Star Trek Foils My Hater Plan

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Title: Star Trek Beyond

Rating: 4 Stars

I admit it. I was prepared to be a hater. I saw that a third Star Trek was coming out and I thought, well, someone is making another trip to the bank. The sequel-itis has invaded the movie industry like a virus and here comes another one. It’ll be so action packed and chock full of special effects that we’ll somehow will miss the fact that there’s no soul in the movie remaining.

To me, three appears to be the tipping point. The first one comes out and it’s a breath of fresh air. A great example of this is the James Bond franchise. Casino Royale was an absolutely breathtaking re-boot of what was a stale, stilted, boring franchise that was pretty clearly on life support. With the success of Casino Royale, the threat of disappointing the hard core fans had dissipated and they could make Quantum of Solace without that undue pressure. It was still an exciting and original movie. By the time Skyfall came around, they started relapsing to the trite, and by the time Spectre was released, you have Q, a car that shoots shit out its back, a sneering villain, and an exploding watch. All that was missing was frickin lasers on sharks.

I was pretty convinced that Star Trek was about the enter the same territory. The Star Trek re-boot, just like Casino Royale, gave a tired franchise a very deserved kick in the ass and it was fantastic. The second was good, but I started getting nervous. Bringing back Khan already seemed like a pretty early sop to the fanboys. What were they going to do with the third one?

It turns out that they made, what I think anyway, a pretty brilliant decision. They turned the writing over to Simon Pegg. If nothing else, Pegg knows how to write about characters and their relationships in a humorous fashion. This is what made the movie pretty great.

As expected, the special effects were impressive. The Yorktown space station is massive. The Enterprise disintegrating under attack is impressive. Generally, the special effects did a good job of supporting the story and not overwhelming it. There might have been a little too much CGI porn surveying the Yorktown, but it was manageable.

However, it was the relationships that made the movie for me. The relationships, between Kirk and Spock, Spock and Uhuru, and Scotty and Jaylah were all well crafted. The whole point of the Star Trek, at least in my opinion, is a tight network of diverse friends working harmoniously together despite their differences to accomplish a common goal. There is a reason why Bones and Spock have the most engaging relationships. Although polar opposites, they respect each other and, ultimately, like each other. These relationships, although predictable, bring heart to what would otherwise be nothing more than a space western.

The other thing that Pegg brings to movie is humor. Much to my unexpected surprise, there were several laugh out loud moments in the movie. The clever use of The Beastie Boys’ Sabotage was the movie highlight. Referring to it as classical music just made it that much more complete.

I read that Pegg will not be writing the fourth movie and that it will revert back to the original authors. Say it ain’t so!

So, I was wrong. The third Star Trek movie (of this current re-boot) was a pretty awesome movie. Go see it and have fun.

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Real World – Baltimore

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Title: Homicide

Rating: 4 Stars

This was a pretty engrossing fly on the wall description of a year in the life of the homicide bureau in Baltimore. Somehow, David Simon, at the time a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, managed, despite the protests of almost everyone, to get permission from the police commissioner to spend a year eavesdropping on the many homicide detectives. After first treating him with suspicion, ultimately they forgot about him and let him tag along on all of their activities, thus providing a very realistic view of the life of a homicide detective.

After several decades of real life detective series (including Simon’s own Homicide and The Wire), there probably aren’t that many surprises here. It’d have been interesting to read it when it first came out before all of these procedurals. Would  it have been surprising? Would there be shock at the profanity, locker room antics of the detectives (according to later accounts, as a result of the book, at one time the Baltimore police leadership considered bringing all detectives in the bureau on charges of conduct unbecoming)?

Regardless, even though over twenty-five years old, it’s still an entertaining read. There were several items of note.

The detectives are truly prodigious drinkers. They drink until the bar closes, and then they go out to their cars to drink some more.

The bureau is an absolutely relentless testosterone club where men express affection for each other by brutal insults, cruel pranks, homoerotic jokes, and penny-ante extortion.

Like everywhere else, the detectives are surrounded by internal politics and bureaucracy. After the lieutenant’s murder rate drops propitiously, the detectives have to start filling in more paperwork and consciously cover their asses from executive oversight.

Murderers are, by and large, pretty dumb. There is the murderer who decided to leave the body in his basement. There is the murderer who called the detective and volunteered that he owned a gun matching the murder weapon. There is the murderer who gave a half-assed alibi, clearly not expecting detectives to actually follow up on it. I guess we can all be thankful that, by and large, criminals aren’t the masterminds that popular culture tries to tell us they are.

Murders ebb and flow. One night things will be quiet and then the next night several murders will occur. There will be runs where all murders are easily solved (dunkers) and then there will be another run where there’s just a dead body, no murder weapon, and no witnesses (whodunits).

Simon goes into detail on police procedures. He has an entire section on Miranda. The police originally thought that Miranda was going to cripple them. After all, after someone has explicitly told you that you don’t have to talk to them, who in their right mind would actually turn around and start talking? Most people, actually. The detectives have developed time proven techniques that allow them to get the suspect to sign the Miranda while at the same time encouraging them to continue talking.

The book centers for the most part on four detectives. There is Richard Garvey, an experienced gifted detective who has a most amazing run. For close to the entire year, every case he gets is pretty easily and quickly solved. Even in the cases of stone whodunits, where there is a dead body in the middle of nowhere, somehow someone will just amble up and mention that they happened to see the make and model of a car leaving the scene, and oh, by the way, would you like the license plate too? He keeps waiting for the Karma to turn on him, but by the end of the year, it still hadn’t.

On the other side of this is Tom Pellegrini. Although relatively inexperienced, he is a dedicated, dogged detective. He draws the violent murder of a young girl. Immediately this becomes a red ball case, which draws the attention of the press and the police hierarchy. Massive resources are pulled into this effort. Despite (or maybe because?) of all this, the case goes nowhere. Pellegrini spends most of his year working on the case, and as far as I know, the case is still open. Garvey and Pellegrini show that although it’s great to be good, it’s even better to be lucky.

The other two detectives are the most clearly drawn character studies. There is Donald Worden, the hardened twenty-five year veteran that is a cop’s cop with a photographic memory. He’s gruff and tough but with his cop intuition, his experience with Baltimore, and that incredible memory, he can close pretty much any case that he comes into contact with.

In contrast to that is Harry Edgerton. He’s also a brilliant detective, but he’s a loner iconoclast that simply has no interest in meshing with the other members of the squad. He’s perceived to be someone that looks out for himself and does not chip in to help when needed. Although he’s respected, he’s the subject of open derision and squad conflict, of which he seems not to care a whit. Edgerton and Worden show the broad range of personalities that can be successful detectives.

All in all, it was a good read. However, it did run a bit long and probably could have benefited by a tighter editing. Also, through no fault of its own, it is now dated. Simon spent 1988 with the bureau. Clearly, technology and probably (I’m hoping!) processes have improved since then.

Having said that, it was the detectives themselves, more than the violent crimes, that made the book an entertaining read.

Walter Mitty Does Transgressive

Tonight I went to see Donald Ray Pollock.  He has a new novel out that he’s promoting. I’ve already read his two previous works but was absolutely blown away by his short story collection, Knockemstiff, which I wrote about here.

If you’ve read the book, you know that I had no idea what to expect. Here was a man born in a small town, now living in Chillicothe, Ohio (with a grand population of about 22,000). After a career working in a paper mill, he went to Ohio State University to learn how to write. While getting his MFA, his short stories began to be published. At about the age of fifty, he quit his job and became a full time writer.

His stories are brutally violent as he remorselessly shines a bright spotlight upon his hapless, forsaken characters, who even though beaten down by life, still fight to live another unforgiving day. Picture Trainspotting in Southern Ohio.

So, who comes up to the stage? A mild-mannered gentlemen in his early 60’s, wearing jeans, a button down work shirt, with a pen conspicuously displayed in his shirt pocket. He spoke softly, with the slight Southern drawl that you get from people living in the Southern Midwest (reminding me of my relatives from Kansas).

He reads for about fifteen minutes and then takes questions for maybe twenty-five minutes. He’s quiet, unassuming, ill at ease, possibly even nervous, although he said that he’s been on tour for a while and is now wrapping up.

His work is full of sex, drugs, violence and degradation. Before he starts to work, he comments that some of his previous readings took place near or in the children’s sections of bookstores. Accordingly, he’s now adjusted his readings so that they are palatable to all ages. He frankly admits that these aren’t the most interesting parts of the book, but feels obligated to not offend.

Contrast this to Chuck Palahniuk. He went on a reading tour of Haunted, a set of truly shocking short stories. The story that he publicly read to people was some extreme that it was reported that it wasn’t unusual for one or two people to faint during a reading.

I found it interesting that this mild-mannered man not wanting to offend in public can unleash his id into his stories so ferociously in the quiet of the shed that he writes in back home in Ohio.

When asked what inspired him to write at such a late age, he said that he started to work at the paper mill when he was a very young man. It was the same factory that his father worked at and that his grandfather before him worked at. His initial plan, like a lot of people in that part of Ohio, was to work a couple of years, save some money, and then get the hell out. However, life intervened and he ended up making his life there. When he was 45, his father retired, and he noticed that his father almost immediately went into full time sitting in his lounge chair watching television mode.

He saw that and decided that there was no way that he was going to do that. He wanted something different. As he said, all he knew was factory work and reading. Therefore, he thought he’d try a hand at writing. He enrolled in writing courses at Ohio State, where he was encouraged to get into the MFA program.

He didn’t think that he could ever write a novel, so he thought that he’d start with short stories. After several years, he was profoundly disappointed with the quality of his work. To get around this, he resolved to type, each week, in its entirety, a different previously published short story that he loved / admired. Among others, he published short stories from Denis Johnson and Hemingway. He did this for a year and a half.

In so doing, typing forced him to read the story more carefully, so he could better understand what the author was trying to accomplish and how the author was actually constructing the story. From this experience, he started writing his own short stories again, which were fairly quickly published.

Although the reading was not that exciting and Pollock clearly was not that comfortable on stage, it was interesting to listen to the author of one of the finest set of short stories that I’ve read and how a, ahem, late career man was able to fashion a new life.

Maybe there’s hope for all of us?

 

Starting With A Whimper

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Title: Savage Season

Rating: 3 Stars

I read Bubba Ho-Tep by Joe R. Lansdale a little while ago (after having seen the movie several years ago). Since I enjoyed it, I thought that I’d give his detective series a shot.

His series centers around two men, Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. Hap is an ex-hippie ex-convict white man. Leonard is a black, gay, conservative, Vietnam vet. Despite that, they are best friends.

Since I normally like to start at the beginning of a series, I chose Savage Season. It seemed logical to do so, but sometime there are a couple of issues with doing this.

The main concern is that the characters really aren’t developed yet. It’s in succeeding books that the protagonist(s) is fleshed out when the author realized that he has the time and the readers’ attention. For instance, I just finished Killing Floor, by Lee Child. This is Jack Reacher’s first book. Although he is recognizably Jack Reacher, he still is somewhat of a cypher. It’s not until you read the following books that the character is sketched in enough to make him seem to be a real character.

I get this same feeling with Savage Season. It’s a pretty thin book (~180 pages), and the plot moves along very smartly, so there’s just not enough time for Lansdale to sketch out the characters and the relationship between Hap and Leonard. It’s clear that they are very good friends, and, as with many men, that friendship is expressed via insults. However, why they are such good friends or how does their respective views form / color their friendship is really not explored in any depth at all.

Most of the story is basically two guys exchanging quips and insults as they go off to find a buried treasure, followed by their action hero fireworks when it all blows up in their faces.

The plot is serviceable, the dialog was serviceable, and the characters were serviceable. I’m guessing that the following novels will get more interesting as Lansdale gets more space to fill out these characters.

Be that as it may, the first entry in the series was a pretty pedestrian effort.

 

The Fragility of Our Past

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Title: Noir City 2016

The local movie theater is having a little film festival celebrating film noir. Over the next five or six days, it will be showing something like seventeen movies.  Not knowing what to expect, I went to the first movie.

These are all movies that were made in the 1940’s. I just checked the first movie and, sure enough, you can buy a DVD of it on Amazon for $9.99. Even with my member discount, it still cost me $10.

So, I really was expecting a sparse crowd. I was very wrong in that expectation. I arrived close to twenty minutes early and the theater (which really isn’t that small) was already filling up.

Up front, before the movie started, was a trio of musicians, wearing formal wear, playing 1940’s era music. There was a saxophone, a stand-up bass, and, believe it or not, a ukulele. It was quite the mood setter. And yes, there were a number of people wearing fedoras.

The director of the festival came up and spoke a few words. Apparently, the noir films are becoming a vanishing species. However, I later went and searched Amazon for the first three movies. All were available either to buy on DVD or to rent on Instant Video. What he meant was that they are becoming harder to find in their original 35 mm format. In many cases, there is only one print left and the movie studio refuses to release it because of potential damage to the film.

This reminds of the essay that I read about a group of odd ball collectors that were somewhat obsessively searching for long lost records of black blues singers. They would travel all over the country searching for records for which only a single copy existed. They would zealously hoard the records that they own.

In this essay, they listed a number of songs that were single record only. These are the rarest of the rare. I turned around, searched, and, in each case, was able to find it on iTunes.

Clearly, the collectors (and the director of the noir festival) would instantly stand up  and says it’s not the same. I see their point. I’m sure that there is some nuance or atmosphere that is lost even in the most accurate of analog to digital conversions.

For the purpose of legacy, it’s probably good enough. Especially for a non-connoisseur like myself, I’m probably not going to tell a lot of difference between a digital copy and the original analog.

It does beg the larger question. We’re saving everything to digital, and that’s fantastic from a storage and a cost perspective. However, is it really great from a longevity perspective? Sure, bits never wear out, but at some point, those bits are going to become unreadable. Does anyone really think that a hundred years from now, we’ll still be using Acrobat Reader to open documents?

That was the advantage of stone tablets. Yeah, not real efficient from storage or cost, but really good at longevity.

We have this problem at work. In some cases, I’ve worked on applications where the requirement is that the documentation must still be accessible eighty years from now. Eighty years! In the world of IT, that could easily be at least ten generations of software. What is the probability that software in the year 2100 is going to be backward compatible with data from 2016?

We already had files that were in the repository that were created on engineering workstations in the 1980’s. They were written in a weird proprietary technical documentation format that I believe one person still has the reader for. Something happens to that person, and it might as well be a lost language.

So, I’m changing my mind. Preserve the 35mm! It’s the only thing keeping us from anarchy!

And yes, I know that I started writing about a film festival and ended up ranting about data retention policies. So sue me. The film festival was really cool. I really enjoyed the first movie that I went to. It was called I Wake Up Screaming. It was early but very clearly noirish. Besides being a cool title, I have no idea how it was named. Several people were woken up unexpectedly, but no one screamed. One person was murdered but she was definitely wide awake when was murdered.

Regardless, still a cool title and an even cooler genre.

 

 

Redneck Dog

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This picture was posted by one of my Facebook friends.  In case you’re wondering, this is his grandson.

Words almost fail me here:

  • Who would pose his grandson next to a dog’s food bowl and water bowl?
  • Once posed, who would take his picture?
  • Once taken, who would post it on Facebook for all to see?

The look on the baby’s face is priceless:

  • There’s the What The Fuck you looking at aspect.
  • There’s the I’m going to kill grandpa as soon as I can wrap my little fingers around an axe aspect.
  • Are those tears of rage, frustration, helplessness, or colic?

All I know is that in about 18 years, some grandfather is going to be a dead man.

…And no jury in the world will convict him.

 

As American as a Heart Attack

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Title: Bite of Seattle

As yes, the Bite of Seattle. A local institution. It’s been going on for 35 years and every year gets just a little bit bigger, marching along in time with Americans’ waistline.

In the old days, when I worked a 4×10 schedule, I used to go Friday afternoon. It was, for obvious reasons, pretty dead. All of the booths were there, and many times people from the booths would be calling me over for a sample.

Now that I’m on a working man 5×8 shift, I no longer have that luxury. I went Sunday afternoon sometime between 1:00 and 3:00. It was semi sunny and somewhere around 70 degrees; in other words the perfect kind of day for the average Seattlelite to be out and attending something like the Bite.  Accordingly, there were many 10’s of thousands of people there. I am not a big man, but there were many places where I could barely squeeze through. There were a couple of choke points where once I entered it, I was pretty much swept along by the sea of people thronging through it.

Foods of the world were well represented here. There was Greek, Filipino, Swedish, Russian, Peruvian, Thai, Vietnamese, Lebanese, and Afghan food, among others that I cannot remember. There was not one but two corn dogs of the world booths. Are they competitors? Did they actually get together beforehand and split the world up, like Spain and Portugal did in 1494 with the Treaty of Tordesillas?

Seattle has a very well deserved reputation for whiteness. The reality becomes slightly more complex when you leave Seattle proper and venture into the ‘burbs. For instance, the neighborhood that I grew up in, White Center, according to city data, is 33% White, 23% Hispanic, 20% Asian, and 13% Black. I bought my first house in Tukwila, which is 37% White, 20% Black, 17% Asian, and 15% Hispanic.

When something like the Bite comes along, everyone comes into to the city to enjoy it. Therefore, unlike many other events in Seattle, you truly do see a wide variety of people, be it ethnicity, religion, or size (OK, large was disproportionately represented here). I heard a wide variety of languages spoken.

And guess what? No problems! Everyone loves eating cheap food, listening to music, and hanging with friends and family on a warm summer day. If there is anything that Americans can get behind, I imagine that it’s gluttony. This was signified by one guy, standing in line, just finishing off his giant corn dog before ordering his next entree.  Way to go! These colors won’t run!

And there was certainly cheap food to be had expressly designed to shorten your lifespan. I went on a search for the least possible healthy food possible. There was the perennial contender of elephant ears. Apparently the fad of deep frying things is still going strong (deep fried twinkies, oreo’s, and PB&J’s). There was the frozen cheesecake dipped in chocolate. That was a pretty strong contender for a while. However, I do believe that the winner, hands down, scoring a set of perfect 10’s from the judges, was the Krispy Kreme Bacon Cheeseburger. Yes it was a cheeseburger, covered in bacon, with two Krispy Kreme donuts instead of buns. America, we’re gonna need more Obamacare.

There were a couple of random oddities:

First of all, it was Groupon Bite of Seattle. I honestly didn’t know that Groupon was still a viable company. Granted, as a relatively light consumer, I’m not exactly their target audience. Have they made money yet? I just did a quick check and it appears the answer is no, they have not made money yet (at least no P/E ratio, which is a pretty good clue). Five years ago, their stock price was 28, now it’s around 3.5. It does have a $2 billion market cap, so that is something.

There wasn’t any political activity going on. I found that surprising since there is a primary happening in a couple of weeks. Maybe it’s not allowed. This was a free public event, so I’m not sure if they could actually stop it even if they wanted to. The closest thing that I saw was a guy holding a hand scrawled cardboard sign. Fully expecting it to be some variety of work-for-food kind of sign, I was taken aback when it just said “Weed is Jesus”. He just stood there holding it in one hand, and giving out the peace sign in the other. He did not want money. He apparently was just passing on the message that the Lord Our Savior is cannabis. Fair enough. Sounds as reasonable as any other dogma.

Similarly, I did not see a single busker. I saw several on the outskirts, but within the Bite proper, not a single one. Granted there were several concert stages going on, but they were all pretty far apart. I would have thought that many other musicians could have set up their didgeridoo and started playing. Were they explicitly forbidden? Were there secret busker police waiting to pounce upon the hipster old-timey quartet? I found it interesting, especially since I really didn’t see much police presence, generally speaking. Consider what just happened in Nice, I was kind of expecting to see some heightened security. It might have been there, but if so, it was fairly well hidden.

All in all, everyone, including myself, seemed to have a good time. I’m not a big eater, but I did partake of an Elk smokey cheese hotdog.  It was OK. It did not taste like chicken.

A Literary Throat Punch

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Title: Knockemstiff

Rating: 5 Stars

Take Cormac McCarthy, place him in a desolate hollow in Southern Ohio populated by rural white trash doomed to be born, live, and die there, and you have Knockemstiff.

This is quite simply, a breathtaking collection of short stories. I’ve previously written that in collections like these, I count myself lucky if even half of them strike a chord. Here, quite literally every single story is brilliant. Every story left me shocked, horrified, and then awestruck at the words on the page.

Simply the first lines of some of the stories are themselves little works of art.  Consider:

My father showed me how to hurt a man one August night at the Torch Drive-in when I was seven years old. (Real Life)

I’d been staying out around Massieville with my crippled uncle because I was broke and unwanted everywhere else and I spent most of my days changing his slop bucket and sticking fresh cigarettes in his smoke hole. (Bactine)

Standing in his underwear in front of the faded pink duplex that he and Geraldine rented, Del came out of a blackout while taking a leak in the dead August grass. (Assailants)

Half the time now the only thing crawling around in Howard Bowman’s worn-out head is that four-letter word, the one swear that his wife no longer allows in the house. (Honolulu)

It’s fascinating because Pollock, born in Knockemstiff (now a ghost town), worked in paper mills in the area until he was fifty. He then enrolled at Ohio State University, and while there, this collection was published. This is his first published work. That is simply amazing.

Clearly, Pollock knows of what he speaks. His collection of characters, as beaten down, careworn, and nihilist as they come, all seem to have something at their core that makes you want to care for them, even as you can see the vast wreckage of their lives thus far and the probably even greater wreckage to come. His characters make wrong choices, know they’re making wrong choices, but have the dignity to live with the choices that they’ve made. There’s a kind of honest stoic bravery to such a life, which comes out in these stories.

I could keep quoting sections from the book for hours. Nearly every page had a sentence that either left me heartbroken or gasping or laughing.

There is the Alzheimer man, desperately trying to hold onto his few remaining memories, finally deciding to kill himself while he still can before he becomes a complete burden on his family; as his finger crawls to the trigger, he gets distracted by a noise and forgets.

There are the two boys who steal four bottles of speed with plans to sell the pills slowly over the next several days as they escape Knockemstiff to San Francisco. Instead, they take nearly all the pills themselves and spend the whole time driving in circles around Knockemstiff. If you’re born in the hollow, there is no escape.

The stories are interconnected and span over a period of about thirty years. Several characters reappear in later stories. The first story is about a cowardly boy witnessing his father almost beat a man to death and then, forced on by his father, beats up the man’s son. He goes to bed listening to the first words of praise that he’s ever heard from his father. In the final story, the father, although still feared by his family, is now so weak that he is totally dependent upon an oxygen tank. The son, having hit rock bottom, is now a recovering alcoholic working a minimum wage job. By the end of the story, the father nearly decides to give up the oxygen so that he can finally die and the son desperately wants a drink. However, by the end, they decide to keep on their respective path. That counts as a victory and a happy ending in Knockemstiff.

I can keep going and going about this collection. It’s not for everyone. If you occasionally like your literature to go down like homespun moonshine rotgut, this is for you. It is the best example of such that I have ever encountered.

Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

One Good Incest Deserves Another

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Title: Oldboy

Rating: 4 Stars

Well, you have to give this film credit. It certainly doesn’t pander to the audience and leave you with a good feeling. Extra points for that.

This is a grim story of revenge. A man is taken and held in captivity for fifteen years. Once he escapes, he vows revenge on the man that imprisoned him. In turn, the man that actually imprisoned him has in mind that the actual fifteen years of imprisonment is simply the first step on the way to a much more horrifying and satisfying revenge.

The captive man, Dae-su Oh, is the protagonist. You feel for him as he nearly goes insane while captivated and you’re wishing him success on his path to understand why he was held captive and then wreak his revenge for his many years of suffering.

His counterpart, Woo-jin Lee, the source of his confinement, is the smoothly oily handsome man that is always at least a couple of steps in front of him and is stage managing every development in the plot.

As is often in movies like this where someone has been out of circulation and needs to re-integrate back into normal society, there is a young woman, Mi-do, who first sympathizes with Dae-su Oh, later begins to help him, and ultimately falls in love with him.

At the end, after expecting some great wrong that Dae-su Oh committed to Woo-jin Lee, it turns out that, while in high school, he inadvertently discovered and then passed on as a rumor something about Lee’s sister that ultimately brought about her death. Lee, not willing to accept blame for his role in her death (a big role, I might add), has spent his life preparing for revenge upon Oh.

In a more typical movie, you’d expect Lee to be foiled by Oh, but pretty much everything goes exactly the way Lee planned it. The very small measure of revenge that Oh gets is  because now that Lee has avenged himself, Lee has nothing left to live for, so he kills himself.

The movie is very violent and bloody, but much of the violence is stylized. For example, there’s a huge fight scene in a hallway (a four minute scene filmed in one take), but it’s filmed from an angle that is reminiscent of a video game.

There were several actual cringe inducing moments where I really didn’t want to watch. The ants crawling under Oh’s skin, teeth being extracted with a claw hammer, and Oh chopping his own tongue off as a sign of subservience to Lee (like I said, Lee pretty much wins here) were three deeply disturbing scenes.

It turns out that Mi-do is actually Oh’s daughter and Lee has manipulated events with hypnosis to make them fall into love with each other. After Lee’s death, Oh tracks down the hypnotist and she agrees to hypnotize him again so that he forgets that Mi-do is his daughter.

After the last hypnosis session, Mi-do and Oh meet and embrace as two lovers. The camera stays close on Oh as an expression of sheer joy lights up his face. As the camera stays on him, his face changes from joy to something approaching horror. Did the hypnosis not work? We don’t know because the film ends on that note.

For being a horror / action movie, there is a lot of unpredictable and thought provoking things going on, so it really is a cut above the average. It was disturbing and a wrenching viewing experience.

That was pretty clear the intent, so…mission accomplished!

 

A Post Modern Assassination

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Title: HHhH

Rating: 4 Stars

I’d heard about this book, heard that it was good, but that was about all I knew about it, other than the basic fact that it was about the plot to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, the brutal Nazi Protector of Bohemia and Moravia.

It started off oddly. Instead of launching into a description of Heydrich’s background or maybe his assassins’ background, it starts off with the author describing himself as a child, his first encounter with the story of the assassination, as well as the fact that he fell in love with a woman from Slovakia.

I remember thinking, OK, this is just the prologue. But no, this is pretty much how the entire story is told. The story of Heydrich, his assassins, the assassination, and its aftermath are all told, but along with that you get pretty constant asides from the author as he describes how he went about writing it, his travels during his research, and his feelings about the events unfolding.

Somehow I managed to inadvertently wander into post modern historical fiction.

And very post modern it is. Is the writer truly the narrator in the book or is the narrator himself really just another character in the book? The narrator, in detail, describes his love life, his excursions, how he lives. Is this true or a literary device? Does it matter?

At various points in time, he states a fact and then just a few scant chapters later, he corrects himself and says that he has now discovered the truth and now that fact is wrong (unreliable narrator!). At other points he recounts a dialog or a character’s action and then immediately in the next chapter berates himself for taking such license by imagining conversations and actions and assigning it to a real, once existing person. He thinks doing such is incredible dishonesty and constantly accuses himself of it.

In fact, through the entire book, the narrator is unrelentingly self-critical. He’s constantly worried that he’s on the verge of failure.

Basically, to keep piling on the post modern, he is exposing the mechanics of writing historical fiction at the same time that he actually is writing it.

The interesting thing is…it kind of works. At the beginning, it was off-putting.  If you’re goal was to learn as much as you can about Heydrich and you were looking for a straightforward historical fiction, then you will be disappointed.

I do have a weakness for post modern tricks like this, as long as I don’t encounter it on a regular basis and it’s cleverly done. This was cleverly done. At the same time that I was enjoying getting caught up in the drama of the plot, I was also getting swept along with the struggles of an artist trying, in as honest manner as he can, to achieve his vision with a purity of purpose.

One of the tricks of such works is how caught up you get in the story. The story is known. A couple of Czech soldiers are parachuted into the Prague area by the British. After spending a couple of weeks scouting the territory, they ambush Heydrich’s car. One of the assassin’s machine gun misfires. The other throws a bomb that lands outside of the car but explodes with such force that bits of the car embed into Heydrich’s flesh. Ultimately, it’s infection that does him in a couple of days later. The Czech populace suffer horrible reprisals and ultimately, the parachutists are trapped in a church. After an eight hour gun battle, one dies in an explosion and the other kills himself to keep from getting caught.

Even though I knew all of that, I was still all caught up in the suspense as the assassins positioned themselves around the slowly moving car. Even though I know they die in the church, I’m rooting for them to find a way to escape.

So, even with the post modern trappings, Binet still ended up telling a thrilling tale of heroism and selflessness in the face of evil.