardent Federalist, so his natural inclination was to support Marbury.

However, he was also a pragmatist.  After 12 years of government, the US Supreme Court still was defining its position in relationship to the executive branch and the legislative branch. The court could not make laws nor execute laws.  It had no army or navy at its disposal. What was its relevance?

At this juncture in US history, if the court ruled against the government and forced it to seat Marbury, there was a very real possibly that Jefferson would have told it to go pound sand and ignore it, which would have rendered the Supreme Court totally irrelevant.

So, Marshall went crafty.  He first of all refused to seat Marbury on pure technical grounds, so there was no need to risk having the government override him.  He then went on and said that even though in this case, the court is not compelling the government to seat him, it had the authority to do so.  It had the authority to review all laws passed by the legislature, and if any of those are found to be in violation of the constitution, that it could over-rule it.  It was the final arbiter on what was and was not constitutional.

Although the Jefferson administration disagreed with the logic, ultimately since they obeyed it, the legal precedent of judicial review was established.  While it drives many people crazy (right of privacy…where the fuck does the phrase right of privacy appear in the constitution?), it is still in place.  Obviously, the US Supreme Court is still…um…supremely relevant today.

A classic case of how lose a battle but win a war.